The Tigers made it six points from the week’s two home games with a very convincing 2-0 win over Birmingham City.
Birmingham arrived at the KC Stadium occupying second place in the Championship and with a burgeoning reputation under Gary Rowett. Despite carding an impressive looking front three of ex-Tiger Clayton Donaldson, the exciting Demarai Gray and Jacques Maghoma it soon became clear that they weren’t on the same level as City who out-worked and out-passed them throughout. The visitors’ play was one-dimensional – bouncing the ball off Donaldson and trying to free runners over the top but that failed to hurt City for the most-part and the win was far more convincing than the scoreline suggests.
Moses Odubajo – Michael Dawson – Alex Bruce – Andy Robertson
Ahmed Elmohamady – Jake Livermore – David Meyler – Sam Clucas
Abel Hernandez – Chuba Akpom
The almost unchanged City side was nicely balanced again. The system suits everyone and it’s weighted nicely from side to side and front to back. Both wingers cover nicely while the full backs overlap at will. On both sides there are signs of partnerships forming – particularly on the right where Elmohamady and Odubajo are working for each other and have both shone this week. The front two are also forming a fine partnership and are making themselves a target for through balls and crosses as well as a reliable out ball from defence or midfield.
Most impressive today was the midfield pairing of Meyler and Livermore. Meyler was quietly efficient, covering back intelligently tracking their runners and keeping the game moving while Livermore was utterly tremendous. His constant movement was hard to live with as he constantly found space around the midfield and in the areas behind the front two and passed with purpose. The energy and confidence he’s brought to the midfield both with and without the ball has taken us on a level in the last few weeks. With ten minutes left, Birmingham won a corner on their right and unsurprisingly it was Livermore who bust a gut to ensure they couldn’t take a short, quick one. He showed tremendous responsibility for defending and attacking.
Despite the early City dominance of possession, Birmingham had the game’s first big chance as Gray tricked Clucas on the right and slid across for Maghoma whose shot was saved by the feet of McGregor. Our ladies’ man seems to be over his crisis of confidence and is making the difficult look routine again. Kuszczak made comfortable saves from Akpom and Clucas and then the former took a decent chance off the latter’s head from a lovely Odubajo delivery. The game went off the boil at that point for five-ten minutes but then City visibly lifted the tempo with Livermore the catalyst and were rewarded with two quick fire goals.
A decent spell of Tigers’ possession saw the ball returned to Livermore on the left and he lifted it into Hernandez first time before it found Clucas. His cross lifted high in the air and Elmohamady judged it better than anyone taking possession in the box and sliding it left to Meyler whose perfectly timed arrival saw him sweep a low shot in off the far post from seventeen yards [1-0]. Two goals in a week is a fine return from the whole-hearted Irishman who’s justified Bruce’s selection ahead of the more talented but less reliable Huddlestone and Diame.
Before Birmingham could catch their breath City swept forward again through the marauding Robertson who brilliantly galloped down the left and passed to Hernandez whose beautiful turn and lightening quick low volley completely foxed Kuszczak who went down like a sack of spuds [2-0]. There was an appeal for a Birmingham penalty in the ninety seconds that separated City’s goals but I wasn’t looking. I know that’s a bit Arsene Wenger but I was noting the first goal rather than struggling to fasten my zip!
It really should have been three at the break as Elmo crossed teasingly across the six yard box and both Hernandez and Akpom behind him found a way to not convert from a couple of feet. I’ve no idea what happened there. Elmo wasn’t pleased.
Half time: Hull City 2 Birmingham City 0
As on Tuesday night, Birmingham made a double substitution at half time with Cotterill and Shinnie replacing Spector and the hugely disappointing Gray. It did prompt a bit of a response and coupled with City’s lacking of pressing in their half allowed the visitors to dominate territory and possession for the first ten of the second half. It didn’t produce much in the way of chances apart from a Cotterill free kick clumsily and stupidly conceded by Meyler. It did, however, bring the worst cross of the season as Caddis advanced on the right, attempted to wrap his foot around a cross and simply belted it into the advertising hoarding in front of him. Funny.
City then stepped up a gear and the game became end to end. The rubbish ref drew the ire of the crowd which lifted the atmosphere too. He awarded Birmingham a free kick for offside in their own box while they were breaking towards half way. Easily one of the poorest “advantage” calls you’ll ever see. After taking a verbal bashing from Gleeson he then decided not to award us anything for ten minutes to make up for it. When he finally did give us a decent decision, he set up a wall seven yards away. Refs have a tough job with hard decisions to make – I didn’t think the counting bit was part of that though.
City could have wrapped up the game with one of several chances. Hernandez failed to meet Odubajo’s cross (with his head anyway, he punched it and got booked), Clucas and Akpom had good low shots tipped around the post, Akpom had another kicked away by a defender and Clucas produced a fifty-pence header when he should have buried from Elmo’s fine cross.
In truth, City could have murdered them and made a real statement but were well aware that they could have left themselves open as a result and took the pragmatic approach some find frustrating. It wasn’t a case of digging in and defending though hence the chances created. But neither did we over-commit to attacks content to dominate possession and deal with their threat calmly. After introducing Maguire, Maloney and Diame from the bench we ended with ten when Livermore was pulled in injury time. Hopefully that was just cramp.
Full time: Hull City 2 Birmingham City 0
The result sees City move up to second in the Championship on goal difference ahead of a chance to make history in the League Cup at home to Leicester on Tuesday and a vital trip to Milton Keynes on Saturday.
That goal difference is particularly impressive because of the record of having conceded just eight goals in thirteen games. Only three have been conceded in seven home games (nine if you count the League Cup). That equates to 0.61 goals conceded per league game. The record low over a full season in the club’s history is 0.67 in the 1948/49 Division 3 North promotion season (28 conceded in 42 games). That indicates just how brilliant the defence has been so far. Much of the credit for that has to go to Michael Dawson who has lead the team superbly. He’s barely had a game where he hasn’t been amongst the two best performers on the pitch and has already been our player of the month twice in my book. He was magnificent again today without any fuss whatsoever. My favourite Daws moment of the day was when he met a defensive header in the first half but rather than just nutting the ball clear, he headed it into the path of Akpom to launch a break on the left – pass of the day that one.
I should end this with some praise for Steve Bruce after his part in two very good home wins this week. However every time I praise him, I end up questioning him a week later. So no offence, Steve, but I’m not jinxing this run….