Hull City moved back into the Championship play-off places with a convincing win over Ipswich Town – a fourth win in six unbeaten home games this season.
The performance wasn’t as outstanding as the score-line suggests but City made mincemeat of the unusually poor visitors and won at a canter. The football wasn’t as slick as this squad is capable off nor the tempo as high as it could be but counter attacks were executed swiftly and incisively and chances taken clinically. I’ll certainly settle for “ugly” three-nil wins every week. I’m not greedy.
Steve Bruce picked a side to outwork Ipswich with the addition of Meyler and reverted to a 4-4-2 with two beefy strikers and all wide players playing on the right side. As a result, City carded a team with more balance than in recent games both right to left and between defence and attack.
Moses Odubajo – Michael Dawson – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Ahmed Elmohamady – David Meyler – Jake Livermore – Sam Clucas
Abel Hernandez – Chuba Akpom
After the excitement of the pre-match disco with the new floodlights (and by excitement, I mean mass cringing), Ipswich edged a scruffy first twenty minutes – but only through City’s profligacy. Andy Robertson was most obviously guilty, gifting them possession several times, but he was far from the only one.
City counter-attacked with pace playing nicely off Akpom and Hernandez a few times but struggled to dominate possession like they had last Saturday and didn’t move the ball quick enough to cut through Ipswich. Even so we could have been in front long before we took the lead in the 36th minute. Hernandez headed an Elmohamady cross – which he’d done brilliantly to get on the end of - too close to Gerken and Clucas scuffed a right footed shot from a lovely Elmo break and cut-back. The latter chance coming from Odubajo and Elmo finally linking up neatly showed promise.
Alex Bruce replaced Curtis Davies (calf injury) early on and after his obligatory booking for hefty but ball-winning challenge, he headed City into the lead. Good work from Akpom forced a corner which Clucas took and Elmo headed on only for Bruce to fail to react. The clearance was worked back to Clucas on the left and he stood up a lovely cross that Bruce looped back over Gerken. It looked like it’d gone over from the East Stand but it rippled the net on the right side [1-0]. The new floodlights dimmed and flashed, “Night Fever” blared loudly over the PA and a squad of scantily-clad cheerleaders surrounded Alex while he pulled a white suit out of his sock and went full on Travolta in front of the travelling Ipswich fans. Fortunately, he avoided a second yellow for over-celebrating because the ref was break-dancing.
Michael Dawson picked up a booking for pulling back Parr after he’d stupidly given the ball away and Daryl Murphy, who was the subject of £5m bids last summer but wouldn’t fetch five drachma tonight, gave Allan McGregor something to do from distance. Then David Meyler hit a decent volley wide from twenty yards. Not sure what he was thinking – he’ll never score from there. One lightning counter later and it was game over before the break. Odubajo took the ball off Parr, who was looking for a foul, fed Hernandez, collected the return pass in space and then laid it on a plate for Akpom who made the smart run on the defender and volleyed past the keeper [2-0]. He deserved that.
Half Time: Hull City 2 Ipswich Town 0
I expected a ferocious response from the Tractors, who made a double sub, after the break but it never came. Instead City stepped up a gear (still a few to go up) and made space for Elmo to attack on the right. He should have done better with two shooting opportunities as should Bruce who shot wildly after Gerken had got himself in a pickle from Elmo’s cross.
Not to worry though because Meyler wrapped up the victory with a delightful volley from the edge of the box after Clucas’s deflected cross had been headed out to him [3-0]. It was a lovely take and finish which he deserved for his overall performance. The Livermore-Meyler combination doesn’t have the finesse in possession that some of our other players offer but it does give energy and fight in the middle that you will never get from Diame or Huddlestone in a billion years.
The game petered out after that. City made subs and saved Hernandez’s legs after a busy fortnight and Dawson from the threat of a second yellow card. Ipswich didn’t produce any sort of response. It was as limp a performance as you will ever see from a Mick McCarthy team. Sure, City are better than they are, but they could have made them work harder to prove it.
Full time: Hull City 3 Ipswich Town 0
The Tigers haven’t lost in seven games now in league and cup, winning four, and leap back into the play-off places. Every other game in that run though has been completely different. Frustrating one game, terrific the next. There is still no pattern to this season and yet another change in formation and starting eleven tonight shows there is no sign of it settling down any time soon. Bruce continues to tinker with things trying to strike the right balance. Tonight was a step forward though. Tonight he left out some of the many talented players he has because he just can’t accommodate them all in the starting line-up. That was strong management that reaped rewards.
I conducted a poll on twitter yesterday to find out how City fans currently rate Steve Bruce out of ten. The average score I calculated was 6.6/10. There were some far lower and some far higher but overall I think that’s fair. Bruce took the club to heights unimaginable last year with Premier League survival, an FA Cup Final and European qualification.
But he then spent an awful lot of money and took the best squad we’ve ever assembled into the Championship. With the way football is these days, 99% of managers would have lost their job after that – or more likely long before. Bruce has been lucky but he’s worked hard under severe constraints to try and repay that faith in him. Results are still mixed and performances more so but he’s muddling on. At this point, I still think he’s the right man for Hull City. He and the team can do better though. Of that, I’m sure.