Saturday, 3 October 2015

Nottingham Forest 0 Hull City 1: The View From The Stands

Abel Hernandez’s fifth goal of the season secured Hull City a fourth successive win at Nottingham Forest.

The City Ground has been a particularly happy hunting ground for The Tigers in recent years and that proved to be the case again today. It wasn’t an easy game and despite having a numerical advantage in the latter stages, City ended it with their back to the wall, but for much of the game we saw the gulf in class that the individual names on City’s team sheet suggest there should be.

Steve Bruce came in for criticism for last week’s tame draw with Blackburn, including from yours truly, but he made a brave team selection in yet another different formation that he felt best fit the players he wanted to play. In spite of the hairy finish – you have to give him credit because he got it right and masterminded a very good result and a much improved performance.

City 4-3-3
Allan McGregor
Ahmed Elmohamady – Michael Dawson – Curtis Davies – Moses Odubajo
Jake Livermore – Tom Huddlestone – Mo Diame
Sam Clucas – Abel Hernandez – Shaun Maloney

The first half was breathless from the start with Forest the initial aggressors. City worked their way into the game and passed with purpose. They made mistakes which gave the home side opportunities to break but you can accept errors made while trying to make things happen rather than just through our sloppiness. It was frustrating though and many players were guilty of losing the ball in decent areas – Diame, Maloney, Livermore and particularly Odubajo who’s desire to keep coming inside on his right foot was read easily by Forest.

As wide open as the game was, chances weren’t forthcoming but it was an interesting battle. Forest are an average side. Ryan Mendes was exciting on the right hand side and his pace gave Odubajo a real test which Moses came through well after a difficult start. David Vaughan might look like Quasimodo but he’s a very tidy footballer and he had a fine game dictating their play in midfield. He was much better than the much heralded Henri Lansbury alongside him. For all his willingness to work, Chris O’Grady isn’t a great front man. He’s had a decent career at this level based mainly on the fact that he’s got the physique of a Rugby player.

Mo Diame had the first effort on target with a tame header from Elmo’s hung up cross. Nelson Oliveira forced a fine save from McGregor with a left footed drive after Maloney lost possession and then Mancienne met the resulting corner but shot poorly. That was the only one of their numerous set pieces that wasn’t absolutely appalling. City went close soon after when Forest invited Diame to shoot from distance and he did brilliantly smacking the left hand post with a fantastic left-footed strike. Diame was then guilty of a loose pass that led to a half chance for O’Grady – McGregor saving again – and with Forest gaining momentum City turned the game in an instant.

Maloney got in behind chasing a lovely slide rule ball and was tripped by Mills inside the area. Maloney’s first touch was just taking him away from goal but I think you’d struggle to argue it wasn’t a goal-scoring opportunity. Regardless, Mills only picked up a yellow card. Abel Hernandez, who doesn’t miss penalties, stepped up to take the spot-kick and missed. It was a rotten penalty that hit the keeper’s legs just to the left of centre. Disappointing as it was, Hernandez still went into half-time as the difference between the sides. Shaun Maloney took a corner quickly and put it on the head of Clucas. The header hit the keeper but Hernandez followed up to tap in from a yard – at the most [0-1].

You can say what you want about Hernandez but he’s now got five in eight league games (seven starts). That his five goals have come from a combined total of about sixteen yards is by the by. We’ve needed someone with a knack for putting the ball in the net for a long time and he’s showing it right now.

Half time: Nottingham Forest 0 Hull City 1

City dominated the third quarter with some outstanding passing. One move had something like thirty passes from left to right and across again before Elmo mis-controlled on the edge of the box. Forest countered through Oliveira who forced an excellent save from McGregor down near his left hand post but they weren’t in our league for twenty minutes. The only disappointment was that we didn’t turn it in to more goals. Instead, once Michael Dawson had seen a volley from Maloney’s corner tipped around the post, Forest took over and City retreated as they tend to do. The intensity disappeared from the play and the striker became lonely – even after Akpom replaced Hernandez and Aluko came on in midfield for Diame. The players decided to hold what they had and in the end they were able to without too many problems.

It’s a risky game that I really don’t like. Perhaps it’s inevitable from any team who haven’t won a lot of games in the last twelve months – particularly not away from home. Matt Mills was sent off with five minutes left for a crude late challenge on Akpom in the air. It seems it was a straight red though I thought it had merited a second yellow at the time. The Forest fans who, for lord knows what reason had been on the referees back all game (despite benefiting from the only contentious decision in it) applauded Mills off. Is that a modern football phenomenon? To actively applaud a guy whose actions are at worst incredibly thuggish and at best completely mindless? The sending off didn’t change the pattern of the game, it was still all Forest trying to force an equaliser but there were no real scares.

Full time: Nottingham Forest 0 Hull City 1

I’ve no idea if this system is one that we’ll stick with – whether it’s the setup Bruce has desperately been searching for. In its favour, it allows him to play all of Huddlestone, Livermore and Diame. Against it makes it hard to play both Elmohamady and Odubajo.

Huddlestone had his best game for City since god knows when. He passed immaculately and switched play with consummate ease but also worked box to box and showed the pace to get himself into crucial defensive positions. Sam Clucas had a good game too, quietly going about his business, never wasting possession and making himself available to receive all the time. Maloney did likewise and showed signs that he’s getting close to full fitness. The central defensive partnership were outstanding again despite both picking up soft yellow cards and Odubajo recovered from a shaky start to get the better of the really tricky Mendes. We saw glimpses of the lung-bursting effort Livermore can bring to the team and Diame showed the combination of power and silkiness that makes him irresistible at times.

The win was timely given how tight things are in the top half of the Championship and went someway to making up for the wasted opportunities at home of late. It leaves City a couple of points off second place in the Championship and four off Brighton at the top. That’s a decent position for a team that is still evolving and hasn’t yet found its groove.

If we click – this can be a really big season.

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