Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Bristol City 1 Hull City 2: The view from the worst stand

City progressed to the quarter finals of the League Cup for the second consecutive season – and second time ever – in an and to end tussle with Bristol City at Ashton Gate.

The ground has undergone a remarkable transformation since I visited last in 2008 and boasts three linked stands, the main one housing an extra tier, giving it a similar look to Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium. Like a lot of modern stadiums its handsome but lacking character. That’s beside the point though. It gives a club like Bristol City a capacity upward of 27,000, attracts families, corporates and sponsors and sits proudly in its surroundings playing “now you see me, now you don’t” as you approach up and down Bristol’s rollercoaster-roads.

The hosts made nine changes to their team that beat Blackburn in the Championship on Saturday – clearly seeing an outside shot at the play-offs as a priority – while, thankfully, Mike Phelan picked a strong City team in his desperation to reverse our fortunes after a month of progressively terrible results and pathetic performances. He also reverted to the 3-5-2 formation that we mastered at times under Steve Bruce which sensibly made use of the players we have fit at the moment.

Hull City 3-5-2
Maguire –Dawson –Davies
Elmohamady – Henriksen – Livermore – Mason – Tymon
Diomande – Hernandez

The first half was quiet for the most part with just a couple of moments of real quality in either penalty area. City controlled the ball but rarely looked like breaking through despite much probing. Perhaps we were even one dimensional at times. Like the times when it appears only Elmo is allowed to put a cross in and the others steadfastly refuse to disobey orders.

We were improved infinitely by having two strikers. Diomande put in the harder yards, stuck his arse into defenders, pulled them into wide areas and took some knocks. That allowed Hernandez to work around the penalty area and his quality showed throughout as he probably had more touches than he has in the Premier League all season. The two linked up early on for Hernandez to drag a shot just wide from the edge of the box and the favour was returned several times.

The three at the back for City defended bravely for the most part but Bristol City could exploit the space behind the wing backs at times. It’s fair to say young Josh Tymon got to grips with it quickly though and made some superb tackles in the second half. Aaron Wilbraham scuffed a shot when given a decent sight of goal and Bobby Reid fired a vicious shot too high on the volley after smashing a first effort into the gut of one of his mates. Those chances came either side of the moment of real quality in the half. Henriksen attempted to dink a ball over the top for Diomande. Moore headed it out but Hernandez was on to it in a flash, strode to his left and unleashed a superb strike from 25 yards that looped over the keeper but just didn’t dip enough and smashed the crossbar.

Their left back Joe Bryan looked dangerous throughout the half and produced some beautiful touches but he picked up the first booking for a bizarre challenge on Elmo on the half way line. Bryan appeared to have the ball at his feet but threw himself at Elmo anyway with a scissoring challenge that annoyed the home crowd and management but was a ludicrous thing to do. Ref Keith Stroud, given day release from The Borrowers, was sharp enough to read the situation.

The game was meandering to half time when City took the lead in unlikely fashion. Mason’s near post corner from the right was cleared by a Brizzle defender. Mason trotted over to the left to swing the second corner beyond the far post and Harry Maguire rose above everyone to nod in his first goal for The Tigers [0-1]. We don’t do tempting delivery from corners but Mason obviously hasn’t got the message yet. The hosts responded well in the few minutes before the break and Davies was booked for a daft challenge in our half as a little bit of pressure came our way.

Half Time: Bristol City 0 Hull City 1

The second half was barely underway when City doubled the lead. Hernandez forced a corner on the right and as Mason lined it up, the lights in the stands went out plunging the City fans into darkness. That just meant the penalty area lit up like a spotlight as Mason’s brilliant delivery was hammered home by the head of Michael Dawson [0-2].

Mason hasn’t found his feet at City yet. He still looks like he’s never met half his teammates before and plays passes to people who aren’t there at times but he can’t half whip a ball in from wide areas. O’Donnell even had to make a save to stop one corner going straight in.

The goal brought a strong response from Bristol City and they didn’t take long to introduce Tammy Abraham and Lee Tomlin off the bench to add to their threat. The game became stretched very quickly and it was end to end with City spurning several chances to seal it while keeping them out through various means.

Marlon Pack put a free kick just wide of Jak’s left hand post and then curled a shot just wide of the same post. Davies made two blocks in a row after Diomande had wasted possession on the edge of their box, Abraham dragged a shot wide, Jakupovic saved brilliantly from O’Dowda after a Dawson block fell straight to his feet and then got down brilliantly to save one on one from Tomlin after he’d danced through a couple of pathetic tackles on the edge of our box. Tomlin’s chunky but he can’t half play and his vision and dribbling ability improved their attack a hundred-fold. We’ve been linked with him a few times in recent years and he’d add something we don’t have behind our striker(s). Henriksen looks a tidy player but he didn’t show anything like the creativity of Tomlin opposite a packed defence.

City looked dangerous on the counter and should have wrapped the game up. Diomande, who put in a great shift but lets himself down often with poor (or no) decision making in the final third, shot wide after Hernandez had put the ball on a plate for him on the right-hand side of the area. Hernandez also slid in Mason down the same side but his wicked shot was blocked by Flint whose probably still stinging now, while Abel himself was denied by a goal-line clearance after rounding the keeper who he later hit with a wicked left footed effort after a driving run in behind Flint from wide on the left.

Just when it looked like we’d seen off their late charge and we’d subbed both excellent strikers to waste a bit of time, the fourth official stuck up five minutes on the board and Tomlin outran Huddlestone (Ha!) and the rest of our defence from deep and lashed in a shot at the near post [1-2]. Suddenly it was “Typical City” time as we conceded two corners, lost all ability to pass the ball to anyone in a black shirt and invited pressure. With just about the last kick Reid’s shot was turned goalwards by Abraham and Davies kicked it off the line. Hull City. Doing nowt easy since 1904.

Full Time: Bristol City 1 Hull City 2

We deserved the win overall and there was plenty of promise in the change of system and the dual threat up front. We probably shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it was only against Bristol City’s second string and while they’re a neat side who play the way their manager demands – they’re no Watford.

Jake Livermore was the pick of our players. He won plenty of tackles and read their intentions often. At Watford, he’ll need far more help defensively than he got from Henriksen and Mason here or from Huddlestone last Saturday though. The answer might be to put Clucas back in midfield and let Josh Tymon continue at left wing-back. He won’t let anyone down.

Next best was Jakupovic. As he left the field he signalled to tell the City fans applauding him off that he’s number one. I think he’s right. This was another excellent showing from him. While I don’t think David Marshall has particularly been to blame for the goals we’ve conceded, I never really thought Jakupovic should have been dropped in the first place. When we wonder where our great team spirit has gone since August – moves like that contribute greatly.

Anyone but Arsenal.

Sunday, 21 August 2016

Swansea City 0 Hull City 2: Perfect Tigers are Phelan Good!

Hull City followed up the most unlikely opening day victory with an equally unexpected win at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea to maintain a perfect start to the season.

Winning at home with your support behind you and the incentive of the eyes of the world watching is one thing but travelling to face a quality team who dominate possession and have dangerous players in the last third is a whole other matter.

Mike Phelan didn’t have the luxury of any new signings or injured players being available (Harry Maguire is close though) so his team and bench picked itself after the Leicester win. Getting that team to play with the same endeavour, discipline and nous as last week was the real test of the caretaker-gaffer and he passed it with flying colours. The players gave him everything again and for all Swansea’s possession and territorial advantage, The Tigers had the best chances throughout and the result was inarguable. If you don’t score – you’ve no room for complaint regardless.

City 4-5-1
Eldin Jakupovic
Ahmed Elmohamady – Curtis Davies – Jake Livermore – Andy Robertson
Robert Snodgrass – Sam Clucas – Tom Huddlestone – David Meyler - Adama Diomande
Abel Hernandez

The first half was tougher than last week’s game with Swansea eager to dominate at home. Full backs Naughton and Kingsley got forward at will, they played nicely off the big Welsh lad Llorente up front. Their movement was good from midfield and City worked hard to match those runs and to get back to double up wide with Diomande and Snodgrass particularly putting in a shift to help out their mates.

This was my first trip to the Liberty Stadium. I had a ticket for the game two season ago but missed it due to a family illness. So I was chuffed to make it this time. The weather was more in keeping with February than August but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm after last week’s game which seems to have revitalised everyone. When you strip it back, we all go to watch the eleven blokes kicking the football about and they gave us so much to be proud of. The Stadium (or Stadiwm if you want a bit of culture) is nice enough but one of the blander new builds I’ve seen.

When Sigurdsson’s volley was pushed onto the bar by Jakupovic early on, I worried we might be in for a long afternoon but they made few clear chances. By the time the big boyo Llorente headed wide from a Routledge cross, after a lovely Swans move, City could already have been two in front. A beautiful break from Snodgrass from our own penalty area, via one-twos with Elmo and Huddlestone lead to Snod playing Diomande in on the edge of the penalty area. Dio turned the marking defender beautifully but with the goal gaping – lashed his shot into the stand. Dio had several reasonable opportunities to counter during the half but was wasteful with them. He doesn’t look quick enough with the ball at his feet but is working hard and proving a very good option to relieve pressure.

We should also have had at least a free-kick when Snodgrass was clearly tripped on the 18-yard line. It could be argued that it was perhaps inside the box but how that utter clown Stuart Attwell decided it wasn’t a foul at all – I’ll never know.

Half time: Swansea City 0 Hull City 0

I had some trepidation going into the second half. They were kicking towards their fans, they had tons of options off the bench and we’d expended a great amount of energy again in the first half. I really needn’t have worried. Curtis Davies’ attempt to smash in an own goal from a corner was about the only chance they had.

Davies was superb again as was his central defensive partner Jake Livermore. Peter Swan wrote a piece in the Hull Daily Mail this week which was complimentary to Curtis but did suggest he wasn’t a “natural leader”. You may have seen Davies took exception to it on social media and it clearly irked him because after the game he took off his captain’s armband and held it up for the City fans to see. It really was a ludicrous claim. Davies lead City brilliantly before he was crudely dispensed with as skipper after Michael Dawson arrived. His influence has been immense this pre-season. If he’s not a leader, I don’t know who is.

Snodgrass had a shot deflected wide after brilliant work from Huddlestone got Robertson in behind from a neatly worked Tigers’ throw-in. Jak saved comfortably from a Sigurdsson free-kick. Swansea introduced the tricky Montero and Ki, match winner at the KC Stadium a couple of seasons ago, from the bench as City fans chanted “We are Hull City, we don’t need no subs”. Mike Phelan disagreed though and brought on Maloney for Diomande.

Maloney had a really good pre-season. He looked lively in every game. He won this won too. Clucas was fouled on the edge of their box and Maloney took a free-kick that deflected wide. From the corner, Davies had a header tipped over by Fabianski. That was our big chance to nick this, I thought. From the second corner, Davies met the ball again and his header was turned in by the knees, thighs or mid-riff (who cares??) of Maloney two feet out sending the small but dedicated band of City fans wild [0-1].

One of the young lads behind us set off a smoke bomb which led to a steward’s enquiry and several young lads being frog-marched out of the ground – one after a long delay, presumably while they looked at CCTV.

Swansea responded as you’d expect but were almost caught out again when Huddlestone lifted a ball over the top and Hernandez raced away clear. Unfortunately, by the time the ball settled at a height Abel could attempt a lob, Fabianski had raced out to meet him and saved well. There were no particular scares at the other end but City were throwing themselves at headers and into blocks through Meyler and Davies especially. Meyler was superb and I lost count of the number of interceptions and tackles he made on the edge of our box in that last 15 minutes.

With a generous three minutes added – generous to City, we’d have been going mad at the KCOM if a visiting ‘keeper had run down the clock like the Jak – City made sure of the remarkable three points with a beautifully worked goal on the counter. Huddlestone, Snodgrass, Meyler and Hernandez played one touch passes, Snod’s finding Maloney who’d broken the offside trap and despite losing his balance, laid off for Hernandez to finish coolly [0-2]. Pandemonium. No smoke bomb though!

Full time: Swansea City 0 Hull City 2

It’s hard to praise the players, Mike Phelan, Stephen Clemence and the staff highly enough. Before this summer descended into complete and utter farce, most had already looked at City’s first seven fixtures (Leicester H, Swansea A, Man Utd H, Burnley A, Arsenal H, Liverpool A, Chelsea H) and decided that if we had any points at all by the October international break – we’d have done bloody well. To have six already is quite ridiculous.

I won’t repeat what I said last week. The manager and players need help now. The current owners, prospective owners or both need to urgently acquire the five plus players that Phelan needs to be competitive beyond for the whole first half of the season. They are performing miracles but only the most na├»ve of people would imagine they can do that every week.

They’ve delivered six huge bonus points. Now deliver the help they need!

Sunday, 14 August 2016

Hull City 2 Leicester City 1: Troubled Tigers trounce Champs

From the depths of adversity, Hull City produced a stunning performance to shock the Premier League Champions Leicester City (that still sounds weird) at the newly rebranded KCOM Stadium.

Credit: Craig Brough

I can’t honestly say I’ve ever looked forward to a new season less than this one and waking up on Saturday morning devoid of the usual excitement the first day always brings was heart breaking. I nearly didn’t go to the game. I appreciate there are many fans who feel the need to protest about the current state of the club but with prospective new owners on the horizon - I just didn’t want to. Walking into that negative atmosphere to watch our under-strength squad try to compete with the best the league had to offer last term was a horrific prospect that I wanted no part of if I’m completely open.

I forced myself to go though. My brother and I discussed the likelihood of a “Typical City” performance – a win against the odds. The thought of “What if we do win?” was enough to convince me to go and I’m overjoyed that I did because we were treated to a performance from eleven City players (no subs used) full of fight and pride that epitomised what we love about the game and our club – despite the Egyptian Elephants in the room (but not the stadium).  

City 4-5-1
Eldin Jakupovic
Ahmed Elmohamady – Jake Livermore – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Robert Snodgrass – Tom Huddlestone – Sam Clucas – David Meyler – Adama Diomande
Abel Hernandez

Sub goalkeeper Dusan Kuciak, Shaun Maloney and Greg Luer were the only other “senior” players fit for City. The bench was filled by U21s Jarrod Bowen, Josh Clackstone, Greg Olley and Josh Tymon. All are excellent prospects but they’re a long way from being Premier League-ready. I won’t go into how it came to this because I’m sure you already know but there’s a summary at the bottom that I made in a strop a few weeks ago.

I can’t tell you too much about the first half because I barely took it in. In fact – I f*****g hated it. The players came out to chants of “We want Allam Out” and there were several other verses, banners and the Hull City Supporter’s Trust’s “NO” cards being held up. This was the opening dat of the season and the football was secondary by some distance. I’m not going to pretend it affects the players or any of that but as someone who loves football, it affected by enjoyment considerably. I hate the state of our club. I hate that we’re a laughing stock. I hate that we’re “the worst prepared team in Premier League history”. I hate that we feel the need to protest en masse at our first game of the season. Most of all, I hate the Allams because it’s their fault. And if anyone trusted them remotely, then the protests may have been classed off due to the presence of a delegation of potential Chinese owners. Someone in the East Stand did bring a Chinese flag. Hopefully they saw that as a welcome!

There were few chances in the half but it was clear that City were playing very well and working ridiculously hard. Livermore, Clucas and Diomande were all playing out of position but were making a real fist of it and in the case of Jake and Sam – you’d swear they’d played there all their lives. Mike Phelan had the team very well organised and defending deep which nullified the threat the pace of Vardy, Musa and Mahrez brings.

We were a minute away from heading into half time with a credible goalless scoreline after Jakupovic saved brilliantly from Fuchs and then Livermore blocked heroically as Vardy met the rebound when we turned the game on its head. Snodgrass’s left wing corner was headed goalward by Davies. Schmeichel pawed it away but Hernandez and Diomande both overhead kicked the ball into the goal. It looked synchronised live and it really was. Hernandez was credited with the goal in the stadium and on my twitter feed but that was because he ran off celebrating. It was later corrected to a Diomande goal as he probably, just about got the final touch [1-0].

Half time: Hull City 2 Leicester City 1

The second half was much better. The acrimony had turned to celebration with the goal and the atmosphere was electric. Even with a highly embarrassing 5,000 empty seats at the KCOM. You know who to blame for that too. It was also despite Leicester winning a penalty 12 seconds into the half when Huddlestone tripped Gray after Meyler had given away possession in our half. The trip was outside the box but we’re back in “The Big League” now and so we get the best referees in the country – so naturally he got it wrong. Mahrez scored easily from the spot [1-1].

Everyone in the world, watching as this was the Premier League’s curtain raiser, said in unison “OK, Hull, you’ve put up a good fight but you’ve woken the beast now – you’re getting smashed”. Unfortunately for the visitors, Snodgrass didn’t hear them. Elmo latched onto a loose pass and played a 1-2 with Snod. His cross was cut out at the near post and fell to Snodgrass who lashed it into the bottom right-hand corner leaving Schmeichel stranded [2-1].

There was still a long way but despite the arrival of fresh legs from the Leicester bench, including the effervescent Okazaki and the sizable threat of Ulloa – City were relatively untroubled. Jakupovic made a couple of saves from long range efforts, making a bit of a meal of pushing Mahrez’s free kick around the post, but otherwise the well-organised defence, brilliantly marshalled by Davies and protected by Clucas, gave Leicester’s strikers little to get their hopes up.

City might even have wrapped things up but Schmeichel punched away Snodgrass’s whipped free-kick at his near post. City looked a little heavy legged at times but Phelan didn’t feel the need to make any substitutions and with Diomande proving a useful out-ball and Meyler’s energy coming into play late on, we escaped unscathed.

Full time: Hull City 2 Leicester City 1

So ended a tremendous game and the crowd – filled with anger and dread at half-past-noon – drifted away happy and bursting with pride in the performance.

That performance masks some of the problems at City but it doesn’t solve them. The squad is still woefully inadequate in numbers and in some positions – in real top flight quality. Mike Phelan, if he is to be the manager (and you have to be impressed with him thus far) needs five signings minimum. He needs money to work with and he needs someone with more interest in Hull City than playing Polo and winding up fans to go out and do the deals.

More than anything, the club needs a change in ownership. This afternoon showed that when you put all of the Allam-created garbage to one side, following City is still tremendous fun and our fanbase will get behind this group of players who are united in adversity. Singing the “great escape” theme on the opening day of the season is an example of the gallows humour you get from football fans and particularly ours.

We now need the “new broom” that Steve Bruce spoke about so often in the summer to sweep the Allams out of the club and give supporter’s hope that things will return to how they were before Assem Allam fell out with Hull City Council. To a time when worrying whether we’d get three points on a Saturday afternoon was about all most fans were concerned with.

The state of Hull City by @HullCityLive

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