Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Hull City 2016/17 Review - Part 1: Summertime Blues

Hull City were relegated from the Premier League in 2016/17 before a ball was kicked in anger. That was a prediction in July 2016 and became a reality in May 2017. It was a season of twists and turns and more downs than ups but despite the best efforts of many people – it ended where it started.

Steve Bruce answering questions about Hull City's "quiet" summer.

Promotion was sealed on May 28 with the 1-0 win over Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley.  June was a write off. A month of rumour and growing discontent at the lack of words or action coming out of the club. That wouldn’t change until pre-season training resumed in July and manager Steve Bruce broke the silence in several interviews with both the local media and the club’s in-house “press”. Bruce coined the phrase “Ask Ehab” to explain the lack of action – the phrase was ‘hashtagged’ and shared delightfully around City fans. That the highlight of the summer was embarrassing the odious Vice Chairman of Hull City did nothing to lift the low mood around the club.

In the wake of promotion, several out of contract players were released, loan players returned to their parent clubs and a couple of injuries hungover from the previous season. That left the manager well short of the 22 players he’d have liked to start the early pre-season games – meaning youngsters filled the gaps. When Moses Odubajo and Michael Dawson suffered injuries in friendlies against Grimsby and Mansfield respectively that would keep them out for at least a couple of months – it left 13 senior professionals available for outfield selection. I was at both of those friendly games and the sense of deflation was palpable.

Could things get any worse? You bet your life they could. On July 22nd – Steve Bruce walked. His working relationship with Allam Junior made his position untenable and he either walked or was pushed out. Regardless, our club had lost the best manager we’d ever had 22 days before the start of the season. It was a situation the owners had neglectfully allowed to happen. They were already widely and deservedly loathed for the failed attempt to change the club’s name and their new pricing structure which decreed children and OAPs would not be entitled to concessions, amongst other hideous actions. Now their footballing decisions were making a mockery of the club too.

And still, they weren’t finished. At the start of August Mo Diame, scorer of the winning goal at Wembley 2 months’ prior, was sold to Newcastle United. Diame had a release clause in his contract from the relegation a year earlier – the Allams didn’t think to offer him a new contract until the bid from Newcastle came in and good old #AskEhab didn’t even break from his holiday to meet and persuade Diame to stay. If you’ve not been counting – that left 12 fit senior pros to take on the Premier League.

Mike Phelan, who’d been Steve Bruce’s assistant manager, took over in a caretaker capacity and steadied things with his calm personality. He kept everyone’s focus on the upcoming matches while making it clear that he, or whomever would be the next manager, needed help from above and needed it quickly.

Amongst the doom, the drama and the desperation, Phelan’s band of 12 players and 2 goalkeepers turned over reigning Premier League Champions Leicester City on a glorious day at the KC Stadium. It was one of the best games and outcomes in City’s time at The Circle but the signs of toll the summer had taken on the fans were obvious – there were less than 18,000 home fans there to witness a magnificent victory.

Adama Diomande gave The Tigers the lead against the Champs with an audacious overhead kick, performed in unison with Abel Hernandez, just before half time. Leicester equalised from the penalty spot even though the foul by Tom Huddlestone had been committed outside the area (being on the wrong end of decisions would become a feature of the campaign) but Robert Snodgrass swept City into the lead again in the second half and we held on. 

Smoky celebrations at the Liberty Stadium as City upset the odds!

That unlikely victory was followed by another. A 2-0 win at Swansea with late goals from sub Shaun Maloney and Abel Hernandez. Such was the lack of depth in the squad, Maloney’s introduction was the only substitution made by Mike Phelan in the opening two league games. It was a tremendous, dogged performance by a group of players bound together by adversity. It was well worth the 500 mile round trip – much of it in torrential rain.

City sat top of the Premier League table after two games much to my enjoyment but general astonishment. But all was not suddenly rosy in the garden. Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer ripped the Allams a new arsehole for allowing the club to try and compete at the top level in such a hideous state.

The squad was still tiny and the fixture list looked cruel. But for a few days, at least, I walked around town with a spring in my step and a smile on my face. As did my fellow Tigers the world over.

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