Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Hull City 2016/17 Review - Part 2: Lost that loving Phelan

As Hull City looked down from the top of the premier League table in late August 2016, there was no getting carried away with the situation. It had been noted as soon as the fixtures came out that the next block of five fixtures included games against Man Utd, Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea. Gulp.

Part 1 - "Summertime blues" 

The Tigers put in another valiant performance against Manchester United, despite losing to a late Rashford winner, and then finally took the opportunity to strengthen the squad ahead of the transfer deadline. In came goalkeeper David Marshall (Cardiff £3.5m), midfielders Ryan Mason (Spurs £13m), Markus Henriksen (AZ Alkmaar Loan) and James Weir (Man Utd Undisc.) and strikers Dieumerci Mbokani (Dinamo Kiev Loan) and Will Keane (Man Utd £1m). With two of the signings appearing to be “for the future”, it wasn’t enough but it was far better than nothing. Or at least it seemed so at the time.

City picked up another point courtesy of Robert Snodgrass’s last minute equaliser at Turf Moor, Burnley taking them to seven points. About seven more than anyone had predicted by this point. And then the wheels fell off the wagon spectacularly. They’d only manage six points and one more win before (spoiler alert) Mike Phelan was sacked in January.

Phelan felt the need to integrate the players he’d signed and eroded the incredible spirit that had built in the team in their time of adversity. The most egregious was the replacement in goal of zero-to-hero and new fans’ favourite Eldin Jakupovic with Scotland international Marshall. Phelan clearly felt he had to justify a £3.5m signing and neither he nor his predecessor Bruce had ever shown confidence in “the Jak” but the team seemed buoyed by his confidence and charisma. Marshall bore the brunt of the criticism as City conceded sixteen times in his first five league games but it wasn’t his fault. Phelan should never have put him in the position to be the fall guy.

City conceded four in Jak’s last game too making it twenty conceded in six matches. A run that eroded the confidence of the group and exposed a clear weakness defending set pieces, the ability to concede penalties at a ridiculous rate and an inability to keep eleven men on the pitch. The lowest point of the run came at Bournemouth where City, decked out in their new blackcurrant-vomit inspired third kit were hammered 6-1. The defending in the first half was shambolic and throwing in the towel after an hour was unacceptable. Those in attendance, including yours truly, have rarely seen a worse performance from a top flight City side.

After showing some bottle to bounce back from a cruel defeat at Watford and conceding yet another penalty after only five minutes to surprise Southampton, City sandwiched an uninspiring draw at home to West Brom with the performances that surely sealed Phelan’s fate. We were abject in defeat at Sunderland and Middlesbrough. Losing sloppy goals and failing to lay a glove on weak opposition.

Olympic Stadium, East Landan.
 Things did improve in December but a combination of bad luck and that weakness from set pieces meant results didn’t. The 3-3 draw at home to Crystal Palace was the game of the season but another missed opportunity. The white flag was shown at White Hart Lan to avoid a beating by Spurs and then the team bus ran over several black cats, their kittens and Witchy owners on the way to the Olympic Stadium. West Ham beat us one nil but only after we’d hit the post several times. Some unluckily but Mbokani’s a horrendous miss when as clean through as you will ever be. We then conceded another penalty.

Man City won at the (now) KCOM Stadium on Boxing day after another good City performance and that was followed by an unfortunate draw with Everton when we played well but let in soft equalisers – and one was definitely Marshall’s fault this time. Then came the end for Phelan. A 3-1 defeat to West Brom at the Hawthorns having lead with two of the goals coming from set pieces was another horrendous away day.

Phelan was out of his depth. There’s no doubt about that but he’d been unlucky too. The “backing” he’d received in the summer was appalling. He’d not been appointed permanently until it was clear Ehab Allam had failed to find a better option. Most of his signings came from a post-it not Steve Bruce left on a wall somewhere. Team selection was constantly upset by injuries and suspensions and explained a lot of the inconsistency in performances.

While there were mitigating factors, there was no defending… Actually, that sentence is finished. The repetition in the same mistakes was indefensible. The poor performances of very good players and the side-lining of others was inexcusable. The only thing supporting Phelan’s continued employment was the feeling that unless the Allams showed a renewed level of interest and invested some of the massive TV money in new players – no manager could do much better with this squad.

On January 3rd, Ehab Allam finally woke up and realised things had to change. Phelan and his coaching staff were dismissed and the club, second bottom of the Premier League with just thirteen points from twenty games went looking for a miracle worker…

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