Part 2: "Lost that loving Phelan"
Silva’s arrival bemused many, most notably hard-of-thinking SKY Soccer Saturday pundits Paul Merson and Phil Thompson who mocked Silva and the club for not appointing a manager who “knows the league”. Looking at his nationality rather than his pedigree and spouting a small-minded opinion on national TV came back to bite them fairly quickly as Silva made a good start by beating Swansea in the FA Cup, Bournemouth in the Premier League and losing, with some misfortune, at Champions elect Chelsea.
Paul Merson and Phil Thompson. I'll just leave this here. pic.twitter.com/baEZa0pR54— GeorgeWeahsCousin (@WeahsCousin) February 4, 2017
While things were starting to turn around on the pitch, off it the club continued to bemuse everyone. Top scorer Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore were sold to West Ham and WBA respectively for £10m apiece. Selling Livermore to raise funds for the new manager wasn’t the worst decision. Selling the most creative and deadly member of the squad most definitely was. Despite having spent four months doing absolutely nothing at West Ham – Snodgrass finished 2016/17 as City’s top scorer.
The £20m raised was reinvested in a much needed reshape of the squad. Oumar Niasse (Everton), Omar Elabdellouai (Olympiakos), Lazar Markovic (Liverpool), Andrea Ranocchia (Inter Milan) and Alfred N’Diaye (Villareal) joined on loan with the club picking up their huge wages for five months. Kamil Grosicki signed for about £7m from Rennes. It was a scatter-gun approach to recruitment and severely short term thinking but it did address most of the weaknesses in the squad.
As well as changing the personnel, Silva changed the style of play, the mentality and made technical and tactical changes in just a few days. His favoured formation was 4-2-3-1 with two holding midfield players both breaking up and launching attacks and the pace of Markovic and Grosicki was utilised in counter attacking quickly and with quality. He showed his adaptability by also using 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 depending on the players available to him – the injuries and suspensions were still a regular occurrence.
The team pressed higher and earlier under Silva, particularly at home, and defenders were pushed up to close the spaces between the lines and deny the opposition room to play. He switched to using a zonal marking system from set pieces in light of the horrendous record of conceding from dead balls before he arrived and it improved things immediately. He also recognised the importance of individuals like Harry Maguire, Tom Huddlestone and Eldin Jakupovic and they became a fixture of the team.
Silva was never able to turn around the team’s terrible away form, though he had far tougher fixtures than Phelan, but won 8 of his first 9 home games and gave us a real chance of staying up. The victory over Manchester United, sadly in vain, in the second leg our first ever League Cup semi final (an achievement that no one can take away from Mike Phelan) came courtesy of one of the most complete performances I’ve ever seen from City. United had eleven men behind the ball at times as The Tigers dictated the game and scored a superb winning goal.
The home win over Middlesborough was the most thrilling Premier League performance at the KCOM Stadium in any of our five top-flight seasons. It was the third of Silva’s home victories that had necessitated coming from behind – a major weakness of ours for the last decade. When City brilliantly beat Watford in April having played for an hour with ten men and then took a rare away point at Southampton courtesy of Jakupovic’s late penalty save it showed that this squad had the bottle for the fight. Under pressure, they’d ground out results and showed the nerve, and the quality, required to stay up.
Then we lost at home to already relegated Sunderland. And that was that. Every weakness we’d ever had was exposed in a “typical City” performance in front of a big, expectant home crowd against the worst team in the league. We passed poorly, presence up front was non-existent, marking from set pieces was appalling and the composure and intelligence of prior matches was absent. By the time we played Crystal Palace away the following Sunday, we had to win to stay up. We were battered, same failings, and then royally hammered by Spurs at home to complete a miserable season whose moments of hope had been temporary, cruel and, eventually, heart breaking.
Despite his copy book having been blotted in the final few games of the season, Silva had been a massive success. He’d shown enough to make me think that if we’d somehow escaped the drop, he could have established us a comfortable mid-table team. In the event of relegation he had a release clause and being the career-focused personality he is, was always going to say “Adeus” to Hull. That was confirmed on 25th May.
The club now need to appoint his replacement in short order. They need to make the right appointment but it can’t take all summer. We have six loan players returning to their clubs and the likes of Harry Maguire, Andy Robertson and Abel Hernandez have one year left on their contracts and need to be sold while they still have good value. The rest of the squad need an inspiring leader and the club to show ambition to get promoted to keep the majority of them together. We can’t afford to leave buying players to the last minute AGAIN. The squad needs 8-10 additions and they need to be found and settled much earlier than the last few windows. This is a club that could eaily bounce back to the Premier League. But it’s one that could very easily break up and sink. It’s been held together by sticky tape in the shape of Steve Bruce and Marco Silva in the last two seasons. Attention is urgently needed.
Player of the Season: Sam Clucas
Game of the Season: Hull City 4 Middlesbrough 2 (5th April)
Goal of the Season: Sam Clucas (vs. Watford)
Best Signing: Lazar Markovic