Thursday, 13 December 2018

Hull City: Nigel Adkins Anniversary ... Bring a board game

It has been a year (and four days) since Nigel Adkins took charge of Hull City for the first time in the wake of Leonid Slutsky’s sacking. The once happy, affable Slutsky wilted under a bad run of form and his time ended after a 2-2 draw with Sheffield Wednesday with a hooded Adkins standing behind him holding a scythe.

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"Nigel Adkins is having a party, bring your scrabble, and your shandy"
Slutsky was a brave appointment. Britain’s first ever Russian manager, a man of great pedigree having managed CSKA Moscow and the Russian national team. Unfortunately, a lack of support from our disinterested owners turned the relationship very sour, very quickly and while Slutsky’s team played with some style - they were defensively vacant. Slutsky had to cope with a depleted squad following relegation from the Premier League and replacements were signed too late and with little thought. The malaise that set in over a year earlier at the club went into overdrive during Slutsky’s reign. He never had a chance.

Adkins had to have witnessed it all having seemingly bought a membership at the KCOM that summer (making the total number sold = 1) so when he stepped in for the visit of Brentford last December ago, he assured he’d get little sympathy if the same issues that had haunted Slutsky played out again.

Adkins managed Scunthorpe and Southampton with distinction but following his harsh sacking by Saints had poor spells at Reading and Sheffield United. Those hard times didn’t affect his confidence or his irritating chirpiness. He arrived at City having turned his personality up to full “David Brent”.

Adkins recognised the defensive deficiency of the City squad, although so did Theresa May and she couldn’t manage a piss up in an Atom Brewery. City had been free-scoring under Slutsky and the goals dried up but so did the goals against with City conceding less than a goal a game in Adkins’ first ten in charge compared to almost two per game under Leonid. Despite that performances, particularly away from home, continued to range from average to downright abysmal with the capitulations at Bolton and Sunderland being particular lowlights.

Adkin’s post-match interviews have made him a figure of fun but the most baffling may have come after that abysmal performance at the Stadium of Light when he expressed his surprise at the performance because of how well the players warmed up. Fans spent the next few months gauging the pre-match preamble for clues as to whether it worth hanging around or best to head back to Princes Avenue for a pint in the warmth.

Ten days later, City drew 0-0 at home to Leeds United’s U12s. With the transfer window having closed with City signing only a cheap centre-half and a winger on loan, Adkins bemoaned the fact that the team put 47 crosses into the box without reward. I’m not sure whether he’d had a bang on the head and imagined the signing of a big striker or whether training that week consisted of Fraizer Campbell practicing headers while sitting on Nouha Dicko’s shoulders like some freaky pantomime act but quite what Adkins thought 47 crosses was going to achieve is anyone’s guess. Maybe he just got a “Best of Brendan Rodgers” tape for Xmas.

City avoided relegation from the Championship comfortably thanks do a very good Spring with the loan-signing of Harry Wilson proving inspired and a fit-again Abel Hernandez and interested-again Kamil Grosicki showing their quality. The brilliant 4-3 comeback win over Norwich, 3-0 win at Ipswich, 5-0 demolition of Burton on a tremendous evening at the Pirelli Stadium and crazy 5-5 draw at Bristol City were particular highlights.

There was little cause for optimism though as Hernandez and Michael Dawson were amongst eight first team players out of contract and the signs suggested that even home-grown Max Clark, perma-injured Moses Odubajo and Seb Larsson – who didn’t even have a club until the previous September – wouldn’t be staying. The club made no effort to keep David Meyler – the last man-standing from the most successful period in the club’s history under Steve Bruce. Everything pointed towards another summer of cost-cutting, bargain-hunting and beating the life out of a previously happy manager. Adkins saw the writing on the wall. Or he should have. He could have taken his own advice after telling Matt Dean in April “If you can’t do the maths, go and learn the maths”. WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN?

The summer passed as everyone could have predicted. Three loan players from Chelsea and Harry Wilson went back to their clubs and eight senior players left at the end of their contracts. Reinforcements were on loan like Todd Kane, cheap foreigners like Jordy De Wijs and David Milinkovic, low cost up-front like Reece Burke or, in fairness, an utter bargain like Eric Lichaj. Business was done earlier than usual and Kamil Grosicki wasn’t sold as expected while on deadline day, the experienced Tommy Elphick and Chris Martin came in loan to somewhat salvage the situation. 

It still left Adkins with a threadbare looking squad and that’s been proven since with the involvement of many youngsters from the club’s U23 squad filling the bench or - in the case of Robbie McKenzie and Brandon Fleming – joining the now established Jarrod Bowen and Daniel Batty in the first team.

The season has been a predictable struggle. City won just 2 of the first 14 Championship games. As much as Adkins is dealing with a bad hand – it isn’t as bad as 2 wins in 14. Considering no-one was excited about his arrival in the first place, except himself of course, he throws a party if he finds a blue smartie, he was lucky to survive such a terrible start to the season. There are extenuating circumstances considering the squad he has been left with – one that can’t afford the odd injury or carry any player who is having a bad day (slash season, slash career) but that all comes full circle to the owners who have long since thrown their toys out of the pram and Adkins knew all about that before he begged for the job.

We’ll never know, given the silence of the Allams (geddit?), whether they had faith in Adkins or they just don’t care, but there were signs of improvement despite defeats at Sheffield United and Bristol City and that has been borne out with three wins and three draws from the last seven games. Two clean sheets in three home games suggest defensive improvement but that last three away games have an average score of 8-7 which utterly belies that! There are signs of stability though with City fairly set on a system now, with three hard working forwards, and players stepping in to cover who look like they’re close to the level of the players they are replacing.

With no sign of the rumoured takeover happening, there is no optimism that the club’s downward spiral will end any time soon. Fans are absent in their thousands. More players will leave in the summer at the end of their contracts (David Marshall, Evandro, Markus Henriksen, Ondrej Mazuch, Will Keane and James Weir are up while the club have an option on Campbell). The words “transfer window” have been crossed off the calendar in Adkins’ office. Any other manager would be ground down by the situation. Fortunately for Adkins, he’s perpetually chippy, and sees this as the start of establishing stability at the club (don’t say “strong and stable”, don’t say “strong and stable”).

For context, I asked fans on Twitter what the thought of Adkins first year and his prospects. 52% (of 453 votes) felt he could have done a better job. However, 56% (of 598 votes) would keep him as manager if a takeover happened. I think that sums up my feelings too. I do agree that results and performances could have been better when you compare our squad, depleted as it is, to those we are coming up against.

Yet considering the recent improvement and the overall lack of backing, I also think it would be harsh not to give him a few months after a new broom has swept the club clean of Allam stink.

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