Revitalised Tigers into uncharted territory – opposition profile
Tuesday, 12th Aug 2014 23:31 by Clive Whittingham
Hull City surpassed expectations by surviving in the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final in the first season after promotion, but can the upward trajectory be maintained?
Given that Hull City were promoted from the Championship in 2013 despite losing 15 times during the campaign, scoring five fewer goals at home than bottom of the table Bristol City, six fewer away than relegated Peterborough, and while selecting Alex Bruce as a defensive central midfield player, it’s understandable that most neutrals had them down as a sure-fire silver bullet relegation certainty before last season kicked off. By May Hull had survived comfortably in midtable, reached the FA Cup final and qualified for Europe.
It’s been a tremendously successful rehabilitation of a football club which rose from the brink of bankruptcy in the bottom division of the Football League at a dilapidated old Boothferry Park ground right up to the Premier League in a shiny new council-owned stadium in the city’s West Park, only to go a little bit bonkers when they got there. The meteoric rise came under the chairmanship of Adam Pearson but when he sold out to Paul Duffen, Hull embarked on a spending spree under the management of terminally incompetent Phil Brown that saw them assemble a squad with the eighth highest wages in the league with easily the fewest quality players. Jimmy Bullard’s four year deal on £40,000 a week despite a cut and shut knee joint was a particular low light. When City tumbled out of the top division bankruptcy was staring them in the face.
On the field the rebuild has been done by Steve Bruce, a manager whose ability to overachieve with these middle-of-the-road, 20,000-at-home-type clubs has benefitted Birmingham and Wigan in the past. Bruce was burned badly by a disastrous spell in charge at Sunderland where, by the end, it seemed only a matter of whether he’d be sacked or have a heart attack first. Thankfully, with cholesterol oozing from every pore, Sunderland shifted him off to a break from the game in just the nick of time. Hull have been rewarded for looking beyond that at his overall record and giving him a route back in.
Bruce has done magnificent work at the KC Stadium, and it’s disgraceful that his name wasn’t given stronger recognition in the end of season betting for the Manager of the Year award. Tony Pulis was an obvious and deserving choice for that prize but who else had done a better job than Bruce, keeping a newly promoted team up while taking them to Wembley and securing a first ever European campaign in the club’s history? Brendan Rodgers, who took a fully fit Liverpool squad with no European commitments and the most in form striker in Europe and won nothing with it, and Manuel Pellegrini, who spent £100m on an already brilliant Manchester City team, both shorter odds than the Hull manager.
Bruce showed tremendous adeptness in the transfer market last season, particularly in securing the signatures of Tom Huddlestone and Shane Long who are both fantastic Premier League players worthy of – with all due respect intended and probably not given – better clubs than Hull, West Brom and Spurs reserves. He’ll need to work hard again this summer to equip a squad for the extra games a European campaign could bring, and now the club has decided to cash in on Long they look light in attack.
Another problem City might find is that Bruce has never really been noted for his loyalty, and that job at his boyhood club Newcastle is likely to come up during the coming campaign.
Off the field, locally-based Egyptian businessman Assem Allam has led the recovery. In Hull, the locals talk of £50m worth of debt paid off and a further £40m invested in the team which probably would have finished a good deal higher than its final resting place of sixteenth last year but for the distractions of the cup run. What more could a football fan ask of their club’s owner?
Outside the city, it’s the chairman’s quest to rename the club Hull Tigers which has caught the attention. Allam, bizarrely, claimed initially this was because it was “shorter”, which can of course be disproved mathematically, and equally improbably that a change of name would help the club grow its fan base and merchandise sales in Asia where presumably hundreds of thousands of people are waiting credit cards in hand itching to get involved with an English team if only one of them was called after a tiger or a snow leopard or something. This created the rather bizarre situation where Hull City were ascending to new, unprecedented levels on the field while fans were protesting against the owner that made it all possible off it during last season. Allam, classily, said a pressure group formed by supporters called City Till We Die could “die whenever they want”. In a rare show of solidarity with the supporters who turn up and pay money to watch the product every week, against the wishes of some rich foreign investor, the Football Association rejected Hull’s name change application.
Allam’s ownership of Hull City comes with a position at the head of the stadium management group which is in charge of the KC Stadium – built a decade ago using proceeds from the privatisation of the city’s previously publicly owned telephone and internet firm Kingston Communications. Allam would like to own the stadium outright, and would like the council to sell it to him for a nominal fee. He says that’s so Hull can invest in extending their own home. A cynic/realist would suggest it’s got more to do with the huge patch of waste ground currently used as a car park behind the away end which Allam, out of the kindness of his heart of course, would like to turn into a sports village and retail park. When the council reject these proposals Allam tends to go and stand outside the city in a field somewhere clutching blueprints to his plan for a new stadium for Hull City in the middle of buttfuck nowhere and have the Hull Daily Mail come down and take photographs.
He’s also antagonistic towards Hull FC, the rugby league club which shares the stadium under a very favourable rental agreement signed at the time of the stadium’s construction. This summer they had to switch fixtures and were unable to play a home match for two months while the pitch was re-laid, and last season they turned up to a game to find that the in goal area had been ruined by a squash court placed there so the stadium could host the sport’s world championships in front of absolutely nobody at all. Allam also ordered the removal of all Hull FC memorabilia from the stadium walls, including the picture of Johnny Whiteley from the Johnny Whiteley suite, unless Hull FC agreed to pay a five figure sum to have them there on top of their rent.
As we’ve discussed before, in this country such behaviour matters little as long as your football team is winning football matches. Steve Bruce even went so far as to say that Allam could change the colour of the home kit to pink if he so wished, given what he’d done for the club. English football clubs must start having more respect for the traditions, history and support base that make them so attractive to foreign investment in the first place than this. At the moment we’re all too ready to ride roughshod over 120 years of club history because we’ve had 18 months of decent results on the field.
But overall the garden is rosy in Hull at the moment, with only the threat of the dreaded second season syndrome – exacerbated by extra European fixtures – clouding the horizon. Their target will no doubt be the magical 42 point barrier once again, and they’ll need a striker or two before the window closes, but they seem reasonably well set.
If QPR are indeed going to follow through with the switch to three centre halves and wing backs for this season, then to begin with they’ll find themselves up against a side that has been settled in that same system for two years now and has a well refined style and shape that works well for them.
Hull have played two competitive games in Europe already prior to this Saturday’s meeting – winning 2-1 on aggregate against AS Trencin of Slovakia in the Europa League qualifying rounds. The three centre backs for both legs where James Chester, Alex Bruce and Curtis Davies. Bruce, in my opinion, has always made a far better living from this sport than his ability should ever have allowed because of his surname but Davies alongside him has become a real star over the past 12 months, finally fulfilling that potential that saw Aston Villa pay £8m for him back in 2008. An England call up has been mentioned, and Davies is an aerial threat in both boxes – watch out for his movement at attacking set pieces. QPR will certainly start with Charlie Austin and then either Loic Remy or Junior Hoilett against that three.
At the other end Hull have problems if Shane Long is indeed about to move to Southampton for £12m. Matty Fryatt has also left leaving only Yannick Sagbo (suspended this weekend), Nikica Jelavic and Sune Aluko. That’s likely to go against a likely back three of Rio Ferdinand, Steven Caulker and Richard Dunne, although I’d prefer the athleticism of Nedum Onuoha in there, and QPR should fancy their chances there.
The two areas where Hull will threaten QPR are the wing back positions and the deep lying midfield areas. Against PAOK on Saturday, Joey Barton showed that he’s lost none of his desire to attempt ambitious, Hollywood passes across vast distances of pitch, often when there’s an easier option available, and at least half the time he succeeded in nothing other than conceding possession. Hull have Tom Huddlestone, one of the signings of last season, and although his embarrassing penalty miss in the first leg against Trencin has gone viral, he’s vital to the way Hull play. He actually can pass the ball accurately over more than ten yards.
Barton would be better deployed closing down the space Huddlestone has to operate in, and leaving the directing of play to Ale Faurlin who looked remarkably fit against the Greeks given that he’s recovering from a second ruptured cruciate knee ligament injury in 18 months. If Barton concedes possession as readily as he did on Saturday here, don’t expect Huddlestone to do likewise. Closing down the space he has to work with will be key to success.
Which leaves the right and left wing backs. QPR could be offensive on the right and give a debut to Mauricio Isla, or defensive and stick with Danny Simpson. On the left they could be offensive with Armand Traore, defensive with Yun Suk-Young, or mind-blowingly stupid by picking Shaun Wright-Phillips. Hull have played with wing backs for a couple of years now and know the systems strengths and weaknesses well. Ahmed Elmohamady playes one side and options for the other include Liam Rosenior and Manor Figueroa.
Hull were scratchy against Trencin, but produced a fine display to defeat Stuttgart in Germany in their final friendly at the weekend after which Steve Bruce said a number of fringe players – David Meyler and Stephen Quinn chief amongst them – had put themselves in the frame for a start on Saturday.
Closing down Huddlestone, and quickly getting to grips with the intricacies of playing with wing backs, will be the key to QPR success here.
Links >>> http://www.hullcitytigers.com/>Hull City official website >>> http://www.hulldailymail.co.uk/sport>Hull Daily Mail sport section >>> http://www.hullcityindependent.net/>City Independent site and forum >>> http://www.hullcity-mad.co.uk/>Hull City Mad site and forum >>> http://www.not606.com/forumdisplay.php/41-Hull-City>Not 606 Hull forum >>> http://www.hull.vitalfootball.co.uk/>Vital Hull site and form >>> http://www.ambernectar.org/blog/>Amber Nectar Blog
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