Monday, 31 August 2009

A legend departs

The greatest player in Hull City's history has exited.

We'll miss you Michael.

And with him gone, there are thousands of questions which feel unanswered. But let's see first if the remaining 24 hours of the transfer window blows our minds with arrivals as much as it just has with one solitary departure. If not, then expect the inquiry - nay, the revolt - to begin.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

04: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 - 1 Hull City - 29/08/2009

Michael Turner probably saves ten goals a season for Hull City with his brand of heroic defending. He is essentially a second goalkeeper, albeit without the facility ot use his hands. As he again stopped the Tigers from losing a game which their opponents deserved to win, the anger at his proposed sale transmogrified into utter confusion.

Why on earth would City want to sell him? The club don't need the money, proven by the £12 million dangled in front of Real Madrid's noses for one of their non-galactic centre forwards. The issue of Turner's own career progress is misguided, as going to Sunderland - a club with funds and fans but a crushingly frequent sense of underachievement - would offer little more in the achievement stakes than prolonging his stay at a club where he is adored and revered.

It beggars belief. And as Turner tackled, headed, blocked and risked his manhood and digestive system to stop Wolverhampton Wanderers scoring their merited winner, it beggared belief just so much more.

Given the speculation that talks between City and Sunderland advanced sufficiently for Turner himself to get involved, it was a welcome surprise to see the finest defender in the club's history on the teamsheet, fittingly maintaining the armband with George Boateng again on the bench. It was presumed that he had already made his last appearance.

Phil Brown chose not to give Jozy Altidore his hungrily awaited debut, keeping the stocky Yank on the bench while Caleb Folan stayed up front. As if to complicate the Turner saga further, Anthony Gardner was out with injury - again - and so Steven Mouyokolo was given the chance to show his credentials as a centre back, having spent the initial part of the season looking frightened lost on the right of defence. This square peg job, until the club get round to confirming Paul McShane's return at least, was again given to Kamil Zayatte.

The first attack, and the first goal. The marvellous Kamel Ghilas, positive and incisive (and damned quick), played games with the anxious Wolves defence as he swapped passes with Andy Dawson and then sent Stephen Hunt on an overlap. Hunt got past Greg Halford with all the ease in the world and chipped a textbook ball on to the unmarked forehead of Geovanni, who couldn't miss.

A brilliant start. But it wouldn't get any better.

Wolves weren't exactly shellshocked into playing, not until their manager of renowned fieriness got hold of them at half time anyway, but City let them off way too easily after opening the scoring. It should have been a prime opportunity to keep running at them, testing them, taking on players and maintaining possession. It didn't happen. Only on counter attacks did it look like the Tigers may get another goal.

Ghilas crossed one from such a breakaway which was heading Folan's way until the desperate Michael Mancienne got a crucial foot in. Another sprayed ball from deep got Geovanni chasing. Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey won the race but gave his clearance to Kevin Kilbane, who shot over. And a third quick getaway led to Geovanni hitting a left-footer which for a split second looked on target, but was heeled away by a backtracking defender before Hennessey could be tested. From Hunt's corner, Ghilas headed straight at the Wolves custodian.

Matt Jarvis then gave Wolves hope by creating their first chance with a chase of freedom down the left, but Andy Keogh snatched at the chance and aimed his shot straight into Boaz Myhill's clutches. Dawson then blocked Keogh's shot expertly, removing enough sting and trajectory from the ball to allow Myhill a simple catch.

The half ended with just a solitary minute added and the Tigers looked totally in command. While allowing for the habitual surrender of domination which City teams of all eras and qualities have managed over the decades, there was genuine confidence in this one. The rumblings about Turner weren't exactly put to one side, but the lead and dominance after 45 minutes - much of which was largely due to Turner's usual authority in defence - did at least add a tiny spoonful of sugar.

Within a minute of the restart, the expectations were dashed. Wolves won a free kick and Richard Stearman got the vital final touch as City failed to deal with it. Myhill was totally beaten and the game had turned entirely and suddenly.

The Tigers spent the rest of the game wondering how the hell to deal with such an early, unexpected equaliser, and very nearly didn't manage it. Only once did a shot go in on goal - Wolves old boy Seyi Olofinjana hitting a grasscutter right at Hennessey - and for the rest of the time City were either misplacing passes or backpedalling furiously as Wolves came at them.

Halford's long throws and free kicks from Jarvis were proving useful tools, allowing Mancienne and Jody Craddock to venture forward and time and again City's response was frantic and awkward. Myhill risked injury from Keogh's legally aimed studs as the two went for a ball nodded down by Craddock from a Jarvis cross, then George Elokobi's swerving cross was flicked goalwards by Keogh but Myhill held this one comfortably.

With Folan now spent and lacking interest again, Altidore was slung on by Brown but had little effect and, indeed, didn't seem to show much more interest than the player he replaced. Craddock headed a Stearman cross over the bar before Altidore was isolated further by the bamboozling decision to substitute the splendid Ghilas and replace him with the industry but touchless frustration of Craig Fagan.

Keogh was freed down the inside left channel by Kevin Doyle but wasted the chance, putting it across Myhill's goal with only the keeper to beat, albeit from a tight angle. The home side knew victory was only ever going to be theirs if they could just locate some calmness in front of goal, and Keogh seemed certain to net the winner when Craddock headed a free kick across the six yard box into his path, with Myhill stranded at the wrong side of goal.

However, there was a colossus also chasing the ball, reading its direction, preparing his response.

Keogh, only a handful of yards out, shot for goal and it was on target and Myhill was in no position to save. But Turner had scampered across and proceeded to throw everything in his body at the ball, in the hope he could do enough to deflect it aside. He succeeded, via his stomach, and as he crouched down, desperately regaining his breath as his winded body recovered and Keogh held his head, one wonders if a certain chairman may have been persuaded at this point that this kind of defending is rarely out there to purchase at will.

That is why we shouldn't sell him. That one specific piece of defending, the type which shows that there is no such thing as an act which is beyond the call of duty. Turner knows that and has proved it week in, week out. Players like this are scarce, and those that do exist are already at the top of the game and won't be interested in Hull City in the slightest.

Stearman shot wide after a poor clearance from Mouyokolo, then Doyle and Jarvis missed a good chance each. Substitute Sam Vokes missed the target with an injury time header, and somehow we clung on for 1-1. Had this been any of the middling Premier League clubs we hope to emulate, we'd have lost by four or five.

Upon the final whistle, Turner bided his time and then applauded the City fans who only had one name on their mind. His clapping was not overstated and, a brief thumbs-up later, he made his way off the field, and possibly off the Hull City radar after three and a bit seasons. He knows he is iconic among City fans, the key figure in our promotion and then survival in the last two seasons. Whatever stage the negotiations between the clubs are at, with or without the player's involvement, it was evident that Turner's heart and soul remained, on the day, with the Tigers. His performance made this obvious, but we didn't expect anything less from such a fine defender, player and human being.

Why the hell should we sell him? What on earth is going on? Suddenly, this doesn't feel like it's about football any more.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Hennessey, Elokobi, Mancienne, Craddock, Halford, Stearman, Henry, Jarvis, Milijas, Keogh (Vokes 89), Doyle. Subs not used: Hahnemann, Edwards, Zubar, Berra, Surman, Jones.

Hull City
: Myhill, Zayatte, Dawson, Turner, Mouyokolo, Kilbane, Hunt, Olofinjana, Ghilas (Fagan 73), Geovanni (Barmby 82), Folan (Altidore 63). Subs not used: Warner, Cooper, Boateng, Halmosi.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Our Michael

Five more days. Just five more to make sure Michael Turner remains focussed, adored - and ours.

Steve Bruce, manager of Sunderland, has confirmed that he has made an enquiry about Turner's availability. A fee around £6 million has been mentioned, though if Joleon Lescott is worth three times that much then getting Turner at the offered fee would be daylight robbery.

But I don't ever want to think about Turner in terms of fees. I don't want to know how much he is worth financially, because emotionally he is totally priceless. If it is ever about money, he should be able to name his desired weekly wage and expect Hull City to agree to it. He has earned that right. He did more than any individual to get the Tigers promoted and then did more than any individual to keep the club in the top division. He is reliable, consistent, sometimes spectacular, disciplined and handily injury-free, embodied by his absence from not a solitary minute of Premier League football last season.

Therefore, when a club proclaims they have enquired about him, I want Hull City to issue a terse, short statement saying that Turner is not for sale, all bids will be rejected and the matter ends here. At the moment they've said nothing. The fans are saying plenty, and while some acknowledge that daft money might have to be accepted if offered, all want Turner to remain. It's a considerable no-brainer.

Turner's presence gives us a brilliant chance of staying up and maybe progressing in this division. Without him we will be far more likely to go down, and this is a club that, remember, many think will go down even if Turner stays to repeats his performance and appearance heroics of last year. And any replacement for Turner is unlikely to be as good as him, simply because so few of them exist and those who do are at bigger clubs than the Tigers.

Sunderland are a big club and aren't doing anything wrong. But they have no power to wield here - unless Hull City allow them it. We're blessed with the knowledge that Turner is the sort of intelligent, stereotype-defying footballer who appreciates his position and isn't swayed by money or glamour, and knows he is on to a good thing where he is, especially as he is already regarded as the all-time great defender in Tigers history. So let's see if we can breathe a sigh of relief after the Bank Holiday and be thankful that the colour of his stripes haven't altered to red and white.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Again for McShane

There is a dual significance in the reported purchase this week by Hull City of Paul McShane, the vigorous, unfussy Irish right back who spent a successful three-month loan period at the KC Stadium last season.

On an obvious level, it means that the right back issue caused by the sale of Sam Ricketts and the unconvincing attempts to fill the gap by Steven Mouyokolo and Kamil Zayatte is about to be solved. And solved superbly too.

On a less obvious level, it begins to dispel the wretched, spiteful myth spreading via the press that no player wants to play for Phil Brown. In McShane, we not only have a fresh recruit to the cause, a specialist in a role which currently has a vacancy, but also a footballer who knows Brown already from his impressive loan spell from Sunderland that only came to an end when Ricky Sbragia baulked at the idea of fellow relegation candidates benefitting directly from the abilities of a person on his watch, and recalled him without ever intending to give him a game.

Whether the press realise or notice this significance is open to question, and I sincerely doubt Brown gives a stuff anyway. But it is handy that the acquisition of a player who we really need on the pitch might just help Brown's own rehabilitation as coach and man off it.

Carling Cup 2nd round: Hull City 3 - 1 Southend United - 25/08/2009

Progress to the third round of the Carling Cup proved to be untroublesome and uninspiring. Fortunately, unlike the same stage last season, Hull City remembered that opponents from the lower echelons are there to be beaten.

Southend United were game and occasionally impressive opponents, but class told in the end and the Tigers were rarely, though not never, in any danger of finishing the 90 minutes anywhere but ahead.

In his programme notes, Phil Brown confirmed he would change the team and change it he most certainly did. The entire starting XI from Saturday's win over Bolton Wanderers was removed from view, with a few claiming a place on the bench instead, and eleven new beginners lined up. Among them was Jozy Altidore, who needs to acquire match sharpness and certainly there was hope that the American would be able to let rip against League One opposition. The youth system provided four of the side too - perennial fringe player Nicky Featherstone taking his expected stopgap position in midfield and Liam Cooper replicating the defensive role he had in the equivalent match at Swansea last season. Will Atkinson and Tom Cairney were also thrown into the midfield, with a first team debut for the latter. Atkinson has been fleetingly seen in the last three seasons but ultimately will only ever feature in matches like this before an inevitable transfer to a club of Southend's level and size.

An early header from Alex Revell was held by Tony Warner in City's goal, then Craig Fagan failed to make anything other than cursory contact with a good cross from Nathan Doyle. The game soon settled into City's lap, however, when Cairney scored a total peach of a goal.

Fagan was flat on his face, having been struck in the head during a challenge, but neither players nor referee felt it was worth stopping the match and Cairney benefitted to the greatest possible extent when he lofted a beautiful chipped shot from just outside the area over keeper Steve Mildenhall. It was a divine piece of improvised football from a youngster who might just make it. Given City's paltry record for homegrown stars in the last decade, this would be no mean feat.

Lee Barnard had a chance which he skied for the Shrimpers, who were followed by an understandably meagre but fairly boisterous 150 or so from Essex. They were encouraged by this chance and raised the volume to the point where they were easily heard. This was helped by the arms-folded attitude of the Tiger Nation, who seemed to be in attendance more because there was little on the telly as an alternative.

The game then became rather barren in the entertainment and creativity stakes until the last five minutes of the half. Altidore then a had a shot saved by Mildenhall, prior to being tripped from 25 yards out and monopolising the free kick himself, a decision vindicated by the precise and venomous low shot which sneaked in at Mildenhall's near post. His first in English football.

A 2-0 margin with the interval looming seemed more than adequate, but Southend replied instantly and Franck Roussa scored with a tidy finish after a nod down in his direction left Warner a little too exposed. So it was 2-1 instead, and some work still needed doing.

The second half was almost literally without incident, certainly until Geovanni came on for stand-in skipper Nick Barmby with 20 minutes to go. The Brazilian tried a speculative shot which dipped and swooped but still went too high, prior to a spot of admirable endeavour from Southend which prompted genuine worries.

Warner came into his own here. He saved courageously and neatly from Revell as the Shrimpers forward was given room by a nice ball down the inside right channel, then got across superbly to block Anthony Grant's far post finish after a penetrating cross avoided every other outfield player within breathing distance.

A scare or two, certainly, but soon they were forgotten and Southend's spirit died when Geovanni followed a blocked effort from Doyle to aim a low, stuttering volley beyond Mildenhall's right hand and into the far corner. Fagan could have added to the scoreline late on but Mildenhall saved his low drive well.

A workout from which Brown will have taken his usual soundbitten array of positives, not least the beginning of Altidore's goalscoring mission for the Tigers. Of the kids, Cairney was superb and Cooper was handy, while the saves from Warner when things got briefly hairy may just help him become the rubberstamped understudy to Boaz Myhill instead of Matt Duke.

Good exercise and blessedly free of injuries or controversy. The third round draw will be observed with interest on Saturday as we head for more important business at Wolves.

Hull City: Warner, Doyle, Halmosi, Mouyokolo, Cooper, Featherstone, Cairney (Kilbane 73), Atkinson (Ghilas 73), Barmby (Geovanni 59), Fagan, Altidore. Subs not used: Duke, Cousin, Zayatte, Mendy.

Southend United
: Mildenhall, Francis, Heath, Barrett, M'Voto, Christophe (Sawyer 78), Grant (Betsy 69), McCormack, Moussa, Barnard (Walker 83), Revell. Subs not used: Joyce, Sankofa, Scannell, Freedman.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Out with the new...

While the supporters are clamouring for Jozy Altidore and Kamel Ghilas to be allowed to rip Southend United apart in the Carling Cup tonight, it seems more likely that the game represents the last chance saloon for Daniel Cousin.

There is logic in the argument that Alitdore and Ghilas should be given an opportunity to use tonight's tie as a practice session for their future Premier League partnership, with a winnable game at Wolves due this weekend and with just half an hour - albeit a devastating half an hour - of duality to their names thus far.

But Cousin is too important to just discard. He signed for the Tigers a year ago this week and, despite injuries and accusations of a lack of commitment, he has undoubtedly proved a proficient goalscorer when handed the chances and, more pertinently even than that, has been known to find the net in the biggest games.

Southend does not represent the biggest game, of course. But it's big for Cousin, assuming he maintains any desire to stay at Hull City, something called into doubt initially by the noises he made in the summer about a last payday in the Middle East, followed by his abominable display against Tottenham Hotspur last week which prompted Phil Brown to remove him after just 20 minutes.

Brown uses ties like these to exercise the fringe players. Cousin now finds himself very much a fringe player, scrapping for his future. Unlike the professional trainers like Bryan Hughes and Nathan Doyle, however, Cousin has a mentality and ability which means that his Tigers career hasn't gone into water-treading mode just yet.

Altidore and Ghilas have swiped his thunder even though they have yet to start a game together, but at the very least Cousin needs to be kept in the loop as, in the event of either of the new boys taking a whack, he is still our best hope for anything resembling regular goals. A place in the XI, a confidence-boosting performance and a goal or two against a League One defence tonight should represent both a fresh start and a fresh challenge for a good striker.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

03: Hull City 1 - 0 Bolton Wanderers - 22/08/2009

We have our strike partnership at last. Moments after being introduced as a second half substitute, with the score blank and the opposition creating the chances, Jozy Altidore fed Kamel Ghilas and the Tigers broke the deadlock.

Altidore, frustratingly prevented until now from making his Hull City debut thanks to the sluggishness of the work permit system, had clearly been itching for some action. A lack of match practice, perhaps with a subtle hint of jetlag, had prevented him from commencing this match against an unambitious but effective Bolton side, but it was obvious as the game trundled past the hour mark that he would get his chance.

On for the hardworking but clueless Caleb Folan, the American instantly took the ball on the edge of the box, and possibly with a slice of fortune, lobbed the last line of defence into the path of Ghilas, whose excellent anticipation of the ball allowed him a clear chance to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen, and duly he did.

A goal past Jussi Jaaskelainen. These are infrequent occurrences when wearing Tigers colours but at last one had come that gave City the lead. From here onwards the result rarely looked in doubt, which again is some achievement given that this is the first win in the Premier League at the KC since December.

It's a pleasant feeling to win again, especially in this instance as until Altidore's introduction, City had been under a lot of coshes indeed. The power and focus of the marvellous Kevin Davies gave City's defence all sorts of grief, as did the delivery from the left of Matthew Taylor. A combination of inept finishing and desperate defending kept the visitors out.

Phil Brown selected a fresh team after the salutary lesson handed out by Tottenham Hotspur in midweek. Kamil Zayatte was the latest short-term solution given the right back role after a nervous performance from Steven Mouyokolo on Wednesday, while Kevin Kilbane replaced the exhausted George Boateng in midfield (which directed the captaincy to Michael Turner). Daniel Cousin was unsurprisingly jettisoned entirely, allowing Ghilas his first start, and Geovanni was an equally obvious shoo-in with Bernard Mendy giving way. Sam Ricketts, whose departure has caused all these right back problems, lined up in his specialist role for Bolton, whose fans were not plentiful in noise or numbers.

Bolton began the brighter, with Johan Elmander flashing a good chance all the way across goal after breaking a flimsy offside trap. City's response was to break the visitors' own rearguard with Seyi Olofinjana's ball sending Ghilas away, but that man Jaaskelainen just got there first.

Zayatte then switched passes with Olofinjana impressively, which turned Bolton's defenders on to their heels and allowed Ghilas an angled opportunity which Jaaskelainen saved well. Zayatte then did well with a typically directionless charge with the ball at his feet, rampaging across the pitch before feeding Stephen Hunt, whose drive went over.

Bolton patiently regained possession and forced a free kick from an impetuous City side, which was floated in by Taylor and headed high in the air by Gary Cahill, which Davies seemed favourite for until Boaz Myhill appeared with a sturdy fist to force the ball clear. Hunt then turned up on the right and was fouled, allowing him to swerve a free kick in from the position where he fluked the goal against Spurs, but this time the ball bounced wide after similarly avoiding every challenging forehead and Jaaskelainen's gloves.

The all-action Hunt was then booked for leaving a shin in the vicinity of the prostrate Taylor's head - he has a history of this kind of thing, of course - and Sean Davis whipped a shot in from the dead ball which flicked off the wall and away for a corner that came to nothing.

Geovanni, quietly influential thus far, then made room in a smart manner to get the ball positioned for a right foot shot which was aimed low and hard for Jaaskelainen's right, but the excellence of the goalkeeper came through again with a tidy reflex save.

Elmander then had a chance to score after City struggled like hell to clear one of Ricketts' familiar long throws, but scuffed the opportunity under a spot of pressure from Anthony Gardner, simplifying the save for Myhill.

Bolton were in a clear ascendancy as the half time whistle approached, with the hesitant Olofinjana robbed easily by Davis, who then feed Elmander in space. The final ball for Davies was good but he hurried the chance and sliced it wide.

Mark Davies - as if to confuse the situation even more - then tried a run from the back which went on and on until Olofinjana unlawfully brought it to a halt, receiving a yellow card for his trouble. Taylor, a specialist at these dead balls, curled a low effort round the wall which Myhill beat away late, with the Elmander follow up hacked clear from inside the six yard box by Zayatte. From the long throw that resulted, Kevin Davies headed over.

Davis then delivered a free kick right on half time which Elmander volleyed wastefully wide and City left the field knowing that they could have been a goal up or, more worryingly, three goals down. It wasn't abject but it was a concern. Fortunately, there seemed to be subs coiling on the bench, waiting to spring.

The second half started far more brightly for the Tigers. Andy Dawson's awkward cross was headed across goal by Folan but Geovanni wasted the volley. However, Bolton soon were putting the squeeze on again, with Kevin Davies heading a Taylor free kick wide, then sending Elmander away, whose instant heel touch gave Taylor a shooting chance which he never really got a proper hold of. Once Bolton nearly scored on the counter after dealing with a City long throw - Mark Davies headed a cross into the air from a decent position - a change was both urgent and obvious.

Altidore was ready, and Folan made way. A word for Folan here - he clearly has worked on his attitude and his mileage around the pitch, but ultimately he simply doesn't have the quality, either in front of goal or in deeper play, to make a significant contribution to a Premier League team. He has gained friends aplenty since the seasons' beginning - the most he has had since his winning goal on the inaugural day of football at this level for the Tigers against Fulham a year ago. But there comes a point where better players than he have to be located and hurled into the action, and it would be of no surprise if our first million pound player was sold on before long.

Altidore, stocky of shoulder and quick on his heels, made his immediate impact, giving the so far uiet but promising Ghilas his chance for goal, which he took with great aplomb, firing a visious close range shot into the roof of the exposed Jaaskelainen's net.

City were inspired, as the noise reached environmental health-baiting levels and further chances were created. A free kick was swung in by Hunt and Zayatte headed it wide. A superb counter then gave Altidore the chance of which he had dreamt, thanks to Ghilas' pace and Geovanni's divine final ball, but his cutely flicked shot beat the post - just - as well as Jaaskelainen.

Bolton were still in it, with Ricketts beating his old full back comrade Dawson to a through ball but aiming a weak left foot shot at Myhill, but still City searched for the clinching second goal, and it almost came when Zayatte's clearing header sent Ghilas through, onside, and he clattered the underside of the bar with his shot, prior to Altidore being crowded out for the rebound. A replay on the KC's big screen confirmed that the ball did not land over Jaaskelainen's line.

Altidore then got another gilt-edged chance to score on his long-awaited debut, thanks to Hunt's ballwinning skills and Geovanni's sublime through ball, but Jaaskelainen's heroics returned with style, blocking with both bravery and agility as the American struck a firm, on target shot. Ghilas put the rebound over the bar. Geovanni was then replaced by the more pragmatic Boateng, his work done.

Bolton had the best of the closing stages, with Taylor twice swinging in crosses which Myhill had to tip over. Fabrice Muamba shot wide from a cleared corner and, in injury time, Ricketts hit a dangerous low shot which Myhill had to stretch low to beat out, prior to blocking sub Lee Chung-Yong's follow-up. City could have clinched it when Craig Fagan, on for the tremendous Ghilas, saw his shot deflected wide after a good set-up by Altidore.

The last chance came in the fourth added minute, but Kevin Davies volleyed wide after a knockdown from Jaaskelainen's desperate long clearance. Myhill never moved, and his hands-on-head stance afterwards suggested he thought he was beaten. He wasn't, and neither were the Tigers. There was quite a roar over the city when the whistle sounded, while Bolton's travelling support began, for the umpteenth time, to call for Gary Megson to be relieved of his duties.

A win, at last, and only three games into the season against a team whose place as one of the established bottom half sides is one we need to be aiming for. There are many teams like Bolton in the Premier League. If we are to progress and prosper, then we need to be doing this to all of them.

The real fillip, the main point of optimism, comes from the way Altidore and Ghilas combined once the former had been thrown into the action. One suspects that they will get the chance to build a partnership from the beginning at Wolverhampton Wanderers next week, irrespective of what Brown chooses to do with the team in the Carling Cup against Southend United on Tuesday night. For now, the future seems a little brighter for City, and it's not a sensation we've experienced regularly of late.

Hull City: Myhill, Zayatte, Dawson, Turner, Gardner, Olofinjana, Kilbane, Hunt, Geovanni (Boateng 81), Ghilas (Fagan 86), Folan (Altidore 60). Subs not used: Warner, Mouyokolo, Halmosi, Barmby.

Bolton Wanderers
: Jaaskelainen, Ricketts, Robinson (Samuel 78), Cahill, Knight, Muamba, M.Davies (Ward 81), Davis, Taylor, K.Davies, Elmander (Lee 71). Subs not used: Al Habsi, Steinsson, Shittu, McCann.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Three wishes

It's too early in the season to be over-analytical about Hull City's form and fortune. But as far as tomorrow's visit of Bolton Wanderers is concerned, I merely hope for three things.

Firstly, Geovanni to play from the beginning.

Secondly, Jozy Altidore to be finally available to partake at some stage.

Thirdly, Jussi Jaaskelainen to have a total nightmare. He owes us an ordinary performance, at least.

I suspect that of the three, the final one is the least likely...

Thursday, 20 August 2009

02: Hull City 1 - 5 Tottenham Hotspur 5 - 19/08/2009

Well, this wasn't in the script. Though on reflection, it may have been in Tottenham Hotspur's script, given their victory over Liverpool and phenomenal energy and quality. They may well have told themselves to go to Hull and give them a thorough seeing-to. And there was nothing the Tigers could do about it.

City were largely poor but in all honesty, it was one of those occasions where you just have to acknowledge how magnificent the opposition were. Ruthless, incisive, positive, skilled. They tore shreds off the Tigers until nothing remained, dominating every area of the park and grafting to a man to make sure there was always an outlet, a way forward, an opportunity to create.

Phil Brown picked the wrong team, saw them go 2-0 down in the opening 15 minutes and, to his credit, had the balls to acknowledge he boobed on his selection and made a worthy substitution. It worked for a bit, but the game stayed was blatantly beyond City's reach from almost the start.

Dean Marney's injury meant that Brown could opt for an orthodox 4-4-2, choosing to field Daniel Cousin up front and leave the midfield short of someone who could knock out a reasonable pass as well as put in the mileage. Cousin, however, was little short of abysmal. His attitude has often been question but perhaps it has never quite gained the scrutiny it merits as ultimately he is still far better at finding the back of the net than either Caleb Folan or Craig Fagan. Now, however, we have seen before our disbelieving eyes just how short on heart and dedication he really is. His touch was non-existent, his presence irrelevant. It came as no real surprise that he was the one given the shepherd's crook by Brown in order to introduce Geovanni to the action; what was perhaps the only surprising - nay, enlightening - aspect of it was Brown's decision to be big enough to accept he had erred.

By then, it was too late. Noble, but too late. Tottenham were 2-0 up thanks to Jermain Defoe's tidy shot across Boaz Myhill after George Boateng lost possession in midfield, and then a similar finish from Wilson Palacios following a clearance by Heurelho Gomes which was helped along the toothless City back line by Aaron Lennon and finally Robbie Keane. Prior to all this, Myhill had been beaten by Defoe's chip which also just cleared the bar and Steven Mouyokolo had managed to get in a strong block tackle on Luka Modric as he prepared to shoot from the left side of the area. It was all Tottenham, and devastatingly so.

Upon Geovanni's entrance, the atmosphere and the performance perked up. Michael Turner's wonderful long pass gave Stephen Hunt chance to cut inside Alan Hutton, but his scissor lob bounced a long way wide. Geovanni was then clattered to the deck on the opposite flank, and Hunt's swirling free kick avoided every single body jostling for a touch in the box, and also the gloves of Carlo Cudicini - on for the hobbling Gomes - to bounce apologetically into the Spurs net. A goal back, game on.

Hunt then had another chance when played in with splendid intricacy by Geovanni, but Palacios got a late and crucial boot to the ball. Folan, whose endeavour will earn him as much admiration as his profligacy earns him scorn, picked himself up from a tussle with Sebastien Bassong to slot a cute shot home, but referee Chris Foy had blown, oddly, for a foul by the Tigers striker.

It was hopeful, even though it was obvious that the would was healing superficially and Spurs could break and increase their lead whenever a decent opportunity presented itself. Such a chance came right on the break when Lennon's through ballw as flicked round the exposed Turner by Defoe, who then bashed his shot past Myhill with the authority of a fine centre forward.

After a subdued interval, Mouyokolo was replaced by Nick Barmby, with the mercurial (too much for his own good and for our sanity) Bernard Mendy dropping into defence. Mouyokolo patently isn't a full back, but he is deemed the best available (despite Nathan Doyle's presence in the squad) while City seek a long-term successor to Sam Ricketts. Mendy's repositioning in the defence suggested we were just going to attack, attack, attack in the second half, as with him as the last line of that flank, we weren't likely to defend, defend, defend.

Keane mishit a gilt-edged chance which then struck Boateng and nearly carried through as an own goal, then Turner was bamboozled by Keane's impeccable shimmy but the Irishman's cross for Defoe was blocked by the impressive Anthony Gardner.

A resurgence from the Tigers was led by Hunt, who looks - at this early stage - to be a sound and very astute acquisition, with his insistence on making his marker think and commit himself every time he gained possession of the ball. A good combination with Folan forced a corner which led to Geovanni taking a tumble and no penalty forthcoming. The Brazilian then had a set piece clutched by Cudicini and a looping header tipped over by the sub keeper after Turner had flicked on Myhill's long free kick. It wasn't brilliant, but it was resourceful and kept everyone hoping that the chance would come to pull back the deficit and launch an all-guns-blazing effort in the latter stages to steal a point.

It wasn't going to happen. After Turner had superbly robbed Defoe as he shaped to finish a chance for his hat-trick, Spurs held off City's best attempts at goal and countered from one of them with amazing precision and pace. Lennon eventually reached a position to swing in a tempting cross which Keane, rising above the out-of-sorts Turner, flicked past Myhill.

Keane lapped up the plaudits and then immediately left the field to be replaced by Peter Crouch, who aimed a header straight at Myhill from Lennon's cross. Injury time began and there was time for the fitting swansong for Defoe, who exchanged passes with Lennon before battering in a vicious shot which Myhill simply never saw, completing a fine hat-trick.

You wonder whether anything can be learned from this performance, given that much of it was down to the brilliance of the opposition rather than the featurelessness of the Tigers' own play. Certainly one hopes that a little more creativity is offered in the starting XI - ie, Geovanni in the side, and maybe Barmby too - by the time Bolton Wanderers turn up on Saturday. We may have a right back by then too. There shouldn't be any panic stations just yet but these famed gameplans have to be right more often as too many teams like Tottenham exist who will bury any team whose naivety is in evidence. City suffered.

Hull City: Myhill, Mouyokolo (Barmby 46), Dawson, Turner, Gardner, Olofinjana, Boateng (Ghilas 69), Mendy, Hunt, Folan, Cousin (Geovanni 22). Subs not used: Duke, Zayatte, Halmosi, Kilbane.

Tottenham Hotspur: Gomes (Cudicini 16), Hutton, Bassong, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Palacios, Huddlestone, Lennon, Modric (Bentley 85), Keane (Crouch 81), Defoe. Subs not used: Naughton, Chimbonda, O'Hara, Pavlyuchenko.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Ash-en faced

It's not good news about Ian Ashbee, again. His latest injury has somehow become more serious than initially anticipated, and his season seems to be over before it has started.

The Tigers skipper and consummate leader of men suffered anterior ligament damage in a knee in the early stages of City's defeat at Aston Villa in May. It ended his campaign there and then, but there were only three matches left to play and while it was clear he would be missed, his personal plight barely registered on any Tiger-centric radar as there was a relegation battle to be won.

Once it was indeed won, the summer months didn't offer much in terms of progress regarding Ashbee. Indeed, more attention was paid to Jimmy Bullard, similarly stricken in a knee but a far more ready source of copy for a national media who know who he is but have little interest or knowledge in an armband-wearing clogger with an unattractive Midlands accent who led the charge up the divisions.

Everyone locally, however, was looking forward to the day when both knees were mended and Ashbee lined up alongside Bullard in the centre of Hull City's midfield. Now, after Ashbee's new setback, you have to ask yourself whether this will happen at all.

Ashbee missed all but the first half dozen games of the 2005/6 season - our first back in the Championship - with a bone-wasting condition that threatened his mobility, let alone his career. Once again, he faces a long slog out of action and the club needs to decipher whether a 33 and a half year old Ashbee - as he will be next spring - will be of enough use to the team when he is ready to return. Even before the medics decided he needed surgery in the USA, his place as a football player looked under severe threat from Seyi Olofinjana, should the superb debut at Chelsea of skill and combativeness act as a sign of what's to come from the Nigerian.

Had Ashbee been ready at the end of next month, as had roughly been predicted by the club, then there may have been a case for his return either instead of or alongside Olofinjana. A nine-month lay-off may be one too many for this wonderful figurehead for players everywhere, who began his term with the Tigers in 2002 and has captained them in all four divisions (and is uniquely the only player to score in all four).

The one thing we should all bear in mind is that almost everyone has written off Ashbee at least once, and many more than once. This would have been through injury, form, competence or a mix of more than one or even all three. Each time he has returned to prove all visible detractors wrong.

It would be some feat for him to do so again, but not impossible in the slightest. What we can say, with both relief for the team's standards and a heavy heart for Ashbee personally, is that this may well be the first time he will not actually be missed.

Monday, 17 August 2009

H & H

One already feels that Stephen Hunt has achieved more in an hour of Premier League football for Hull City than Peter Halmosi has managed in the same position for a year.

Halmosi started just four Premier League games last season and Hunt's smart performance at Chelsea has made it even easier to see why. The new arrival from Reading has an industry and insolence to his game that the honest but one-dimensional Halmosi has struggled to show off in his time with the Tigers.

Hunt's goal, scored after less than half an hour of his debut, was a cool finish from a situation which would have had lesser players and weaker characters panicking and ballooning the ball skywards. His one Premier League goal for Hull City is one more than the hapless Halmosi, whose only strike for the Tigers so far was a studder in the FA Cup against Sheffield United and who, in all probability, would not have been in the dangerous position Hunt placed himself in to pick up the scraps from George Boateng's barricaded shot. Halmosi would have been wider, as a touchline seems to be his only friend, and therefore he is dispensible when City pursue a narrower, less urgent brand of football.

Halmosi was on the bench at Chelsea so maybe Phil Brown sees a role for him in some form or other, and not just to make a League One fullback look foolish when Southend United turn up in the Carling Cup next week. There is certainly an argument that he wasn't used enough last season, especially at stages where an extra natural attacker was needed. But with the arrival and immediate impact of a very clued-up footballer in Hunt, the future of the headbanded Hungarian, for all his obvious ability to cross a ball, looks more precarious than ever.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

01: Chelsea 2 - 1 Hull City - 15/08/2009

It feels like there are a thousand consolations one can take from defeat, especially a defeat so telegraphed as that of Hull City away at Chelsea. Whether any of these consolations will help ease the pain of such a dramaticlly late defeat is entirely another matter.

The Tigers were magnificent, and nobody can deny this, even the most blinkered of Londoners who have Blue Is The Colour as their ringtone and Didier Drogba screaming "disgrace!" as a text alert. Drogba himself scored both of Chelsea's goals, both of which came from the more dubious direction of footballing fate. And the winner was two minutes into a colossal and way overcalculated six minutes of injury time, just when enough seemed to have been done by City to earn an unexpected, brilliant point.

And displays like this, assuming City have the character to shrug aside the disappointment and re-attain their focus, will stand them in good stead for the games and the whole campaign ahead.

Phil Brown picked a 4-5-1 which mixed the obvious with the totally inexplicable, courtesy of the appearance of Caleb Folan on the teamsheet as a lone striker. Jozy Altidore's struggle with the bureaucrats allocating visas ruled him out, but there was still Kamel Ghilas and Daniel Cousin surely ahead of Folan in the pecking order. Yet the gawky part-Irishman with a limited awareness of the offside law was picked - and duly lasted the whole 90 minutes, playing a rare blinder.

Debuts were handed to Steven Mouyokolo, incongruously put in at right back, and Stephen Hunt, who was given his standard wide left berth and thrived on the ruthless booing he received throughout from the Chelsea fans who think somehow that he deliberately kneed Petr Cech in the skull three years ago. Seyi Olofinjana stood giantly alongside George Boateng and Dean Marney in central midfield, while Ghilas had to make do with the bench, alongside Cousin and other attacking options Geovanni and Nick Barmby.

In blazing west London sunshine which made the new amber shirts gleam to almost Wolves-esque old gold proportions, City started the game on the back foot. Anxious to please new gaffer Carlo Ancelotti, a swift break was embarked upon but Drogba volleyed Michael Essien's cross a long way wide. Frank Lampard then swerved in and out of attempts to de-shin him before finding the same centre forward, who again forgot where the goal was with a handsomely off-target shot.

Jon Obi Mikel then shot wide from distance before City began to find some rhythm and settle into the game. Bernard Mendy, gratifyingly elected for the midfield instead of the defence, made good room on his flank to give skipper Boateng time and room for a shot which was delivered with the outside of his right foot and flashed just wide.

It calmed everyone's nerves, and City were buoyed by this chance and the encouragement from the Shed End where the Tiger Nation were in excellent voice. Boateng led by example, making himself available for every ball and leading a smart and intricate passing move which ended when Marney headed Hunt's cross over the bar.

John Terry skied a header from Florent Malouda's corner but it was City who were beginning to exercise some control on the game. Hunt, inspired like all scoundrel footballers by the catcalls from his detractors, forced a corner which Marney swung in dangerously, and Cech was fortunate to heel Boateng's low drive up and over the top.

Michael Turner, imperious and flawless as always, got a sturdy and timely block on an Essien drive before City broke again, forcing a free kick in a wide position. Marney took it and Chelsea struggled to deal with it, allowing Boateng another shot which Cech went down to save, only for a defender to ricochet it into Hunt's path as the keeper threw himself to the ground. The debutant had time and room to steer a shot into the net and silence the many while sending the few into hysterics.

It wasn't undeserved at all but it did knock some sense into a lethargic Chelsea, who seemed to concur with their arrogant supporters' view that turning up as all that was required to get three points on the opening day. Within fewer than ten minutes, they were level as Anthony Gardner, sold down the river by Marney's underhit pass, gave away a dodgy looking free kick on the edge of the box which Drogba steered with nonchalance and irritating skill into Boaz Myhill's left corner.

Myhill then held on to a low Essien drive to his left and had to deal with a further effort from Drogba as the hosts aimed to take the lead prior to half time. City had to regroup a little when Marney, industrious as ever despite a couple of typically underconfident moments on the ball, stretched a little too awkwardly towards a loose ball and seemed to twist a knee. He tried to continue but couldn't, and Barmby replaced him.

Olofinjana, an imposing and fearless figure who gave Lampard as much hell as he could, belted a shot too high after Mouyokolo's long throw was cleared in his direction. Chelsea had one last go at the other end, with again Myhill clinging on to an Essien shot. A 1-1 half time score was fair and warmly received from one corner of the stadium.

Chelsea bought Michael Ballack on for the pointlessly defensive Mikel as the second half got underway in real anticipation. Memories of last season's awesome defensive display at the Bridge which earned the Tigers a goalless draw and Luiz Felipe Scolari his cards were ripe in the minds of the Tiger Nation once again.

However, Chelsea clearly meant business from the moment the game restarted, with Myhill making an astute stop from Nicolas Anelka after Drogba had outmuscled Turner and set his partner free. City attempted to defend through possession but upon forcing a corner, the delivery played into a counter-attacker's hands and Mendy ended up making a stunning last-ditch challenge on the breaking Ricardo Carvalho with many defenders out of the equation.

Lampard hit the side netting with a low shot before a remarkable passage of play tested the new-look City rearguard to its very limits, and they passed it magnificently. Andy Dawson replicated his wonder tackle on Theo Walcott last season by robbing Anelka in the six yard box with Myhill exposed, then Turner and Olofinjana threw their bodies in the way of shots almost beyond the call of duty before Myhill blocked follow-up drive. Drogba then broke on the right of the box to make room for a vicious drive which Myhill batted away wonderfully.

It was inspiring, unreproducable heroism from City. The defence was being what it needed to be and it was just so thrilling to witness. It won't be Chelsea every week, so performances at the back like this against allegedly weaker teams from Turner and Gardner, with Olofinjana screening things ahead of them (and giving Ian Ashbee much food for thought as he battles back from injury).

At the other end, there was still room for optimism. Hunt whizzed in a cross which Cech had to collect above his head as Folan closed in, then the same two combined to give Boateng half a sight of goal but the exceptional City midfielder took too long to tee up the chance and was relieved of the ball without testing Cech.

Hunt was booed loudly off the park as Brown slung Ghilas on his place, so the Tiger Nation responded with extra noisy and exuberant cheering for City's goalscorer, acknowledged enthusiastically by the new boy. Ghilas played in Hunt's role initially and was soon put through in decent space but Terry got a crucial foot in as the cross approached an unmarked Folan in the area.

Essien fired a very speculative shot wide, then Myhill got down well at his near post to deny Jose Bosingwa. Geovanni was then introduced for the tiring but unusually disciplined Mendy, with Brown evidently deciding that the defence was doing fine and didn't need reinforcing, and therefore the last alteration may as well signal an intent to win the match. Ghilas adopted a more central role with Barmby spreading wide, allowing room for the Brazilian to influence things from the centre of the park.

Ballack fired a shot very high over the bar and then fellow subs Deco and Salomon Kalou combined dangerously, but the latter's header was off target. Drogba had a shot blocked as the injury time board signalled a ludicrous six minutes - six minutes that undoubtedly gave Chelsea a boost that they would still be able to win the game.

Heaven only knows where those minutes came from. There was a pause for Gardner and Cech to receive treatment midway through the second half but it didn't warrant six minutes, while the delay over Marney was in the first half. The referee, Alan Wiley, will never be required to explain just why he and his team added so many extra minutes on to the game, which is a pity as many of us are dying to know. Fewer than two of them had passed when the inevitable happened.

Drogba made room down the left and chipped what was an intended cross over Myhill's hand and agonisingly into the far corner of the net. He took his shirt off in relief and glee, and the City players sank to their knees, distraught. Few of last season's defeats came in as cruel a manner as this, especially as unlike many of those reverses, City did not deserve to lose this one. Chelsea got out of jail and they know it. Ghilas had one chance in the remaining minutes which he swung on to the roof of the net, but the game was lost.

But there are all those consolations, as we look forward with real optimism to the visit of Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday night before a full house at the KC. The debutants - especially Olofinjana - settled in immediately and were beyond impressive. We have our first choice central defence pairing in place again, a phenomenon all too rare last season. Folan has clearly been listening to advice for the first time and, although goals will be rare, may yet provide a further striking option for the season if and when the new forwards need to miss out. Mendy was responsible and positive and kept his head. Mouyokolo looked mature and settled (though he hasn't the distribution required of a full back) and comes with a handy long throw as part of the package. Myhill was magnificent. Boateng led by example and played superhumanly at times. The team looks focussed and fit.

Days like this rarely go your way. The law of sod will intercede just in time to rescue the status quo, and City suffered for it on this opening day. But they were superb and if they can eke out a healthy number of similar performances, they won't go far wrong.

Chelsea: Cech, A Cole, Terry, Carvalho, Bosingwa, Malouda (Deco 69), Mikel (Ballack 46), Lampard, Essien, Anelka (Kalou 79), Drogba. Subs not used: Turnbull, Ivanovic, Hutchinson, Sturridge.

Hull City: Myhill, Mouyokolo, Turner, Gardner, Dawson, Olofinjana, Marney (Barmby 44), Mendy (Geovanni 78), Boateng, Hunt (Ghilas 69), Folan. Subs not used: Duke, Zayatte, Halmosi, Cousin.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Let's do it

It is the evening before a new season commences, and as I look longingly at my ticket for Stamford Bridge and hope for an unlikely Tigers triumph, I'm also pondering my more realistic wishes for the season.

I wish for Michael Turner to stay with the club until at least January, rubberstamping even further his iconic status with us all and doing enough to give us more than a chance of maintaining a top flight place.

I wish for Turner to play for England while on our books this season. You can bet anything you like that the moment he joins someone 'bigger', he is called up.

I wish for Phil Brown to not lose his ferocious passion for what he believes to be right, but does so with just a little more decorum and dignity.

I wish for a right back of at least equal ability to Sam Ricketts to be recruited pretty quickly.

I wish for Away Direct to be re-introduced, and its abolition by the chairman acknowledged as a rare but clear faux-pas.

I wish for City not to be patronised by any journalist or pundit who can't see any wood for the trees and assumes that any good performance is a fluke and any poor display is the norm.

I wish for Jozy Altidore and Kamel Ghilas to score 20 goals between them.

I wish for Bryan Hughes to be purchased by Colchester United on or before August 31st.

I wish for Nicky Featherstone to be given the overdue loan move to a lower division club he so obviously needs and deserves.

I wish for victory over Stoke City. Twice. With clean sheets and everything.

I wish for Jimmy Bullard to get fit, stay fit and inspire us week by week.

I wish for a sponsorless version of our new shirt to be made available for adults, as well as kids.

I wish for a semi-final place at least in one, or even both, of the Cups.

I wish for a feeling of pride and gratitude at the end of the season, irrespective of where we finish.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Sign here...

Two more new signings have rolled into the KC Stadium, making the Tigers look suddenly gluttonous in the transfer market after a summer of famine.

Little is known immediately of striker Kamel Ghilas, an Algerian striker who nearly joined Blackburn Rovers last month and comes to the KC from Celta Vigo for £1.7 million. However, having looked worriedly upon the prospect of Caleb Folan and Daniel Cousin being our deeply unimpressive strikeforce for the season's start, now we have two new, hungry recruits in place to either partner one another or fight it out for the front line and take the goalgetting glory that nobody up front could achieve last year.

Stephen Hunt's arrival for about £3.5 million is less shrouded in mystery. As one of the more recognisable and controversial figures of Reading's brief rise to top flight status, the experience and guile of the Irish wideman will be a definite asset to a position which has caused any number of headaches, thanks to Peter Halmosi's demons, Kevin Kilbane's limitations and Craig Fagan's square-peggedness. Hunt will start at Chelsea and be the centre of attention thanks to his infamous history with Petr Cech.

The Tigers still need a right back, with either Bernard Mendy or Kamil Zayatte set to begin against Chelsea in a role neither are suited for, but suddenly the squad looks more rounded and talented, even though the very numbers need reducing before August is out, with a few of the more obvious spectators hopefully seeking to play football somewhere rather than sit on portly contracts.

The most important thing, however, is that Hull City now have centre forwards aplenty to select from. All we need now is to hope they are more the type who score goals at the first or second time of asking, rather than the type who run a lot, hold the ball up, spread play and uniformly find the crowd or the advertising hoardings every single time they are needed to do the main crux of their job.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Move over Carling

Southend United at home in the second round of the Carling Cup will not prise any trees out of the ground, but it's nice to get a rare home draw nonetheless.

Recently the two domestic Cups have dragged us to Watford, Plymouth and Swansea, among other distant places, and given that we rarely show any appetite for these games (last season's eventful FA Cup run was as much about facing teams on their knees or winning by accident than anything else), we can at least be seen to be making progress without racking up soaraway petrol and Ginsters bills.

Mind, it'll still be a seriously awful moment if, against a rotated Hull City side which includes Tony Warner, Bryan Hughes, Caleb Folan, Nicky Featherstone and Nathan Doyle, the League One side leaves the KC with a place in the next round. Let's be thankful for what we have.

Anyway, enough of that. Two more new signings are about to be confirmed and Chelsea is getting nearer...

Monday, 10 August 2009

From one to eleven

The team that Phil Brown should select for the opening game of the Premier League season, any further new signings permitting...

Goalkeeper: Boaz Myhill
This is assuming he is fit. The dislocated finger he suffered before the trip to China has kept him out of all subsequent pre-season activity, but word is that he would always be ready for Stamford Bridge, and risking him in any preceding game would be futile. If not, then Matt Duke is the shoo-in replacement.

Defence: Bernard Mendy, Michael Turner, Anthony Gardner, Andy Dawson
Dawson gets the nod ahead of Kevin Kilbane just because he is a consistent, specialist left back, although the Irishman could yet feature on the left of midfield. Kamil Zayatte and Steven Mouyokolo may feel put out by their absence from the centre of defence, but ultimately Turner and Gardner (assuming Turner isn't flogged to Liverpool for eight million quid this week) have to be the first choice duo. Mendy is the biggest worry, as he is a right back with little appetite or specialism in the role, and is only the first choice because Sam Ricketts hasn't been replaced and Nathan Doyle still puts his head in the clouds too much when required to do a sturdy defensive job.

Midfield: Dean Marney, Seyi Olofinjana, George Boateng, Geovanni, Craig Fagan
It is ostensibly a five-man midfield - we are playing Chelsea away, remember - although Geovanni will be given the roaming brief which will allow him to whizz around the lone centre forward as well as add an extra body - if not an especially defensively-minded one - to the central area of the park for the 90 per cent of the game when the home side will have possession. Marney remains a frustrating talent but has the energy to graft in a game like this, and with Mendy and Fagan required elsewhere and Richard Garcia injured, it is a spot of Hobson's choice. Fagan should be picked ahead of Kilbane wide on the left simply because he has the necessary attacking instincts, if not usually any form of delivery. Boateng and Olofinjana will both have an opportunity to prove to the manager that they are the best option until Ian Ashbee returns from injury. Who goes and stays when Jimmy Bullard comes back is another matter.

Forward: Jozy Altidore
This is assuming his work permit comes in. If it doesn't, then Daniel Cousin starts, or maybe Fagan can budge forward with Kilbane or Peter Halmosi taking the left-sided role. A formation like this simply doesn't accommodate the talents of Nick Barmby, but he would be our main asset on the bench. Caleb Folan? No, no, no.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The Jozy and Seyi show

The double signing of Jozy Altidore and Seyi Olofinjana brings to an end a most frustrating period of transfer inactivity for Hull City, which has frustrated the management and worried the supporters.

Whether it was Fraizer Campbell asking to go on holiday first, or the execrable Darren Bent telling the world via Twitter his plans, the Tigers' inability to get new signatures on contracts over the summer had become its own soap opera, and not one that looked like having any happy endings.

Indeed, it was the absence of any fresh blood more than any other reason that has made the pundits and observers predict relegation for City this season. You can expect that anyone whose opinions on Premier League football are deemed worthy of publication will have said the Tigers will fall in 2010. The wretched run at the end of last season and the continued myth about Phil Brown's influence over the players following that team talk are incidental factors now.

But, while more bodies are still needed, the arrival of these two players is a start. A protracted start, but a start all the same. Altidore, who has joined initially on loan, is an unknown quantity to many but his performances in the summer Confederations Cup for the USA are as good a place as any to begin the exultations, and he is a good finisher. Whether he can find the time and room against some of the world's finest defenders to get those finishes in is something we can only wait to find out. But at least now Hull City have a centre forward to select who may, through his newbie status as much as anything else, garner a level of expectation which Caleb Folan can only dream of.

Olofinjana's signing from Stoke City was as vital as Altidore's, if not as exciting, although a four million pound deal isn't to be sniffed at. With the considerable influence of Ian Ashbee missing from the middle of the park for the first few weeks of the new season, the Nigerian's arrival at the KC is timely and reassuring. Should Brown decide, until Ashbee and Jimmy Bullard are fit, to revive the 4-3-3 squeezy midfield system that worked so exquisitely last autumn, then Olofinjana can provide the bite and grit that Ashbee contributes so naturally, allowing other midfielders to run with the ball (Dean Marney) or carefully distribute it from an authoritative position (George Boateng). The Ashbee-Boateng-Marney axis worked so immaculately for so long last season, and may be allowed to do so again with Olofinjana's acquisition. This may be especially so given that our three right-sided midfielders are in disposed - Richard Garcia and Craig Fagan are injured, while Bernard Mendy still seems likely to replace the departed Sam Ricketts at right back. Brown may decide to adopt a narrower formation because he has, directly via his squad, no width to speak of.

The chairman and manager promise more signings before the window closes, and one hopes an orthodox right back and another centre forward is among them. With these new faces in place, and important figures to come back from injury as the autumn approaches, maybe the future isn't as bleak as some, if not most, had begun to make out. A start has finally been made on building a team that seriously needs it.