Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Yesterday's Mendy

If there's one player who epitomises the lack of motivation that seems to be prevalent in the Hull City squad, it's Bernard Mendy.

Mendy is supertalented. He's also immeasurably frustrating. Sometimes he looks a world beater when set free on the right flank yet too often he simply doesn't show it. He has an air to him that fits a Gallic stereotype about offering a shrug of the shoulders and alleging by doing so that it doesn't matter.

Mendy is one big contradiction when he plays. Too many times he has been absent when the going has toughened and been unable or unwilling to reach for his terrific attacking talent when given the opportunity. He is a mega disappointment. But then he spends far longer after games applauding the supporters, as if he is trying to show how much he knows the pain and passion we feel.

If only his consideration for our feelings extended to the time the football match in question is actually going on, then we'd begin to get somewhere. Evidence exists in plentiful form of Mendy's capacity to destroy full backs - Liverpool away last season remains the yardstick, and yet he wasn't even on the bench for this season's visit to Anfield - but so far this season it simply doesn't wish to put in an appearance.

There were rumours about Mendy's future over the summer but the lack of substance, direct quotation or comment from the club suggested that the only source for these stories was Mendy himself, suggesting he wasn't happy. There was a family issue in France prior to the defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at the KC which meant he could only arrive at the game in time to sit on the bench, but other than that the impression remained that Mendy seemed happy.

And when he is on form, nobody looks happier than Mendy himself. His treatment of Andrea Dossena at Liverpool was one of the outstanding individual displays of Hull City's maiden Premier League season, and only injury to Paul McShane and consequent repositioning of Mendy prevented him from continuing this beyond the half hour mark. The Tigers were 4-1 down and heading for a serious thumping at Old Trafford when Mendy came on as a substitute, wearing club shop gloves with his kit, and promptly scored one goal and earned the penalty for another. Manchester United ended the match by kicking the ball in panic high into the crowd to waste time and hold on to their advantage.

Phil Brown
seems to want to play Mendy but it's obvious that with the arrival of Kamel Ghilas, a fast-paced centre forward who can spread wide, he is beginning to lose patience with the Frenchman's brainstorms and is seeking a proper alternative. The Tiger Nation could enjoy Mendy's moments of madness last season as the campaign, until the post-New Year period at least, felt like a dream holiday and so his obtuse dive at Blackburn Rovers and his unsubtle assistance of Kieran Richardson's departure from the field at home to Sunderland raised belly laughs.

No such humour exists this season. It's serious business, and Mendy's absence from responsibility and negligible contribution thus far suggests he no longer wishes to take anything seriously. Perhaps the extra-long applause he offers City fans is now just in case he is sent off on loan somewhere the next day, never to return.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Player power

There's little left for a manager when he begins to, as the footballing soundbite would have it, lose the dressing room.

As far as Phil Brown is concerned, such rumours began, without foundation or proof whatsoever, when he gave that notorious, career-defining team talk on the pitch on Boxing Day at Manchester City.

Fortunately, Michael Turner gave some interviews at the end of last week where he categorically stated that the opinion of the Tigers manager, or belief in him, didn't alter at all that day. As he rightly points out (and as brain-dead, deeply unappealing rentamouths like Ian Wright feel compelled to ignore), City were 4-0 down and had to do something to stop the rot. For the purposes of this game, the unusual setting for the lecture worked - City drew the second half 1-1.

However, now Brown himself states that certain players are not responding to him at the moment. They are shirking their responsibilities, paying particular heed to Liam Cooper needing senior figures to aid and guide him on his Premier League debut at Liverpool and not doing so.

I do wonder which players Brown refers to. Of the starting XI at Anfield, five were new signings and three more were Brown signings from the year before. Only the remaining three - Boaz Myhill, Andy Dawson and Cooper - were inherited, and Cooper is the new kid - literally - who was still catching the school bus two years ago. Yet Dawson is renowned for his quiet, inoffensive demeanour and Myhill is a goalkeeper whose influence from the back of the action is thereby limited, and has just signed a new deal. So, assuming we can rule those three out, does this mean Brown's own acquisitions are coming back to haunt him?

Too much of the problems the manager talks about are either about himself or the fault of himself. If players aren't doing their jobs properly, then he has to take the rap for not only being unable to motivate them, but also for picking them in the first place and, in some cases, buying them. Yet by the same token, players shouldn't have to be motivated by anyone - playing professional football before a crowd to whom they mean the world and his wife should be motivation enough. Managers fall on their swords as much for player shortcomings as they do for managerial shortcomings, and players have to take some of the blame for that.

The best thing Brown can do, if at all possible, is go bland. He has never been thus, but the best managers in the business are capable of sorting out problems in-house while issuing meaningless chunterings to the media. It would do no harm also for Brown to accept his culpability. He is a vain man, perceived as arrogant by those who don't know him, but he has to develop a sheen of modesty and let the world fall on to his suited shoulders. If the same players whom he has been unable to inspire can be allowed to observe a man backing them to the hilt rather than blaming and criticising them, they may just give him what he needs. Again, it shouldn't take a climbdown from an employer to provoke appropriate action from his charges, but in Brown's case it could be all he has left.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

07: Liverpool 6 - 1 Hull City - 26/09/2009

Let's get one thing out of the way quickly - Fernando Torres is the finest centre forward in the world. Nobody can or should take anything from his brilliance, a brand of striking brilliance which was on devastating show against the Tigers.

But the City defence is its own worst enemy, and Phil Brown said so afterwards. The back four, one containing essentially three brand new players, was a mess, a disorganised, unmotivated shower. And the manager needs to take responsibility for it.

Yes, players have to do what is necessary once they cross the white line, and certainly the back four should, when assessing parts of their performance on Merseyside, be prepared to indulge in some self-flagellation. But they were on a hiding to nothing in any event.

Only Andy Dawson, at left back and the most blameless of the culpable quartet, has any real familiarity with the team around him, even though his six years at the club has seen goodness knows how many defenders go through the revolving door while he sturdily carries on with his job. But even he yesterday must have looked at what was going on next to him and wondered how all would cope.

Ibrahima Sonko, a sluggish loanee considered not good enough for Stoke City (but considered good enough to captain Hull City); Liam Cooper, a youthful and bouncy streak of eagerness making his Premier League debut; and Paul McShane, a fine defender but adamant that his main function at Anfield was not to stop the ball reaching Torres, or even our net, but to fight with anyone dressed in red kit. Thiwas all Torres had to deal with. All his birthdays had gathered together.

Cooper made errors but human decency alone means he has to be excused, and indeed for a fair chunk of the game he was City's better defensive performer. But one has to question the wisdom of throwing him in alongside Sonko, a player expected to guide the teenager through life repelling great centre forwards when evidently he hasn't the ability or nous to look after himself.

The rest of the team was almost as expected, though a collective groan could be heard around the away-friendly pubs surrounding the ground when the name of Kevin Kilbane appeared ahead of Dean Marney or Tom Cairney in the midfield. Clearly once a fine footballer, Kilbane simply isn't any more. Perhaps picking the raw but enthusiastic Cairney in midfield would have been going too far with Cooper also drying his ears for the occasion, but he would still have been better than Kilbane.

A boisterous away crowd added some much needed noise to the stadium of quiet reflection that is Anfield, though it seems really difficult to debunk football's great myth that Liverpool fans are amazing supporters. They may love their team but, well, we don't actually hear the evidence of it very often.

Steven Gerrard tried to send Torres clear from the kick off, but Boaz Myhill was alert to the danger and plunged on to the ball before the Spaniard could get close enough. It didn't take very long for Liverpool to take the lead, however, and way too much space was given to Albert Riera as he reached the line and found Torres with a cute lay back. The Spaniard made room with his first touch and placed a perfect shot wide of Myhill with the second.

So, an early goal had been conceded and everyone held their breath. It could become one of those resistible afternoons where City, still pretenders and upstarts to the many, are given a footballing lesson and told exactly where they belong. But not a bit of it. Three minutes after going behind, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed McShane's cross back across goal and, after Kilbane failed to connect, the late arriving Geovanni approached the loose ball with real purpose and smacked a low volley into the corner.

An excellent equaliser and a hopeful sign that the heroics of Anfield the season before could repeat themselves. Certainly there was a decent spell for City afterwards, though opportunities to take the lead were nil and soon Liverpool recovered their composure.

Riera's shot was deflected wide by Sonko after a swift counter attack by the hosts, then Myhill held a low Lucas shot well and Dawson stepped in to clear calmly as Dirk Kuyt approached a Torres pass with a shot on his mind.

Sonko got unwittingly but effectively in the way of a Martin Skrtel volley as City desperately tried to see it through to the break, but eventually Torres got the better of the whole defence - literally - by waltzing through a succession of legs and even whipping the ball around Myhill on the edge of the six yard box before prodding into an empty net. It was class at work and nobody can argue, but he should have been taken out at the expense of a penalty long before Myhill had to dive at his feet. Defenders shouldn't stand and admire, they should do what's professional. A penalty is missable, an open goal when Torres is hugging the ball is not.

The whistle for half time did, nevertheless, offer some optimism for the Tiger Nation as they enjoyed Anfield's facilities, which mainly seems to involve being thrown out of the ground by uber-zealous stewrds if you consider standing up to go use them. Stewarding is a hot topic, and ground safety is something Liverpool will always have to observe to the letter when recalling a sad history. But there's a difference between ensuring crowd safety and just victimising people. The stewards at Anfield are a total disgrace.

So, keep it tight in the second half and then see what's available on the break. That must have been the instruction for the team for the game's resumption. Instead, Torres completed his hat-trick with depressing ease as he ventured in from a flank, exploited the space given to him with demoralising respect by the City back four, and thundered a shot beyond the helpless Myhill.

All hope for a rescue act gone in an instant, and now a very long half of football awaited us. If Liverpool felt the inclination, they could cause our team, our confidence and our goal difference some serious damage. And they really did feel the inclination.

Gerrard got the fourth with some fortune, getting the ball back from his own cleared corner and despatching a second cross which became a shot as Myhill stretched to reach it and failed. Torres and then Gerrard both then departed, their work done with still a very long period to play. It was too easy for Liverpool. They would have expected this, their fans certainly would have demanded nothing less, but we gave it to them as much as they forced it upon us.

If City did gain possession, it didn't last. The only time Liverpool looked lightly rattled was when Skrtel shoved an elbow in Vennegoor of Hesselink's face and seemed a little fortunate to only see yellow. Geovanni's consequent attempt at goal from the free kick was diabolical. Later, Jose Reina rushed out of goal to clear as Kamel Ghilas chased, but didn't get the ball into Row Z and Stephen Hunt had thrown the ball to Ghilas' feet with the Spaniard miles out of goal. However, his attempt to find the empty net from distance was poor, to put it charitably.

Liverpool proceeded to batter the City goal for the remainder of the game. Glen Johnson put a curler wide, subs Andriy Voronin and Ryan Babel both sent shots over and George Boateng cleared from under his own bar from a Riera centre.

Eventually, the fifth did go in and it was too easy for words, with the towel long thrown in by City's alleged rearguard. babel sent Kuyt down the right and then deftly and flamboyantly flicked the return ball past Myhill. In four minutes of purgatorial injury time, Babel got in the way of Riera's fizzing shot to claim a fortunate second since his introduction and Liverpool's sixth.

This was thoroughly depressing. Few could sanely expect anything other than defeat to Liverpool at Anfield, but last season against this and other teams of top standing we enjoyed glorious losses. The heart, the spirit, the organisation, the fight, the technique - it's all gone. But for a blinkered, simpering chairman and the fact it was Liverpool away, not Wigan at home, the manager would be collecting his personal belongings, even though most City fans would prefer to have a fresh chairman rather than a fresh manager.

But next week it really is Wigan at home. No hiding places behind exceptional Spaniards at this one. This should be Brown's make or break game. It won't be, whatever the result, but it should be.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Carragher, Skrtel, Insua, Lucas, Gerrard (Mascherano 74), Benayoun (Voronin 77), Riera, Kuyt, Torres (Babel 67). Subs not used: Cavalieri, Aurelio, Kyrgiakos, Ngog.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Sonko, Cooper, Boateng, Kilbane (Marney 64), Hunt, Ghilas, Geovanni (Altidore 83), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Cousin 63). Subs not used: Warner, Zayatte, Olofinjana, Barmby.

Friday, 25 September 2009

Despicable, pathetic ... and still here

Phil Brown did indeed get us promoted. And yes, we are only half a dozen games into the new season. Two statistics which Paul Duffen elected to quote when summarily dismissing Hull City supporters as "despicable" and "pathetic" this week as question marks get broader over the manager's continuing suitability for the job.

However, this is a selective use of history. While one doesn't choose to argue with facts of which the chairman seems to think we need reminding, there is one other stat gaping in between - three Premier League wins in 35 games.

Three wins in 35 Premier League games.

It isn't a lot, is it? It's not something to be proud of at all.

And, given that we are constantly told that the squad is strong enough, our best ever, a sign of an excellent investment strategy and all that, then it presumably isn't the fault of the players that our victory ratio is so damned chronic. They are our best ever, and let us not forget it. The club itself says so.

So where does the blame lie for three wins in 35 Premier League games? Or do the club think there is no blame at all? If nobody wishes to claim culpability, be it for themselves or on behalf of someone else, are we then saying that this dreadful record is somehow acceptable? Or to be expected?

Brown remains - just - the man for the job, as far as this blog is concerned. Many more claim not and you'd struggle to find an argument. But to suggest that he is somehow not at fault, that the supporters should be mushroomed and cast aside as extremists for daring to quote facts about the club's declining fortunes, shows a great deal of contempt for the paying public from Mr Duffen than anything a set of passionate fans can throw the way of highly-paid professional people in football.

Bloody hell, we thought the days of clashes between fans and chairmen had long gone. And yet Mr Duffen seems determined to pick fights with the Tiger Nation about anything. He has abandoned Away Direct and the Fans Liaison Committee (these were Adam Pearson innovations which were massively popular and useful - and there genuinely seemed to be no real reason to axe them) and sold Michael Turner for an amount of money he won't state, and now thinks we're "despicable" for daring to wonder if something is wrong in the coaching set-up after observing some real garbage on the park.

Mr Duffen is a salaried chairman, who has enjoyed and exploited the high profile his tenure has allowed him. We are paying City fans who saw the appalling football of the 1990s and, more pertinently, would watch it again should we ever sink back to that desperate level. Our guess is that Mr Duffen wouldn't. There is the difference, you see. He has done a fine job, but it is a mere job to him. We're in this emotionally forever, financially committed to supporting our club. Therefore when things are going awfully wrong, we are more entitled than anyone at all - that's anyone - to say so.

Meanwhile, Brown has to start picking a team to attack again. Liverpool at Anfield may be a total write-off and so all this blog hopes for is a respectable scoreline, which would hopefully befit a respectable performance. The treatment of fifteen quid a time fans with that abomination of selection and performance against Everton in the Carling Cup means that our manager, whatever he thinks of us right now, owes us big time. We'll still be here long after he and his mouthy chairman have gone, despicable lot that we are.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Carling Cup 3rd Round: Hull City 0 - 4 Everton - 23/09/2009

So, this is what happens when you pick a strong team full of experienced first-team players. No, not Hull City, but Everton. Despite their interest in an extra trophy this season, the Toffees selected a team of stars for the trip to KC whereas City opted dismally for the usual array of lads and reserves.

And humiliation was the outcome.

Phil Brown may not care about the Carling Cup, nor the fact that City haven't got past the third round for more than 30 years, but the people paying money to watch certainly do. Given that City's first choice line-up was so woeful against Birmingham at the weekend, and evidently needed more gametime to get to know each other better, the ideal opportunity presented itself with Everton's visit.

Brown blew that chance by playing almost an entirely different side, many of whom won't get anywhere near the teamsheet at Liverpool on Saturday. Quickly it was obvious that Everton were not only going to win, but would do so by as comfortable a margin as they could choose for themselves.

Some of the Everton team were returning from injury, but they were still household names. Quickly they took the lead when Yakubu, who has been out for nine months, aimed a clever shot beyond Matt Duke's left hand after Diniyar Bilyaletdinov's perseverance on the edge of the area made room for the big striker.

Bilyaletdinov then swung in a tidy free kick for Jo to head home with some nonchalance, and soon it was three when a breakaway caught Peter Halmosi out of position and Dan Gosling was left with freedom and time to thump a conclusive shot past Duke.

Tie already lost, the question now was just how many Everton felt like putting away. Brown had picked the usual youngsters and no-hopers and as the cries of "sort it out" rang out from a despondent, shellshocked Tiger Nation, he didn't move from his position in the technical area.

Tom Cairney, who played so well in the last round, had City's long awaited first reasonable chance when he volleyed a Bernard Mendy cross goalwards only for it to be deflected over the bar. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink then headed wide from a Cairney corner. And then the half time whistle shrilled. Not exactly worth 15 quid, you could say.

The cavalry arrived for the second half as the dying George Boateng and the totally overawed Nicky Featherstone were replaced by Paul McShane - which allowed Mendy to get forward - and Dean Marney. For the first ten minutes City had a real go, even though the damage was done and Everton were more than happy to mop up the danger. Vennegoor of Hesselink won a header from McShane's cross but aimed it too high, then Mendy played a good one-two with Nick Barmby but saw his shot blocked as he progressed into the box. Kamel Ghilas, whose enterprise and effort put many others to shame, skewed a shot well wide from a decent position, and then Vennegoor of Hesselink took Ghilas' fine centre but again, City were foiled by some timely defending.

The next goal was inevitable, and Everton waltzed up the other end and scored it. Barmby fouled Leon Osman on the edge of the box, and when Leighton Baines' shot squirmed through the wall, it landed at Osman's feet and the job was quickly done.

City kept going, albeit because they had no real choice in the matter. Marney hit a vigorous long range drive which Tim Howard had to gather above his head and then Kevin Kilbane, on for the quiet Barmby, could only direct pretty much a free header from a Ghilas corner back to the corner taker himself. Marney, McShane and Mendy then combined with admirable optimism on the right for an eventual ball in which Cairney met on the volley and thumped right into the face of Johnny Heitinga.

Late on, Ghilas almost got the reward for his endeavour with a low shot which hit the pot, then McShane missed out twice - first shot blocked, second one over the bar - after fine work from Ghilas left Howard out of position entirely.

The positives are few, but the display of Liam Cooper at the back and especially Cairney in the midfield gives City hope for a decent future, wherever that future may lie. Given our lack of cohesion among the senior team and the limited chances anyone would give the Tigers at Anfield, it would do no harm to deploy Cairney in a Premier League game this weekend. The lad has vision, wants the ball, is unfraid to shoot and clearly has an appetite for playing which some of his betters in the squad may wish to recall when analysing their own contributions to the team. Ghilas was as excellent as excellence can allow in a team badly beaten, and the Tigers side generally seems to be a better thing when McShane is in it.

But this was a woeful, horrid night of football, a nadir for Brown as his star wanes ever more with each bad selection, each considerable setback, each treatment of the fans by the club as a whole as little more than morons who belong in a darkened room. The Carling Cup may not be anybody's priority, but City's manager approached the match with little regard or respect for anyone at all - opponents, fans, or the unmotivated players he chose to sling out there. And now a fair few think his time should soon be up.

Hull City: Duke, Mendy, Zayatte, Cooper, Halmosi, Boateng (McShane 46), Featherstone (Marney 46), Cairney, Ghilas, Barmby (Kilbane 65), Vennegoor of Hesselink. Subs not used: Warner, Geovanni, Cousin, Fagan.

: Howard, Hibbert, Baines (Neill 62), Distin, Heitinga, Bilyaletdinov (Agard 84), Gosling, Rodwell, Osman, Yakubu (Fellaini 46), Jo. Subs not used: Nash, Duffy, Cahill, Saha.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Smell the Toffee

It's Everton at home in the Carling Cup third round tonight and, given that our opponents are expected to be significantly weakened by injuries and a desire to keep players fresh for lots of European matches, it's a bonafide opportunity for Hull City.

But will Phil Brown play the side that were so abject against Birmingham? Well, the view here is that he should, as presumably most of these will be on the radar for the trip to Liverpool this weekend and it's evident from the shoddy, bitty, and frankly horrid defeat against the Blues that there is a serious getting-to-know-you exercise required.

Ultimately, the likes of Tom Cairney and Liam Cooper should only play if they are being seriously considered for Anfield. Moreover, if they do play and one - or both - puts on a good showing and then still doesn't get a look-in for Anfield, then exactly what does that do to them? This Carling Cup tie, which could put City in the fourth round for the first time since 1978, should be used as preparation and an extra run-out as Liverpool looms. So the team in mind for Anfield should play tonight.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A total Bullard

Slowly but surely, everyone connected with Hull City is beginning to see the possibility of Jimmy Bullard's return on the horizon.

Last week he returned to training, and this week Phil Brown has said he won't rush the super-skilled midfielder back while acknowledging that he has been sorely missed.

Now, excuse the pedantry (and this isn't a go at Brown - heaven knows we have enough reasons to pop at the manager right now but semantic accuracy isn't one of them) but we haven't missed Bullard. This is because you cannot miss something you haven't had.

Bullard has played 37 minutes of football since his move from Fulham back in January, and when he emerged as a sub on that evening at West Ham United it was already obvious that City were going to leave empty-handed.

What we have missed is guile, craft and spot of inspiration, which is the type of thing Bullard's ability and character can produce on a football field if everything slots into place for him.

However, there is the obvious danger of putting every remaining egg into Bullard's basket. Once he is fit and in action, he cannot be relied upon to produce everything straightaway. He isn't a magic wand, he will be looking for a return to the rhythm of playing and getting used to a large number of players he barely knows.

The Tigers do have a brand of nu-fan who will assume that Bullard's return will cure every ill currently sweeping across the first team squad. He won't. Upon his return much will still need to be decided. Will he form part of a midfield that allows still for a reassurance role for Seyi Olofinjana or George Boateng, and yet also lets Dean Marney remain in place to do the hard running? And where will Geovanni fit into this? Will a team which is inevitably going to be fighting off the drop have room for both of those mercurial players?

Of course, we're all desperate for this marvellous player to show his talents in a Hull City shirt, and especially so in our current plight. Bullard remains our most exciting signing ever. But first things first. Let's get him fit, make sure his knee is strong and won't collapse again after one meaty challenge, and once that is confirmed, allow him the time to remember who he plays for and how to play before every Hull City supporter's ambition is firmly placed on his slight shoulders.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Electric chair

Following the badly-spelled club statement last week which just came across as a spot of blind panic from within the KC's boardroom, there was some intrigued (though not eager) anticipation of Paul Duffen's programme notes on Saturday.

The chairman took up a double page in order to put his viewpoint across, but succeeded only in patronising the fans, blackening the name of Michael Turner and trying to cover bad news with good.

"I have heard much talk of so-called 'second season syndrome' and the importance of avoiding it. There are differing opinions about what exactly constitutes SSS but one manifestation is surely when a section of the club's supporters lose their sense of perspective and start to believe that just because it is their second season in the Barclays Premier League they can expect to behave and perform like a top four club."

No, no, no. Aside from the syntax anomaly which suggests that fans want to behave like a top four club, whereas in fact fans can only behave like the fans of a top four club, this just adds more fuel to the fire. We know we're in the bottom half of the Premier League pecking order. We're not stupid, nor should we be treated as such or written off as such. However, exactly what is it that means Hull City should sell off their finest defender - whose absence has been sorely noted during the defensive shambles which occurred within the two subsequent games - when there was seemingly no financial pressure to sell?

This leads us to...

"Whilst Michael's departure is disappointing, we cannot deny the rights of a player to move on when they believe the time is right and Michael has been very honest in admitting that as soon as he heard of Sunderland's interest his heart was no longer at the KC."

So, let's get this straight. Even though Liverpool made enquiries about Turner, his head wasn't turned, but when Sunderland did, it was. So essentially he would have rather played for mediocre Sunderland than Champions League regulars Liverpool? What utter hogwash. Also, how can it be that Turner alone made the decision to leave when there was never any attempt by the club to close the door on a deal as speculation grew? And if he was so desperate to go, why didn't he ask for a transfer? Lastly, if his heart was no longer at the KC once the interest from the north east was made plain to him, how come he put in one of the finest performances of his magnificent Hull City career at Wolves, two days before his departure was sealed? No player with his heart somewhere else could have played like Turner did that afternoon, ultimate professional he nevertheless is. This is a scandalous effort to rid the club of blame in the hawking around of Turner's services and place it all on his shoulders.

(It is further notable, by the way, that Phil Brown's far briefer programme notes make no mention of Turner at all, even in passing)...

And finally, heading towards the end, we have...

"One of the key factors in securing the future of the club is the development of a new training ground and youth academy to ensure that we can both attract and produce the best talent. Consequently, I am delighted to announce that this week we have secured 93 acres of lands at Melton which, subject to planning permission, will become our new home."

The expression 'subject to planning permission' is interesting, as one wonders cynically if this announcement was going to be delayed until such permission was secure, but the desperate need to find some good news to bury all the bad meant that it was brought forward. And, given that we still haven't produced a homegrown first team player for a dozen years, and the current peripheral bunch of Featherstones and Atkinsons only get seen when we're desperate to exit one of the cups (and don't even get sent out on loan, which remains one of the most baffling things about the deluxe edition of Hull City), one wonders why we bother with an academy at all. Of course we should have one, but it would be quite nice for it to be successful. Giving a bunch of 21 year olds to North Ferriby United each summer surely does not constitute a successful academy.

Sifting through the chairman's column gives us no insight into the reason why publication of the accounts has been delayed, though this blog is not economically literate and therefore is less bothered by this, and we still don't know exactly how much we got for Turner. I suspect we won't until the day the 09/10 accounts are published - assuming they ever are.

Mr Duffen has been an excellent chairman, especially so when you consider some of the morons, charlatans and crooks who have run our club in the past. But he cannot continue to keep supporters in the dark and underestimate our importance, nor can he get angry when we exercise our democratic right to question and request honesty and transparency. He wants us to stay in our box. The way things are going on and off the pitch, however, suggests that we are going to get only louder.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

06: Hull City 0 - 1 Birmingham City - 19/09/2009

An attacking team yet a depressing, negative performance. Changes were radical within the personnel but not in the display as Birmingham City carried out a classic awayday act of banditry, soaking up pressure and breaking with aplomb before scoring a late winner.

The question marks about the manager have grown tenfold after such a depressing display. Phil Brown made a couple of welcome alterations but dropped the one really dangerous-looking attacker of recent weeks in Kamel Ghilas. Without him, City's width was subdued, forced to retreat, and with Stephen Hunt not having a good day it was a palpably disconcerting display.

The lack of width meant that the two strikers, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Jozy Altidore, were often required to drop deep to look for the ball. This was assuming they were willing, but Altidore was the only who was - and was frequently robbed with ease by doing so - while the tall Dutchman opted to stay high up the pitch and consequently didn't win a thing. Altidore couldn't be faulted for application, but his fellow centre forward was certainly questionable.

Dean Marney returned to the side and, fitness aside, had a better afternoon but there was something missing that wasn't just class and craft. Geovanni's wider role didn't work, with his natural inclination to look deep for the ball and then cut inside, and too often the ball was lost, leaving the two full backs - pushing on to provide the width that Hunt and Geovanni weren't able to supply - out of position when control of the ball was inevitably lost.

In the early stages, City made chances. Hunt swung in a free kick for which both Altidore and Kamil Zayatte made challenges but neither got a sturdy touch on it and Joe Hart dropped on the ball. Marney then fed Hunt who took all by surprise by hitting it early, and Hart flapped at it as it swerved in mid-air, but still kept it out of goal.

Birmingham had less feel of the ball but more proper chances were created, not least when Christian Benitez drove a terrific shot on the turn low to Boaz Myhill's left which the keeper did superbly to paw away, prior to Andy Dawson hacking clear as Lee Bowyer sniffed a simple rebound. Bowyer then turned and curled a beauty from distance which seemed destined for the top corner but Myhill leapt balletically to finger it over the bar.

City regained possession but little was going on. Marney hit a low shot without power at Hart, then Vennegoor of Hesselink aimed his run at the near post after Seyi Olofinjana's surging run to the byline, but Birmingham defending was stout and strong. Altidore followed up but his shot was well blocked.

Altidore's turn and pass then found Geovanni who decided to strike from distance but his aim wasn't true and the ball drifted a long way wide. Zayatte's flowing run from the back then got Geovanni going, but Roger Johnson got an important foot in as Vennegoor of Hesselink sensed a chance from the cross.

The tall Dutchman then got nowhere enough on a loose ball after Hart dropped Ibrahima Sonko's long throw, then Marney fed Geovanni again, but the Brazilian's latest attempt at testing Hart from distance was, like the previous one, a fair distance wide.

Benitez then hit one which Myhill tipped over excellently. Only the visitors' third chance but theirs were on target, hit with power and direction and making the Tigers custodian put in some work. This was not lost on the Tiger Nation as three minutes of added time passed without incident and half time came.

Altidore's one really good chance of the game came early in the second half when he swivelled tidily from the byline and hit a low, angled left footer which Hart turned behind for a corner. It was on target, a rarity thus far for City. The broad-shouldered American was then fouled just outside the box but Hunt's free kick was little more than a mess.

Birmingham's first go in the second half came via a promising counter which saw Gary McSheffrey break down the left and cross deep for Keith Fahey to head across Myhill and just wide of the far post. It was close, and a let-off. That said, City responded well with another chance that needed to make Hart work, as Olofinjana's patience gave him room to feed Vennegoor of Hesselink with his back to goal, and the lay off to Geovanni resulted in a low drive from the Brazilian which the England hopeful clutched well.

Another counter from Birmingham as Stuart Parnaby galloped forward down the left with Paul McShane out of position and upon receipt of the ball from Benitez, thumped a vicious shot goalwards which Myhill plamed wide. At this point, the visitors picked up the pace, with Sonko getting rid of a Parnaby cross from the six yard box, then from the corner Johnson headed back across and Bowyer's close range drive was blocked by City's impressive but way overworked keeper.

McSheffrey and Parnaby then switched passes for the latter to fire wide. Something needed to give, and Brown tried to force the issue by belatedly introducing Ghilas to the game, in place of the industrious but luckless Altidore. Gary O'Connor, on for McSheffrey, made sure Birmingham maintained their dominance on the creativity front when his fine break allowed Benitez to feed him, and the shot was deflected wide.

The tiring Marney was replaced by Nick Barmby and then McShane's cross was well dealt with by Stephen Carr as both substitutes approached with menace in the six yard box. Either team could score, but certainly City were suffering on the quantity not quality front - plenty of chances but nothing remotely dangerous, whereas Birmingham's opportunities were fewer but better.

Weirdly, the goal which would decide came indirectly from City's own set-piece. Ghilas forced it with a deflected shot, then when the sub's corner was cleared, Dawson delivered a second ball from deep and was then out of position when again the visitors got distance on the clearance. Benitez broke well, nutmegged the backpedalling McShane and forced a fine save from Myhill, only for O'Connor to head home the resulting corner with way too much ease.

Bernard Mendy was instantly brought on for the toothless Vennegoor of Hesselink but evidenltly the game, even with just one goal scored, was over. Geovanni had one good chance on the turn from close range after pressure from Olofinjana and Barmby frightened the Birmingham defence, but the shot was aimed wastefully wide. Very late on, Mendy flicked on a corner and a charging Olofinjana - with Myhill the best performer for the Tigers - smacked a header against the bar prior to a mad scramble which Birmingham won as they cleared their lines from under their own goal frame.

Four minutes were added but there was no urgency and little obvious desire, and there was some serious catcalling of the management and the team upon the shrilling of the final whistle. The visitors weren't amazing but played vintage away team football and took the points with professionalism and no mercy at all. The Tigers were, a couple of moments aside, absolutely terrible.

The focus falls on the manager again as the club makes noises about becoming a Premier League force while blatantly looking anything but, and this against teams who need to fall on their swords if the Tigers are to achieve these lofty ambitions. The attacking line up we needed was duly picked but the quality of attacking was abhorrent, and this needs addressing quickly. The midweek Carling Cup tie against Everton now becomes ever more important for Brown to give second goes to his alleged first-choice players, rather than throw out the stiffs and kids and waste all our time. Want to be a Premier League club? Start acting like one, on and off the pitch.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Sonko, Zayatte, Olofinjana, Marney (Barmby 70), Hunt, Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Mendy 78), Altidore (Ghilas 63). Subs not used: Warner, Kilbane, Boateng, Halmosi.

Birmingham City
: Hart, Carr, Johnson, Dann, Parnaby, Bowyer, Ferguson, Fahey, McSheffrey (O'Connor 62), Tainio, Benitez. Subs not used: Taylor, Espinoza, O'Shea, Phillips, Sammons.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

Kick up the Brum

Already some are labelling this weekend's visit of Birmingham City as the dismal six-pointer, even though it's still only September and 32 more Premier League games are still on the agenda afterwards.

For all that overreaction, fuelled by a bad fortnight for the Tigers generally which involved rumours of financial problems and the bad feeling over Michael Turner's sale and his subsequent dominant (and goalscoring) performance against his old team, there is no doubt that victory over the newly-promoted Blues would do Hull City the power of good.

And power is key to how City should go about it. The power of strong midfield running and the power of fearless centre forward play. Both were visibly lacking at Sunderland, especially the latter where Craig Fagan had one of the worst games of his career, and so the full Premier League debut of Jozy Altidore or Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink is surely on the cards.

That Altidore has yet to start for the Tigers, except in the Carling Cup exercise against Southend United, remains something of an irritant when so much expectation and excitement has been invested in him, and indeed his online habits suggest he is ready and desperate to grasp the responsibility such expectation creates. Sadly, so far, Phil Brown has chosen to not allow him that chance yet. And unless we play 44-2, which almost certainly would involve the peculiar redeployment or even removal of Geovanni, it isn't going to occur againmt Birmingham either.

The power of midfield industry can return in the shape of Dean Marney, fit again after hurting his knee at Chelsea and who is currently benefitting from a "devil you know" situation thanks to Kevin Kilbane's visible shortcomings and George Boateng's sudden inability to earn a shirt. Marney is one of the most frustrating Tigers players in recent times - obvious talent but with a capacity to use it only sparingly - yet a real box-to-box player who can also pick a pass and have the odd shot is something City simply haven't had lately, and his involvement is more crucial in a 4-5-1.

We shall see. Brown never fails to surprise us when the team news beeps into everyone's ether, and he may choose so to do for this match. But given the opposition's poor goalscoring figures so far, and their lengthy injury list of mediocre but recognisable names, the Tigers must see this as a chance to earn a rare and much-needed victory.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Handy Andy

Is it about time Andy Dawson was appreciated a bit more?

There is plenty of admiration for Dawson, whose longevity, consistency and professionalism has made him one of the great Hull City survivors. Yet somehow his contribution, sterling and unmatched as it has been, still seems a little underrated.

This is only natural when you pitch someone of Dawson's quiet disposition and more workmanlike career path against some of the big guns of the current Tigers squad, the international stars and glamorous personalities that are currently attempting, with a struggle, to re-affirm the club's name as a bonafide Premier League member.

Yet Dawson has been as much of a success as any of the immense talents that have worn the fabled black and amber in the mot recent of times and it's about time he was given the appropriate credit for it.

He's 31 this year and one begins to wonder whether his shelf life as City's left back is now dependent on City's general progress in the top tier. He has a contract to see him through a good while longer yet, but if the Tigers are still in the Premier League in two years' time then it's hard to imagine Dawson still being the trusty of the left back position.

Dawson has created his own power in the left back role. Phil Brown has never tried to sign another orthodox left back during his time in charge, though that was always less of a concern for as long as Sam Ricketts was part of the squad and alternating his side of the defence depending on whether he was in City or Wales kit.

With Ricketts now gone, only the right side of the rearguard was left bare, something which has only just been satisfactorily remedied in the last fortnight by the arrival of Paul McShane. Yet the left back cover is there when required thanks to the presence of Kevin Kilbane, a player who is set in stone as his country's number three yet unable or unrequired to replicate that role thanks to Dawson's presence at City. Kilbane has been more impressive for the Tigers on the few occasions he has been needed in defence than he ever has been in the midfield role he more commonly fills, yet Dawson is the chap who holds the aces.

It's hard to imagine the level of value for money Dawson has given City, considering he arrived from Scunthorpe United in 2003 after allowing his contract there to expire and, six years and three promotions later, remains in place. Peter Taylor is perhaps more complimentary of Dawson than he is of any other of his ex-charges at the KC, stating that Dawson was always capable of being a Premier League player as long as he believed in himself. Dawson displaced the well-regarded Andy Holt in the bottom division, saw off the threat of ex-Taylor charge Roland Edge (signed as back-up because Taylor always believed that left back was the hardest position to fill in the event of an injury) upon elevation to League One, and then recovered sufficiently from injury and a period of uncertainty to maintain Taylor's faith as Alan Rogers impressed on loan in the former manager's swansong season.

Experience is often a much undervalued commodity, and Dawson has buckets of it. There was a school of thought that lower league experience counted for nothing when debuting as a top flight player at the age of 30, but Dawson shelved this notion, performing very well in a topsy-turvy season, and against Stoke City managing a first Premier League goal with the type of free kick which was a Dawson trademark in the other divisions but practised less regularly in the top flight due to Geovanni's arrival. He has started the new campaign in his usual unfussy and effective manner and will be his manager's easiest pick of the season, especially after the departure of Michael Turner.

Wayne Jacobs
will be adored forever by the Tiger Nation but must now step aside and hand the title of the club's finest left back over to the current incumbent. And despite his age, the club should regard Dawson as a highly-prized asset and value him as such, although it should be quite proper to want Dawson, who doubles up as a good guy as well as a fine footballer, to stay at the club until the day he retires from the game. Judging by his form, appetite and general demeanour, that's a fair while away yet.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Flea in the Guardian's ear

Hull City has published a statement on the official website expressing its displeasure at David Conn's much-reproduced article in today's Guardian on the subject of the club's finances.

Oddly, however, it chooses only to quote (with a misspelling) the expression "perennially flea-bitten" as one which happens to cause offence. In context, however, Conn's whole paragraph seems reasonable and, indeed, rather accurate:

"Hull City were the Premier League's truly romantic tale at this stage of last season, perennially flea-bitten tigers finally roaring to life."

That's exactly the case! Until Adam Pearson took over we were in a right state, the laughing stock of football. Now we're merely the laughing stock of the Premier League.

As for the financial issues, which the Guardian piece was about, this blog isn't maintained by an economically or commercially literate person and so is not qualified to comment. However, the news that Paul Duffen will explain the club's situation to one extent or another in his programme notes this weekend is intriguing indeed, though given the lack of information forthcoming from the club so far, it may just be a ploy to flog a few extra programmes.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Phil and the future

Slowly, it seems that some people's patience with Phil Brown is starting to wear thin.

The manner of Saturday's defeat at Sunderland, coupled with the negativity of the team selection that went into it, has broken a few camel backs and now questions are being asked about his suitability to stay in the role of Hull City manager.

There is no doubt at all that only the special circumstances of Hull City's very recent history has prevented Brown from being chopped long ago. In the calendar year of 2009, the Tigers have played 23 League games and won just two, losing a further 15 and drawing six. That totals 12 points from a possible 69. It's diabolical form.

But there really are special circumstances, the most basic and obvious one being that Hull City are still very new to all this malarkey in the top flight. Just as being an unknown quantity offered us some of the greatest footballing occasions the Tiger Nation will ever see in the early part of last season - it really won't get better than coming from a goal down to beat Arsenal away from home, you know - the inability to adapt and maintain that level of surprise was the main reason why the club got found out and ended up a whisker away from being relegated.

And that's the next special circumstance, really. The Tigers were not relegated, despite a blithe but expected claim from every highly opinionated football watcher that City wouldn't survive their first season in the highest tier. That we weren't was as much down to the sheer awfulness of other teams below the Tigers, but the League table still showed City as a survivor while dooming three others to the drop.

But now City have four points from the opening five games of their second Premier League campaign and while the performance at Chelsea suggested real talent exists in the squad and the win over Bolton (a team that looks even worse) put the KC Stadium hoodoo to bed after a long period of insomnia, there are too many issues with the squad for which the manager must take responsibility.

We could ask what are now the normal questions about Michael Turner, but it seems unlikely that impersonating a broken record won't allow any satisfactory answers to be forthcoming as it seems more and more obvious that the deal wasn't about football, but about company accounts, and it is the chairman who has taken it upon himself to offer explanations, albeit half-hearted and angry ones, for Turner's sale. Therefore, even though Brown's few comments on the deal have been to claim he backed it a hundred per cent, it seems less likely that he had much real say in the matter. The same can't be said for the departure of Sam Ricketts, a fine full back who had contractual and personal issues which, in the absence of any other explanation, seem to have stemmed from a disagreement between the player and his manager.

Brown has, furthermore, infuriated and confused people with his selections further up the field. For example, just how long does it take an enthusiastic teenaged American with fire in his belly to recover from jet lag before he is deemed ready to start a Premier League game? Astonishingly, we've still yet to see Jozy Altidore in a Premier League starting XI, despite his being apparently our best hope for a consistent goalscorer at this level. That he didn't start at Sunderland due to alleged jet lag was disappointing enough; that the player who did start was the perenially frustrating Craig Fagan made the whole thing even worse.

Maybe it's adequate enough to restrict Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to the bench after joining; after all, he had barely met many of his new team-mates until the day before the Sunderland game as he had signed in the previous seven days when a good chunk were away with their countries. But if match fitness is the main issue here, with both Vennegoor of Hesselink and Altidore, then why not start games with them and later withdraw them for fresher legs if things either don't work out or, conversely, work out well enough to allow them the rest they need? Why make these new boys come on with the expectation of rescuing a situation on their shoulders when they are plainly not up to such pressures so early in their Hull City careers?

A safety-first policy through using the devils you know is acceptable when the players are good enough. Unfortunately, Fagan simply isn't so. He was a star in League One and a chippy but useful presence in the Championship. But in the Premier League, he is generally of little use at all, albeit with a (far too) sporadic habit of making a defender work harder than he's ever worked before. Brown's selection of him at Sunderland was a horrendous mistake, a team selection gaffe on a par with choosing Danny Coles over Turner on two notorious occasions in the Championship which directly led to 1-5 and 2-3 home reversals. Fagan gave away the softest, most imbecilic penalty possible to giftwrap Sunderland's early lead and was an ill-disciplined, directionless, touchless mess for the rest of the match. Meanwhile, there's a hungry, eager, youthful American lad with wide-eyed keenness to do well shuffling about on the bench, aching for the chance to show what he can do.

There are also other issues surrounding Brown's team selections, especially the current indulgence of Kevin Kilbane as a central midfielder even though, despite a couple of mildly impressive performances in that role last season, the ageing Irishman is evidently not suited. Ian Ashbee is sorely missed as the central enforcer (not to mention as the captain) but one has to ask why, in the talisman's absence, George Boateng isn't starting games any more when he played so superbly at Chelsea and adds an extra leadership quality that nobody in today's squad can equal.

Kilbane was a signing whose experience is all very well but he seems unable to make it form part of the recipe required for being able to do the right things with the ball on the right occasions. Beyond his individual errors, he does seem to allow many games to pass him by totally - it's been noted that in the match report on this blog for the Sunderland, game he isn't mentioned once, positively or negatively.

If he is going to play, then left back seems to be the role where - and this is a sad thing to say about a footballer of previous good standards - he is the least likely to cause any damage to his own side. How awful to feel the need to describe a player not by how good he is in certain positions than others, but how less bad he is in those positions compared to others. And yet even then, nobody would consider Kilbane a better left back option than Andy Dawson, and quite rightly so. And this is even despite Kilbane's status as the first-choice left back for his country.

It's a fair point to suggest that had Anthony Gardner and Jimmy Bullard been available for even three quarters of the games that have taken place since each joined the club then the predicament wouldn't be so bad, but this is an argument based predominantly on reputation and guesswork, and can't be backed up with facts. And for all the joy that comes with signing such big-name players, the truth is that both had abominable injury records prior to joining the Tigers and maybe consideration should have been given to that before ticking their medical boxes and shaking hands.

There is also a strong school of thought that says that Brown has, in three seasons (as good as) with the club, he has achieved something thought impossible prior to it happening. First, he saved a stranded club from near-certain relegation from the Championship. Secondly, he got the same deeply unfashionable club into the top flight (and via a glory-filled method). Thirdly, he kept this weight-punching club in that top flight when all and sundry laughed and hooted at the very thought of the Tigers managing anything but an instant, ignominious return to a lower echelon. For these achievements, Brown got our thanks and still deserves them, but only in addition to criticism, not as a vaccine against it. His past exceptional record is mitigation, not a defence.

Footballers and football managers are always saying that the past doesn't matter. We can't change results, we can't rely on past glories, and all that. Sadly, we are struggling to see any future glories right now, so exactly what ambition should the club have, and what are we, as supporters, entitled to expect?

Transparency is one. We've had too many run-ins with the club's authorities over the darker years to need another face-off, especially when the club is in the top flight and not fighting off winding-up orders while considering life in the Conference. Yet the lack of protest by Brown over the selling of the single most influential player in the squad, the chap who did more than most of the squad put together to aid our progress from Championship to Premier League and then stay there, is deafening. Many managers have shouted the odds and even resigned over a suited chap's decision to decimate the first team squad in some way thanks to the lure of filthy lucre. Or even clean lucre.

The relationship between Brown and his chairman has always looked too close, too pally. A good chairman won't ever be best mates with his manager as one day he may have to sack him. It could be a smart tactic by Brown, whose fingers were burnt badly by some real cretins at Derby, to make himself unsackable through his natural charm, but it doesn't do the credibility of the club any good if the team continues to misfire, he stays in his role and his chairman continues to promote his virtues and say nothing is wrong.

There is still lots of time for Brown, despite an abysmal record in 2009 as manager and any number of issues with the team and the behind-the-scenes politics, as he does have those special circumstances that go with being in the unlikely position of managing Hull City into the Premier League and then, just as impressively, keeping them there. But ultimately, football is, if the soundbites are to be believed, a results business and again we can point to two meagre victories in 23 Premier League games since New Year's Day.

This blog likes the manager of Hull City very much. His place in the club's history is more than secure and whatever else occurs in his career, he will be remembered in football as the guy who took a club prone to ridicule and self-destruction into the wealth and showbiz of Premier League football. For that, he will be a club legend long after he and the rest of us are daisy-pushing.

But right now? Well, he still deserves to be the manager of the club, but he really has to re-think how he goes about it. He has become negative, a sourpuss, a man open to too much ridicule whom opposing fans actively despise and whose personality seems, according to hearsay, to have actively put off new players from joining up.

This time last season, his team was vibrant and positive and the world stopped to watch, allowing him to take a spot of deserved glory and a Manager of the Month award while his sublime 4-3-3 formation beat Arsenal, out-fought Tottenham Hotspur, frightened Liverpool to death and scored three goals away at Manchester United. But now, he is a shadow of that exciting and excited figure who leapt ten feet in the air each time his side thwarted a superpower of the game and was asked for his secret by confused but enchanted journalists.

Look at him now. Cautious, weak, grumpy. This isn't our manager. We need him back and he needs to come back, because even though his chairman is his pal, the statistics cannot be kept behind the curtain for much longer before they finally become the factor that they would be for any other manager in the game. It's time for Phil Brown to start afresh and show us again just how bloody good he is.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

05: Sunderland 4 - 1 Hull City - 12/09/2009

One can only hope that Sunderland fans know just how fantastic a player they have acquired. Michael Turner ruled the match, scored a goal against his former employers and left the stadium with every supporter in awe of him.

That is the effect a player of talent, professionalism and star quality can have, even though few dramatists would dare suggest he should leave one club, make his debut for new employers against those he bade farewell, and then score a goal. But he did. All of that, and more.

Much as Turner will be unanimously and unconditionally idolised by the Tiger Nation forever, this wasn't just about him. His goal, albeit one which re-broke hearts that were just beginning to regain their strength after the club chose to sell him, was a token effort; just the fourth of four. Sunderland had already won a match in which City, especially in the second half, were a mere passenger outfit, clueless and negative, soft-centred and lame.

Phil Brown picked the predictable 4-5-1 that included Paul McShane's second debut and Ibrahima Sonko's first in Turner's place, but instead of Jozy Altidore or the intriguing new Dutch centre forward Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink further upfield, he opted for the ever-unappealing Craig Fagan as the lone frontman. Fagan has been enigmatic and frustrating for too long now, as for all his occasional ability to score sudden goals he is a performer whose mouth has more bad influence than his feet will ever have good. As for his brain, well heaven can only say where that had disappeared to when he flung up a hand, unchallenged, as a Sunderland corner swung in and offered a penalty on a plate to the home side which Darren Bent swept in.

Early idiocy had cost the Tigers dear, and yet there had been some reason for hope prior to Fagan's brainstorm. Geovanni had tested supposedly-crocked keeper Craig Gordon with one penetrating cross and then a vigorous cross-shot, and then the Brazilian combined well with the loudly-barracked McShane to pull a tempting ball back from the byline but with nobody able to finish the job.

The penalty sharpened City's resolve, briefly, and Kamel Ghilas, eager and quick but too isolated in a wide role, chased a Seyi Olofinjana clearance while the world waited for an offside flag, but Gordon scooped up the bouncing ball just before the sharp Algerian could get his studs on it. Stephen Hunt then aimed a narrow-angled volley right at Gordon after Olofinjana's cross was cleared his way.

City began to force some set-pieces with Kamil Zayatte the main target, first glancing a header from Hunt's free kick right at Gordon, then aiming a meatier header too high from Sonko's long throw. Third time lucky came the eccentric centre back's way, however, when he met Hunt's corner with a sturdy nod downwards and found the net via a post.

The affable Zayatte celebrated with a smile and a slide, and half time came shortly afterwards with City even feeling ascendant, given that Fagan could have added a second from Geovanni's centre but headed too weakly and directionlessly to cause any headache for Gordon.

The second half was a hurtful, demoralising affair. Sunderland took City apart, with the Tigers contributing as much to their downfall with shoddy defending as the home side did with crisp attacking. Indeed, the absentee from the defence was as notable as the hole his absence had opened. Turner ruled the Sunderland back four with the aplomb and authority we have been spoilt by through the last three years.

Up front, there was some tepid, mediocre joy to be had from Fraizer Campbell's lack of punch or influence - we said he wouldn't play, and in many ways he didn't - and there was briefly time to cackle at his air shot in front of goal before the ball was returned to the flank and crossed again for the rotund Andy Reid to place a guided shot beyond Boaz Myhill's hand for 2-1.

City responded by withdrawing the hopeless Fagan and slinging on the latest striking sensation, allegeddly, as Vennegoor of Hesselink strode on to the park. Before much else had happened, Altidore appeared in place of the tiring Ghilas. Changes up front however were going to help the creaking back four very little, and soon a wretched attempt to catch Bent offside failed, and the Twittering centre forward calmly glided a shot past Myhill and make sure of the points.

Altidore tried a shot on the turn immediately from the restart but it plopped well wide and yet represented all City possessed as a threat in the second half. A half-hearted handball appeal from Hunt's corner was ignored by the referee and then McShane unwittingly got in the way of a Geovanni drive which didn't look goalbound anyway.

Andy Dawson then put in a fine tackle on Campbell after forcing the ex-City loanee wide, and catcalls from unforgiving members of the Tiger Nation were greeted by a smile and a rasp of the tongue from Campbell, which hardly endeared him further to the supporters who would have walked over hot coals to have him return to their club. He stayed on as Kenwyne Jones emerged from the bench, presumably so Steve Bruce could give him maximum chance to get the goal he didn't deserve, and so it was Bent who made way.

Sunderland then forced a corner and Turner, with crushing inevitability (and worrying ease), met the near post delivery with a simple header that beat Myhill. As the cheers rang out, Turner's momentum took him towards the gutted Tiger Nation and quickly he offered a gesture of regret before wheeling off in the opposite direction to celebrate his debut goal with delight but welcome subtlety. As agonising as it was to see him score against us, it was at least a signal of how mature and thoughtful he is as a human being and he will be thanked for it long after the scars of his departure and then his biting of the feeding hand have faded away. The chairman must have been thrilled at seeing the player he cast aside so wantonly and purposelessly thriving so strongly at his next club. After all, he didn't want to stand in his way of Turner's ambition, apparently.

Litle followed, and the final whistle was greeted with as much relief that the punishment was over as it was with anger at City's incompetence and the obvious nailed-on consequence of seeing a club legend perform so typically brilliantly against the club that should still have his registration.

The club would have us forget about him, but while there's so little to take our minds off him, why should we? He was our greatest hope of staying up via a decent defensive unit. Without him our hopes are severely diminished, and we don't need the spectacle of watching him play and score against us to be reminded of that. A bad footballing defeat, caused and aided by a bad footballing decision.

Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley (Mensah 77), Turner, Ferdinand, Richardson, Malbranque (Da Silva 80), Cana, Cattermole, Reid, Bent (Jones 73), Campbell. Subs not used: Carson, Nosworthy, Murphy, Henderson.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Zayatte, Sonko, Dawson, Ghilas (Altidore 63), Olofinjana, Kilbane (Mendy 76), Hunt, Geovanni, Fagan (Vennegoor of Hesselink 58). Subs not used: Duke, Barmby, Halmosi, Boateng.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Folan farewell?

Caleb Folan may have played his last game for Hull City.

He has been left out of Phil Brown's squad for the trip to Sunderland this weekend, though oddly enough he'll still be in the north east as he decides whether to join Middlesbrough or Newcastle United on loan.

If Folan goes, it will be largely welcomed by the Tiger Nation, who have as one concluded that he is simply not up to the task of Premier League football. This was apparent when he was at Wigan Athletic, and so he dropped into the Championship to come to the KC - coincidentally just a few days after playing against the Tigers for Wigan in the Carling Cup. By the end of the same season, he was a top-flight player again after the Tigers won the play-offs.

Yet for all Folan's shortcomings, there is much gratitude to be delivered in his direction as he establishes whether he should go to Teesside or Tyneside. Forever in the club's history books as the first £1 million player purchased by the club, he recovered from a fractured skull on debut to score goals with a deft sense of timing in the Championship, putting away the season-defining winner at West Bromwich Albion which prompted the first mutterings of belief in City's quest for promotion, and then butting home a close-range header in the second leg of the play-off semi-finals which put extra gloss on what became a stunning two-legged victory over Watford.

Then of course, he scored the winning goal against Fulham in City's first ever Premier League game, having come on as a substitute. However, the statistic which follows this goal emphasises Folan's problem - he hasn't scored since.

Folan started all four of City's games - two more starts than he managed in the Premier League all last season - but while showing an admirable (and increased) quantity of work ethic and industry, he simply never found himself in a position to severely test a goalkeeper or cause strife to a decent defender in any of the matches. He wasn't assisted, admittedly, by being a lone striker relying on support from the flanks and from Geovanni in the deep-lying forward role, but even in more potent attacking spells from the Tigers - especially at Chelsea and Wolverhampton Wanderers - he couldn't make a telling contribution.

His laconic nature and tendency to struggle against disciplined offside traps has been showcased to some frustration since elevation to the top tier, while last season Folan was guilty of the most imbecilic of red card offences when he booted a Liverpool defender up the backside as the ball was lawfully and effectively shielded away from him, thereby ending his season just at a time when everyone on (and off) the pitch needed to keep their heads to stave off the drop.

Ultimately though, Folan was only starting games this season because better prospects at centre forward were either unavailable, or unfit, or ineligible. Now Jozy Altidore has his work permit and a few extra kilometres in his system, Kamel Ghilas has settled in with laudable rapidity and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink has joined up, complete with an enviable goalscoring record in most of the places he has plied his trade. With Daniel Cousin still around too, a more uncommitted team player but a far better goalscorer, and even chucklesome rumours abound of Fraizer Campbell's return on loan with tail between legs, Folan's spell in the team was always set to be temporary.

He doesn't belong in the City side any more, but the Tiger Nation has much to thank him for and he deserves the good wishes of us all.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

He's Ulster's number one ... and maybe Sunderland's

Amusing news reaches us that Alan Fettis may play against Hull City this weekend thanks to a dearth of fit stoppers at Sunderland, where he now works as goalkeeping coach.

Fettis was the youthful Ulsterman who was plucked from his local league as a teenager and became one of the few bright, worthy performers in a 1990s Hull City set-up which just lurched from crisis to crisis. He played in a variety of hideously mulit-coloured goalkeeper shirts for five seasons at Boothferry Park, impressively enough to earn full international honours for Northern Ireland and eventually seal a big-money move, the sort which was keeping the profligate, badly-run Tigers alive for the whole decade.

Yet as fine a keeper as he was, it was his goalscoring feats as a City player which will forever endear him to the Tiger Nation who suffered, week in week out, back in those days. Just before Christmas 1994, the dually desperate Terry Dolan was so devoid of fit players that he named Fettis as an outfield substitute for the visit of Oxford United to Boothferry Park.

City were overperforming that season, relying as much on team spirit and the general poor quality of the third tier at the time as they were on any alleged footballing excellence. Under Dolan, there was rarely any of this, despite the invaluable presence of Dean Windass as goalscorer in chief.

City were 2-1 up thanks to a Windass brace when Fettis was slung on as a replacement for Linton Brown up front with the now notorious instruction from Dolan to "make a nuisance of yourself" ringing in his ears. What Dolan expected to achieve from putting a goalkeeper on as a striker is anyone's guess, but it surely can't have been the goal that Fettis promptly scored from a Craig Lawford cross to seal a 3-1 victory. It will be one of the most obvious "I was there" moments in the life of a City fan for as long as anyone who remembers it remains on this earth.

Fettis had just returned from injury and Steve Wilson was having one of his regular flurries between the sticks. We didn't see him again until he returned between the posts a month later, but as if taking the mickey out of the opposition was now acceptable when you were a club with City's plight, Dolan picked him to play up front from the start on the final day at Blackpool, by which time an unlikely quest for a play-off place had been curtailed.

And yes, he scored. The clinching goal in a 2-1 win, in fact, with Windass again getting the other.

Fettis made thousands of good saves in his five initial years at City - a stunning performance between the sticks as City won 1-0 at Darlington in 1992 leaps to mind - and was welcomed back for a second spell under Peter Taylor as Paul Musselwhite's back-up as City's long-awaited climb back up the divisions got underway at the beginning of this decade. But for all his goalkeeping prowess, his shot-stopping ability, his bravery, he will almost exclusively be remembered for the two isolated occasions when he had to swap saving for scoring - and succeeded on both occasions.

Sunderland will need to make a big decision on Fettis, who is now 38, if Craig Gordon and Marton Fulop, the two first-team keepers, continue to struggle with injuries that has kept Fulop out for a while and forced Gordon out of Scotland's squad for their World Cup qualifier against the Netherlands. Should both of these injuries fail to heal, it'll be either Fettis or a rookie keeper who has never played for the first team. For reasons far beyond wanting to win the match, we simply have to hope it's Fettis.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Hero and villain

While there will be loud and heartfelt applause for Michael Turner from the Tiger Nation when his name is called at the Stadium of Light on Saturday, it's unlikely that equal warmth will be shown towards one of his new team-mates.

Fraizer Campbell's copybook with Hull City supporters was severely blotted over the summer as he procrastinated for what felt like an eternity over a proposed permanent move to the KC Stadium. Having scored 15 goals while on loan to us in the promotion season, he had become Phil Brown's number one transfer target the moment elevation to the Premier League was secured. Yet while the first effort to sign him failed without Campbell's involvement, the second attempt is entirely down to Campbell himself.

Manchester United accepted the bid from the only club permitted to bid for him, as a deal had been struck on a first refusal for Campbell as a consolation for missing out on the player when he was sent, reluctantly, to Tottenham Hotspur on loan to make sure of Dimitar Berbatov's journey in the opposite direction. Yet once City had survived in the Premier League, it seemed Campbell's love affair with the club - which he certainly had in the Championship, no question - had fizzled out.

Some were quick to blame the poor reputation Brown had acquired on a national level as City sank deeper into trouble during the post-festive half of last season for Campbell's change of attitude. That's hard to buy, given that Campbell knew Brown already and had flourished under his guidance in the Championship. But whatever the reason for it, there is little doubt that Campbell didn't endear himself at all to the Tiger Nation that once craved his services when he used excuse after excuse, involving his father, to delay giving City a decision.

Once his England under 21 duties were over and his family holiday completed, he finally had to make a decision. The deliberate delay had alerted Sunderland, and he seemed to take no time at all once he heard rumour of their interest to reject City and thereby nullify the first refusal agreement, allowing further suitors to come in. Sunderland bid and Campbell signed up at the Stadium of Light instantly, thus prompting an almost wholly fallow close-season of striker-hunting for the Tigers.

City should have done it better, of course, as they put all their eggs in Campbell's basket and trusted him to rejoin a club where he was already revered, leaving themselves with seemingly no back-up plan when the deal broke down and exposed to national ridicule until almost the start of the new season. Campbell had no obligation to join of course, but it did seem like he had a short memory, given the level of disrespect he offered to a club which had helped make him a name.

He'd have been better off saying no from the start.

Though looking at him now, he'd have been better off saying yes from the start.

After all, he's hardly pulling up trees at his new club.

A quick glance at the statistics shows that Campbell has been on the bench for each of Sunderland's opening four Premier League games and has yet to score. He will never displace a striker as proven (and expensive) as Darren Bent, and so the place of Kenwyne Jones must be his target. But both are scoring goals, even though their start to the season as a team has been mixed, and so Campbell will be benched again this weekend - and at the Stadium of Light, the subs have to warm up in the direction of the away supporters.

A small rumour has begun which suggests that an approach by the Tigers has been made to get Campbell on loan again. If this happens, he will be close to becoming the Gary Lund of modern-day City - ie, a centre forward who the manager really wants but can't have unless he keeps borrowing him. Lund came to Boothferry Park on three separate occasions in the 1990s and was (in relative terms considering the downward spiral of the club generally) a success each time, but Terry Dolan didn't have the money to buy him at any point.

Campbell went to Sunderland for the money, and maybe for the ambition, the facilities and blah blah blah. Unlike Turner, however, it seems he didn't go there to play football, something he would have done plentifully and with the status of a God-like figure had he chosen to return to the KC.

There is no intention to devalue his fabulous contribution to the cause when we won promotion, of course. Campbell was outstanding in the Championship and his name is secure, if somewhat tarnished these days, following that history-making campaign. But footballers tend to be remembered for their last act involving a club, and while Turner's move evidently had diddly squat to do with Turner himself, Campbell's decision to bluff his way through a month's worth of negotiations and then sign for someone else at the drop of a hat will cloud his heroics on the pitch for some time, if not forever. Yes, we owe him a great deal, but our club gave him his first taste of glamour and reputation and so he owes us a bit too.

If he does come back on loan before long, I cannot wait to hear what he has to say about his antics over the summer, assuming someone dare ask him. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing him doing comedy stretches on the touchline this weekend and little else.