Saturday, 31 October 2009

We've had our Phil

Everyone thinks Phil Brown is a dead man walking, and the only reason he is in charge of Hull City as we travel to Burnley today is because there isn't yet a chairman in power to sack him.

Should this be the case, Brown will know this better than anyone. His slightly uppity press conference two days ago, brought forward by 24 hours to coincide with Paul Duffen's departure from the boardroom, claimed he had the support of the players to "one million per cent" and that football wasn't the reason for Duffen's departure.

We'll leave aside the bald contradiction with Duffen's own post-resignation blarney. What is more interesting is Brown's claim that the players are "one million per cent" behind him. Assuming he is claiming this of every player in his squad, as opposed to just the ones featuring currently on his teamsheet, then it's impossible, implausible and misleading. If he thinks for a minute that the likes of Daniel Cousin and Craig Fagan support him, as well as a couple of others out on loan, he is quite mad.

Were Cousin and Fagan, however, incongruously behind their troubled gaffer, then that would presumably give him no hesitation in re-introducing them to the squad at Turf Moor after a few weeks each of exile prompted by a row with Brown. But from a purely selfish viewpoint, I'd rather he didn't bring them back. Fagan is not a favourite of this blog anyway, despite the odd 90 minutes of industry that makes all his daftness forgiveable, but Cousin has been a crazy omission of late. That said, with the Tigers needing a win desperately, the last thing Brown should do is hand a desperate olive branch to two players who would rather see the back of him.

I really don't know how many players are behind Brown to the full percentage (let's revert to the traditional one hundred rather than Brown's panicky hyperbole) but the ones of whose backing he can be certain need to be the ones he picks today. The professionalism of the others would be called into question if they played poorly in the public knowledge that a boss they can't bear will be packing his bags if they lose, but while Brown's departure is a necessity, we still need points urgently and no player should put his personal feelings before those of any supporter paying in both financial and emotional terms to be there.

And whatever happens today and on Monday, one hopes Brown will come to the Tiger Nation and offer some applause. The only set of supporters in football that has not turned on him is the set that watches his team every week. He has to go, but we can remain proud of ourselves for not once using the acoustics of a football ground to say so, and hopefully Brown will realise this.

Friday, 30 October 2009

"I'd never seen a game with three lots of supporters watching..."

Hull City travel to Burnley this weekend, and while the game has an obvious importance for the present day, it nonetheless does not stop City fans of a certain longevity recalling past encounters at Turf Moor. A 93rd minute winner by Michael Turner in what became the promotion season two years ago leaps to mind, but for ever and a day this fixture is really about an infamous win-or-bust encounter of 1983-84.

The background then - the Tigers under Colin Appleton were playing superbly and set to climb into the old Second Division after a season which had been lengthened and sent slightly cockeyed by a harsh January prompting a hasty and complicated rescheduling of numerous games. With three to go during a hectic climax to the campaign, promotion seemed likely but then a bore draw and an unexpected defeat suddenly left Sheffield United in the driving seat. All other games were over by the time City travelled to Burnley, needing to win by three clear goals or else the Blades would take the final promotion spot.

Boyhood Dreams spoke to STEVE WEATHERILL, a City supporter of 40 years' standing who is also the main match reporter for the Tiger Chat mailing list...

"It was weird to be going into a game knowing exactly what you needed. Sheffield United would have been bitterly aggrieved by it as we'd failed to show up for the original game. I'd made it to Turf Moor when it was scheduled, as had other City fans, but there was a snowstorm that day and the team bus turned back on police advice and so it had to be rearranged.

"We had a good team and we knew it. I remember Billy Whitehurst was magnificent at the time, and he was described by journalist as 'like a centurion tank'. We were better than Burnley, and we also had something to play for and they didn't. We needed to win by three clear goals and yet went into it thinking it was more a real chance than a long shot.

"We scored early, probably too early really, through Brian Marwood though I can't remember it. I do remember it was really fast, exciting football which we'd played all season. Yet the second goal didn't feel like it was coming. I remember Garreth Roberts had a shot which hit a defender's knee on the line and went over the bar, which seemed impossible. We could have scored four early on.

"The second goal came on about the hour mark and it was Marwood again, who ran on to a long ball to score. We had about half an hour to get one more but then Burnley started fighting back as they knew they could be battered if they didn't. We got tired and the one goal we needed just didn't happen.

"There were about 50 fans of Sheffield United that turned up, and they were on a different terrace to us. It was obvious who they were, and two sets of supporters turned on them, which was really peculiar. It was only verbal stuff, even though this was an era when it got ugly a lot. I'd never seen a game with three lots of supporters watching.

"Losing out on promotion by the smallest of all margins is not a worse feeling than going down, and particularly not at that time.. It was a good time for the club and we knew it. It was painful to lose out to Sheffield United but it was only three years since we went into receivership, when the club was in an appalling state. We'd got through that, and got promoted into this division and had a fantastic season, playing really well. We deserved to go up and didn't, but it couldn't alter the fact that the club was on a really fast forward momentum. It was not an irreparable loss.

"Then we found out that Colin Appleton had resigned. That was a shock and surprise but the main feeling was that the club was moving in the right direction. The main emotions were positive. We were promoted the following year under Brian Horton anyway.

"We did expect Marwood to go. He was a tremendous and too good for the defenders in that division. We knew we had other good players.

"After the game it was very emotionally draining. It flew past very quickly and everyone felt really drained. It remains one of the most intense matches I was ever at."

Steve Weatherill is the main match reporter for the Tiger Chat mailing list. You can read his reports at On Cloud Seven.

City ended the season equal with Sheffield United on points and goal difference but missed out on the third and final promotion spot due to a more meagre number of goals scored. Oxford United were promoted as champions and Wimbledon finished as runners-up.

Colin Appleton quit the same day and became manager of Swansea City, later returning for a winless (and, therefore, extremely brief) second spell in charge at Boothferry Park in 1989.

Oddly, the season was still not over as City had to play Tranmere Rovers in the semi-final of the inaugural Associate Members' Cup (currently the Johnstone's Paint Trophy). They won 4-1 but lost the final to Bournemouth, despite it being peculiarly held at Boothferry Park. First team coach Chris Chilton acted as manager for those two matches before Brian Horton succeeded Appleton in the close season.

Brian Marwood (he is pictured scoring one of his goals at Turf Moor) was sold to Sheffield Wednesday during the summer and subsequently won honours with Arsenal and one England cap. He has gone on record to say he partly blamed himself for City's failure to earn promotion in 1984 due to a couple of missed penalties during the season, and that he would not have left the club had promotion been achieved.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Mr Chairman

Paul Duffen today walked away from Hull City, wondering how the hell he has ended up resigning with the hoots from supporters ringing in his ears after such a short, eventful and successful period at the helm.

We only know that Duffen has quit as executive chairman. We don't know that Adam Pearson is coming back, though his own resignation from Derby County yesterday would be only the most ludicrous of coincidences if he didn't. And we genuinely haven't a clue what's happening to Phil Brown. Until the club itself issues anything further, we don't know anything.

But boy, this is exciting. And fascinating. The rapidity of Duffen's decline in favour with the supporters and now his paymaster is as remarkable as it was predictable. Upon promotion to the Premier League he did move the goalposts considerably, deciding that the loyalty and commitment of supporters was something to be taken for granted. Certainly he had earned the trust of the long-term supporter by providing a strong figurehead presence under which Brown built a promotion-winning side, but neglected to realise that we have suspicion of career chairmen bred within us.

Duffen became very media-friendly, mirroring the availability of his manager to talk to anyone about anything, and although some of it was entertaining (mocking Mark Lawrenson's dismal predictions of Hull City's quick decline live on Football Focus was certainly one) it quickly became clear that he was doing it as much for the benefit of himself as for the club.

Soon he had scrapped the Fans Liaison Committee and then, very unpopularly, got rid of the Away Direct scheme that provided a worthy tool for fans in it for the long haul to guarantee away tickets. Quickly it became clear that Duffen either didn't value loyalty or, at the very best, assumed it would remain regardless of what he did to challenge it.

Quickly it had also become clear that for as long as he was the taker-in-chief of decisions, Brown was as safe as houses. The beyond dismal form that City have now been in for exactly a calendar year (four Premier League wins) would, correctly, have called Brown's position into question irrespective of sentiment or recent achievement but Duffen would have none of it. The combination of Brown's soaring ego and Duffen's stealth endorsement of it very nearly took the Tigers down when a little more control and composure was all that was required. The two hugged on television and Duffen was tearful on the pitch when survival was achieved but one couldn't help but wonder if his dewy-eyed relief was for himself rather than the club or its supporters.

The big change in Duffen's image came, however, with the debacle over Michael Turner's sale. The fans were treated contemptibly; we were told that the player was the architect of the move (untrue) and that he wouldn't go unless his valuation was matched (blatantly untrue, as if the £12m the club wanted had been paid by Sunderland they'd have not hesitated to say so) and then later, as the problem over publication of the club's accounts became a national talking point, it was evident that money was required to steady individual and commercial ships and that the best footballer in Hull City's history had been cast aside to appease or save cherry-picked members of the hierarchy.

It is now obvious that the attempt to sign Alvaro Negredo from Real Madrid for £12 million was a red herring. Duffen knew he'd never come but needed to show that they were trying to spend big money on a star player to construct a smokescreen around the financial plight of the club. Negredo came nowhere near the Tigers - indeed, one has to ask if the meetings between Hull City and the centre forward's representatives ever actually happened - but for a while the members of the mushroom club who frequented the KC Stadium week on week had been taken in.

Duffen grew more and more unhinged, in tandem with his manager, as the circle closed in. He claimed David Conn's unflattering piece in the Guardian was "poorly researched journalism" in a horrific and hateful and panicky statement issued on the website as speculation grew about the finances; then, in one move a chairman should never take, turned on the fans by calling them "despicable and pathetic" over their daring to question Brown's judgement and continuing role as manager as performances, results and relationships with members of his squad grew steadily worse.

Duffen got it right as a Championship chairman. He knew he was taking over from a club legend in Pearson and made the appropriate noises. However, while it was evident that Premier League football came earlier than expected for manager, players and supporters, ultimately it came too early for the chairman. Experienced in business he may have been, but it has transpired he didn't know anywhere near enough about football chairmanship and a business brain was never going to be enough to help him through. He should leave with some good wishes however, and one hopes he will in time realise where he went wrong as far as the supporters are concerned. Conversely, he may also not give a stuff about the supporters of Hull City for the rest of his days, as sadly it was the impression he gave in his year and a bit of Premier League stewardship. All good chairmen know that the fans come first as when they go, the club goes.

Which brings us to Pearson. His hoped, expected return is not a key to all of City's financial troubles - he simply isn't wealthy enough, which is why he sold up in the first place - but his heart beats in the East Riding and the love he is offered by the Tiger Nation will rarely have been replicated by any other set of supporters for any chairman in their history. He's a considerate but ruthless character who puts the fans at the helm of his thoughts and, crucially, accepts his faults and shortcomings. This is evident from his record with managers in his previous tenure - he sacked Brian Little (probably correctly, though it is close to 50-50 to this day on that one) and replaced him with Jan Molby, whom he promptly acknowledged as a mistake on his part three months later and got rid. He appointed Peter Taylor and proved that a personal friendship (which they generally didn't have, unlike Duffen and Brown) was very secondary compared to a professional understanding, and Taylor took the Tigers to consecutive promotions and an element of Championship consolidation before relations were strained over Charlton's interest in Taylor's services, and though he turned down the job, the manager felt obliged to go to Crystal Palace afterwards when he felt his chairman had undermined him.

Pearson and Taylor's hatchet is long buried, however, and one suspects that if Taylor's beef about his ex-chairman was put to Pearson to this day, he'd accept his side of it. He recruited Phil Parkinson, an exciting appointment on paper but a total disaster in reality, and quickly gave Brown the opportunity initially to rebuild his coaching career by Parkinson's side and then eventually restore some soundness to the club - and save it from the drop - by making him manager. Brown succeeded by the skin of his teeth but nevertheless in as exciting and as poetic a manner as any scriptwriter could have managed (keeping City up while simultaneously sending Leeds United down) and Pearson was vindicated.

He knew at this point, after six years in charge, the club had gone as far as his limited clout could take it and sold up to Russell Bartlett's consortium which made Duffen its public face. Brown got a mandate to put together a three-year plan for Premier League football, even though all we really wanted realistically was a decent season in the Championship, and the result was a thrilling, emotional season which ended with a first visit to Wembley and victory, courtesy mainly of one Hull boy's right boot, in the play-offs.

If Pearson does come back - and it seems the club are going to make it official after this weekend's game at Burnley - the slate will be wiped clean for us all. He left the club a hero, and although he vetted the new owners it should be remembered that their failings have not yet seen us relegated, and now something has happened in ample time for a new impetus to be pushed through the system at Hull City and restore some pride and, ultimately, some form on the pitch.

The one person who should be concerned is Brown. He and Pearson seemed to have a good relationship but Pearson has never been slow to acknowledge managerial failings and has put aside any friendliness with good men when the time has been apt to let them go. He was certainly upset about having to release Little but still did what business demanded, while losing Molby and Parkinson would have at least made his own judgement questionable given that they were his own appointments and both instantly proved incapable of doing the job.

It really would be the weirdest of scenarios if Pearson were to appoint Brown, disappear for two and a half years during which time Brown would take Hull City to its highest level, and then swoop back into the hotseat and dismiss him. Brown has lost his safety net in the boardroom and now it looks like he needs to please a chairman with an accurate view of sentimentality when it comes to managers. Suddenly, the need to build bridges with the players he has isolated and pick teams designed to win the winnable games has become Brown's biggest issue. One bad display at Burnley this weekend and Monday's telegraphed statement from the club could be as much about the manager as it is the new, and hopefully returning, executive chairman.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

On the defensive

For all the limp ineffectiveness of Hull City's display against Portsmouth at the weekend, a game every commentator and reporter bemoaned as being without parallel in its awfulness, at least we did seem to hit on the best available central defensive partnership in the squad.

To keep the duo of Anthony Gardner and Kamil Zayatte together for the foreseeable future, however, requires a number of factors. The main one is that Gardner stays fit. He has been with the club for 15 months and has missed 90 per cent of the games through one injury or another. He looked out of puff towards the end and made a couple of errors, but right now we can touch wood that his match fitness will actually return through the cunning method of actually playing matches.

Zayatte is a more complex character. He doesn't have an injury issue and, gratifyingly, seems to be playing at an above average level within a team that is underperforming to a considerable extent. He is prone to brainstorms and howlers that more experienced, more reserved players in his position simply do not commit, and if that wildcard side of his game can be tethered, he is a tremendous defensive asset.

There is also the issue of Zayatte's recent performances in the midfield holding role, a position perennially a trouble-causer thanks to Ian Ashbee's season-long absence, George Boateng's fractious relationship with Phil Brown and, most irritatingly of all, Seyi Olofinjana's poor form after such a big transfer fee and a great debut at Chelsea. Olofinjana got away with it against Portsmouth but Brown will need to balance out the need to play his strongest available defence against a capacity for flimsiness in the midfield.

It was a positive step forward to play Gardner and Zayatte, not just because it meant Gardner was fit again, but also it allowed Brown to drop the terrible Ibrahima Sonko from the team. Sonko is, mercifully, only on loan from Stoke City but has proved to be an immobile, hesitant, one-dimensional defender whose strength in the air is not even remotely matched by any ability or coolness on the deck. The decision to partner him with youthful debutant Liam Cooper at Liverpool made the 6-1 scoreline almost wholly predictable.

Cooper himself was considerably less culpable than Sonko that day, although many national outlets claimed the decision to blood a teenager for a Premier League bow against the world's most fearsome centre forward was the main reason City were thumped so harshly. It wasn't. Cooper acquitted himself well, while Sonko looked a rigid, panicky, positionally-dubious mess. That Cooper did emerge with dignity and credit intact was quite an achievement, and not one intended to patronise him.

There is room in the future for Cooper in the City defence, but with the Tiger Nation yearning for Michael Turner's natural replacement to be plucked from nowhere, it is at least a boon to see the best available defensive duo within the squad playing together. Their continued presence depends on Gardner's fitness and Zayatte's head, as well as Olofinjana's return to the kind of form that justifies his fee. There are a lot of "ifs" here, but they are all we have right now.

Other options do exist, but Steven Mouyokolo is way too raw and pretty much sits alongside Cooper as far as the need to be gently phased into this level of football is concerned. Kevin Kilbane is sturdy enough, and certainly less of a problem than when he plays in midfield, but you cannot choose a player in one position simply because it prevents him from causing damage in another. If the day comes when Kilbane is one of the two best central defenders to the Tigers, then it casts awful aspersions on the other available defenders and, frankly, will result in others being brought into the club. Kilbane will never, as a consequence, be regarded as a first choice defender.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Jozy wails

Jozy Altidore is the latest player to have fallen victim to Phil Brown's rod of iron, with the youthful American striker dropped and fined at the weekend.

Altidore was not considered for the game against Portsmouth because he reported for duty late, but the fine came afterwards when he decided to confess all on his Twitter account.

It is all seasons on Brown at the moment, especially as he too has been guilty of letting in-house stuff slip in press conferences, but he is absolutely right on this occasion to punish Altidore. Twitter is an addictive and useful online tool but for sports stars it seems capable of doing more harm than good.

The one worry from this is that Brown will hold it against Altidore, who few people seem to recall is still a teenager with a great deal to learn both as a footballer and as a grown-up. While the likes of Craig Fagan and Daniel Cousin have been round the block as people to take some stick from their boss, it would be both a pity and an injustice if Altidore finds himself similarly as isolated as his more senior team-mates.

Brown does have a worrying tendency to fall out with his players, with recently departed professionals like Sam Ricketts, Caleb Folan and, just last week, Bryan Hughes all claiming that their relationship with their boss had become untenable and, of course, the manager wins every time.

Altidore's situation may pan out differently, not least because of his age, and were Brown to take further action against a player so raw and unproven at a time when all hands need to be to the pump more than ever, then he would be painted as not just the egotist which the footballing nation already sees in him, but as an out-and-out bully.

What is most disappointing for Altidore is that he could have been in line to start against Portsmouth. He has not shone too much in his Tigers career so far, though his endless battle with international issues has hampered his progress considerably. Instead of making a rare Premier League start at the KC, he found himself suited in the stands.

Given the lack of chances either attempted or even created by those whom Brown did select, the appearance or otherwise of Altidore at Burnley this weekend after such a listless affair at the KC will tell us whether Brown has managed to forgive him. If he doesn't make the team, or even the bench, then we'll know another City career has been snuffed out by a manager who has gone way too far in believing his own importance.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Brown and out

Time to go Phil, it really is. You'll always be a hero round these parts. But a fresh face and some new ideas are needed. If you stay, we will go down.

As we don't expect your chairman to see the wood for the trees, it's up to you to do the honourable thing, walk away with your head high and remember that you'll be loved in this part of the world forever. But you must do it now.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

10: Hull City 0 - 0 Portsmouth - 24/10/2009

As lacking in thrills as the scoreline suggests, and given that Portsmouth looked the most likely winners, a further furrow of worry for the future of Hull City.

Patience has thinned just a little further with the lack of direction, creativity and general optimism within the Tigers squad. This was an unappealing and as guileless as any game of recent times, with Phil Brown's side scarcely looking capable of breaching opponents who had lost all bar one of their matches prior to this.

The news before the game was that Jimmy Bullard, with a spirit-crushing inevitability, was injured and would not partake. By half time, rumour was spreading that the injury was again the wretched knee and he would once more face a long recovery period. If so, it's time the club cashed in on the insurance and set him free.

Missed on the pitch he certainly was, and given that he was missed despite him being the best player the Tigers have never properly had, really, speaks depressing volumes for the state of the midfield.

More pertinently for the current side, Kamel Ghilas was dropped again. Not once has he deserved to be removed from the XI but it has happened with alarming frequency since his arrival, whereas his starting displays have often resulted in his substitution. Where it's at with this pacey and gifted player as far as Brown's treatment of him is concerned is anyone's guess. Especially as the boneidle Bernard Mendy started in his place.

One bit of light came with the recall of Anthony Gardner to the side, in place of the unlucky Kevin Kilbane, but the injury-plagued defender was not on any kind of game and was ultimately the weakest of weak links in the back four. Still, his fitness, should it not be curtailed with the regularity it has previously experienced, will be a major boon to Brown's dwindling hopes of restoring some pride and form to a sinking, characterless team. Gardner wore the captain's armband, taking the total of skippers this season to a laughable seven.

Kamil Zayatte
, back in defence as Brown changed both of his centre backs, made an error instantly that allowed Tommy Smith a chase down the inside right channel but screwed his shot wide of Boaz Myhill's far post. City responded with a wide Stephen Hunt free kick which was clutched by an undistracted David James as both Zayatte and Geovanni swung legs at it but got no discernible connection.

James then punched away a Geovanni cross under pressure after Mendy made an incongruous twisting run from Hunt's short free kick. Andy Dawson then chipped a clever ball down the flank for Geovanni to scamper after, and the Brazilian's pull back was belted just over by the arriving Dean Marney.

Portsmouth had less of the ball but seemed more apt at doing something with it when possession came their way. They put together a patient, angular passing sequence which foxed the Tigers midway through the first half and ended with Aaron Mokoena firing over from 20 yards. Kevin-Prince Boateng then swivelled to make room for a shot but aimed it wide.

City were wilting, their shape was going and the visitors sensed their chance to stamp some authority on the match. They should have scored when Aruna Dindane crossed from the right and Smith made room for a point blank effort but missed his kick entirely as Myhill came out towards him in some desperation. This was a big, big let off for the Tigers.

Some order was restored, within the limits of a poor game, and Marney hit a low drive from Geovanni's lay-off that was deflected wide for a corner. The half ended goalless and largely clueless. Few seemed confident of any kind of recovery and despite having less of the ball, Portsmouth were distantly the more likely to score.

City forced a quick corner upon the restart. Geovanni's kick was half-flicked clear to Marney who shot high. Hunt then embarked on a counter attack that sent Geovanni through the right flank but James caught the cross as Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, industrious but isolated, closed in on the opportunity.

It was a restless, frustrating occasion and again the Tigers began to wilt. Portsmouth embarked on a good spell thereafter, and Myhill made a super save from Dindane after City struggled to deal with a free kick, with the same player hitting Zaytte with the rebounded effort as the goalkeeper lay stranded.

The impressive Jamie O'Hara then swirled in a corner which Myhill lost in the aerial battle and Smith put a reasonable chance over. Portsmouth, though, were smelling blood. Another corner was soon forced and as it was part cleared, Boateng chipped it back beyond the offside trap and Hassan Yebda, clear of anyone, stretched to get studs on the ball but couldn't get the purpose into the shot, allowing Myhill to make a very good save indeed.

City made two changes, with Nick Barmby on for the stomach-turning Mendy and then Hunt controversially withdrawn, though the introduction of Richard Garcia after months out with knee trouble was most heartwarming. It made little impact though as Portsmouth went after the Tigers again, and Gardner made a ghastly error that allowed Dindane to fire in a low cross that evaded the stretching Frederic Piquionne by inches.

A little respite came as Marney made room on the left for a chipped ball that Barmby won in the air, but the looping header was snatched by James above his head. Marney, maligned and unfulfilling as ever, then toepoked the ball away near his own six yard box as Piquionne slid in a dangerous ball after outpacing Paul McShane.

It nearly became a tragi-comedy of errors as Myhill spilled a back header and had to leave his area in his efforts to retrieve the ball but merely succeeded in tripping Dindane as he followed up. Calls from the away fans for a red card were optmistic, and yellow was shown before O'Hara, who had a splendid game, curled the free kick over.

Ghilas finlly appeared just before injury time, replacing the tireless but impact-free Marney, and Portsmouth gave themselves a last chance - or rather, Dawson's bad error presented it to them - but Yebda's cross was booted out for a corner that Myhill caught.

The City keeper needed treatment after pulling a muscle deep into injury time and the extent of this injury remains to be seen. City can count themselves fortunate not to have lost as the final whistle freed the people from this torture, but there is little fortune in drawing 0-0 with a team supposedly even more hapless than the Tigers. On this evidence, only one team has the spirit and desire to stay up. Guess which.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson, Mendy (Barmby 71), Marney (Ghilas 89), Olofinjana, Hunt (Garcia 74), Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink. Subs not used: Duke, Mouyokolo, Kilbane, Atkinson.

Portsmouth: James, Kaboul, Finnan, Ben-Haim, Mokoena, O'Hara, Boateng, Yebda, Wilson, Smith (Piquionne 65), Dindane. Subs not used: Ashdown, Vanden Borre, Belhadj, Mullins, Webber, Kanu.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Must win, must we?

Phil Brown, architect of the abhorrently negative display at Fulham, now says that this weekend's game against Portsmouth at the KC Stadium is a "must-win".

This begs two simple questions.

Firstly, how did he view the Portsmouth game prior to rolling over at Fulham?

Secondly, what will happen if City lose?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

09: Fulham 2 - 0 Hull City - 19/10/2009

As directionless and as negative as Hull City have been in years, and the manager and team should hang their heads in shame. After such a long break provided an excellent opportunity to get things right, it was a display to make the hardline supporter who eschewed the television cameras to be there feel sick to the stomach.

Phil Brown has to explain away this one. He only made one change from the victory over Wigan Athletic 16 days previously - the not-so-shocking news that much-trumpeted captain-at-large Nick Barmby is injured again - and yet altered the attitude and fabled gameplan completely from that vibrant performance.

Kamel Ghilas
, a player who should never be dropped or substituted but usually suffers one or the other each game, started in Barmby's place but the 4-5-1 formation was stifled by little desire from the midfield to get forward and support Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, a player who needed all the back-up he could get via his own personal immobility.

Ghilas and Geovanni constantly roamed the field with the ball but found themselves often heading sideways or backwards with little opportunity to create or penetrate, while at the back it was meltdown, thanks to another awful exhibition of panic from Ibrahima Sonko and, sadly to relate, a performance which threw a flailing Andy Dawson back to his days in the lower divisions as Damien Duff tore him to bits.

The first half was wholly featureless affair, with Geovanni swirling a shot over the bar from a distance too ludicrous for even the Brazilian (but notably because he had no other options) and a mixture of warm adulatory applause for Jimmy Bullard from one corner as he warmed up, set against a spot of isolated barracking from the adjacent stand of Fulham fans. At least he was there, and at least he could be utilised.

Diomansy Kamara made a chance for summer City target Bobby Zamora with a swerving cross that the industrious striker poked over the bar from an offside position, but it was evident Fulham were picking up the pace of a game only remarkable for its listlessness. Boaz Myhill had to save well from Duff's near post strike before Sonko steered it clear as the same player hovered for a rebound.

Duff, the most dangerous player on the park as the half wore on, made room for another drive which Dawson managed to block, and then Stephen Hunt got in the way of Zamora's header from the resulting corner. Decent chances for Fulham, and expectations lowered of City's hope to reach the half time tunnel level pegging.

The breakthrough came a couple of minutes before the break when again Duff had room to unleash a drive which Myhill beat out, only for Zamora - a yard offside upon Duff making contact - to nod the rebound expertly past the prostrate keeper and in at the near post. The offside wasn't given though it was evidently very tight, and while City deserved to be protected by the laws, they also certainly deserved to be behind.

So, a goal adrift as the players trooped away for a breather, and the chance to change the outlook and make players press and pass and look forwards, use the width of the pitch and the pace of Ghilas.

Not a bit of it.

One chance for City in the opening 15 minutes came when Paul McShane crossed for Hunt to size up a decent opening, but as it was on his weak right foot - not weaker right foot, just weak - he sliced and spooned it more horribly than anyone could have believed of any professional footballer. The ability to kick the ball with both feet - especially if you're left-footed - remains more of a premium among well-paid footballers than ever, it seems. Hunt should be mortified at such incompetence.

City embarked on a briefly exciting counter attack involving Ghilas, McShane and Dean Marney which forced a corner, and then another, and then another. Three in a row and all three dealt with by the Fulham defence from Hunt's supine delivery. Time for a change...

Bullard was introduced just before the hour for Ghilas - correct in the choice of substitute, beyond incorrect in the choice of player to withdraw - and while the catcalls of some areas of west London still rang in his ears upon the announcement of his entry, Kamara barged harshly into him the moment he took his first touch. It was inevitable that Bullard would get some rough treatment from his old comrades but one shoulder bash ultimately seemed to be it.

Within five minutes of his game-saving introduction, however, the script was conclusively shredded when Zamora broke the offside trap and crossed low and beyond the exposed Myhill for Kamara to slide a simple shot into the empty goal. It was far, far too simple.

Fulham could have had more. Clint Dempsey lashed a low drive inches wide and Kamara and Zamora both went close, with Myhill saving one good volley from the latter after more fine work from the resourceful Duff. A score of 4-0 or beyond would have flattered Fulham for their own attacking instincts but City were so pessimistic in their play that it would have been deserved just to remind them that winning games is impossible unless you attack once in a while.

Jozy Altidore, a young player with already a fair few doubters among the Tiger Nation, got 20 minutes in place of the execrable Hunt but didn't use his bulk to win a single high ball against the towering, beyond dominant Brede Hangeland. That said, he did make a reasonable opening for himself late on when the ball was allowed to bounce, but his swivelling, hooked shot went slightly too high.

Brown slung on Bernard Mendy for the tired and tiresome Vennegoor of Hesselink but every gesture, every attempt to alter things was little more than tokenism within a performance which stank the whole of the capital city and made a fair few living rooms pong too. The final whistle came as a relief that the scoreline wasn't greater, given that City already have the worst goal difference in the division by some distance.

Many cut Brown the slack they feel he deserves, this blog included, because of past glories (a naive viewpoint, despite what the chairman says, but understandable the viewpoint nonetheless is) and a sense of unrealistic ambition regarding City's Premier League future from those who feel the manager has bitten off too much. Ultimately it isn't asking the earth for the team to compete, be positive and creative and react in the right way to games where three points are deemed very much accessible. At Craven Cottage it was a chance staring City right in the face and the manager's obsession with cautionary football ruined it entirely.

We need to be all guns blazing when the hapless Portsmouth visit this weekend, but right now if anyone is going to cure them of their haplessness it looks like being the Tigers, and a defeat of any kind will be utterly inexcusable.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Baird, Hangeland, Pantsil, Konchesky, Hughes, Murphy (Greening 60), Dempsey, Duff (Gera 84), Kamara (Nevland 87), Zamora. Subs not used: Zuberbuhler, Kelly, Smalling, Riise.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Sonko, Kilbane, Dawson, Zayatte, Marney, Hunt (Altidore 69), Ghilas (Bullard 58), Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Mendy 80). Subs not used: Warner, Mouyokolo, Olofinjana, Halmosi.

Monday, 19 October 2009

To the Cottage

Fulham is the only stadium that isn't the KC where Hull City have won a Premier League game in 2009. And tonight seems to be as good a night as any to do so again.

We have the possible return of Jimmy Bullard, and the potential return of Anthony Gardner (though he's probably still a week away, befitting the regular mantra about our perma-crocked centre back), set alongside the gratifyingly blemish-free return to the Tigers by our numerous internationals.

Fulham, meanwhile, have the prospect of three games in six days, thanks to their involvement on the Europa Cup, and with a small enough squad already, one wonders whether Roy Hodgson will make personnel or tactical concessions to try to garner what he can from a ludicrously busy week - a ludicrously busy week that could play into our hands.

If it turns out to be a 93rd minute winner from an otherwise unfiring striker (like the win in March was, though now we'd have to change Manucho for Jozy Altidore), then fine by us, especially if the celebrations of such a goal are as insane as they were last season. Just let's get some points from our travels tonight, as with a rudderless Portsmouth venturing our way this weekend, it gives us a real opportunity for three in a row.

Friday, 16 October 2009

"Still better than Steven Gerrard, still thinner than Frank Lampard..."

So, do we really think Jimmy Bullard might start the game at Fulham on Monday night?

Right up until his scoring comeback in the reserves the other week, the best hope we harboured was that he would be on the bench at Craven Cottage and would be introduced in the second half to a mixture of raucous cheers from the travelling Tiger Nation and a cacophany of hissing noises from the Fulham fans. Presumably there will also be a few raises of indifferent eyebrows from the neutral section, but that doesn't make a noise..

But after scoring that terrific goal (let's not overstate it though, it was a stiffs game against Bolton Wanderers) the hope he may feature in some small capacity has grown into a nigh-on expectation that he will be in from the start. He completed a further 45 minutes at York City this week in a game closed to the public, and scored a penalty.

Half-paced games against players not considered good enough for Bolton's first team or, more pertinently, for York's main XI in the non-league pyramid cannot give anything like a full indication of Bullard's real condition. Only a steely eye on him from his manager and regular examinations and reports from the medical staff can take us to the correct decision. But, well, we've been without him for so long, and currently need that bit of class and guile in the midfield more than ever, it is understandable to be most impatient for his return to the team.

That it's Fulham also contributes to the clamour for Bullard's instant restoration. He left them for us, to many people's surprise, and the Fulham fans backed their club ahead of the player wholeheartedly over this bit of business. We also won at Fulham last season in what remains still our only away victory in the Premier League in 2009, and it completed our only double of last season too. It's also on the telly, as if those upstarts from ESPN had been tipped off back in August that Fulham was Bullard's targeted game and promptly took an eraser and pencil to the fixture list.

It really is impeccably poised to be one hell of a night at the Cottage. But let's not be upset, or worried, or angry, if Bullard doesn't make it, and is held back for a possibly more serene re-introduction against Portsmouth at the KC the following Saturday. But, well, it'd be just ace if he did play...

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

It's Kilbane's night too

Though Shay Given seems to have garnered all the attention, Kevin Kilbane will also win his 100th cap for the Republic of Ireland tonight. Beyond the terrific personal achievement for him, it is also nice for the image of Hull City to have on their books a player so successful on the international stage.

He hasn't pulled up trees in a Tigers shirt since signing in January - indeed, there have been far too many occasions where his presence in the team has been severely questioned. But those issues are for another day. Today it's simply about saying well done.

It's not very often that the Tigers can say they have ever employed an international with a century of caps to his name, and even rarer that the player in question reaches the milestone while on City's books. The Reggae Boyz pairing of Theodore Whitmore and Ian Goodison both reached three figures for Jamaica, though each did so after their spells with the Tigers had ended.

Kilbane's achievement, from a Hull City viewpoint, usurps these two illustrious figures, and he deserves much congratulation for it.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Bad luck Ian

He was never City's most successful player, one of what feels like thousands who didn't utilise their talents sufficiently when joining the Tigers, but nonetheless it's a hard-hearted member of the Tiger Nation who doesn't sympathise with Ian McParland today.

McParland was sacked after two years in charge of Notts County yesterday, even though the club are fifth in the bottom division and are enjoying their best season for quite some time after a good few years at the lower end of the lowest echelons, kicking and screaming as the Conference's doors swing open.

Whatever rhetoric comes out of the club, it's blindingly obvious that the new owners want a "big name" to satisfy their big investment and complement the big, nay enormous, ego that Sven Goran Eriksson possesses in the Director of Football role. McParland's devotion to Notts County and knowledge of the club - he was a player there for nine years prior to joining the Tigers in 1989, and a damned good one too - didn't seem to arm him with any clout over his long-term suitability, never mind his actual success thus far in the job.

McParland was a burly, tough attacker who could either create from a deep-lying role or play as an out-and-out centre forward. His lack of height was an issue; his lack of bulk was not, and sheer strength probably proved the key factor in progressing as a footballer in an era where skill was barely noticed if a youngster was not deemed big enough.

He was purchased by Eddie Gray just before deadline day in 1988-9, a month after City had famously exited the FA Cup against Liverpool, and instantly made an impact as the Tigers beat Plymouth Argyle 3-0. More quirkily, his £155,000 fee was a club record for mere days, as Peter Swan arrived later the same week for £200,000. A look at McParland's excellent record for the Magpies, who were in the division below, reassured the Tiger Nation that it was money well spent.

McParland (and Swan, and loanee Dougie Bell) joined, however, at a time when the Tigers were in total freefall. It had been looking promising right up to the Liverpool game, when City lost 3-2 after being 2-1 up at half time. The real disappointment of losing from a winning position, even allowing for the immensity of the opposition, took its toll and Gray could seemingly do nothing about it. There was a half chance of a play-off place, yet ultimately a wretched sequence of just one win - that game against Plymouth - for the remaining three months of the campaign saw City finish a woeful fourth bottom of the second tier and cost Gray his job.

And the Plymouth win itself could easily be put down to the impact of three debutants who were unaware of the slide in confidence going on around them. All three played well, although the real highlight was a goal of both beauty and rarity from Richard Jobson, who hit a left-footed half volley from distance that pierced the top corner of the net. Genuinely one of the great Boothferry Park strikes.

Defeats and draws were the order of the day afterwards, and McParland scored once - a well-fashioned equaliser against Oldham Athletic to earn a share of the spoils. With Gray gone and Colin Appleton back in charge, McParland seemed to settle down on a personal level with the Tigers but the team as a whole were pitiful.

McParland scored one of City's four goals at Bournemouth, but the Tigers lost 5-4. He was on target in a 1-1 draw at Port Vale, and then scored the opener with a diving header - and a somersault of celebration before the disgruntled travelling supporters - as City took the lead against Newcastle United at Boothferry Park, but then went on to lose 3-1.

Most famously, McParland ran the show on his own in a home game against Swindon Town, setting up two headers for Peter Swan which gave the Tigers a commanding lead. McParland himself could have had a couple of his own making - one left-footed chip from the corner of the penalty area which the keeper managed to fingertip over leaps to mind - prior to Appleton inexplicably substituting him with an hour gone. Swindon won 3-2.

McParland was City's best performer within a team that couldn't win. This was a worrying time for the Tigers, as we got to a dozen winless games at the beginning of the campaign and national headlines were being created about our plight, in typically condescending manner - being referred to as "little Hull" by the dreadful Elton Welsby on ITV was especially galling.

Don Robinson quit as chairman in the November and Richard Chetham was installed at the helm of the boardroom. He immediately fired Appleton and installed Stan Ternent as manager. A game at Bradford City followed, and it proved the turning point of what was becoming a truly humiliating season, even by Tigers' standards. Much surprise was expressed when both McParland and Andy Payton, shortly to become statistically one of the club's best ever goalscorers, were left on the bench, but they were thrown on at 2-1 down in the second half and after Payton's poached header restored parity, McParland was sent through in injury time and slid a divine shot into the corner to earn a first win of the season.

This goal, ahead of any others, will remain the main memory that City fans have of McParland. Ternent, in rescuing the Tigers from the drop (with admirable ease, it has to be said) never fully took to him and he only scored one more goal for the Tigers, one day short of a whole year later. By this time, Ternent's policy of recruiting players whose vast experience was coloured by equally vast wages had backfired appallingly, and even by the autumn of 1990 it seemed inevitable that the Tigers' borrowed time had run out. In a home game with Ipswich Town, the game had gone to and fro, with twice City going ahead (two from Payton) and twice the visitors replying. Then Jason Dozzell put Ipswich in front with 15 minutes left and McParland was immediately thrown on as a sub. His response was to whizz a superb curling free kick into the back of the net and salvage a point, telling the press afterwards that he wanted to stay but it was out of his hands.

Ultimately, Ternent didn't sell him - his welcome dismissal on New Years Day 1991 put paid to that - but Terry Dolan did; indeed, McParland never played for Dolan, featuring just once under heroic caretaker boss Tom Wilson before a spell in the wilderness when Dolan arrived then. Eventually he went to Walsall.

Too much was going on, or beginning to go on, behind the scenes to take any real notice of individual players at Hull City at the start of the 1990s. The regime changes and financial concerns meant that putting out a team, pretty much any team, was an achievement in itself. But with McParland, retrospect suggests that this was one good player who, probably through force of personality with managers, was allowed to slip through the net too easily. He certainly had off-days, but he was evidently a quality footballer when permitted to be, through being both selected and loved. As he garners the sympathy of a nation's football observers this week, it's worth remembering that he deserved a fair bit of sympathy from Hull City fans almost two decades ago.

Saturday, 10 October 2009


The issue of the right side of midfield is a burning one thanks to Bernard Mendy's lax attitude and Craig Fagan's spat with the manager, but ultimately both are predominantly regarded as a mere understudy in any event.

It can change if the formation does, but Kamel Ghilas is, correctly, the holder of this position by default right now. He has been dropped twice because of a misguided need by Phil Brown to accommodate others (Jozy Altidore against Birmingham City to make a 4-4-2 that was disastrous; Nick Barmby and his newly-laundered armband against Wigan Athletic) but can expect to be the top choice when the regulation 4-5-1 is installed.

Ghilas has been excellent since arriving, showing a touch that Fagan can only dream of and an attitude which Mendy should be forced to observe over and over again. Given the tiresome rumours of unrest among longer-serving players, maybe some of this is down to the young Algerian still having the idealism associated with an exciting young foreign star yet to allow the politics of the Premier League to overshadow the excitement of being part of it.

He joined on the same day as Stephen Hunt, and although Ghilas is a good central striker, it was evident straightaway that his role was going to be wide, thanks to a blistering pace and a natural attacking mind. The width of the pitch was covered in one single day of transfer activity, but while Hunt is undroppable (rightly), Ghilas has proved unusually sacrificial.

Brown later said Ghilas was weakened by Ramadan fasting and so was not deemed ready to play against Birmingham - something which didn't go down a storm given that the daylight hours were still fairly short - but still threw him on as a substitute with half an hour to go. This made the issue more confusing; how can a club decide that a player on a restricted eating regime is fit to play for 30 minutes but not 90? It's not as easy to assess nourishment levels at it is a physical injury.

The decision to start with Ghilas in every game has surely been made easier by the indiscretions of Mendy and Fagan. Whether any of our centre forwards will score frequently is a matter still up in the air and Ghilas, who got the winner against Bolton Wanderers, may end up as reliable from a non-striking position to get goals as the players whose prime job it is. He certainly seems able to create chances for himself in the way that the totally invaluable Geovanni does, and this is a handy trait for a Tigers player currently playing in a team short on goal threat.

Ghilas should become the first choice wide man by default, but also the first choice second striker by default if the return to a 4-4-2 is mooted for future games. Maybe this becomes easier once Richard Garcia, a player of more ability than Fagan and a better attitude than Mendy, returns to the fray in the run-up to Christmas after knee trouble. In a team where creativity is restricted and goalscoring prowess more so, any player who clearly can carry out both roles has to be on the sheet. Ghilas fits that double billing.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

That will do nicely, Jimmy

During his comeback for Hull City in the reserves on Tuesday night, Jimmy Bullard did this...

More like that when the Premier League resumes please, James. And we'll all be just fine.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Craig in crisis

It seems that Phil Brown has again exchanged harsh words with one of his players and, as ever, it is the player who will suffer.

There were a handful of victims of Brown's sharp tongue in the Championship, and since elevation he has already fallen out with Wayne Brown, Marlon King, Dean Windass and Caleb Folan, while Sam Ricketts offered a disparaging remark or two about his ex-boss after being sold to Bolton Wanderers.

Now it's Craig Fagan whose dummy has been forcibly extricated from his lips following a disagreement with his manager. Brown wasn't happy, and very rightly, with Fagan's performance and attitude at Sunderland recently and said so. Fagan appears to have contradicted this viewpoint and now rumours of a hastily-arranged loan deal out of the club (like Folan's rapid relocation to Middlesbrough a fortnight ago) have reared.

Fagan is a very chippy, belligerent character and Brown will have known that he would likely be less than enamoured about the criticism he took, publicly and privately, following the debacle at Sunderland. You can imagine just how blue the air would have been in Brown's office after Fagan arrived for a showdown with a manager not prone to holding back on his opinions. Brown has been misguided in some of his public slamming of his players of late, but as far as Fagan is concerned, admonishment was entirely justified, because the player was truly awful. It was, without any nod towards exaggeration, one of the worst individual displays from a City player, made all the more upsetting by the importance of the occasion (the debut of Michael Turner at his new club) and the known talent of Fagan.

There is a general admiration for Fagan among the Tiger Nation because when he's good, he can be truly superb. In League One's dying months, his first few at the club after signing at deadline time for Peter Taylor, he was sometimes unplayable. In the first Championship season he settled down and, at times, scored vital goals and made a telling contribution. Knowing his star was increasing, he held off from the offer on the table a season on and left for Derby County and a mega profit for the Tigers after a New Year's Day draw at Sheffield Wednesday.

He instantly won promotion at Wembley with the Rams but largely failed at a club that was a failure as an entity, and soon returned on loan to the KC, in amber boots, just in time to make a very peripheral contribution to another play-off triumph, sneaking himself more Wembley time as a substitute. News of his lack of fitness through injury came through as part-justification for his mid-range form, and eyebrows were raised but eggs not thrown when City chose to make his return permanent.

Last season, Fagan had some truly superb games - Chelsea away leaps to mind, when he led the line alone with professionalism, pace and immeasurable stamina - and tucked away three goals, one of which was the equaliser at Bolton that ultimately provided the solitary point that made the difference between survival and relegation. He also was down on his luck thanks to the broken leg suffered at Newcastle United courtesy of a bit of frustrated thuggishness from Danny Guthrie, which kept Fagan out of action for nearly three months.

However, for all the good things Fagan represents, he has a truly dark side to his nature and game too. He is predominantly a centre forward who has never been able to be even mildly prolific in front of goal, possessing a poor first touch and needing half a dozen chances to score before getting one on target. Taylor recognised this weakness in the Championship and, still wishing to use Fagan's deadly pace, planted him on the right wing. Fagan whined too loudly for Taylor's liking on one occasion - a home game with Coventry City which the visitors won - and was dropped entirely from the squad, forcing Taylor to play Kevin Ellison on the right, despite his being the most left-footed player in the history of football.

Yet the managers have been proved right on Fagan's weakness down the centre as the years have passed, and it is as a winger he has played most of his football over the last four years. He isn't a proficient crosser of the ball but when on his game (a crucial caveat, as he isn't on his game anywhere near enough) he can give any full back the runaround, leaving the Tiger Nation praying each time that his end product upon freedom from his marker would be any good.

Fagan makes daft errors, loses the ball too easily and is constantly sniping at referees and opponents, getting himself into trouble when it is never really necessary. His character weaknesses can be his strengths if he can transfer his negative energy in a positive manner, such as the "up yours" attitude he took into the Chelsea game last year that resulted in a superb line-leading display that was spoiled only by his lack of finishing prowess when given a gilt-edged chance with just Hilario to beat in the second half. The problem is that he is far more likely to use the chip on his shoulder to trouble himself rather than his adversaries.

The Sunderland game seems to have been the final straw for both Fagan, who appears to have had a blazing row with Brown, and the manager himself, who has not been quick to deny the strengthening rumours of a rift with the player. Fagan has not made the 18 on duty for any of the three Premier League games since, and even only sat on the bench when Brown gave the second-stringers their night against Everton in the Carling Cup. So angry was Brown, it appears, that Fagan stayed there all game even though injections of pace, experience, bluster, anything, were required as the visitors ambled to a 4-0 win.

Fagan's handball in his own box while unchallenged led to Sunderland's early penalty at the Stadium of Light, and although City equalised before the break, the game was a disjointed affair for both team and Fagan individually, and he was withdrawn after a messy and ill-disciplined display before even the hour mark had passed.

It would be a shame, but not surprising, if a woeful display by Fagan turns out to be his City swansong. His doubters and detractors have always outweighed his admirers, even though his admirers have every reason to talk up their man. Nothing, it would seem, would become Fagan's career with Hull City quite as much as the nature of his impending exit.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Gardner questions

Think of an injury-hit footballer at Hull City and immediately the name of Jimmy Bullard will pop up.

Yet light has always existed at the end of the Bullard tunnel - one serious but simple injury, one lengthy but defined recovery period, one estimated but realistic date of return. And, with the cultured midfielder set to turn out for the reserves tonight, all is impressively on course.

Far more worrying is the constant stream of maladies associated with defender Anthony Gardner. He cost £2.5 million and has made (only) a handful of appearances more than his fellow crock, despite signing almost six months before. It is becoming a farce that he is constantly breaking down.

A history lesson. In the bottom division days at the start of this decade, City signed a useful player called Richie Appleby who went on to barely kick a ball for the Tigers over two seasons thanks to a succession of injuries, and eventually the club became suspicious of the player's real state of health and paid him off. Gardner is fast approaching Appleby territory now, except City are no longer in the bottom tier and, unlike Appleby, nobody could claim Gardner is feigning it.

Gardner's spell on the treatment table has become a running joke for sections of the Tiger Nation, who claim that he is forever "a week away" after an assurance from the club as to the timescale of one of Gardner's injuries last season which turned out to be horrendously wide of the mark. Injured once again, there is little noise about his recovery coming from the club, but after such a vast investment in a player who only managed six Premier League appearances last season, one surely has to question the validity of the move. Gardner was peripheral at Tottenham Hotspur for a long old time, despite winning one England cap, but a rollcall of injuries was a contributory factor, as well as an availability of a number of alternative defenders.

The fact he was at Spurs for almost a decade, and was picked by his country, makes the Gardner situation even more frustrating, as evidently he is an excellent centre back when fit to be so. He is needed more than ever after Michael Turner's departure and currently City's defence has a soft centre to it thanks to Ibrahima Sonko's unfamiliarity (and immobility), Kamil Zayatte's occasional airheadedness and the combined inexperience of Liam Cooper and Steven Mouyokolo as the only other specialists in the squad. No wonder Phil Brown opted for the long teeth of Kevin Kilbane, a largely disastrous pick when put into midfield but generally a sturdy defensive presence, when a traumatised post-Torres back four needed patching up for Wigan Athletic's visit to the KC.

Gardner may be that fabled week away right now, or maybe he will be next week. But there were brief hopes of his return at Liverpool, and when that didn't happen the club went eerily quiet on the state of their most prized defender. Let's just hope it's an oversight prompted by the joy of victory against Wigan, the return of Bullard and the international break rendering club news less vital. Something far more sinister about Gardner's health dare not speak its name.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

08: Hull City 2 - 1 Wigan Athletic - 03/10/2009

We are well aware that the chairman of Hull City wouldn't have the balls to fire the manager in any event, but for the moment he doesn't have to. Phil Brown got the players back onside against Wigan Athletic to earn a crucial, job-preserving win.

The game was one of the dullest seen at the KC Stadium in years, but it still produced some smart football, tenacity in abundance and three most welcome points. Brown made the expected changes but while a couple were predictable, a couple more certainly weren't. What was certainly unexpected, particularly after sweeping Chelsea aside with craft and ease last week, was that Wigan would be so poor.

Nick Barmby, acting captain and therefore suddenly a first choice player, took to the pitch with the chronically unlucky Kamel Ghilas relegated to the bench. Kamil Zayatte returned but as holding midfielder, with Kevin Kilbane reverted to the centre of defence. Dean Marney also earned a recall to the midfield and responded with one of his better displays.

From kick off City could have had a penalty when Barmby's shot hit Manuel Figueroa on the hand but it was interpreted as accidental. Marney then shot down Chris Kirkland's throat from distance after nice work from Geovanni as City applied the early pressure.

Hugo Rodallega hit one too high after Boaz Myhill had to punch out a corner and then panic hit the City six yard box when Myhill parried Mohamed Diame's shot but Ibrahima Sonko, possibly still suffering Torres-based flashbacks, failed to clear as Rodallega closed in and Myhill had to barge through to land on it at the second attempt.

There were a fair few gaps in between the chances, and so much of the first half involved stoppages, midfield contention and wasted final balls. Eventually, Geovanni swiped a shot from long range which Kirkland allowed to fly over his bar in an effort to break the monotony, and Jason Scotland went on a penetrating run through City's softening centre but dragged his final shot wide.

Stephen Hunt, whose game consisted of his usual probing runs but with less end product, then made room for Geovanni to aim for the far post with his cross, but Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink flicked the chance just wide.

Another lengthy period of nothing followed, ended finally when Kilbane was the target for a Geovanni free kick but the Irishman just failed to connect. A goalless first half and a largely guileless one too.

The second period began in much the same manner. It was a poor spectacle between two teams whose priority was to not lose, as opposed to any positive action aimed at winning. Still, occasionally it did burst into life and Marney read a Wigan pass immaculately to intercept, hare goalwards and put a shot just wide via a deflection. Hunt swung in the corner and Zayatte headed it beyond the post.

Wigan's retaliation was quick, with Scotland sending Charles N'Zogbia down the left and his dangerous looking cross hit a stray body and looped into the air for Myhill to catch under pressure.

It wasn't exciting, but it was intriguing. Genuinely tough to imagine which team would score first, the game was developing further into a bolted-on goalless draw when, all of a sudden, City took the lead.

And so straightforward it was too. A corner was forced, Marney swerved it to the near post and Vennegoor of Hesselink won the header cleanly and powered in. Simple and vital. And also terrific to see the big Dutchman open his account in a game so important to the Tigers.

Barmby then twisted smartly to make room from a Vennegoor of Hesselink knockdown but scuffed his shot. This was the acting skipper's final contribution, as Ghilas came on for him and instantly, a second was notched.

Zayatte, reading the play like the central defender he normally is, stole a ball from basic Wigan possession and charged forward with no stray foot able to halt his progress to the byline. The cross avoided Vennegoor of Hesselink but was lashed home at the far post by Geovanni, who ran the length of the pitch, alone, to celebrate with the Tigers' side of the North Stand while everyone else in amber chose to go congratulate Zayatte for a fantastic assist.

City's third nearly came after good advantage was played, with Paul McShane tripped on the edge of the box but possession staying with City, and ultimately Marney saw his low drive held by Kirkland.

Zayatte was replaced by Seyi Olofinjana while Scott Sinclair came on for Wigan and promptly scored when heading in the rebound after Myhill could only beat out Jordi Gomez's shot.

It made for a nervy ending, which included a whopping five minutes of time added on and chance to have a pop at Marlon King when he came on as a Wigan sub, but City survived with some comfort.

Only a third Premier League win of the calendar year, but ahead of an international break it is a fantastic one. It gives Brown room to rethink the team's strategy while most of his players beetle off for duty with their nations, and by the time we reconvene at Fulham two weeks on Monday, there may be a new owner and new chairman, as the rumours persist about a £73m takeover, and more urgently than this, a place in the team for a certain Jimmy Bullard. This is good timing all round.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Sonko, Kilbane, Dawson, Zayatte (Olofinjana 81), Marney, Hunt, Geovanni, Barmby (Ghilas 64), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Mouyokolo 90). Subs not used: Duke, Halmosi, Cairney, Altidore.

Wigan Athletic: Kirkland, Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Scharner (Gomez 66), Figueroa, Thomas (King 90), N'Zogbia (Sinclair 84), Diame, Scotland, Rodallega. Subs not used: Pollitt, Kapo, Koumas, Cho.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Little Saint Nick

So, Nick Barmby will be the captain of Hull City for as long as Ian Ashbee recovers from knee surgery. Using the most optimistic of estimates, this will be in April.

Phil Brown made the captaincy into an issue this week, possibly because as a reaction to criticism to his dishing out of the armband to various different figures depending on availability, form and, in one odd situation, the identity of the opposition.

George Boateng, Michael Turner, Paul McShane, Ibrahima Sonko and Barmby have all started games as skipper this season. Boateng relinquished it when his fitness let him down; then Turner left the club; then McShane was given it as a token gesture when facing his old club Sunderland; then Sonko was given it for the two Premier League games that followed. Sonko's current possession of the role is especially undesirable, given that he is a loanee deemed not good enough for Stoke City but suddenly able to captain a rival Premier League club. Barmby, meanwhile, captained the two teams of fringe players that competed in the Carling Cup.

The most obvious conclusion to make from this armband sharing policy is that City are very much without a natural leader in Ashbee's absence. This conclusion has been enhanced further by City's rudderless performances of late, the kind which an Ashbee figure would not have allowed. Brown's most consistent belief since his appointment to the job is that Ashbee's presence in the team is a given if he is fit, irrespective of the player's form when on the ball.

In his long-term absence, and with the sale of Turner, there didn't seem to be a standout candidate who was actually going to justify not only the captaincy, but also a regular place in the side. McShane was probably the best option on both of these scores but Brown's unwisely-chosen words about his elevation being as a mere gesture for the player's return to the Stadium of Light put the mockers on that. Andy Dawson and Boaz Myhill, despite being regular performers and players with the club in their hearts, seem to have not been considered. Presumably Anthony Gardner and Jimmy Bullard's continuing absence (though both seem very close to a return) ruled them out too.

However, Barmby's appointment has also proved confusing. Captaincy material he may be in terms of experience, local knowledge, rapport with the fans, respect from the players - but he isn't actually playing very much. Presumably this fresh responsibility means he starts tomorrow against Wigan Athletic at the KC though, although the player he will replace (either Stephen Hunt or Kamel Ghilas, one supposes) will be rightly justified in asking why.

Brown is under the cosh, and for all our vacuous chairman's platitudes about loyalty and long-term goals and despicable supporters, a defeat this weekend would hammer in many a last nail at clubs where loyalty to staff is deemed a poor second to actual progress and success on the turf. Right now, with talk (instigated by Brown himself after last week's defeat at Liverpool) about players not responding to the manager, the team needs personalities who have the manager's trust to do the right thing. Brown has always been Barmby's biggest fan. Suddenly the agenda seems clear - Barmby has been appointed now as not just captain, but as a last effort to save Brown's job.