Saturday, 30 January 2010

23: Hull City 2 - 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers - 30/01/2010

A seriously big opportunity thrown away. The lead was twice relinquished as Hull City's thriving forward play was let down by poor decision-making in defence, and in the end it was a fortunate point as Wolves nearly snaffled it.

After the days out in north London and Manchester, it was a long-awaited home clash which was singled out as the one truly winnable game of the month of January. A big occasion too, thanks to the bad weather of the early weeks putting paid to the fixture against Chelsea and therefore the KC Stadium crowd was ripe and ready for a first game at home since Manchester United's win just after Christmas.

Phil Brown showed his appreciation of the occasion too by tearing up his teamsheet and starting again. Kamil Zayatte's training injury made room in defence for Steven Mouyokolo, while Bernard Mendy, Jozy Altidore, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and, most pleasingly, Tom Cairney all began the game. Mendy's inclusion along with Wolves target Stephen Hunt - afforded a roaring welcome by a Tiger Nation desperate for him to stay - meant that there were two genuine wide men out there, with two big centre forwards to aim for. Cairney's chance has been long, long overdue, and he was entrusted with the midfield creator's role on his Premier League debut with George Boateng acting as his support. New signing Amr Zaki was on the bench.

Kevin Foley had the first chance of the game after some hesitation from Anthony Gardner at the back, but the angle was too tight and he skanked the chance wide. It was the first aberration of the day from Gardner, and would not be the last.

Altidore made room for a tame shot after fine work on the flank from the powerful Vennegoor of Hesselink, but soon this weighty combination would produce the goods. Altidore had room to draw two challenges and lay a neat smart ball to his left for the mighty Dutchman, who took one touch before drilling a super low drive beyond Marcus Hahnemann's hand and into the corner. A 20 yard shot, on the run, with his left foot. Proof that Vennegoor of Hesselink has more to his armoury than height and close range finishes.

Instantly, and perhaps greedily, a second goal was expected as Wolves seemed shellshocked. They had set themselves up fairly defensively and were relying on potent set-pieces to provide them with chances. At these, they were very dangerous and City struggled. Jody Craddock headed one fractionally wide from Stephen Ward's swerving free kick, then Foley also flicked one beyond the post as a corner from Matt Jarvis caused all sorts of strife in the box.

Hunt, industrious and chippy but also perhaps affected by the speculation surrounding the opposition's interest in his services, played an over-ambitious ball across the midfield which Mendy, its intended target, couldn't collect before Ward interceded and sized up the chance. The shot flew wide.

City reset themselves and Mendy began to have an effect, chipping one delicious ball to the far post which Hahnemann had to fingertip away as Altidore closed in. It was brief respite, however, as Wolves forced another corner which Jarvis took, Andrew Surman flicked on and Christophe Berra missed by inches as he threw his whole self at the whizzing ball.

Vennegoor of Hesselink then headed wide from a Paul McShane cross before sublime passing between Hunt, Boateng, Cairney and the big Dutchman nearly sent Altidore away, before Andy Dawson regained possession from Wolves imperfect clearance and crossed for a pressured Altidore at the far post, with the youthful American unable to get a proper connection on the ball.

Cairney was spreading the ball well but seemed a little lost with the pace at times, but there was much reason to be grateful to him when he strongly blocked a goalbound shot from Karl Henry, who had far too much room and a clear view of Boaz Myhill's goal. Half time came and City had survived some real pressure and looked good for the lead.

At Molineux in August, the last farewell for Michael Turner, City scored early in the game and then conceded a soft equaliser very soon after the second half got underway before escaping with a point after flying by the seat of their collective pants. Well, guess what...

The second half soon restored parity. Hunt chases a ball he didn't need to chase and succeeded in preventing the throw-in but also in giving possession to Ronald Zubar, whose low curling cross was miskicked over Myhill's head and into the net by the hapless Gardner. How this could happen to one of our centre backs again - Zayatte's shanker against Everton leaps to mind - when they are programmed to get boots through less dangerous balls like this is anyone's guess. It was a shocker from the ex-England defender, and he would be affected by it for the rest of the game.

Still, Hunt needed to take some blame and his half generally suggested that the newsprint wasted on his future had got to him a bit. City are adamant they won't sell but it remains hard to say this when the money on offer would make a major contribution to alleviating the burden of debt placed upon the Tigers by Paul Duffen's excesses.

His chance to make up for his error came quickly after the equaliser when Zubar climbed all over Altidore from Mendy's cross and, in the absence of Craig Fagan, it was left to the Irishman to restore the Tigers' lead. He did in style, though Hahnemann did guess correctly and get close. So Gardner appeared to have been let off, for the moment. It was 2-1 and City really needed to trust their attacking instincts and go for the third.

Dawson hit a high diagonal ball which Vennegoor of Hesselink climbed well to reach but his header had little purchase and drifted wide. At the other end, a counter gave the impressive Kevin Doyle the chance to draw Mouyokolo and free David Jones to his left, but Myhill saved well at the post.

Then the big chance for the third. A ball down the left for Altidore to chase and his strength and rapidity shook off the puffing Craddock, giving the American a one-on-one. Hahnemann narrowed the angle and Altidore's effort hits the keeper's midriff. Such a great chance for a player who has done so much of what is expected of him - except score a goal. And to add to his woe, Wolves are level again within two minutes.

It was a horrendous experience to observe, as at least four times the Tigers had a chance to put a foot through the ball from serious Wolves pressure and didn't. Gardner was culpable especially as he chose to take on two men instead of clearing high and long, eventually hitting the ball low and only to an opponent on halfway. Finally, the ball was played across goal, sucking in McShane at the far post, and Jarvis got the opportunity to cut in and aim a low right foot shot past Myhill, perhaps with a very slight deflection.

Brown withdrew the luckless Altidore and introduced the stocky Zaki. Vennegoor of Hesselink, now with real skill as well as power alongside him, flicked another set-piece wide before Foley smashed a terrific shot inches wide from an impossible angle after a ricochet from Jones' run came his way. Both sides could win it, neither looked like they would.

Gardner headed straight at Hahnemann from Hunt's free kick, then the Irishman won another set-piece near the byline and swung in an beast of a cross which Wolves couldn't find and evaded Mouyokolo by a hair's breadth. By now, Richard Garcia had replaced Mendy but the spark had gone from City, while Wolves seemed happy with the point judging by the trio of late, defensively minded substitutions they made. That said, sub Geoffrey Mujangi Bia nearly won it injury time when a free kick was partkially defended and fell to him in the box, but the excellent Mouyokolo got in the way.

It was a point celebrated more by the visitors than by City, but ultimately it may do neither any good. The hope for both is that there still could easily be three teams elsewhere in the tight scrap for points at the bottom of the Premier League that are worse than them. But perhaps that belief, or assumption, or hope, becomes a little more forlorn when performances against one of those teams don't give you the points.

For the Tigers, it was the really winnable home game as two more rear their heads over the next week against sides who only fools would not back to win. Chelsea and Manchester City come to the KC with riches and ruthlessness in equal measure. City certainly aren't rich, nor are they ruthless. And when you prove this against the lesser sides, you begin to wonder about your destiny. A point means it could have been worse, and certainly individual performances offer hope, but it is a big, big chance missed.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Mouyokolo, Gardner, Boateng, Cairney, Mendy (Garcia 80), Hunt, Altidore (Zaki 69), Vennegoor of Hesselink. Subs not used: Duke, Kilbane, Barmby, Geovanni, Fagan.
Wolverhampton Wanderers: Hahnemann, Craddock, Ward (Stearman 90), Berra, Zubar, Mancienne, Foley (Guedioura 90), Jones, Jarvis (Mujangi Bia 90), Henry, Doyle. Subs not used: Hennessey, Milijas, Vokes, Ebanks-Blake.

Friday, 29 January 2010

One more down, two to go

It could have cost a sum of money to make the thrifty need a glass of water and a lie down, but at least Bryan Hughes has made good his exit from Hull City at last.

Hughes was picking up a hefty wage without even a squad number, let alone a prayer of playing and probably no desire at all to play any more for Phil Brown anyway. Now he is a free agent.

Time is running out to do likewise with Peter Halmosi and Caleb Folan, but the ideal world suggests someone needs to come in with adequate funds to purchase each of these two hangers-on. However, ideal worlds don't exist when Hull City exist around them and so maybe the only way to get shut is to offer them a similar way out that Hughes has grasped today.

Halmosi has quite a way to go on his deal and may sit tight, which would be his right. Folan is less powerful both in terms of wage and length of time left with the club. But at least one of them surely wants to play football just a little bit?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Zaki worth the risk

Two strikers, please. Two proper, goalhanging, worthy, reputable strikers.

Have we actually got them? The best finisher on Hull City's books has been away at the Africa Cup of Nations and doesn't get on with Phil Brown anyway. Daniel Cousin does, however, look to be running out of time to find the new club both he and the Tigers seem to crave, so perhaps if we're to continue giving him a buxom salary until the summer we should use his talents.

Beyond that, it's the same story that we've been telling for weeks. Jozy Altidore looks like he might score but doesn't, Craig Fagan looks like he could win any match if it was measured on workrate but is plain dire in front of goal, and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's finishing skill is set aside by the immobility he brings to the forward line when playing any more than the last 20 minutes. Caleb Folan epitomises the strong lower league player who is painfully out of his depth.

But now there is Amr Zaki. Quick, strong, enthusiastic and extremely able when it comes to hitting the target.

Brown says he is not fit to start yet, although he has been worked hard this week and looks sufficiently active to take a place on the bench. So just how long on the pitch could he do if asked to play an active part?

If it's 45 minutes, then it can't be the greatest risk in the world to start him. If it works and Zaki produces the goals expected of him, then the Tigers could be in a strong, even winning position against Wolverhampton Wanderers with still a half to go.

One hopes that Zaki, when fully fit, is the man. It will look careless and wasteful if the Tigers end up with six centre forwards who can't do the primary job required of a centre forward. If Zaki can run andthe risk is no more than calculated, then Brown should grasp the nettle and give the Egyptian his shirt right away. If he's fit to finish the game, then he's fit to start it.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

His name is Rio and he slapped him with his hand

Sometimes, television is all we have left. This is proved by the FA's decision to review video evidence of the clout Craig Fagan took from Rio Ferdinand during Saturday's game at Old Trafford and charge the England defender with violent conduct.

This is because almost nobody saw it on the day, at the time. The referee didn't see it; his assistants didn't see it and, moreover, the Hull City supporters didn't see it. This blog's match report didn't include the incident for exactly that reason. There was no outcry from the cramped away corner of the stadium, no howls of derision towards a linesman who had earlier in the half been accidentally shoved by Fagan into the sunken moat area that separated his touchline from the crowd. All we got were a few scratched heads - and an assumption that Fagan had been gobbing off again for little reason - when moments later the City striker was booked for over-vociferous protesting. Even after the telly began to show the incident, the national papers made barely a mention of it, and certainly not in a derogatory tone. Now imagine the reaction if Fagan had crashed his fist into the neck of England's top centre back...

The referee was Steve Bennett, who responded to multiple protests from Aston Villa at the KC last season to a perceived injustice by checking with his linesman and surreptitiously receiving information from the fourth official. As a consequence, the injury time penalty he had just given the Tigers was altered to a goal kick for Villa. City lost 1-0. The debate about whether broke the laws by taking evidence from a fourth official hung around for ages afterwards.

City players were told, without criticism intended, that they should behave like the more established Premier League players and harangue a referee to death when something blatantly wrong has happened and an honourable outcome seems a mile away. It may not always work but for Villa, it did. Only Fagan aimed a choice word or ten Bennett's way and he got booked. Unfortunately, such is the level of paranoia and general injustice that smaller clubs and lesser name players feel when up against individual and collective giants of football (especially when on their patch, like at Old Trafford), one can't help but feel that had Fagan been joined by a gaggle of teammates in surrounding Bennett, he'd have strutted off in that rooster-like way of his after issuing a few further yellow cards. There would have been no consultation with a linesman or quiet instruction via an earpiece.

So the FA have done what we hoped but barely expected, and Ferdinand must know that the evidence is stark and he will be found guilty, be it through the FA panel or his own admission. A three game ban, maybe four if he denies it, will be his. However, had the officials seen it at the time, he would have had a red card and City, only 1-0 down and putting pressure on the United goal at the time, would have had a penalty and a chance to level up. And Fagan would have taken the penalty too. The stable door was long closed by the time any form of retribution was meted out.

There is, of course, no guarantee at all - especially when facing the champions on their turf - that City would still have got anything from the game had Ferdinand been sent off and Fagan scored the spot kick, although the goal difference wouldn't have worsened to the tune of four goals, that's certain. But it would have been nice to find out. As undesirable as it may be, the City players simply need to start acting like rabid dogs around referees when something like this happens again, as the nice guys and the small fries simply don't win otherwise.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

22: Manchester United 4 - 0 Hull City - 23/01/2010

Wayne Rooney. The only difference between the sides in more than 180 minutes of football between Hull City and Manchester United. Put the two games together and you get a 7-1 aggregate win for the Premier League champions - and Rooney scored six of them.

Few Manchester United supporters, be they heartfelt types from Eccles or the depressingly growing number who wouldn't know a Rusholme curry house or a Deansgate pawnbrokers if photos of such establishments were tattooed on their eroding chins, would admit they are a one-man team. Yet in these games, the bankers, they really are. Because only Rooney, when professional competence is called into question, passes the test.

The Tigers can feel aggrieved and proud in equal measure. With 80 minutes on the watch the scoreline was still only 1-0 thanks to an early strike from the Liverpudlian wretch and City had given it all they could to equalise. A lack of positional sense in the penalty area and firepower in general was, again, the problem. Phil Brown had picked Craig Fagan, the least threatening goalscorer ever asked to score goals for his weekly wage, as the lone frontman yet again, and this became ever more frustrating when the introduction of Bernard Mendy as a second half substitute began to create havoc and chaos among an autopilotted United defence.

Indeed, Brown went for the same XI that began at Tottenham Hotspur last week, despite some artless, immature complaints from Spurs fans that it was so unfair that smaller, less wealthy and less skilful teams had shown such audacity in defending their goal for 100 minutes of football - and succeeded. These people really should learn that football starts, figuratively and literally, on a level playing field and each time has the basic right to try to make it at least end as such too. Otherwise we may as well hand over the points and save the train fare.

It meant that Fagan ploughed his lone furrow with as much help as Geovanni, Nick Barmby and Richard Garcia could give. This was, sadly, not much. Geovanni is finding it hard to mesmerise in a team designed to frustrate, while Barmby seems uncertain as to exactly what his role is. Garcia is, however, showing optimism in possession and a real desire to take on his man, irrespective of what limited expectation exists around him. They should all drop to the feet of Stephen Hunt, who has the attitude that the rest should ape - just play. Do what you are good at, which in Hunt's case is running, harrying, chipping away at the opposition and giving everyone - teammates, adversaries, officials, even fans - food for thought. If he is still a City player by the time Chelsea come north on February 2nd we should be very happy.

United decided that failing, dimensionless performers like Michael Owen and Nani should play, and both were wasteful throughout the game. Owen had the first chance when Rooney broke the offside trap down the left and laid it into his path but Anthony Gardner, colossal in all senses, got a sturdy deflection on the ball to send it wide. It was a mild let-off but given how much such early failures had hardened the City collective a week earlier in north London, it was a necessary one.

Then United scored.

Paul Scholes, from a semi-cleared set-piece, had time to look up and batter one of his definitive shots from distance towards the target. Boaz Myhill managed to slap it away but did so too narrowly and Rooney, left alone a little too much, had ample opportunity to steady himself and pick his spot from the rebound.

It could have opened the floodgates but conversely, Rooney's goal simply showed up how little United's other players regard Premier League matches that form part of the housework and little more. Hull City at home is not a game that will etch on the memory unless they actually lose it. At 1-0 up it was easy for them to step back and save their breath for the next occasion. To them, the game was won. And anyone who disagrees with this view should not try to use the further chances created as any kind of riposte, as they were half-heartedly finished and, consequently, didn't go in.

Nani crossed from the right and Ji-Sung Park, waiting, headed well wide after Paul McShane put him under pressure at the moment of contact. Rio Ferdinand touched a Nani corner horribly wide at the near post. Good chances, great chances, both of which were not converted because the players involved didn't think they needed to try too hard to do so.

Then, a glimmer for City. A combination of Scholes and Jonny Evans gave possession away with poor back headers and Barmby nipped in. The angle was tight but he managed to sweep in an instant shot that Edwin Van der Sar blocked with his feet. From the considerable distance involved it was impossible to tell just how little of the goal Barmby could see, but it felt like a chance.

Nani crossed from the right again and Rooney, on the turn, flashed a half volley just wide. He then flicked divinely to put Owen through but Andy Dawson got in a tremendous sliding challenge on the fringes of the six yard area as the chance set itself up. City were resolute but riding their luck, not least when Kamil Zayatte and McShane both blocked shots in the box before Darren Fletcher's third go, a spinning and awkward drive, was palmed away by Myhill.

Gardner headed out a Nani cross under severe pressure after more exceptional work by Rooney, then a free kick from the Scouse striker fell just wide with Myhill rooted to his spot. Scholes then sent Nani away on the right again and Gardner cutely heeled the cross away while furiously tracking back. Scholes slipped the follow-up to Rooney but he put the final chance wide.

Rooney was dominant and totally alone in this. It was gratifying to see that his initial success in front of goal was not being matched by either himself or his teammates and the frustration grew when Garcia neatly robbed him of possession to free Hunt who was promptly chopped down in a cloud of red mist by the embarrassed Rooney. A yellow card and a few choice words from Hunt, and cheers from the Tiger Nation. But while the catcalls aimed Rooney's way were justified and fun, it also made him more human and understanding of how football should be than anyone else dressed in red on the pitch (or, indeed, a good number of those dressed in red in the seats - or yellow and green, the colour of the anti-Glazer protests going on around the ground. What local window repairers have done so wrong is beyond us).

Owen is playing terribly at this point, to the extent that the cries of "City reject" from the droller element of the Tiger Nation rang more truly than the initial japery of such a chant suggests. Put through exquisitely by Scholes, he tried a dinking shot over Myhill and got no chip on the ball at all, allowing the City custodian to fall gratefully on a very weak and bleak effort. He then headed equally as unforcefully at Myhill from a Fletcher cross after Rafael had gone on a winding run down the flank. There is nothing left for Owen and those hacks who maintain he needs to play for England are now doing so only to embarrass an Italian coach than to promote an English centre forward whose best days are years and years behind him, never to return.

Half time, 1-0, and much to be positive about. It could have been more, but it wasn't thanks to United's own shoddy attitude and City's brand of committed defending that had, on two occasions, involved the throwing of entire bodies in the path of the ball. It was heroic and hopeful in equal measure.

The early second half was a non-event aside from when Fagan and Patrice Evra went into a touchline challenge and completely took out the linesman keeping up with play. The official hurtled down the shallow moat that separates the pitch from the supporters and evidently was quite shaken up, judging by the length of time it took for the two club physios to get him to his feet and fit to flag Fagan offside again.

The delay seemed to give City time to regroup and begin a new phase of real assault on the United goal. Garcia, grafting yet cultured and just maybe starting to convince his harder critics, forced a corner which Hunt swung in low and Evra missed entirely, forcing Van der Sar to test his reflexes for a catch he didn't expect to make. United responded with a Nani shot spilled by Myhill and cleared by Zayatte, then another Nani curler across goal that aimed Rooney's way but was just too far ahead for his touch. In the midst of this, Brown withdrew Barmby and gave Mendy his chance.

We got the Mendy we need. Shorn of defensive responsibilities, the Frenchman became an outlet on the flank that gave Evra all the problems in the world to the extent that Fletcher or Scholes would often come across to help their colleague when the ball was at Mendy's feet. He forced a corner with a driving run the moment he came on, which Hunt swung in and everyone missed. Kamel Ghilas then replaced Garcia, despite the total non-appearance of Geovanni at Old Trafford, and the Algerian immediately took advantage of the lack of offside from a throw to stand on the byline, take McShane's chucker into his stride and cross for Hunt to head across goal, agonisingly behind Gardner's hooking left foot.

McShane then fed Mendy again, and he weaved in and out of two defenders to make room for a left footer that was too high, then the two combined in opposite manner thanks to Mendy's smart ball and McShane's run. The cross reached Ghilas on the edge of the six yard box and he managed to turn but prod a shot across Van der Sar and beyond the far post. It was probably the best chance City had to equalise.

A corner was forced but quickly cleared and the counter attack nearly earned United their second, but substitute Darron Gibson chipped over and wide from distance. Geovanni was finally off by this time, but despite Tom Cairney's presence on the bench, Brown put the more prosaic Kevin Kilbane on instead. Exactly how replacing one player with a teammate who was his total opposite on the progressive and creative front was supposed to aid the quest for an equaliser against the Premier League champions is anyone's guess. Cairney must be considerably hacked off at not getting a game again.

With ten minutes left, Kilbane conceded a free kick. The decision was dubious; the efforts of Myhill to keep out Nani's targetted but tame shot was far more so. The ball popped into his hands, popped out again, hit the bar and chaos took over in the area. City got a partial clearance but seconds later it was swept across to Rooney who took full advantage of the turmoil in the box (and the lack of whistle for the prostrate Dawson's head injury) to batter the ball in and win the match. What will be will be. Dawson doesn't play for Manchester United so perhaps his skull is not regarded as enough of an asset to a match to prompt a referee to stop the match. Had Rooney gone down there would have been a request for a chopper from Lancashire Air Ambulance to hover over Salford, just in case. And the game would have been stopped even if the Tigers were about to tap into an open net. It's not bleating. But there is your difference, right in front of us all.

It thrust a stake through Tiger hearts and Rooney completed his hat-trick with a poked finish after Nani crossed well. Mendy had another go thanks to Kilbane's ball down the flank and did over the defence again but Ghilas was beaten to the cross by Rafael.

The United fourth came during five minutes of injury time when a long ball was allowed to bounce once too often by a dizzied Tigers defence and Rooney steered the ball in. The second goal was harsh for its being permitted; the third and fourth were harsh for what it did, superficially, to opinion about City's performance. Defeat was inevitable and for United, victory was deserved, but 4-0 told entirely the wrong story for the contribution and endeavour that the Tigers showed on the day. Kilbane, who will never score, should have done with pretty much the last kick when a corner fell on to his left foot but his meaty shot essentially hit Van der Sar in the midriff and stuck.

The real business begins next weekend when Wolverhampton Wanderers come to the KC Stadium. The attempt to cut it alongside wannabe biggies like Spurs and genuine biggies like Manchester United needs to be replicated against similarly sized and positioned sides around us, and a home game against Wolves is the epitome of this. Hull City never make things easy though, and next week will be a different animal entirely. Let's hope it still roars and bears its teeth as much as it has over the last two weekends.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Zayatte, Gardner, Boateng, Hunt, Barmby (Mendy 57), Garcia (Ghilas 70), Geovanni (Kilbane 74), Fagan. Subs not used: Duke, Mouyokolo, Cairney, Vennegoor of Hesselink.
Manchester United: Van der Sar, Rafael, Evra (Fabio 87), Ferdinand, Evans, Fletcher, Scholes (Gibson 72), Nani, Park, Rooney, Owen (Berbatov 72). Subs not used: Kuszczak, Brown, Carrick, Valencia.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Go on Adam

Adam Pearson never hides and never shirks the difficult options in football chairmanship. So, with speculation naturally growing about exactly why Hull City is taking its former chairman to court after yesterday's darkly-worded statement, he's gone for the jugular and told us.

The legalese flowers it up, but essentially Pearson believes Paul Duffen used City's money to finance his private ventures and businesses, and also took money from agents in return for a guarantee that the club would deal with those agents.

The official website has the full statement. This is going to be interesting, and messy. If we weren't already playing the Premier League champions tomorrow, I'd say it would be a distraction. Maybe there's something in Pearson's timing there too.

If only Pearson were to prove immortal. Aside from him, it seems we may not have had a chairman of either sound mind or strong morals for more than 20 years now. Fortunately, the one chairman who doesn't fall into either category happens to be just the most amazing individual the club has ever had within its walls.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

High court, high stakes

This has come totally as a bolt out of the blue. A statement from Hull City released today reads thus:

"Hull City Football Club has now issued legal proceedings against Paul Duffen in the High Court.

"This action has been being taken to protect the commercial best interests of the football club against the actions undertaken by Paul Duffen while in office at Hull City."

Well, what a turn up. Duffen's handling of the club's affairs has been severely criticised by Adam Pearson since the switch was made in the chairman's office, and now he is taking it further.

It would be unwise to speculate, but prior to leaving Duffen had two major financial pressures to answer to - agreeing to and revealing no figures within the sale of Michael Turner; and explaining why the club's accounts had not been submitted within the allotted time.

Beyond this, maybe it is an action designed to evoke sympathy from those who decide the punishment handed out to clubs in financial strife. If - and it is a big if - administration is not impossible a scenario, proof that the club is taking action to remedy problems not caused by those currently at the helm may make a ten-point difference.

It proves beyond all doubt, however, that Pearson is yet again giving Hull City every chance to succeed, irrespective of how difficult the decisions required to achieve this may be.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

He is of no Hughes any more

Bryan Hughes scored the equaliser in a reserves match against Burnley last night. As useful as such a goal may prove to the second string, and his general presence in the stiffs may be to the kiddlings also in the side, he should have gone months ago.

Hughes is sticking to the terms of his large contract, given to him by ex-chairman Paul Duffen when he signed, for free, from Charlton Athletic in the summer of 2007. The deal will almost certainly have contained a wage hike in the event of promotion to the Premier League, possibly because nobody at all could have envisaged that such an elevation would actually happen. Since Wembley, Hughes has played a negligible role in the Tigers' progress as a top tier team and has picked up a mega wage each week for, or in spite of, doing so.

Hughes has, of course, done nothing wrong, beyond a few deeply underwhelming turnouts for the first team in both the Premier League and the Championship. He is an employee who is entitled to stay under the terms of his deal and cannot be forced out without suitable recompense, agreed between both he and his club. But as Adam Pearson continues to report a very bare cupboard at the KC, focus turns on to the big earners who have no part to play in the club's future.

It's wrong and disingenuous when fans complain of Hughes "milking the club" for all he can. He isn't. He is paid this wage because the club was happy to do so in more ambitious, fruitful times. If he was playing football every week (or, more specifically, playing football reasonably well every week) then the wage would be less of an issue. He is nowhere near the biggest earner in the whole senior squad. But he is probably the biggest earner who has to do little more than train half-heartedly for the rest of his deal.

Hull City didn't help by refusing to give Hughes no squad number this season, thereby stating by stealth that he was unwelcome at the club and the manager literally had no plans for him. That action could easily have prompted a two-finger retort from the player and a promise to himself that he would stick around and take the club's money for every single week that remained of his contract in return for humiliating him. That depends on Hughes' own character, though it would be a surprise, given his experience, if that were his attitude.

If he goes prior to the nailed-on free transfer in the summer, it will be because the club has had to give him a mega lump sum to do so. It certainly won't be because another club has offered a transfer fee. Hughes is unbuyable. His lack of games, his age and the general fiscal climate in football - particularly in the Championship, which is where Hughes truly belongs - means that nobody at all will see him as an affordable and worthwhile investment, at least until he is a free agent and has less power to negotiate himself a fat wage.

Nobody should begrudge Hughes his money. The club is responsible for paying him and is also responsible for alienating him. The only crime he can take on the chin is not being a good enough footballer for the Premier League any more. But among the many deals still being thrashed out as January nears its final full week has to be the loan deal - such as the brief one he had at Derby County in November - that will divert responsibility for at least part of his wages and might persuade Hughes that the grass may be greener on a Championship football pitch rather than a stiffs one.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Zaki's in

Amr Zaki could be a brilliant signing, or a calamitous one. Either way he will evoke much interest as he pulls on amber for the remainder of the season following his arrival on loan at the KC Stadium today.

Zaki memorably, and rather painfully, scored twice when Wigan Athletic gave us a severe pummelling in August 2008, prompting tiresomely predictable headlines about an alleged "wake-up call" for the impudent new team of the Premier League.

The stocky and sharp Egyptian ended up putting away ten goals for the Latics in 29 games, a most worthy statistic indeed. Yet his richness in form on the field was tempered by his utter denseness off it, when he managed to avoid meeting manager Steve Bruce's deadline for returning from international duty no less than four times. Bruce called him "the most unprofessional" player he had ever worked with and chose not to take up an option to sign him permanently at the end of the season. Interest waned from elsewhere after Bruce's stinging rebuke, and Zaki went back to Zamalek, his club in Egypt.

So, how will his attitude fare with Phil Brown? This question makes the slightly wild assumption that Zaki has not improved his approach to his livelihood since Bruce issued his tirade, which is unfair. Brown, however, is not one for suffering fools or indulging wildcard characters - although he has been wrong in some of his acts of punishment as much as he has been right - but one assumes that Zaki's personality has been researched prior to offering him a new chance to show his worth all over again in the Premier League.

He has skill, a real eye for goal and the capacity for the unexpected, which gives him three things over Craig Fagan already. His purplest patch for Wigan was alongside Emile Heskey, so maybe there is potential for a Zaki partnership with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, and that signing him is as much about justifying a starting place for the gangly Dutchman as it is replenishing a misfiring strike force.

Zaki is only just in training and may not be ready until the crucial visit of Wolverhampton Wanderers to the KC on January 30th. Missing the Manchester United game will be a major disappointment to him personally but, like Jimmy Bullard, his presence is less than likely to influence the final result and it's the targetted games where Zaki needs to be fit and focussed. If he comes back to England a little more mature than when he last jollied up over here, he could prove to be an invaluable and astute bit of business by the Tigers.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

21: Tottenham Hotspur 0 - 0 Hull City - 16/01/2010

Boaz Myhill will never play a better game of football in his career.

This was all about Hull City's long-serving keeper and his charmed gloves. On four occasions he made saves that he had no right to make, especially against the expensively assembled Tottenham Hotspur strike force to whom goalscoring is second nature, and yet the Welsh international pawed and batted away efforts that on literally any other day would have passed him by and condemned the Tigers to defeat.

The Tigers were distinctly second best but a gritty defensive performance and Myhill's receipt of a sprinkle of stardust earned a superb point, one which seemed an unlikely prospect before kick off but ended up being wholly deserved.

Unlikely the prospect may have been, but the side Phil Brown picked was as optimistic as a 4-5-1 could be. George Boateng was at the base of the midfield, with the varying attacking talents of Nick Barmby, Richard Garcia, Stephen Hunt and Geovanni all supporting Craig Fagan's lonely efforts at the top. Paul McShane was restored at right back.

Tottenham attacked from start to finish and a goal did seem inevitable, even when Myhill wasn't prompted to turn superhuman. The home side were sometimes most profligate when given the chance to score, and the Tigers back four threw their beings at plenty more opportunities to great effect. It was stunning, nailbiting, heroic stuff.

Luka Modric made room for a shot with a fine stepover but the low effort was watched and hoofed clear by an alert Kamil Zayatte, then the Croatian again swivelled into a big enough gap to give Niko Kranjcar a chance to shoot but fired way too high.

City responded with Barmby and Hunt exchanging passes beautifully in an advanced position, but the Irishman was reluctant to shoot with his right foot and was forced away by Spurs defenders. Garcia then sent Fagan scampering down the left and followed up his pass, stretching to win the header from Fagan's cross but being unable to direct it on target.

Spurs countered when referee Martin Atkinson didn't give Fagan a foul on halfway and Wilson Palacios hit a piledriver along the ground that Myhill pawed out, prior to leaping up and palming Robbie Keane's rebound over the bar when he had no right.

It was absolutely stunning. And he wouldn't stop there.

Kranjcar then took an incisive Tom Huddlestone pass and got a sniff of the target but fired a long way wide. It seemed inevitable that a goal would come, but the next chance to get one was for City. McShane chipped forward for Barmby to nod on to the Garcia instep, but with glory in his sights the Australian miskicked the volley out for a throw in.

Three minutes were added and it seemed City's work for a grafting but fulfilling first half was done. But with the Tiger Nation pleading for the whistle, Jermain Defoe found himself put clear on goal. Hearts sank in the away end as the man who scored a hat-trick at the KC in August seemed destined to add to that personal tally against City. Myhill's phenomenal handiwork made sure he didn't.

The second half began in much the same manner as City were placed firmly on the back foot. Modric fed Defoe on the right of the area but Andy Dawson chucked his legs in the way for a corner, which the defence dealt with comfortably.

Modric then saw a shot kept out by Myhill but Defoe was following up from just five yards out. He should have been more thorough in his finishing but Myhill's block with his sprawling body was still superb. The third astonishing stop of the match.

The noise from the Tiger Nation grew as the game got tastier and the belief in the players got bigger. The Spurs players sensed the growing confidence from all connected with their opponents too as the Tigers began to make headway at the other end.

Initially it was of Spurs' own making. Gareth Bale played a shoddy pass across his own defence that Hunt intercepted. The chance was on but again Hunt was not keen on hitting the shot with his much weaker right foot and so fed the supporting Barmby, who was a little too wide as he shaped to shoot and found the side netting.

It was such a big chance.

City remained inspired, however, and Fagan won a free kick on the edge of the box after a trip from Sebastien Bassong, unhappy at being nutmegged seconds earlier. Hunt swung in the kick and the clearance reached Boateng, whose shot was deflected to Barmby. His effort was also desperately blocked.

Anthony Gardner then got in the way of a Defoe shot before Spurs tried a different way, throwing on Peter Crouch for Keane. City shored up a tiring (and ageing) midfield by introducing the more prosaic Kevin Kilbane for Barmby, who was applauded from the field by all sides of the ground.

Crouch soon got involved, banging a shot wide after flicking a long clearance to Defo and then taking a return. City responded with Garcia making a progressive run inside from the right flank but slicing his shot high and wide from a decent position.

Jermaine Jenas, also on as a sub, then crossed towards Crouch hose header across goal was met by Modric, but Myhill got down well to smother the effort. City removed the quiet Geovanni and put on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink in order to provide a viable target for hacked clearances and higher balls. Instantly, Vennegoor of Hesselink flicked on a Myhill goal kick and Hunt almost had a free run but Michael Dawson got a foot in at the final moment to sweep the ball clear.

Myhill batted away a distant Jenas shot and then Bale sized up a free kick conceded by Boateng but hit a well-assembled wall with the shot. Garcia was withdrawn as City threw on the extra defender in Steven Mouyokolo.

City forced a throw and Zayatte, for the hell of it, hurled in a rare long one. Boateng almost got into a shooting position from the weak clearance but Bale got in the way to force another throw. Then, as Spurs cleared their lines and looked again for the elusive goal, Myhill thwarted them yet again.

Huddlestone aimed for Crouch at the far post and the Spurs centre forward inevitably climbed highest to head for the corner from just six yards out, yet Myhill somehow worked his reflexes to the limit again and pawed it away. Just magnificent.

Six minutes were added but Spurs were demoralised, adding just one more effort at goal courtesy of Jenas giving Crouch another chance, but Myhill made the tight angle count and pushed the drive out with some ease.

The final whistle was greeted with the sort of noise usually reserved for unexpected wins, but it certainly felt like one nonetheless. The team had performed superbly, but Myhill deserved - and indeed got - special, exclusive praise. This was the sort of goalkeeping display which will make Myhill's legend. It really was that good.

Tottenham Hotspur: Gomes, Corluka, M.Dawson, Bassong, Bale, Palacios (Jenas 55), Modric, Kranjcar, Huddlestone, Keane (Crouch 62), Defoe. Subs not used: Alnwich, Naughton, Bentley, Rose, Pavlyuchenko.
Hull City: Myhill, McShane, A.Dawson, Zayatte, Gardner, Boateng, Barmby (Kilbane 65), Garcia (Mouyokolo 83), Hunt, Geovanni (Vennegoor of Hesselink 75), Fagan. Subs not used: Duke, Mendy, Cairney, Ghilas.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Spur us on

It feels like forever since Hull City last played a Premier League game - indeed, 18 days is forever. The FA Cup and the adverse weather have had their say, but now it's back to business. And, frankly, Phil Brown should really be picking a side to just go for it at Tottenham Hotspur this weekend.

There are absentees through injuries, incompetence, personal crises and international commitments, but crucially there are no absentees due to being packed off to the first club to wave a large cheque towards Adam Pearson since City last kicked a Premier League ball. Stephen Hunt plays at White Hart Lane, and remains the vital cog in City's stretched and understrength midfield. Kamil Zayatte's alleged potential for a January move looks like it was pure stirring from an agent whom, we hope, the player chooses to dump as quickly as possible.

Hunt and Zayatte are City's best performers and it's gratifying to see them still in the side. But also returning are Paul McShane and Dean Marney, for whom injury has robbed them of action that they would have undoubtedly got in the Christmas and New Year fixture madness.

Marney remains maligned and frustrating, but this is his old club he is visiting tomorrow, and if he gets a game he will make his point, just as he did with a tremendous display when part of the legendary 4-3-3 formation that gave Spurs a collective bloody nose with a 1-0 win last October.

It is pie in the sky whom Brown picks. The available personnel has changed substantially since the 2-2 draw at Bolton Wanderers, while the stiffs brought in for the bleak Cup exit at Wigan Athletic a fortnight ago will, with the hopeful exception of Tom Cairney, be back in their club suits.

The real business of survival begins in a fortnight when Wolverhampton Wanderers visit the KC Stadium and Jimmy Bullard simultaneously makes his anticipated return. Until then we can keep a cool head and be serene about any fate that awaits us, while maintaining a spot of partisan hope, of course. Spurs were mesmerising at the KC in August but have faltered a little, and Stoke City have set a benchmark that the Tigers can emulate by winning there already.

What matters is that the best players currently available remain so in the amber shirt, in time for Bullard's return and primed for the fixtures that will make or break a season which many outside East Yorkshire borders reckon will end in the drop. We know different. At Spurs we may just show the others why.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

No more hunting for Hunt

Hull City has issued a terse and most reassuring statement today, proclaiming that it is "bored" with speculation about Stephen Hunt's future and stating, twice, that the Irish wideman is not for sale.

Hopefully this is an end of it. However, this is football, and the intentions of a club can soon be swayed by the appropriation of a large cheque, especially when one considers the financial kerfuffle City find themselves in.

The saving grace is that Adam Pearson has unequivocal trust placed in him by the Tiger Nation. He is well aware that such statements need to be backed by actions, and has rarely been the type to change his mind on such matters.

But only rarely - not never.

Anyone who remembers what he did approximately a fortnight after grumpily responding to criticism of Phil Parkinson's management of the club will shudder just slightly today. Yep, having backed him, he then sacked him. Maybe it'll take a fortnight again, but it would be only a disappointment, not a surprise, if Hunt still leave the club that is adamant he is going nowhere. And if he doesn't, then it is yet another feather in the Pearson cap.

Meanwhile, one hopes that attention can once again be concentrated on escorting Caleb Folan, Bryan Hughes and Peter Halmosi out of the club as quickly as possible.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010


There will always be an instant memory of Nathan Doyle, even though he was a vastly underused player during a spell with the Tigers that ended today.

Doyle, a skilful right back whose defending capabilities never quite shone through, has gone to Barnsley today after spending a good length of time on loan there. Phil Brown raved about him when he snapped him up for peanuts from Derby County in 2007. He had observed the adolescent Doyle during his own tenure at Pride Park but, while continuing to sing his praises, simply refused to play him in any Hull City game that absolutely mattered unless really, really forced.

The memory will stay though of an exuberant Doyle, shattered after the birth of his first child hours before, coming on as a late substitute to sample the adulatory atmosphere engulfing the KC Stadium in May 2008 as City led 3-1 against Watford, 5-1 on aggregate, and were sauntering to the Championship play-off final at Wembley.

Doyle, like in the first leg, came on as a midfield sub. In that first leg he had fancy-danned his way into space to curl a long range shot against Watford's post, an effort which would simply have been one of City's greatest ever goals had it been an inch or two narrower. This time, four days on and with the celebrations of a Richard Garcia goal still in full swing, Doyle collected a ball in the centre and nipped into a gap left open by bewildered, beaten Watford players before hitting a left foot drive which was deflected into the net. The deflection was key to the goal but it was still Doyle's, his first for the club, and he marked the occasion with the Bebeto-esque baby-rocking routine while sections of crowd, unwisely but understandably, invaded the pitch.

Doyle was on the bench for the final and never got on, but had a medal draped round his neck nonetheless after City won the match and clinched promotion. Beyond that, a hapless performance at right back in last season's infamous 5-1 defeat at Manchester City, which was overshadowed by Brown's antics anyway, is all else he has to label two and a half years of an attractive looking career. This was one those aforementioned games that absolutely mattered that forced Brown to look at Doyle, and the youngster far from delivered. This season he only featured for the first team in the Carling Cup tie against Southend United, prior to Barnsley's call.

The Championship, especially within a team clearly progressing admirably under Mark Robins, may well be the level Doyle suits best. City need to prune the squad, both in numbers and in cost, and Doyle's wages will not even begin to ease the furrowed brow of Adam Pearson as he pores over the books, but the decision to sell is quite right. Doyle was a nowhere player, one that evidently Brown couldn't quite trust at the highest level, and it would have been a shame for such a promising career to have stalled for much longer.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

January's off

If we are to believe the weather forecasters, then the thaw is due in the next couple of days and so this weekend's game against Chelsea will be the only one in the Tigers' fixture calendar to be postponed.

There is no news as yet of the game's rescheduling but inevitably it will now be a midweek night. Pity, as a depleted Chelsea forced into playing in Arctic conditions would have been at their most vulnerable had the game taken place as planned. Looking at Chelsea's fixture list, it may well be March before they make their visit to us, as Champions League and Premier League commitments fill their February midweeks while the one that remains vacant needs to stay so in the event of an FA Cup fourth round replay.

Still, it reduces the run of truly unwinnable Premier League clashes we had on the agenda, and while we'll struggle to get anything from Tottenham Hotspur next weekend and Manchester United seven days on, it does mean we go into the big game against Wolverhampton Wanderers at the end of January with less of a winless run - miracles aside, of course; let's not be entirely pessimistic - behind us.

January is almost not about results any more, given that of the four Premier League games originally scheduled, only one - the Wolves game - will have a big green tick next to it on Phil Brown's office wall. January is more about shuffling the squad to both Brown and Adam Pearson's approval; keeping big performers like Stephen Hunt and Kamil Zayatte from predatory rich clubs and, most crucially of all, getting Jimmy Bullard fit by the target date set for his knee to heal. It's not just the weather that has made January less about football for Hull City, it's football itself.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Hunt in front

It's a relief to hear Phil Brown state today that Stephen Hunt and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink will be going nowhere in the transfer window.

Both are big earners and could command good fees if sold on this month, making a telling contribution to the £8 million reduction in wages that Adam Pearson has demanded of his manager. But ultimately Brown has to try to strike a balance between getting the books on a more even keel and maintaining a squad capable of being competitive.

Hunt is by some distance the best signing Brown has made since the end of last season. Ever present in the Premier League, he is even the club's top scorer, despite playing on the left wing. His chippy nature - he is like Craig Fagan in this respect, only with a modicum of footballing ability - winds up opponents and he also absolutely never lets his head or his effort levels drop. He has been a major plus this season.

Vennegoor of Hesselink's reported wages of £28,000 a week have raised many eyebrows but he did arrive as a free agent and so the investment in his salary can be mitigated, if not entirely justified, by the lack of real money it cost the Tigers to get his signature. And he is a proven goalscorer, unlike all the other players currently vying with him for the centre forward's role. It would be madness to let him go and rely on either unable or unproven strikers to find the required goals.

There are ample players on the periphery - and not even there - who should be shipped out in January. Maybe they won't fetch £8 million saving that the chairman needs to plot the club's future more securely, but they would be a start. We'd all prefer a solvent relegated club than a skint elevated one, but the chairman and manager need to make sure they empathise with each other's point of view. Brown's eschewing of departure rumours about Hunt and Vennegoor of Hesselink suggestS that he and his boss have come to a vital understanding over this.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Failing Folan

Caleb Folan looks certain to be the first player to depart the KC Stadium in this transfer window. The player who became Hull City's first £1 million acquisition in 2007 is said to be the subject of a bid from Queens Park Rangers.

The Tigers have accepted Folan's request to leave and, if this move does pull through, it should be a good one for all concerned. Folan was useful and stylish in the Championship without ever being prolific, and were he to replicate at Loftus Road the playing habits that he managed in his first season with the Tigers, then it will be more than enough.

QPR have come in for Folan before, a little more than a year ago, but the story was different then and City rejected the overtures. Folan had just scored the winning goal in City's first ever top flight game and was big news, a talking point within a club of talking points. It seemed harsh and unnecessary to let him drop down a division again after notching such a historic goal, and we had yet to see whether he could repeat the scoring act again and again.

He hasn't managed a goal for the Tigers since.

This is Folan's trouble. Beyond his laconic, poseurish manner on the park, he simply isn't anything like a scoring centre forward. And despite his height and athleticism, he doesn't provide anywhere near enough of the worthy attributes that make non-scoring target men more forgiveable. Pace, strength, bravery and sheer effort don't regularly appear in Folan's make up. Too often, frankly, he looks like he couldn't give a damn.

This happened to him at Wigan Athletic, the club to whom we gave that famous million. He joined them after bagging a fair few in League One for Chesterfield and then spent his time at what was then the JJB Stadium proving distinctly underwhelming, not up to the task.

Even upon joining City, it never really proved an entirely convincing season for the expensive new signing. He was immediately ruled out with a head injury that lasted three months and took a long time to get started upon his return to action. In the end, he mainly played second fiddle to a fine partnership of Fraizer Campbell and Dean Windass and, although some of his goals were crucial - winning strikes at home to Coventry City and especially away to West Bromwich Albion spring to mind, as well as the third goal in the play-off win against Watford at the KC that fully settled the tie - there simply weren't enough of them.

Folan exited for Middlesbrough on loan this season after being given ample opportunity by Phil Brown to prove his worth as a Premier League player. A goalscorer of frequency he was never going to be, but through the opening month of the season he never looked like scoring and rarely even looked like partaking in the build-up to a goal for someone else. Sometimes the formation left him exposed and sometimes he showed the effort needed, but any disgruntled observer will tell you, with some justification, that effort is only laudable when complemented by talent.

As he turned up on Teesside, he aimed a broadside at Brown, who for once didn't seem to deserve a public flogging from an uppity player. Still, it made sure he wouldn't be seen in a Tigers shirt again even if he did come back. Now he is back and instantly he seems to be off again, this time for good. He won't be the biggest earner off the wage bill but within Adam Pearson's cloth-cutting regime, it is a start.

Only a churl wouldn't offer good cheer to Folan if and when he makes the journey to London and to a level of football that is quite clearly his limit. He is in the club's history books forever - for the fee and for the winning goal against Fulham - but he is one of those centre forwards who will be remembered for the goals he couldn't score rather than the ones he could. And heaven knows we have enough of them right now.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The farewells of Neil Clement

West Bromwich Albion fans will have the most reason to offer sympathy to Neil Clement on the occasion of his retirement through injury, given that he spent the last ten years of his career at the Hawthorns, but his short loan spell with Hull City was successful and significant enough for the Tiger Nation also to wish him well.

Clement was a fringe player with the Baggies in the 2007/8 season when he came to the KC on a month's loan. Both sides were aiming for elevation to the Premier League, although when the two sides had met in the January at the KC it was evident that Albion, following a classy 3-1 win in a high calibre match, were more obviously suited to the task.

The game didn't feature Clement but still played a part in his switch from one campaign for promotion to another. Phil Brown, correctly, accepted a £625,000 offer from QPR for long-serving defender Damien Delaney, who had played at left back in the defeat. The business was good for City but it left the squad a little short of left-sided defensive cover, with Delaney able to play at left back and, more solidly, as a left-sided centre back. Andy Dawson and Wayne Brown had the monopoly on those positions respectively but couldn't deputise for each other.

More pertinently, City now had no centre back cover of any kind at all. It was Dawson who soon got injured, meaning Brown had to pull the attack-minded Henrik Pedersen into defence for a short spell. So, as March approached, he asked to borrow the unused Clement, and Albion agreed.

It made sense to the player more than it did for his parent club. City were real promotion candidates, on an unbeaten run that had carried through from the day the Baggies had turned them over two months before. And yet Tony Mowbray allowed one of his defenders, albeit a fringe one, to go help a direct rival in its aims for a position in the table that could directly rob his parent club of similar glories. With Clement's heritage and known ability, it looked a very smart move by Brown.

Clement, however, had an infamous debut. Signed to cover Dawson or Brown, he made his bow in the City defence in place of Michael Turner. The great man missed the match at Bristol City through suspension after accumulating a yellow card too many and so either Clement or Brown, as left-footed as each other, had to act as the right-sided centre back. Clement, as the better footballer, got the short straw.

With his angles and positional sense all askew early in the game, Clement was beaten to a pumped ball into the box by Dele Adebola, who scored. As inauspicious a beginning as it was possible to have.

City equalised, Clement improved but the hosts scored again and won 2-1. Turner returned for the next game and would not miss any more League games for the Tigers until the day he departed. Clement would not be asked to lead with his right foot again. He dropped to the bench for a bit, coming on as an early sub for Brown in a 1-0 defeat at Cardiff City before making a classy and marvellous full debut alongside Turner in a fine 5-0 win over Southampton as City's final march towards promotion got underway.

He only played twice more, still in the left-sided centre back role, and was tremendous as City emerged victorious in each game, both away from home. Then the penny dropped with Mowbray as the top of the table began to tighten and, just as Sunderland would do with Paul McShane a season later, took his man back more to stop him assisting a near rival than to help his own side's campaign to go up. Brown was ready to return by then, though another injury near the season's end widened the round hole left by Clement's farewell, with the admirable but distinctly square-pegged David Livermore having to fill in from pretty much nowhere. Disastrously so, too.

Clement did play a few of Albion's remaining games (including an FA Cup semi-final) but stayed peripheral at the Hawthorns and, of course, both sides did go up - Albion as champions, City within Wembley's walls via the play-offs.

Clement was injured again that summer and never played again, with a whole 18 months passing prior to today's announcement that he is having to retire. Baggies fans can thank him for plenty, but City fans should too remember the small but impressive contribution he made that led to our finest hour.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Rumour mongering

Two fresh rumours reach us today about possible dealing that Hull City are set to do in the transfer window. With the financial position appearing a touch bleak, the emphasis remains very much on selling peripheral and unused players who give little in return for a big wage, rather than buying anyone.

However, the word that Kevin Kilbane and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink may be departing for Wolverhampton Wanderers and Middlesbrough respectively does not sound like great business by the Tigers if it is true.

It is all unsubstantiated and very easy for people to make up - each of these two players would be rejoining a former manager if they did make their respective moves. Kilbane played for Sunderland and the Republic of Ireland under Mick McCarthy, while Vennegoor of Hesselink was a target man at Celtic under Gordon Strachan. It seems that these are the only reasons why these alleged deals have come to the fore, and so far there is nothing from any club in question confirming - or denying - their feasibility.

Kilbane is clumsy, flat-footed and much maligned (and he was absolutely dire against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup at the weekend) but he is useful for both versatility and experience, and does seem to have a demeanour that suggests adversity is something he has learned to thrive on throughout his career. This may be all too crucial a commodity within the City squad over the next few months. And if there are injuries in up to four different positions on the park, he is around to fill any of them.

Vennegoor of Hesselink has become a quiet favourite among the supporters simply because, for all his lack of mobility and one-dimensional play, he can put the ball into the net. He has been mainly a substitute this season but has made an impact of a kind almost every time he has come on, while he too provides experience in a position where his contemporaries are still very raw, very unused to their surroundings or just very out of favour with the hierarchy.

Though both are established professional footballers at a high level, one can't believe that they are among the absolute top earners, even though Vennegoor of Hesselink may have been offered a few quid more than others as there was no fee to pay for him. Money may be tight and readies may need to be acquired, but there are surely better ways of fundraising than selling these two.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

FA Cup 3rd round: Wigan Athletic 4 - 1 Hull City - 02/01/2010

What a phenomenal capitulation. Hull City went in at the break before a sparse DW Stadium a goal up and by far the hungrier, more motivated team for what was a desolate FA Cup tie.

The way the tables turned after the break was as remarkable as it was appalling, as the home side carved City apart with ease, helped notably by some wretchedly half-hearted defending from the Tigers.

It'll be interesting to see how Phil Brown explains this one away. It was as if the team had been told at half time that Wigan weren't bothered and that all 22 feet in amber socks could be gently lifted from the gas. Then, shock upon shocks, Wigan scored, then scored again, and then again. The game was over and City had not made any contribution at all to a gutless, clueless second half.

Brown has never liked playing games which aren't rewarded by points in the table and this one was no different. The drama of last season's run into the semi-final draw seemed a long way away as the hosts, themselves not seemingly giving great power to the FA Cup's arm, almost apologetically ran riot.

City made seven changes from the 2-2 draw at Bolton Wanderers, with only Boaz Myhill, Bernard Mendy, Kamil Zayatte and Richard Garcia staying in the starting line-up. In came regular Premier League substitutes Kevin Kilbane, Kamel Ghilas, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Steven Mouyokolo, while Geovanni was given a proper run out and the truly marvellous youngster Tom Cairney ran the midfield. Peter Halmosi, as ostracised as any highly-paid fringe player can be, made his expected cameo on the left wing.

And, before a paltry crowd of little more than 5,000, it was all City. The defence was solid, Geovanni looked interested, Cairney looked like a player of ten more years on this earth and Garcia fancied his chances in the wide right position. He and Mendy combined nicely early on to give Ghilas a headed chance, but the plunging Algerian aimed it too high.

Wigan's one glimmer of first half hope came when Jason Koumas hit a shot from distance that ricocheted off Mouyokolo's side and forced Myhill to fly to his left and palm away, having initially followed the ball's original course. It was a smart and alert piece of goalkeeping, and it would be his only real moment of action before the break.

Ghilas was fouled outside the box and Geovanni angled the well-placed kick all wrong, hitting it very high over Mike Pollitt's goal. A few minutes later Zayatte went on one of his moronically brilliant runs from deep which too was ended with foul on the edge of the box. Cairney pleaded for a go this time, but the Brazilian was having none of it, and his range was meticulous this time as the ball swerved over the wall and beyond Pollitt's despairing hand. A goal up, and fully deserved.

City chased a second and Cairney aimed a left-footed drive a foot wide after excellent work between Garcia and Mendy again. As the half time whistle sounded, it felt like a satisfying, if not compelling, afternoon's work so far, making the slow troughing through horrendous road conditions over the Pennines all the more worth it.

What happened afterwards was utterly horrifying.

City did make the first chance, when Vennegoor of Hesselink headed a Garcia cross too high. But it wasn't long before Charles N'Zogbia, on as a sub, was put through tidily and, with no City defender feeling forced into closing him down, he had ample time to guide a low shot beyond Myhill and into the far corner.

Jason Scotland, a player whose workrate up front is not rewarded by goals (we have a few like that), then gave Hugo Rodallega a shooting chance but Mouyokolo put him under pressure and he flashed it wide. Then Maynor Figueroa combined with Scotland and toepoked the return ball at an exposed Myhill, who was grateful for the lack of power in the effort.

N'Zogbia then hit another shot at Myhill which the City keeper could only spill to the side, and Mendy needed to put his boot through the ball to snuff out the danger entirely. But a second goal seemed inevitable, and it came when James McCarthy's run was fed on the edge of the box and his fluffed control made him stretch to shoot, but a deflection off Mouyokolo - seemingly the only City defender willing to defend after the break, and this is no exaggeration - caught Myhill totally on the hop and Wigan were ahead.

Mouyokolo then blocked a Scotland shot after Titus Bramble robbed Vennegoor of Hesselink on halfway and went on a startlingly unchallenged dart to the edge of the box, eventually giving Rodallega the chance to feed the ponytailed striker. From the corner, the marking was abject as Wigan took it short and N'Zogbia aimed clinically a left foot drive past Myhill and made it 3-1.

Evidence of the future was further spied when Brown slung on youth product Mark Cullen, a striker, for the woeful Ghilas, and the initial impression was that here was possibly the smallest footballer ever to pull on a Hull City shirt. Cairney, no longer the baby of the team but not playing like it anyway, then aimed a volley just wide of Pollitt's post as the Tigers very briefly reminded themselves that they were taking part.

Interestingly, George Boateng was then introduced for the immeasurably poor Halmosi (no crosses, no beatings of his full back, no interest) and lined up alongside Cairney in the centre, prompting questions about whether a Boateng-Cairney duo was being primed for Chelsea's visit this weekend, given that Seyi Olofinjana's jaunt to Angola for the next few weeks has created a gap in the centre of the park. The game was lost so there was some reason for using the remaining minutage to think about an occasion far more vital (and far less winnable).

Cairney had another dig from distance from Mendy's pass and the shot was deflected wide, but really City showed little appetite for this one now. Wigan nearly made it four when Mouyokolo blocked Rodallega's close range effort and then Myhill palmed away Scott Sinclair's follow up. The industrious and barely assisted Vennegoor of Hesselink then made way for Jozy Altidore who then got up well to head goalwards a Cullen cross but slightly too far ahead of Garcia for a finishing touch to be applied.

Scotland hit the side netting with a good chance and then, moments after three minutes of time added on was announced to a markedly unenthralled crowd desperate for home, Sinclair glided past Kilbane with the ease that N'Zogbia had previously managed and put another shot past the helpless (and undoubtedly livid) Myhill.

Garcia hit a scorching volley from Altidore's cross in the dying seconds before City were finally put out of the misery they shared with those who followed them. It was, yes, the FA Cup and so collateral damage is minimal. But honestly, this was truly terrible. Unprofessional. One hopes the dressing down the players deserve is replicated by those with one eye on Brown's own future, because he deserves one. They all do.

Wigan Athletic: Pollitt, Melchiot, Bramble, Amaya, Figueroa, Thomas, Koumas (N'Zogbia 46), Sinclair, McCarthy, Scotland, Rodallega (Watson 77). Subs not used: Nicholls, Edman, Boyce, Gomez, Bouaouzan.

Hull City: Myhill, Mendy, Mouyokolo, Zayatte, Kilbane, Garcia, Cairney, Geovanni, Halmosi (Boateng 71), Ghilas (Cullen 67), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Altidore 79). Subs not used: Duke, Dawson, Doyle, Devitt.

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Good luck Stuey

He was very much on this blog's mind as the last decade ended, and now we read that Stuart Elliott has been released by Doncaster Rovers after barely appearing on the radar there for two years.

The finest goalscorer Hull City had in the last ten years never settled at Doncaster, even though it was the geographically-convenient move he needed when Phil Brown made it clear in January 2008 that he could go. Elliott duly went to the Keepmoat Stadium on loan and made the move permanent that summer after his Tigers contract expired - an event sadly under-reported as City were celebrating promotion to the Premier League at the time.

Elliott's specific requirements as a Christian meant that he has only chosen to join clubs that has a branch of his church nearby, hence why Motherwell and Hull were both ideal for him after he left Northern Ireland. He has now ventured back to Scotland to play for Hamilton Academical until the end of the season and everyone wishes him well.

People remember the complex character that Elliott exuded during his six years with the Tigers. On the pitch he was a marauding left winger who actually didn't have great pace or exceptional crossing ability, but what he could do was shoot. From anywhere. Some of his goals were truly phenomenal - a chip from the touchline at Plymouth Argyle in 2005/6 leaps to mind - while plenty more were crucial. Not a big chap either, he yet had a springing leap which allowed him to get plenty with his head. And almost all of his goals were followed by a rather bobbins cartwheel celebration which became part of his charm.

Off the pitch he was a softly spoken chap, devoted to his family and God and evidently the type of player who regarded bonding sessions with his team-mates as some kind of occupational hazard. He had a problem with reflux when Phil Parkinson was in charge, leading to concerns that his Tigers career was over during the turbulent 2006/7 season, though he recovered from Parkinson closing the door on him to score some crucial goals as City battled on - a double in the last five minutes against a nasty QPR side proving a particular highlight.

Elliott found himself shut out by Brown afterwards, and in his final season only got one goal, albeit a typically spectacular one which beat Wigan Athletic in the Carling Cup. The last straw for Brown came when Elliott played poorly at Plymouth in the FA Cup third round, a week after what proved to be his last League appearance, when he came on as a sub in a 1-1 draw with Stoke City on New Year's Day 2008.

Elliott's limitations as a team player have obviously been exposed by his time at Doncaster. Yet with the Tigers, those limitations were tolerated and even encouraged because, as an individual, he could do the most ridiculous, unexpected, flamboyant things. He is an icon of our club and always will be.

When he left City, someone had the kindness and time to concoct a tribute to the Northern Ireland international and put it online. For your viewing pleasure, here it is...

Friday, 1 January 2010

Selling club

It's January, and the window is open. One assumes that the handful of players whom Phil Brown is anxious to ship out will be on show at Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup tomorrow, as many a footballer will only be worth money if he is seen to be competent at football.

What is more interesting is the small gaggle of players who are first-team regulars but will be allowed to leave this month if the offer is right. Rumours began the other night at Bolton Wanderers about Dean Marney (who has, admittedly, been off the radar, uninjured, for a fortnight now) and a possible £3 million deal with Fulham. You wouldn't find many Hull City fans who wouldn't advise the club to snap Mr Fayed's hands off.

Bernard Mendy
is an intriguing one too. He is a fine player, if sometimes mad as a window, and only contributes to games when his mind is right and his position on the park suits his mood. But recently he was believed to be on the unwanted list and his prolonged departures from the KC pitch against Manchester United and then the Reebok two days later - plus the removal and presentation of his his shirt to a young fan at the latter game - hints at a forthcoming departure. Then again, Mendy is always the last to finish applauding supporters and leave the arena at the end of matches, even if he is being roundly slagged off for a bad display. And he does come across as a rather emotional figure, so the shirt incident may just have been a spontaneous Christmas gesture.

Kamil Zayatte
's future was chucked into doubt after Sky Sports claimed that City were prepared to listen to offers. However, the club has since offered a stringent denial of any desire to sell the gifted Guinean defender and, given a lack of follow-up stories elsewhere, it seems more like an agent making mischief than anything else. City would, frankly, be totally insane to sell Zayatte given his form, the gap already left by Michael Turner's wretched farewell and the evident lack of replacement centre backs.

The finances of the club make it impossible for Brown to repeat his comparably flush antics during the last three windows and it's clear that far more selling than buying needs to happen. City do need a striker, a midfield enforcer, another central defender and one, possibly even two, full backs. It's unlikely that all of these will be purchased, but the number that are will depend on how much pruning can be done of the current squad, both in terms of numbers and expense. Maybe this is why the club may be looking at selling those of value to themselves, as well as those only of value to someone else.