Premier League football returns to Hull after an absence of just over three years tomorrow, and brings with it one of better examples we could be learning from.
That’s Norwich, whose own return to the top flight saw the customary prophesies of doom proffered and swiftly disproven. A brace of comfortable midtable finishes for the Canaries has seen them almost become part of the Premier League furniture, to the extent at which their summer shopping totalled north of £20m, bringing in genuine quality and surely cementing their position in the mini-league between eighth and 13th.
It’s probably fair to say that we’re not in direct competition with Norwich – not yet, at least. Everyone knows the formula: get up, stay up, try to improve season on season until you’ve gone as far as you realistically can. Last time we did the first two of things in some style before tumbling at the third; the aim is to learn from that error and do a Norwich, not another City.
However, just because they’ll probably finish above us doesn’t make this a very winnable game, for it most certainly is. A home match against midtable opposition always will be, certainly in comparison to last week and next week’s formidable assignments. That does rather put pressure on City…slip up against Norwich, and the likelihood is that our opening three games will be pointless.
Even allowing for the standard of two of those opponents, that’d be a slightly deflating beginning. So those who say that the season begins tomorrow probably have a point. It’s the first time we’ve ever met in the top flight, and both sides probably approach the game in decent heart. Despite the chastening start at Chelsea, City recovered admirably to end the match beaten but not embarrassed, while Norwich’s 2-2 home draw with Everton last week was a decent point harvested from a good game.
Already, Norwich have a couple of injury concerns. Elliott Bennett is lucklessly ruled out until the New Year with a knee injury, while City’s summer target Gary Hooper is also unavailable. Mind you, with Johan Elmander, Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Luciano Becchio in the squad, they look well covered. You’d expect Norwich to view the game as being every bit as winnable as us, so we probably look forward to them attacking.
It goes without saying that City will look to be on the front foot too. While perhaps the beneficiary of Chelsea easing off, Tom Huddlestone was unquestionably City’s star performer at Stamford Bridge and seems certain to start – Robert Koren and David Meyler’s places are both under threat, not just from Huddlestone but also Jake Livermore. Danny Graham may be another candidate for dropping down to the bench, though his primary problem at Chelsea was a complete lack of service rather than anything necessarily disappointing on his part.
City’s recent record against Norwich is a decent one, with only one defeat in the last seven encounters. The most memorable was probably the 2-0 win for City at Carrow Road in September 2010 to end a run of 30-something away games without a win. Each side have a notable former centre-half from the other – Steve Bruce is the City manager, while Michael Turner will line up in yellow against us.
City start the game as favourites, with 6/4 being offered on a home win. Norwich are 9/4, while a draw – one that neither side would regard as a disaster – is 12/5.
And finally…the ‘Ulltras are organising a protest about the club’s proposed renaming. The plan is to assemble at West Park Gates at 2.30pm, for a slow amble to the ground peacefully voicing opposition to any change to the name Hull City AFC. We’ll see you all there – and we’ll dole out some stickers too, if we have any left…