The last time Hull City went to Southend, they twice trailed on an enthralling Hallowe’en night at Roots Hall before winning 3-2. An awful lot has happened to both clubs since then but even though the recent memories of beanos to the Essex coast are good, there’ll be nothing quite like a victory this weekend.
A trip there in the FA Cup sees the sides now three divisions apart. The Shrimpers have suffered two relegations, threats of administration and numerous transfer embargoes since that 2006/7 Championship season, while City have been, albeit with frightening off-field skirmishes, upwardly mobile. With the added spice of the not so bashful Southend manager taking on the club with which he is most associated, mouths are watering for this weekend’s tie.
So for City, victory will be big. It’ll provide some respite from disappointing Premier League form, avoid the humiliation of a major upset, reduce Phil Brown’s grin to one of pride rather than glee and, of course, put the Tigers in the fifth round of the FA Cup for only the second time since 1989.
Nationally, focus will be on Brown, just as he likes it. He was City’s first team coach at Roots Hall on October 31st 2006, having been appointed the day before, and within six weeks he was manager, quickly becoming the most successful in the club’s history. Bitterness surrounded his departure and the fallout from it, though mainly directed at those that employed him, and time has healed the sores well. The man currently getting closer to surpassing Brown’s achievements, Steve Bruce, will be anxious to put one over him this weekend…
… though will he? After all, Bruce bemoaned the League Cup earlier this season and his selection at Middlesbrough in the third round of the FA Cup suggested his appreciation of this more prestigious knockout competition – one he won twice as a player – is equally as limited. Mind you, circumstance has since dictated that he’ll have to pick a stronger side. Aaron Mclean and Nick Proschwitz, scorers of the goals at the Riverside, have both since exited; Mclean has joined Bradford and Proschwitz went out on loan to Barnsley just yesterday.
Bruce’s choices are further limited by injuries to Sone Aluko, Robbie Brady and James Chester, the ineligibility of Nikica Jelavic, Shane Long, Danny Graham and Jack Hobbs, (recalled yesterday as cover for Chester) and suspension for Tom Huddlestone. It’s pretty obvious that some Premier League shoo-ins like Yannick Sagbo and Curtis Davies will start as there aren’t the alternatives available, especially if the manager wants to play three at the back or two up front, or both. Those normally seen on the subs bench – Steve Harper, Abdoulaye Faye, Stephen Quinn, George Boyd, Matt Fryatt – should expect a starting berth. Jake Livermore is allowed to play as Tottenham are out of the competition, though may still be rested anyway, while Paul McShane – the only survivor of Brown’s era at City – is back after an ankle injury.
Southend, currently sitting pretty in a play-off place, have one other City connection in the shape of Will Atkinson, the winger from the ranks at the KC who has scored the same number of Premier League goals for the Tigers as Graham. They have Freddy Eastwood in their squad again, who was their star player seven seasons ago and scored against City that night, and has returned to Roots Hall after not fulfilling his potential at Wolves and Coventry.
The managers will enjoy the Geordie v Mackem stuff that acts as a sideshow to this game, but ultimately the team Bruce puts out should be strong enough and motivated enough to win. As the form of the side hits a rocky spell, there may well be places at Crystal Palace on Tuesday night for the better performers to play for, as well as the prestige that goes with putting the Tigers into the last 16 of the FA Cup, a feat Brown managed in 2009 (indeed, he got City to the quarter finals that season for the first time since 1971). The fifth round is the furthest Southend have ever been in their 108 year history, having got to the last 16 five times, the last being in 1992/3 when they lost to eventual finalists Sheffield Wednesday.
Prior to the Championship season of 2006/7, these two did basement division battle for six straight seasons until 2003/4, with City winning two, drawing two and losing two at Roots Hall. Prior to then, City’s record there wasn’t great, though the title-winning side of 1966 did win 2-0. Regionalisation, and the equally inferior status of both clubs, meant the two never played each other until 1958/9. There have been two League Cup ties; Southend won on aggregate in 1964/5 and City were victorious in a one-off second round tie under Brown at the KC in 2009/10, a game remembered for a goal on his debut for Tom Cairney and one of only two strikes in a City shirt for Jozy Altidore. This weekend’s match will be the first ever between the two in the FA Cup.