MATCH REPORT: City 0-1 Swansea

brucedespair

Relegation stalks Hull City AFC, yet the threat remains unrecognised, the fight against it non-existent. We are, as a club, sleepwalking to calamity.

Four festive fixtures, four presentable opportunities to amass points and propel ourselves from danger. Yet today, the day after Swansea, we find ourselves mired in grave peril, not only because of another defeat, but because of the woeful performance that accompanied it. Others are battling to avoid disaster. We are ambling soporifically towards it.

Steve Bruce must surely be aware of this too, aware that familiar criticisms are resurfacing. How he must yearn to prove everyone wrong, to prove that he can manage in the upper half of the Premier League. That he can be trusted with piles of other people’s money.

These must be unhappy times for him. From the glory of the FA Cup Final, European qualification and the prospect of a tilt at the higher reaches of midtable, to facing Sunderland on Boxing Day with his credentials certain to be loudly queried up there – and worse, now being discussed in Hull.

Discussed they are, and discussed too was the team. Gaston Ramirez has done little to justify the manager’s decision to bring him on loan from Southampton, but he was surprisingly given a starting role ahead of Stephen Quinn, whom most expected to play. Paul McShane, dismayingly ostracised, was absent entirely.

It meant that on a cool afternoon at the Circle, City carded: McGregor; Davies (c), Bruce, Chester; Elmohamady, Ramirez, Meyler, Livermore, Robertson; Jelavić, Hernandez. The minor puzzle of Ramirez starting in favour of Quinn aside this was a solid line-up, and our hopes were raised further upon learning that Swansea would be without their impressive duo of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wilfried Bony, the latter on the bench, the former absent altogether as Swansea made seven changes to the side that lost narrowly to Tottenham last weekend.

Attacking the North Stand, City began the game positively and it was a bright beginning to the match overall, Jelavić shooting wide for City and Routledge off target for the Swans. They were very much on the back foot in the opening exchanges as City enjoyed significant territorial advantage, and with less than five minutes on the clock Ramirez had City’s second effort of the afternoon, a shot from outside the box that went wide.

Things quietened a little after that, though City remained the dominant force, until a miserable stroke of ill fortune felled us. Ki Sung-Yueng switched a pass inside for Jonjo Shelvey, stationed on the left hand edge of the area. His shot initially looked unthreatening, but it took a horrible deflection and span past the wrongfooted McGregor.

Despair flooded the stadium as the moderate Swansea following celebrated their good luck. The stadium had already been frighteningly quiet, now it was eerily silent. The partisan inhabitants of the North Stand barely raised a whimper on 19’04”, so demoralised were they. On the pitch, shoulders sagged and heads dropped. Belief, a thinly available resource at kick-off, now looked non-existent.

Midway through the half, City’s best move of the afternoon almost saw a leveller when a neat exchange of passes on the left saw Robertson teed up in the area – the angle was unhelpful and the distance daunting, but his shot was marvellously hit and he was unlucky to see it flick the top of Fabianski’s goal on the way over.

Sadly, our left flank was proving underused. City’s tactics appeared to consist of little more than pumping the ball in the air to Ahmed Elmohamady, hope to win the next ball and then, err, something. To give our Egyptian winger his due, he won many more aerial duels than he lost and spent the afternoon gamely trying to create despite erratic service, but ultimately this was not a ploy that required much thought from Swansea to quell.

It was at least a ploy of sorts, however. Most of Elmohamady’s team-mates were wandering with a conspicuous lack of urgency around the pitch. Ramirez looked as though he wasn’t terribly bothered about things, occasionally effecting a pleasant touch but largely content to spectate; Livermore was off-form, while Meyler – whom this observer greatly admires – was having a rotten afternoon, every touch clanging off a shin, passes being routinely misplaced; it was tough to watch.

On we laboured, already fearing the worst. On the half-hour Swansea nearly made it 0-2 when a superb low shot from Shelvey flew past McGregor and struck the inside of his post, only avoiding crossing the line by a few bare inches.

We’d like to say that scare galvanised City into action, but, y’know…

The game worsened. Nothing happened.

Half-time, then. A pint. It can’t get worse. Right…?

Gentle reader, it could. It did. And not even in the way that brought anger crashing from the stands, incensed patrons voicing their uncontainable disquiet. More chillingly, a bored, distant silence pervaded. A friend of ours, of the ilk that has travelled up and down the country in all four divisions, who loudly supports the team, had a surprisingly revelation for us in the pub before the game. “Not going today”. We know more like him. It’s almost as if the unceasing determination of the club to antagonise its most loyal supporters isn’t a very good idea.

The football, then, after a nice vocal interlude at half-time by a red-clad choir, applauded more sincerely than just about anything else on this grey afternoon. Neither manager made a change at the break.

A few minutes in, David Meyler was chopped down about 25 yards from goal – Ramirez took the free-kick, and it was a decent enough effort, though a yard too high. Then, at last, some urgency! Perhaps not surprisingly it came courtesy of Elmohamady, bursting free on the right and sending in a fine cross to Jelavić – it wasn’t an easy chance but the Croat managed to steer a head on target; Fabianski’s save was awkward but accomplished.

It briefly roused the crowd however; at which point that brief flicker of life in the side extinguished itself. We went back to dreaming of warm inns.

On 55, Swansea ought to have killed an already half-dead game. Cutting City wide open on their left, a cross was dragged in to the wholly unmarked Shelvey, a dozen yards out. He had time to take a touch, perhaps eat a nice sandwich and complete a medium-difficulty Sudoku, and then calmly pass the ball past the exposed McGregor; instead he carelessly blatted the ball straight at the keeper. The North Stand celebrated this remarkable let-off by advancing a slightly implausible claim about McGregor’s carnal appetite and stamina.

As the hour approached, some substitutions. Emnes replaced Carroll for the Swans, whose first contribution was to volley wide when picked out, unmarked, by a cross from the right. Steve Bruce responded by bringing on Sone Aluko for his son.

On 73, Swansea hit the post again. A cross from Emnes was scuffed around at by both teams, eventually arriving at Gomis – he mishit his shot but it still beat McGregor, who was presumably relieved when it struck wood.

You’ll notice there’s no mention of chances for City.

On 76, Harry Maguire replaced Curtis Davies.

Nothing much changed.

Swansea withdrew Gomis for Bony.

Bastards.

On 81, Sagbo replaced Jelavić.

Come on ref, for pity’s sake, let us go home.

Bony should have made it 0-2 when heading straight at McGregor.

Still no chances for City.

And that was it. We lost, without even the feeblest of whimpers. A scarily uncommitted, clueless performance that was greeted with a mixture of apathy and a smattering of boos from those who’d toughed it out to the bitterest of ends.

The danger is that it could all unravel quite quickly for Steve Bruce. Sunderland will relish plunging him further into trouble on Boxing Day, while Nigel Pearson will be viewing his Leicester side’s trip here two days later as a winnable fixture.

Lose those two, and this will become a full-scale crisis, one that could cost the manager his job. It isn’t just results. Everton aside, we haven’t played remotely well for a long time, and are losing games without seriously contesting them. The effort is simply not there. This is a side perfectly capable of finishing healthily outside the bottom three, but no team will prosper if the basic requirement of total commitment is missing.

And worryingly for Bruce, many will start to conclude that he is incapable of instilling that virtue into his side if results do not begin to improve very soon. We desperately want to believe in Steve Bruce. He has taken us further than any man has ever taken this club. But he’s making a slew of unforced errors. Tossing aside European football was a ghastly error at the time, but now it looks close to suicidal given our atrocious form since. Should the League Cup have been taken seriously – after all, a decent run in that would at least have seen us win a few games and have something to hold on to in this bleak midwinter. The idea that it’s somehow better not to win games, to not stay in the cups, to not have the feelgood factor that accompanies advancing in competitions is really quite foolish.

I don’t know where we go from here. Bruce amassed an unprecedented amount of capital with the owners and the fans, but he is spending huge chunks of it every week. The fans will probably remain loyal for time being, particularly the pre-2008ers. But will the Allams blink? They ruthlessly disposed of Nick Barmby, and however good Assem Allam’s relationship is with Bruce and however reliant the self-confessed footballing ignoramus is on his manager, the club’s finances would make relegation an unmitigated disaster. It isn’t at all impossible to imagine them getting rid. And if that does happen, all bets are off.

Of course, in five months this may be looked at as the nadir of a problem that quickly blew away. A point at Sunderland. Victory over Leicester. It won’t solve everything, but it will buy time, time enough for the feckless gaggle of indolents to realise that their fat contracts at Hull City will not be matched by anyone else if we go down. Time for Steve Bruce to decide just what sort of style and methodology he wishes to employ in order to keep us up (top tip: put the triers in, it’s at least less galling to watch them when we lose).

Because let’s be clear about one thing: if we carry on as we are, City will be relegated.  Probably not by a small distance. And I doubt anyone at the club knows the Hindi for “cold Tuesday night at Rotherham”.

9 replies
  1. Jimmy Weekly
    Jimmy Weekly says:

    Thanks for bothering so much with a good report on a dreadful match with some awful performances. For their goal, I thought at the time that Shelvey was given way too much room to shoot. Watching it later, Ramirez was with Shelvey until Shelvey turned and Ramirez literally (that’s literally literally) waves him forward with a gesture of his arm rather than staying with him.

    Never mind the pre-2008-ers, I’m a pre-1978er and I think it’s time for Bruce to be replaced.

  2. hovetiger
    hovetiger says:

    Next 2 games could finally finish Bruce off. We look awful at the moment, and Bruce doesn’t seem to have any answers. Tackling Sunderland without Davies, Dawson, Huddlestone, Livermore and Diame (the whole spine of the team) and with the rest seemingly bereft of any confidence and fight is a frightening enough prospect, but I really cannot see us getting from Leicester at home either, unless Jelavic gets his nut on the one Elmo cross per game that creates a chance. I feel sorry for Bruce, but unfortunately he is the one who has overloaded the squad with wingers and no10 types, which are all but superfluous in this 532. I really couldn’t tell you what his best side/formation is, and I’m not sure he could either.

  3. West Stand Man
    West Stand Man says:

    Sitting on the back row of the West Stand there was a cold wind blowing down my neck and a cold wind coming from the pitch. Despite plenty of cash being spent something serious has happened to the team since this time last year. Then we had a fighting unit, now a group of unhappy boy scouts.

    Great report though, so thank you from me. Reading AN is the only thing that helps to stave off the feeling of nausea.

    BTW, I thought the 19 04 rendition was strong while it lasted, but maybe short lived. And I admired the few souls who still found the heart to chant for Steve Bruce.

  4. Chris
    Chris says:

    Starting with the home loss to Southampton this has been the most demoralising run that I can remember in many years, and I’ve been at every match. With the slight exception of the draw at Everton there has been a total lack of belief and motivation. The recordings from last season that were showing under the stand at Chelsea showed clearly how we are much worse than early last season. Sagbo stood out surprisingly.

    Shane Long is a much better player than his expensive replacement and we should have kept him. That was the start of the major decline, coupled with the Europa League exit.

    Our 2014 league record is pathetic and our glorious cup run included only one win over a Premier League club and a scare against League 1 opponents in the semi final.

    Relegation with a very low points total seem more likely than staying up on the evidence I’ve seen. I hope I’m wrong.

    Won’t be going to Sunderland, need a break!

  5. Dr Seuss
    Dr Seuss says:

    I missed the WBA game ( on holiday in Turkey since you ask) and everyone I spoke to about it said it, and City, were awful. Sometime in the 2nd half I asked my comrades around me about this game and they all said it was worse than the WBA game. Oh, dear. You see these people have sat in the same places alongside me for the last 10 + years and are no mugs and they can also recognize a lack of commitment and desire on the part of players and that was so evident yesterday. Take Robertson, Jelavic, Elmo and possible Hernandez out and the rest may as well not have turned up. Meyler has the heart but not the technical skill, similar to Davies. Others… well, put it down to the post-Xmas hangover. Oh hang on it’s still before Xmas. So no excuse then. I can see Hovetiger’s point about the recruitment policy of Bruce but to blame the manager for an appalling lack of interest in the player’s sense of professionalism is harsh. I would criticize Bruce’s tactics of reverting to the long ball after a brief flurry of neat passing during the initial 10 mins as it doesn’t usually come off because it so predictable that defending against it must be so easy. But on the whole the players should bear the blame here. Relegation is around the corner and the only ones who can change that prospect pull the jersey on and run out of the tunnel on to the pitch. They’re the ones going to have to deliver when there otherwise the Championship beckons.

  6. Al Cooper
    Al Cooper says:

    Thank you! This is a brilliant write up of the game yesterday & acknowledgement of the current sorry state of affairs, every issue raised is uncannily spot-on & totally in tune with how (personally) I’ve felt wincing my way through weeks of tepid & underwhelming performances via shitty web-streams at unsocial hours here in Japan. Ironically, those stop-start comedic web-streams may have just made matters slightly easier on the eye for me. all of that being said, these have become worrying times that totally belie everyone’s summer feelings that this was going to be a season like no other!

  7. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Good very sobering report of the state of the Tiger nation….although to put “not going” down to owner antagonising supporters is pushing it. The performances are the cause IMO…I don’t like watching defeats particularly at home. However, I will be at Sunderland, and/but don’t expect much.
    I find Comment 5 above a bit strange, and out of the… “in Bruce I trust but” …bracket. Surely the manager’s job is to inspire, fire up and send out a competitive team. Something has gone badly wrong, and I feel the presence of Junior Bruce and signing of Dawson have raised a lot of insecurities. Always thought the presence of AB was a bad idea…
    Where now….Hold on to SB come what may? He’ll likely sell Davies, McShane, Sagbo, and others to raise cash in Jan. Can he recruit what we need then? Can he be trusted, and is the seeming lack of spirit cured by this? Plus new longer contracts for AB and others… OR new manager before the Jan window closes, give him a bit of cash, and hope he can rekindle spirit, rehash tactics and get the best out of what we have. Personally I no longer trust SB in the transfer window and fear we may lose players we should keep. Any longer than the next 2 games and a replacement manager won’t come as we’d be doomed…unless you want Dowie! Hope you’re thinking hard Mr Allam!

  8. Jimmy Weekly
    Jimmy Weekly says:

    #2 The squad is not overloaded with ‘no10 types’. In fact, we haven’t got a number 10 type at all, and that’s why we’re so very predictable. All we do now is stick the ball out on the wings. There’s no creativity or ability to go forward through the middle. I’d love to have a Geovanni or an on-form Bullard (not your actual Bullard the person obviously, but a player of that type and ability). We don’t have one in the squad.

  9. Thr Voice of Reason
    Thr Voice of Reason says:

    The defeats / draws are one thing but I agree recent performances have been woeful. Quinn would’ve started for me. I’m praying for another 2v0 win at Sunderland but as a pre-1977 Tiger I am now worried for Steve Bruce and our club. As supporters we need to give 100% for 90 minutes at Sunderland and against the Boring One. Let’s see if we can lift the gloom. #UTT

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