1. Happy New Year to Hull City AFC fans across the world. The festive fixtures initially typified this oddly frustrating season. A sparkling home win against handy opposition, another pathetic non-performance away to a lesser side, but with the slight novelty of a gritty victory on the road finishing things. It’s been a mixed bag, with the autumn’s consistency and flair continuing to largely elude City; but if you’re a glass-half-full sort of person, it’s also been six points from three game – promotion form, in the main.
2. Burnley first, where City (eventually) impressed in a way they hadn’t done for some weeks. The first half may not live long in the memory, though coming on the back of the Rotherham calamity, a scrappy parity with a top-six side represented at least an immediate improvement. It also laid the foundation for City to push on in the second half, and once the splendid Jake Livermore had walloped the first goal in, the Tigers looked close to their best once again. This was a reminder of just how good they can be – and a rare victory over Burnley in front of a good crowd and a good atmosphere was a very enjoyable way to spend a Boxing Day afternoon.
3. Sadly, Preston was a reminder of how bad they can be. It was an inept, lifeless display drawn from the noxious anti-vintage served up at Elland Road and the New York Stadium, with some judging it the foullest of all. Steve Bruce cocked up by resting players, which invariably sends the message to everyone that the fixture isn’t being taken seriously; his chosen XI then proceeded to indeed not take it seriously. That Preston took so long to take the lead is indicative of how hopeless they are; a decent side could have inflicted severe damage upon our goal difference.
4. The manager’s post-match comments were laced with a lack of comprehension about what’s been going wrong away from home, and how to fix it. Honest, perhaps; but it’s also troubling to hear him admit he had no idea how to solve the issue that has bedevilled the season thus far.
5. He’ll have been relieved by the QPR performance, and victory too. It wasn’t sparkling. The game was stodgy stuff and doubtless poor fare for the Sky Sports neutrals. But it was an improvement, and that’s important. Runs were being made again. Tackles weren’t shirked (Harry Maguire pulverising two hooped foes at once was glorious). Yes, the winner was a fluke. City nearly threw away two points by coughing up a late equaliser, and Bruce’s tactical and personnel adjustments late in the game have rightly caused comment. But City were better, and won. For now, that’ll do.
6. Middlesbrough have made a real break for it at the top now. They’re five points clear of City, with a game in hand. Hauling them in isn’t impossible, but it certainly seems that anyone who finishes above them will win the division. At least Derby remain catchable, while Brighton’s long-awaited stumble has finally happened. They may come again, but there’ll be plenty thinking that the bookies’ trio of pre-season favourites are beginning to move away from the rest. Let’s hope so.
7. Apropos of Brighton, FA Cup game always carry importance, and sending them back south on Saturday evening with another defeat would be very useful. We know what’ll happen; Steve Bruce will promise to take the game seriously and pick a strong team, and then do the opposite. But Brighton probably will too, and this is a very presentable chance to pick up a victory that’ll increase confidence while making it into the Fourth Round.
8. At least the two clubs have arrived at a sensible pricing policy – £12 for season ticket holders is decent value even with a slew of changes to both sides.
9. There finally appears to be some movement with regards to City’s clutch of players whose contracts expire in the summer. Overdue perhaps, but thank goodness it’s finally underway. And David Meyler’s comments about wanting to stay and raise his child here just make us love him even more.
10. The dismal jamboree of excess that is the January transfer window is now underway. As usual, please excuse us from the tiresome ritual of speculation, patently false rumour, hyperbole and Jim sodding White. All we want is our best players to stay, a few million quid for any who think they’re Premier League quality and want to prove it with the Norwiches and Newcastles of this world (even if they haven’t proven it yet this season – naming no names…) and maybe a new forward on loan.