The “game of two halves” cliché is alive and well. Both the game and the Hull City performance improved tremendously after half time to the huge relief of the (alleged) 18,086 fans inside the KC(OM) Stadium.
Mike Phelan named an unchanged team from the defeat at Sunderland which, on the face of it, seems crazy given the manner of last week’s surrender but I have some sympathy for him. With Abel Hernàndez still unfit and Andy Robertson having just returned to training there are few difference makers amongst the rest of the Tigers’ squad. Or perhaps not.
Elmohamady – Dawson – Davies – Tymon
Snodgrass – Henriksen – Livermore – Clucas – Mason
WBA were by far the brighter of the two teams from the off but their dominance was brief and the game quickly established itself as mundane. City were happy to stand off when Albion had the ball at the back, giving up their half of the pitch and forming a compact unit in our half. It was a tactic that didn’t work against Southampton but WBA aren’t anywhere near as good as Southampton in possession and didn’t find it as easy to break through. We did our best to help them though with some suicidal passing, Curtis Davies and Jake Livermore being the worst culprits, but it came to nothing.
As an attacking force, we were non-existent. Robert Snodgrass spent the first hour of the game tucked up neatly in Nyom’s pocket. Elmo crossed to no-one on the odd occasion he meandered forward. Dieumerci Mbokani was isolated and when he did win a header – no-one from the midfield made a run in behind. It’s quite the achievement to come up against a Tony Pulis side and be the more negative but I feel we accomplished it with some aplomb.
There was no way this game was producing a goal from open play but a set piece and some terrible marking was always likely. Matt Phillips came across to take a West Brom corner from the SE. The fans in the South Stand cried to the ref that the ball wasn’t in the quadrant. It was. The ref ran across to make Phillips move the ball anyway. The delay obviously turned half a dozen City defenders to stone because when the ball was delivered, Gareth McAuley met it unchallenged eight yards out and it bounced past David Marshall. I’ve absolutely no idea what Davies was doing as the ball came in. He seemed to be running around in circles towards the front post.
Davies hasn’t had a great month. He was awful last week and clumsy against Southampton. His first half performance here was dire too. Livermore, another often dependable performer, hasn’t fared much better and though he worked hard for the cause – his passing was atrocious. Ahmed Elmohamady wasn’t as poor as last week but wasn’t good. In other circumstances, they’d be struggling to start games but as things stand – they’re still first names on the team sheet. Markus Henriksen and Ryan Mason were a waste of time again. Neither has added anything to the team.
Something had to change at half time. We were behind to a very average WBA side. The game had a grand total of one shot on target. Phelan replaced Mason with Adama Diomande though only because of illness per the post-match interviews. Diomande has been hit and miss this season but he massively improved us here with his pressing of the ball and his direct running when in possession. He’d cemented the man of the match award within five minutes when he’d already shown more dynamism than the other eleven had managed combined.
We were a changed team and we even managed a shot, and on target too, as Snodgrass drew a decent save from Ben Foster and a brilliant sarcastic cheer from the home fans. We even managed another shot shortly after and Livermore forced another save after an intricate passing move inside their box ended with Henriksen laying off nicely for Livermore to shoot low but without power. One of the numerous fouls on Mbokani was finally called by ref Tierney and Snodgrass hit the free kick hard and low but close to Foster who pushed it away.
WBA already fancied clinging on to their lead and Foster’s constant time wasting earned a yellow card … for Jonny Evans who just happened to annoy the ref after Foster had been warned twice. The visitors also lost Darren Fletcher to injury. Fletcher and Yacob had done a decent job of anchoring their midfield and picked up a lot of the second balls while halting our (rare) runs from the middle of the pitch. Fletcher also seemed to be doing a decent job of playing Rod Hull to the ref’s Emu.
The momentum was with City and it led to a equaliser. Diomande was the spark winning possession on half way and drawing a foul as he drove into their half. Snodgrass curled the free kick from 40 yards out to the back post, Mbokani won a header and the ball fell for Michael Dawson who steered it into the corner of the net [1-1]. It was scruffy but no-one was complaining.
We were good value for a point but we’d be grateful for it come full time. Marshall produced a tremendous save to claw Chadli’s vicious free kick out of the top right hand corner while Rondon headed wide in injury time from the middle of the goal. They were strong in the final stages, having good options from the bench.
They did us a favour taking Phillips off, he was beating Josh Tymon with ease late on. He was replaced by Hal Robson-Kanu from whom a winner felt inevitable. Robson-Kanu had some terrible advice in the summer and waited until deadline day to pick a club. He looks like a player whose pre-season was spent dining out on his goals for Wales and now sports Jon Parkin’s trademark lard-arse. He wears number four too. A forward wearing number four should receive a ten game ban for bringing the game into disrepute. Despite being roasted by Phillips and then struggling in the air against Kanu as he’d tired, Tymon had a good game. He’s afraid of nothing, he’s a tough tackler and has great recovery speed. He lacks a bit of nous and he tires into games but he’s got everything else. He just needs the confidence to play his game in the final third too. Along with the excellent Dawson and game-changer Diomande, he was the pick of ours.
Following last weeks humbling as Sunderland, it was important the players got something from this game. They played well in the second half to earn it. The outlook isn’t promising though. We’re tactically unambitious. We’re very short on options. Crucially, we’re conceding horrific goals by the week.
Next is a break from league action for (what should be) a historic occasion at the KC. A first ever League Cup quarter final at home and only a second ever. Against the Championship leaders who’ll be arriving with the player who sealed our promotion last season in tow. The City should be at fever pitch for a game like this. It’s a phenomenal opportunity to make history and put ourselves in with a shot at a cup final. If ever there was a damning indictment of what a state our club is; the fact that interest in a game like this is at the level of a second round game with Aldershot or something says everything.
Rick Skelton (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)