Hull City ended a six match losing run in the Premier League with an unlikely win over Southampton.
Turning up at the KCOM Stadium has become a chore of late and this game, scheduled for a Sunday afternoon at 2:15pm due to the visitors’ Europa League commitments, had the anticipation of a visit to the clinic to get the results of an STD test – I’d imagine. With Southampton taking up half the seats Stoke City filled in red and white for the last home game a new record low crowd for top flight football in Hull was guaranteed.
The sense of foreboding wasn’t eased when Mike Phelan carded the same team that lost at Watford last week when major flaws were obvious albeit in a far more spirited performance.
Maguire Davies Dawson
Elmohamady Livermore Mason Henriksen Clucas
We were second best from the off and by miles and miles. Any thought that we might grow into the game was dashed when they were awarded a penalty in the fifth minute when Michael Dawson fouled Yoshida. It was a blatant but soft foul on our left side of the box and felt needless. Charlie Austin dispatched it easily. Within minutes the only City player attempting to press Southampton, Abel Hernández, pulled up with a groin or hamstring injury and was replaced by Dieumerci Mbokani. The big DR Congo striker was clearly not fit to start himself but had to come on for at least 80 minutes.
That situation was repeated on 25 minutes when Will Keane turned awkwardly while challenging for the ball and eventually hobbled off despite the presence of a stretcher. A goal down and two strikers down a quarter of the way through the game and two unfit players on off the bench – Robert Snodgrass this time. Things could barely get worse. They were so much better, it was embarrassing. With Keane dropping in to help midfield, we had five in defence and four in midfield and they were still able to pass around us with such ease. Their movement was good, the full backs played high, the under-rated Steven Davies found space with ease and Tadic and Redmond made up a front three but City didn’t get within two yards of the man in possession and they were able to stroke the ball around like Brazil of ’70.
Southampton should have been a man down after half an hour when Tadic went in high on Ryan Mason and was very lucky to escape with a yellow card after some world class rolling around to make the ref doubt who’d committed the foul. City changed to a 4-4-1-1 formation with Markus Henriksen playing off Mbokani, Mason wide on the left and Harry Maguire into midfield in the wake of the substitutions. It helped us in possession with Snodgrass looking up for it and Mbokani’s size giving them something to think about. Without possession, they continued to run us ragged and a block by Dawson on Austin, a fine bit of tracking by Ahmed Elmohamady on Clasie and a good save at his near post from David Marshall kept us in it.
Only one team came out firing after the break and it wasn’t City. Southampton won a corner on the left to annoyance of the Tigers as Redmond had clearly kicked the ball against his own feet and it was probably already out of play and the subsequent delivery was headed onto the top of the bar by Van Dijk. A let off.
There is no way Hull City are turning this game around. The guy who rang the Radio Humberside phone-in and claimed he saw 2-1 coming is either a liar or he’s taken magic mushrooms. Southampton were absolutely strolling. The game coming so easily to them. City were getting nowhere. Maguire was chasing around midfield without having a kick. Mason was working back to help Sam Clucas but without any presence whatsoever. Elmohamady wandered with the vigour of a middle-aged bloke in a park on a warm day listening to “Teach yourself Chinese” tapes on his Sony Walkman. The crowd are so quiet that the biggest cheer of the afternoon comes when Fonte kicks the ball up and over the East Stand.
Mbokani won a free-kick on the left. Snodgrass delivered it beautifully and Maguire made a great run in behind but volleyed across the face of goal. It went out for a throw-in. We kept them penned in the corner and then worked the ball into Clucas who strode into the box, kept his composure and slid the ball across for Snodgrass to sweep it into the bottom corner. Hurrah!
We got another free-kick on the right, miles from goal. Snodgrass delivered well again and Dawson rose and looped a header over their keeper (who was involved so little I’ve had to double-check it was actually Fraser Forster) and into the net. I’ve genuinely no idea where this turnaround came from. There was no sign of it. No lifting of the mood. Southampton were coasting, utterly in control, and conceded twice from nowhere. Arrogance on their part. Lulled into a false sense of security by their dominance of the ball and the territory they were afforded by City who’d sat ten yards too deep throughout.
Southampton sent on Boufal for Tadic. Tadic is their most creative player so it was a compliment that he’d had so little impact that he got the heave. Phelan swapped Maguire for Tom Huddlestone. Big Harry isn’t a midfielder. Huddlestone managed to cough up possession twice and I longed for us to get Harry back on. Marshall spared Huddlestone’s blushes with a fine save from Austin and the visitors then brought on James Ward-Prowse and City loan target Jay Rodriguez for Clasie and Redmond.
Saints continued to dominate the ball but there was belief about City suddenly. The crowd got behind the team who responded by putting pressure on the ball and challenging for everything around the box. Southampton still made chances but unlike the first half, they came from ricochets around the box rather than strolling through massive gaps left despite nine players being behind the ball. Austin was denied by another fine save from Marshall and then by a heroic block by Dawson.
Romeu was booked for cynically taking out Mason to halt a City break. Yoshida was also carded for a tackle from behind on Mbokani. In fairness to him, he was clearly confused by Huddlestone passing to someone on his own team. Yoshida nearly had the last word on the game when he rose at the far post, above Clucas, and thumped in a header from Boufal’s cross only for Marshall to save brilliantly again. From the resulting corner, Clucas kicked Van Dijk’s header against a Southampton forward. The ball flew over the bar and we had our first league win since August confirmed.
This win doesn’t paper over the cracks at the club. There were at least 8,000 empty seats in the ground today for instance. Unthinkable even a couple of seasons ago. But it does give the players and the manager a much needed shot in the arm and in light of all the negativity surrounding the club – they’ve got to keep trying to do a job.
I’m still not convinced by Phelan. There are too many players out of position and the lessons aren’t being learned week to week. But I’ll keep supporting him because I’m not convinced anyone could make a better fist of things as they stand.
I’m most delighted for Marshall. He’s had a nightmare start to his time at City with little of it his fault. Today, he was called upon to put in the sort of performance we admired from afar when he played for Cardiff. He did it tremendously.
Rick Skelton (reported first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)