The visit of Bournemouth was my first opportunity to see Marco Silva’s Hull City in person. The short version of the report is that we won and I was impressed with the new gaffer and the bottle shown by the players. It was a far cry from the lack of mental strength on display in the reverse fixture where we collapsed to an embarrassing 1-6 defeat and, if nothing else, today went some way to putting that right.
Thanks to the recovery from injury of Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies, Jake Livermore overcoming his illness and the signings of Brazilian Evandro from Porto and Senegalese Oumar Niasse from Everton – Marco Silva actually had options to pick from for the first time as City manager. Nothing runs smooth this season though, David Meyler and Shaun Maloney were new absentees.
Maguire – Dawson – Davies – Robertson
Diomande – Mason – Huddlestone – Clucas
Eldin Jakupović was picked in goal and the roar from the crowd told us that was a popular decision from Silva. Abel Hernández who’d clearly fallen out with Mike Phelan and has miraculously recovered since his departure started for the first time since early November. Harry Maguire and Adama Diomande took up unfamiliar roles on the right-hand side.
Maguire is a great lad and is growing into an exciting central defender but he looked as comfortable at right back as Phelan did in the TV studio at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. With just a couple of minutes gone, he conceded a penalty when he jumped into a tackle with Fraser with the wrong foot. It’s the tenth penalty we’ve conceded in the Premier League this season. We only need one more to tie the all-time (since 1992) record. Here’s hoping. One of the arguments I’ve heard a lot for playing Jakupović in goal is that he’s good at saving penalties. He wasn’t saving this one, Stanislas smashed it into the (in)side netting of Jak’s right hand post [0-1].
A dreadful start and it didn’t get any better. City showed absolutely nothing in response and Bournemouth passed the ball about like the side who destroyed us on the South coast in October. Harry Arter smashed a shot just wide and then Dawson got caught underneath a high ball and Benik Afobe went through but was met by a smart save from the chest of the Jak.
Bournemouth are remarkable in Premier League terms. They’re on the fringes of being a top half team but apart from Jack Wilshere, they’re a Championship squad. Every other player involved today either won promotion with them or was purchased from a Championship club. Tin other hands, they’d be out of their depth but they continue to improve as individuals and as a group under Eddie Howe and are a great model for clubs aspiring to establish themselves in the “big league”.
They do lack some big game experience though and when that Afobe miss gave City a kick up the arse, our big-time players started to drag us into the game. Tom Huddlestone was the best player on the pitch, Robert Snodgrass picked up the ball in key areas and Davies and Dawson troubled them from set pieces. Silva’s desire to push the full backs high up the pitch was evidenced by Andy Robertson flying down the left and once we’d started to dominate the ball, Maguire got into great positions on the right. We picked up a head of steam and worried them from a Snodgrass free kick and a neat ball in behind by Huddlestone when Robertson advanced on the left and delivered a magnificent cross that Hernández could do nothing with except head it into the net from close range [1-1].
A trio of corners came and went before the break as City dominated. It was great to see further evidence of the new manager’s influence in the set pieces. Earlier, Snodgrass had delivered a ball to Davies while feigning, convincingly, that he was going to shoot. Later, we piled everyone in at the near post for a corner only for Snodgrass to cut it back for Sam Clucas to shoot. We’ve not seen invention at set pieces since Peter Taylor left!
The start to the second half was night and day from the first and a few minutes in, City took the lead. We won the ball in midfield, worked it nicely to the right side through Snodgrass and then Hernández took over. He cut into the box, backed up Tyrone Mings and unleashed a great low drive into the far corner [2-1]. The defender will have been kicking himself, Hernández was busy soaking in the adoration of his audience. By, how we’ve missed his goals.
Despite bringing on Callum Wilson and ex-City loanee Josh King, Bournemouth weren’t really at the races. Diomande crossed nicely for Hernández to head wide after Huddlestone and Maguire had worked an opening beautifully. Then Ryan Mason, who had his best game for City by many country miles, worked his own opportunity, showing good feet and better strength in possession, but shot wide. Then Adam Smith, recently booked for a crude foul on Clucas, fouled Mason. The crowd were looking for a second yellow. Instead, justice was served by Huddlestone whose controlled volley from the cleared free kick beat Artur Boruc. Will the small matter of a massive deflection off Mings [3-1].
It was great to see Huddlestone score – if it’s given to him. City are trying to play football all over the pitch and he’s in his element. He’s working ridiculously hard too and made more than his fair share of tackles and interceptions. On 66 minutes I genuinely wondered to myself who Bournemouth’s #32 was. It took me a few seconds to work out it was Jack Wilshere. He’d had so little impact as Huddlestone ran the midfield. In fairness, Wilshere did come to life in the closing stages and had a couple of efforts at Jakupović. One of them a stinging shot after sub Pugh had gone down looking for a penalty (nearly the record!) that Jak saved brilliantly.
City were a threat on the break and Hernández’s last input before he went off was to latch onto Huddlestone’s lovely pass as Mings looked like he was running in treacle. Abel never got the ball under control though and could only shoot weakly eventually.
Hernández picked up the man of the match award in the stadium and he was the difference maker. Unsurprisingly, I’d have gone for Huddlestone. It was a solid team effort though. The two centre halves who looked far from fit put in a great shift. As did the oft-derided Diomande. He’s technically deficient and makes odd decisions but he works incredibly hard for the team in the wrong position and he was crucial in the second half, protecting the ropey Maguire time and again. I love big H but he’s no right back.
Snodgrass and Hernández gave way to the debuting Evandro and Niasse. Evandro covered a lot of ground and flew into some tackles but spent a whole lot of time on the floor and almost made as many fouls (one) as passes. Niasse looked like he might prove a useful option off the bench. He was quick, his first touch was decent and he has a strong build. It’s way too early to judge but he didn’t look the complete fraud some Everton fans have suggested he is. A couple of very incorrect looking offside flags denied City the chance to put some gloss on the scoreline while ref Martin Atkinson, who hates us, turned down the chance to give Adam Smith a well-deserved second yellow card.
It was a great and much needed win for City and a good start for Silva in the league. There are plenty of examples of his early influence from City’s attempts to play out from the goalkeeper to the discipline being shown without the ball. Perhaps most impressive though is the ambition on display when we’re in possession. To get men in the box, to get crosses and shots in and to keep going forward when leading. I think he can keep us up. It’s not going to be easy. We’ve still got a threadbare squad, a lack of depth and a pathetic away record. But he’s got some winnable home games, he’s already instilled some confidence in the squad and he’s got incessant drive on the touchline.
It wouldn’t be the greatest escape but it’d be a pretty bloody unlikely one.
Rick Skelton (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)