The FA Cup brings in many differing memories for Hull City fans. The moment that Alex Bruce’s header is cleared off the line that could have put City 3-0 up against Arsenal. How about Billy Whitehurst and Keith Edwards giving City a 2-1 advantage against Liverpool at half time back in ’89? Maybe you like to recall Duane Darby’s double hat-trick against Whitby Town. All games that long suffering Tiger fans look back on fondly.
There is of course the other side of the coin. The 2-0 defeat to Hednesford thanks to some criminally inept refereeing. The fact that in the first place Whitby had taken us to a replay and was within a minute of knocking us out. Or even the drunken Roary The Tiger stumbling around the away end at Hayes as another non-league side could have considered themselves unlucky to have not taken the Tiger scalp.
Fulham was very much in this latter group of games. A 4-1 defeat to a side in a lower division is not what you expect of any team. Yet that’s the fate City suffered.
Prior to the game, a pre-match pub was in buoyant mood. Fulham is usually found to be a gentile ground to visit – given the presence of a ‘neutral section’ Fulham is probably the ideal club for the much hated half and half scarf brigade. In our past five meetings with Fulham, we’d won four and drawn one. So not a bad record to go into games. However the pre-match mood turned rapidly to confusion as the various Twitter feeds sent news of the day’s team. In much like a newspaper Sudoku, you’re given a bunch of numbers, so trying to predict their correct positions could be anybody’s guess. But taking up the challenge, City lined up:-
Elabdellaoui Davies Huddlestone Robertson
Marković Evandro Diomande
I’m currently catching up reading the list of books I received for Christmas, so recently made a start on Ian Brunton’s rather splendid 46 and Counting book, where he recalls his family’s efforts to make it to all Hull City fixtures last season. I’ve just passed part of the book which recounts the Bolton home game. At the time Michael Dawson has come back into the side, having been out injured for a few weeks. My recollections of the time that he was a fear that he’s been rushed back was confirmed when he limped off in the 85th minute to be sidelined for another period. Against Fulham this happened to Curtis Davies. The stand-in captain had one week earlier been withdrawn from the Chelsea match with a hamstring strain. Back in the side a week later and within ten minutes, the injury had flared up and he was off back into the Cottage, with big Harry Maguire his replacement.
As City fans pretty much all love Big Harry, it’s easy to forget the limitations in his game. His recent high profile performances have brought his name to the national stage. Unfortunately whilst Big Harry is showing to be a wonderful defender, he’s not a captain or organiser. So with the loss of Davies, the defensive organisation out on the pitch went to pieces. Massive gaps were appearing around the City back line allowing Fulham the opportunity to exploit.
My Monday morning welcome into the office was by the Fulham supporting security guard. His first comment was that he couldn’t believe we let that big donkey Martin score. Yet it was Martin’s running at our defence that was causing the most panic. It was also Martin that Tom Huddlestone brought down to concede a free kick which lead to Fulham’s opening goal. The free kick was passed to Martin at the back post for him to nod down to Sone Aluko, with no City defender near either player, the former Tiger had plenty of time to pick his spot and powerfully volley past Jakupović.
City did have chances of their own, but with Lazar Marković and Evandro drifting in and out of the game, most of the shots are coming into the Fulham goal from a distance. The Fulham keeper Bettinelli seems to like pushing the ball out, but with nobody following up these shots, City are not really looking to get back on level terms.
Most of City’s pressing comes from Omar Elabdellaoui’s overlapping runs. He’s attacking Fulham well, but with Abel Hernández isolated up front on his own, frequently crosses are firstly met by Fulham defenders. The play is then quickly shifted back to the opposite end of the pitch with Elabdellaoui not getting back to his defensive position quick enough, Fulham are exploiting further defensive frailties in the City side.
A wild challenge from Big Harry on Aluko has referee Tierney rightly play advantage as Sone keeps going. After shooting wide, Tierney calls the big defender over giving the first booking of the game.
City do play some good attacking football whenever Adama Diomande’s allowed to advance up front to play alongside Hernández. The Fulham keeper doesn’t hold onto many shots, still insisting on palming them out, but neither Hernández or Diomande have sufficient composure to get resulting shots on target.
Fulham’s first booking comes as a result of McDonald’s late challenge on Evandro, but predictably, City are unable to do anything with the free kick.
Elabdellaoui’s continued lack of defensive positioning allows Fulham to get the ball in the Tigers net for a second time after Sessegnon scores, but fortunately the linesman’s flag is raised against the right-back.
Soon after the half time break City manage to get themselves back on level terms. Andy Robertson and Sam Clucas work well together up the left before Clucas crosses too deep for the inrushing Hernández, but there’s Evandro diving in head first to firmly head in the equaliser.
City then had a chance to turn the tide very much in their favour as Diomande is played in by Clucas only for Kalas to nip in and clear.
Unfortunately at the other end, the defensive organisation problems are still obvious. First Sessegnon flashes a cross across the goal with nobody able to poke the ball home, then Sessegnon again sees a static City defence before passing to Martin to tap into an open City goal.
Hernández’s isolation is soon remedied with David Meyler being replaced by Oumar Niasse, but that doesn’t help the biggest problem in the side, as once again Sessegnon runs at the static City defence to score past Jakupović, putting Fulham 3-1 up.
With the forwards on the pitch, City do create a few good chances, but neither Niasse, Hernández nor Diomande are able to exploit. The tiring Evandro is also replaced by Josh Tymon in the middle of City’s midfield.
Yet once again at the other end of the pitch, the static defence is nowhere near Cairney as he passes in to Johansen. They’re also nowhere near him as a scores Fulham’s fourth. This goal did momentarily rouse the near silent home crowd, but they soon settled back to watching the entertainment laid out in front of them.
Fulham replace Aluko with Ayite, with the former Tiger getting warm applause from all sides of the ground, including the 1,200 travelling City fans.
City are then gifted a chance to put some respectability to the score line. Robertson attacks up the left before being brought down in the Fulham box and a penalty is awarded. Hernández places the kick low to the keepers left, but the keeper does well to get down and palm the ball out. Hernández charges down the loose ball before being brought down by the Fulham keeper and another penalty is awarded.
I have to admit that I didn’t think it at the time, but as I type this up weren’t both penalties denials of goalscoring opportunities? Shouldn’t we have seen red cards for these?
Hernández is given a second opportunity to correct his earlier saved penalty, this time he strikes the ball firmly to the keepers left, but this time the keeper gets a strong arm in the way, deflecting the shot high above the bar.
Cairney is next to be substituted by Fulham. A few applause from the away fans, but not as many as Aluko.
A final chance sees Tymon try a shot from range, which is well saved by Bettinelli, before Huddlestone’s shot from the resulting corner is straight at the keeper.
The full time whistle is soon blown to bring an end to City’s dismal day.
It’s hard to pinpoint the exact issues in the side. The lack of defensive organisation is certainly an issue. The loss of Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass in the transfer window is a much bigger problem to the team spirit in the squad. As is bringing in four new faces and trying to integrate them into the side with potentially more to follow.
The season was always going to be tough with Ehab Allam repeatedly shooting the collective club in its foot.
The old adage of ‘concentrating on the league’ comes to the fore now. But the Fulham performance has shown there’s plenty to be concerned about if the side is to achieve 17th place this season.