Hull City’s home games feel like a knockout competition at this stage in the season. If there is any hope of avoiding “Prexit” then any slip-up is unaffordable. With three minutes left of normal time, hope was fading fast but then we delivered Article 87. From the boot of Kamil Grosicki to the head of Andrea Ranocchia and lived to fight another day.
Marco Silva made two changes from the defeat at Everton before the international break. Elabdellaoui was injured and Tom Huddlestone, wrongly, suspended. Clucas dropped deeper to replace Tom with Niasse returning after missing the game against his parent club.
Maguire – Ranocchia – Davies
Elmo – Marković – Clucas – N’Diaye – Robertson
Niasse – Hernández
Feeling all home games are “must win” brings great pressure and that pressure was too much for City in the first half. It weighed on the players who could barely make a pass at times and looked uncomfortable playing three at the back against one centre forward limiting options further up the field. Niasse worked hard to run the channels and, despite his clumsy first tough, was effective while Clucas put in his usual incredible shift but the rest rated from abysmal to anonymous.
West Ham had already spurned a great chance when Robert Snodgrass, who was booed heavily throughout the half, headed straight at Jakupović when he was in acres of space (because he looked miles offside) when Andy Carroll gave them a lead. Carroll was the best player on the pitch by a mile. He met everything tossed forward, turned every cross into the box into a worrying situation and headed every corner and free-kick we put into their box. They were a pretty average side but Carroll and our generosity in allowing them time and space to put in each cross improved them immeasurably. On 17, they chucked in another cross, Davies completely misjudged it in the air and Carroll pulled off him, controlled it and smacked it past Jakupovic [0-1].
No response came from City. Move broke down in midfield too often to sustain any pressure in their third. There was a fair shout for a penalty when ‘keeper Randolph dribbled out under pressure and then appeared to kick Hernández who’d nicked the ball away from him. Clucas made a great run from deep and exchanged passes with Niasse who just failed to get on the end of his clever backheel. That really was the sum of our efforts.
The full backs were poor. Davies didn’t recover from his costly error. N’Diaye wasn’t effective in or out of possession. Marković was floating about taking the odd nice touch but generally avoiding anything that looked like hard work. We were in trouble.
Half time: Hull City 0 West Ham 1
Marco Silva doesn’t always get his team selection right but he’s quick to accept it and looks for a solution to problems. He hooked Davies at half time and introduced Grosicki to make a 4-4-2 formation. It didn’t suddenly change the game and we were grateful to Ranocchia for two crucial challenges early in the half but it did give us pace on the break and balance across the midfield and that game in handy as we levelled on 53.
Marković broke superbly into their half and found Grosicki with a nice ball across the field, Grosicki looked to come inside the defender, his touch was slightly heavy and Robertson who’d not stopped supporting raced onto the touch, steadied himself and finished low across Randolph [1-1].
Chances followed at both ends. Carroll rose to meet Cresswell’s high cross but headed straight at Jakupović. A huge let off. Niasse and Hernandez then combined nicely to send Marković racing into the box but he just couldn’t decide what to do and ran out of pitch. We kept the pressure on from the goal kick and Niasse worked his way into the box and forced a challenge that diverted the ball to N’Diaye who lashed a shot against the near post. The rebound fell for Grosicki who beat a defender, steadied himself, gave the ‘keeper the eyes and then missed.
Mike Jones, who’s surely the worst referee in the Premier League, then took centre stage as the game became a slog. He waved away our appeals for a penalty after Maguire fell under a challenge from a corner. Maguire had a great opportunity to shoot inside the six yard box on an angle, I’ve no idea why he’d fall if not fouled. A blatant handball by Kouyate outside the penalty area was missed while Niasse and Carroll were booked for very little.
The ‘ammers looked the most likely side to find a winner. We’d lost all ability to pass the ball to each other again and handed them the initiative. We defended well from a myriad of set pieces and long throw ins. Silva responded by introducing Henriksen and Maloney for N’Diaye and Hernández. Henriksen looked as rusty as you might expect but the subs refreshed City and we were able to build a little momentum in their half leading to some opportunities to deliver a ball in.
Grosicki wasted some of those opportunities, most obviously from one of the worst free kicks you’ll ever see. But in the 87th minute, he whipped a corner into the near post and Ranocchia stopped to power a header past Randolph [2-1]. Bloody foreigners. Coming over here, saving our season!
The six minutes of added time was uneventful save for Ranocchia killing Feghouli under the nose of the Ref who waved play-on. That cemented Ranocchia as man of the match for me.
Full time: Hull City 2 West Ham 1
It might seem over-dramatic to relegate City as soon as they fail to win a home game but it’s very hard to see any other scenario. With Spurs to come on the final day, winning the next three home games would take us to 36 points. That’s got to be the minimum required to have a chance of finishing above three other teams. Unfortunately, away points have not been forthcoming and that doesn’t look likely to change.
Marco Silva’s been dealt a poor hand with his fixtures away from home. He’s already taken City to Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Leicester and Everton and has Man City, Stoke and Southampton to follow. Crystal Palace away in the penultimate match of the season will be his only trip to a bottom half side – if they’re still in the bottom half by then.
So we cling to Marco Silva’s remarkable record of six wins and a draw from seven games at the KC in all competitions. Given where we were when we arrived I’m grateful that we have anything to cling to at all.
Rick Skelton (first posted on the Tiger Chat mailing list)