REPORT: City 1 Middlesbrough 3

SlutskyPensive
A little over half a year ago, City tonked Middlesbrough 4-2 in the Premier League, our second Premier League win in 5 days, taking us out of the relegation zone and setting us up nicely for what would turn out to be a narrow defeat in the next fixture away at Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s team had incidentally been the last to beat us at home, several months earlier on Boxing Day 2016. Things were looking good. The clocks had just gone forward, summer was approaching, and pundits and fans alike were talking up Hull City’s Premier League future under our bright young Portuguese manager.

This lacklustre performance against Boro bore little resemblance to what we witnessed less than seven months earlier. We’re in a different league, we had an entirely different starting eleven, and performance-wise things looked so different that it might have been a different sport.
Emphasising how far and how rapidly our club has plummeted were:

McGregor
Tomori        Dawson         Hector     Clark
Meyler           Stewart
Bowen        Larsson          Campbell      Irvine

So, a pretty adventurous looking 4-2-4 at kick-off. No surprise to see Henriksen benched, ditto Grosicki. Tomori for Aina was more surprising, but turned out to be like-for-like in terms of performance. They’re both alright, they’re both borrowed from Chelsea and can control a ball well. May be Tomori tackles a bit better, but he can’t throw the ball as far as Aina. As with most of this City squad, you can take one off and put the other on, and you’re not really changing much in the way of quality. Game on game Leonid Slutsky drops some, put some others in, but is changing nothing for the better.

The first few minutes it seemed as if Slutsky — or perhaps our recently appointed Head of Strategy (whatever that is), Oleg Yarovinsky — had at last decided that booting the ball high and long would no longer do as a tactic, and we played some neat and penetrating possession stuff on the ground, as we attacked the north stand end.

But playing two holding midfielders, Meyler and Stewart for now, only works if they hold position in midfield.  After a dozen minutes both of them were higher up the pitch than they should have been, leaving a gap to the central defenders. Stewart lost the ball, it went back towards Hector on the edge of the box, who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get to it before Braithwaite hit it cleanly into the bottom left corner.

Quarter of an hour gone, one down; City are losing and it’s all their own work.

The lack of top division quality in this City team is striking, given how many of them have either played there or are borrowed from Chelsea. Apart from the obvious stuff about wanting to see my team do well, and liking the profile that it gives to the city of Hull, the main thing I miss about the Premier League is watching quality footballers play quality football. Last time we were relegated, we mostly looked like a Premier League team in the Championship, and we still played reasonable quality football most of the time. Not this time round, so far at least.

We seem to have a lot of players who can see the game in their heads but whose ability to do what they see is less obvious. On 20 minutes, Max Clark does the marauding full-back thing, powering down the left. He looks up, sees teammates running into the area, and blooters the cross about 60 ft up in the air. Here’s to you, Andy Robertson.

In midfield, David Meyler bustles about, and to his credit is often on the ball. Time and again though he sees a short and incisive pass, but can’t execute it and gives the ball away.

On the half hour, enthusiastic young Aussie Jackson Irvine bursts into the box with the ball. He looks like he should nip past the defender in front of him and be through on goal. He tries to nip past the defender in front of him. He can’t nip past the defender in front of him. Once again possession is lost.

The one bit of ball retention City can consistently do is along the back four. Dawson, square to Hector, back to Dawson, a short ball to Tomori, who advances a couple of paces, then back to Dawson, then square to Hector. You get the picture. There’s no pressure from Boro, and who can blame them, one-nil up away from home, it’s up to City to attack. But the home crowd is getting restless.

I’m all in favour of possession football when it’s a matter of patient probing to find a way through. I get that having the ball means the opposition can’t score. I admire it when teams frustrate opponents who can’t get the ball off them. But we’re not seeing those scenarios here. City are losing. The passing along the back line stems from lack of options or plan. Impatient shouts and groans come from frustrated fans.

To be frank, City are offering little and looking bereft of spirit and ideas.

Then on 35 minutes, we get a free kick just in our half. Bowen’s hopeful delivery soon bounces back and Boro advance down our left, in front of the West Stand. With little in the way of challenge, Christie sweeps in a deep cross.

In the penalty area, Boro’s record signing Britt Assombalonga strolls towards the six yard box. Noting the ball heading his way, he has time to check his reflection in the mirror and straighten his tie, before standing unchallenged a few yards in front of McGregor’s far post and nonchalantly heading the ball home.

However often the pundits might try to tell you that two-nil is the most dangerous score to hold onto, we’re not coming back from this.

For the final ten minutes of the half, there’s more “see it, can’t do it” stuff from the Tigers.
Campbell advances towards the Boro area. Campbell sees Irvine sprinting alongside, he sees the pass that would put him in on goal, but he can’t execute it.

A minute later, the ball breaks to Meyler after a free kick, he sees the 5 yard pass back to Larsson on his left. He can’t do it, and gives the ball away.

On 45, Tomori cuts inside, advances menacingly to the edge of the Boro area, sees Larsson breaking through the middle, sees the pass that would split the defence. But his pass doesn’t make it.

City are booed off at half-time, and the feeling of malaise is palpable. It’s not as if our besuited Russian manager has many options. The obvious ones are to try something different in attack. May be bring on Dicko or Grosicki . But again, we’ve got a squad and a selection policy that seems to consist of ‘pick any 2 from 4’ in most positions. If it ain’t working, pick the others. We all love Slutsky, as the song nearly goes. We all know that the problems at City are not of his doing and any manager would struggle with the hand he’s been dealt. But Slutsky is not proving himself an inventive or influential manager. If we carry on in this vein, he’ll be gone before long.

At the start of the second half, Dicko is on for Stewart. We retain the 4-2-4, with Larsson dropping into the 2 with Meyler. Stewart has been OK-ish, apart from giving the ball away for their opener. But one game he’s in, then he’s subbed, then he’s dropped, then he’s in again, then he’s subbed.

Five minutes or so into the half, Slutsky brings on Grosicki  for Larsson. This time it’s Irvine who joins Meyler in the holding two. Grosicki  plays on the left, showing that combination of petulance and skill that we’ve come to expect from a player who may well consider himself – probably rightly – a cut above most of his teammates ability-wise, and yet finds himself by some combination of fate, timing, and the shortcomings of agents stranded in the wrong league playing for a club unrecognisable from the Premier League team he signed for.

The changes give City a momentary lift in terms of zip and adventure. After ten minutes or so, Meyler in his deep-lying midfield position sees a fantastic through ball and this time executes the pass to perfection, down the middle to meet the curving run of Bowen, who sets it up for Dicko through on goal. Dicko has time to take a touch and place it. Instead he pokes it tamely first time at the advancing Boro keeper, Randolph. If you want to excuse him, you could point out that that he’s not been on the pitch for long. Like a number of his teammates, he’s been picked, he’s been dropped, one minute he’s not good enough, the next he’s brought on because his replacement is not good enough. Confidence and consistency are not the watchwords that spring to mind.

Meyler’s classy pass proves to be the aberration, and he’s soon back to giving the ball away, seeing Clark breaking down the left wing, his execution of the intended pass results in Boro possession.

City’s renewed spirit isn’t amounting to much, other than an argument between Tomori and Grosicki in front of my East Stand vantage point. It doesn’t seem to be a happy camp.
Campbell is taken off for Diomande — probably the most whole-hearted Norwegian on our books at the moment. I turn to my neighbour and mutter, more in hope than expectation, “if we can get one now, you never know …”

And as if he can hear me, on 70 minutes, almost out of nothing, Grosicki meets a ball from Dicko on the volley outside the area and hammers it home. A fine goal.

Game on.

Suddenly the home crowd wakes up, and it’s all City, for a few minutes at least. We start getting corners. The more nervous Boro fans wonder if they’re about to be robbed of the three points.
They needn’t have worried.

On 82 minutes, Boro sub Ashley Fletcher — a summer signing for £6.5 million from West Ham, who had just replaced Assombalonga minutes earlier — breaks into the City penalty area in front of the Boro fans in the north-east corner, with just McGregor to beat. Michael Hector, not the speediest, brings him down from behind.

It’s a penalty. And surely a red card, as Hector was the last defender and his foul prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity?

Apparently not. At first the ref busies himself organising the taking of the penalty, as if it’s some complex logistical task that has never before confronted him. Hector wisely moves away, like a guilty schoolboy edging to the back of the group. Then after what seems a minute or so, but was no doubt shorter, the linesman calls the ref over, the ref calls Hector over, a red card is brandished, and our loanee centre-back is sent off.

All very weird, and cause for the lino to get roundly abused from then on by the City fans. And by Grosicki who amazingly goes unpunished despite running 15 yards or so to shout in the face of the assistant referee.

Meanwhile, Boro score the penalty; as McGregor dives low and right, Leadbitter strikes high and left.

Maybe it’s going to be a repeat of Saturday, and we’ll get a pointless second?

Nope, not even that. City are even worse than on Saturday. All that’s left is for the temporary hate-figure running the East Stand touchline to give a foul when Irvine dives into one of theirs from behind. Irvine is booked. Grosicki again harangues the lino, and this time he too gets a yellow.

And that’s it. At the moment City look like a club unstoppably nose-diving on and off the field. Two home defeats in 4 days, 6 goals conceded, and little sign of a plan from a likeable manager struggling to settle on system and selection from an uninspiring squad. To force optimism, the difference between the playing side and the rest of the club, is that a victory on Saturday would go a little way to lifting the gloom with regard to the former. But on tonight’s display, getting anything away to the high-flying Blades is not likely. And changes in the boardroom seem even more unlikely.

The clocks have gone back, winter is approaching, and Championship consolidation is more pressing than any idea that Hull City could dream of a return to the Premier League in the near future.

Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)

18 replies
  1. Davicus
    Davicus says:

    City made a handsome profit on transfers in the summer. Where is all the money going? Ehab cold have spent another £20.000 and still made a profit in the club’s accounts and bought more quality. Where is the parachute money going? Why did they trick Leonid into taking the job and then fail to support him with substantial funds? What is the size of bonuses to the Allams this year? When are the FA going to instigate a thorough investigation into how City is being run.More questions than answers.

  2. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    I thought that Irvine was our best player in the second half, he ran his socks off and sprayed some decent passes around, the problem being that the rest of the team looked as if they were badly hungover. At this rate we will be relegation fodder by the end of the year, Slutsky is clueless and his constant switching and changing, halftime substitutions etc are obviously demoralizing the players. Why he dropped Aina is a mystery, I know he’s still defensively naive but he attacks well down the right wing and puts in some decent crosses, we just didn’t have that capability last night. Playing Campbell up front on his own is stupid, he’s best employed behind Dicko. The Allams have made it obvious that they don’t care about the club and the fans, maximizing profit is their only concern and they’ll hang around until the rest of the parachute money is pocketed. As they own the club they are free to take out as much cash as they like and as far as I know the FA can do nothing. It should have been mandated that relegated clubs must spend a percentage, say 50% of the parachute payments on signing players, as it is it’s just a perk of ownership and apparently disappears into their pockets. Slutsky now almost sounds as if he’s be happy to be fired, he’d walk away with a payoff and be shot of a failing club and its uncaring owners. The North Stand was vociferous again last night with “Allam out” chanting but as the Allams don’t attend they don’t hear it and don’t care, they’ll walk away when there is no more money to be gouged out of the club and its fans.

  3. Bill Baxter
    Bill Baxter says:

    If it hadn’t been for those morons chucking balls on the pitch on Saturday, we’d have won last night.

  4. WSM
    WSM says:

    What a great match report. And I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have genuinely laughed out loud at a blog post, but the line “has time to check his reflection in the mirror and straighten his tie…” was one of them.

  5. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    From the minute Steve Bruce decided to leave his newly promoted Premier League club, it was clear that the Allams were no longer interested in anything other than extracting profit.

    I’d like to hear from Steve Bruce the reasons behind his resignation.

    From that moment on, the downward trajectory we see of City was set in stone. It’s looking like a relegation fight this season.

    Any “Allam Out” chanting is better than none; submission is not an option: “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity;
    an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.
    – Winston Churchill

  6. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    In further developments:

    In a statement issued on Hull City Supporters Trust website, the organisation wrote:

    ‘Hull City Supporters’ Trust are reluctantly withdrawing from any involvement with the club’s Hall of Fame.

    This follows confirmation from Hull City AFC that they are not prepared to use the club’s actual name in the title of the Hall of Fame.

    We were originally invited to be on the selection panel of what was then referred to only as a ‘Hull City Hall of Fame’ and we happily agreed. This was a perfect opportunity for the club and fans to work together in honouring some of our former players and perfectly embodies the Trust’s aims and objectives. However, once the initiative was announced by the club, the name had been changed to ‘Tigers Hall of Fame’. This will obviously upset a large number of supporters, particularly following recent claims from the club that it is not their policy to avoid the use of its actual name.

    For these reasons it is with sadness that we have withdrawn our involvement in the project. Part of our work is to challenge the club’s rebrand by stealth; we cannot support an initiative which is clearly a part of that rebrand.

    It is disappointing that the club and fans will not be be able to work together on what should be a rewarding project whilst rebuilding some necessary relationships. However the real shame is that ex-players who gave everything in Black and Amber will not be honoured by the name of the team they actually played for.

    We will continue to liaise with the football authorities regarding Hull City’s refusal to use the club’s real playing name as part of our ongoing dialogue on the subject.’

    Well done HCST, resistance is never futile.

  7. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    You’re right Ambertigerfan there’s nothing wrong with resistance but there are times when pessimism is confused with realism and you have just done it. City fans are doing nothing wrong by protesting against the Allams but it won’t change their minds about leaving, they’ll go when they deem that the time is right for them. That will almost certainly be when there is no more money to be had from continuing as owners. They’ve made quite clear the fact that they detest and despise we fans and they certainly won’t leave just to please us. Toxicity between owners and supporters is quite common these days, Charlton, Coventry, Portsmouth, Blackburn, Blackpool et al have had similar problems with fans protesting against the ownership. Charlton’s fans used tactics that were much smarter and more inventive than just chanting “We want Allam out” and throwing balls onto the pitch but they haven’t yet succeeded in removing the hated owner. In my opinion the best outcome at Hull City will be for the Allams to finish their systematic raping of the club and sell up when the bowl has been licked clean, preferably to a cooperative of supporters who are City fans with the club’s best interests at heart.

  8. Chris
    Chris says:

    A very honest report.

    The players look at present to have very little confidence opting for the simple sideways or backwards pass rather than having the courage/imagination to be more positive. There are several `midfield` players who are yet to make a tackle this year; pretending to close someone down but unfortunately never quite getting there fools no one. Young defenders then get sucked into the midfield gap leaving the gaps at the back.

    Some players strike me as being obsessed by OPTA statistics- more passes than Messi, but completely pointless, going towards the ball receiving it and immediately passing it back where it came from. Meanwhile there is no movement, nobody offering to make run – I almost feel sympathy for the defenders….but no I don`t ….there is no excuse for the sideways football, no purpose, no plan, it just allows the opposition time and encouragement.

    When they do play with a bit more urgency City can look good, but the unwillingness to make a mistake is a real problem. No one wants to see mistakes but given the inexperience and lack of real quality of the players it`s inevitable that some things will not come off. I`d much rather see a mistake trying to be adventurous, taking the game to the opposition than waiting for all too predictable loose ball played across the back as the opposition press forward causing a panicky `boot it anywhere` ball.

    I don`t think that there is any danger of going down, but at the moment some decent individual player with medium/long term potential are simply not performing as a team. Some stability and continuity needed. The manager needs to be prepared to make decisions and stick with them, but the players need to help each other and communicate more. The next fwew games need to be used to establish some shape and structure for the season ahead

  9. Rottenborough
    Rottenborough says:

    Chris,

    Your last sentence is almost correct – just replace “The next few games need to be” with “The closed season should have been”.

    Fingers can be pointed at Slutsky and the players, but the real culprits are the Allams. Again.

    In contrast to you I do think we are in serious danger of going down, unless something changes big time and soon.

    Quick, duck, there’s a pig flying overhead…..

  10. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    Confidence seems to be visibly draining…and that includes in the manager from the players side. City played some good attacking football at times earlier but the sideways and back stuff represents no confidence.
    Stewart seems to got the blame for the first goal, but in fact Bowen had nipped in, taken the ball then tried a close passing move with Stewart with players all around. Bowen played it too hard, Stewart couldn’t control it and the rest was history. As to the second it was very poor that both Dawson and Tomori let their most dangerous player run free, and that McG didn’t attempt to fling himself towards the scorer to put him off. Need to score at least two a game if you’re going to defend like that! The score then penalty must be in the script, is it?
    Things are starting to look bleak. Can’t see EA paying off Slut, can’t see any improvement in results on the horizon. Personally I’d offer Shakespeare a fortune to come here…if I was interested in the club’s future…

  11. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    Blackadder: so what do you suggest then?

    Your realism sounds like pessimism if you are suggesting doing nothing.

    In lieu of a better plan, the efforts that some are making to protest is better than nothing. Silence should not be an option

  12. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    I’m not suggesting doing nothing Ambertigerfan, protesting is the only weapon that supporters have and the protests will and should continue. The trouble is that the Allams are not around to see and hear the protests and won’t be moved by them, commonsense should tell you that nothing will change until, as I’ve already said, when the parachute payments stop and every player worth a few bob has been sold, they will go. The club (the Allams) will receive 47 million pounds this season and 38 million in 2018-19, by then Hull City could be in League 1, but anyone who thinks they’ll walk away from that kind of cash because the supporters want them to is simply deluded! They might sell it before then using the parachute money as an incentive but I believe that they’ll go at the end of next season when they’ve squeezed every available penny out of the club.

  13. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    OK Blackadder you are not suggesting doing nothing.

    So what do you suggest supporters do?

  14. WSM
    WSM says:

    People with the amount of wealth possessed by the Allams typically start to crave status and public respect over and above yet more money. And status is negatively impacted by crowds of people publically saying you’re unwanted. The protests will be having an effect and, other than a massive boycott (50% or more stay away), are the only real tactic the supporters have.

  15. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    You are the big fan of protests Ambertigerfan, why don’t you come up with a brilliant plan that will cause the Allams to forego 85 million pounds of parachute cash and walk away without a whimper? I think I’ve already made the point (several times) that no amount of protests will succeed in removing the cancer at the heart of the club. The owners are childish and spiteful, witness the ongoing removal of Hull City Council banners and crests from the stadium walls, the eviction some while ago of local sports teams from the Arco Arena, ending concessions. Even if every fan voted with his or her feet and cancelled their memberships and caused the team to play in an empty stadium, do you think the owners would care? They don’t care about the club or the fans, that is obvious, I believe that protests should continue loud and clear but to my knowledge no Football League club owner has ever been persuaded to sell up by fan protests, let’s see if you can come up with a masterplan to remove the Allams in a first for fan power!

  16. WSM
    WSM says:

    Protests alone will not remove the Allams. But they will be a factor in their decision making – whether that is a 5% or a 20% factor nobody knows – but a factor all the same. And whatever stream of payments are due from the PL would reflect in the price that the club could attract from a buyer – so they don’t need to lose out financially.

    While the Allams have become a poison in the club’s existence so must the club, and all that goes with it, have become a poison in theirs. They would be well advised to get out for their own sakes, never mind that of the supporters. Protests will help, at least a bit, to usher in that day.

  17. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    HCAFC has a democratic right to protest how they see fit. How are you protesting? What actions are you taking? If a group take the “ball approach” at least they are doing something, and that’s better than nothing. I applaud that.

    No one should criticize a group that does something, while others do nothing. They nothing doers appease the Allam regime.

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