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Things We Think We Think #324

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1. Prior to the Stoke fixture on Saturday, discussion centred on whether City’s cuffing at Blackburn would prove to be a reversion to the mean, or simply a blip en route to better things. We can’t know for sure, but the weekend win over the pre-season title favourites does suggest the latter – and that this startling mid-season charge towards the upper reaches of the table may not over just yet.

2. This was a different kind of win to some we’ve enjoyed lately. Not the glory of besting the Champions of the Europe in their own fetid lair, nor the slightly gaudy pulversing of poor Bolton. City had to stoutly armwrestle their way to a meat and two veg kind of win, but it’s no less satisfying for it. There’s little doubt that the City of autumn 2019 would have find a way to lose this type of fixture to this type of opponent.

3. Now, we seem to find ways to win. The first half was a pretty wretched spectacle. Perhaps understandably: City’s patched up defence will still have had the misery of Ewood Park at the front of its mind, while Stoke have struggled for fluency throughout a season of disappointing underachievement. The visitors perhaps still had fractionally the better of it, but City were clearly under orders to press high and hard, and it was effectively disruptive.

4. That first goal though! On first viewing, it appeared that Bowen shouldn’t really have beaten the keeper at his near post from such an angle. Subsequent replays showed a shot with unnatural curl applied, and a reminder that this young winger really does look the real deal.

5. Then – following Marshall’s highly enjoyable penalty save – City captured the points with a second half display of growing authority. The second goal came via a clinical breakaway, and after that Stoke didn’t look remotely like troubling us. So much of that is down to a defence that was considerably more than the sum of its parts, but it was also very effectively screened by a midfield that spent the afternoon engaged in a gritty battle for supremacy. We rarely relax even at 2-0, City fans never really should, but this felt different. It felt safe.

6. A word for Robbie McKenzie. He had a tough afternoon at Blackburn, one that suggested he wasn’t yet ready for the rigours of Championship football. To bounce back within a week and play as though his Ewood chasing hadn’t even happened, hints at impressive character. Young players’ development can be affected by being exposed to the first team too early, but he looked the part on Saturday. Now, just as Blackburn was only one game, so this too is only one game. But it was a strong recovery from a player who played with determination and confidence. It was a pleasure to watch.

7. Todd Kane was the sponsors’ man of the match, and there’s no real argument with that, as he was very good. Marshall’s claim was bolstered by his penalty save (and his excellent distribution – more of this please) but probably undermined by having too quiet an afternoon. Bowen and Grosicki were once again too good for middling opposition, Campbell ran himself into the ground, McKenzie was strong and Lichaj unpassable, but Stewart also had a very solid case for the award. His improvement, that begun with that improbable point against Norwich, has continued. He’s a guaranteed starter at the moment – who saw that coming?

8. And so another transfer window passes underwhelmingly. There was a school of thought that defeat at Blackburn would make the Allams less likely to support Nigel Adkins in the transfer market, as that loss suggesed that our promotion prospects were rather remote. So why – from their perspective – spend money when we aren’t going down, and can’t go up? And there’s a ruthless logic to that. But the decision was made not to support the manager, and he deserved better.

9. City’s new crest is due to be launched soon. A trailer featuring Hull City Kits was trailed last Tuesday, and it seems the club are genuinely optimistic at having struck upon something that may find favour with City fans. That isn’t an easy task at the best of times, and these are not the best of times – rather than seeking to accommodate fans’ wishes, this is a club that has repeatedly sought to antagonise, and still has multiple outstanding issues that it refuses to resolve. But they’re clearly hopeful of a better reception here.

10. The crest itself was picked in a pretty unusal way, with a variety of contributors being invited to pick from a set of pre-determined options. The club also made those present sign Non Disclosure Agreements, a wheeze reminiscent of James Mooney’s ill-fated attempt to suppress the true horror of the membership scheme a few years ago. Still…we have a feeling the new crest won’t be so bad (it could scarcely be worse than the amateurish, spite-driven nonsense we presently endure), and suspect it’ll fall down the list of Things That Urgently Need Fixing At This Broken Football Club.

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PODCAST SPECIAL: Justin Whittle on the Great Escape, 20 seasons later

We’re thrilled to have made it as far as 200 podcasts, and more so that the genuine City icon that is Justin Whittle agreed to join us to look back on the remarkable, turbulent, frantic but ultimately satisfying 1998/99 season, when City pulled away from the horrors of the Conference trapdoor after months of being the 92nd best club in the country.

Whittle was signed by new manager Warren Joyce in November of that season, and recounts eloquently the circumstances of his move, the initial struggles, the turn in form at the start of 1999 and the ultimate success of staving off relegation into the abyss of the non-league pyramid. We chip in with memories of the games, the media coverage, the soundbites from a continuously barmy boardroom and the celebrations when safety was assured with two games to spare.

It’s here, and it’s long (90 minutes, appropriately) but it’s well worth your time.

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PODCAST: The Herefordshire Arjen Robben

We’re back, and still open-mouthed at what phenomenal football and form we are witnessing. The podcast will include jolly discussion on…

*Six wins in a row

*Bowen’s scoring run

*FA Cup exit at Millwall (briefly)

*Allams statement

*Defeat at Everton between two FA Cup games v Newcastle, ten seasons ago

It’s all yours…

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Things We Think We Think #322

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1. Our minds continue to boggle at what’s happening. A season that seemed certain to feature a grim battle against relegation, whose ultimate outcome was unguessable, has transformed in the space of a few bewildering weeks to a play-off push that looks increasingly plausible. It may be the most stunning turnaround to a season…well, ever.

2. Saturday’s dismissal of Sheffield Wednesday was imperious. From the first minute to the last, City completely dominated. Wednesday’s goalkeeper Keiren Westwood timewasting as early as the fifth minute suggested they were concerned about the afternoon, and those fears were well-founded. Though the opening goal took nearly half the match to arrive, it was yet another peach from Jarrod Bowen, and it was a well-deserved end to an opening 45 that City had much the better of.

3. If the first half was City’s on points, the second was a series of emphatic knockdowns. Wednesday barely featured as an attacking force, becoming the second successive side to leave the Circle without registering a shot on target – a huge compliment to not only a defence that’s gone from porous to miserly, but a midfield that’s also gone from flimsy to all-conquering. 3-0 probably flattered our outclassed visitors, because this was a ruthlessly one-sided match thanks to a display that – dare we say it – closely resembled the sort that top six sides produce.

4. Jarrod Bowen. Surely only promotion is going to see him spend another Christmas in East Yorkshire, and that’s rather how it should be. He’s eviscerating Championship defences on a weekly basis, and deserves a chance to see how he fares in the top division. This transfer window may just be a trifle early to get his move, but a move is surely coming (barring City going up). Let’s enjoy him while we can, because his is a remarkable talent.

5. Kevin Stewart was the sponsors’ man-of-the-match on Saturday. Not an obvious choice perhaps, but that’s only because there was half a dozen strong contenders. It wasn’t exactly undeserved, because he laid a strong foundation in midfield throughout, denying the visitors any kind of toehold in the middle of the pitch. Who’d have thought we’d be in a position of not badly missing Jackson Irvine?

6. Villa next, a side who can’t have expected to find themselves below City at any point this season. There’s no knowing how long this run can continue for, because all good things have to come to an end; but the later it does end, the closer to the top six we’ll get. And if we win again, and go within a few points of the top six…what then? Just how far can City go? Can we really challenge for promotion – or will this amazing run be eventually remembered as a highly enjoyable mid-season spurt that banished relegation fears en route to  a satisfying midtable finish? It’s almost pointless guessing any more, because these are strange, heady days. But we’ll travel with confidence, and who knows…

7. How we’ve missed Club Statements from City! Last Thursday was not one of the genre’s vintage, but it did supply several hostages to fortune that can be revisited when the present transfer window closes next month. That said, the claim that sales aren’t likely was carefully worded – “no intention” is not the same as “will not”. And that still wouldn’t be unacceptable, at least not in normal circumstances. A bid of over £10m for either Bowen or Grosicki would test the best of owners, while a serious Premier League club coming in for Bowen would make it hard for City to stand in his way. The problem is that owners who routinely operate in bad faith will never be trusted on this sort of thing, however much wiggle room they provide in club statements.

8. No-one’s talking about takeovers any more, are they? That wasn’t always a bad thing during the due diligence stage, but with the issue disappearing from view it almost certainly means that the ghastliness of the Allam reign is to continue. And that is emphatically a Very Bad Thing. It cannot be anything else – owners who veer between malice and disinterest are never going to end up providing long-term success for the club and its community, and it would be deeply foolish to soften one’s view of their unpleasantness just because things are improving on the pitch. For that, the manager and team deserve untold credit – it is absolutely nothing to do with Ehab or Assem Allam, whose departures from the club we continue to long for.

9. Instead, Assem resurfaces and Ehab emits a garrulous statement, and it’s hard not to fear the very worst: that these appalling, unpleasant, divisive and spiteful owners are preparing themselves to stay. There’ll be repercussions; there’s been a recent ceasefire while takeovers were discussed, but any confirmation that they’re hanging around is certain to break that. Meanwhile, the club’s death spiral – and don’t for a second let a few wins disguise the slow-motion disaster that’s unfolding – will continue.

10. There’ll be podcasts aplenty this week – tonight’s will focus on City’s remarkable present, and tomorrow night, to mark our 200th edition, we’ll have a retrospective look back at the Great Escape season of 1998/99, without whose successful conclusion none of what followed may have been possible. There’ll be a very, very special guest joining us too…

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Things We Think We Think #321

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1. City couldn’t quite carry their incredible league form into the FA Cup, with defeat at Millwall condemning us to an instant exit from the tournament. It looked for a while as though a much-weakened City was going to prevail in south London, but it wasn’t to be.

2. It irks. It always irks when the side is hugely changed, unsurprisingly plays less coherently than the more settled Championship side and loses. City may not be alone in treating the FA Cup with ill-disguised contempt, and this isn’t a recent complaint, but it’ll never make a lot of sense – particularly given that our prospects of staying up are now are probably over 95%, so why not have a go of things in the FA Cup? How does losing help?

3. Grumble, moan, complain. We’ll probably make the same carping comments next year as well. At least defeat to Millwall wasn’t wholly without positives. Jon Toral played well, George Long looked a reasonable understudy to David Marshall and David Milinković’s appearance showed greater promise than his timekeeping. The latter has often been touted as the sort of player who could break open a tight game; by spring, as sides up and down the land are wearying from the Championship’s remorseless grind, you’d like to think a player of his ilk could play decisive cameos. We’ll see.

4. It was also nice to see Keane Lewis-Potter make his City debut. Regular stiffs-watchers foresee big things for a boy so young he’s barely older than the Circle, and it can only have been a proud moment for him and his family. Bag some more in the ressies, young man, and if all goes to plan there are bound to be a few Championship dead rubbers when the clocks go forward with your name on them…

5. The FA Cup draw is this evening, and having despaired of our previous tie, we’ll now look forward to Millwall getting <best possible tie imaginable at this stage of the tournament given who’s left in>. Bah. Anyway, by making the Third Round’s scheduling unprecedentedly ridiculous this year, it isn’t as if City are alone in not really caring about the Cup. The FA have done more to undermine the competition this season than the Premier League, Sky Sports, BT Sport and wussy managers put together. Dolts.

6. We return to Championship action on Saturday with the visit of Sheffield Wednesday. They lie below City in the table, offering what appears – on paper – an appetising opportunity to gather yet another three points. And with the Owls leaderless while they await the arrival of their new manager, one Stephen Roger Bruce, it isn’t easy knowing what mindset they’ll possess. Bruce will either be physically present, or at least closely watching his future charges from elsewhere, and they’ll all surely want to impress their future manager. However, they could feel in limbo while experiencing this odd and fairly unusual situation of knowing who their next boss is but waiting for him to take over. It won’t be a gimme, and any sense of complacency from City fans would be appallingly misplaced. But if City do rack up another win…

 7. So what now for City? The play-offs may feel tantalisingly close, but they remain seven places and seven points away. Not many teams in our immediate vicinity will be eyeing them with any more than wistful hope, and just because we’re recent arrivals to the midtable party doesn’t mean we ought to do any different. Sure, “there’s always one team” – hey, eleven years ago it was about to be us. We’re discounting nothing. But what about the club’s owners?

8. Imagine you’re an Allam. No seriously, imagine it; you can take a disinfecting bath later. Is the situation promising enough to make it worth a rare investment in the side? Are you minded to think that with just a million or two judiciously spent, you might – just might – receive a return on your investment dozens of times greater? Or does the current ultra-austerity remain? We don’t know what Ehab will be thinking. In fact, we aren’t sure that cogitation is really his thing at all. But assuming this higher-level brain function is available to him…is he sticking, or maybe just thinking about having a speculative little twist?

9. Having spent much of the season grouching, then begrudging, we’re enjoying the recent feting of Nigel Adkins. Why not – this turnaround is one of the most startling anyone can remember. City have won relegation battles before, but the way we’ve gone from desperate strugglers to midtable fancy-dans constitutes arguably the most stunningly unexpected transformation of our fortunes in a very long time. Adkins’ job is clearly secure for the remainder of the season, barring a cataclysm that even the vast cosmic force that is TypicalCity may not be capable of wreaking. And he’ll be starting the 2019/20 season with us as well. Capitalise on this, Mr Adkins: you probably have a period of grace in which to plan that isn’t often available to managers in the febrile Championship rat race…

10. There’ll be no AN podcast this evening, but back to normal next Monday. We’ve got a very special guest lined up for a future podcast as well, of which more soon…

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PODCAST: Top of the form

Happy new year! Here’s a cheerful podcast for a quite phenomenal run of form. It’s our festive round up, so expect a long one…

* Swansea and Preston, Leeds and Bolton

* Dizzy heights, new ambitions

* “Mauled by the Tigers”

* January transfer window

* FA Cup third round tie preview

* Two defeats a decade ago

Behold…

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PODCAST: (Not) toss on toast

One defeat in nine, fourth in the form table, heady days to be a City fan!

Geoff Bielby is our illustrious guest on the podcast this week, detailing the HCST’s involvement in recent takeover talks, as well as his own view on the current side.

It’s our last one until 2019, so thanks ever so much for listening and watching over the last 12 months.

All yours…

 

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PODCAST: Dossena’s rectal dismay

Our cup runneth over with one defeat in seven games, no? So, in buoyant mood, we’ll discuss…

* The point at Millwall

* Brandon Fleming’s full debut

* Actual home attendances

* Cup tie moved to Sunday

* Drawing at Liverpool a decade ago

Here y’are…

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Things We Think We Think #319

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1. Another away game, another addition to our points haul. The 2-2 draw at Millwall wasn’t as impressive as the previous weekend’s 3-2 win at QPR – not even close, really, either in terms of the outcome or the result. But it’s another point, gleaned in trying conditions to deny relegation rivals what would have been a painful victory. We have to be glad about that.

2. It all looked so promising early in the game. City started rapidly and took a deserved lead, and at that stage it looked as though another win in the capital was on the cards. It’s a real pity City didn’t score what could have been a decisive second during this period.

3. However, when Millwall levelled, we ended up hanging on for half-time, and the third quarter of the game was frankly awful. That Millwall didn’t make the game safe explains why they’re also in trouble, because they had ample opportunity to do so. City were probably as poor as at any time this season between the 46th and 70th minute, and the sheer extent to which we were second best was frightening.

4. Then an equaliser was burgled, and after that neither side really showed enough conviction to suggest they’d end up winning. Overall, City’s claim to deserve a point is a little optimistic, but we’re not too bothered about that. We got the draw, even if troublingly lengthy spells of the game saw us chasing shadows.

4a. Millwall playing music after their goals was quite something. It’s like discovering that Gripper Stebson used Roland’s stolen dinner money to buy a flower press.

5. What a valuable point it is. We’re now a useful three ahead of the bottom three, and that equaliser ensured that Millwall are kept at bay rather than overtaking us. 21 points from 21 games and 19th is probably about as good as this appallingly depleted squad can do at the moment; if we have a decent return over Christmas, it’s possible that we’ll start 2019 in a handy position to avoid relegation. And if the Allam nightmare is finally curtailed and some investment made in the squad…

6. Brandon Fleming made his first League start for City on Saturday, and it must have been a day to remember for the young man. Being outjumped for Millwall’s equaliser must have been a chastening moment, but he didn’t let that unduly unsettle him. He can be proud of his afternoon’s work, and can probably look forward to more first-team action this season.

7. What a deeply dispiriting FA Cup draw. While we always crave a tick ground, at least playing someone from a different division – be it lower or higher – makes for an interesting occasion. Having a second trip to Millwall inside a month is the direct opposite of good. We can’t even pretend it’s good from the standpoint of progressing in the tournament, as home advantage alone will ensure Millwall are favourites to make Round 4. Bah, bah and thrice bah.

8. Nigel Adkins made it to a year in charge through the week. It hasn’t been a year of limitless glory, but instead has seen one relegation battle (successful) segue inevitably into another (barely surviving). Not much of that is his fault, and City’s recent run of good form has helped to establish a sneaking regard for him. He isn’t what we want in the long term. However, he’s giving himself a chance of extending that spell. Par for this season is probably 21st, given the appalling handicap his bosses are inflicting upon him. That City have a good chance of making that is no mean feat. A begrudging tip of the cap.

9. There’s been a lot of conjecture about City’s attendances this season. It’s universally believed that we’ve already had a first ever sub-10,000 League gate at the Circle this season, though the club continue to publish figures that claim we are yet to dip below 11,420 this season. Well, courtesy of a Freedom of Information request to the local authorities, we’ve been passed an official attendance for this season.

10. On 20th October 2018, 9,837 attended City v Preston. A four-figure attendance. City preposterously claimed 12,066 that afternoon, an inflation of the true figure by some 22%. That’s consistent with last season, where the club routinely added a fifth to the true attendances. And that wasn’t even our lowest this season. 11,420 allegedly made it to City v Norwich. Except, they clearly didn’t. Take off a fifth, then perhaps a few hundred more because of the shocking weather, and we’re possibly into the 8,000s. We’re not far from the ground being one-third full. For second tier League matches. What a depressing state of affairs.