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Things We Think We Think #326

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1. That really is that. Let’s not mention the play-offs again this season, and pretend that we never did in the first place.

2. Brentford was chastening. An early lead collapsing into a 5-1 defeat was redolent of the autumn’s dark days, not the bright promise of midwinter. Sad to say, City were awful, and gave this one up long before the end – all the more galling considering that Brentford barely featured in the opening quarter of the game.

3. What’s happened to City away from home? Three defeats in a row, shipping ten goals and not really featuring in any of those games. It’s been such a disappointment after the glittering form of December and January, and a real pity to see things go backwards so rapidly.

4. Pretty much no-one emerged with any credit, with the possible exception of the tireless Fraizer Campbell. You could lengthily dissect this shambles – as the match report starkly did – but suffice it to say, Nigel Adkins needs to give deeper thought to his midfield selections, and his side need to remember that even though the season’s ultimate outcome (a lower-midtable finish) is in no real doubt, people are still paying good money to watch them.

5. Wasn’t the terrace at Brenford great though? We make no apologies for being shameless nostalgics: proper standing terraces are just so much better than all other ways of watching football. Safe Standing is an idea whose time has come, and perhaps one day it’ll make a very welcome appearance at the Circle – but we still like old fashioned terraces, and mourn their increasing scarcity.

6. This being the Championship, there’s no time to rest. Two home games quickly follow Brentford, with the visit of Millwall tomorrow. It’d be understandable if they’re already dreaming of FA Cup glory, with a winnable quarter final awaiting them next month. However, despite their impressive win at Derby five days ago they’re only four points above the relegation zone, so they’d be unwise to neglect League duties in the meantime.

7. Millwall’s proximity to danger underlines the opportunity tomorrow: a side that the table suggests are weaker, with the potential for a wandering mind or two. Pre-Brentford, we’d have been moderately confident about this one; now, on the back of a 5-1 kicking and with our disappointing Cup exit at their hands fresh in the memory, we’re rather less so now.

8. Then it’s Birmingham on Saturday. A side whose play-off aspirations lasted longer than ours, they’ll rightly target a match against opposition who may already have little to play for. But we can rightly hope to bloody a contender’s nose. We shared six goals earlier this season, and given that both sides will probably attack from the off, we’re optimistic for goals.

9. Will the “official” – by which we mean wholly dishonest – attendance for either game drop below 10,000?

10. Holidays for some of the team this week, so no podcast tonight. Back next Monday with much to discuss…

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Things We Think We Think #325

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1. If you were inclined to believe that City had a chance of the play-offs, well done on your indefatigable optimism. But it’s surely gone now; the draw at home to Rotherham – both the result itself and its nature – must have quelled all hope. Teams with authentic top six aspirations don’t really fail to win when 2-0 up and cruising against a side as weak as Rotherham.

2. It all felt so cheaply handed over. City were fizzing with invention in the first half, and deservedly led 2-0 at the break. Perhaps it was premature to expect too many more goals, but the minimum expectation had to be a win. To manage neither was galling. And hey, we can’t get too angry with anyone about it. It’s February, and we may already have enough points to stay up. We’d have been happy to get enough points for survival in May. So the season has already exceeded expectations. But it’d have been nice to capture a win that would have kept us in the top ten.

3. But never mind. It’s been really rather amazing just to get into a situation where discussing the play-offs was a thing. What would be nice now would be for the season to still finish well. A top half finish would be brilliant, a serious success for Nigel Adkins given the sabotage he has to contend with from above. Letting things peter out into (say) 18th would be a shame.

4. On a brighter note, one of the best away trips of the season is approaching: Brentford away. A traditional old ground liberally adorned with friendly public houses and best of all, a terrace. An actual proper terrace. It’s the only one left in the Championship, and it only has another season and a bit of use. Perhaps one day we’ll stand on a proper terrace for the very last time, and we probably won’t even know. Chances are it won’t be this Saturday, as City and Brentford will probably both be in the 2019/20 Championship. But there aren’t many occasions left. Let’s enjoy it while we can.

5. Let’s also sort things out away from home. City have lost a little sloppily in their last two trips out of Hull, shipping five goals and scoring none. Brentford, below City in the table, represent a good opportunity to do something about it. Come on City, give us a goal or two to celebrate on that terrace.

6. A weekend without City always leads to thoughts upon the longer term. Nigel Adkins, together with much of his squad, are out of contract in the summer, and as usual the club’s policy is to do absolutely nothing about any of this.

7. Adkins first. His first season with City saw us stay up, which was the likeliest outcome, but nowhere certain enough for comfort. He met expectations. His second sees City improbably in the top half at the same time as the snowdrops are open, which is quite startling. He clearly deserves to be here for 2019/20, and to be given the opportunity to continue the gradual improvement he’s overseen since joining. That his own future is unclear is simply unacceptable.

8. Plenty of his first team, including plenty who’d be hard to replace, are also out of contract. And nothing’s been done. In this respect, propelling a hotch-potch group of loanees, free transfers and the previously unheralded into the top half makes Adkins a victim of his own success: Ehab Allam, not a man whose time in the football industry has seen him absorb any knowledge of it, will probably think that he can continue to chip away at the quality of the team and the depth of the squad with no ill-effects. He’s wrong. As usual.

9. If the season really is over, with neither relegation or promotion realistic for the final two months, we’re going to see some horrendously low crowds very soon. The cancellation period for membership is two months; if you’re a member, then cancelling now gets you off the hook for the final few dead-rubbery weeks of the season and the whole of the summer – frankly, there’s little reason to not do that. And with precious incentive on the pitch for matchday sales coupled with the retributive policy of removing concessions, it’s inevitable that the club will have to (not) announce a sub-10,000 gate before May.

10. That doesn’t mean anything will happen. Part of being an Allam is cocooning oneself from the real world and refusing to listen to people who know better than you. Crowds could dip into the hundreds and it’d make little difference. However, plenty of their employees at the club are aghast at what’s going on, from the office staff to the players and management. Gradually, distressingly, all of the hard work done between about 2002 to 2015 is being undone. Work that took a decade and more, that united the city of Hull behind its primary sporting institution, that rid our streets and our schools of other towns’ clubs’ shirts, is being destroyed. And this time, we won’t even have the prospect of a couple of promotions back to our natural second tier level or a shiny new stadium to spur a revival. All because of one bitter old man, and his thoughtlessly malevolent son.

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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…