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PREVIEW: City v Leicester (and protests)

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The club least prepared for a Premier League campaign in its history versus its unlikeliest champions. Stories abound, and journalists peering into the season’s opener may be spoiled for choice.

However, the Leicester story has already sunk in, while the barely believable slow-motion collapse of City has been piquing national interest throughout the week. Not until Mike Phelan’s bravely defiant press conference yesterday did the true scale of the horror became absolutely clear even to those in East Yorkshire who’ve lived through this surreal summer.

13 fit players, two of which are keepers. One fit central defender. A bench full of youth team players with virtually no senior experience. No manager. No new signings. Rightly reviled owners set upon revenge. It’s a calamity, and it’s rightly provoked widespread protests at the ruinous antics of the increasingly loathed Allam family.

More of them at the end. There’s a football match going on. City’s travails are well known, barely able to assemble a side and hoping that a makeshift XI can rely upon team spirit and gallows humour to at least make themselves competitive. Jake Livermore is likely to play in defence. The formation is dictated by who’s available. If we’re 1-0 down with twenty minutes left (“if only”, you may say), there’ll be only children on the bench to call up.

Leicester, meanwhile, have a fully fit and properly assembled squad to choose from.

It’s no surprise they are odds-on to take all three points, with 19/20 the best price you’ll find on the Foxes. 18/5 is on offer for City, 13/5 for a draw – both results we’d greedily snatch right now. City were actually one of the few sides to best Leicester last season, knocking them out of the League Cup on penalties –

But today is necessarily about more than just this one game. A Premier League record low attendance at The Circle is guaranteed, with thousands of empty seats inevitable. The Hull City Supporters’ Trust is co-ordinating a protest that we wholeheartedly endorse. The Allam family may be close to the exit, but it’s absolutely essential we remind them it’s our preferred destination for them, and show the whole world our dissatisfaction with their deliberate sabotage of this season.

See you at 12pm outside the West Stand. And as for the team, they’re victims of Ehab as much as we are too. They, along with Mike Phelan, are all we have left. Cheer them. Support them, and appreciate the impossible position that family has placed them too. And leave Assem and Ehab Allam in no doubt as to what the people of Hull think of them.

Come on City.

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PREVIEW: City v Sheff Weds

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A full season’s work, for both Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday, comes down to this. One game this afternoon at Wembley Stadium for the right to play in the 2016/17 Premier League.

If we’ve become a tiny bit blasé about being at Wembley on account of our three recent visits, it’s worth repeating the phrase “Hull City are at Wembley” to yourself, until the sense of preposterousness that existed pre-2008 returns at least in part.

Hull City are at Wembley.

That’s the occasion dealt with, then. Now for the football. It’s a match that could shape our history for a decade and more. If we fail to return instantly to the Premier League, a fairly clear path towards decline can be charted. Gates will fall as the Allams seek to wipe out future support by withdrawing child discounts. Players and management will leave in search of bigger and better. It isn’t hard to suppose that our next departure from the Championship will be via its trapdoor.

But…if we win, we return to one of world football’s finest leagues, earn riches galore with which to stabilise the club’s vast debt and hopefully entice new owners to the club. In a couple of months, we could be in the Premier League and free of the Allams. What a prize!

To do that, we must overcome a Sheffield Wednesday side we’ve neither beaten nor been beaten by this season. Their mood is somewhat different to ours. Without a deflating play-off second leg defeat, with responsible owners and having sold all of their tickets (you may just have heard about that…), the momentum is probably with them. They’ve had a very good season, too. Some have remarked that by being just 90 minutes away from promotion they’re “ahead of schedule”, but that’s testament to the impressive work that Carlos Carvalhal has done in reawakening them from a decade-long slumber.

Fernando Forestieri is their major threat, and the focus of so much discussion too. A player of rare ability at this level, admiration for him is necessarily tempered by his distasteful habit for simulation. Nonetheless, given a free role to cause damage, he is perfectly capable of that and will require close attention, from both City and the referee.

The Owls, who finished sixth this season, have a fully fit squad to choose from, a rare luxury at this time of the year. However, save for the injured Allan McGregor, Steve Bruce also has no absentees. The main dilemma is whether to start Mo Diamé, quite possibly the best and also most exasperating player available to him; and whether David Meyler or Sam Clucas are worthy of recalls in the aftermath of the near-death experience against Derby.

It’s Wednesday’s first visit to the new Wembley, and their first to any of its incarnations in a generation. Whether that counts for anything is anyone’s guess. The bookies make City 8/13 favourites for promotion, with 5/4 available on Sheffield’s blue half making a long awaited return to the Premier League. Seven of the last dozen second tier play-off finals have been 1-0. It’s going to be tense, nerve-racking and thoroughly exhausting – so let’s go do it…

FEAT-SEATS

PREVIEW: City v Huddersfield

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Last season almost seems a distant memory now, since then we have successfully fought the name change again, sold a few, bought a few less, gained a slightly amusing sponsor and all taken stock and recovered from what was truly a disappointing campaign for City. The departures of Brady, Chester, Ince, Rosenior, Quinn, and McShane have topped a list of disappointing departures for City and all would have shown the fight, determination and quality that’s needed for a Championship campaign.

But, it’s the opening day of the season and if you can’t be optimistic on the opening day then it’s a poor do. City have retained the services of Tom Huddlestone, Andy Robertson and (so far) Ahmed Elmohamady. All of whom can be expected to perform well at this level.

City have drifted out to third in the odds to go and win the Championship this season, behind Derby and Middlesbrough, priced at 8/1 and a first win on the opening day is available at 8/13.

Team news. In all honesty, who knows. Snodgrass and Diamé won’t be fit for the start of the season at least and with Bruce seemingly determined to sign the entire of Arsenal’s ‘League Cup team’, it will be interesting to see exactly how he goes about lining up his troops for the first of many Yorkshire derbies this season.

The owners, still morons with comments, but seem quietly to be accepting that the fuckwitted idea of the name simply isn’t going to happen. I hope that’s true, I hope it’s finally time to move on and fully support the team we all love once more. C’mon CITY.

Joe Oldroyd

FEAT-BALL

PREVIEW: City v Man Utd

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It all comes down to this. Us or Newcastle. City v Manchester United. And only a win will do.

We’ve been here before, sort of. That was approximately the scenario in 2009, when relegation was a shoot-out between us or the Geordies, with England’s most decorated club our final day visitors. Or consider the parallels to 2009/10, when a second successive Premier League season that was supposed to be about advancement away from the relegation battle ended in a desperate bid to stay up. Actually, let’s forget that one. It didn’t end well.

This is unlikely to end well, we have to allow. You know the permutations, but a quick refresher. If City fail to win, we’re down. No other result can save us. Victory, and there’s a chance – but only if Newcastle fail to beat West Ham at St James’ Park. It isn’t promising, and there’s a reason City are rated at 1/6 to be relegated. It’s the most plausible outcome to what Sky are voyeuristically hyping as “Survival Sunday”.

So, to happier omens. May 24th has been a day of survival before, when City’s final day 1-0 defeat at home to Man Utd in 2009 mattered little as Newcastle accommodatingly took the final relegation place from us. But May 24th is more famous for events in 2008, perhaps still the greatest day in the club’s history. It’s the day to which we must turn for inspiration.

The match. Steve Bruce is likely to play the same XI that slid to defeat at Tottenham last week. Team selection issues will at least have not been overly excercising the City manager during this fraught week, with no obvious changes suggesting themselves. That’s not really the case for Man Utd, however. Secure in fourth, and requiring am improbable goal difference swing to catch Arsenal in third, they have little to play for, and we scour Twitter excitedly latching onto every probably spurious suggestion that tomorrow’s visitors may rest a few, try some kids, and so on. Certainly, after a disappointing though still improved season, they’ll want to go out on a high; but will they really be absolutely bursting to do so in the way City surely are?

We hope, we hope. Because past history offers little succour. City haven’t beaten Manchester United since 1974, with nine successive defeats having been experienced since. Even a 2-0 lead last season couldn’t be turned into a win. It’s daunting, but we’re at least been given a glimmer of hope elsewhere: City are 11/4 to win, a price that’s about half what it’d be any other time. Man Utd are still strong 5/4 favourites, while a draw is 23/10. But that price of 1/6 on relegation is inescapably bleak.

Come on City. At least go down fighting.

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PODCAST; TWTWT Podcast 73

Fancy listening to four ageing men of dubious hairstyles and personal hygiene issues rabbit on about how dreadful life as a City fan is?

You do? Excellent. Your boots can take a thorough filling right here. We wail about the defeat at Tottenham, whinge about the likely relegation this coming weekend and, just in case that isn’t morbid enough for you, we talk about The Worst City Manager In Our Lifetimes too.

PREVIEW: Leicester v City

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Leicester. It’s must-win, this. For Leicester.

Or so says their manager, the former City boss Nigel Pearson. He’s probably right. Four points adrift at the bottom, seven from safety and nine behind the Tigers, the window for them to stage a remarkable recovery is almost shut. By 5pm today, it could be closed completely.

That’s the incentive for City, who would be able to rest just a little more easily tonight knowing that one of the three relegation slots is effectively filled, that that there are only two remaining and that we could enter the 30s, probably just a win and a couple of draws from safety.

Sounds easy, doesn’t it? But City’s disagreeable habit of coughing up cheap 1-0 defeats in games such as this all season long reminds us it won’t be. Leicester, knowing anything but victory is useless, will be fighting for their lives, and in Pearson that have a wily, obdurate manager who will not be accepting defeat yet.

As well as the division’s lowest points tally, Leicester also have the worst home record in the Premier League; that outstanding 5-3 victory over Manchester United must feel quite distant now, and has been added to just once at the King Power Stadium. City’s away form is hardly stellar, with two wins from 14 and defeats in half of our fixtures on the road, but we’ve actually gained more points on the road than Leicester have in Leicester.

What this is all means for this afternoon is anyone’s guess. Likewise, the two managers’ approaches are an interesting mystery. Will Steve Bruce send his side out for the kill, or will we sit back and hand the initiative to a team in need (see Burnley away)? Will Pearson go all out for victory, or will he be more circumspect, hoping his side can play their way into the game and snatch a narrow victory?

City have no new injury worries, which makes in a change in this ill-starred season. Mohamed Diamé is not quite fit enough to be in contention, though it’s close. Leicester will welcome back Kasper Schmeichel, but see Knockaert and Hammond unavailable.

City have won twice in Leicester since regular resumption of regular meetings nine years ago, a 1-0 win in 2006 and 2-0 win on the way to promotion in 2008. Historically, we actually have the edge over today’s hosts, with 28 wins to 26, though our last two visits to this part of the world have been defeats. Home advantage is enough for Leicester to be the bookies’ favourites, available at 6/5. City are as long as 3/1, while a draw that does little for City and even less for Leicester is 12/5. C’mon City.

PREVIEW: City v QPR

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The performance at Man City, and the result against Aston Villa went together like beer and curry, gin and tonic, Brown and Duffen. No, wait, scratch that last one. But you see the point, from a really difficult to watch period for City, whisper it quietly but a corner seems to have been turned.

QPR, what can you say about QPR? There’s not an awful lot to like about QPR is there? From the list of dislikeable managers… Colin, ‘Arry and even stretching back to John Gregory to name but three. Taarabt, Barton, Rio Ferdinand…they don’t have very likeable players either.

Although we’ve had some pretty enjoyable games against them in recent years, party poopers in 2011, Stuart Elliott’s last gasp brace in 2007 and the opening game of this season when Allan McGregor continued his 100% record of saving penalties for Hull City, not a bad stat after two seasons.

City are expected to be unchanged from the Villa game, with Mo Diamé not quite making a full recovery, while QPR are expecting to be able to name Charlie Austin in their starting XI, not our medical department’s finest hour in deciding his knee wasn’t up to scratch.

City are evens for the victory while QPR come in at 14/5, the draw at 23/10. I’d be an awful lot more nervy about this game if QPR hadn’t won at Sunderland last week, the ‘no away points’ monkey that was on their back has gone now so no need for any TypicalCity.

It’s another must-win fixture, with Stoke, Sunderland and Leicester to follow, the next three weeks will give us a massive hint as to which division City will be plying their trade in next season. C’mon City!

Joseph Oldroyd

PREVIEW: City v Villa

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Saturday was excellent, really superb from City, it certainly restored the pride of supporting the club after a couple of months of highly frustrating viewing. However, Saturday was a bonus point, Man City dropping two points means cock-all to City’s season, other than us gaining one, but if we can take all three against Villa, and in the process stop them scoring any points, it will be a massive step in restoring the faith and the belief that we will stay up.

Bruce changed things for Saturday, perhaps resting players for Tuesday’s big game…but what does he do now? Keep faith with those who battled hard for the point at the Etihad or return to those who’ve played most of the season? I genuinely don’t envy having to make that decision. Meyler, Livermore and Huddlestone were superb in the middle of the park on Saturday, yet all have had below-par seasons. Aluko and Ramirez played high up the pitch and hassled and harried the Hunter’s back four, but surely in a game of this magnitude, Bruce has to select at least one out-and-out striker.

That striker may well be Dame N’Doye, who, not being an expert on the Danish or Russian leagues, genuinely looks superb on YouTube, but more than that, his goal record stands up and should be respected. He is a proven centre forward who scores, Hernandez isn’t that (which makes the £10m price tag very bizarre). Also N’Doye was always excellent on Football Manager, high praise indeed, just ask Freddy Adu and Cherno Samba.

Villa travel to City with just one goal in their last 11 hours of Premier League football and with their only proven goalscorer, Benteke, having a little spell on the substitute’s bench. They’ve flirted with the relegation zone for the past three seasons without ever being in any real trouble, somehow this season feels a bit different to others, they genuinely have no goal threat (TypicalCity ALERT) and I fully expect them to be scrapping for survival come May-time. City were absolutely minging at Villa Park, the one (and possibly only ever) time we can blame a poor league performance on a European tie and the ‘fatigue’ that comes with it.

City are 13/10 to take the three points, while Villa come in at 23/10 and the draw at 21/10. To be perfectly honest I couldn’t care less about the performance tomorrow night (that mattered on Saturday), three points is what we need, and three points is what we demand. Come on City.

Joseph Oldroyd

PREVIEW: Manchester Hunter v City

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City are 16/1 to beat the champions, Bradford were 28/1 to beat Chelsea the other week. So if you bravely put £20 on Bradford to beat Chelsea, you would have received your £580, if you put £20 on City to beat Man City, you will probably lose £20.

City travel to the Etihad in truly rotten form, four wins all season and on the back of four defeats without a goal scored. Yet, and yet, City certainly haven’t disgraced themselves when travelling to Man City, since the 5-1 debacle, a credible 1-1 draw in November 2009 and a highly respectable performance in a 2-0 defeat was difficult to take particularly with a disallowed Danny Graham goal (no, really) for offside preceding Sone Aluko’s glaring miss at 0-0.

Dame N’Doye, our latest YouTube sensation, isn’t expected to make the squad for this weekend so Jelavic and Hernandez will have probably one last opportunity to retain their place with the Senegalese striker surely coming into the side by Tuesday night. Man City are without Yaya Toure and new signing Wilfried Bony, I wonder how they will cope? Oh yes, Aguero, Silva, Kompany et al.

In some ways this is a free hit for City, little can be expected, yet with Leicester hosting Palace and QPR at home to Southampton, it is conceivable could end the weekend bottom of the table, a depressing thought.

Joe Oldroyd