FEAT-BALL2

PREVIEW: City v Bristol C

Irvine J

And so another season ends. If it feels it’s going to end limply with a dead rubber, let’s see the positives in that. At times this season, just taking our bid to stay in the Championship to the final day would have seemed acceptable; to have had safety assured months ago and even have the luxury of looking at the top six reminds us how successful this season.

So, if it’s all a little tepid tomorrow, consider the alternative: a sleepless night beforehand, and a gutwrenching afternoon praying for a successful outcome. That may be the Bristolians’ fate though: their midweek win at Millwall gives them a faint chance of making the top six. It’s unlikely though. Currently eighth and two points off sixth, they need to win, hope that Middlesbrough don’t win at relegated Rotherham and hope Derby lose at home to West Brom. A fairly improbable set results, and how they must be ruing the recent loss of form that took them out of the top six.

But at least we know they’ll start the game at full pelt; and we recently saw against Sheffield United how bad City can be against a side that needs something. Not for nothing are the visitors favourites for this game.

No meeting between the sides can ever pass without mention of THAT fixture in 2008, of course. It sent City off towards a decade of being in or around the Premier League, while poor old Bristol haven’t been close since. They were gracious losers despite the most painful of losses, and while there’s no need to feel sorry enough for them to want them to win tomorrow, they’d be the ideal play-off winners this season.

More recently, City lost at Ashton Gate in October, back when we looked doomed, and remarkably shared ten goals a few months earlier. We haven’t beaten them since a 2-1 win in the south-west formed part of our run to the semi-final of the 2016/17 League Cup.

City will be waiting on the fitness of Markus Henriksen and Reece Burke, the latter having missed the 2-2 draw at Swansea last week and former having been a doubt for it. However, guessing City’s exact XI isn’t easy as Nigel Adkins has used the end of season dead rubbers to give first team experience to the youth team players he’ll probably have to use next season.

Bristol will be without Korey Smith following recent foot surgery, Callum O’Dowda has a knee injury while Antoine Semenyo is banned.

City are 2/1 to win just their second end-of-regular-season League game in 15 years, while the visitors are no longer than 7/5. They are 16/1 for a top-six finish and 66/1 to be promoted – clearly the odds are massively against them, but at least they have a chance of extending their season. For City, it matters not, so let’s sit back and enjoy our last look at this impressive, overachieving class of 2019 before the usual summer carnage is visited upon it.

FEAT-SEATS

PREVIEW: City v Birmingham

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City’s flirtation with the play-off race has oscillated more wildly between on and off than the most plainly ill-starred celebrity romance; off after the Brentford humping, but following the midweek win over Millwall, we’re back on. Right?

Probably wrong. A scrappy 2-1 win over a struggling side won’t paper over the cracks revealed three days earlier by Brentford, our third away defeat in a row. It just lifts us back into the top half, and replaced frowns with smiles. Got that? Because if City win tomorrow, there’ll be a quiz, to check we’ve remembered all of this…

And yet, Birmingham are touted as much more authentic play-off hopefuls, despite sitting a slender three points ahead of City; a repetition of the five-goal win we enjoyed on their last visit will lift us above them. But…but a loss would probably see us slip into the bottom half.

City can welcome back Kevin Stewart tomorrow, who’s been missed more than we might ever have expected him to be. However, Fraizer Campbell and Stephen Kingsley will have to sit it out through injury. Longer term absentees Toral, Mazuch, Weir and MacDonald are obviously not going to play any part, though recent recoveree Jordy de Wijs – who again we missed when unavailable – should continue in defence.

Birmingham, the jammy gets, have no-one missing and a full squad available. Imagine that – a squad, properly assembled, that’s all fit. Not for us, such vulgarity.

City paggered the Blues 6-1 last season, the fourth time in a row we’ve bested them in this part of the world. Earlier this season, the sides shared six goals at St Andrews; the omens for goals therefore aren’t bad. Birmingham’s form is patchy of late, with an impressive midweek win at Bristol City getting them back on track after a draw with Blackburn and a surprise home defeat to Bolton ended a decent run of form.

Birmingham can probably survive a draw tomorrow and still be in with a chance, though City can’t really not win and still talk about the top six without sounding a bit silly. You can get 6/4 on City recording a seventh win in eight home games, 21/10 on the Blues and 12/5 on a draw that doesn’t really suit anyone. Two top-half sides both with a shout of the play-offs – surely there’ll be queues for this…right?

FEAT-BALL2

PREVIEW: Brentford v City

Grosicki K

To Brentford! And a game between two resolutely midtable sides for whom time to mount a large burst into the top six has almost expired. City, four points ahead of the Bees, have a smaller gap to close and are probably already in possession of enough points for safety, while Brentford need just a few more; but really, this has the feel of a game between two sides who’ll both be lining up in the 2019/20 Championship.

That’s fine for City, who spent much of the early part of the campaign looking like a side who’d be finding out what the Auto Windscreens Shield is currently called next season. Less good for Brentford, who must have expected more than this and perhaps even a tilt at the top six. As it is, we played out the deadest of rubbers on the final day of last season, and this particular caoutchouc looks almost as lifeless.

But we shall not despair, for Brentford really is one of the finest away days in the Championship, and indeed the country. A friendly, welcoming corner of the capital with a proper standing terrace (the last at this level) and proximate pubs aplenty, there’s a lot to enjoy here. It’s been the scene of Tiger glory before as we’ve won four of our last seven visits, the best being a 2-0 win in 1999 being the day that Warren Joyce’s City side clambered their way into the Football League’s top 91 en route to the Great Escape.

Whatever happens tomorrow, a repeat of that magnificent day seems a tall order, and just a repeat result would require our ever-stretched squad overcoming further adversity as Kevin Stewart is now injured. Jordy de Wijs may be fit though, so at least we could have one or two defenders playing in their preferred defensive position – something of a luxury these days.

Brentford are without Ezri Konsa, who’s banned after a recent red card, while Rico Henry, Emiliano Marcondes and Lewis Macleod are all injured. Henrik Dalsgaard may return, however.

The Bees tumbled out of the FA Cup last week with a 4-1 cuffing at Swansea, but they won their last League game 1-0 against Aston Villa, and savoured a memorable 5-2 win against Blackburn three weeks ago. City have stuttered a little lately, losing their last two on the road without scoring and have won only one of the last five.

Given the advantage of home territory, Brentford are favourites: 10/11 is the best you’ll get on a home win. City are a distant 7/2 for victory, while a draw is 3/1. See you on that lovely sundrenched terrace…

FEAT-BALL2

PREVIEW: Derby v City

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In February 2008, City travelled to West Brom. Win that, we counselled ourselves, and this play-off push might actually be a real thing. It isn’t easy to perfectly recollect one’s decade-old thoughts, but that seems close enough to the 2008 reality.

In February 2019, City travel to Derby. Win that, we tell ourselves…and then find ourselves inescapably drawn back to THAT season, the one that changed everything forever.

The comparison isn’t drawn solely as a cheap way of recollecting the very best of days. There’s something tangible in it. Because like 2008, City have come from almost nowhere to be in the frame for the top six. To do that, we’ve already had probably the result of the season, a 2-0 win at then-leaders Leeds. But that win, just six short weeks ago, was about pulling clear of relegation. Now, wins count (we think) towards loftier goals. So as the motive for winning changes, so too does our pre-match thinking. Beat Derby…

Oh, but it’ll be tough. This has never felt a happy hunting ground, as recent 4-0 and 5-0 defeats testify. Then again, City famously hammered the Rams when it mattered most, a 3-0 win eventually sending the Tigers to Wembley in 2016.

City will have to do it without both Reece Burke and Jordy de Wijs, who are still injured; and you fancy that Derby will do a better job of exploiting City’s extremely makeshift back four than a leaden-footed Stoke did last week. A clean sheet here would surely be our best laundered of this season. If Nigel Adkins does decide that defensive reinforcement is needed, Liam Ridgewell could be in line for a City debut.

Ashley Cole could make his Derby debut, lining up alongside ex-City loanee Fikayo Tomori. Also formerly of this parish is Harry Wilson, whose superb loan spell last season was one of the reasons City are still in the Championship. Another ex-Tiger, Tom Huddlestone, doesn’t look an obvious starter.

Derby need the win: they’re 7th, albeit with a game in hand, and a play-off place was presumably the minimum requirement for Frank Lampard this season. They can’t drop lower than that this weekend, but with ten points separating them from second it’s likely that their only route to the top flight is via the play-offs and they daren’t fall behind that race as well. City could end the week anywhere between 8th and 13th depending on other results, a wide spread of positions for a season now two-thirds through. Even a draw could knock the Tigers back into the bottom half; but it wouldn’t be a bad point if we get it.

It’s a mark of City’s huge recent improvement that Derby aren’t odds-on for this game. You’d have struggled to get much better than 1/2 a few months ago, but the Rams are now generally 11/10 for a win. The draw is 13/5, but if you fancy City’s surge to continue then 13/5 is all yours. Not that we advocate gambling or anything.

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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.

FEAT-BALL2

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.

FEAT-POD

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.