PREVIEW: City v Chelsea

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And here comes a biggie. A test for City that may be unlike any other at the KC this season, as one of the genuine superpowers visits us while on a spot of form and looking the real deal. And yet there is plenty about City right now that suggests Chelsea won’t have it easy tomorrow.

Chelsea aren’t anywhere like the finished article – having no reliable centre forwards is usually a bit of a handicap in football – but gradually under Jose Mourinho’s pragmatic tutelage and charismatic leadership they are beginning to cast teams aside. Steve Bruce has some big decisions to make to try to counter the considerable threat while trying to maintain a home record that has admirably few blemishes thereon.

The City gaffer, whose plans have been disrupted by a bout of the two bob bits going through his side, needs to decide whether three centre backs or a flat quartet in defence will be best suited to sponging up Chelsea’s inevitable quick countering and majority possession, while also considering whether he can get away with playing just one striker. Assuming the Immodium has done its job, he has all the regular suspects available except Paul McShane, who is out for a month after injuring his ankle in the FA Cup last week. Chelsea are without injured duo Frank Lampard and Branislav Ivanovic.

With Norwich and Crystal Palace to come next in the Premier League, there is an element of “free hit” about this one, which should be taken up a notch just because the Tigers are at home, and the more realistic would be happy for City to emerge with credit, without injury and free from a seeing-to. Goals remain an issue generally, despite the freakishly magnificent result in the last home game, though hopefully by the time we head to Carrow Road next week, terms with Nikica Jelavic will have been agreed.

There are odds of 8/13 on Chelsea winning, with City at 5/1 and the draw priced at 14/5. City haven’t beaten Chelsea in any competition since a famous 3-0 humping of Bobby Campbell’s Second Division champions-elect in October 1988 which was the finest hour of Eddie Gray’s short managerial career at Boothferry Park. However, the last time Chelsea came to the Circle, in the 2009/10 season, City held them to a 1-1 draw and, given that City were somewhat chaotic at the time, it was some result.

A rather more organised, focussed, tight City outfit are in action this weekend and that offers considerable hope that something can be attained from the game. With the BT Sport cameras beaming the game to the world, again it provides a chance for the Tigers to show they are the real deal. C’mon City.

PREVIEW: Middlesbrough v City

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Even if people within football scorn, undervalue and, in the case of one Premier League manager in the last 24 hours, wish death upon the FA Cup, it still means plenty to football fans. For Hull City supporters, the commencement of this year’s tournament represents another chance to finally write their own piece of the great competition’s history.

After all, what has our club ever really contributed to FA Cup folklore? We’ve never been to the final, we’ve been to one semi-final (between the wars; anyone alive today who remembers it, let alone attended it, will be at least 90 years old now) and our last three quarter final appearances have all ended in controversial disappointment – plenty of people will have attended the games in 1966, 1971 and 2009 and still feel like kicking the nearest moggy when thinking about how they turned out. All our previous quarter final appearance to those did, meanwhile, was earn us our record attendance for a home game. But we still lost.

We’ve never famously killed a giant – beating Coventry in 1972 when we were only a division apart doesn’t count; beating Nottingham Forest when two divisions apart in 1966 has been pretty much forgotten – and we’ve never been properly giant-killed, although the loss to Crawley Town two seasons ago was as embarrassing as the defeat to non-league Hednesford Town in 1997. But in one instance we couldn’t be bothered, and in the other we were pretty much the worst team in the league at the time.

We’ve not been helped by the club’s tiresomely lax attitude to the Cup competitions of late but maybe the run to the fourth round of the League Cup this season – equalling the club’s best ever – will inspire similar progress in the FA Cup. And it has to start somewhere, with the ever unkind draw decreeing it should do so this season on Teesside.

Steve Bruce has already declared he will make changes, though the squad isn’t at its biggest and so some of the Premier League starters will probably still line up at the Riverside Stadium. Matt Fryatt gets a big chance to put in a 90-minute shift after impressing both manager and fans over the festive season, while the likes of Steve Harper, Stephen Quinn, Paul McShane, Abdoulaye Faye and Gedo may feel their opportunity will come. Danny Graham and Jake Livermore aren’t allowed to play, while Robbie Brady remains out with a groin injury. And it’d be a chance too for Joe Dudgeon, assuming anyone has a clue if he’s fit or indeed, where he is.

Boro will make at least four changes to their side due to two ineligible players and two fresh injuries. They are 15th in the Championship with one defeat in their last six games.

City have never won at the Riverside Stadium, the first visit to which came in the same stage of the Cup seven seasons ago when the teams’ statuses were reversed. After a 1-1 draw at the KC, Middlesbrough clung on in the replay to win 4-3 after being 3-0 up. They’ve met in the competition four times and City have only won once, back in 1922. City haven’t won in Middlesbrough in any competition since a 2-1 league victory at the old Ayresome Park in March 1986, with goals from Andy Flounders and Frankie Bunn.

The bookies, having noticed the game is happening, have City at 15/8 to win, with Boro at 6/4 and 23/10 on both sides doing it again in ten days’ time at the KC. Cheap tickets and a pay-on-the-day policy should guarantee a big away following; let’s hope that such enthusiasm in the stands is replicated on the pitch.

PREVIEW: Liverpool v City

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January. New month, new year, same season. And that’s pleasing, because it’s a season that currently we’d like to enjoy for ever and ever and ever. The calendar may have flipped over but it’s the same creative, solid, easy-on-the-eye Hull City AFC that we will see, hopefully, for as long as possible through the early months.

Beginning 2014 with a trip to Liverpool is somewhat daunting, but also fascinating. And it’s fascinating for fans of other clubs and neutrals in general. City, having frightened Manchester United to death and then actually inflicted something close to a footballing death on Fulham, go to Anfield in form and favour. Liverpool, at their most watchable since 1988, reeling from two defeats to Premier League title rivals, entertain the Tigers with something to prove.

We all know that if the home side turn up then it’s unlikely City will prevail. Luis Suarez was poor at the KC a month ago, though much of his disappearance during that game can be accredited to Alex Bruce’s aceness as the Uruguayan’s own poverty. But we know that if he decides he feels like it against City, it’ll be some task to nullify him. And though he gets the attention, there are others at Liverpool who do hellishly good stuff when the mood dictates. Raheem Sterling is currently on a bit of form, for example. And the easy to criticise Steven Gerrard is set to return from injury having scored four Premier League goals against City already.

Much will depend on what Steve Bruce decides to do with the team. He changed personnel and formation after the Boxing Day defeat to the champions, out of necessity, and City responded with the tonking of Fulham. His job may be made easier by the fact that neither his heir nor David Meyler, two who had to miss out against Fulham with knocks, are likely to be fit. Robbie Brady is still struggling too with the groin issue apparently continuing after his somewhat early return from hernia surgery.

And, assuming Bruce thinks two centre backs – of quality and distinction, of course; they are Messrs Davies and Chester, after all – can look after the Suarez threat, then sticking to the 4-4-1-1 formation, with the same XI within, might be the best thing to do. Certainly new starters like George Boyd and Liam Rosenior deserve another go after the way they contributed to the shellacking of Fulham; indeed, the only fit player who thinks he may stand a chance of taking a starting place is Matt Fryatt, though as his return to action rises a notch, he may be best suited to a full 90 minutes against Middlesbrough in the FA Cup on Saturday.

Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will make at least two changes to his team because of injuries sustained at Chelsea to Joe Allen and Mamadou Sakho, though the return of Gerrard will be of some compensation. Daniel Sturridge is still out.

City have never won at Anfield – that’s a), and b) is that City have never won a Premier League game in the month of January. So it doesn’t look obviously dead on for the Tigers to pick up three points to commence 2014, and with Chelsea visiting the KC in the subsequent Premier League game, we may have to steel ourselves for some brief famine to follow the feast. The bookies are all in Liverpool’s favour with this one, offering 3/10 on a home win. City’s chances of success are priced at 9/1, with 9/2 put on the draw. Given the brilliance of 2013 as a whole, it’d be of a surprise to everyone except us if we made those bookmakers look rather foolhardy, wouldn’t it?

Happy New Year. And c’mon City…

PREVIEW: City v Fulham

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This is the one, isn’t it? After defeat in total glory to Manchester United, this is the one. We would have taken an injury-free cuffing from the reigning Premier League champions if it meant guaranteeing three points from the game two days later, wouldn’t we?

There is real daylight to be acquired between ourselves and those near the bottom of the table if a victory can be gleaned today in the final game of a brilliant 2013. But this is City, of course. Enough people know that a massive performance against Manchester United won’t necessarily be reproducible against a struggling Cottagers side who got themselves three big points of their own at Norwich on Boxing Day. One would hope City’s team will maintain the sense of importance and occasion that they showed by the wagonload two days ago. Indeed, one would expect it.

City haven’t won in five now but still have an outstanding record at the Circle, conceding just six goals altogether – three of which came on Boxing Day. Steve Bruce will make two changes and possibly more – Allan McGregor and David Meyler are definitely out after their first half knee injuries against the champions, so Steve Harper and probably Robert Koren will start. Alex Bruce, meanwhile, will have a calf injury tested before a decision is made, though as our current form defender, it will be a boon if he is able to start the game. Paul McShane is ready if required.

Fulham will have former City loanee David Stockdale in goal and could get Dimitar Berbatov in the side too if he passes a late fitness test on a groin injury.

The historical significance of this fixture is obvious, thanks to the events of August 2008 when City lined up in the Premier League for the first time ever and beat Roy Hodgson’s side 2-1. Indeed, in four top flight fixtures, City have won three and lost just the one and are priced at 6/5 for victory today. Fulham get odds of 5/2 and the draw is set currently at 9/4. Liverpool and Chelsea are City’s next two Premier League opponents, making victory in this one perhaps even more important than we already know it is. C’mon City.

PREVIEW: City v Manchester United

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Compliments of the season to you, and while we’ve been enjoying the festivities, the City players have been preparing for a game of significance and size in the Premier League. A visit from the reigning champions was always going to be an attractive draw whenever it happened, but to fall on Boxing Day meant it would guarantee maximum interest.

Can City win it? After all, we’ve lost just once at home in the Premier League and have been unbeaten in four of the last five games. Doing over Manchester United represents quite a task, but currently they’re not in the same fettle as Liverpool and City made defeating the current leaders look almost easy at the start of this month.

Steve Bruce is up against a club that made him rich, famous, successful and decorated, and it still means a lot to him. But as our very ambitious and practical manager, he will be looking forward to sparring with David Moyes, a boss still finding his feet after stepping into a role vacated by a colossus whom our manager still reveres. And although Manchester United are in a bit of form now, they have key players missing and won’t view this occasion as anything other than tough going.

Bruce won’t change the side and has little need to. It will be four games in a row with the same XI for City, especially as Robbie Brady still isn’t ready after his groin trouble. There’s probably little cause to change the bench too. It’ll be a big day for James Chester, facing for the first time the club that nurtured him as a teenager but eventually felt he was better off elsewhere.

Manchester United have no Robin van Persie nor Michael Carrick, which is something of a boon, while Danny Welbeck is a doubt with a knee injury.

This will be only the seventh post-war league meeting between the two sides and Manchester United have won five of them. The bookies will probably expect a sixth tomorrow, with odds of 4/7 on a Manchester United win. City are 5/1 and the draw is priced at 3/1. Feels like a proper Christmas sporting occasion is upon us this year, doesn’t it? C’mon City, show the world who you really are…

PREVIEW: West Brom v City

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In recent times this has always counted as one of the more enjoyable away trips, even if the reasons for this are more to do with extra-curricular activity associated with following football teams, as opposed to the football itself. But on this occasion, a trip to the Hawthorns takes on extra meaning for both sides, and both sets of fans.

A lot of attention has been paid to West Brom lately due to the slightly baffling dismissal of Steve Clarke, a good man and renowned coach, after their defeat to Cardiff City last week. A lot of attention continues to be aimed City’s way too but much more for off-field activity than for anything on it. The huge majority of fans that oppose the name change now have to wait for the FA to rule and get back to majoring on what they are best at – supporting the team. And it’s time we won again.

Since doing over Liverpool so beautifully, City have lost one and drawn two. None of these results were a disgrace but a victory in the build-up to a mega period that coincided with the turn of 2014 will be most timely. Manchester United and Liverpool (again) loom large, with an arguably bigger occasion against Fulham in between. If City can enter the hectic festive section of the season with three fresh points then all the better.

Steve Bruce is without Robbie Brady, whose groin injury continues to hamper him, and he simply hasn’t looked at the races since his hernia op a month or so back. He is the only fresh casualty and was on the bench anyway, so it wouldn’t be a big surprise if the XI that began against both Swansea and Stoke does so once more.

West Brom may bring back Ben Foster, which will be a pity for the City fans hoping to applaud Boaz Myhill towards the goal at the away end, but otherwise caretaker boss Keith Downing doesn’t have any other worries.

City have a mixed record at the Hawthorns though have recorded immortal victories on each of the last two visits – the oh-blimey-we-must-get-promoted-now win thanks to Caleb Folan’s late goal in the spring of 2008, and the only previous Premier League visit there at the end of the same calendar year which saw the Tigers briefly top the table after scoring three without reply.

The bookies have 19/20 on Albion, 3/1 on City doing it and 5/2 price on the draw. Bit of a windfall to fund some last-ditch Christmas shopping? Well, let’s see. But despite the superstition that goes with alleged ‘new manager syndrome’, this one is eminently winnable for City and will be high on the list of status-saving fixtures put together by Bruce.

PREVIEW: Arsenal v City

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Arsenal away, then. It’s a daunting fixture of course, but it’s made just a little less scary by Sunday’s thrilling victory over Liverpool at the Circle.

It also relieves the pressure. We’d previously been on a worrying little run of games without besting the opposition, but suddenly the smiles are back, confidence is flowing and a very healthy seven points cushion us from the bottom three places, whose avoidance must still be our utmost priority. Instead of needing to arrest the decline as soon as possible, we can treat this as a shot to nothing – if we lose, then that’s only what’s expected at the League leaders; but if we DO get anything, it’s a stellar result.

To retrieve anything from the Emirates, we’ll have to do it without Curtis Davies. Our player of the season collected his fifth caution of the campaign at the weekend, and so must sit it out tonight. His replacement is likely to be James Chester, who’s finally recovered from injury. Alex Bruce, who spent an enjoyable Sabbath trotting around with a pint-sized Uruguayuan racist in his pocket, should start. Elsewhere, it’s a case of who’s at 100% following the weekend. Yannick Sagbo and David Meyler ran their legs to water, and with Arsenal having had an extra day’s rest Steve Bruce may be tempted to change a winning side.

Arsenal are four points clear at the top after an impressive 3-0 win at Cardiff on Saturday, and have won five of their last six games in the Premier League. After a quiet summer and signs of discontent among the Gooners, Arsenal have surprisingly emerged as genuine title contenders. There’s obviously a long way to go, but they’re the side to catch and with inconsistency afflicting all of the “big clubs”, many stranger things have happened than Arsene Wenger ending a their wait for a trophy by taking the title. They’ll make at least one change tonight, with Bacary Sagna having been struck down with a hamstring injury; Carl Jenkinson will deputise.

The only other consideration is whether Wenger will roll the dice by resting players. They host Everton at the weekend before travelling to Napoli next week – they’re as good as through, but it’s not assured, and there must be a temptation to give a few players a night off against one of the “lesser sides”. That said, Arsene Wenger will be well aware of what happened in 2008. Then, as now, Arsenal were title contenders, but a 2-1 home defeat to City was something they never properly recovered from.

THAT game has down in history, but generally speaking City’s record against Arsenal is not great. There’ve only been 16 meetings since the first in 1907, mainly due to Arsenal’s longevity in the top flight and City’s century-long aversion to it, and the record is 3-3-10. 2008 was the first success over the Gunners since the First World War. That’s just one of the reasons that Arsenal are huge favourites for tonight, with no bookmaker daring to offer more than 1/4 on a home win. An improbable victory for City is 14/1, while a draw is as long as 6/1 – about the same price as victory over Liverpool, for comparison. Still, you never know…

PREVIEW: City v Liverpool

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A decisive period awaits. Beginning tomorrow, City will play eight games in 32 days, over one-fifth of the entire season. It looks fiendishly difficult, with two games against Liverpool scarcely being leavened by the trip to Arsenal and hosting the champions. Hell, Swansea away is hard enough. And then there’s the trip to West Brom. Um

But first, Liverpool. It’s been a good season for them so far, positioned nicely in second place. It may be a little optimistic to think they can win the League, for Arsenal are now seven points clear and it’s hard not to imagine the Manchester clubs making a strong challenge in the second half of the season. Nonetheless, after a few relatively poor seasons, their overall trajectory is upwards.  That’s mainly on the back of strong home form – though their record of two wins and three draws from six away is hardly poor.

Grounds for optimism? Well, they’re a trifle leaky on the road, shipping ten in those six games. They’ll also be without Daniel Sturridge, who’s impressed this season.

And of course, City are no pushover. Form has dipped and the Palace defeat was pretty rotten, but we didn’t reach the top half of the table by being out of place in this division. In previous games against the better sides we’ve acquitted ourselves very well – more observant officiating at Goodison Park and White Hart Lane may have prevented at least one of those losses, while only poor finishing cost us at Man C. So despite ongoing travails in front of goal and our recent struggles, it’d be nice to think City can get themselves up for this one.

Whether the absence of Sturridge will impact Steve Bruce’s selection is unclear. With Paul McShane missing for the rest of 2013 and James Chester not yet fit to start, it seems to be between Alex Bruce and Abdoulaye Faye to partner Curtis Davies in defence. Meanwhile, last week’s thoroughly tepid showing against Palace will put more than a couple of places under threat – Koren looks vulnerable after an anonymous afternoon.

It may be advisable not to spend too much time glancing through the history books. Not once have City beaten Liverpool in 16 attempts, dating back to 1954, a run that’s seen Liverpool win a dozen. The nearest was just under four years ago, when City led 2-0 at Anfield during that unfathomably glorious period in 2008, only to be pegged back. At least there are usually goals, albeit rather unequally distributed – save for our last and goalless meeting, each of the previous six fixtures yielded a minimum of four goals.

So what chance City? We may as well seek the win. A victory tomorrow would reignite the whole season and leave us relishing the challenges to come. It’s fair to say the bookies don’t anticipate a surprise result, with City as long as 11/2 to win. A draw is being offered at 3/1, while at 8/13 Liverpool are huge favourites. It’s tempting to think that even an improved performance will be something  – and it would certainly be welcome. If Liverpool turn up and play well, chances are we won’t be adding to our points tally. But anyone can have an off-day, and if they do, you never know.

PREVIEW: City v Crystal Palace

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Football! Do you remember football? It’s that annoying little distraction to the real business of this season, the No To Hull Tigers campaign.

No, not really. It’s very important too, and today’s instalment is by some margin the most important yet. City are at home to a side who were always going to be one our bottom-half competitors and who dejectedly lie bottom of the table. Couple that with the need to quickly put the testing afternoon at Southampton behind us, and this matters. It really matters.

This hasn’t been a happy return to the Premier League for Crystal Palace. As Ian Holloway’s superficial false veneer of joviality dissolved into a miasma of paranoia and stupidity, so Palace rapidly found 20th place and stayed there. Eleven games have yielded a paltry four points (none of them away) and just six goals, meaning that with November not yet out they’re already a daunting six points adrift of safety. Though a new manager has been identified, the doughty but effective Tony Pulis, he has one hell of a job on his hands when he begins next week.

It goes without saying that their travails are of benefit to us. Some bookies are offering 1/33 on Palace to be relegated. It’s therefore tempting to believe that their situation is irretrievable and that we’re only striving to avoid two relegation places. Tempting, but wrong. Just as Sir Geoffrey Boycott would caution us to “imagine the score with two or three more wickets”, just imagine Palace’s situation after a pair of quick wins. They’d be back in it. The task for City is to make sure that neither of those hypothetical season-salvaging wins arrive at the Circle this afternoon.

To assist us, the injury situation is finally showing signs of improving. Allan McGregor has declared himself available a little more quickly than anticipated, and is likely to retake his place in goal. Robert Koren’s lengthy spell on the sidelines is over, while Robbie Brady’s fractured return to fitness appears to be complete. The only setback is Stephen Quinn being out until close to Christmas with a hamstring injury.

Palace will be overseen by caretaker manager Keith Millen for the final time, with English football’s leading baseball cap advocate preparing to take over following this game. Their only team news after a quiet international break is the return of Jonny Williams.

Historically, City have had the better of meetings, with 18 wins to 13 since the first game in 1920. However the Eagles haven’t been bested by City in any of the last six matches and only once in the last 13, dating back to a two-legged League Cup tie in 1997/8. Palace’s unremittingly dreadful form on the road has seen five defeats from five, while City are yet to taste defeat at home and have conceded just once. That’s seduced the bookies into make City odds-on for the first time this season, with 5/6 the best price you’ll find on the Tigers. Palaces first point on the road is a 5/2 shot, while their second win of the season is available at 4/1. Hm.

PREVIEW: Southampton v Hull City AFC

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And so we reach one of those games which pretty much nobody will be able to call. Two teams achieving far more than they were respectively expected, to the extent that even the most humdrum of pundits are thinking twice before blithely predicting a defeat.

Southampton are in a European spot and have three players in the latest England squad, a whole two seasons only since gaining their second straight promotion. City, meanwhile, are in the top half, mean at the back and consistent over 90 minutes. Both clubs have little placed on their shoulders when it comes to Premier League attainments and yet are showing ambition, nerve and no little style in defying the naysayers.

The real contrast between the two lies with the two managers. Southampton have the modern day coach, a man of statistics and science with tactical acumen and a long-term view of how the game should be played. City have the more traditional manager of leadership who relies on his staff for the science and tactics and uses mainly gravitas and charisma to inspire his players. This is not intended to demean Steve Bruce’s contribution to City as the man has been a revelation and has proved himself lovable and admirable all over again (outside of Wearside, anyway) but the two fellows picking tomorrow’s teams are cut from different cloth. Fortunately, both use their opposing methods to produce attacking, entertaining teams and this will hopefully engender a watchable game at St Mary’s.

Bruce has issues among his personnel though fortunately they are not new ones, meaning that all who started the win over Sunderland last week will be again available for duty, with Danny Graham also back after ineligibility. Sone Aluko is now a long-term casualty – again – and James Chester remains unable to play following a hamstring injury which the manager has revealed was at the serious end of the scale. Robbie Brady has travelled but remains in pain following his hernia operation and may only be a substitute at the ground where he was notoriously and stupidly sent off three weeks short of two years ago.

That game ended 2-1 to the Saints as they were promoted in style from the Championship, and indeed the goal from Robert Koren that night is one of only two City have managed there in the four visits dating back eight seasons. Kevin Ellison got the other one in a 1-1 draw back in 2005/6; in between there was a 0-0 draw and a 4-0 battering. City didn’t fare much better at the Dell despite regular clashes in the mid-70s, and last won there in 1950/1.

Southampton, sixth in the table, will feel aggrieved by Mauricio Pochettino’s receipt of the October award for Manager of the Month, should they believe in its alleged curse, and have had less recovery time following a long slog to Sunderland on Wednesday in the League Cup (assuming any of the back-ups slung into a much-changed side will be in the manager’s plans this weekend), but nonetheless their form is sparkling, with just one defeat all season, and like City they are unbeaten on home turf.

Their record signing Dani Osvaldo is amusingly out with a nerve problem (some Saints wags claim he’s lost it) but otherwise they have no further new worries.

As another international break looms, City once again have an opportunity to roar towards the survival target of 40 points prior to a tough December that includes games against Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United. The bookies have Saints at 3/5 and City at 5/1 with the draw looking good at 14/5. Few will expect City to prevail on the south coast, but this game is a tougher one for the home side than most will assume. C’mon City.