PREVIEW: Crystal Palace v City

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Big night tonight, after the fun and games of progress in the FA Cup in a proper football ground without any of the Premier League banality. That said, Selhurst Park is a traditional and atmospheric footballing venue too, and City need to react to that accordingly.

Steve Bruce will make changes to the team but more than that, will make clear to them that a return to winning ways is necessary. City are well placed positionally but not on points, with the bottom half of the table squeezed to levels of tightness bordering on the idiotic. City have won one in nine and lost the last three in the Premier League and while dips in form are expected, they cannot be prolonged.

Losing to Norwich ten days ago means that defeat tonight is unthinkable. Zero points from these two games would be hideous notion, with February and March looking especially tricky, and beyond that, Palace are now a mean, ruthless, unglamorous outfit befitting of Tony Pulis, the man whose renowned brand of percentage football has had the desired effect since he took over.

Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long will start up front and there will be room again for Ahmed Elmohamady, Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, Curtis Davies and Allan McGregor. Those who impressed at Southend will undoubtedly be kept in the loop in south London tonight too as Bruce finds himself trying to put one over yet another former club.

City haven’t won at Selhurst Park for 28 seasons and drew four in a row prior to last season’s 4-2 defeat as both teams eventually gained promotion. Ex-Tiger Damien Delaney will be in Palace’s defence tonight but they are without Jonathan Parr, who was carried off in their FA Cup defeat at Wigan with concussion.

The bookies back Palace for this one at 6/4, with City – one away win all season and no goals in the last three Premier League games – priced at 2/1. The draw is 11/5. A draw may do just to stop the rot and keep Palace themselves at bay, but really it’s about time City won again.

PREVIEW: Southend v City

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The last time Hull City went to Southend, they twice trailed on an enthralling Hallowe’en night at Roots Hall before winning 3-2. An awful lot has happened to both clubs since then but even though the recent memories of beanos to the Essex coast are good, there’ll be nothing quite like a victory this weekend.

A trip there in the FA Cup sees the sides now three divisions apart. The Shrimpers have suffered two relegations, threats of administration and numerous transfer embargoes since that 2006/7 Championship season, while City have been, albeit with frightening off-field skirmishes, upwardly mobile. With the added spice of the not so bashful Southend manager taking on the club with which he is most associated, mouths are watering for this weekend’s tie.

So for City, victory will be big. It’ll provide some respite from disappointing Premier League form, avoid the humiliation of a major upset, reduce Phil Brown’s grin to one of pride rather than glee and, of course, put the Tigers in the fifth round of the FA Cup for only the second time since 1989.

Nationally, focus will be on Brown, just as he likes it. He was City’s first team coach at Roots Hall on October 31st 2006, having been appointed the day before, and within six weeks he was manager, quickly becoming the most successful in the club’s history. Bitterness surrounded his departure and the fallout from it, though mainly directed at those that employed him, and time has healed the sores well. The man currently getting closer to surpassing Brown’s achievements, Steve Bruce, will be anxious to put one over him this weekend…

… though will he? After all, Bruce bemoaned the League Cup earlier this season and his selection at Middlesbrough in the third round of the FA Cup suggested his appreciation of this more prestigious knockout competition – one he won twice as a player – is equally as limited. Mind you, circumstance has since dictated that he’ll have to pick a stronger side. Aaron Mclean and Nick Proschwitz, scorers of the goals at the Riverside, have both since exited; Mclean has joined Bradford and Proschwitz went out on loan to Barnsley just yesterday.

Bruce’s choices are further limited by injuries to Sone Aluko, Robbie Brady and James Chester, the ineligibility of Nikica Jelavic, Shane Long, Danny Graham and Jack Hobbs, (recalled yesterday as cover for Chester) and suspension for Tom Huddlestone. It’s pretty obvious that some Premier League shoo-ins like Yannick Sagbo and Curtis Davies will start as there aren’t the alternatives available, especially if the manager wants to play three at the back or two up front, or both. Those normally seen on the subs bench – Steve Harper, Abdoulaye Faye, Stephen Quinn, George Boyd, Matt Fryatt – should expect a starting berth. Jake Livermore is allowed to play as Tottenham are out of the competition, though may still be rested anyway, while Paul McShane – the only survivor of Brown’s era at City – is back after an ankle injury.

Southend, currently sitting pretty in a play-off place, have one other City connection in the shape of Will Atkinson, the winger from the ranks at the KC who has scored the same number of Premier League goals for the Tigers as Graham. They have Freddy Eastwood in their squad again, who was their star player seven seasons ago and scored against City that night, and has returned to Roots Hall after not fulfilling his potential at Wolves and Coventry.

The managers will enjoy the Geordie v Mackem stuff that acts as a sideshow to this game, but ultimately the team Bruce puts out should be strong enough and motivated enough to win. As the form of the side hits a rocky spell, there may well be places at Crystal Palace on Tuesday night for the better performers to play for, as well as the prestige that goes with putting the Tigers into the last 16 of the FA Cup, a feat Brown managed in 2009 (indeed, he got City to the quarter finals that season for the first time since 1971). The fifth round is the furthest Southend have ever been in their 108 year history, having got to the last 16 five times, the last being in 1992/3 when they lost to eventual finalists Sheffield Wednesday.

Prior to the Championship season of 2006/7, these two did basement division battle for six straight seasons until 2003/4, with City winning two, drawing two and losing two at Roots Hall. Prior to then, City’s record there wasn’t great, though the title-winning side of 1966 did win 2-0. Regionalisation, and the equally inferior status of both clubs, meant the two never played each other until 1958/9. There have been two League Cup ties; Southend won on aggregate in 1964/5 and City were victorious in a one-off second round tie under Brown at the KC in 2009/10, a game remembered for a goal on his debut for Tom Cairney and one of only two strikes in a City shirt for Jozy Altidore. This weekend’s match will be the first ever between the two in the FA Cup.

PREVIEW: Norwich v City

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Most seasons have a section earmarked as the crucial bit that can make or break a season, and 2013/4 is no different. As of this weekend, we’ll be in it. Away games against two teams in the bottom six over the next ten days could yield a points haul that will keep City clear of the drowning pack, or a points deficit that drags Steve Bruce’s men into it. And it begins with a trip to Norwich tomorrow.

Bruce, of course, can throw in two new, proven centre forwards at Carrow Road. The timing of the signings is impeccable, the identity of them is exciting. Nikica Jelavić and Shane Long may start together but even if they don’t, they will each play a part in proceedings against a Norwich side keeping their heads just above water in 15th place.

Jelavić has a World Cup place to play for and so his personal incentive to deliver could prove decisive for City. He has trained with his new team-mates this week, having signed earlier than long, and will probably start the game alongside Yannick Sagbo. Long, who signed little more than 24 hours before kick-off, hasn’t trained with the squad yet and therefore will likely begin on the bench.

Bruce has no other changes to make, with George Boyd reverting to the bench to allow for Jelavić’s arrival. Robbie Brady and Paul McShane are still injured. Norwich, whom Bruce served with distinction in the 1980s as player and skipper, have their own impressive new signing in Jonas Gutierrez available and welcome back from injury Anthony Pilkington and Alex Tettey.

A City win would complete a first double of the season, having beaten the Canaries 1-0 with ten men at the Circle back in August. City did win in their previous visit to Norwich back in September 2010 and generally fare well at Carrow Road but haven’t done a double over the Canaries since 1970/1. City’s odds on winning are 21/10, with Norwich’s chances rated at 7/5 and the draw, which has been a common result between these two, at 11/5. With all the invective and argument raging again this week about the club owner’s insane plans for the future, it once again is something of a relief to have a match to concentrate on. C’mon City.

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…