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.

PREVIEW: Hull City AFC v Sunderland

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Old faces, old adversaries. A fixture between these two seems to throw up a multitude of back stories that makes what is already a most intriguing Premier League game that little bit more appealing this weekend.

The obvious one is the presence of Sunderland’s former manager in the home dugout. Steve Bruce has always felt hard done by over the way he was treated by the club and fans when he was in charge at the Stadium of Light, insistently claiming that his Geordie heritage had as much to do with his demise as the disappointing run of results that preceded his departure two years ago this month.

Bruce has reopened that sore this week which may give a little impetus to the voluminous army of Mackems that always fill our away end to aim a few choice words in song his way. Not that Bruce will mind, nor deem it a surprise; he is currently on a very good thing with the Tigers and finds himself having to choose an XI from probably 15 players all rightfully feeling they deserve a place.

Some decisions could be taken from his hands; Sone Aluko and Robbie Brady face late fitness tests, while son and heir Alex is out with the groin injury that forced him off early at Spurs on Wednesday night. James Chester is still not ready but Abdoulaye Faye is, and it will be the formation that ultimately dictates whether he will return in place of Paul McShane this weekend.

Ah yes, McShane. Formerly a joke figure at Sunderland, and yet now one of our most relatable cult heroes in years. He’ll enjoy the chance to play against the club that sold him to City (it was Bruce that did so, of course, when taking Michael Turner for peanuts the other way), as will Ahmed Elmohamady, whom Martin O’Neill and Paolo Di Canio both deemed surplus to requirements on Wearside pretty much from the beginning of their respective stints. David Meyler is the third ex-Sunderland player in our ranks although despite two heroic displays at White Hart Lane, it feels less likely that he will play.

Sunderland’s new manager Gus Poyet may start Fabio Borini, after the Liverpool loanee’s tremendous performance and winning goal as a sub against Newcastle United last weekend, but otherwise is unlikely to change things. This means a return to the Circle for Jozy Altidore, the American centre forward who was sent off against Sunderland when playing for City four seasons ago, and who has remained as unreliable in front of goal in red and white stripes as he was in black and amber.

The Black Cats have a 100 per cent record at the KC, not counting friendlies, and City last won a home game against them on New Years Day 1990. They’ll feel they have a chance, just because people still seem to be looking at Hull City’s name rather than performances and making assumptions about our limits and abilities. It’ll be no picnic for either team, and the bookies have City at 6/5 for the win, Sunderland at 12/5 and the draw 23/10. For all City’s praiseworthy qualities in recent weeks, they are on a run of two Premier League defeats and Bruce, for everyone concerned as well as his own sense of righteousness, needs to get his decisions bang on. Settle back, as this could be a good one.

PREVIEW: Tottenham v City (again)

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Back to Tottenham. By the time we make it back into White Hart Lane, who knows, we may have even calmed down from THAT penalty decision.

Okay, we won’t labour the point. Tottenham were obviously the better side on Sunday, as they damn well ought to have been given the respective resources of the two clubs and a debilitating injury crisis as City. It just still rankles. Steve Bruce’s job is to use that as motiviation for whatever XI he sends out this evening. Alf Ramsey reputedly told his shattered England players after 90 minutes of the 1966 World Cup final “You’ve won it once. Now you’ll have to go out there and win it again.” Perhaps Bruce should paraphrase thus: “you’ve drawn with ’em once. Now go draw with ’em again”. Except that sounds a bit shit. And there’s extra time anyway. No, forget that. This is probably why Steve Bruce is a well-paid and successful football manager, and we write ill-conceived bollocks on the internet.

Anyway. The manager has one hell of a task on his hands with team selection. Having had to play a League Cup style XI on Sunday, what does he do now? Play it again? Weaken the side further by calling on serious fringe players or youth team players? All well and good if Sunderland on Saturday is the only thing in his mind, but there’s a match to be played and a massacre is no good for anyone. Especially those of us who’ve paid £20 to see it. But it’s tough, and whatever he decides to do, we don’t envy him the decision.

At the other end of the Premier League food chain, Andre Villas-Boas has to decide which multi-million pound internationals to pick. It all depends on their priorities. In the last couple of years winning a Cup may have vied with qualification for the European Cup in Tottenham’s ambitions. But Spurs’ improvement in recent years has coincided with a drop in quality at the very top of the table, meaning they actually do have an outside chance of nicking the title this season. It isn’t a huge chance, but if they DO think it’s on, the League Cup will recede in importance. Hopefully, anyway.

They seem likely to be without Younes Kaboul and Danny Rose, though Argentine international Erik Lamela – who cost more than our entire squad – is a far from shabby replacement. Gylfi Sigurðsson, Nacer Chadli and Brad Friedel may also come into the side. Of course, there’s a little more attention on the Spurs manager than you may expect at the moment, given his intemperate comments about the White Hart Lane atmosphere during Sunday’s game. Charging people too much money them making them sit down is the obvious problem, but really, did he expect a cauldron of noise for the visit of Hull City and a tight game? Do any fans really get up for a game they’re expected to win?

This is our first ever meeting in the League Cup. Then again, it’s only our 26th meeting in total, given the somewhat divergent paths the clubs took since the first encounter in 1907. Our record in North London is far from stellar, with just one victory in 106 years – that splendid 1-0 success five years ago. It’d be fair to say the bookies aren’t anticipating a repeat of that, with Tottenham just 4/11 to win in normal time and 1/5 to qualify by any means. The draw in 90 minutes is 4/1, while City are as long as 10/1 to win inside the 90 or 5/1 to qualify. A daunting task awaits.

PREVIEW: Tottenham v City

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To Tottenham, then. And not without concerns. Form and results, no, they’re fine. The defeat at Everton was the slenderest of setbacks, coming as it did in slightly luckless circumstances away to a very strong side. But suddenly, our team has been shorn of some of its leading lights, and it’s far from a full-strength City that will be lining up at White Hart Lane.

Allan McGregor was ruled out on Thursday with a thigh injury that’ll keep him out until December. We’d already lost captain Robert Koren, James Chester – now Danny Graham and Sone Aluko are victims of Evertonian skulduggery, and with Jake Livermore ineligible to play against his parent club, that’s over half a side out. Troubling.

But there’ll be those who view it as an opportunity, and we must hope they’re right. In goal will be Steve Harper, while either Stephen Quinn or David Meyler will replace Livermore. We’ve coped reasonably well without Chester and Koren so far, while Yannick Sagbo will doubtless be bursting with excitement at starting, presumably alongside Nick Proschwitz if we play up two front – unless the manager decides an extra midfielder is the way forward. Which he probably will, actually. They’re (mostly) solid replacements.

But Tottenham are more than solid, they’re excellent. They’ve had a decent start to the season as well, berthed in fifth, and their single frustration will be that they’ve taken “only” seven points from a possible 12 at home so far, scoring just four times along the way. Their Thursday night win against Moldovan champions FC Sheriff Tiraspol was a little streaky, though perhaps explained by a few absentees who’ll be restored to duty tomorrow.

So a mighty task awaits. Do the recent fixtures between us at White Hart Lane count for much? To us, perhaps; but of the XI that were agog participants in the Boaz Myhill Show in January 2010, only Paul McShane and Tom Cairney remain at City (though Tom Huddlestone started for Spurs that day). So memories of that and the 1-0 win the previous season lie chiefly with us and not the City squad.

This game has been called a shot-to-nothing, and there’s something in that. The admirable early-season form meant that the testing brace of away games we’re presently halfway through could yield nothing with no major damage. Contrast how we’ll feel if we leave north London empty-handed with how supporters of Crystal Palace and Sunderland must feel at the moment. So there really is very little pressure on City. Defeat, and that’s what was supposed to happen given the gap in resources – though it would make a result against Sunderland in seven days time even more essential.

But bring anything back to East Yorkshire, and it’d be a superb outcome. We know we can compete with the best, let’s see if we can start taking points off them. Sure, the bookmakers, those sour pedlars of truth, make Tottenham emphatic 4/9 favourites. You can get 15/4 on a precious point, 8/1 on a priceless three. Odder things have happened.

PREVIEW: Everton v Hull City AFC

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The world, or at least, the vast chunks of it that keeps a beady eye on Premier League football, has begun to notice Hull City. The form of the team on the pitch will always be the dominant thing that will gain any club attention and support, not some superficial, nonsensical ploy over badges and names, and currently Steve Bruce is doing far more to spread the good word about the Tigers than his bosses.

Throw in the League Cup win over Huddersfield and it’s 300 minutes since City last conceded a goal. Unbeaten at home. Unbeaten anywhere in five. Playing vibrant, lively football while still defending as stoutly as any side run by one of the great and bemedalled defenders of his generation would expect. Football as a business cannot survive or thrive without good things coming from football as a game, and currently City are at the top of theirs.

The next two weeks will simultaneously feel like a fortnight of hidings to nothing and an opportunity to prove we mean business. Travelling to Tottenham Hotspur, who look as dangerous as they have in years (possibly decades), next weekend is still to come; prior to that, we have to go a team who were the last standing as an unbeaten Premier League side.

Roberto Martinez has made a very strong start to life as Everton manager, and his side are a bright and formidable outfit, helped along the way by arguably the canniest round of transfer window business done by any club in the top tier. Martinez himself has declared he no longer thinks of Hull City as a “just promoted” team, such has been our impact and attitude since returning to the pinnacle of the English game. His views will be replicated by most of football’s right-thinking, who include the vast majority of Everton supporters.

Bruce will be enjoying the feast, knowing as we all do that some famine is likely to come at a random point of the season. Unexpectedly but to the delight of all, it seems that he can call upon Robbie Brady earlier than planned after his hernia operation. What the gifted Irishman’s overall fitness is like remains to be seen, but if his swift recovery enables him to make a contribution at Goodison Park, all the better.

James Chester and Robert Koren are still out, though each should be in contention soon and may, at best, get a run-out in the League Cup tie at Spurs a week on Wednesday. The players who went off to represent their countries have all reported back fit. Bruce may force himself into a decision about Danny Graham, now that Gedo is fitter and while George Boyd continues to cameo impressively from the bench, though that one is hard to call.

Everton are without Steven Pienaar and new long-term injury victim Darron Gibson but welcome back loanee Gareth Barry after he was ineligible to face parent club Manchester City in their previous league game.

City haven’t won at Goodison since the opening day of 1952/3, though only three league games have taken place their since. It was one of the less happy hunting grounds for Phil Brown’s men in the last Premier League era, with the two defeats marred further by Michael Turner taking an unpunished flurry of elbows from Marouane Fellaini, Boaz Myhill being studded in the chest by Tim Cahill and the Lower Bullens making the view of these incidents, and others, ludicrously restricted for the travelling Tiger Nation. The current incarnation of City is very different now, and it feels like the Everton of the here and now is also a better thing.

Fans of the two clubs have developed an enjoyable element of kindred spiritualism this week via social media thanks to, or rather, because of, the efforts by their clubs to make unnecessary, un-asked for changes to great traditions associated with each. Everton fans, who got great support from the rest of football over the proposed changes to their club’s badge in the summer, seem set to join in with the Tiger Nation in the 19th minute of tomorrow’s game and that might enhance the No To Hull Tigers campaign a good deal. In advance, we thank them for that.

The bookies, inevitably, think a home win is a gimme – they’ve got Everton at 4/9 and City at 13/2. The draw is priced at 10/3. And the match as a whole will provide a very clear indication of where City truly can be this season. It’s one to look forward to, this.

PREVIEW: Hull City AFC v Aston Villa

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The winners of this game will be in the top six when the final whistle goes. This is something quite extraordinary to consider; and in the case of Hull City, as clear a tribute as possible to the sterling work done thus far by management and team.

With three wins, a draw and two defeats – both of which came away at Champions League opponents – it has been an excellent and enlightening beginning to Hull City’s second blink at the Premier League limelight. And as another international break looms, followed by two extremely testing away games at Everton and Tottenham, we have the opportunity to sign off with the real flourish of three straight wins.

Villa come to the KC, however, looking the part a little bit more under the admirable Paul Lambert, and a 3-2 win over Manchester City last weekend was a stark indication of their progress, especially as they are almost entirely devoid of household names.

They also are devoid of their outstanding striker Christian Benteke, who is injured, though do welcome back the last ‘old guard’ Villan in Gabriel Agbonlahor, the sullen, nippy, pop singer kneecapping forward who has recovered from an ankle injury. In goal for them will be Brad Guzan, who had a spell on loan with City in 2011 and has, via sheer force of personality, become Villa’s undisputed number one after years of League Cup action and bag-carrying.

Steve Bruce, meanwhile, has to decide whether to pick George Boyd or Stephen Quinn to replace Robbie Brady, who is off for a month after hernia surgery. Beyond that, there is little cause to change the side that beat West Ham United last week.

There has been approximately 660 minutes of football action between these two sides since the last Tigers’ goal in this fixture – a winner by Alex Dyer at Boothferry Park in August 1987. Villa were the only side against whom City drew ultimate blanks in all four games during the last Premier League sojourn, and both matches at the Circle were fraught with controversy – the withdrawn penalty in injury time back in December 2008 was bad enough, but the 2-0 defeat in April 2010 as City stank the place out and Ashley Young dived all over the place was one of the angriest games of the period, exacerbated by some particularly joyless comments here and elsewhere by Villa fans afterwards.

Times change, and it’s good to see many Villa supporters endorsing the latest spot of leafleting that will take place before tomorrow’s game as we continue to oppose the owner’s proposed name change. Please take a leaflet and hold it up at 19:04 during the game – Villa’s own reason for marking the 19th minute of matches should make it quite a resonant moment of the match.

The bookies have us at 7/5 for the win, with Villa priced at 21/10 and the draw – which feels likely – at 9/5. But if there is a winner, they’ll feel thoroughly satisfield with their work as the autumn table begins to take shape. C’mon City.

PREVIEW: Hull City AFC v West Ham

premierleagueAnd so we return to the KC, scene of where our true aspirations for long-term survival and progress in the Premier League will be declared.

City have garnered four points from six at the Circle thus far, a decent haul when playing in a division that provides a genuinely difficult opponent week on week. The visit of West Ham United tomorrow will present a different kind of challenge for Steve Bruce, due to the personnel he has available.

The Tigers boss has to pick between two obviously peripheral figures to play at the back as James Chester is very sadly absent for at least a month due to the thigh injury he suffered that rendered him a passenger with a pained expression during the death throes of last week’s win at Newcastle United.

While both potential replacements have their qualities, neither of them are Chester-like, or even Chester-lite. Abdoulaye Faye, who’d be up against his former club, is very imposing but also slow and less than cultured, while Alex Bruce is probably the bravest player in the club but too has issues with the ball and when trying to keep up the pace. But one of them will play alongside the revelatory Curtis Davies, and good luck to whichever one it is. Let’s just pray that whoever gets the nod doesn’t know anything about Wayne Brown and Wigan.

The manager will bring back Maynor Figueroa to the defence after his compassionate leave but otherwise has little reason to change anything else from the Newcastle game. Nick Proschwitz’s goal against Huddersfield in the midweek League Cup win may have edged the German closer to Premier League thinking, however. Danny Graham hasn’t scored yet and is bang out of luck, but his obvious replacement, Yannick Sagbo, didn’t look the part in the narrow win on Tuesday night and may have missed his opportunity to return to the elite XI after serving his ban. Perhaps Graham will get one more go.

City remain without the injured Robert Koren and Paul McShane, while Matt Fryatt is now out of the picture for a month after joining Sheffield Wednesday on loan, where he will do extremely well, assuming he is fit.

West Ham will feature a couple of former City loanees in long-serving midfielder Mark Noble and striker Ricardo Vaz Te, neither of whom pulled up trees during spells with the Tigers in 2006 and 2007 respectively. England winger Stewart Downing, their major signing of the transfer window, is back in contention after a leg injury.

These two have recent history and West Ham are by far the better off for it. City won just one of the six League outings in recent memory – the 1-0 victory at the Circle that completed the London 0 Hull 4 soundbite scoreline during the heady late summer of 2008 – while West Ham have won four, including their last trip to the KC in the autumn of 2011 which doubled up as Nigel Pearson’s final game in charge.

This game, along with the one against Aston Villa next week, feels specifically important because City are on a bit of form while the Irons haven’t picked up a Premier League win since defeating Cardiff on the opening day. If, by the time the next international break comes in just over a week, City have acquired six further points, it’ll feel like a most satisfactory bit of business for the club. After all, the home games – as the national media keeps telling us – are all-compassing when it comes to the issue of “littler” teams staying up.

The bookies have City at 7/5 to win, with the visitors priced at 2/1 and the draw going for odds of 9/4. Make of that what you will, but if the attitude and will of last week’s performance is present again, it should be a hell of a game. C’mon City.