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Things We Think We Think #245

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1. Disappointment at Arsenal – but that we’re disappointed at all to lose at Arsenal is perhaps a sign of progress. We’ll touch upon Mark Clattenburg’s afternoon shortly, but let’s not let a referee’s performance wholly overshadow City’s, as Marco Silva and his squad can influence only the latter.

2. City, again, played well. The side kept a pleasing shape and discipline throughout the match, rarely looking anything but compact and organised. The greatest threat to our goal in the first half came from peculiar acts of self-harm when in possession in our own half, a combination of the skiddy surface and unusual hesitancy frequently coughing up the ball. That aside, the Tigers looked every bit a side that’s strongly improving, and but for some more attentive officiating and greater incision with the final ball, a point could have been ours.

3. Mark Clattenburg had a game he won’t forget in a hurry, but we’re not inclined to go with the popular view on a few points when the referee’s performance is discussed. Two of our number are qualified referees, even if we’ve not taken up whistles in some time, and though it’s not easy to put club loyalty to one side, we are coming at this from a Laws of the game standpoint…

4. Did Alexis Sanchez handle the ball? Yes he did, replays are conclusive. But was it handball? Hmm. That’s a whole other animal. Some people think the ball striking an arm or hand automatically means handball, but Law 12 states unequivocally that “Handling the ball involves a deliberate act of a player making contact with the ball with the hand or arm.”

It goes on to say:

The following must be considered:

  •  the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the ball towards the hand)
  •  the distance between the opponent and the ball (unexpected ball)
  •   the position of the hand does not necessarily mean that there is an infringement

You’ll notice that notions of ‘unnatural position of the arm’ have been removed from the 2016/17 update of the Laws. That was always a nebulous term that caused more confusion than it cleared up, it isn’t unnatural after all for a player to have his arms away from the body or even high as he runs, makes a shot or stretches to make a tackle. In the case of Sanchez, he was in an odd pose as he stretched to shoot, his arms were raised to provide balance as he shot. The shot struck Jakupović and rebounded on to Sanchez’ hand, changed direction and went in. The ball moved towards the hand rather than the hand to the ball, Sanchez’s hand was where it was as he tried to balance following through from a shot, and although slow motion replays distort the fact, this all happened in a split second, it seems unlikely that Sanchez had the time to process and physically respond to this in such an infinitesimal period of time. Not impossible, he could have chosen to use his hand, but it seems unlikely. Now it seems unjust that the ball can go in off a body part whose use is prohibited by outfield players, but the focus of the letter of the law is deliberateness of action, and because of that we feel the goal should stand.

5. This makes the referee’s half-time apology all the more strange. We aren’t accustomed to mid-match expressions of remorse when they’re patently vindicated, let alone when sufficient doubt exists as to excuse an official. Perhaps it was an attempt at mitigating City’s displeasure. If so, it failed spectacularly when a far more obvious decision was made incorrectly. There’s an argument for dismissing Theo Walcott when his pathetic tantrum saw a ball hurled at a linesman, though we’d lean more towards an early bedtime with no reading. However, there exists no plausible reason not to send Kieran Gibbs off for an obvious, deliberate denial of a goalscoring opportunity for Lazar Marković. It wasn’t even remotely close to being contentious.

5a. And no, we don’t buy deliberate bias; referees are proud, professional people whose careers depend upon accuracy. However, the sheer scale of the error does hint at other things, which are still troubling. Does he not know the laws? No, clearly he does. Was the referee just not paying attention? Lazy. Take a week off. Was he afraid of giving a red card against a Big Club? Now we could be onto something. And this isn’t consciously favouring one side either. Referees are an admirable bunch, but they’re also human, and they know at the back of their minds that wrongly issuing major punishment against one of the Sky Sports Mega Clubs will guarantee days of media opprobrium and thunderous, libellous disapproval from their managers, none of which will be adequately punished by the spineless authorities. No such fate awaits if you similarly err against little old Hull City. How could that knowledge, lodged in the subconscious of every official, not occasionally influence and explain a ridiculous decision favouring the favoured?

6. That we’re all still discussing some of Mr Clattenburg’s decisions two days later demonstrates one thing: video referees may cut down upon some of the more obvious howlers, but whatever their merits, they’ll never get everything correct to the satisfaction of everyone. Football’s just too messy, too imperfect for that. And therein lies its charm.

7. It’s often easier for us as partisans to scapegoat the referee than to acknowledge the failures of our heroes. It’s worth pointing out that had Oumar Niasse better anticipated the magnificent run of Lazar Marković in the first half, and had Eldin Jakupović not embarked upon an absurd adventure outside his box leading to the dismissal of Sam Clucas and a penalty for Arsenal, City could have taken something from the trip to the Emirates Stadium despite the hand of Sanchez shenanigans.

8. It was good to see Ahmed Elmohamady back in City colours, and now we have an actual right back in our squad, fit, playing and capable, maybe there’s a big opportunity for our long-serving Egyptian to restore his reputation as a fine deliverer from wide midfield of quality service and not worry as much, if at all, about that unglamorous defending lark. An in-form, focussed Elmohamady, now a player of great experience, is still a very good thing to have in our squad.

9. City now have a fortnight off to recuperate before a string of “winnable” fixtures. However, we thought the same shortly after losing to Chelsea in October – that, having emerged from a series of difficult games, we could gather points against the lesser lights. And conspicuously failed. A repeat of that ruinous autumn form will surely relegate us. A repeat of our recent form against the big lads will see us safe. Lots of big games await, and we enter them in significantly better condition that some of our relegation rivals. We can’t wait. Sort of.

10. May we offer up a better ode to Harry Maguire than ‘Arry! ‘Arry!’? How about an appropriation of the Will Grigg song, going…”Harry Maguire! Theo Walcott’s terrified…”

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Things We Think We Think #244

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1. A week ago, we wistfully sighed at the triumph that a point from Manchester United, Liverpool or Arsenal would be, doubting that even that modest total could be met. Get ye gone, pessimism! Marco Silva is in charge, and there are shades of 2008’s “anything’s possible” mindset bubbling to the surface.

2. Manchester United first. Not unlike our other recent trip to Old Trafford, we went hoping for a point but more realistically aiming to keep it close. Instead, City fought tenaciously enough to pinch a draw, and came desperately close to even stealing what would have been a first win at that ground since 1952. And thoroughly merited it was too, with City playing with a confidence that belied our lowly league status.

3. We can scarcely imagine the chaos that would’ve ensued if Lazar Marković’s cute shot had struck David de Gea’s post another inch further along. In contrast to some visits to the “big clubs”, the away end was largely free of tourists and their revolting half-scarves, and instead the atmosphere was a good one and we all richly enjoyed the performance. But if only Marković had fractionally adjusted his shot…or Hernández had controlled that high ball when twenty yards clear…

3a. Of course, the embittered halfwits at Old Trafford would probably have lodged a High Court injunction striking the game from the records. Jose Mourinho is a nasty specimen whose repellent bullying attitude increasingly render him yesterday’s man, while being chided for playing to the cameras by Zlatan Ibrahimović is simply beyond parody. In case you’re wondering, you pair of dildos, it made the result even sweeter.

4. As it was, we didn’t have long to wait for bedlam in the stands while socking it to one of the Sky Sports Super Clubs. Liverpool may have been wobbling, and our resurrection is clear, but we still started as distant underdogs against a side that panned us 5-1 earlier in the season. This could scarcely have been different. Sure, the statistics may record that Liverpool had more possession, shots, corners and so on – but they looked fretful throughout, whereas City applied themselves with steely resolve. This is a side that really knows what it’s doing and calmly does it. And when Oumar Niasse unflinchingly stroked the game’s second goal past the Liverpool keeper to win the game, we had our moment of Tiger Mayhem.

5. There’s such a long way to go that this cannot be regarded as anything other than the start of things. We remain in the bottom three, and it’s going to take something remarkable at Arsenal to alter that next weekend. What’s clear is that Marco Silva is restoring confidence to a side that (and we really must remember this) was playing well under Mike Phelan, but rarely seemed to believe it could finish sides off. Whatever he’s doing, he needs to continue it.

6. City’s relegation in 2015 should forever dispel the myth that you can ‘win’ the January transfer window, but nonetheless there is good reason to be pleased with the recruitment done on Marco Silva’s behalf. Polish winger Kamil Grosicki seems a particularly exciting signing, giving us width and a ready made dead ball specialist to replace the departing Snodgrass. Grosicki seems genuinely excited to be a City player too, rather than just being here to rehabilitate a faltering career.

7. That might sound sneery, as City have signed a few players on loan who have essentially failed with their parent club (Niasse with Everton, Marković with Liverpool, Ranocchia with Internazionale), but no such sneer is intended. On the contrary Marco Silva’s plan of mobilising a mob of misfits is admirable (possibly inspired), and the vast improvement we’ve seen in David Meyler and likely 2017 Ballon D’or nominee Tom Huddlestone under Silva is testament to his ability to coach and improve players regardless of what has gone before. Sign one such player and the destabilising impact of Hatem Ben Arfa is a possibility, sign three or four and the odds of one or more being a success dramatically improves, and lessens the disruption if one fails miserably.

7a. City apparently missed out on Guingamp midfielder Yannis Salibur because they ‘ran out of time’. The transfer window is only open for one day after all. What’s that? It isn’t? Oh!

8. City fans have got so used to a lack of meaningful communication from either of the Allams that some have responded to the club’s ‘Transfer Window Review with Ehab Allam” with delirious glee. Regular meaningful communication is a MINIMUM REQUIREMENT of a chairman, it should not be considered an unexpected bonus or anything particularly laudable, even if the latest attempt is a positive step.

9. The Allams just don’t do admissions of personal culpability do they? Ehab attempted to pin the ‘permanent’ hiring of Mike Phelan (and indeed the overlooking of Marco Silva in the summer) on “three potential buyers” as if he had no input. With those deals no longer pursued (they lost interest as City dropped down the table, Ehab says; his standing up one of the bidders, Peter Grieve, had no impact) Ehab took positive, decisive action to bring Silva in. Nicely staged Ehab, of course you’ll come across well when there are no probing or challenging questions on the table. It’s way past time for you to address the Premier League rulebreaking on lack of concessions and the laughable marketing mess caused by using different club names on different media platforms.

10. Hard luck to Ahmed Elmohamady, who last night featured in the Egypt side that lost the final of the African Cup of Nations. He’s going to find a lot’s changed here when he returns to East Yorkshire…

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Things We Think We Think #243

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1. One week, two Cup games, two exits – and two very different ways of departing knockout competitions. Manchester United first, where City were magnificent in victory on the night, and although it wasn’t enough to make the League Cup final, it was still as impressive as anything we’ve seen this season.

2. All the more so for a highly unexpected team selection. It smacked a little of tossing the tie away and keeping our powder dry for the league, however the attitude on show suggested precisely the opposite. In the end, even if it never quite felt as though the miracle of qualification was on, City outplayed their illustrious guests and thoroughly merited a first win over them in four decades. Terrific stuff, and a richly enjoyable League Cup run came to an inspiring end.

3. Not that many were inspired to attend. To see the whole of the upper West Stand shut and barely 13,000 City fans in attendance was as shocking an indictment of the Allam family’s poison as you could wish to see.

4. Three days later came an exit from English football’s premier cup competition, and if we left its less distinguished counterpart with heads held high, no such feeling was possible at Fulham. City were disjointed, disorganised and worst of all, disinterested in crashing to a wretched 4-1 defeat at Craven Cottage. There are no positives to take, and it’s a stark reminder that Marco Silva has an epic task in making City competitive this season.

5. Which brings us back to the ghastly, spiteful, hateful Allam family, who seem to regard any bid of £10m from any club for any of our players as an automatic prompt to cash in and instruct the manager to replace them with an inferior loan. “We aren’t a selling club”, dribbled Ehab. He must think we’re as stupid as his classmates recall him to be.

6. Robert Snodgrass was a fine player for City, one whom we almost certainly didn’t see the best of thanks to his elongated spell on the sidelines after that horrific injury suffered on the opening day of 2014/15. Eventually we did get to witness some marvellous free kicks and some generally incisive displays from an international footballer who rightly felt he deserved better than a last-ditch auto-extension on his contract from a regime who have form for not adopting known employment practices for key senior players. We wish Snodgrass well at West Ham United, without obviously wishing any wellness towards West Ham United.

7. There has been some criticism of Snodgrass for not apparently showing enough loyalty to City after they nurtured him back to health while paying his not insubstantial wages over 15 months. As a riposte, we’d say that a) being seriously injured was not his fault; b) highly-paid footballers are just as likely to be injured as those on the breadline; c) he was never slow in thanking the club and the supporters for believing in him before and upon his return; d) he was generally brilliant this season; e) the quickness with which the club accepted the £10m offer suggested they could see life without him quite readily; and f) his slightly outspoken interviews in the early part of the season (specifically on the tiny number of players in the squad) suggests that he didn’t like nor trust nor rate the Allams and wanted to carry out his professional duties with a club that knew its gluteal muscles from its lateral epicondyle. Not that West Ham is that club, of course – a world of other problems exist there – but at least it understands that having some footballers on the payroll of a football club is rather crucial.

8. Burnley seem now close to getting Andy Robertson off us. Only a simpleton (morning, Ehab) would endorse such a deal and if he goes, that’s £30m worth of assets the owners have cashed in on without spending a bean on credible, proven replacements. Marco Silva has stated that up to four players are coming in before the deadline – but “up to four” can be defined as anything from four down to none whatsoever.

9. Manchester United on Wednesday, again. Then Liverpool at home. Then Arsenal… and then the fight to stay in the Premier League actually starts. Even a point from the next nine available would be regarded as a bonus, especially as we seem to be close to picking players barely on solids thanks to our destructive transfer policy.

10. Ryan Mason has been released from hospital and this is something from which we can take good cheer. The road to his full recovery starts here and we hope it is speedy and not uncomfortable.

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Things We Think We Think #242

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1. Defeat at Chelsea, and indeed football itself, seems inconsequential when a player suffers a potentially life threatening injury. We wish Ryan Mason a speedy recovery.

2. Discussing the consequence of games, though, is what we’re about, so… City played very well at Stamford Bridge, and can feel they deserved more than the 2-0 defeat they left with. A penalty kick, for the clear foul in the box on Abel Hernández  in the second half, might have changed the complexion of the game considerably, but criminally, one was not awarded.

3. There’s no guarantee City would have scored the penalty, or gone on to claim anything from the game if they had. We cannot state definitively that Mr Swarbrick’s error – or perhaps that of his dithering linesman – cost us a point. However, it’s gravely unfair that City weren’t given the opportunity to establish parity from the penalty spot, and the suspicion that referees subconsciously find it easier to give certain teams certain decisions lingers on.

4. But hey, City! Not many sides will leave Stamford Bridge having dominated second half possession (60-40%!), and even if the pattern of playing-terrifically-in-defeat has the potential to grow as tiresome as it is costly, it’s all a far cry from the grim surrender at Middlesbrough, which is probably our last truly poor ninety minutes. City, weirdly given the league table, are not off form. New arrivals Niasse, Elabdellaoui, and Evandro look both assured and hungry, which is a good sign. There’s faint hope yet.

5. So now we can put the Premier League to one side again and turn our attention to the cups. That there are Valentines cards in the shops and we are still in both major domestic knockout competitions is quite an achievement, and of course for the League Cup, unique. That said, it feels likely that our exit at the semi-final stage will be rubberstamped later this week.

6. It isn’t pessimism, and we’d obviously love to be proved wrong (we’d go out on an all-week bender if we were) but to be 2-0 down to Manchester United with 90 minutes to come of a two-legged semi-final feels like just too wide a canyon to cross. We’d need to score three times, not concede a goal, play a seriously good, expensively-assembled and well-drilled side off the park while relying on them to be depleted, distracted, complacent, affected by ill-discipline or injury, or all of the above. If they score once, we have to get four. It isn’t going to happen………. is it?

7. Then we head to Fulham, one of football’s more enjoyable awaydays, for a badly scheduled lunchtime FA Cup tie on Sunday. The day of the week can’t be helped, due to our unusual Thursday appointment in the other competition, but we suspect that the number of City supporters who will make the journey will be wildly reduced by the decision to hold the game before the credits to Weekend World (that’s still on TV on Sundays, isn’t it?) have rolled. The fixture itself allows an opportunity for further progress in a cup and a chance to reacquaint with Sone Aluko and Tom Cairney, both of whom have shared their warm memories of being City players.

8. We wish Jake Livermore well at West Bromwich Albion. He has gone to a likeable club, although we only half-jokingly warn him that he may spend a year playing at left back before Tony Pulis decides he isn’t what he wanted and sells him to Derby County. From a City point of view, £10m is good dough, so long as it is re-invested as Marco Silva identifies a permanent replacement, a need made more urgent by Mason’s awful injury.

8a. The departure of Robert Snodgrass now seems an inevitability. A wholly avoidable inevitability had we treated the player with respect and offered him a new deal before he could field offers from other clubs. Will the gap left by his departure be plugged with loan signing putty as the loss of Livermore has? Replacing good players with short term loan signings seems very near sighted.

9. It’s clear from reading Ehab Allam’s inanity in the Yorkshire Post last week that he still hasn’t learnt a thing. The fans are now apparently to blame for the lack of takeover, with a claim that potential new owners have asked if City supporters dislike foreign owners when observing the protests and noting the general mood around the place. We don’t believe any of the individuals who entered talks with the Allams said anything of the kind, and that Ehab is yet again presenting ‘alternative facts’ in order to avoid acknowledging where the problems truly lie: with himself, his family and their wretched, spiteful ways.

10. Pity the poor sap who gets the Customer Relationship Executive job currently being advertised by Hull City Tigers Limited. The job ad states: “The role will also help deliver the membership scheme to retain and develop the supporter base.” Talk about an impossible task.

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Things We Think We Think #241

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1. Marco Silva’s has had his first full week in charge of the Tigers, and whisper it quietly – very quietly indeed – but the opening signs are broadly positive. It’s crazily early to offer any sort of definitive judgement on the new City manager, and we won’t make any attempt to extrapolate beyond the immediate future, but nonetheless we’re impressed.

2. Unfortunately, his second game in charge was one that’s probably seen our faint dreams of League Cup glory and subsequent European exploration ended. Overcoming Manchester United over two legs was always a huge long shot, and while City’s 2-0 defeat at Old Trafford hasn’t absolutely settled the tie, it’s close to impossible to believe we’ll be two goals or more better than them in the return leg.

3. However, if the tie is effectively over and our dreams of major silverware have ended at the semi-final stage, then what remains is the memory of a sterling effort and the encouragement it provides. City defending manfully throughout to restrict a side assembled at preposterous expense to relatively few chances. Not much was created up front, unsurprisingly, but for a squad as thin and inexperienced as ours to keep it to 2-0, and be slightly unfortunate even to suffer that, was a superb achievement.

4. If that was the backs-to-the-wall against-all-odds match, then four days later came an altogether different test for Sr Silva. Bournemouth are an enormously admirable side, and even if they’ve experiencing a tick down in form they’re in a position we can only dream of. Nonetheless, this fell firmly into the “really could to do be winning” category. And we won it, deservedly, with a bit to spare and even the faintest hint of a swagger.

5. And that despite making it hard for ourselves too. Harry Maguire’s boneheaded challenge in the second minute could’ve been fatal for our chances, and had Bournemouth extended themselves properly and got a second while City were still coming to terms with a new formation and an early concession, it’d probably have been yet another defeat. However, as the first half wore on City cleared their heads and fought their way back.

6. Some of the play was far better than you’d expect from a side that started the day at the bottom of the table. We’ve seen that before, of course – the luckless Mike Phelan had City playing some attractive stuff prior to his dismissal, but this time there was a cutting edge. In other words, there was an Abel Hernández. His second goal was exactly the sort of predatory finish you can’t easily teach. Shifting the ball half a yard and instantly swiping it past an unsighted, uncomprehending keeper, it’s instinctive brilliance, and how we’ve missed it.

7. However, the hero of the hour may be Tom Huddlestone. He’s frequently frustrated, and a whiff of underachievement has stalked his time here, but he’s playing the finest football of his City career. He’s involving himself far further forward, his passing is not only sumptuously attractive but defence-splitting and he’s notably upped his workrate. In the past month, he’s become a joy to watch and an essential player. If he can maintain this level of performance, then maybe, just maybe…

8. No! Enough. The odds remain stacked against City, and the strong probability of four defeats from our next four games will quickly provide both a reality check and also a lot of late-season work to avoid relegation. We’re probably still going down. But we’re going down fighting, and that’s better than nothing.

9. Two new players – striker Oumar Niasse and midfielder Evandro – have arrived, and we welcome them warmly. We’re pleased to note that a right back appears to be next on his wish list. The sooner the better please, patrão.

10. Oliver Holt, one of the country’s most respected sports journalists, dedicated his entire Mail On Sunday column at the weekend to the situation at City, paying a visit to the UK City of Culture to talk to supporters. It’s a must-read and, while seeing everything we have to contend with via the toxic Allam regime in black and white isn’t an uplifting read, at least someone truly influential has put it all down for the national footballing consumer to digest. We hope the Allams read it, hang their heads in shame and change their attitudes overnight. But then still sell up very quickly.

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Things We Think We Think #240

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1. An unfathomable amount has happened since we last wrote one of these, most of it in the past week. It’s hard to know where to start: Mike Phelan’s dismissal, the appointment of a largely unknown foreign coach, Cup progress and the first ever organised boycott of a City home game. If stability is one of the key ingredients of footballing success, City are sorely lacking it.

2. Let’s start with the sacking of Mike Phelan six days ago. Taken in isolation, there’s a real stench of shabbiness about it. Phelan did a job few others would have taken on, and kept the show if not quite wholly on the road, then at least mostly out of the steep ditches on either side. We’re bottom, but we’re not as hopelessly adrift as Ehab’s summer sabotage might have left us, and we’re League Cup semi-finalists.

3. It’s easy to pick holes in what Phelan did, and he was far from perfect – sometimes too negative, erratic in the deployment of personnel and tactically limited. Nonetheless, he kept our miserably thin squad together, won more games than we expected and actually had City playing some attractive football towards the end. His status as a decent and respected football man will hopefully not suffer from his experience with the Allam family, we thank him for doing his best and wish him well for the future.

4. Marco Silva then. We are supposed to believe that Ehab Allam has suddenly become massively knowledgeable about football and wanted a manager, sorry head coach, with a sports science background (which is odd, because the owners had a purge of sports science staff a few years ago, deeming them a waste of money). It has been suggested that the appointment was made on the suggestion of a party interested in buying the club, but whether that’s the case or not, it seems implausible that Ehab identified Silva as a candidate by himself.

5. Nonetheless, Silva’s CV is impressive: Near miraculous achievements with a small club (Estoril) followed by delivering the first silverware in a while to a well known club (Sporting Lisbon) and a league championship in another country (Olympiacos). He showed himself to be very articulate in his first club interview and called us Hull City several times for good measure. His appointment has breathed new life into the club, and we wish him the best of luck as a Premier League manager and in dealing with the buffoon(s) currently running the club.

6. It was quite unfortunate for Silva’s first game in charge to coincide with an organised boycott. Some opportunists claimed that boycotting the game was the action of fans who ‘don’t have the club at heart’, which is quite disingenuous. The boycott was never, ever about the club’s manager, its players or league position, but rather to highlight malcontent with the owners, something that hadn’t previously penetrated the football supporting collective consciousness on a national level. We would argue that wanting rid of the Allams is absolutely the default position of those who truly have the club at heart.

7. The attendance was 6,608. That’s essentially 10,000 down on when we faced Swansea in the League Cup last season, suggesting the boycott was a ‘success’. No one should be celebrating it as such though, that’s we’ve gotten to this point is a cause for great sadness.

8. Ehab Allam thinks ‘two or three’ signings will be enough to save Hull City’s Premier League status, so ahead of the deals being done we look forward to welcoming Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski to the Circle very soon.

9. The prospect of Robert Snodgrass leaving before the month is out is a genuine concern, even after the club activated a contract extension without attempting to negotiate a proper, long term deal. West Ham’s bid of £3m might seem insulting, but frankly City have insulted the player more by leaving it until just days before he was permitted to field free agency offers before indicating we’d maybe like to retain him. Well run clubs tie up players they want to keep a year (sometimes more) before their current deal expires, but we are not a well run club, which may encourage Snodgrass, who has been at the heart of anything and everything good that has happened this season, to take his chances elsewhere. If Snodgrass has his head turned by West Ham’s interest, then a lowball first offer puts them in a good position to get him for less than his true worth.

10. We won’t be podcasting tonight – we boycotted Swansea and we can’t therefore offer a reliable view of the game.

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MIKE PHELAN SACKED BY CITY

PhelanMike

Mike Phelan has this evening been sacked by City.

The club are bottom of the Premier League following a summer of diligent, methodical sabotage by the Allam family, and Phelan – who has indeed erred on occasion but also got a ridiculously slender squad of middling Championship ability to be vaguely competitive and even sporadically entertaining, is that appalling family’s preferred scapegoat.

What a sordid, squalid, wretched shambles our club has become.

Thanks for giving it a go, Mike.

Fuck you Assem and Ehab.

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FAMOUS FIVE: City on New Years Day

There is no New Years Day game for City this season for the first time since 2012, although they are less common than you may think. The calendar – both the footballing one and the Gregorian one – has much say on this, as does the weather at a more instant level, but generally City haven’t had as many as is assumed. Not that it’s an especially memorable footballing day of course, and in compiling this little list, we’ve tried to look at context and sub-plots in making our choices. That doesn’t explain entry number three, mind – blame laziness for that or, better still, blame City…

1: 1st January 1990

Ternant, StanWhen one considers the prime candidacy of the 1990s to run away with the title of “worst decade in City’s history, ever”, it is gratifying a generation on to see how well City played in their very first game of the new decade. Of course, context is always everything, and at the time the Tigers were trying to burrow their way out of a relegation battle, having begun the season with Colin Appleton’s 16-game spell of uselessness which left us winless and humiliated at the bottom of what was still then known, accurately, as the Second Division.

Stan Ternent then came in and began to rescue the season. City had won three in a row under the brusque, belligerent, bespectacled curmudgeon as 1989 fizzled out, but few performances on his watch were better than the 3-2 win over Sunderland, a yo-yo club over the previous decade but still a mighty presence at this level, and one of the few teams with a fanbase that demanded the hasty checking of the safety certificate for the north east corner of Boothferry Park.

City took the lead on 12 minutes through a piece of opportunism by Andy Payton, then Wayne Jacobs scored in similar circumstances against a Sunderland defence playing as if they’d brought in the new decade a bit too enthusiastically at Finos the night before, though obviously the great and good Tony Norman, a City legend making his first return to his old club after a ludicrous transfer the previous season, had been tucked up in bed by 9.

The second half saw Sunderland’s comeback begin with a free header from sub Thomas Hauser, but within a minute Peter Swan had climbed majestically to power a Billy Askew corner into the top of the net to restore the cushion. Marco Gabbiadini snuck in a deflected shot with 15 minutes left, but City held on for a fourth straight win, and a fifth from eight since Ternent took over.

City ended the season in a comfortable 14th, a bizarre joint-highest position since their first season back in the second tier in 1985/86. Swan’s goal at Roker Park completed a double over Sunderland in April, though the Mackems still went up, rather spawnily, after their play-off conquerors Swindon Town were barred from entering the First Division due to making irregular payments to players.

2: 1st January 1955

MannionWIt looks an otherwise insignificant game – City at home to Nottingham Forest, both in the bottom half of the Second Division. City were actually in a catastrophic run of form, with no wins in their previous nine games. Forest weren’t faring much better, and had already lost to City at their own place back in August, which had been part of a purple patch for City of four straight wins that now seemed forever ago.

But as the festive period beckoned, City had found themselves all over the newspapers thanks to a notable, controversial signing. Wilf Mannion, now 36, had won 26 England caps and played at the World Cup in 1950. But the distinguished tenure at hometown club Middlesbrough of the man dubbed the “Golden Boy” had been hit by a contract dispute that trailed Jean Marc Bosman by almost 50 years. Wishing to leave Middlesbrough in 1948, he eventually took an office job after they refused to relinquish his registration, eventually returning a year later after the club agreed to sell him for what would have been a world record £25,000. Even then, Mannion fanned the flames further by refusing to join any club that would pay such a sum, citing a creeping commercialisation in football of which he disapproved.

So it was an outspoken figure, popular with fans but not authority, who joined the Tigers at Christmas 1954. He became City’s oldest debutant in a home defeat to Luton, and then along came Forest. He scored one of City’s goals in a 3-2 defeat, which would turn out to be his only goal for the club. He played for the rest of the season, despite the rest of the January programme succumbing to a harsh winter, and was an influential inside forward as City, who never really emerged fully from their rut, stayed up essentially on their August form. Ipswich and Derby both beat City at the end of the season but still went down.

The story ended peculiarly for Mannion, as he revealed in a newspaper article that he had been offered a financial inducement – or, as it’s more commonly known now, a signing-on fee – of a whopping £3,000 to sign for a club he then refused to name. Unable to wheedle the information out of him, the FA suspended him, and he decided to retire and go into non-league football. He eventually returned to Middlesbrough to work on building sites and a statue of him is outside the Riverside Stadium, and he remained City’s oldest debutant until Andy Hessenthaler’s arrival in 2005.

3: 1st January 1972, 1974, 1977

70steamThe only three New Years Day games of the 1970s (Portsmouth away, Bolton at home, Blackpool away respectively) yielded three goalless draws within three featureless seasons culminating in three mid-table finishes, embodying the dullness of City in the 70s as a whole. All we can say by way of consolation to the players involved is that at least nobody took part in all three matches.

4: 1st January 2008

StokeawayNYD

Indulge your author for a moment, because he has always marked this date down as the one which sparked up his belief that City could actually win promotion to the Premier League for the first time. Yes it was a 1-1 draw (albeit an entertaining one), yes City were still no better off than upper mid-table, and yes we had still to play West Bromwich Albion, who had already marked themselves out as the team to catch for the campaign. But it’s true, and there is audio from that season (somewhere) to back it up. That we’d taken a point off Stoke at theirs, again, was also quite satisfying.

They had taken the lead in the first half with as typically a Stoke goal as it was possible to get, when ex-City defender Leon Cort managed to glance in a Rory Delap long throw, which he wisely chose not to celebrate in front of the City fans this time (though at least part of this may have been because nobody, including him, seemed to realise he’d touched the ball, though Stoke players cleverly congratulated him to persuade the referee, as direct throw-ins into the net are not allowed). But City clawed back into it with a gritty and dynamic second half display, and Caleb Folan, our shiny new £1m signing, got above the tortured Cort to nod in a Dean Windass cross on the hour.

No further goals but we genuinely didn’t look back after this game, despite West Brom doing the expected job on us in front of the TV cameras at the Circle the following week. Meanwhile, New Years Day 2008 also brought a last moment of magnitude with ten minutes left of the game when Stuart Elliott was thrown on as a sub to find a winner. He couldn’t. It was his 193rd and final league appearance for City.

5: 1st January 1966

GymTraining60s

The great goalscoring achievements of the 1965/66 team should never cease to amaze. In winning the Third Division title – lest we forget, the only non-regional title we’ve ever managed – City scored 106 goals, 100 of which came from just five men. The two wingers – Ray Henderson and Ian Butler – got 13 each, the centre forward – Chris Chilton – got 25, and the two inside forwards – Ken Wagstaff and Ken Houghton – got 27 and 22 respectively. Three of these men each only missed one game in all competitions all season and a fourth was ever-present.

Yet because the defence still leaked like a sieve, it seemed nothing was going to be easy, or predictable, or straightforward. City’s main challengers all season were Millwall, and the two played each other on consecutive days just after Christmas 1965, taking a win each. Then along came Swansea Town to Boothferry Park on New Years Day, and the Tigers went to, er, town on them, stung by the shoeing Millwall had given them by three goals, without reply, three days before, which had swapped the sides round at the top of the table and was to be only the second of three occasions all season that City would draw a blank.

A whopping 17,531 fewer people attended the Swansea game than did the previous home match against Millwall, but it didn’t affect anyone’s celebrations. Wagstaff scored first, then Henderson, then Chilton, then Wagstaff again. Swansea, who had beaten City in south Wales back in October, did pull one back, immaterially. Typically, City followed it up with a defeat to an otherwise characterless Swindon side the following week, but then went on a 14-game unbeaten run which produced a preposterous 41 goals (39 from the front five) and made City strong favourites for the title, while simultaneously getting as far as the quarter finals of the FA Cup.

When one looks at those scoring stats again, it remains something of a surprise that no more than three of those five magnificent attacking forces ever scored in the same league game during 1965/66 (though four, with Chilton the exception, managed a goal each in the FA Cup second round tie at Gateshead). It is more of a surprise to learn that four did manage to score in the same match the following season in two consecutive games (and two different foursomes at that), even though the division was far tougher and City as a whole scored 29 fewer goals. Henderson left in 1968 but the others stayed in attack together until 1971 and yet never managed it again. Funny game, football…

On New Years Day 1987, City lost a phenomenal seven-goal thriller against Barnsley at Boothferry Park. But we’ve already written about that. Happy new year to you…

FEAT-TWTWT

Things We Think We Think #239

TWTWT

1. There’s no fun in losing, even if the game that resulted in defeat was highly enjoyable and exciting. That said, if we’re to lose games (and there is a pretty good chance we’ll lose a few more between now and May) then it’s better to lose as we did at West Ham, than it was at Middlesbrough. Since City meekly lost beside the River Tees, seemingly resigned to the fate of relegation, the Tigers have shown some fight, some pride, some enterprise and they’ve made us feel a stirring of pride in them as a consequence, even if we’ve picked up just the solitary point out of the nine on offer.

2. City were nothing short of magnificent at the oddly rebranded Olympic Stadium. They took the game to the hosts, fashioned several goalscoring chances and pretty much dominated proceedings. Only some fractionally errant shooting, which saw the ball strike the uprights rather than the netting, saw us come away without the point(s) we we so richly deserved.

3. A trio of young players, Harry Maguire, Andy Robertson and Sam Clucas were a revelation against West Ham. The post-Boro transformation of Clucas, no longer shackled by solely defensive duties, has been rewarding to witness.

4. West Ham remain a joyless club, with charm-free supporters, now viewing their football in a purpose-built, state-funded stadium, albeit one with a purpose that wasn’t and never will be football. Still, they won the World Cup, something of which they obviously seldom choose to remind us, and so probably deserve a taxpayer-funded luxury home, don’t they? Leyton Orient? Nah, you don’t count. And, to top it all, the spectacularly overhyped Mark Noble, beloved of the media but rightly ignored by England managers and disliked by City fans for being so crap on loan with us, scored the only goal. We were irritated by his being described by one TV commentator as “ever-reliable”, given that he had earlier headed the ball, unchallenged and entirely panic-stricken, against the frame of his own goal. Not the actions of someone “ever-reliable”. Had he ever been allowed within dashing distance of an England cap and done that on duty for his country, you can imagine it would have been easier to just blame John Stones instead.

5. Defeat at Tottenham earlier in the week was easier to bear, just because it was, well, Tottenham. They’re as a good a side as West Ham are not. Our last four league meetings at White Hart Lane have ended 0-0, 1-0, 2-0 and now 3-0. The only reason we don’t bank on there being a 4-0 reversal next time we play them is because we don’t actually know when that will be, and it won’t be in the same stadium anyway.

6. For all that, at 1-0 down there was that moment when Jake Livermore should have scored. He had two chances, one as a result of the other, and couldn’t put either of them away. Even though Jake’s job isn’t to score goals, and we’d have probably had to endure the slightly sick-making spectacle of his refusing to celebrate the goal had it gone in, he still should have stuck it away. That a hitherto complacent Spurs then went up the other end and secured the points in minutes was as inevitable as it was disheartening.

7. The holiday period. Home games against Manchester City and Everton, then the seasonal highlight of a trip to West Brom. Nine points? Stop it. Seven, six, five, four? Optimistic. Three? A start. None? Entirely possible.

8. The Hull City Supporters’ Trust’s call for a boycott of the Swansea FA Cup game is a sad but necessary step. It’s upsetting that the club is being wilfully mismanaged to the extent at which an organisation dedicated to encouraging support of the club feels it must advocate the withdrawal of that support for one game, and given that this has never been done for a home fixture before, a stark reminder of just how calamitous the Allams’ misrule is becoming.

9. So, we endorse the call for a boycott, and will not be attending. However, this must – MUST – become something that unites rather than divides, even if you choose to attend. And that is absolutely your right, incidentally. Anyone criticising a fellow City fan who wishes to go is unwise to do so. You may be on a run of games, or flying home as a special occasion, or just enjoy your Saturday afternoon at the football too much to give it up. Fair enough. But while we’ve never boycotted a City home game before, we HAVE given an away game a miss: Huddersfield, and Bubblegate, in Spring 2013. City fans left the away end deserted, and West Yorkshire Police have never since attempting a similar criminalisation of football fans. This boycott is merely a means to an end rather than the end itself, but by leaving the ground empty it’s the opportunity to make a clear point: that if the Allam family does not sell this club to someone who will run it properly, this is what our future could look like.

10. The American essayist Waldo Emerson’s once wrote: “Shallow men believe in luck, believe in circumstances: it was somebody’s name, or he happened to be there at the right time, or it was so then, and another day it would have been otherwise. Strong men believe in cause and effect.” If we’re to believe in cause and effect, guess who we’d ultimately blame for City being bottom of the league?

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Spurs 3 City 0

LivermoreJ1415

Football’s all about sequences sometimes.  Look hard enough and you find pattern.  A team regularly following the pattern of winning, will more than likely win the league.  Particularly in the Premier League, a team following a pattern of defeats will see the league ruthlessly take advantage and heap more despair on the teams run.

And then there’s more subtle patterns.  Details that somehow keep repeating.  Thanks to fellow match reporter Rob Kaye in spotting this, the run of Premier league results at White Hart Lane follow a pattern.  Starting with Geovanni’s winner in the 0-1Boaz Myhill’s goalkeeping master class in the 0-0Ahmed Elmohamady harshly penalised seeing us lose 1-0, then last time losing 2-0.

Yes there’s a Premier League pattern happening when City visit White Hart Lane.

Following the weekends much improved performance, Mike Phelan cards the same starting 11…

                            Marshall
Maguire  Dawson  Davies
Elmohamady                                Robertson
Livermore  Clucas  Huddlestone
Snodgrass
Diomande

December’s not a great month for a mid week fixture.  Companies are holding Christmas parties, seeing staff wander in the next day with stinking hang-overs, barely able to function whilst drifting out of a slumber.  The collective parties of Tottenham and Hull City must have had an effect on the pitch as the two sides dozed through the early exchanges.

Tottenham are very much playing within themselves, keeping tight possession at the back and occasionally playing forward.  The ex-Spurs contingent in the City side are clearly stepping their own personal performances at their former footballing home.

The first action of the game sees Sissoko break clear, but as he shapes to shoot, Jake Livermore gets a block in.  Soon after another Spurs break after they defend Tom Huddlestone’s free kick with Wanyama releasing Eriksen up the right, Huddlestone covering his defenders well to get the clearing block in.

It’s not long before Spurs take the lead.  A long ball forward sees Rose charge up his left wing, to be faced by the backtracking Elmohamady.  He cuts inside the Egyptian, before passing into Eriksen to side foot past the exposed David Marshall.

Fired up by this Spurs attack with more purpose, Alli trying a long shot that’s easily collected by Marshall.  Sissoko also runs at the City back line before being felled by Curtis Davies, whose name is taken.  The resulting free kick is put wide by Eriksen.

With the ex-Spurs players putting in the more eye catching performances, one who stands out in these early exchanges is Huddlestone.  Tracking back to help his defence, driving forward to try and create something.  This however comes to a very sudden stop, as he blocks another Spurs attack, before going down, screaming out and holding his hamstring.  He was soon back up and ran this injury off, bur from that point in the game he very much became a shadow of his former self.  However whilst Huddlestone was down, City managed their first attack.  Maguire had put in a typical firm challenge and cleared the ball to the advancing Livermore, unfortunately his weak effort was easily claimed by Lloris.

By now, City are dragging themselves back into the game.  Perhaps given more space by Spurs only pressing when we’re deep in their territory, the Tigers are passing the ball about with more confidence.  However the one failing of the line-up is time and again exposed. Adama Diomande is expected to single handedly lead the front line.  Whilst he does this, frustratingly he’s never given enough support to make this count.

Whilst City are enjoying more of the play, Spurs are playing with more purpose.  Attacking with greater speed than we offer.  Maybe that’s their game plan, try and draw out the back three before hitting City on the break.  And it works, a long ball up finds Alli who initially wrong foots Marshall, before he contorts himself back to palm the shot wide of the post.

One feature of Harry Maguire is his once per match rampage up field, a sea of opposing players lay behind the young centre back as he powers through.  Spurs have a player of their own doing this. Vertonghen tries his own ‘Maguire run’, turning the City side inside and out, until he reaches the past master of this art.  Big Harry sticks out a firm boot, stopping the Belgian in his tracks.

Half time allows me to reflect on the match.  Spurs are very much trying to pin City’s two wing backs back, yet are still in first gear.  City for all their passing endeavour are still too deep and offering Diomande no support.  As a result, City rarely threatening the Spurs goal.

Looking around, White Hart Lane is changing.  The trip into the ground sees the skeleton of the new ground taking shape. Inside the corner opposite the one housing City’s away following has been demolished ready for the new stadium.  Apparently the new stadium will be the biggest Football ground in London (Wembley aside).  They also have plans to make this the most connected ground in the country, in a bid to aid the fan experience.  Can you imagine that, a football club trying to improve a supporters match day experience.  Now why would they want to do that?  Do Tottenham not know how supporters should be treated?  This does lead to a question for you Ground Tickers.  Once Spurs start to use the new White Hart Lane ground, am I allowed to claim it as a ticked ground, or will I lose my Spurs claim until such time we visit the new layout?  I guess this question has only really been posed once before when Bournemouth rotated Dean Court

The half time break also offered the usual chance for the substitutes to warm up on the field.  Conspicuous by his absence, Ryan Mason is not taking part with his colleagues, offering a suggestion he may come on at half time.  Spurs are taking this opportunity a little differently.  Either their substitutes are extremely short, or they’ve just dragged out a bunch of local kids to have a half time pass about.  As the teams returned to the field of play, City’s starting 11 lined up.  Maybe Mason spent half time collecting his old belongings from his locker.

City start the second half well.  A strange goal kick tactic from Spurs sees them pass the ball short, allowing Andy Roberson to nip in and win a corner.  The corner is headed by Maguire off a Spurs head, winning another corner, this one finding Michael Dawson at the far post, going behind for a goal kick. Again Spurs try the short kick routine, giving Diomande a chance to catch them out.  Soon after, Spurs abandon this tactic.

Other than the ex-Spurs players, the other stand out in the City side is Sam Clucas.  Defensively he’s providing an effective shield to the back line, up front he’s a willing runner trying to support Diomande up front.

Robert Snodgrass’s newly acquired reputation precedes him after Wanyama concedes a soft free kick. Wanyama is clearly enrages at the Scot, claiming it wasn’t a foul, but the ref still awarding it.  With this being one of the games that passes Snodgrass by, his woeful freekick is easily cleared.

Within minutes, City are offered a chance to get back on levels terms.  A Spurs player is felled just inside the box, with them appealing for a penalty and the referee waving play on, City break with Livermore bursting through into the Spurs box.  His first shot is blocked, before rebounding back out to him.  His follow up shot is again goal bound before Vertonghen clears off the line.

After Alli is replaced by Winks, the match is up for City.  Walker gets up his wing far too easily, playing the ball along the edge of the 6 yard box.  With the static defence unable to clear, Eriksen pokes in at the back post.

This goal has knocked City’s confidence.  Spurs are starting to step up a gear and take the game to the Tigers.  Even Walker’s having pot shots from a distance

Despite his good performance, Clucas is removed for Mason to give our midfield trio a complete Spurs reunion.  Whilst I’ve recently tried to defend Mason, claiming he’s playing out of position, he came on in his preferred position, hopefully fired up against his former side.  He then proceeded to spend the next 24 minutes emulating the final appearance of Ben Arfa at Old Trafford.  Rarely have I seen a player come on and offer so little.  In effect, City may have played the rest of the match out with 10 players.

Topping this off, Spurs soon get their third.  Whilst an amber tinted view may suggest Maguire cleanly tackles Rose, a free kick was given on the edge of the area.  With Eriksen sensing a hat-trick, he positioned himself with a very angled run-up.  As a result the City wall looked badly out of position.  Eriksens shot looped over the bar and Marshall got his finger tips to the ball, but it crashed off the post and dropped down for Wanyama to tap in.

With City well beaten, Spurs started to rest players withdrawing Kane for Son.  City did similarly, ready for the weekends trip to the Olympic Park with Livermore withdrawn for David Meyler.

Spurs tails are really up now.  The City defence and midfield are lines up on the 18 yard line, leaving Diomande further isolated up front.  Shots are still coming in and Marshall’s having to do well to save through the sea of legs in front of him.

The few times Diomande does get a chance, the Spurs defenders are able to double up on him, so his continual attempts to trick past them are very easily defended.  Jarrod Bowen did come on in place of Snodgrass to at least give Diomande someone to talk to.  However with the rest of the team so far back, even using semaphore wouldn’t get the message “Kick the flipping ball to me” would struggle to get the message to the rest of the team.

By now, Spurs were happy to see the game out.  Onomah replaced Sissoko and their players finished off their job well done.

Leaving the ground on the train north from White Hart Lane, I was talking to another City fan.  He’s remained in attendance this season, whereas I’ve given up funding the ghastly two at the head of the club.  His view was that this was a good City performance, at least compared to recent matches at Middlesbrough.  I saw this as a poor performance, not referencing other games.

And so the highlighted sequence continues.  0-1, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0.  Is it worth putting money down now on a 4-0 defeat for our next visit to White Hart Lane?  Or is it too optimistic to suggest City will return to a league fixture there any time soon?

James Lockwood (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)