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PREVIEW: Derby v City

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Things We Think We Think #324

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1. Prior to the Stoke fixture on Saturday, discussion centred on whether City’s cuffing at Blackburn would prove to be a reversion to the mean, or simply a blip en route to better things. We can’t know for sure, but the weekend win over the pre-season title favourites does suggest the latter – and that this startling mid-season charge towards the upper reaches of the table may not over just yet.

2. This was a different kind of win to some we’ve enjoyed lately. Not the glory of besting the Champions of the Europe in their own fetid lair, nor the slightly gaudy pulversing of poor Bolton. City had to stoutly armwrestle their way to a meat and two veg kind of win, but it’s no less satisfying for it. There’s little doubt that the City of autumn 2019 would have find a way to lose this type of fixture to this type of opponent.

3. Now, we seem to find ways to win. The first half was a pretty wretched spectacle. Perhaps understandably: City’s patched up defence will still have had the misery of Ewood Park at the front of its mind, while Stoke have struggled for fluency throughout a season of disappointing underachievement. The visitors perhaps still had fractionally the better of it, but City were clearly under orders to press high and hard, and it was effectively disruptive.

4. That first goal though! On first viewing, it appeared that Bowen shouldn’t really have beaten the keeper at his near post from such an angle. Subsequent replays showed a shot with unnatural curl applied, and a reminder that this young winger really does look the real deal.

5. Then – following Marshall’s highly enjoyable penalty save – City captured the points with a second half display of growing authority. The second goal came via a clinical breakaway, and after that Stoke didn’t look remotely like troubling us. So much of that is down to a defence that was considerably more than the sum of its parts, but it was also very effectively screened by a midfield that spent the afternoon engaged in a gritty battle for supremacy. We rarely relax even at 2-0, City fans never really should, but this felt different. It felt safe.

6. A word for Robbie McKenzie. He had a tough afternoon at Blackburn, one that suggested he wasn’t yet ready for the rigours of Championship football. To bounce back within a week and play as though his Ewood chasing hadn’t even happened, hints at impressive character. Young players’ development can be affected by being exposed to the first team too early, but he looked the part on Saturday. Now, just as Blackburn was only one game, so this too is only one game. But it was a strong recovery from a player who played with determination and confidence. It was a pleasure to watch.

7. Todd Kane was the sponsors’ man of the match, and there’s no real argument with that, as he was very good. Marshall’s claim was bolstered by his penalty save (and his excellent distribution – more of this please) but probably undermined by having too quiet an afternoon. Bowen and Grosicki were once again too good for middling opposition, Campbell ran himself into the ground, McKenzie was strong and Lichaj unpassable, but Stewart also had a very solid case for the award. His improvement, that begun with that improbable point against Norwich, has continued. He’s a guaranteed starter at the moment – who saw that coming?

8. And so another transfer window passes underwhelmingly. There was a school of thought that defeat at Blackburn would make the Allams less likely to support Nigel Adkins in the transfer market, as that loss suggesed that our promotion prospects were rather remote. So why – from their perspective – spend money when we aren’t going down, and can’t go up? And there’s a ruthless logic to that. But the decision was made not to support the manager, and he deserved better.

9. City’s new crest is due to be launched soon. A trailer featuring Hull City Kits was trailed last Tuesday, and it seems the club are genuinely optimistic at having struck upon something that may find favour with City fans. That isn’t an easy task at the best of times, and these are not the best of times – rather than seeking to accommodate fans’ wishes, this is a club that has repeatedly sought to antagonise, and still has multiple outstanding issues that it refuses to resolve. But they’re clearly hopeful of a better reception here.

10. The crest itself was picked in a pretty unusal way, with a variety of contributors being invited to pick from a set of pre-determined options. The club also made those present sign Non Disclosure Agreements, a wheeze reminiscent of James Mooney’s ill-fated attempt to suppress the true horror of the membership scheme a few years ago. Still…we have a feeling the new crest won’t be so bad (it could scarcely be worse than the amateurish, spite-driven nonsense we presently endure), and suspect it’ll fall down the list of Things That Urgently Need Fixing At This Broken Football Club.

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Things We Think We Think #322

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1. Our minds continue to boggle at what’s happening. A season that seemed certain to feature a grim battle against relegation, whose ultimate outcome was unguessable, has transformed in the space of a few bewildering weeks to a play-off push that looks increasingly plausible. It may be the most stunning turnaround to a season…well, ever.

2. Saturday’s dismissal of Sheffield Wednesday was imperious. From the first minute to the last, City completely dominated. Wednesday’s goalkeeper Keiren Westwood timewasting as early as the fifth minute suggested they were concerned about the afternoon, and those fears were well-founded. Though the opening goal took nearly half the match to arrive, it was yet another peach from Jarrod Bowen, and it was a well-deserved end to an opening 45 that City had much the better of.

3. If the first half was City’s on points, the second was a series of emphatic knockdowns. Wednesday barely featured as an attacking force, becoming the second successive side to leave the Circle without registering a shot on target – a huge compliment to not only a defence that’s gone from porous to miserly, but a midfield that’s also gone from flimsy to all-conquering. 3-0 probably flattered our outclassed visitors, because this was a ruthlessly one-sided match thanks to a display that – dare we say it – closely resembled the sort that top six sides produce.

4. Jarrod Bowen. Surely only promotion is going to see him spend another Christmas in East Yorkshire, and that’s rather how it should be. He’s eviscerating Championship defences on a weekly basis, and deserves a chance to see how he fares in the top division. This transfer window may just be a trifle early to get his move, but a move is surely coming (barring City going up). Let’s enjoy him while we can, because his is a remarkable talent.

5. Kevin Stewart was the sponsors’ man-of-the-match on Saturday. Not an obvious choice perhaps, but that’s only because there was half a dozen strong contenders. It wasn’t exactly undeserved, because he laid a strong foundation in midfield throughout, denying the visitors any kind of toehold in the middle of the pitch. Who’d have thought we’d be in a position of not badly missing Jackson Irvine?

6. Villa next, a side who can’t have expected to find themselves below City at any point this season. There’s no knowing how long this run can continue for, because all good things have to come to an end; but the later it does end, the closer to the top six we’ll get. And if we win again, and go within a few points of the top six…what then? Just how far can City go? Can we really challenge for promotion – or will this amazing run be eventually remembered as a highly enjoyable mid-season spurt that banished relegation fears en route to  a satisfying midtable finish? It’s almost pointless guessing any more, because these are strange, heady days. But we’ll travel with confidence, and who knows…

7. How we’ve missed Club Statements from City! Last Thursday was not one of the genre’s vintage, but it did supply several hostages to fortune that can be revisited when the present transfer window closes next month. That said, the claim that sales aren’t likely was carefully worded – “no intention” is not the same as “will not”. And that still wouldn’t be unacceptable, at least not in normal circumstances. A bid of over £10m for either Bowen or Grosicki would test the best of owners, while a serious Premier League club coming in for Bowen would make it hard for City to stand in his way. The problem is that owners who routinely operate in bad faith will never be trusted on this sort of thing, however much wiggle room they provide in club statements.

8. No-one’s talking about takeovers any more, are they? That wasn’t always a bad thing during the due diligence stage, but with the issue disappearing from view it almost certainly means that the ghastliness of the Allam reign is to continue. And that is emphatically a Very Bad Thing. It cannot be anything else – owners who veer between malice and disinterest are never going to end up providing long-term success for the club and its community, and it would be deeply foolish to soften one’s view of their unpleasantness just because things are improving on the pitch. For that, the manager and team deserve untold credit – it is absolutely nothing to do with Ehab or Assem Allam, whose departures from the club we continue to long for.

9. Instead, Assem resurfaces and Ehab emits a garrulous statement, and it’s hard not to fear the very worst: that these appalling, unpleasant, divisive and spiteful owners are preparing themselves to stay. There’ll be repercussions; there’s been a recent ceasefire while takeovers were discussed, but any confirmation that they’re hanging around is certain to break that. Meanwhile, the club’s death spiral – and don’t for a second let a few wins disguise the slow-motion disaster that’s unfolding – will continue.

10. There’ll be podcasts aplenty this week – tonight’s will focus on City’s remarkable present, and tomorrow night, to mark our 200th edition, we’ll have a retrospective look back at the Great Escape season of 1998/99, without whose successful conclusion none of what followed may have been possible. There’ll be a very, very special guest joining us too…

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Things We Think We Think #321

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1. City couldn’t quite carry their incredible league form into the FA Cup, with defeat at Millwall condemning us to an instant exit from the tournament. It looked for a while as though a much-weakened City was going to prevail in south London, but it wasn’t to be.

2. It irks. It always irks when the side is hugely changed, unsurprisingly plays less coherently than the more settled Championship side and loses. City may not be alone in treating the FA Cup with ill-disguised contempt, and this isn’t a recent complaint, but it’ll never make a lot of sense – particularly given that our prospects of staying up are now are probably over 95%, so why not have a go of things in the FA Cup? How does losing help?

3. Grumble, moan, complain. We’ll probably make the same carping comments next year as well. At least defeat to Millwall wasn’t wholly without positives. Jon Toral played well, George Long looked a reasonable understudy to David Marshall and David Milinković’s appearance showed greater promise than his timekeeping. The latter has often been touted as the sort of player who could break open a tight game; by spring, as sides up and down the land are wearying from the Championship’s remorseless grind, you’d like to think a player of his ilk could play decisive cameos. We’ll see.

4. It was also nice to see Keane Lewis-Potter make his City debut. Regular stiffs-watchers foresee big things for a boy so young he’s barely older than the Circle, and it can only have been a proud moment for him and his family. Bag some more in the ressies, young man, and if all goes to plan there are bound to be a few Championship dead rubbers when the clocks go forward with your name on them…

5. The FA Cup draw is this evening, and having despaired of our previous tie, we’ll now look forward to Millwall getting <best possible tie imaginable at this stage of the tournament given who’s left in>. Bah. Anyway, by making the Third Round’s scheduling unprecedentedly ridiculous this year, it isn’t as if City are alone in not really caring about the Cup. The FA have done more to undermine the competition this season than the Premier League, Sky Sports, BT Sport and wussy managers put together. Dolts.

6. We return to Championship action on Saturday with the visit of Sheffield Wednesday. They lie below City in the table, offering what appears – on paper – an appetising opportunity to gather yet another three points. And with the Owls leaderless while they await the arrival of their new manager, one Stephen Roger Bruce, it isn’t easy knowing what mindset they’ll possess. Bruce will either be physically present, or at least closely watching his future charges from elsewhere, and they’ll all surely want to impress their future manager. However, they could feel in limbo while experiencing this odd and fairly unusual situation of knowing who their next boss is but waiting for him to take over. It won’t be a gimme, and any sense of complacency from City fans would be appallingly misplaced. But if City do rack up another win…

 7. So what now for City? The play-offs may feel tantalisingly close, but they remain seven places and seven points away. Not many teams in our immediate vicinity will be eyeing them with any more than wistful hope, and just because we’re recent arrivals to the midtable party doesn’t mean we ought to do any different. Sure, “there’s always one team” – hey, eleven years ago it was about to be us. We’re discounting nothing. But what about the club’s owners?

8. Imagine you’re an Allam. No seriously, imagine it; you can take a disinfecting bath later. Is the situation promising enough to make it worth a rare investment in the side? Are you minded to think that with just a million or two judiciously spent, you might – just might – receive a return on your investment dozens of times greater? Or does the current ultra-austerity remain? We don’t know what Ehab will be thinking. In fact, we aren’t sure that cogitation is really his thing at all. But assuming this higher-level brain function is available to him…is he sticking, or maybe just thinking about having a speculative little twist?

9. Having spent much of the season grouching, then begrudging, we’re enjoying the recent feting of Nigel Adkins. Why not – this turnaround is one of the most startling anyone can remember. City have won relegation battles before, but the way we’ve gone from desperate strugglers to midtable fancy-dans constitutes arguably the most stunningly unexpected transformation of our fortunes in a very long time. Adkins’ job is clearly secure for the remainder of the season, barring a cataclysm that even the vast cosmic force that is TypicalCity may not be capable of wreaking. And he’ll be starting the 2019/20 season with us as well. Capitalise on this, Mr Adkins: you probably have a period of grace in which to plan that isn’t often available to managers in the febrile Championship rat race…

10. There’ll be no AN podcast this evening, but back to normal next Monday. We’ve got a very special guest lined up for a future podcast as well, of which more soon…

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Things We Think We Think #319

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1. Another away game, another addition to our points haul. The 2-2 draw at Millwall wasn’t as impressive as the previous weekend’s 3-2 win at QPR – not even close, really, either in terms of the outcome or the result. But it’s another point, gleaned in trying conditions to deny relegation rivals what would have been a painful victory. We have to be glad about that.

2. It all looked so promising early in the game. City started rapidly and took a deserved lead, and at that stage it looked as though another win in the capital was on the cards. It’s a real pity City didn’t score what could have been a decisive second during this period.

3. However, when Millwall levelled, we ended up hanging on for half-time, and the third quarter of the game was frankly awful. That Millwall didn’t make the game safe explains why they’re also in trouble, because they had ample opportunity to do so. City were probably as poor as at any time this season between the 46th and 70th minute, and the sheer extent to which we were second best was frightening.

4. Then an equaliser was burgled, and after that neither side really showed enough conviction to suggest they’d end up winning. Overall, City’s claim to deserve a point is a little optimistic, but we’re not too bothered about that. We got the draw, even if troublingly lengthy spells of the game saw us chasing shadows.

4a. Millwall playing music after their goals was quite something. It’s like discovering that Gripper Stebson used Roland’s stolen dinner money to buy a flower press.

5. What a valuable point it is. We’re now a useful three ahead of the bottom three, and that equaliser ensured that Millwall are kept at bay rather than overtaking us. 21 points from 21 games and 19th is probably about as good as this appallingly depleted squad can do at the moment; if we have a decent return over Christmas, it’s possible that we’ll start 2019 in a handy position to avoid relegation. And if the Allam nightmare is finally curtailed and some investment made in the squad…

6. Brandon Fleming made his first League start for City on Saturday, and it must have been a day to remember for the young man. Being outjumped for Millwall’s equaliser must have been a chastening moment, but he didn’t let that unduly unsettle him. He can be proud of his afternoon’s work, and can probably look forward to more first-team action this season.

7. What a deeply dispiriting FA Cup draw. While we always crave a tick ground, at least playing someone from a different division – be it lower or higher – makes for an interesting occasion. Having a second trip to Millwall inside a month is the direct opposite of good. We can’t even pretend it’s good from the standpoint of progressing in the tournament, as home advantage alone will ensure Millwall are favourites to make Round 4. Bah, bah and thrice bah.

8. Nigel Adkins made it to a year in charge through the week. It hasn’t been a year of limitless glory, but instead has seen one relegation battle (successful) segue inevitably into another (barely surviving). Not much of that is his fault, and City’s recent run of good form has helped to establish a sneaking regard for him. He isn’t what we want in the long term. However, he’s giving himself a chance of extending that spell. Par for this season is probably 21st, given the appalling handicap his bosses are inflicting upon him. That City have a good chance of making that is no mean feat. A begrudging tip of the cap.

9. There’s been a lot of conjecture about City’s attendances this season. It’s universally believed that we’ve already had a first ever sub-10,000 League gate at the Circle this season, though the club continue to publish figures that claim we are yet to dip below 11,420 this season. Well, courtesy of a Freedom of Information request to the local authorities, we’ve been passed an official attendance for this season.

10. On 20th October 2018, 9,837 attended City v Preston. A four-figure attendance. City preposterously claimed 12,066 that afternoon, an inflation of the true figure by some 22%. That’s consistent with last season, where the club routinely added a fifth to the true attendances. And that wasn’t even our lowest this season. 11,420 allegedly made it to City v Norwich. Except, they clearly didn’t. Take off a fifth, then perhaps a few hundred more because of the shocking weather, and we’re possibly into the 8,000s. We’re not far from the ground being one-third full. For second tier League matches. What a depressing state of affairs.

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REPORT: Millwall 2 City 2

AdkinsN2Another Saturday, another trip to the capital. It wasn’t to prove to be as euphoric as the weekend prior, but the feeling upon leaving the New Den – which does music after goals – was one of satisfaction.

The reasons for this were many. A late(ish) equaliser, a makeshift starting XI (including a full debut for the impressive Brandon Fleming), a feeling that things on the pitch might not be so bad after all, even if our off-pitch dreams are being dashed as every day without a sale passes.

City lined up with Marshall in goal, Kane at right-back, Fleming at left-back, Elphick and De Wijs the centre-backs, Henriksen and Batty just in from of them, Grosicki on the left, Bowen on the right, Irvine advancing from midfield and Campbell up front on his todd. Millwall’s sole tactic early on seemed to be to try to exploit Fleming’s nerves, but the young man coped admirably, looking the part from the off. Bowen and Grosicki tore into the Lions, and it was the two of them who combined to put City ahead on six minutes. A cross from the right seemed to have come to nothing. However, a clearance landed at Bowen’s feet. And when the ball is at Bowen’s feet, good things invariably happen. He put in a delicious pass – the type that looks deceptively simple but few can execute properly – from the edge of the D into the run of Grosicki. The Pole had a touch and twatted it in inside Archer’s near post from about eight yards. The game was young but the goal was deserved.

And we continued in that vein for the next 20 minutes or so. Batty and Henriksen owned the midfield. Campbell worked tirelessly up front. Bowen and Grosicki tormented their full-backs. Somewhat pleasingly for those of us who attended the 4-0 destruction in Nigel Pearson’s early days, Jordy De Wijs – in one of his better games – was happily handing out a bit of a battering to Steve Morison. As with Loftus Road a week earlier, the game’s second goal only looked likely to come from City. Then Millwall scored.

Meredith broke down their left, was allowed to get his cross in with too much ease, the ball floated over Marshall for Gregory to tower over Fleming to level the match. Then came the goal music. Millwall – the team of Barry Kitchener, Tom Wilson, Terry Hurlock, Harry Cripps – has music after goals. FFS.

Then Millwall gained the ascendancy. No major chances, but they had our number. Elphick and De Wijs stood strong for the most part, and Kane got in some pleasing challenges but all told when the half-time whistle was blown, we were happy to get in at 1-1.

Then came the massacre. Millwall spent the next 25 minutes battering us. Absolutely destroying us. De Wijs cleared the ball off the line quite magnificently. Campbell did the same not long after, though his task was easier. They’d out-thought us, were outbattling us. We couldn’t keep possession. All we had was long, high balls up to Fraizer Campbell, who battled on gamely. Only when the ball was with Bowen did we get any respite. What a talent he is. Enjoy him while you can. If he’s still a Hull City player come Valentine’s Day I’ll be both surprised and delighted. Anyway, Millwall got the goal their dominance warranted on 54 minutes when Morison fed O’Brien, who was given the freedom of the pitch by Kane to smash home from about 25 yards into the bottom left-hand corner. There was only one winner after that. We had nothing. We couldn’t lay a finger on them. A third goal for the home side was a matter of when, not if. Our possession retention was pathetic. But our defence, however makeshift or maligned it may be, stood strong.

Millwall showed no sign of relenting when City won a corner thanks to hard work from Bowen and Campbell in the 73rd minute. Millwall’s set-pieces had been threatening, ours had almost all been overhit. However, this one found the head of De Wijs, who looped the ball goalwards. On the line – probably offside – was Henriksen, who capped a good shift by reacting quicker than the two defenders in close proximity to nod home. No music, just manic celebrations from a commendably vociferous away crowd.

Suddenly Millwall looked scared. A game that they couldn’t possibly lose was now losable. They looked less assured on the ball, while City – led magnificently by the hard-working Campbell – attacked with more vigour. Martin replaced Batty, Stewart came on for Groscki, but still we held the slight ascendancy. De Wijs picked up one injury too many and couldn’t complete what had been a fine game for the Dutchman. He was replaced by Mazuch. Could the Czech see out the last 10 minutes without getting injured, getting sent-off or giving away a needless penalty? Dear reader, he could!

Neither side looked likely to find a winner, and none was found. This was, without doubt, a point gained in a match in which we saw the best and worst of Nigel Adkins’ Hull City. But for the first time this season, when perusing the table on the way home, I allowed myself a glance at the teams above us, rather than fretting about the form of those below us. For that, Nigel deserves credit. We just need to bring this form and goalscoring prowess to the atmosphere-less KCOM now. That will be the acid test.

Richard Gardham (via Tiger Chat)

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City draw Millwall in the Cup

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The Football Association Challenge Cup has reached the stage where it incorporates City and other top-two-tier teams – but it doesn’t seem especially pleased to see us, vomiting an away tie at Millwall in our direction.

As draws go, being obliged to travel to a club in the same division as you is decidedly uninspiring, particularly when that same fixture is your next League game. There’s frankly nothing in the tie to engender any remote sense of excitement.

It’ll be our first meeting in the FA Cup with Millwall since City – then of the Premier League – flicked aside the Londoners in a match scarred by crowd trouble in 2009, and it’ll be the first time we’ve ever played them in the competition in the capital.

The tie will be played on the weekend of Saturday 5th January.

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Things We Think We Think #318

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1. The point against Norwich was both surprising and welcome. Just three days after an emphatic home defeat, the chances of anything good happening against the free-scoring lead leaders appeared remote. Yet with a performance of honest endeavour (and a bit of fortune arriving via an off-colour Norwich and the levelling effect of the shocking weather) City churned out a point that their efforts deserved. The quality was low, but we’ve come to expect that. So diminished are our hopes that simply grinding out a goalless draw at home constituted a good evening.

2. A good evening in particular was enjoyed by Kevin Stewart. His City career has been a huge disappointment, and his enduring underachievement has produced justified despair – certainly too much for one game to wipe away its memory. But, for one match alone, credit where it’s due: Stewart produced a flinty midfield performance, with jagged interventions that made life hard for his Norwich adversaries. He did little on the ball, but then again he (in common with his teammates) didn’t see it often. But he shored up a midfield that was comically lightweight three days earlier. More, please. A lot more.

3. The atmosphere against Norwich was a surreal one. Even allowing for their lofty league position, the visitors brought an impressive contingent, but they ended up being as subdued as their team. With surely fewer than 9,000 souls in attendance on the bleakest of late-autumn evenings, it left the occasion feeling like a tie in the early stages of the League Cup. Sure, as City’s prospects of gaining an unlikely point increased, a defiant throatiness began to develop as the previously cold, wet and fed-up City fans become more engaged in their side’s dogged effort. But the vast swathes of empty seats in a ground barely one-third full spoke loudest of all.

4. But hey, QPR! That wasn’t remotely anticipated. To travel to one of the division’s more on-form sides, snaffle three goals and three points – well, we’d be despairing if a relegation rival unexpectedly did that. For City to do it was deliciously surprising. And well-deserved too. City were an authentic attacking threat all afternoon, gamely survived something of a first-half onslaught when it became 2-1, controlled things nicely when it was 3-1 and didn’t panic (err, too much) when QPR pulled a late one back. Well done lads.

5. And yes, well done Nigel Adkins too. Four points from those two games is a superb return, probably three more than we could have realistically hoped for. With 11 points from 6 games, this is actually a legitimate run of form (even if the Forest match was so awful it’s rather tainted things). We don’t have the size or the squad to maintain this automatic promotion form, but the fact we’ve fleetingly achieved it is quite something. Adkins will probably never be our cup of Darjeeling, but if he gets brickbats when we’re 23rd, he needs acknowledgement when we aren’t.

6. Like astronauts peering through the windows of the International Space Station upon the turning globe below, we marvel at the dizzy heights of NINETEENTH place in the Championship. It’s a position that hardly felt likely after the Forest faux-pas, and we know that we are but two points from 23rd and could slip back into the relegation zone soon, but for now let us take time to acclimatise and gaze upwards: A win next week and defeats elsewhere could see us in 16th place. Stellar stuff!

7. What – if anything – are to make of the disparity between City’s home and away form? Over half of our points have now arrived on the road, and if only away points were counted City would be nestled nicely in 15th. However, only two sides have obtained fewer points at home, and only two other sides join us in having more points away than at home. It may be that the ghastly experience that is a Hull City home match in late-2018 is dragging the side down, and they’re happier on the road. Or it could just be a small statistical quirk that’ll correct itself.

8. Millwall next. Its importance is obvious from the League table. The losers of this will endure a blow that could easily endure until Christmas, while the winners will enter the festive period confident that the worst may be behind them. It won’t be easy – it never seems to be there – but we have to hope that we don’t return north empty-handed, especially as they’re struggling for form. That may be made easier for Saturday’s result, which has alleviated some of the (immediate) pressure. So we’ll travel in reasonable heart. Probably best not to expect a classic though.

9. Millwall is the first of four successive games against sides in the bottom half. Granted, Swansea and Brentford’s positions may be unexpectedly lowly, but it shows they aren’t the formidable opponents they may have been earlier in the season. While City are doing well, and with plenty of tough assignments left this season, it’s important we take plenty more points this month. It’d lift us a bit clear of the relegation zone and boost morale (as well as making the club more attractive to new signings in January), and we’ll need those points if (okay, when) things get sticky again.

10. The draw for Round 3 of the Football Association Challenge Cup takes place this evening, probably at the same time as the AN podcast will be going out live. Tune in to see our disappointment at drawing Wigan at home instead of Ground Tick FC away.

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Things We Think We Think #316

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1. What on earth to make of Saturday’s frenetic affair at Birmingham? Both sides will be left somewhat ruing the outcome – Birmingham for losing a two-goal lead, City for conceding a late equaliser. On balance, the result was probably about right. But what a remarkable afternoon.

2. It’s impossible to let much of City’s defending go uncommented upon. After praise had been forthcoming for the notable tightening of things at the back of late, Saturday felt like September again. The two goals gifted to Birmingham before half-time were ridiculous, and had the match drifted to the sort of comfortable defeat that seemed likely at the break, it’d have been self-harm that’d have done it. No side at any level can do that sort of thing. It didn’t look or feel very secure all day.

3. Right at the very end too, City’s defending was again pretty hopeless. An air-kick presented an easy chance for Birmingham’s late leveller, and cost us two points. And goodness knows we’ve coughed up enough late goals already this season.

4. But…wasn’t the stuff inbetween quite exhilarating? Doubly so for being wholly unexpected. Campbell’s predatory brace and Grosicki’s blockbusting free-kick completely transformed the match and it looked as though a side with a long unbeaten record at home were about to lose it. It wasn’t to be, but to even come close was quite stunning.

5. It is a point gained, all considered. Most City fans would probably have taken it on Saturday morning, and definitely at 4pm. It does suggest that the players are playing for Nigel Adkins at the moment too. We’ve taken 7 points from the last 9 available, which is a very good run of form at this end of the table. It hasn’t lifted us out of the bottom three, but we’re level on points with 20th and only a result away from escaping the bottom three for the first time in a while. That there’s even hope of doing that when we were recently four points adrift is no little achievement.

6. It’s also interesting in terms of the longer-term management of the club. If we do assume for a moment that the Allam nightmare is coming to an end, a month ago many would have assumed that Adkins would have been an automatic casualty of a takeover. Now, with his side visibly improving, he can present a case for being allowed to keep control of the team and be allowed to spend whatever funds are available in January. Whether that case is a strong one or a weak one depends upon personal taste – he still isn’t quite to ours – but at least it’s a plausible one.

7. Isn’t it great to see Fraizer Campbell playing the way he is? Four goals in three games, and a constantly buzzing presence up front. He’s a different player to the one that scorched through his first period with City a decade ago, which is understandable given the passing of time. His runs are now more thoughful than just jet-heeled, for instance. But he’s in the best form of his second spell here, particular now that he’s poaching goals, and an automatic choice up front. More, please.

8. There’s an international break now, so another fortnight in which to take stock. Then City have two home games in three days. They’re both against promotion hopefuls in Nottingham Forest and Norwich, but City have to take heart from the surprising but thoroughly merited win against West Brom nine days ago. We probably have to take something, because as difficult as those games are, the two after that are on the road.

9. With regards to the takeover, no news is at least not bad news. Like a house move, it probably grinds on quietly for quite some time, before excitingly all coming together at the end. At least, that’s what we’re hoping.

10. Let’s daydream: it’s Saturday 22nd December, Father Christmas is coming soon and City have picked enough form to have escaped the bottom three. Swansea at home, and it’s a late kick-off so there’s more scope for pre-match pubbage. The Allams have just slithered away from the club, and a bright new dawn may be about to break. Investment is promised, supporter relationships are being repaired, the club feels as though it’s being mended. The biggest crowd of the season has gathered – expectant, united, optimistic, over the drink-drive limit – and the team that once again properly and unbegrudgingly calls itself Hull City AFC takes to the field, to raucous acclaim…

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Things We Think We Think #315

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1. Well! Haven’t things changed? Two successive 1-0 wins, and all of a sudden this grotty season has been lent a faint but unmistakeable (and not misplaced) sense of hope. The single goal victory at Bolton was decent, but beating a West Brom side with automatic promotion hopes was authentically impressive. And not just for the result.

2. City deserved this. They absolutely did. It wasn’t a streaky backs-to-the-wall-and-pinch-one-on-the-break kind of win over a top side. City created chances, and while the lingering impression remains that we don’t convert them often enough, we did at least take one. Best of all, City then controlled the remainder of the game with rarely seen assurance and conviction. The defence and keeper will get the plaudits for another clean sheet, and rightly so. Successive shut-outs have capped off a run of seven games in which no side has beaten David Marshall twice in a game, and this defensive improvement has been vital. To stay up, a side often needs little more than to be tough to beat. Well, we’re looking a trickier assignment for opposing sides than we did six weeks ago. It could just be enough.

3. However, the whole side warrants praise for the way West Brom were repelled. Never mind that they clearly had an off-day – even at 50% effectiveness they’d have comfortably rolled us over in September. Now, we can see growing organisation and confidence throughout the side. From Fraizer Campbell’s tireless efforts up front, Dan Batty’s remarkable composure in midfield right through to a defence that is seeing inexperienced players begin to rise to the challenge – well, frankly we didn’t see it coming.

4. But let’s not get too carried away. City are still second bottom after all; these two wins have only stopped us from being hopelessly cut adrift. We’re still progressing than less a point a game and that needs fixing if we’re to survive. The key thing is that we can now start to see a way towards safety. New owners, a few new players in January to augment an improving but still desperately thin squad, and 21st could be ours. We didn’t think that a fortnight ago.

5. It also means we needn’t desperately fear Birmingham next week. They’re having a good season, just three points from the play-offs, and will start as favourites. But a match they thought was a gimme isn’t now. We hope. Any positive result will be very welcome, and may even lift us out of the bottom three. And considering that we were four points adrift of safety a very short time ago, that’d be some turnaround.

6. There was a meeting of the new Supporters’ Committee on Monday. No, we didn’t know about it either. The fall-out has been predictable though, with the club violating guidelines on club-fan consultation by barring the Hull City Supporters’ Trust after their failed – and really quite distasteful – attempts to strong-arm a fans’ group into changing its personnel. That ensured a few days of bad headlines and robust censure from the Football Supporters’ Federation, who are referring to the club to various authorities. How utterly pathetic our club is.

7. The strangest thing (beating even the comical suggestion that the OSC is “independent”) was the claim by the club on Tuesday that some of the “reps” at the meeting “prefer not to be widely publicised”. Now, we would really prefer not to be querying fellow City fans, but you can’t help wondering what the point in putting oneself forward as a “fans’ representative” is if you don’t want fans to know that you’re representing them.

8. But as usual, the real cause of the issue is Hull City AFC themselves, who bar fans from groups and organisations that DO possess a constituency and thus a mandate to represent other fans, and are also willing to do so. And of course, it’s all so short-termist. A hallmark of the Allams’ regime is how the club merely survive from one day to the next, never willing (or perhaps able) to think of anything beyond simply stumbling through whatever self-wrought crisis they’re presently experiencing. But one day, the club will be owned by adults again, who want to engage meaningfully with the fans, and some tough questions will be heading the way of those who helped the Allams spread their poison.

9. Apropos the takeover, the relative silence on that front isn’t particularly concerning. This sort of thing takes time, and much of it occurs quietly, behind the scenes. But…why was there a very slightly discordant note about the news being reported last Wednesday about the Allams “saying farewells”? That would be awfully premature if we’re still at the due diligence scale, and without a preferred bidder even been decisively identified. Coming so very conveniently at a time when the club was copping flak for their ridiculous antics with the Supporters’ Committee is interesting too. We aren’t buying it. And never forget: the Allams may love money, but they already have enough of the stuff, and also have the motivation to inflict even greater ruination of the club if they want to while planting stories about sales and takeovers to amuse themselves in the meantime. Price up the champagne if you wish; but don’t part with your hard-earned just yet.

10. Above all, we ache for the optimism and unity we’ve had before. Watching old clips of City home games at the Circle is hard when you see stands full of City fans all pulling in the same direction as the club. It’s been so long now – last week saw the fifth anniversary of the meeting Assem Allam called with City fans over the name change at which he promised not to proceed with Hull Tigers without consulting the fans (a promise he almost immediately broke). Since then, nothing has felt right. We yearn for City to be mended.