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FEAT-BALL

Match Report – City 0 Burnley 1

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We filed into the KC Stadium nervous, ahead of a key fixture in the relegation battle. We left the KC Stadium angry, after witnessing what was tantamount to a relegation surrender.

Some people will shake their heads and wonder how a side that has taken four points from Liverpool and drawn at Arsenal and Manchester City can possibly be embroiled in a battle against the drop, but the answer is relatively simple: A string of inadequate results against the sides around us at the intestinal end of the Premier League, and an inability to finish off sides after having our foot on their necks. We let Leicester and Newcastle have four points each to our one, allowed Sunderland to escape with a point in a game which we should have won, and coughed up six points to Burnley who were bottom of the division on each occasion.

How can you do that and expect to remain a top tier side? The good results against top four teams are all very nice, but beating the struggling sides is the key to salvation, and a true test of the character of your squad. It’s easy for any player to self-motivate when up against marquee opposition,  but when they have to roll up their sleeves and scrap against determined and dogged opponents, not just to edify themselves, but to show respect to and give their all for their colleagues, their manager and their fans, that’s harder, and after this game, it’s hard to imagine many players being able to look each other in the eye and say they gave it their all. How very sad.

Steve Bruce stuck with the same starting eleven that beat both Crystal Palace and Liverpool before self destructing against a slick Arsenal side who needed little assistance from us to depart with three points. We carded, then: Harper; McShane, Dawson, Chester; Brady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Quinn, Elmohamady; Aluko and N’Doye.

Burnley kicked off, knowing only victory could save them and even then maybe not, playing towards the North Stand. City meanwhile, now also occupied a relegation  spot after Sunderland took advantage of Everton profligacy and won 2-0 in the first game of the day.

The team in claret and blue, backed by a raucous mob in the North/East corner, had the first opportunity of note, former Tiger George Boyd bounded down the right wing and delivered a cross he hoped would find an extremity of either Ings or Taylor but instead found Steve Harper’s gloved hands.

City responded well, Brady cut in on the left and chipped the ball to Aluko who couldn’t dig out a shot after several controlling touches, however Quinn swung a cross beyond the far goalpost to Elmo, but his touch was errant and the ball struck him and went out for a goal kick.

The home crowd was energised by this for a split second but soon went back to transmitting silent nervousness. After a week of social media broadcast hand wringing about getting behind the team and not protesting,  very few people were doing what they’d implored others to do.

Quinn and Brady hough, were motivated regardless: The former deftly clipped the ball beyond his marker and into the path of Brady, sprinting towards the byline before crossing the ball in-between the keeper and a slew of defenders in the hope that Aluko, N’Doye or Elmo would attack it, they didn’t and a defender sliced the ball over for a corner. So far, so alright at this point, and almost better when further interplay between Quinn and Brady led to a deep cross that Elmo headed wide and high.

Burnley were creating chances too though, Barnes headed over after beating Chester to a cross from a corner, they were looking more composed too, generally keeping the ball for spells whereas we were often errant in our passing, Huddlestone and Livermore as culpable as they were against Arsenal.

City’s best chance from open play of the half came from Paul McShane, who rose to meet Brady’s inswinging corner kick but his headed attempt was over the goal. At the other end Taylor crossed well for Barnes who got ahead of Dawson but his downward header didn’t trouble Harper too much.

N’Doye won a free kick after being held back as he smartly controlled a long and hopefully punted ball downfield by Huddlestone. From it Brady arced the ball over the wall but not under the crossbar, which it smacked against and bounced over. There were hearts in mouths in the home sections after Huddlestone’s weak clearance went straight to Mee, but he couldn’t get his foot sufficiently over the ball and spooned it way over.

N’Doye fell to the floor clutching his face after being beaten to the ball by Shackell but there really didn’t seem anything in it, certainly no elbow use as was seemingly being implied. Perhaps N’Doye was just trying to inject some drama into a half of torpor and tepidity both on the field and in the stands. There are new floodlight gantry’s in each corner of the ground and LED lamps running the full length of the East Stand, but even had they have been switched on, this was a low wattage half of football.

No changes were made during the break and little changed early in the second half. Elmo fired a low cross into the box but Aluko couldn’t get on the end of it and at the other end Barnes tried an overhead kick that went wide in a move that seemed to take place in slow motion. There was so little pace on the effort that even old man Harper was never in trouble even had it been on target.

One of the few who emerged from this game with great credit was Stephen Quinn, whose industry and heart deserved better, certainly a better response from his team mates. His cross from the left let to a Livermore shot that was charged down, and after Elmo passed to him, a relatively tame shot into the ‘keeper’s grasp from Huddlestone.

Oh Tom Huddlestone. Do you remember this time last year when people were expressing outrage at Huddlestone’s being overlooked by the national team? When he was being touted as a possible World Cup squad member? What has happened to that player? Today Huddlestone was emblematic of the lack of urgency shown by many of the team following the Liverpool game, as if they felt safety was assured and none of the other teams would even bother trying.

He slothed around the pitch as if this was the first game of pre-season, and his passing accuracy was brilliant if you count him as a Burnley player. Quite how he maintained his place after being directly responsible for two of the goals conceded in the Arsenal defeat is mystifying, but despite setting his performance bar at its lowest level during his two years at the club on Monday, he was trying, or not trying if you will, to limbo underneath it.

We’ve heard people say all season long that there is a great player in there somewhere and we know that is the case from 2013/14, but he’s nowhere to be seen in 2014/15, and nothing seems to motivate him, not being dropped for a short while, not the impending wage cut, nothing, and if he thinks he’ll easily move to another Premier League side, he’s doing so figuring none of them will watch game footage from this season. He’s far from the only one to underwhelm this year, but when you’re considering the big name players who just haven’t earned their thousands, his name springs to mind first.

Burnley started to turn up the heat, and had a spell of possession so long it was easy to forget that they were the away side. Harper punched away a deep cross only for Taylor to fizz in a cross that missed Barnes diving header attempt by a tiny margin.

A brief respite came when Chester’s raking ball found Brady, who dinked the ball past a marker and darted purposely diagonally upfield, he squared for Livermore, who found Aluko in the box with back to goal, and yet again he failed to create space and his shot was harmlessly against claret sock covered shins.

The Burnley onslaught soon resumed though, Ings got the better of Chester wide of goal and sprinted towards it, slaloming past Dawson and McShane before being bundled over by team mate Barnes and appealing for a foul! Boyd laid the ball back for Arfield and his shot was blocked and Harper gathered. City though, were living dangerously.

We were looking woefully weak in midfield and as a result creating little up front, so Steve Bruce withdrew the abject Livermore, adding Meyler for graft and solidity in midfield, and implementing phase one of  his now familiar when we need something kitchen sink  policy by swapping a forward for a defender, Jelavić for McShane.

The plan seemed to be working for a few seconds at least, Jelavić’s blasted shot from outside the box pinballed off a defender to Aluko, who fed a wide Meyler, but his cross was headed away and then cleared.

But Burnley were soon back on the front foot. Trippier’s cross from the right was swiped upwards by Dawson, who went to contest the second ball himself against Barnes and came down from that tussle holding his nose as Meyler tackled Taylor and conceded a corner. As Burnley prepared for that the ref noticed a spot of blood on Dawson’s shirt and ordered him off to replace it, leaving us a man down as the corner kick was fired in. After a short bout of head tennis, George Boyd passed back to Mee who curled in a cross that Elmo headed, Brady made an unfortunate mess of controlling or clearing the ball, and Danny Ings blasted the ball in from close range. 1-0 Burnley.

Claret and blue clad players exulted in front of claret and blue clad fans, they didn’t even care that it no longer mattered if they won and that other scores meant they were likely down anyway, they revelled in their togetherness, and City were drawn further into the mire.

So now’s the time when the Tigers finally shake themselves from their somnambulism and fight back into the game, right? Wrong.  The urgency the crowd willed them to show just never came, City carried on in a fairly pedestrian manner, although Bruce activated phase two of operation kitchen sink by replacing Aluko with Hernandez.

Jelavić headed fairly tamely goalward from Elmo’s raking cross, and Quinn reacted quickly to the deflection of a Burnley man with a diving header that lacked the requisite fizz, it hit Hernandez, who tried a cute back heel, but that too lacked power and the ‘keeper gratefully pouched it.

Burnley put the ball in the net a second time but Barnes, who’d contested a high ball with Harper on the goal line, made only a cursory claim of innocence when the ref deemed his challenge to be a foul.

The ball was mostly in our side of the field, though Quinn won a free kick after an Elmo cross was headed away, and Brady, having already rattled the woodwork, eyed another dead ball strike. Jelavić faked to take it, and Brady walloped it over the wall, past the keeper, but again against the bar, and Burnley hacked away the rebound. Soon after Quinn fired a shot that again homed in on the ‘keepers gloves. Ten minutes remained.

Brady was fouled by Boyd near the South Stand byline, but nothing came from Huddlestone’s unfocused chip from the free kick. Brainlessly, City conceded several needless free kicks in their own half to allow Burnley to tick away added time without incident and the ref soon signalled the end of a wretched afternoon for City.

Whichever way you look at it, a side who knew deep down they were down, wanted this game more than the side with a more realistic chance of survival, a chance they squandered. For this, you have to ask questions of Steve Bruce’s ability to motivate his charges. There has been a pattern developing over the last few years, one of late season complacency and hopefulness when hard work was required.

2013, City beat Ipswich, figure they’ve done enough to secure runners-up spot, then phone in performances against Wolves and Bristol City, stink the place up at Barnsley, and stumble over the line on the final day in a chaotic game against Cardiff.

2014, with an FA Cup final to look forward to, City lose four of their last five league games and tumble down the table, finishing lower than they could have done.

2015, after an improbable win over Liverpool, City meekly accept defeat to Arsenal and lose to the bottom side as teams above us win or draw, leaving us with an away trip to Tottenham and a home game against Manchester United left to ensure survival.

It’s a frankly terrifying pattern, and one that could end with a totally needless relegation when we’ve had it well within our power and capacity to avoid it. A relegation battle? If only, we cruised against Burnley when some sense of  urgency was needed, and when you’re really in need of three points, that is as good as a relegation surrender.

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MATCH REPORT: City 1-3 Arsenal

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We’ll do it against Burnley. That’s the brief, unimpeachable sentence uttered by many thousands of lips as the crowd trooped out of the Circle following a footballing lesson by Arsenal that now finds City one place off the bottom, and the most in danger of Sunderland’s game in hand.

We’ll do it against Burnley. Won’t we? Read more

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Things We Think We Think #185

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1: A tremendous victory and a stellar performance against Liverpool, and three immeasurably vital points. Even with only a single goal chalked up, the game felt oddly at ease throughout, even allowing for the usual emotional panic that goes with any City victory-in-waiting. The final whistle made a heavenly sound, the reaction to it was composed by the gods.

2: Any suggestion that the back to back wins against Palace and Liverpool were enough to guarantee safety was shot to bits on Saturday with victories for Sunderland, Leicester and Aston Villa. We couldn’t afford to view the Arsenal game as a ‘free hit’ as we might have done had other relegation scrap contestants failed to register points at the weekend, and why should we? The Liverpool game (and West Brom’s Bo Myhill assisted vanquishing of Manchester United) illustrated quite handsomely that we needn’t be defensively minded and shouldn’t be timid against supposed betters.

3: Sadly, City did look timid against Arsenal. Gone was the belief that coursed through the side at Selhurst Park and against Liverpool, and in its place came a severe case of nerves. That was perhaps heightened by awful results at the weekend, and it’s understandable up to a point, however City looked dismayingly easy to beat by Arsenal. Apart from avoid a serious rout, there was very little to take from this game.

4: Individually, a few players who’d recently returned to form had howlers. Huddlestone coughing up possession cheaply was instrumental in bringing about Arsenal’s first goal, and the former Tottenham boy had a poor night all around – as did Jake Livermore, meaning that Stephen Quinn was almost alone in trying valiantly to stem the Arsenal tide.

5: Steve Bruce chose, inexplicably, to major on the anti-Allam protests when offering his post-match thoughts on Tuesday night. He again referred to the £70m the owner has ploughed into the club and questioned whether any other individual has invested quite so much into Hull, and asked the question about if the protests were necessary, worthy, wise, whatever. Again, it falls on the supporters to say, without malice aforethought: Steve, he didn’t give us the money. It was a loan, not a gift. He shoved four per cent interest on to that loan and took a six-figure fee consultancy fee. Whatever he has put in – and the figures vary from source to source – he is expecting to recoup, with interest, with profit, and with the added effect of making the people of East Yorkshire bow and scrape and throw rose petals in his path wherever he goes. We don’t blame the manager for talking up the owner who keeps him in work and transfer funds, but similarly, we’d rather he just didn’t speak on the subject at all, as what he says lends itself to obsequiousness, not to mention inaccuracy.

6: The sound of people (we won’t call them City fans, they aren’t) booing City fans singing a City song at a City game was disgusting.

7: Another thing: why do those who drag out that tired old “get behind the team” nonsense whenever something controversial is happening invariably turn out to be the ones who sit in complete silence all game long?

8: Newcastle have been properly dragged into this relegation scrap with three to go and that could be handy for City. Nobody is in worse form than them, no set of players gives less of a toss than them, it could be that everyone that isn’t QPR or Burnley is now looking at the hapless, useless, joyless Geordies and seeing them as their ticket back into the Premier League’s everywhere city. Newcastle are the favourites, in mind if not maths, for the third relegation spot, and that suits us.

9: There are many reasons to want to stay up, but we’ve just added a new one: we really, really want a weekend in Bournemouth next season. Though if we do stay up, knowing our luck, the Premier League will probably give us a Wednesday night there. Also, we don’t have any real affinity with Watford, but given that we did them in the 2008 play-offs, then did them again on the last day in 2013, we’re sort of glad they’ve made it back up to the Premier League at last. Good day out, Watford.

10: The ‘1966 and all that’ banner hanging in the South Stand has been understandably mocked on social media, as it credits Waggy’s contribution to the 1965/66 promotion campaign to the unfamiliar character ‘Wiggo’. Mistakes happen, only the unrealistic expect absolute perfection at all times, but when mistakes become legion (and social media types have had a lot to highlight in recent weeks) it paints a picture of carelessness about things people care a lot about. Wiggo FFS.

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NEWS: Supporters’ Trust ballot delivers name change landslide

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Having been invited by the FA to submit their views on Hull City AFC’s second application to change their name, the Hull City Supporters’ Trust has this morning announced the results of its recent ballot on the issue.

They’re quite devastating.

99.2% of HCST members who voted said no to Hull Tigers, with just 0.8% in favour.

You can read their full analysis of the result here – and if you haven’t already, why not join them?

FEAT-BALL

MATCH REPORT: City 1-0 Liverpool

 

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Annual events that Hull City supporters can reel off in the ever-evolving life of the club. An owner turning weird. A star player going crap. A major signing suffering a serious injury. Beating Nottingham Forest away. Negligence in the League Cup. Losing to Macclesfield Town somewhere, anywhere. Beating Liverpool at home.

That last one looks quite good, doesn’t it? And given that until last season it had never, ever happened, it looks even more impressive. We’d like to think that Liverpool fans will refer regularly now on in match previews to “our annual defeat at Hull”.

And it never really looked in doubt. This is despite the only goal coming late in the first half and no further chances being taken. As great a victory and stellar a performance it was from City, it was at least in no small part to the Liverpool team clearly thinking too much about the Seychelles in June.

Of course, the chance to beat Liverpool at the Circle next season isn’t yet confirmed, and Steve Bruce rightly declared there were further big tasks ahead for his side, not least with Arsenal to pop up our way on Monday. But six points from six, after a run so wretched even Derek Redmond would have declared it unrealistic, has made the Premier League future for City so much the brighter. Read more

FEAT-POD

PODCAST: TWTWT Podcast 70

Only Palace, Liverpool, Arsenal, season passes, disabled passes, the Airco Arena, Ferriby and one of our best managers of all time to discuss. We were home in time for Newsnight …. just.