After Hull City dispensed with the services of Leonid Slutsky, as detailed in part two of the season review, they turned to former Scunny manager Nigel Adkins to manage the circus the club had become.
Not that any sympathy is forthcoming for Adkins who knew exactly what he was walking into having loomed in the shadows as Slutsky endured a difficult last few weeks in the job.
His appointment was the worst kept secret in football; though I couldn’t help praying there was a better kept one on the horizon. I’m not a fan of Adkins. He’s a clown, aptly. An overly positive, evangelistic bellend. He did a great job at Scunthorpe and a better one after that at Southampton. But he had miserable records at Reading and Sheffield United that would have dented the unerring self-confidence of anyone else. Sadly, he was – and remains – as good as Hull City are likely to get in the current climate (Cloudy with a chance of Allams).
The new manager took charge of his first game at home to Brentford and immediately set about trying to tighten City up defensively with mixed results. A battling 3-2 win over Brentford after trailing to a David Meyler own goal was followed at home by solid performances in draws with Derby and Fulham and pathetic efforts in stalemates against Reading and Leeds. Visits to Cardiff, Leeds, Bolton and Sunderland brought four 0-1 defeats as City ended January in very worrying shape.
A leaky defence had tightened up but Adkins had also squeezed the life out of a prolific attack. Off the pitch, January failed to deliver the quality reinforcements the squad desperately needed with the owners choosing to rely on players getting fit while awaiting the end of some large contracts come July. A pursuit of Aberdeen centre-half Scott McKenna ended in failure with City instead signing Angus MacDonald from Barnsley – a fairly shrewd signing overall. Harry Wilson’s arrival from Liverpool received little fanfare but would prove a masterstroke.
Adkins, to his credit, did slowly make his mark on the squad and in spite of every couple of steps forward being followed by a stumble, a touch of resilience began to appear. With a growing squad to manage as players returned to full fitness, Adkins’ team selections were inconsistent with changes for the sake of it a regular feature and that didn’t help the bi-polar nature of the team. City lost at Preston, won at Nottingham Forest, surrendered at Middlesbrough, beat a decent Sheffield United team and then could only draw with Barnsley – who were poor and eventually relegated.
Some of the problems with the squad were solved. Adkins identified that Ola Aina was not a left back – though so could have Stevie Wonder – and restored and helped improve Max Clark. He kept faith with the inconsistent Henriksen who began to deliver impressive performances in the centre of midfield going backwards and forwards. He gave the impressive Wilson his head. Unfortunately, Jarrod Bowen struggled under him, perhaps under pressure to work harder going backwards, he ostracised Meyler and later let Dicko rot for some reason and he threw new signing MacDonald under a bus after the defeat at home to Millwall.
From there, City won four of the next seven and picked up battling draws at home to Villa and at Champions-elect Wolves. The 4-3 win over Norwich was the first time in over three decades that City had come back from two down to win a game and featured some sublime attacking and hideous defending. The Tigers sumptuously hammed Ipswich away (3-0), QPR at home (4-0) and Burton away (5-0) in the highlight of the season but showed a lack of bottle in a 3-0 battering at Birmingham in the spring snow.
The season petered out with two home defeats to Sheffield Wednesday and Cardiff and draws at Brentford and Bristol City. The latter being the first 5-5 draw in the club’s history and a thoroughly insane afternoon. The last few games were played amongst the backdrop of the mass of out of contract players being linked with moves away and featured more unexplainable team selections with some players whose City careers appeared over being left out but others playing all the way to the end.
The end of a near-catastrophic season was most welcome. Nigel Adkins ensured City “achieved” safety in the Championship. It wasn’t anything near what they set out to achieve if you believe Ehab Allam’s big talk from September (and honestly, why would you?) but it was a small crumb of comfort for a club who took years to be dragged out of the doldrums by club legends like Adam Pearson and Peter Taylor.
There is no point speculating as to whether Adkins deserves a full season at the helm. There is no ambition amongst the club’s board to go and get a better manager nor back him to the extent it has previous managers and little appeal otherwise in taking over a club fractured by acrimonious decisions off the pitch that have halved the number of match going supporters and to which promised solutions are being dragged out.
So we’re stuck with him. And he is certainly stuck with us. It’s a horrible job. He’s about to watch Abel Hernandez, Michael Dawson, Meyler, Seb Larsson, Allan McGregor and probably Max Clark and Moses Odubajo leave along with the four loan players and a host of youngsters. For all his underachievement, he’ll still struggle to keep Kamil Grosicki and there could be interest in Jarrod Bowen, whose 15 goals were the highlight of the season along with the form of McGregor and Wilson.
The rebuilding job is big on a small budget. There are some talented players left behind but many haven’t shown that talent in black and amber. He also needs to find a whole new defence and a solution to the malaise that infests the City Vice-Chairman and his comically named “recruitment” team every time there is a transfer window.
City can’t afford to waste another summer, to go into another opening game with a five-aside team or to gamble on a few names they found on a scrap of paper in Steve Bruce’s waste-paper bin on transfer deadline day. It’s too much to ask for City to show ambition but surely organisation, common sense and protection of their interests should be a given. If Nigel Adkins can somehow achieve that – he’s a better manager than I’ve ever given him credit for.
Happy summer, City fans.