Saturday, 30 July 2011

Chesterfield 0 Hull City 2

With just six days to go until the start of the season, today saw the Tigers travel to Chesterfield for our final warm up. There’ll be some debate as to whether friendlies count as ground ticks but they do in my book so a tick it was. Not only that but Chesterfield became the first club (other than Hull City) that I’ve visited at more than one ground. I have fond memories of my trip to Saltergate, it came in the glorious summer of 2008 when everything related to Hull City was fried gold. I recall being wowed by Peter Halmosi and Bernard Mendy.

Today it was the B2net Stadium. The name is hideous, as with most modern stadiums, but the ground is very nice. It’s not the most beautiful but it’s perfectly functional, it has good access, great views and a terrific playing surface. The attendance was just over two and a half thousand in a ground that holds around ten and a half so we rattled around a little. It’s a pretty sobering thought that throughout the nineties, we would have struggled to fill two thirds of this ground more often than not. It took me back to a time when I looked at the plans for a 25,400 seat stadium and wondered what the hell we’d do with it.

We took to the field with a 4-4-2 that looked very much like the team that will take on Blackpool in the season opener on Friday. The only deviation I can imagine is up front where Dele Adebola partnered Matty Fryatt almost by default as Aaron McLean and Jay Simpson sat out injured. City lined up: Gulasci; Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, Hobbs; Koren, Brady, Evans, McKenna; Fryatt, Adebola.

City’s performance overall was sharp, even taking into account the numerous changes, and the start was particularly bright. Paul McKenna was flattened straight from the kick off and, in a feature of our play, took the kick quickly. The ball found Brady who forced a corner. Koren’s delivery was poor but with Adebola giving their defenders a hard time, Fryatt picked up the loose ball, turned quickly and thrashed a shot onto the bar. Koren and Brady were involved often in the first 20 minutes, turning up on either side, making terrific runs off the ball and giving Evans and McKenna an option time and again. Both central midfielders showed a nice array of passing and City moved the ball around nicely. We always looked to build from the back and when that wasn’t possible, we used Adebola well and he showed his ability to hold the ball up or move it on quickly. He’s got a phenomenal ability to lay off the ball with his chest/shoulder. His feet are less reliable.

Defensively we look absolutely fine or at least, we do if the first choice back five stays fit. Everyone knows what Liam Rosenior brings to the team but Joe Dudgeon has impressed in pre-season. He’s tenacious, brave, quick and energetic. He doesn’t shirk responsibility and he looks to have a good sense of where he should be and what he should be doing. Chester and Hobbs are still magnificent. Chester’s positioning is excellent and Hobbs would stand in the way of a Panzer if it threatened to shoot at our goal. In a very rare lapse, Chesterfield trialist Rohan Ricketts played a ball over the top which Chester couldn’t cut out and Gulasci had to race off his line to deny Jack Lester. Lester is still an excellent footballer with incredible movement. I’ve no idea what he’s been doing in League Two for the last few years.

City threatened to open the scoring, Adebola bludgeoned his way through their defence and passed to Fryatt who, with the goal near empty, shot weakly and saw it kicked off the line. Fryatt wouldn’t be denied a third time though. Citymoved the ball from right to left through Koren, Adebola, McKenna and Evans. Fryatt picked up deep, skinned a defender and slid in Koren. Koren’s shot was half blocked but Fryatt had continued his run, controlled the ricochet and volleyed neatly past Lee.

A response never really came from Chesterfield and we remained in control through to half time. Robbie Brady burst past the full back and hit a superb shot that Tommy Lee turned around the post. Robert Koren had numerous shots blocked by brave defenders in blue, marshalled by the excellent Aaron Downes. Half time rolled around and with a decent 45 minutes work done, Nigel Pearson looked to protect his players for the big one on Friday.

City started the second half: Basso; Rosenior, Dawson, Chester, Hobbs; Devitt, Pusic, Harper, Cairney; Fryatt, Adebola. We made another bright start and with Adebola and Fryatt linking up nicely, made a couple of chances. Pusic rattled a shot towards the top right hand corner that Lee saved well but our Austrian temp had given Downes’ shirt a tug. Then Adebola crafted a chance for Fryatt with another super knockdown, Lee saved well at Fryatt’s feet but Cairney pounced on the loose ball and squared for Adebola who volleyed over with the goal gaping. He was on the stretch but should still have scored.

Barmby, East and Atkinson replaced Fryatt, Rosenior and Adebola. Pusic moved up front with Saint Nick and immediately disappeared from the game completely. He’d been OK on the left, he’s technically very good, looks quick and moves inside nicely. On one viewing, he doesn’t look much better than Tijani Belaid was but he’s got a little bit about him. He’s no striker though. The best player on the pitch was Nick Barmby who plonked himself in the middle of the pitch, accepted simple passes and put the youthful legs of Devitt and Atkinson to good use, in behind their defence with defenders chasing them like fat coppers chasing stubbly robbers in old cartoon strips.

Atkinson was the first beneficiary but he turned down a superb shooting opportunity and the chance disappeared. Later Jamie Devitt raced onto a super Barmby pass and as he went to pull the trigger, Downes pinched the ball off his toe. Great defending. In between, Barmby was involved again as we won a corner. Devitt delivered deep to Chester, a tactic we’d used a few times, with Chester heading back into the danger area. This time though, perhaps fortunately, Chester’s powerful header looped over Tommy Lee and into the net. The game died out a little after that, thought Tom Cairney did force a good stop from substitute ‘keeper Fleming after Barmby, Pusic and Atkinson had worked the ball brilliantly across the box and laid it off for Cairney to shoot. Sonny Bradley gave Jack Hobbs a breather for the last 10 or so and City ran out comfortable winners.

Nigel Pearson won’t get carried away with 5 wins from 5 in pre-season but I’m sure he’ll be pleased that the new boys have settled quickly, we’re defending stubbornly and we’re playing attractive, attacking football. Our central midfielders work hard to keep us on the front foot and the front two and wingers are flexible, quick and direct. It’s a nice formula and it will be interesting to see it put to the test for real on Friday.

There were a few disappointing performances today. Andy Dawson looked leaden footed replacing Joe Dudgeon and was beaten by Jack Lester on one occasion with frightening ease. James Harper takes up great positions and provides a good voice but his passing is literally hit and miss. Tom Cairney didn’t really push for a midfield place after some good performances recently. He didn’t give us what McKenna and Evans had before the break. He looks useful around the box but there’s no argument for him instead of the four who started the first half. Basso looks like a mistake is a “when”, not an “if”. Otherwise, we look a well knit unit and have more pace, energy and presence than we did last season.

Time will tell all.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Hull City 3 Liverpool 0

It’s been a while since we hosted an entertaining pre-season friendly at the KC Stadium. Of late we’ve witnessed several tedious encounters with clubs abroad (or Scotland). Today’s encounter with Liverpool certainly whet the appetite though with 18,000 tickets sold by Thursday and an eventual attendance of 20,924, a very respectable number for pre-season. They were rewarded with an excellent Tigers performance against a Liverpool squad missing several star names in Gerrard, Suarez, Reina, Lucas and Skrtel but still containing over a hundred million pounds worth of talent.

City lined up: Gulacsi; Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, McShane; Koren, Brady, Evans, Cairney; Fryatt, McLean.

The visitors dominated possession early but City grew into the game and started to rack up a few chances. Aaron McLean fired a shot over the bar with his left foot and Robbie Brady got in behind but shot weakly and Doni saved comfortably. Chester and McShane had excellent games and despite N’Gog’s pace and impressive movement, they kept him under wraps. The breakthrough for City came on 21 minutes. Brady attacked from deep, Dudgeon made a terrific overlapping run but Brady ignored him, cut inside and hit a right foot shot that deflected past Doni. Brady had another impressive half for City, his pace and ball control is good, he’s not afraid to shoot and he gets into good crossing positions. He showed great awareness of his mates in this game and played some great passes across the field to open the game up. He was ably assisted by Joe Dudgeon who joined in at every opportunity and went beyond Brady. He looks fit and athletic and wasn’t found wanting defensively.

Liverpool threatened to hit back. Aquilani found N’Gog who’s curling effort was well saved by Gulacsi. Joe Cole hammered the rebound into row ZZZ of the South Stand. What on earth has happened to Joe Cole? I don’t just mean the bald patch either. James Chester produced two superb block tackles launching a Tigers break and a set piece opportunity. Robert Koren’s excellent delivery was headed over by Aaron McLean. He might have done better. Not long after, it was 2-0. City moved the ball around like Liverpool of old, Rosenior, Koren, Cairney and Evans involved before McShane stepped out of defence and found Fryatt, who laid off to Koren. He played a one-two with McLean and hit a left footed shot beyond the outstretched right hand of Doni. It was a wonderful goal, friendly or not.

City were in complete control by this point. Tom Cairney was having the time of his life in midfield, producing another good performance, and with Evans, Koren and Brady in the midfield, Fryatt dropping off and the back four showing no interest in hitting the ball long, we kept the ball incredibly well. The only scare before half time came as N’Gog latched onto a ball over the top and outpaced McShane (unsurprisingly). Macca didn’t give up the chase though and on the very edge of the area, he slid in and took the ball off N’Gog’s toe. They argued he took the man first and it must have been close. The ref indicated it was a great challenge.

Both teams changed heavily at half time. Liverpool replaced all 11 players with star turns Dirk Kuyt, Stewart Downing, Andy Carroll, Jordan Henderson and Charlie Adam amongst the replacements. City made 8 changes and lined up: Basso; East, Kilbane, Chester, McShane; Devitt, Dudgeon, Harper, McKenna; Adebola, Simpson.

Liverpool’s threat increased, as expected, with all the changes and Downing forced a super save from Basso early on. The Brazilian did well to get down to his left and turn the ball around the post. City didn’t settle and the replacement full backs went long with their passing which meant if Adebola didn’t win the ball, we coughed up possession over and over. Adebola was assaulted twice by Kyrgiakos but received no sympathy from the referee. With Flanagan’s attempt to literally cut Joe Dudgeon in half, Liverpool looked up for the battle in the second half. So they weren’t best pleased when City went 3-0 up. It came from the first decent passing move of the half. We worked the ball out of defence and used Harper and McKenna to shift the ball to the left wing, Dudgeon couldn’t get the ball in but Kilbane did, Adebola chested the ball through to Simpson who looked offside but the flag stayed down and he slid it past the replacement ‘keeper Jones. It showed Adebola’s quality and his ability to win headers and hold the ball up was in evidence elsewhere. Some of his play outside the box was clumsy and he did appear to pass the ball to the ref at one point. Late on he was played in over the top but had a long way to go to goal and never got anywhere near it. Pace isn’t on his list of strong points.

We spent a lot of the remaining time defending. Liverpool worked good positions but City’s disciplined defensive line and stubborn defending of the penalty area denied them goal scoring opportunities. James Chester was magnificent and handled Andy Carroll easily. Carroll was dangerous when he pulled off to the back post to head back across goal though; this led to Liverpool’s best chance of the game. Very late on Carroll headed back and Kuyt met the ball with his right foot but was denied by a good save from Basso. Dudgeon was replaced in the half by Barmby and with ten to play, Bradley came on for McShane. McShane had a very good game and his spirit was typified by one second half incident. Henderson chased a ball over the top, McShane trailed in his wake but as the ball bounced up, McShane launched himself over Henderson and headed the ball back to Basso. He was injured doing it but didn’t care.

Basso made good saves but looked iffy when kicking backpasses again. McKenna tackled well and looked very comfortable moving with the ball in midfield, very composed and showed good strength. His passing was mixed though. McKenna and Harper isn’t a midfield combo you’d use in a 4-4-2, I wouldn’t have thought. In the modern 4-2-3-1, they’d be fine but are too similar in this situation.

From what I’ve seen so far, I’d think several players will have etched themselves into NP’s plans. Gulacsi, Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, Hobbs, Brady, Koren and Fryatt look certain starters. The rest may depend on the system but there are 4 good players competing for a couple of midfield places and the choice of Fryatt’s partner is anyone’s guess. Aaron McLean didn’t do his chances any harm today. I think we’ve got a much better squad than last season. There’s more competition, more flexibility, more pace and a better attitude all round.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Winterton 1 Hull City 2

I’ve always enjoyed going across to Winterton pre-season. It’s a nice little ground, the food’s great and the bar’s good. The last two years have been a bit of a let down with the team last time being a youthful squad and the year before the entire pre-season was a damp squib. This was a much better affair with Winterton giving the Tigers a good game, as they usually do, two new signings on display, the rain holding off and the game being more entertaining than last night.

Pre-match the talk was of the absent Jimmy Bullard. I won’t go into rumours that he’s been suspended for 2 weeks by the club for turning up for training in a taxi having come straight from a London club because it’s obviously not true. And his lawyer might read this. If it were true though, it would be a ludicrous act from a man who was recently handed a lifeline by Adam Pearson and the Allams. There’s no defending the guy.

City lined up: Gulacsi; Atkinson, Dawson, Chester, Bradley; Koren, Brady, Evans, Harper; Simpson, McLean.

It was much as expected with Will Atkinson filling the only obvious hole at right back. City dominated the game throughout which you’d expect them to do but if you’ve been to Winterton before, you’ll know it doesn’t always pan out that way. Robert Koren looked the liveliest player early on and came off the right wing to pull most of the strings and have the first effort on goal. On the other side, Robbie Brady hugged the touchline, didn’t look particularly interested in getting back to help out and came alive with the ball at his feet. I think this guy is going to be a real crowd pleaser at the KC. He’s got great feet, a trick or two, he’s direct, he’s quick and he’s composed in the box. His right foot is purely for standing on but in all other aspects, he looks a proper winger.

My pick for man of the match though would be Corry Evans. He’s the first proper box to box midfielder we’ve had in a long time. He’s mobile, he’s got bags of energy, he passes well, he’s got lovely touch and he’s full of fight. He opened the scoring with a superb right footed strike from 25 yards that fizzed into the top corner. A really high quality goal. It was made to look even better by some of Jay Simpson’s efforts, three of them troubling only the City players’ cars parked well off behind the left hand side of the goal. Perhaps there was some sort of bet going on; who could dent James Harper’s bonnet perhaps? Simpson eventually hit one near the target, it rolling only 5 or 6 yards wide and Koren hit a terrific shot just over the bar. Gulacsi was largely untroubled but did take a comfortable catch from a massive throw from their left back, got down to tip a low shot past the post and smothered well when their front man was released one on one.

Their ‘keeper, who’s name I’d like to know, made a good save from a Bradley free-kick, reaching back to his right after a deflection spun the ball in the opposite direction. City then went two in front as Brady, having swapped over to the right wing, turned the left back inside out and slid the ball across for Simpson to hammer home from 6 inches. That was the way the half ended.

The second half was entertaining, despite another raft of substitutions but apart from Evans, City didn’t hit the heights of the first half. Evans created the best chance of the half for McLean after a lung bursting counter attack but McLean scuffed a shot wide with his left foot when he had time to compose himself and move closer in on goal. After Basso’s comedy mis-kick last night, Gulacsi got in on the act tonight, misjudging a bouncing ball outside the box and controlling it with his upper arm. The ref awarded a free-kick but Gulacsi faced no punishment. In a real game, it would have been a guaranteed red card. Sonny Bradley also benefited from the ref’s leniency, hauling down one of their after he’d been nutmegged by the corner flag. Brady forced another superb save from the ‘keeper with a well struck free-kick. It was his final involvement as he made way for Ghilas. Ghilas performed his usual “run around a lot, achieve nothing” act, dribbled a weak shot at the keeper and hit the worst cross field pass we’ve seen since Dean Marney buggered off.

More substitutions followed. Emerton for Koren, Townsend for Dawson, Bennett for Bradley, Holohan for Evans and McCaffrey for McLean. That left us with a defence of Bennett at right back, Townsend and Chester at centre back and Will Atkinson at left back. Unsurprisingly, they got one back with a nice finish from the centre forward after City’s makeshift backline got themselves in a muddle. That was Gulacsi’s last involvement and he made way for Conor Devlin. The trialist didn’t have much to do but caught the ball confidently and distributed quickly and neatly. Gulacsi showed the same traits, really good hands and good, quick distribution. Very quick off his line too. Just needs to work out where the 18 yard box finishes.

Franic McCaffrey struck a post with a neat volley but that was about it for goal mouth incident. All in all, a nice run out and nice to see some familiar faces and a few new ones. The young lads all settled into the game well. James Harper was solid in front of the back four. The original defence all played well with Atkinson and Dawson attacking at will and Koren and Brady showing good awareness to create space for them to move into. The only disappointing thing was the performances of McLean and Simpson who both looked the same as last year. In Simpson’s case it was the player of September and October, not the much improved version we saw after Christmas.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

North Ferriby United 1 Hull City 4

There’s nothing like watching the Tigers start pre-season at a sun-drenched Church Road on a glorious July evening and this was nothing like it. The sky, threateningly grey prior to kick off, soon opened up to ensure the first half played out in heavy rain and turned the amber on our shiny new kit a dark orange.

We wondered if City would field two different teams at Ferriby and Winterton and, as we passed Corry Evans, James Chester, Aaron McLean and Liam Rosenior in street clothes on the way past the dressing room, that looked to be the case.

City lined up: Basso; East, Dudgeon, McShane, Hobbs ©, Devitt, Kilbane, McKenna, Cairney, Fryatt, Adebola.

Ferriby fielded a number of ex-tigers including Steve Wilson, Mark Greaves, Gary Bradshaw, Ben Morley and Nathan Peat. City settled quickly and dominated an entertaining opening half hour, knocking the ball about neatly on the slick pitch and building attacks from the back. If you’re unsure how to judge the opposition, consider the fact that Paul McShane looked as comfortable as Franco Baresi in possession and it should give you some guide.

Thirty seconds into his Tigers career, Dele Adebola won his first header. Three minutes into it and he had his first goal. He received the ball on the edge of the penalty area, two Ferriby defenders bounced off him; he turned and lashed a terrific shot into the roof of Steve Wilson’s net with his left foot. Nice. It was a solid start from the big man who produced some neat touches, looked athletic enough and worked hard. The other new boys also settled quickly. Paul McKenna sat in front of the back four and while there was little to do defensively, he dropped in every time to collect the ball from Hobbs and McShane and played neat balls wide to start attacks. He looks to be everything Ashbee was before his last injury. Joe Dudgeon looks about the same size as Andy Dawson if not a little smaller. He’s equally one-footed but has good pace and looked adventurous. He likes a tackle too. It is way too early to judge but it was a nice first impression of all three.

Matty Fryatt hit two shots over early on, the first is still in orbit, and the second was closer. On thirteen minutes, Cairney found Devitt wide, he slid the ball into the box and Fryatt turned and shot under Wilson to make it two-nil. Whatever the game and whoever the opposition, it’s always nice to see your strikers score. Before City could enjoy the two goal cushion, Ferriby hit back with their first meaningful attack. A superb pass from the centre of midfield released Brooksby, he side stepped the statuesque Kevin Kilbane and whipped a superb shot beyond Basso. City weren’t perturbed by the goal and continued to dominate. Tom Cairney, obviously enjoying strolling around in midfield spraying passes about, stepped up after Adebola was bundled over on the edge of the box and delivered a thumping free-kick into the left hand corner.

Half time came and went. In truth the second half, heavily disrupted by substitutions, was a non-event. Exciting happenings in the second half included the thrilling announcement of a Ferriby substitute with no number on his shirt, the brand new PA system at Ferriby working as well as the old one, wondering whether Liam Rosenior would fall off the ladder he was using to get down off the roof, wondering whether the guy on the roof was Robbie Brady or Eminem and willing the Ferriby #16 to do something other than swear and fall over.

At various points in the half Adebola, Kilbane, McKenna, Devitt, East and Cairney were withdrawn and youth team members Conor Townsend, Francis McCaffrey, Gavin Holohan, Tom Bennett, Mark Cullen and er, Nick Barmby, came on. Matty Fryatt had a goal disallowed for a push and a terrible kick by Basso led to a terrific chance for Ferriby but they lashed it wide. That was the summary of the football from the 46th to 80th minutes. Things livened up slightly in the last 10 minutes, mainly due to Mark Cullen’s industry. He finally forced the first save of the half from Willo with a deflected shot and then he rounded off the scoring, latching onto Gavin Holohan’s terrific through ball to hammer a shot over Wilson.

It was worth the trip out in the rain to see the new boys, see the new kit (which looked nicer on the players than on the pictures) and sample a bit of football again. There’s only so much cricket and golf one can stand to watch. Fortunately, the rain stopped at half time. Unfortunately, so did the entertainment. Here’s to Winterton where it’s always sunny. Don’t let us down.