Walking away from Ewood Park the over-riding opinion coming from every Hull City fan was that this was a game we shouldn’t have lost. The home team were ordinary; the home support was small and fractious, and the Tigers played well enough for an hour to create an atmosphere of frustration. Had we pressed on in the last half an hour, I’ve no doubt that we would’ve won the game but regardless, we shouldn’t have lost it. In the end, it was the band of Hull City fans who left the ground frustrated. I think I’ll file this one under “typical City”.
Steve Bruce recognised that he couldn’t go away in the Championship and play 4-4-2 with two wingers so changes were expected. I don’t think anyone predicted a change to play three at the back. It took a little while for the players to get used to it but once they had, it suited us. It allowed us to play with three in the midfield and we have natural wing backs. Choosing between his son or Paul McShane as the third centre-half must’ve taken Steve Bruce at least 3 seconds.
Tigers: Amos; Chester, Faye, Bruce; Rosenior, Dudgeon, McKenna, Evans, Koren; Aluko, Proschwitz.
Sone Aluko was allowed to play anywhere he fancied while Robert Koren was the foremost of the three in the middle. Alex Bruce played as the left sided centre-half and the switch seemed to suit Abdoulaye Faye who coasted through the game. Blackburn enjoyed the bulk of the possession early on as the City players tried to work out their defensive shape and when to press the ball. Blackburn forced the first half chance while we were adjusting. The play was played inside Dudgeon for Jason Lowe who outpaced Alex Bruce and crossed for Kazim-Kazim-Kazim whose powerful shot went wide with Amos just about covering it. I don’t think they had another effort on goal in the half.
Nick Proschwitz settled well and his first few touches were all good. He looked full of running and when Koren and Aluko were up with play, he found them well. He turned Scott Dann well and hit a fierce shot that was quickly closed down. Aluko then created a chance through sheer persistence, winning the ball twice inside their penalty area. He looked up and fed an on-rushing team mate who arrived about 10 yards from goal and just had to hit a first time shot with his right foot. Unfortunately it was Dudgeon arriving and he, well I don’t really know what he was trying to do but he made a mess of it. The Tigers were starting to get on top and were breaking effectively. Blackburn got into some decent crossing positions, particularly through Olsson who was giving Liam Rosenior a chasing, but City defended really well. David Dunn attempted to run from midfield but was met with the tackle of the season by James Chester. A harmless looking cross caused havoc when neither Bruce, Faye, Amos or Dudgeon took responsibility for it and they were lucky that Blackburn’s forwards seemed too surprised to do anything about it and then an excellent cross from Murphy was met by Bruce just ahead of Kazim-Kazim-Kazim.
The referee was a bit of a joker. The ball was headed out for a City throw amid screams for a foul by Kazim and Steve Kean. Decision? Blackburn throw-in. A few minutes later the situation happened in reverse. Either a clear Blackburn throw or a free-kick to the Tigers. Decision? City throw-in. He mentally flipped a coin to decide another throw-in. It wasn’t a difficult game to referee with fouls committed and just the one contentious decision. He did let a lot of niggly fouls go which is good for the flow of the game if they are made by your team but absolutely disgraceful when they are against you! On with the game; Paul McKenna won the ball in midfield and found Aluko who fed Proschwitz (or Proscgwitz according to Ewood’s big screen) on his left foot to the left of the goal around 12 yards out. Proschwitz hit a powerful rising shot that Robinson met with a strong right hand. Dudgeon then cut out a poor pass in our half and played a first time ball between their centre halves that Proschwitz, stretching, just couldn’t bring under control. Great vision though. City played some good one touch football in the first half and another neat move saw Rosenior freed on the right. He skipped past Olsson and delivered a devilish cross which a defender swung at and the lucky so-and-so saw caught just enough of the ball to take it off Proschwitz’s toe but not enough to turn it into his own net. Then came the contentious decision. Proschwitz received the ball on the edge of the box and found Koren who got a shot away but was clattered in doing so. If it was anywhere else on the pitch then the referee would have awarded a free-kick for a foul made while releasing the ball but didn’t give a penalty. It should have been though.
During half time the Ewood screen placed host to the greatest propaganda piece ever seen outside of wartime Germany or North Korea. A fantastic video package showing happy fans mingling with smiling players, goals, action, raucous crowds and the manager, smiling of course, signing autographs for his waiting public. It was wonderful.
The second half was pretty poor fare. You could count the number of chances on a couple of fingers. If you’re not sure which two fingers, just ask a Blackburn fan his opinion of Steve Kean. City started well enough but our form fell off a cliff somewhere around the 55 minutes mark and the last half an hour proved massively frustrating. Liam Rosenior sliced a cross from the right hand side that had Paul Robinson scrambling across his goal as it dropped towards the far post. As the ‘keeper dived desperately and the net shook, I joined a few other City fans in celebrating a goal. Then I noticed the ball wasn’t exactly in the net. The ball had dropped just wide of the goal and Dudgeon poked it into the side netting. A really good City move saw Alex Bruce take the ball down in our half and squeeze between two onrushing attackers to find Faye who fed McKenna who found Koren who slid the ball across the box to Aluko. Aluko had Rosenior outside him and men in the box but tried to be too clever and ran out of play. That was the start of the frustration.
The Tigers passed the ball poorly and kept coughing up possession. Twice the ball was played straight into touch whilst attempting short passes to Dudgeon. Scott Dann passed straight to Koren who then over-hit a pass to Aluko. Aluko himself stumbled into defenders. We invited Blackburn onto us time and again and Proschwitz become a spectator. Blackburn looked an average side and didn’t do a lot with the ball. Olsson put in a few decent crosses that either evaded the forwards or were met by a City head. The back three looked pretty comfortable but their workload was increasing because we couldn’t keep the ball. Blackburn sub Bruno Ribeiro cut inside from the left and hit a decent shot that was heading inside the near post but an alert Ben Amos saved it well. Amos took a couple excellent catches from Murphy corners and, bar one dodgy kick, looked excellent. Steve Bruce recognised the need for City to keep the ball and replaced Evans with Tom Cairney.
Cairney had barely had time to get his boots dirty when Blackburn took the lead. It wasn’t a lead they deserved but the Tigers can have no complaints because they provided the open invitation. Etuhu crossed to the far post, Givet (I think) found some space behind Chester and cut back for Gomes who miss-hit an acrobatic volley. Bruce met the loose ball but smashed it straight into Givet and it fell for Kazim-Kazim-Kazim to poke into the net [1-0]. It was really scruffy defending from an otherwise excellent back three. We’d allowed them too much of the ball and the confidence to squeeze up the field. Otherwise they could still be playing on Friday and they wouldn’t have scored.
The Tigers response was pathetic. Bruce replaced McKenna with Simpson and then Rosenior with McLean. Quite what system has three centre halves, one wing back, two midfielders, three strikers and one Aluko, I have no idea but it didn’t cause Blackburn any trouble. Aluko scuffed a shot from a good Koren through ball, McLean headed a corner over and wide and Aluko hit a late free-kick over the bar, the wall being about 6 yards away, and Blackburn held on for three points that came gift-wrapped. They didn’t seem particularly pleased about it. “ONE NIL AND WE WANT KEAN OUT”.
Its early days in the season but there were a few worrying traits in the City performance. I don’t think we look particularly fit. We’ve faded pretty badly in both games so far. The first half was really good which just increased the frustration in the second half. It’s not like they are incapable of playing good football. Perhaps if either of Koren or Aluko had gone off the boil then we could have worked around it but when they both went together, we struggled to produce anything. We won’t see the best of Proschwitz until we start working the ball into the box more often. That remains a frustration from last season. The system worked well enough with the three defenders (and Ben Amos) our best performers. It meant we competed in midfield and Rosenior and Dudgeon did really well to provide a wide option. At times it left space behind them that a better team may have exploited. In the first half we used Proschwitz well as a focal point and the lively Aluko picked up the ball from him and caused problems. The second half was inexplicable.
I think there’s enough about City to be positive enough but this does create a few nagging worries. At the moment, it can be put down as a one off but I wouldn’t like to see too many more periods as poor as the last half an hour at Blackburn. That the manager thought chucking strikers on willy-nilly would change our fortunes is also a worry. I’ll now leave for Charlton on Saturday hoping for the best but expecting the worst!