Saturday, 24 August 2013

Hull City 1 Norwich City 0

Today, we witnessed the Tigers finest ever Premier League performance at the KC Stadium. In truth, it’s not top of a particularly long list but it does climb above the home win over Manchester City and the first ever Premier League victory against Fulham – on my list at least.

Not only did City hold on for victory despite being a man light for over 70 minutes but in doing so, they produced some of the silkiest, sexiest football I’ve seen from blokes in black and amber. Late in the first half the Tigers played the ball out of defence on the right hand side, from Elmohamady, through Koren, Huddlestone and Brady before Sone Aluko back-heeled the ball between opposing centre half and full back and Jake Livermore raced through on goal but shot over the bar. Chris Hughton stood on the touchline rubbing his eyes in disbelief while simultaneously having a quick count of how many City actually had on the pitch.

Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore made their first starts for City with Meyler and Graham making way from last week’s 2-0 hammering at Chelsea. Norwich arrived with several of their shiny new summer purchases barely out of the wrapping. If they thought they were in for a stroll in a place they’d never heard of, they would be badly mistaken. By half time Ricky Van Wolswinkel was dropping into his own half just to touch the ball. Leroy Fer cut a deeply frustrated figure. Javier Garrido went home with first prize in the “Kick an Aluko because you can’t get the ball off him” competition. Catchy name.

The game was even enough for the first twenty minutes with Emmanuel Tettey heading the only decent chance wide of the post. Then it turned on a tumultuous ten minutes. First Elmohamady swung a wonderful cross into the box from deep, Sagbo got ahead of Michael Turner in the box and the ex-Tiger hauled Sagbo to the ground. The ref awarded the spot-kick, correctly, and then proved utterly useless as Tettey held up the taking of the pen moaning about the position of the ball. That would become a theme.

Despite the gamesmanship, Robbie Brady sent John Ruddy the wrong way and a first Premier League goal for three years was on the board [1-0]. The game had barely settled back into a pattern when Mike Jones sent off Yannick Sagbo. There’d been a bit of verbal between Turner and Sagbo over the penalty award and tempers flared at the other end when Turner chucked himself down in the area looking for the ref to even things up. As the players wandered out, Nathan Redmond having smashed the ball over the bar for a goal kick, Sagbo and Russell Martin had a little tussle. For reasons known only to him, Sagbo tried to head-butt Martin. There was barely any connection but it’s just one of those things that you know immediately will be punished with a red card. The ref rightly produced one and my heart sank. Surviving for over an hour against a strong looking Norwich side was going to be very difficult.

Up to half time it wasn’t an issue at all. City left Aluko on his own up front and Koren, Huddlestone and Livermore bossed the midfield. Livermore especially had a wonderful game. His pace and energy were terrific weapons but his level of quality in possession was a surprise to me. He was outstanding. Koren was having his best game in black and amber (and putting in one hell of a shift) and Huddlestone gave us the calmness on the ball we knew we were getting. He’s a joy to watch. His one touch passing isn’t second to many. He switches play with the ease of a golfer chipping onto the 18th green knowing a Claret Jug or Green Jacket awaits him. He covers ground quickly and competes in the air. He was great. Livermore was even better.

City played delightful football going into the break. Norwich were rubbish. They were petty. Kicking us out of frustration and wondering why launching balls into our box was utterly pointless. Davies and Chester weren’t worked as much as you might think considering the disadvantage in numbers but what they were asked to do, they did without fuss. McGregor had far safer hands than last week and did a good job of coming for any balls into the box.

I didn’t think Norwich could come out in the second half and be as bad as they had been before the break but to their credit, they managed it. Even with Robert Snodgrass, who has tortured us at the KC once or twice before, on for the ineffective Bradley Johnson. Snodgrass engaged in a running battle with Maynor Figueroa. It didn’t appear to dawn on him that putting in decent crosses or striking at goal might hurt us more than throwing himself around and kicking the Honduran. The best moment came when Snodgrass lad a ball off near half way and Figueroa saw him coming, tucked himself up like he was hiding behind an invisible telegraph pole and launched himself shoulder first into the whinging Scot.

We had to deal with 20/25 minutes of pressure from Norwich. We dropped deep and allowed them a lot of the ball in front of us. They rarely hurt us. Their wide players only produced two decent crosses all afternoon. The second was a potential game-changer, Van Wolfswinkel meeting it with a bullet header that McGregor tipped superbly over the bar. “World Class” doesn’t do it justice; it was a wonder-save. Despite numerous changes in personnel, including the introduction of the always lively Wes Hoolahan, Norwich never got closer. McGregor made comfortable saves from Redmond in the first half and Howson in the second but had little else to do.

The longer the half went on, the more City grew back into the game. Aluko and Koren initially threatened on the counter and after Steve Bruce’s very well-judged substitutions, Boyd and Graham led the charge very well indeed. We came closer to finding a second goal than they did an equaliser. It was a great half of football. The sending off and the referee’s appalling leniency towards the visitors created a fantastic atmosphere in the East Stand. Blocks, breaks and interceptions were met with great applause as the crowd willed The Tigers to upset the odds.

Then as full-time approached it became almost as torturous as the Cardiff game on May 4th. The crowd knew what the players had put into the performance and they wanted to see it rewarded. It’s August and no game is “must win” in August but the thought of losing this one after such a sheer bloody minded effort made me feel quite sick. In the 90th minute, our friend the ref finally booked a Norwich player for a blatant pull on a rampaging Rosenior. It was their 19th foul. That’s before you count the poor sportsmanship, dissent and blatant diving. You have to hope an ugly little team like that gets their comeuppance and they did today - which is nice.

We showed our disgust at the adding of six minutes of stoppage time, presumably for a combination of Curtis Davies’ head injury and the time City took to make substitutions. However like they’d done throughout, City made light work of it. We spent most of it counter attacking and trying not to pass the ball to Danny Graham when he’d made a pretty good run. That’s the Hull City way. A second goal would have been way too easy!

So ended a really terrific 90 minutes at the KC “Sponsored by a phone company but incapable of providing a connection” Stadium. The Tigers really were fabulous. Apart from the lunacy of Sagbo; they were magnificent to a man. The manager deserves a fair amount of credit too. He picked the right team, reorganised properly after the sending off and then made fine substitutions.


Not all of the Premier League games will be like this. Which is probably a good job - my heart wouldn’t make it to Christmas. This should flood everyone with belief though. We can compete. We can go toe to toe with most. And we don’t even need eleven men to do it!

Ratings: McGregor 8; Elmohamady 7, Chester 7, Davies 7, Figueroa 8; Aluko 8, Brady 7, Huddlestone 8, Livermore 9; Koren 8, Sagbo 0.

Subs: Graham (for Aluko), Boyd (for Brady), Rosenior (for Koren).

Friday, 16 August 2013

PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEW 2013/14



ARSENAL

LAST SEASON: 4th
KEY ARRIVALS: Yaya Sanogo - Auxerre (FRA) - Free
KEY DEPARTURES: Andrey Arshavin - Zenit St. Petersburg (RUS) - Released, Denilson - Sao Paulo (BRA) - Released, Vito Mannone - Sunderland - 2.8m

WHAT'S NEW?

Not a lot. Arsenal are sitting on a stack of money they can't spend. Failed with moves for Higuin who went to Napoli and Luis Gustavo who joined Wolfsburg. Key target Luis Suarez looks likely to stay at Liverpool and interest in Wayne Rooney was a fantasy. Another struggle to win the 4th place trophy beckons. Over 3000 days since they last won a trophy.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Liverpool agree to sell Suarez, Arsenal finish 3rd and win the FA Cup.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Spurs end the Arse's 16 year run of Champions League football.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Finding 3 top players in the next 2 weeks.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Arsene Wenger.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 5th
 

ASTON VILLA

LAST SEASON: 15th
KEY ARRIVALS: Aleksandar Tonev - Lech Poznan (POL) - Undisc, Jores Okore - Nordsjaelland (DEN) - Undisc, Nicklas Helenius - Aalborg (DEN) - Undisc
KEY DEPARTURES: Darren Bent - Fulham - Loan, Jean II Makoun - Rennes (FRA) - Undisc, Richard Dunne - QPR – Released

WHAT'S NEW?

A load of players most have never heard of. Villa have abandoned their interest in young British players and gone for young foreign players instead. Holding on to Christian Benteke was crucial and some of the boys who struggled last season should mature but another season in the bottom half is almost certain.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Sneaking into the top half.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Having an excellent Championship side in 2014/15.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Christian Benteke's goals and a much improved defence.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Andreas Wiemann.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 14th


CARDIFF CITY

LAST SEASON: 1st (Championship)
KEY ARRIVALS: Andreas Cornelius - FC Copenhagen (DEN) - 7.5m, Gary Medel - Sevilla (SPA) - 11m, Steven Caulker - Tottenham Hotspur - 8m
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

Premier League football is. Cardiff return to the top flight after a 51 year absence and put 3 years of play-off heartache behind them. Stormed, deservedly, to the Championship title last season and have spent big and attracted real quality this summer.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

If everything clicks, they could finish in the top 8.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Upsetting a settled unit with expensive buys on big money could see them return to the Football League quick smart.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Integrating the new players and getting goals from Cornelius.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Gary Medel. Fantastic player. Absolute nutcase.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 15th


CHELSEA

LAST SEASON: 3rd
KEY ARRIVALS: Andre Schurrle - Bayer Leverkusen - 18m, Marco van Ginkel - Vitesse Arnhem (HOL) - 8m
KEY DEPARTURES: None. But half the squad have gone on loan around the world.

WHAT'S NEW?

Chelsea have a 5th new manager in the last 4 years. I can’t remember his name though. The squad has remained settled despite plenty of rumours and must improve having massively underachieved in the Premier League in the past 2 seasons.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Winning the title and having a long run in the Champions League. Nothing else is good enough.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Another lackluster league campaign and not being involved in the CL past February.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Reflecting the managers determination and arrogance on the pitch.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Andrea Shirley. German is the Premier League’s first female pro.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 1st


CRYSTAL PALACE

LAST SEASON: 5th (Championship)
KEY ARRIVALS:  Dwight Gayle - Peterborough United - 6m, Jerome Thomas - WBA – Released,  Jose Campana - Sevilla (SPA) - 1.75m
KEY DEPARTURES: Andre Moritz - Bolton Wanderers – Free

WHAT'S NEW?

Not as much as Ian Holloway would have liked. Aside from taking a massive gamble on Dwight Gayle and what looks a very shrewd signing in Jose Campana, Palace have struggled to recruit proven quality and look by far the weakest squad on paper.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Returning to the Championship with bulging pockets.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Is it still called “Doing a Derby”?

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Either pulling several rabbits out of the transfer hat in the next 2 weeks or cheating 15 penalties out of referees again.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Dwight Gayle.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 20th. Sorry.


EVERTON

LAST SEASON: 6th
KEY ARRIVALS: Antolin Alcaraz - Wigan Athletic – Free, Arouna Kone – Wigan Athletic – 6m, Gerard Deulofeu - Barcelona (SPA) - Loan
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

Everton have a new manager, losing David Moyes after 10 years. In comes the well admired Roberto Martinez whose teams play attractive football but can’t defend. He inherits a strong squad with better defenders than he’s had before and some talented forward players. Kone is a super signing while Deulofeu, who is highly thought of in Spain, could be a master stroke.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Martinez attacking principles lead Everton to a top 4 finish.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Martinez defensive flaws lead Everton to a mid-table finish.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Finding the right balance between defence and attack.
MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Marouane Fellaini. Thug.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 8th


FULHAM

LAST SEASON: 12th
KEY ARRIVALS: Adel Taarabt – QPR - Loan, Darren Bent – Aston Villa – Loan, Derek Boateng - Dnipro (UKR) – Free, Maarten Stekelenburg – Roma (ITA) - 3.5m.
KEY DEPARTURES: Mahamadou Diarra – Released, Mark Schwarzer – Released, Mladen Petric – Released

WHAT'S NEW?

Mohammed Al Fayad selling up after 16 years as Fulham’s owner was the big story of the summer. Don’t worry though, the Michael Jackson statue is still in place. Meanwhile Martin Jol has gone quietly about his business this summer with several shrewd but low cost signings.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

A top 8 finish is possible if Fulham click.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Several temperamental personalities in the dressing room mean they could slip into a dog fight when the going gets tough.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Taarabt and Bent helping Berbatov rather than getting in his way.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Adel Taarabt. I hope his Oyster card is topped up.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 12th


HULL CITY

LAST SEASON: 2nd (Championship)
KEY ARRIVALS: Ahmed Elmohamady - Sunderland - 2m, Allan McGregor - Besiktas (TUR) - 1.8m, Curtis Davies - Birmingham City - 2.25m, Danny Graham - Sunderland – Loan, Maynor Figueroa - Wigan Athletic – Free, Tom Huddlestone – Spurs – 5.25m, Yannick Sagbo - Evian (FRA) - 1.6m
KEY DEPARTURES: Corry Evans - Blackburn Rovers - 750k, Jack Hobbs - Nottingham Forest – Loan,  Tom Cairney - Blackburn Rovers - Loan

WHAT'S NEW?

Ten players are new. Steve Bruce got The Tigers promoted against all odds with a squad lacking goalkeepers, having several loan players and severely lacking in top flight experience. He’s done an excellent job of replenishing the team on a tough budget. THERE IS NO CHANGE OF TEAM NAME!

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Massive investment form the Asian market leads to several world class acquisitions in January and City clinch the Premier League title with 2 weeks to spare.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Relegation, obviously.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Keeping the small number of really top quality players fit to play in most of the 38 games.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Danny Graham.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 17th


LIVERPOOL

LAST SEASON: 7th
KEY ARRIVALS: Iago Aspas - Celta Vigo (SPA) - 7m, Kolo Toure - Manchester City – Released, Luis Alberto - Sevilla (SPA) - 6.8m, Simon Mignolet - Sunderland - 9m
KEY DEPARTURES: Andy Carroll - West Ham United - 15.5m, Jonjo Shelvey - Swansea City - 5m, Pepe Reina – Napoli – Loan, Stewart Downing – West Ham United – 6m

WHAT'S NEW?

So far, not a great deal. Liverpool should do better than last season as they were much improved once Sturridge and Coutinho joined in January. They’ve signed good players but not players who’ll make a massive difference. Could still pull out a truly world class signing.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

The North London sides implode and Liverpool sneak into 4th place.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Finishing below Everton. Again.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Keeping Luis Suarez and keeping him happy.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Simon Mignolet. Has big shoes to fill.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 6th


MANCHESTER CITY

LAST SEASON: 2nd
KEY ARRIVALS: Alvaro Negredo - Sevilla (SPA) - 20m, Fernandinho - Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) - 30m, Jesus Navas - Sevilla (SPA) - 14.9m, Stevan Jovetic - Fiorentina (ITA) - 22m
KEY DEPARTURES: Carlos Tevez - Juventus (ITA) - 12m

WHAT'S NEW?

It’s nothing new but City have spent nearly a hundred million quid again. New manager Pellegrini has been provided with several top European performers to add to an already bulging squad. He absolutely must improve on their dire performances in the Champions League which was what truly did for Roberto Mancini.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

A quadruple?

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

More CL misery and United winning the title in spite of Moyes.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Settling quickly and maintaining a settled team. Mancini fiddled too often.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Negredo. He’s still not over the disappointment of missing out on a move to Hull.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 3rd


MANCHESTER UNITED
LAST SEASON: 1st
KEY ARRIVALS: None.
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

For the first time in 26 years we’ll see a United team that isn’t managed by Alex Ferguson. I don’t think David Moyes can fill his shoes. His handling of the Wayne Rooney “saga” has been less than authoritative and publicly chasing players who didn’t want to join is not the United way.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

The Championship in his first season would be an excellent achievement for Moyes.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Finishing below City and being exposed in the CL.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Rooney and van Persie.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Moyes.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 2nd


NEWCASTLE UNITED

LAST SEASON: 16th
KEY ARRIVALS: Loic Remy - QPR - Loan
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

Not a lot. Newcastle have spent most of the summer providing comedy value for football fans everywhere and not enough time strengthening a squad that was very, very lucky there were 3 sides more useless in the division last season. That said, Newcastle do have quality, most of it French, and if they can get a settled side out, they could be fine.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

If allowed to show their va va voom, they could be top half.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

They are just as likely to fall through the “relegation trap door”.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Remy staying out of prison.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Remy’s defence lawyer.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 18th


NORWICH CITY

LAST SEASON: 11th
KEY ARRIVALS: Gary Hooper - Celtic (SCO) - 5m, Leroy Fer - FC Twente (HOL) – Undisc, Martin Olsson - Blackburn Rovers – Undisc, Nathan Redmond - Birmingham City - 2m, Ricky Van Wolfswinkel - Sporting (POR) - Undisc
KEY DEPARTURES: Grant Holt - Wigan Athletic - 2m

WHAT'S NEW?

Someone at Carrow Road has won the Euromillions. Norwich have gambled big time on improving in the Premier League. There are risks of course but I think they’ve made an excellent job of it. Flirted with the bottom three last season before pulling away at the end. They’ll be safe by Christmas this year.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Is Europa League football unlikely?

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

The club shop run out of W’s.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Getting their expensive acquisitions to work as hard as the players they’ve joined.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Gary Hooper. Waste of money.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 7th


SOUTHAMPTON

LAST SEASON: 14th
KEY ARRIVALS: Victor Wanyama - Celtic (SCO) - 12.5m, Dejan Lovren – Lyon (FRA) – 8.5m
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

Saints have added quality in the right areas, albeit at massively inflated prices, to an exciting young squad. Though, ironically it was 31 year old Rickie Lambert who this week became their first England cap in 8 years.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

A top 10 finish is with their capability though the league is going to be ultra-competitive this season.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

I still hate the way they treated Nigel Adkins so I’d quiet like to see them struggle.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

A better start than they made last season.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

The interpreter.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 11th


STOKE CITY

LAST SEASON: 13th
KEY ARRIVALS: Erik Pieters - PSV Eindhoven (HOL) - 3m, Marc Muniesa - Barcelona (SPA) - Free
KEY DEPARTURES: Rory Delap - Burton Albion - Released

WHAT'S NEW?

Higher unemployment in Stoke. I don’t mean Tony Pulis, I mean those poor fellas who carried towels around the pitch. As much as Tony Pulis’s footballing philosophy made the games originators turn in their grave, he enjoyed great success at Stoke. Dispensing him was a brave move and replacing him with Hughes, who flopped at QPR, is even braver. Hughes hasn’t really made his mark on the squad.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

The towel carriers are re-hired to fan Abi Clancy on warm days.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

They will be sucked into the scrap for survival.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Home form. Best atmosphere in the league at the Britannia.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Cameron Jerome. He’d bet on it.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 16th


SUNDERLAND

LAST SEASON: 17th
KEY ARRIVALS: Emanuele Giaccherini - Juventus (ITA) - 6.5m, Jozy Altidore - AZ Alkmaar (HOL) - Undisc.
KEY DEPARTURES: Simon Mignolet - Liverpool - 9m

WHAT'S NEW?

Paulo Di Canio has brought his scouting system from Swindon. It basically involves cracking open the Championship Manager database and searching for players with ability above 150 whose contract is expiring.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

They could do anything this season. The signings are utterly random. In Altidore and Giaccherini they have at least signed a bit of proven quality.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

(R) Sunderland.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Championship Manager’s team of researchers.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Sadly, Vito Mannone.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 19th


SWANSEA CITY

LAST SEASON: 9th
KEY ARRIVALS: Jonjo Shelvey - Liverpool - 5m, Jordi Amat - Espanyol (SPA) - 2.5m, Wilfried Bony - Vitesse Arnhem (HOL) - 12m
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

Swansea splashing the cash.  Two seasons of Premier League football maintained on a tight budget and the increase in TV revenue have given Michael Laudrup a bit of wiggle room. The obvious big name signing is Bony who a dozen Premier League clubs have looked at and baulked at the asking price. How to top winning a trophy at Wembley is going to be a big question for Laudrup this season.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Improving a place or two in the league and doing well in Europe.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Losing Laudrup.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Coping with the numerous Thursday-Sunday matches scheduled, especially after Euro trips.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Michu. Second season syndrome.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 10th


 TOTTINGHAM HOTSPURS

LAST SEASON: 5th
KEY ARRIVALS: Ettiene Capoue – Toulouse – 9.3m, Nacer Chadli - Twente (HOL) - 7m, Paulinho - Corinthians (BRA) - 17m,  Roberto Soldado - Valencia (SPA) - 26m
KEY DEPARTURES: Clint Dempsey - Seattle Sounders (USA) - 6m, Steven Caulker - Cardiff City - 8m, Tom Huddlestone – Hull City – 5.25m.

WHAT'S NEW?

Spurs finishing 5th, Daniel Levy playing hard ball over transfers, sound business being done at WHL. None of that is new. A striker though. A proper top class striker, that is certainly a revelation. Spurs have spent big on a guy who should score goals by the bucket load. The excellent Paulinho and lively Capoue look great business too.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Is a title challenge too much to ask? Probably, just.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Soldado is crocked. Liverpool have a stormer. Spurs finish 5th again.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

I’ve avoided mentioning Gareth Bale! Damn, nearly. Anyway – keeping him or selling early enough to replace with quality.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Paulinho. You can never trust a Brazilian.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 4th


WEST BROMWICH ALBION

LAST SEASON: 8th
KEY ARRIVALS: Diego Lugano - Paris SG (FRA) – Free, Goran Popov - Dynamo Kiev (UKR) – Loan, Nicolas Anelka - Juventus (ITA) - Released
KEY DEPARTURES: None.

WHAT'S NEW?

WBA have had a quiet summer. Anelka and Lugano, while big names, aren’t signings that have really caused a ripple. They had a settled squad last season, didn’t ever panic when a result went against them and through a combination of shrewd tactics, team spirit and quality throughout, they finished in a fine eighth place.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

8th again is surely the limit of their capabilities.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Odemwingie holds another circus show on deadline day.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Their discipline, workrate and craft in midfield.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

Anelka. He’ll score goals no doubt but he can be a poisonous influence.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 13th


WEST HAM UNITED

LAST SEASON: 10th
KEY ARRIVALS: Andy Carroll - Liverpool - 15.5m, Razvan Rat - Shakhtar Donetsk (UKR) – Free, Stewart Downing – Liverpool – 6m
KEY DEPARTURES: Carlton Cole – Released.

WHAT'S NEW?

West Ham have followed up the mildly successful capture of Andy Carroll by signing the man tasked with providing him at Liverpool, Stewart Downing. That combination didn’t do well on Merseyside but it’s right up Sam Allardyce’s street. The ‘ammers did well on their return to the Premier League last season and have enough quality in every area to do well again.

BEST CASE SCENARIO?

Downing and Carroll hit it off and another top 10 finish is secured.

WORST CASE SCENARIO?

Carroll spends another season picking up niggly injuries and Big Sam rues the day he let Carlton Cole go.

KEY TO SUCCESS?

Kevin Nolan most probably. Right place. Right time.

MOST LIKELY TO FLOP?

I think Downing will do well, so Carroll if anyone.

RICK's PREDICTED FINISH: 9th

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Hull City 3 Real Betis 0

Hull City AFC, known as The Tigers (separately for good reason), took on Real Betis in the final game of an eclectic pre-season in a game serving as a well-deserved testimonial for future Hull City Hall of Famer Andy Dawson.

Prior to the main game a small sided game featuring legends who’ve played alongside “Daws” took place. Wearing the City home strip were Daws, Dean Windass, Henrik Pedersen, Ian Ashbee, Jamie Forrester and Gav the coach driver. Opposing them, in last year’s blue third kit, were the slightly fitter bunch including Ben Burgess, Danny Allsopp, Jason Price, Steve Melton and Marc Joseph who, in contrast to some Danish pub landlords we won’t name, was still in peak physical condition. The football ability is also the same. Unfortunately.

The game finished 6-4 to the home legends due mainly to the away lot taking it steady and then stepping aside to allow Dawson’s kids to score a couple – a moment they won’t ever forget. The man of the moment also added a couple while Dean Windass showed his inability to volley a football goalwards. Has that man ever scored a volley? Hilariously Marc Joseph tried to kill a young Dawson with a two footed sliding tackle and the crowd booed the crap out of the goalkeeper for saving from the youngest Dawson.



 The main game ebbed and flowed like most pre-season games. Between the opening two Tigers goals absolutely nothing happened but otherwise it was mostly entertaining and occasionally kicked off. David Meyler and Steinhofer were both lucky to avoid red cards. The German for an out of control tackle and Meyler for trying to throttle him in retribution.

Betis have a game with Everton on Sunday so they’d split their squad. While typically Spanish in their movement and passing, City showed more desire to win and better pace and strength. At times City also moved the ball slickly and gained confidence from an early goal. Danny Graham headed in Robbie Brady’s free-kick at the far post. That will hopefully fill him with confidence. There was no questioning his work rate up front though his touch let him down a time or two.

The other home debutants outfield were Curtis Davies, Maynor Figueroa and Yannick Sagbo. Davies looked very comfortable alongside James Chester and, while the two were generally untroubled, he showed his ability in the air and his turn of pace which attracted Steve Bruce to him. Sagbo had a quieter game but there was evidence of some quick feet, which led to him being clobbered a few times. He looks decent in the air, is quick and is more physically impressive than his measurements suggest. On a day designed to celebrate our greatest ever left back, it was fitting that Maynor Figueroa made a fine impression in the position. He’s a fine athlete and he shows great ambition down the left hand side. He’s going to be a big favourite. The other debutant was goalkeeper Allan McGregor but he had so little to do, he could have spent his time peeling oranges. He looks very comfortable with ball at feet.

The other player who felt like a new signing was Sone Aluko. I’m delighted to report that he looks as good as ever. He seemed to enjoy the fluid formation which allowed him to exchange positions with Sagbo and Graham when they saw fit. With Robbie Koren looking fitter and faster than ever in midfield alongside the versatile and ever-improving Robbie Brady, they played some nice stuff. Aluko doubled the lead with a beautiful curling shot from a short Brady free-kick though he’d never get this much space in a Premier league game for sure. We need midfield reinforcements but Brady and Koren showed great desire to work for the team which will stand us in good stead in the short term if new players don’t arrive.

The game was wrapped up with a cheeky goal from sub George Boyd. He spotted a poor back pass coming, latched on to it, rounded the keeper, let a defender slide past him and then dinked the ball over the grounded defender. Boyd arrived along with 5 others in one go in the second half. Liam Rosenior was laughing as he strode on to the pitch having been told he was playing midfield with Alex Bruce. With Dudgeon at right-back and Brady left it was an odd system but it was designed to allow Andy Dawson to make a late cameo so it was all fine. When McLean and Proschwitx became the 7th and 8th subs, Matty Fryatt dropped into midfield and had a great time picking out passes. He’s a good footballer our Matt. He’s just a bit lost in the shuffle unfortunately.

The only real negative from the new system is that it stunted Elmohamady who didn’t get forward anywhere near as often as he did last season. He may grow into the deeper role but he seemed keen not to get caught up front knowing there was no-one to cover for him.

All that was left was for us to give Andy Dawson a rousing reception as he replaced Brady, cheer his every touch and then stay to applaud him at the end. The crowd of 7,991 was a big disappointment but those who were there did a great job of reflecting the respect and adoration we’ll always have for Andy Dawson.

There’ll never be another.