Sunday, 31 August 2014

Aston Villa away - Ratings report



Allan McGregor – 6

Not a lot he could have done to prevent the goals or get anywhere near Villa’s pair of strikes that hit the woodwork. Wasn’t forced to make a save otherwise. Distribution was a disappointment with his long kicks going nowhere near Jelavic.

Curtis Davies – 4

Easily the worst game I’ve seen him have for City. He seemed unsure of where to play on the right of the defence, he didn’t get tight on anyone at any stage and he made woeful attempts at tackles. He was limping around a bit leading to a half time withdrawal but that could easily have been a ploy to hide his shamed face.

Michael Dawson – 4

Atrocious. That’s my first impression of Michael Dawson in a City shirt. I’ve seen some poor debuts before now but it’s hard to remember one as poor as this. He was slaughtered for pace by Delph in the first minute or so which set the tone. He rarely got anywhere near them and ended up on his arse more times than I could count. There was no cohesion with the other two centre halves and he compounded a woeful defensive effort with some of the worst long passing you will ever see. Unfortunately it was from a short pass that he gifted Villa possession 30 yards out leading to their second goal. Anyone got Andy’s number?

Paul McShane – 5

A seriously average performance in which he passed poorly and failed to communicate with players around him leading to some Villa chances. And yet he was easily the best of the three centre halves. That said, it’s hard to see him not being the one to make way for James Chester who served his one match suspension at Villa Park.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 4

Played as a wing-back in the first half and a winger in the second. In both positions he failed to test their left back Aly Cissokho choosing to pass the ball tamely inside instead of making his trademark runs in behind. That lack of balls and passing the buck was commonplace throughout the team today. Had a very poor game defensively too and left Davies exposed on the right – and he was poor enough on his own.

Tom Huddlestone – 3

I’d make a fairly confident bet that he hasn’t had a worse game in his career. He was slow with and without the ball but particularly in possession where he wanted time he was never going to get. Villa aren’t that special but they are young and fit and they smothered him. He made stupid, panicky decisions around his own box time and again and delivered woeful set pieces including one into the side netting that would disappoint a schoolboy player. When he started passing into touch every time - Bruce hauled him off. He wouldn’t get a Scotland call-up on recent form. The England stuff is nonsense. He’s behind Westwood and Delph in the queue for starters.

Jake Livermore – 4.5

Improved immeasurably once Huddlestone went off. Before that he was playing as the deep lying midfielder. He didn’t get out of his own half when we had possession and without – he couldn’t tackle a pattie butty. In the last fifteen minutes or so he was instrumental in our attacking play, sprayed the ball around confidently and tested Guzan with a lovely curling effort which dragged his rating up a touch.

Stephen Quinn – 5

Not as effective as he’s been of late. Rarely got up in support of Ince and Jelavic and too keen to offload the ball to someone else, just like his midfield colleagues, which meant we went sideways and backwards for too often. He did manage once or twice to find some space on the left and linked up well enough with Robertson but it just didn’t happen enough.

Andrew Robertson – 6

The best of a bad bunch I felt. Offered an outlet on the left at times in the first half but was much more effective later in the game when he over-lapped Robbie Brady. When he got into good positions, his crossing wasn’t anywhere near the standard he’s set so far though. Defensively he wasn’t tested as much as others as Villa tended to attack down our right but he showed nerves when dealing with hopeful balls and got in McShane’s way occasionally.

Tom Ince – 5

Another quiet game for Ince who is struggling to make a real impact. In his defence, he was again feeding on scraps and he did at least attempt to make something happen with the ball at his feet. He was taken off in the second half when there were many less effective players who could have gone instead - Huddlestone and Elmohamady for starters. I would have left him on and added Brady and Aluko behind Jelavic with Livermore and Quinn sitting deeper.

We’re seriously missing someone who can run beyond defences. Jelavic is the furthest striker forward and all of our play is behind him. Ince hasn’t played right up top since the Stuttgart friendly when he got beyond Jelavic brilliantly. This meant a ridiculously easy game for their centre halves Vlaar and Senderos. In the few minutes City did press we saw what a nervous team Villa are in defence so it made the previous 75 inexcusable.

Nikica Jelavic – 4

Spent his afternoon battling Senderos and Vlaar in vain. The service was rubbish but he was ponderous in possession and didn’t look as lively as last week. Credited with the goal which looked like an O.G. to me but I’ll stand corrected once I’ve seen it on the telly. Conceded possession for the first Villa goal with a clumsy touch from an admittedly hopeless ball out to him.

Subs:

Liam Rosenior – 6

We were much better with him at right back although Villa did spend most of the second half allowing us to play in front of them so the threat had subsided. He supported well down the right and won throw-ins and corners that allowed us to gain decent territory. Unfortunately a victim of the desire to play 3-5-2 because if we played an orthodox right back, he’d be starting every week.

Robbie Brady – 6

Made a decent impact to follow up his bright showing against Lokeren on Thursday. Took over from Huddlestone in the woeful set piece department but in open play he was vivacious and made things happen. Given the abysmal nature of other performances, he must have given the manager food for thought.

Sone Aluko – n/a

Made a negligible impact and missed our best chance to equalise when he shot straight at Guzan. Like Ince, I think he’s playing too deep. People like to go on about the “number 10 role” these days and that’s what we’re trying to use them in. But Aluko’s best games for City have come when he played up front and got in behind defenders. He has good quick feet but he’s not just going to run at and beat seasoned defenders. He’s far better stretching them and working off through balls and crosses.

Gaffer:

Steve Bruce – 3

Having rested players for the European game on Thursday because he’s prioritised Premier League points (which I fully understand evenif I don’t like it) and annoyed a lot of fans in the process – he had to get something out of today’s game. The players got off lightly for their poor showing against Lokeren and were rubbish again today but he has to carry the can.

Jake Livermore is wasted in the deeper midfield position. We’re not using Ince or Aluko to get in behind defences. You’d have to question whether chucking Michael Dawson straight in as part of our thre at the back system was a good idea given that he’s been a much lauded top flight defender for years and today he made Greg Strong and Neil Whitworth look alright.

Most worryingly is that, as a team, we’re passing the ball so poorly. We cough it up under pressure and when the pressure is off, we pass slowly and tamely from the back and we don’t look like hurting anyone from midfield. If Bruce is looking for two midfield bodies before tomorrow’s deadline – I’m not at all surprised.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Hull City 2 Lokeren 1



When is a win not a win? When you’ve clumsily lost the first leg one-nil a week previously.

Welcome to my first official Tiger-chat match report. I’ve been hoping for a week that it wouldn’t coincide with our first ever European exit. But I’m not that lucky.

So the adventure ends before it’s really started. In a game without any real pattern between two evenly matched sides – neither of whom ever dominated but instead traded tiny swings of momentum. That was until the Romanian referee intervened and dealt our European campaign a deathly blow.

Bruce picked a stronger side than he did last week in Lokeren but it still wasn’t quite full strength. Lining up 4-4-2 for the first time this season were:

McGregor; Rosenior, Figueroa, Chester, Davies; Elmohamady, Brady, Livermore, Meyler; Aluko, Sagbo.

Given that the only real difference between Lokeren and a weakened City team last week was a ghastly error, it looked a side capable of beating them at home. We got the perfect start too as Figueroa crossed low from the left, their keeper Verhulst came and missed and Robbie Brady walked the ball into the net.

The goal didn’t give the game the lift you’d imagine but it did help the atmosphere with the KC at roughly 75% capacity producing more noise than any home game last season. The relocation of the “Ulltras” to the North Stand has certainly helped but 1382 noisy Belgians didn’t do it any harm. They kept bursting into some crazy medley that featured a “USA” chant at one point and ended with an ode to Ian Ashbee.

The opening half hour featured a lot of play but little action. The home crowd grew more and more frustrated as mistakes and weak defending let them in down our left while sporadic Tigers’ attacks ended without a shot, a cross or even a vague appeal for a foul to show for it. On 15 a shot from Vanaken hit Davies and flew wide though it could have gone anywhere. From the resulting corner Maric headed over at the far post when he looked well positioned to score. 10 minutes later Davies was fortunate to avoid contact with Abdurahimi’s cross and the ball fell kindly for McGregor.

There were early signs that the referee wasn’t like those we encounter week to week. He punished every push in the back, however tame. He also didn’t indicate advantage though as far as I can tell no-one noticed. Lokeren were a decent if unspectacular side. De Pauw stood out with his pink boots and impressive footwork but he was rubbish at shooting and crossing so we didn’t have to worry about him. Vanaken, last week’s goalscorer, was the most crafty player. Even though he’s got legs like two plastic chip-shop forks, he moved intelligently and passed well.

City came to life a little in the five minutes before half time.  Sagbo, who made a decent contribution in the 20% of the game he wasn’t standing offside, chested Brady’s cross down for Meyler to force a save on the volley. It didn’t have a lot of pace on it but the keeper pawed it away like a kitten attacking a bit of string. Sagbo then had the chance to test him from range but shot tamely and straight at him.

Half time. One nil. No added time and just the one booking. Rosenior over-stretched and caught Persoons. He was being dragged back at the time and took a lot of the ball. Looked a bit harsh to me.

If City ended the first half well, they started the second appallingly. Gifting Lokeren possession from the kick off and then conceding a daft free kick from which McGregor tipped over Overmeire’s fine drive. The resulting corner was punched unconvincingly by the Scotch keeper and they kept it alive on the edge of the box before Remacle lashed home a shot from 12 yards with the possible aid of a small deflection.

It wasn’t undeserved. They hadn’t been second best and we hadn’t kicked on from the early goal. Livermore and Meyler created little from midfield and we didn’t get Elmohamady and Brady into positions where they looked like doing some damage. Amusingly the Lokeren fans sang “You only sing when you’re winning”.

Fortunately they weren’t level for long. Rosenior made a rare trip to the by-line and his cross was handled. The linesman in front of the vociferous West Stand (ho ho) immediately flagged for a foul but the referee didn’t appear to notice. Then once he did become aware, he didn’t seem to know whether it was in the box or not. Players from both teams surrounded him and the linesman marched to the edge of the penalty area to show that he was awarding a penalty kick. After a delay while both sides argued their case and the referee cleared the penalty area (slowly) – Robbie Brady stepped up and slid the ball into the bottom left hand corner. It was a terrific penalty under the circumstances. Shenanigans followed as City tried to retrieve the ball to take the kick off quickly, which is the most pointless action in football, and somewhere in the argument their manager Paes was sent to sit in the stands.

In amongst some comical refereeing Steve Bruce sent on Nikica Jelavic for Liam Rosenior on 65 minutes and switched to 3-5-2 to try and force the crucial third goal. Vanaken gets a lucky break and plays in De Pauw who kindly passes straight to McGregor. A laughable free kick is awarded after their keeper clatters into James Chester and then an equalising goal is disallowed for a very soft push by Persoons on Elmohamady. Aluko had a half chance but took the ball too far wide before committing a foul and Overmeire picked up a booking for continued arguing over the disallowed goal. The City fans lost patience with the referee and suggest he’s not fit for purpose. Unlike the Flemish safety announcements though – no Romanian translation is announced over the P.A.

On 70 minutes the tie turned and the laughable refereeing stopped being funny. Yannick Sagbo went in for a 50/50 with Galitsios. The Greek looked like the one who went over the top of Sagbo’s boot but he was also the one who hit the deck first and rolled around. To the astonishment of everyone the referee not only gave the foul against City but produced a straight red for Sagbo. It was an awful decision and one that would ultimately cost us a place in Europe.

They played out most of the last 20 minutes expertly. Killing the clock with well-rehearsed time wasting and cheap fouls. Just like we did so affectively against Stoke on Sunday.  Persoons was booked for a late challenge on Meyler and Aluko picked up a well-deserved yellow for what must have been his 97th foul. Bruce threw on Huddlestone and Ince for Meyler and Chester in the 74th minute but it didn’t have the desired effect. The performance was summed up quite nicely with two to play when Brady ran 60 yards down the left outstripping the right winger only to pass to Aluko whose attempt at a return ball was so wretched Chris Lee blushed.

Five minutes were added and City pressed to their credit. The tactics were clear – get the ball to Elmoahamady on the right and pile Huddleston and Davies into the box. It almost worked right on full time as Jelavic forced the keeper to drop a cross and Huddlestone lashed it goal wards only for them to kick it off the line.

That ended Hull City’s first ever involvement in high class European competition before the excitement of the group stage. Before the opportunity arises to face a Napoli, an Inter Milan, a Villareal or a Borussia Moenchengladbach. Steve Bruce will take some flak for that given his team selection – perhaps not so much for the home game but certainly for the first leg last week.

I don’t think it’s especially fair. The sad reality is that for both his own interests and those of the club – Bruce has to prioritise the Premier League. Europe is exciting, far more interesting than trips to bloody Stoke or Sunderland and an opportunity I am gutted to see end. For the club though, it’s a distraction that they both welcome and dread in equal measure. Bruce knows he has to stay in the Premier League. His job depends on it. And more importantly, the club cannot afford to be relegated – we’re in over our heads.

The FA Cup run was similar last year. It was never prioritised over the Premier League but Bruce did warm to it the longer it went on. He sort of hoped he could keep it going without risking burning out his best players. Reaching the FA Cup final or the Europa League knockout stages isn’t going to save his job if (big if) the club were relegated from the Premier League – or even threatened to be. I wish he’d prioritised Europe as much as the next guy but I understand why he wouldn’t.

So we’re now left with the saddest reality of all. This may not ever happen again. We may never experience Zilina or Lokeren in the future. We might not get the chance to feel cheated by a Romanian referee. We might be condemned to a lifetime of trips to Leicester and London.

Europe. Over and out.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Stoke home - Ratings report



Allan McGregor – 8

Scotland’s number one put his Europa League gaffe behind him to play a huge part in a brave performance. His low save from Shawcross from their well worked free-kick was superb while holding on to the ball was miraculous. He brilliantly tipped over Charlie Adam’s long range strike and gathered one low cross brilliantly despite the threat of Diouf’s boot literally hanging over him.

James Chester – n/a

He was the match winner last week and had a fine game in Lokeren on Thursday. He went from hero to zero today with a foul that earned a red card after only 15 minutes – more on that below. The decision was 100% correct.

Curtis Davies – 8

Brilliantly marshaled the defence after Chester’s sending off and maintained a near perfect defensive line. Competed brilliantly on an individual level but played an immense captain’s role.

Paul McShane – 7

Deservedly given a starting berth which after only 15 minutes turned into a role in a centre back pairing. He battled well against tricky opponents and used his experience well to massive come out on top in situations against strikers who were quicker (Diouf), more agile (Crouch) or massive (Bojan). I particularly liked how he waved an imaginary yellow card at Andrew Robertson in the second half to remind him that he was on a booking when he was thinking of taking his time over a throw in.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 7

As always, Elmo put in an incredible shift on the right hand side. He was still taking the game to them when others were out on their feet. He’s got a remarkable engine. I’m always impressed by his ability to beat a man despite possessing only one trick – the kick and run. May I suggest he might get more decisions off referees if he stopped throwing himself in anticipation of contact and waited until he’d taken the whack?

Tom Huddlestone – 8

A fabulous defensive effort. At times he was a third centre half as he sacrificed himself for the team. He made numerous clearances and covered a lot of ground. Between he and Davies they ensured the team set up with a narrow, compact shape that took some breaching. The level of discipline was impressive but he topped it by creating the match winning goal after bullying Bojan Krkic and unleashing a shot that surprised Begovic so much he couldn’t do anything but parry it.

Jake Livermore – 5

He had a very poor game in possession that cost the side big time when he played Chester into an impossible situation leading to the early bath. After that he was, perhaps understandably, eager to get rid of the ball as soon as possible which meant his influence was lacking. As someone with the energy and ability to carry the ball good distance – it robbed us of a great weapon against a numerical disadvantage. Rating redeemed slightly by his great endeavour when Stoke had the ball.

Stephen Quinn – 8

Another who deserved to start after his recent performances. He played a couple of risky passes in the first half that led to the birth of several kittens in the East Stand but he got away with it. Otherwise his game was full of enterprise. He ran himself ragged. He was also a tremendous outlet and gave them something to worry about. If he was for sale – he isn’t now.

Andrew Robertson – 7

An excellent home debut for a left back cum left wing-back who already looks a tremendous investment. He has good pace, a great engine and a real desire to get involved. His yellow card for handball was farcical but he didn’t let it affect his game. The only criticism I have of him is that he’s na├»ve at times with his forward runs. Particularly when we were down to ten men he was too eager to get forward and left us open. That will improve with experience though.

Tom Ince – 6

He was starved of service playing off Jelavic last week and this week he lasted 15 minutes before he was asked to fill in on the right hand side. He showed some real flair in possession and worked hard to get back but it was understandable that he was the one hooked early in the second half to allow Steve Bruce to get a proper right back on.

Nikica Jelavic – 8

He produced one of the most selfless performances you will see – particularly at the top level. He tried to occupy and harass four defenders on his own with mixed results. He never let up for a moment when his goal came, after he gambled on a rebound, it was fully deserved.

Subs:

Liam Rosenior – 7

Calm performance at right back. He allowed Elmo to push forward and cause problems and he dealt well with the varying threats of Diouf and Crouch.

David Meyler – 6

George Boyd – 5

Their goal came from a wrongly awarded throw-in. The throw-in came from a very poor pass by Boyd inside towards Huddlestone. A chap near me excused it with “We’re looking tired now” but as Boyd had only been on for 60 seconds, it didn’t really wash!

Gaffer:

Steve Bruce – 7

The tremendous team shape with ten men – something we saw work remarkably well last year at home to Norwich and at West Ham - is obviously the result of a lot of hard work on the training ground. I thought we were negative late on particularly with the introduction of Boyd who immediately indicated a 4-5-0 formation. We had a couple of chances to nick it too but turned them down. The decision for Huddlestone to try and run down time from a corner with only 88 mins on the clock was baffling enough but as Davies and McShane were in the box for it – it was just crazy.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

QPR away - Ratings report



Allan McGregor – 8

Confident display by the agile Scot who wasn’t over-worked but made crucial saves when necessary and took responsibility for coming for balls he could take. Penalty save was absolutely crucial and averted a travesty. Running battle with Remy at corners didn’t distract him.

James Chester – 8

Didn’t put a foot wrong in defence and headed the match winning goal. Showed improved level o concentration and, despite Rio Ferdinand being on the pitch, was the best defender with the ball at his feet.

Alex Bruce – 6

Struggled to get to grips with Remy’s pace at times but produced one magnificent goal saving block. Injured again which is a worry. He’s a brave defender but he gets knocked too easily.

Curtis Davies – 7

Went about his business without any fuss. Remy and Austin offered two very different problems but Davies won his fair share of battles with both.

Ahmed Elmohamady – 8

QPR have decided to play 3-5-2 because a) everyone else is and b) they have haggard defenders. It isn’t just that simple though and Elmo showed them why. He’s the most natural wing-back in the league and offered a threat that neither QPR wing-back could dream of emulating. ‘arry needs to watch the video of Elmo back with Simpson and Traore if he’s to have any success with the system. Great run won the match-winning corner and late challenge denied Zamora an equaliser.

Tom Huddlestone – 6

The Tigers passed the ball dreadfully in the first half and disappointingly Hudds was unable to get his foot on the ball and calm the situation. He made mistakes as poorly as anyone and only improved when the goal had gone in and confidence bled through the team.

Jake Livermore – 6

Similar to Huddlestone. Had a wasteful first half and his trademark lung-bursting running was seen rarely. Improved later on and his fitness levels showed as the opposition midfield tired.

Robert Snodgrass – 6

His game was sadly cut short by a knee injury which could keep him out for months. His decent early corner deliveries showed what he was bought for.

Andrew Robertson – 8

Very impressive debut from the 20-year old. He’s taken to the wing-back role quickly and offered a great outlet on the left hand side from the first minute. His crossing was excellent and he defended well – his goal line clearance being crucial. Made a couple of poor mistakes in possession but that just meant he fit right in.

Tom Ince – 6

Anonymous in the first half with service in short supply. Showed fleeting glimpses of his quality when the game opened up. Had the chance to put City into an unassailable lead but finished tamely after showing pace and grit to get into the position in the first place.

Nikica Jelavic – 5

Rarely involved in the game despite his incessant effort. Makes run after run, mostly unseen, and occupies defenders thoughts. Should have had a penalty in the first half when his clever play exposed Traore’s stupidity. Ref bottled it.

Subs:

Stephen Quinn – 8

Typically busy in the midfield. Improved City with his energy, bite and sensible passing. Provided the assist for Chester’s goal with a tremendous corner and the goal saw confidence flood through the team. I’m not sure why he came on instead of Meyler, perhaps a tactical move by Bruce to show Quinn that he’s valued, but it was a wise decision. We won’t get a better backup midfielder with a better attitude.

Paul McShane – 6

Quiet game for the half-time sub.

David Meyler – 5

Little time for Meyler to impress with his main role being to shut down their sub Hoilett on the left.

Gaffer:

Steve Bruce - 8

His three at the back system worked better than theirs due to the wing-backs he’s acquired. Meyler would always start away from home if I was choosing but hard to argue with the manager when he gets results as good as this one. Introduction of Quinn was a master-stroke.