Hull City completed their pre-season schedule with a bland draw at a barely populated Bramall Lane.
Reading too much into friendly results and performances is always silly because there are any number of reasons why players don’t commit 100% to warm-up games but by now you’d hope to see the players looking in fine shape and the team showing a semblance of an established style of play.
From that point of view – Steve Bruce appears to have a busy week ahead of him because there are several of his stars who don’t look ready to win matches and the style of play has rarely progressed beyond prosaic keep-ball.
1st Half team 4-4-1-1: McGregor; Taylor Dawson Bruce Robertson; Elmohamady Huddlestone Meyler Clucas; Aluko; Jelavic.
The half was a non-event for 44 minutes. City dominated possession without threatening while Sheff U countered with purpose, often through the exciting Che Adams, and had the better chances.
The central defensive pairing of Bruce and Dawson lacks pace and the raw but speedy Adams exposed that a couple of times. Unfortunately, I don’t think Bruce Senior has a lot of choice at the moment with Harry Maguire suffering from a knock and the defensive choice coming down to the reliable Bruce and the disinterested Davies.
Tom Huddlestone has not undergone a magical transformation over the summer and still looks like he’s strolling. The exuberance of David Meyler alongside him just hammers home his lack of mobility. Nikica Jelavic also looks a shadow of the player who may well have been the hardest working in the Premier League last autumn.
The bright spot in the half, as he has been for most of pre-season, was Sone Aluko. His City career has been interrupted time and again by niggling injuries but he looks sharp again. He’s very bright on and off the ball and is moving with freedom and confidence. He needs to find his goal-scoring touch again – it’s deserted him since his long spell out in 2013 – but there are real signs that it is coming.
Also encouraging is the fact that he’s taken some really hard knocks in the friendly matches. He was clobbered at Ferriby, battered at Chesterfield and went over badly under little pressure here. On each occasion we were filled with dread fearing his fragility would strike again but he keeps getting up.
Aluko really could be the key to City winning games in the early part of the season because he apart there is a real lack of pace and invention in the starting eleven. He just needs to find a way to turn it on in the right areas because while it’s great that he wants to go looking for the ball – it leaves the other striker isolated.
Allan McGregor made errors at key times last season and was eventually left out of the side for 97 year old Steve Harper. His “issues” struck again today on a few occasions. He parried an early strike from Adams straight out into the six yard box but recovered quickly and then had to push a cross away from the top corner having misjudged it. Just before half time, he made another massive flub when he fumbled Jamie Murphy’s very tame right footed shot into the bottom corner [1-0]. He went down too early and never recovered.
Half time: Sheffield United 1 Hull City 0
2nd half team: McGregor; Elmohamady (Lenihan) Dawson Davies Robertson (Jahraldo-Martin); Aluko (Hernandez) Meyler (Dixon) Hayden Clucas; Luer N’Doye.
City were better in the second half. Chances were still rare but the hosts were also limited to very few attacks. Unlike some others, Dame N’Doye showed an excellent attitude to the game and was happy to drop into his own half to chase and receive the ball.
Isaac Hayden came on for his unofficial debut in black and amber. He’s a good athlete who looks comfortable on the ball. He’s tall and mobile and could do a fine job in midfield. He’ll need to improve his attitude for the games that matter though. At least three times he sauntered back towards our goal as they broke, happy to let others pick them up. Meanwhile, David Meyler is chasing back forty yards at full pelt to make a tackle on the edge of the box. Hopefully that will rub off on Hayden.
Aluko and Elmohamady linked up better than Taylor and Elmo had before the break and that definitely looks the way to go next week. Taylor showed decent pace at times and made willing runs but he didn’t get the ball into areas Elmo likes.
The other new boy Sam Clucas put in a good shift and finished the game at left-back. He made smart runs to open up space and showed a desire to attack the far post from Elmo’s crosses that could prove fruitful. His touch is still rough at times and will need to improve at the higher level.
A half that had been quiet for the most part burst into life in the last ten minutes or so and despite not firing on all cylinders, City did ensure they finished pre-season unbeaten through a fine Abel Hernandez strike. He cushioned Matty Dixon’s lovely chipped pass with his head and then nonchalantly volleyed the ball past keeper Long before he could even think about diving [1-1].
Both sides had chances to win the game. At one end Matty Dixon headed a goal bound header off the line at the far post and then from a patient and probing City move, N’Doye played in Greg Luer on the right side of the box and he was unfortunate to see his fine strike beat the keeper but come back off the inside of the far post.
Full time: Sheffield United 1 Hull City 1
The performance wasn’t much to write home about (though I guess I’ve managed) but the City fans, who appeared to make up at least 10% of the crowd of 6266, enjoyed themselves with some of that noisy chanting and swearing the kids go in for these days. It started early with some taunting of the home fans for their collapse in the FA Cup semi-final two years ago and wasn’t flattering about our owners at any point either. Whether you agree with the “Allam Out” sentiment or not, I don’t think it’s going away any time soon.
Of course, anyone who has seen The S*n today will know that Dr. Allam shows no sign of attempting to build any bridges either so this animosity may well continue to cast a shadow over the club. It’s going to be up to the players and manager to lift the mood.
I’m still to be convinced that there is any sign of that happening and the important stuff is only six days away.