Hull City progressed to the fourth round of the League Cup for only the fifth time in the competition’s fifty-five year history with a 1-0 home win over Swansea City.
The Tigers goal led a charmed life in a first half dominated by the visitors but the art of football is in sticking the ball into the net and for all their excellent football – Swansea couldn’t manage it. It was a different story after the break and for all their possession and the introduction of some of their bigger names from the bench – Swansea didn’t force a save out of the previously over-worked Jakupovic.
There was a late change to the team as Alex Bruce felt his groin tighten during the warm-up while the headline news saw Jake Livermore return to the City team for the first time since April following his suspension while a failed drugs test was investigated and resulted in the FA deciding he’d suffered enough in the past eighteen months. Elmo, whose head had been turned a week ago, was captain.
Ryan Taylor – Harry Maguire – Curtis Davies – Andy Robertson
Isaac Hayden – Jake Livermore – David Meyler
Ahmed Elmohamady – Chuba Akpom – Shaun Maloney
After a dull opening the game exploded into life when David Meyler made a crunching tackle in their half, headed for the area and hit a powerful shot straight at Swans’ keeper Nordfeldt who crouched and punched at it and was very lucky to see it fly over. From there it was end to end stuff – more at our end than theirs – with chances galore.
City worked hard and tried to press high up the pitch but struggled against the quick and incisive passing game that Swansea are well known – even if this was mainly a second string. Not only do they move the ball well but they move well off the ball and they dragged City around when we didn’t have possession. What they also do very well (and bravely) is push men forward quickly into the attacking third and overload the defence and midfield. That takes great courage and faith in the players bringing the ball out of defence but it worked beautifully and combined with our attempts to press them high up the pitch, made lots of holes between defence and midfield.
After Rangel headed over from a corner while criminally unmarked, City contrived to present them a brilliant opening. Jakupovic took too long to kick the ball out and was charged down by Eder who ricocheted the ball onto the post. It came out to Sigurdsson who rounded the Jak and slid the ball into the empty net only for Davies to slide across and clear brilliantly. Routledge then went through onto a ball over the top (while the crowd brayed for offside) but finished poorly and then Jakupovic saved a long drive from Ki – just about. Akpom forced a save from Nordfeldt at one end with a powerful left-footed strike and they went straight up the other end and slid in Eder only for Jakupovic to redeem himself with a brilliant smother.
Jak then moved massively into credit with a stunning point-blank save to deny Rangel who’d strolled through our defence to meet Grimes’ excellent cross with a bullet header six yards out. With City struggling to get a grip of the runners Sigurdsson shot wide and Routledge headed over – both should have done much better. City had opportunities to break but wasted them. For all his sheer determination and refusal to stop running, David Meyler isn’t really the man you want bursting at an opposition and he and Livermore made poor decisions in possession.
With half time approaching Swansea paid for their missed chances as City put together a nice passage of play. That broke down but the ball was returned to Livermore who swept a pass out to Elmohamady on the right. His cross was deflected and Maloney arrived to head for goal, Nordfeldt saved it but the ball spun into the air and David Meyler arrived to tap it home with the outside of his right boot from a foot and a bit [1-0].
Half time: Hull City 1 Swansea City 0
Despite the Swansea dominance, City’s players had put in a good shift and had tirelessly chased Swans, and sometimes shadows. Ryan Taylor looked way off the pace and Isaac Hayden was utterly pointless but otherwise it was a solid effort.
The second half was much quieter. Swansea dominated the ball again and City’s 4-3-3 became a permanent 4-5-1 but despite introducing Shelvey, Gomis and Naughton at various points they didn’t test Jakupovic once. The defence won a lot of individual challenges particularly through Davies, who eventually realised he didn’t have Michael Dawson alongside him, and young Hayden really grew into the game making some important tackles and a fine interception.
Nordfeldt made the only save of the half palming away a Maloney free kick which led to a contentious moment when a defender crashed clumsily into Meyler on the edge of the penalty area. It looked inside, or at least on the line, but the ref wasn’t well placed and gave a free kick several yards outside the box. Maloney nearly stuck it in the top corner to end the disagreement.
For the last quarter of an hour, after Odubajo, Clucas and Huddlestone had replaced Taylor, Livermore (to a great ovation) and Hayden at various points, City retreated completely to ten yards inside our half, made sure space was at a premium in behind and let Swansea’s defenders come out with the ball. It wasn’t pretty but it was effective and once we’d masterfully run down the four added minutes – it was all over.
Full time: Hull City 1 Swansea City 0
So it was into the next round for another crack at making history and getting into round five for the first time ever. The attendance of 16,286 may or may not be accurate depending on whether it includes pass holders with free “CUP” games who didn’t attend but would be the fourth biggest home League Cup attendance in our history behind Fulham in 1962 (20,308), Liverpool in 1973 (19,748) and Chelsea in 2007 (23,543).
Several players stated a case for a first team place. Chuba Akpom ran himself into the ground chasing lost causes and intelligent defenders. Jake Livermore bust a gut for almost seventy minutes despite blowing hard from very early on. Shaun Maloney worked diligently despite lacking a bit of fitness and while his shirt was soaked in sweat – he didn’t let up. Ahmed Elmohamady didn’t overly impress, Hayden improved but was far too anonymous to be looking for a starting berth and David Meyler, match winner though he was, didn’t show enough quality in possession.
One man who should be getting some first team games is Harry Maguire as Alex Bruce looks set for a several week long lay-off. Maguire is a bit cumbersome and rough around the edged but he’ll learn quickly playing with Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies. He needed a break like this. I hope he takes it.