Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Hull City 2 Wolves 3: Tigers need five signings and soon

Good news: I think we saw the best team in the league tonight. Bad news: it wasn't us.

Pic: Hull Daily Mail
I wasn't sure what to make of Wolves at the start of the season. They spent a lot of money last summer on continental players and it never really worked out for them. But this time they look the real deal. It's not just the excellent players they’ve brought in but they have a top manager in Nuno and he's got them set up incredibly well. They’re playing a style of football that, particularly away from home in the Championship, is very brave. They played three at the back stretched out almost the width of the pitch while the two wing backs hugged the touchline high up the pitch and stretched City every time the ball went forward. In the middle exploiting the space this leaves they have clever players who can move the ball about well and, as we saw devastatingly for the opening goal, shoot from distance.

City had started well until Neves smashed one past McGregor from 25 yards after six minutes [0-1] but it was already clear that Wolves wing backs were going to be a crucial part of the game and we were already struggling to cope with them. Not for the first time this season our naive young full backs were exposed - in part by the opposition and partly by our failure to protect them up the field. That situation isn't helped by us only playing one central midfielder. I’m not counting Markus Henriksen. He’s not a central midfielder – he has no effect on games, he doesn’t make a tackle or a forward pass.

I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the manager for our failure to match them tactically. He just doesn’t have any other fit players to work with. Sure, 4-4-2 is no counter for what is almost a 3-2-5 formation but replacing any of the first eleven with those from the bench is far worse a proposition.

We weren’t just second d best on the ball, with Neves dominating for them like Tom Huddlestone as his very best, but we didn’t have their knack of drawing fouls or killing time, with Neves dominating for them like the love child of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rudi Voller.

After Miranda spurned the chance to double their lead after a corner was flicked on to him at the near post, we equalised pretty much from nowhere. Hector met a Donald Trump corner along with a defender and the ball was shuffled away from the far post. We took the resulting corner short, a cross was whipped past Ruddy, headed off the line and Dawson headed it back in [1-1].

That could have been the catalyst for City to push on before half time but instead, we were sloppy in possession, gave them gifts in our half and looked susceptible to a ball over the top to either wing-back. In the end, it was the little winger Enobakhare who picked up the ball on the right touchline, breezed past Hector and laid the ball on a plate for Jota to score [1-2].

Half time: Hull City 1 Wolves 2

Our flaws were there for all to see but fixing them was going to be difficult. We had nothing on the bench to change the game. In similar fashion to the Villa game on the opening day though, the eleven sent back out changed it themselves by getting on the ball, keeping possession and forcing Wolves to worry about us. And they looked nowhere near as effective.

McGregor made a decent, but simple, save from Bonatini’s far post header in what was suddenly a rare Wolves attack. City struggled to find a final ball after getting into key areas until just after the hour a neat move worked the ball to the edge of the area where Campbell exploded into the box, beautifully beat the last man with a neat trick and was denied by a good save from John Ruddy’s out-stretched right arm. If that was close then Hernandez’s thumping header from Clucas’s corner smashing the post five minutes later was tantalising.

We had momentum. Even Henriksen won two excellent challenges in midfield. Then Campbell was subbed off for Diomande and the game went. Again, it’s hard to blame the manager when Campbell is clearly not yet at peak fitness but there is just nothing outside the first eleven and losing Campbell’s effervescence for Diomande’s clunky and clumsy wandering was the sign that this game was over. Worse was still to come when Hernandez jumped to challenge for a good Grosicki cross (not many of them to the pound) and landed awkwardly. He immediately called for the physio who called for a stretcher and Abel went off with a serious looking achilles injury. Shiiiit.

With the referee just about to announce NINE minutes of stoppage time, we made it irrelevant. Typical. Aina was caught in possession in their half and sub Nouha Dicko raced onto a ball into space to finish under McGregor [1-3]. We were awarded a seriously soft penalty eight minutes into the nine added for a foul on Diomande which David Meyler buried into the bottom left hand corner [2-3] but the game was up.

Full time: Hull City 2 Wolves 3

This felt like a game that would let us know how good we are after a comfortable win on Saturday. In the end though, it’s probably not told us anything we didn’t already know. We’re a decent outfit with 7 or 8 quality players. Michael Hector is a classy defender. We’re at least five players short of having a squad anywhere near Wolves’s (they had actual grown-ups on the bench and the manager didn’t pick who came on by playing Ip, Dip, dog shit). We desperately need a left back. Markus Henriksen isn’t a central midfielder. Kamil Grosicki will have games where you wonder if he gives a toss.

And one new one, we desperately need Abel Hernandez to not be injured for six months. Or even six weeks.

Ratings: McGregor 6, Aina 5, Clark 5, Dawson 6, Hector 7, Bowen 6 (Larsson 5), Grosicki 5, Henriksen 5, Clucas 6, Campbell 7 (Diomande 5), Hernandez 6 (Meyler 6).

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Hull City Player Ratings: Burton Albion (H)

The Tigers brushed Burton Albion aside with an impressive 4-1 win but only after the second quarter of the game had featured a Typical City double-whammy of missed chances and a sloppy goal conceded. Here's how I rated the players:

Allan McGregor – 6

Made one fine save at close range from a corner but otherwise untested even when Burton did have a small spell of pressure in the first half. He had no chance with the goal. It was nice to see him distribute the ball quickly to his full backs after the break.

Ola Aina – 6

Was left exposed by Jarrod Bowen in the first half and it led to a good battle with the lively Lloyd Dyer. The winger, who had a trial with City in 2006 after leaving Millwall, ghosted past Aina at times. Aina has all the physical requirements of a modern full-back but looks too casual at times. He did start to get to grips with Dyer though and as the game went on was able to show his talent going forward – which is vast and growing. He made the crucial second goal and then had a blast on the right wing turning Dyer inside out and providing crosses.

Max Clark – 7

Brought a confidence into the game having survived a tough test last week and was much improved. He didn’t have anywhere near as much to do but with Grosicki showing no interest in covering him – he did it on his own. He was up to the physical battle and got forward well into good crossing positions.

Michael Dawson – 6

An unremarkable game for the skipper. He still looks distracted by marshalling those around him and it lead to gifting the ball to the opposition in our half again. Very solid in the air but had a battle around the box with their powerful forwards. In the second half, he had his slippers on and puffed away on his pipe.

Heard a great tale of Daws’ leadership of the club recently. Young goalie Charlie Andrew joined the squad for the game against Ajax. He had his own boots but Daws asked him his size and then went around the players to get him some brand-new ones. Sam Clucas donated a pair of his. Daws is a top man.

Michael Hector – 8

Promising last week, outstanding this. Won everything in the air, read the game brilliantly and used the ball beautifully. He almost popped up with a goal his performance really deserved. I’d already be asking what it will take to keep him. He’s composed and intelligent and physically has everything. He can be a complete centre-half.

Sam Clucas – 8

Another all-action midfield performance which we could probably do without until the transfer window closes. He’s emerged as real leader in the squad and keeping him is vital. His use of the ball was smart, he’s always in the right position and we saw his lung-bursting running turning defence into attack. His part in Hernandez hat-trick goal was outstanding. He cut the ball out near our box, played it into Bowen and ran beyond him, then stumbled through a challenge, raced away from their midfield and slid a perfect pass through for Abel to score.

Markus Henriksen – 7

Started the game brightly. He was neat and tidy in possession and not afraid to get into a tackle. He smashed the bar with a shot which made the first goal. When Burton switched to 3-5-2 and started to get numbers around us in midfield, he faded out of the game for a while but as we got on top, he came into it again. I still feel there is so much more to come from him in the attacking third but this was his best outing for us by a mile.

Jarrod Bowen – 7

Carries the ball beautifully and that was crucial in drawing two nasty fouls from Jackson Irvine who was sent off – massively changing the game. He can pass the ball much better and has to work back to help out his full-back – though he’s nowhere near as bad as Grosicki – but he had a field day with all the space available in the second half and was a real threat coming inside and left space for Aina to exploit. Worth persevering with his flaws because he’s going to be a top player.

Kamil Grosicki – 7

What an afternoon he had. His pace absolutely roasted Naylor twice early on and caused them to tuck him inside as a third centre back and change their system. From one of those breaks we had two men in the box but he shot from a tight angle and it was saved. That’s his biggest problem in a nutshell. He doesn’t make the right decision around the box enough. Went through on goal and rounded the keeper only to hit the side netting, under pressure, which will go down as one of the worst misses of the season. After a quieter start to the second half, he then popped up with his first City goal with a nice header. Has to work harder but his pace is frightening and it’s really important that we keep him – whatever anyone says.

Fraizer Campbell – 7

Worked hard for the team again and did the running wide so that Hernandez could prosper in the centre. Should have had at least three assists having put chances on a plate for Hernandez, Grosicki and Diomande with superb play – his backheel to set up Hernandez was magnificent. Didn’t have many chances of his own. This is a nice partnership but a big striker as an alternative would be nice. We saw that in the second half as we put in plenty of crosses that Campbell just wasn’t big enough to meet dangerously.

Abel Hernandez – 8 (Man of the Match)

There was an article recently by The Mirror listing ten players to watch in the Championship this season. Having scored twenty goals in this division only the season before last; that Hernandez didn’t feature showed it up for the ill-informed rag it was. If anything made it look stupider still, it was this performance. Abel’s working harder than I’ve seen him in his City career and forming a nice understanding with Campbell but importantly he’s as sharp as anything. He missed his best chance yesterday and still walked away with the match ball. His first and second goals were those of a goal poacher, anticipating what might happen and being in the position to put the ball in the net. The third was sublime play from Clucas and outstanding running off the ball from Hernandez.

It got me thinking about just how good his record in the Championship is – given Steve Bruce used to pull him off every game. Here’s the answer:


David Meyler (for Clucas) – 5

Still mega-rusty but getting crucial game time. Gave the ball away a few times after his introduction but as the game petered out, it was a useful, low-pressure environment for him to settle into.

Adama Diomande (for Hernandez) – 5

Made an absolute cock of a golden opportunity to impress the manager.

Seb Larsson (for Grosicki) – 6

Just a cameo for the Swede on debut whose set pieces will come in handy given Grosicki’s were abysmal. Should have scored but smashed a shot against the keeper when anywhere else would have been a goal.


Leonid Slutsky – 8

Named an unchanged team, unsurprisingly, and two up front at home made plenty of sense. Frailty crept into the first half performance after an excellent start but he steadied the ship at half time again and the game was won in 15 minutes. He then sensibly rested three crucial players ahead of a big game on Tuesday but his team never let up in attack. Only they’ll know how they didn’t score 7, 8 or even double figures.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Hull City Player Ratings: Aston Villa (A)

For the new season, I’m going to step back into the subjective world of player ratings. If you disagree, feel free to leave a comment or send me a tweet @hullcitylive

Allan McGregor – 8 (Man of the match)

McGregor was in goal for City competitively for the first time since the 5-1 win over Rotherham on the last day of the 2015/16 season. He made two excellent saves at the feet of Agbonlahor and Hogan in the first half. He was quick off his line and kicked well but got caught under a couple of crosses and got lucky when Green failed to find an empty net in the second half.

Ola Aina – 7

Played right back having spent most of pre-season on the left. He’s a fabulous athlete and a good size and put that to good use with some excellent defending one on one. Positionally, he’s na├»ve and was caught out by some balls in behind but has good recovery pace and competed well throughout. He got forward often and his pace will be very useful when City settle into a system.

Max Clark – 6

Had a torrid first half as Villa targeted him with balls out to Elmohamady. His lack of pace was exposed badly by Alan Hutton for their goal. He has a good left foot so his poor clearances and balls out of defence were disappointing. He settled into the game and engaged Elmohamady physically in the second half and was very solid. Clark was a left back at City originally but converted to central midfield in the U21s under Steve Bruce. This is the first time I’ve seen him back at LB for three years.

Michael Dawson – 6

The skipper looked very aware of the inexperience around him in the first half and was distracted by organising everyone else. McGregor saved him after a very poor pass straight to Lansbury but he recovered after that and was excellent facing set pieces and subdued their very lively strikers. Aina and Hector have size and pace and if Daws can help them improve quickly there is a really promising defensive unit in there.

Michael Hector – 6

Had a very shaky first twenty minutes, like most, summed up by a terrible backpass that gifted them a corner. Coped well with having a lot of possession in the first half and apart from the above, didn’t panic when there weren’t options on. Had a very good second half, dominating in the air and timing his interceptions in our half.

Sam Clucas – 7

Took responsibility in the first half when things weren’t going well and always looked for the ball. Effectively played on his own in midfield but made plenty of crucial tackles and interceptions. We’ve lost a lot of players this summer but holding onto Clucas is vital. His energy and willingness to do any job that need doing is desperately required and he can be really effective going forward as we’ve seen many times.

Markus Henriksen – 5

Looked completely lost in a double-pivot in midfield. He’s technically sound so produced the occasional decent touch but was ineffective defensively and a non-entity going forward. Was much more comfortable after Meyler’s introduction when he moved up behind Hernandez but still didn’t produce a lot. I’m still not sure what he’s capable of. He rarely looks like getting into a goal-scoring position, doesn’t appear to have a defence splitting pass and looks lightweight off the ball even compared to Evandro. Jury still out.

Jarrod Bowen – 7

I’m a big fan of the former Hereford man as I wrote lastsummer. He was his usual busy self throughout the game but struggled to get on the ball in areas where he could do damage. As City improved in the second half, he looked a threat cutting in from the right wing. The wingers then swapped over and he was able to ghost beautifully into space to score his first senior goal for City. There is lots more to come from him, particularly physically, but he needs to be involved in the first team squad exclusively now. He’s been more than ready for a while.

Kamil Grosicki – 6

Scrapes a six because of his assist for the goal which was a moment of quality he’s shown he’s capable of.  He also broke away at pace a couple of times and had Villa on the rack. The frustration with him is in how rare that is from a player who has scorching pace and a very good right foot. Plenty of fans think he’s disinterested which is hard to disagree with from his body language but in the first half he looked exhausted. I’d still really like to keep him. Once the transfer window closes, he’ll have to get his head down and can rip the arse out of teams in the Championship. I won’t cry if he goes though, his attitude isn’t endearing him to many.

Fraizer Campbell – 6

He’s clearly short of fitness after his late start to pre-season but makes up for it with sheer desire. He’s always moving and always thinking. His lack of fitness showed though in the number of times he started in an offside position. Tried to play that new-fangled “number ten” role which isn’t ideal but going away to a top club in the division with an inexperienced squad and playing two out and out strikers would be crazy. His brilliant run from deep was crucial in creating the City equaliser. Will get better and better.

Abel Hernandez – 7

The manager said he isn’t close to 100% but he played 90 minutes again after completing several in pre-season – not bad for a player who hardly ever did that under Steve Bruce. He put in a good shift especially in the second half when he chased down defenders and the goalkeeper. Rare link-ups with Campbell were promising and he had a couple of snapshots that deserved better than to drift narrowly wide.


David Meyler – 5 (for Campbell)

I’m not sure what he was doing on the pitch after so few minutes in pre-season. Clearly very rusty and gave away free-kicks and the ball too often but was whole-hearted as usual and allowed City to settle into a solid defensive shape for the last fifteen minutes.

Ondrej Mazuch (for Henriksen)

Sent on in stoppage time to counter Villa’s desperate tactic of chuck centre half Chris samba on up front. Unfortunate in a squad with no depth to play in the only position where there is now some.


Leonid Slutsky – 8

His team earned a very good and unlikely point on his debut. Steve Bruce came out with a nonsensensical comment afterwards that Villa were all over a team who were in the Premier League last season – Slutsky had eight players in his squad who have started a Championship game before and only twelve who you’d call “senior” players. He moulded that into a reasonable looking team and made the brave decision to go with Max Clark at left back having favoured Brian Lenihan on the right for all of pre-season. His team were all over the place in defence for the first twenty minutes and lacked bravery on the ball and played without tempo for the first half. Whatever he worked on at half time was successful and they were massively improved after the break. He desperately needs options now. Not just with new players but with the likes of Evandro, Marshall and Stewart getting fit ASAP.