Hull City 2 Swansea City 0

So we’re back.

The summer was surprisingly tolerable, considering the meek way we had capitulated to relegation; the steady churn of players shipped out; and the huge number of questions still largely unanswered about the state of the club’s finances. This may be a personal opinion, though, as I tried to take a break from City, so much so that my computer stopped automatically filling in the web addresses of football websites.

But certainly, the recruitment of a new gaffer from play-off qualifiers Leicester City and some reasonable-looking signings, albeit freebies and on loan, signalled we were unlikely to gurgle down the same plug-hole as Portsmouth. And the World Cup showed things could be worse for City fans as well; we could be have gone over to watch England.

I suspect, however, the reason is I was braced for an even more calamitous pre-season given all the media speculation towards the back end of last season – fuelled by Adam Pearson himself, don’t forget – that we would be heading for the complete meltdown of administration.

I’m chuffed we avoided this, not least because a points penalty would obliterate the optimism every single fan at the start of the season and dream of glory. But it’s unfair on other clubs and on creditors too. Not the banks, who will no doubt be insured to cover such bad debts, but on local small firms for whom losing a few thousand pounds could send them under. It’s unfair too to deprive Inland Revenue of what they’re owed – as much as I love City, I don’t think it’s right we should be subsidised by the taxpayer.

And so to the first game of the season. While you couldn’t imagine two managers as different as perma-tanned egomaniac Phil Brown and dour wasp-chewer Nigel Pearson, the line-ups they choose to field are surprisingly similar. Pearson, like Brown has faith in Richard Garcia’s abilities as a striker, a view not shared by many sat in the stands for all his honest toil. NP was happy to field a defensive, hard-working line-up and allow Swansea to take the bulk of possession in non-threatening areas of the field.

Indeed the set-up was so defensive, with Garcia carving out little of note on his own and seldom offered support from the five-man midfield either, that you struggled to see where a goal could possibly come from…

Then young loanee John Bostock popped up, with an audacious drag and wallop into the top corner from all of 30 yards. From then on, he was kicked whenever he took possession of the ball, but his work was already done. Think of it as the equivalent of Geovanni’s strike against Fulham on the season opener two years previously, changing the course of one game with one flash of impudence and hopefully setting the tone for the rest of the season.

Having nosed in front, the 4-5-1 formation was ideally suited to protecting the lead and pressing on the break and from set-pieces. It was relatively comfortable, save for Kevin Kilbane and Kamil Zayatte having concentration lapses which threatened to cost us dear as well as the Swans’ strikeforce failing to take advantage when losing their markers.

And returning captain Ian Ashbee sealed the win by bundling home from a dangerous Garcia corner, capping an immense performance which looked ever more assured with every interception, block, tackle and word of encouragement for his team-mates.

So a solid, unspectacular win against a well-fancied team (who I suspect were having an off-day). That’s no indicator we’re destined for a great season – even last year we had plenty of good days – but I think it shows we’ll be more competitive than the bookies suggest.

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Away support at Hull City games this season

* UPDATED APRIL 23.

Wondered how many away fans there were at a Hull City league game this season? I couldn’t find the information via a cursory search on Google, so I thought I’d type it up from the matchday programme.

How many fans Hull City took to away league games this season:
3070 to Manchester United
2963 to Liverpool
2331 to Bolton Wanderers
2255 to Manchester City
2040 to Sunderland
1892 to Burnley
1851 to West Ham United
1397 to Tottenham Hotspur
1460 to Arsenal
1455 to Chelsea
1449 to Aston Villa
1449 to Wolverhampton Wanderers
1315 to Stoke City
1212 to Portsmouth
1101 to Fulham
1095 to Blackburn Rovers
0744 to Everton
TBC Birmingham City
TBC Wigan Athletic

So, as predicted, the televised capitulation at Everton – Phil Brown’s last away game in charge – saw our lowest away following of the season by a long way. Though, curiously, it was one of our noisiest days out.

Otherwise, we’ve not dipped under the 1000 mark, which is some achievement given we’ve not won on our travels for 14 months.

How many visiting fans came to games at The Circle this season:
2557 Arsenal fans
2521 Wolverhampton Wanderers fans
2512 Manchester City fans
2509 West Ham United fans
2506 Chelsea fans
2163 Manchester United fans
1607 Everton fans
1594 Tottenham Hotspur fans
1454 Stoke City fans
1375 Blackburn Rovers fans
1174 Burnley fans
0932 Portsmouth fans
0912 Bolton Wanderers fans
0870 Birmingham City fans
0808 Wigan Athletic fans
0494 Fulham fans
TBC Sunderland
TBC Aston Villa
TBC Liverpool

Fulham's travelling support at Hull City

European big guns Fulham bring 474 fans to Hull.

It’s galling to see teams comfortably safe in the Premier League with such minimal support. Fulham’s away support must be the lowest we’ve seen for many years, while City took three times as many on a midweek night to Bolton as they brought to our place on a Saturday afternoon.

Obviously, all these figures are skewed by the fact that some were midweek games and some were on TV, which affects how many people travel.

I’ll post a further update at the end of the season.

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Portsmouth 3 Hull City 2

Fratton Park from the away end

Rare picture of Portsmouth's stadium where it doesn't look a dump

The Iain Dowie era began with a deeply disinterested Hull City performance and a deserved defeat snatched from the jaws of victory. The loss leaves Hull City gurgling around the Premier League plug hole, effectively five points adrift of safety with eight games to play.

The build-up to the game was suitably shambolic with the team coach stuck in a traffic jam and relying on a police escort to make it on time. And, apparently, loan strikers Amr Zaki and Jozy Altidore were both ruled out of contention late on with mystery injuries.

So the eleven which Dowie carded was harbouring a worryingly light defensive line-up of Bernard Mendy, Paul McShane, Stephen Mouyokolo and newly-appointed captain Andy Dawson, as well as Kevin Kilbane on the left-wing, Dean Marney continuing in midfield and Caleb Folan (remember him?) thrown back in up front.

Weak links all over the park, in other words, but even so we took the lead midway in the first half through a Craig Fagan shot which brushed Folan in the crowded penalty area and then beyond David James.

For a while our makeshift team looked moderately comfortable – until we allowed a corner to trickle past a succession of City players across the goal-line and a Pompey man at the back post touched it in from two yards. Yet another soft goal conceded from a lack of organisation at the back.

And from then on we were truly abysmal, despite Folan poaching another goal against the run of play midway though the second half. It was a good through-ball from sub Richard Garcia, and nice control and a cool one-on-one finish from City’s forgotten man.

Folan looked as rusty and ineffective as you’d expect after such a long time out of contention, and he strayed offside with infuriating regularity, but when it mattered most he delivered the goods. The same could not be said for half a dozen others who fell well short of what was needed.

Just as City’s rained-upon support revelled in the notion that we’d sneak an undeserved three points away from home, the late capitulation kicked in.

In short: Jamie O’Hara curled a wonderful free-kick into the corner, then virtually from the restart their winger tore down the left and the cross was directed in by Kanu lurking in space in the box.

And that was it. Cruel to lose so late, but no one could honestly say we deserved to win. The relegation battle isn’t over yet, but it will be soon if we produce many more performances as timid and listless as this.

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Dowie was not the fans’ first choice, but he was Pearson’s

Many in the London-based media delighted in speculating today that Hull City were rejected by several targets before settling for tenth best Iain Dowie. But, while I am not exactly enraptured by his appointment, I am convinced that Dowie was always Adam Pearson’s number choice as the new City manager.

Let’s turn it round. Is anyone seriously suggesting that an experienced football administrator like Pearson, in charge of a club teetering on the brink of both relegation and severe financial problems, would make such a momentous decision without having a replacement lined up already?

Even assuming he was that naive, Pearson still must have worked phenomenally fast given that there were only 36 hours between the announcement of Phil Brown’s departure and the confirmation Dowie had been appointed.

In that time, if Pearson had no one already in the can, he would have had to sound out managers’ agents, field dozens of calls from interested parties, review CVs, interview a selection of candidates, then agree pay, terms and conditions with Dowie – all in the space of about 14 working hours.

Throw in a few supposed ‘rejections’ from several managers, which presumably would put the process back a few hours, and you’re stretching credibility to its very limit.

Then let’s look at the names who are supposed to have snubbed us, like Gary Megson, who is in hospital having a minor operation and is yet to negotiate his full settlement of Bolton Wanderers, so is unavailable for the time being.

Are the national media really suggesting Pearson turned up at his bedside with a bunch of grapes, a contract and an offer of a million-pound bonus, and Megson turned him away?

Then there’s Terry Venables, whose name appeared very prominently in the Daily Telegraph and virtually nowhere else. Did the Torygraph know something that the rest of the media didn’t? Perhaps there’s a mole at The Circle leaking information to this newspaper, even though it sells about 7 copies in the city?

Much more likely is that Venables’ advisor tipped off the paper that he was interested. Because that’s what agents do – they try to find work for their client of which they take a cut. Those transfer gossip columns you see in all the tabloids? The majority of the rumours have been phoned in by a player’s or manager’s agent looking to spark some interest from a club.

Interestingly, the Hull Daily Mail backs my theory up, reporting that Mark Hughes et al contacted City about the vacancy – not the other way round.

The only intrigue left me is what looked like a firm approach for Portsmouth’s Avram Grant. Presumably this was the ‘left-field’ candidate that Pearson discussed – but did he really want to spend days or even weeks trying to negiotate his release from Pompey, or just disrupt their planning for our clash on Saturday?

I don’t agree with Pearson’s choice of manager, because I truly believe Phil Brown would have had a better chance of keeping us up, and Dowie’s record hasn’t hit as many heights. But he’s had some good spells, including Premier League experience, so he’s hardly a joke appointment on the same level of Brian Laws.

In the end, whether we like it or not, Pearson saw enough in Dowie to boot out Hull City’s greatest ever manager to make way for him. And Pearson has more than enough credit in the bank for City fans to back him on this call.

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Six reasons why appointing Iain Dowie is a slap in the face for Hull City fans

It seems virtually certain that Iain Dowie will be the next manager of Hull City, judging by the reports tonight in the national press and on BBC radio.

Here are six reasons why I think it’s a crazy appointment.

1. Dowie’s last position in football came 12 months ago in almost identical circumstances to the ones City find themselves in. Then, struggling Newcastle United had eight games to save themselves from relegation and drafted in the ‘dream team’ of Alan Shearer and assistant Dowie. Result? The Barcodes’ form plunged even further and they tamely dropped out of the Premier League. Is this what has impressed Adam Pearson so much?

2. Last time Dowie was a manager himself in the Premier League, at Charlton Athletic way back in 2006, he was sacked after 12 league games. This was despite spending more money than any other boss in the Addicks’ history. Clearly his ability to turn round a club in the space of a short period is second to none.

3. His last role as manager anywhere came in 2008 at Queens Park Rangers. Again he proved himself a master at having a big impact at a club from the off, this time lasting a run of 15 games before being given the boot.

4. Like Phil Brown, Dowie masterminded a late surge into the play-offs and subsequent Wembley final victory. Unlike Brown, however, who managed to keep City up, Dowie’s Crystal Palace were relegated in their first season.

5. In fact, Dowie has never kept a team up in the Premier League as either manager or assistant manager.

6. Finally, when linked with the City job before, Dowie said: “taking a job at Hull would be a slap in the face for my family.” After this slur, it’s disgusting for him to be even allowed any further east than Goole, let alone be offered the manager’s job of our football club with a massive contract and £1m bonus being dangled under his nose.

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New Hull City manager needs attacking intent

The most amazing aspect of the infamous player in-fighting on the Humber Bridge was not that it happened at all, nor that the newspapers splashed it over their back pages. By now we have grown used to Hull City’s massively enhanced media profile since promotion, and we all know that nothing excites the tabloids more than footballers up to a bit of mischief.

No, what was astonishing was the reminder that two big-name players like Nick Barmby, with 23 international caps to his name, and Jimmy Bullard, who was well in the England reckoning himself before his injury on his debut, actually turn out for Hull City. And they don’t particularly stand out from the rest of the squad – we are blessed with several other similarly talented players the likes of which have never been seen in Hull before.

Despite our lowly league position, there’s a rich seam of quality available, particularly players with an attacking bent. As a recent terrace song, which hasn’t caught on as much as it should have, runs: “Woah-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh, we’ve got Barmby, Ghilas and Geo, we’ve got Bullard and Hunt and a Dutchman up front with the longest name that I know.” Ahem.

In addition we have Jozy Altidore, the most expensive US player ever and their brightest talent; Amr Zaki, who last year was the hottest property in the Premier League; and Tom Cairney, the teenager who, when his agent allows him to play, has proved a natural at the top level and is already being touted as a future England star.

Just how can a team boasting, in alphabetical order, the attacking calibre of Altidore, Barmby, Bullard, Cairney, Geovanni, Ghilas, Hunt, Vennegoor of Hesselink and Zaki, fail to stay in the Premier League? How have we scored fewer goals than anyone but Wolves or Portsmouth and with the worst goal difference of all 20?

So, while I find myself persuaded by, among others, premier Hull City blog Boyhood Dreams’ valedictory post saluting Phil Brown’s achievements, there’s another part of me that thinks we’ve massively under-achieved this season given the talent at our disposal.

Sure, several of the players, notably Bullard, have been unavailable for large chunks of the season, but even with a full roster Brown has frequently carded plodders like Richard Garcia or Craig Fagan at the expense of flair players who can damage the opposition. And he has failed to coax as many impressive performances out of our star names as we could have expected.

This is to take nothing away from the achievements of Brown, undeniably Hull City’s greatest ever manager. When Adam Pearson delivered the bullet I felt mournful, angry and confused – all sorts of emotions except for joy or relief at his departure. But when you possess what’s widely reported as one of the top 10 wage bills in the country, and can call on an exciting arsenal of attacking midfielders, wingers and strikers, it doesn’t cut it to persist in playing Fagan as a lone offensive option in a backs-to-the-wall 4-5-1 formation.

That’s also why an ultra-defensive disciplinarian taking over and looking to grind out some hard-fought points just won’t suit. Teams which are hard to beat primarily have a strong defensive unit, something which we simply can’t offer, certainly not with Zayatte and Gardner out injured.

Can we really expect novices like Stephen Mouyokolo and Liam Cooper, often iffy full-backs Paul McShane and Andy Dawson, and keeper Boaz Myhill, who runs hot and cold more than the shower in the Comfort Inn, to keep many clean sheets in our last nine games? Very unlikely.

So our chance of safety relies on someone to coax match-changing performances from players who we know have the magic in them. Bullard, Geovanni, Altidore and Hunt have all provided occasional sprinkles of it this season.
We need a manager who is used to handling mercurial talents, who can inspire them to repeat the trick more often and who can send them out on the pitch with the confidence to be creative. It need not necessarily be free-flowing, attractive football – the back seven still need to harry and hoof as needed – but we do need to unlock the attacking potential in the side.

The ideal managerial candidates, fulfilling the remit that he needs to be immediately available rather than contracted elsewhere, are Sven-Goran Eriksson or Mark Hughes. And I can see why flamboyant characters like Terry Venables or Kevin Keegan have their champions, though for me they are yesterday’s men.

More cerebral types like Steve McClaren and Avram Grant would be superb longer-term appointments, though perhaps not the immediate ‘big impact’ person that Adam Pearson has talked about.

But sacking Phil Brown to replace him with someone like Iain Dowie, out of the game since helping relegate Newcastle United last season and yet to impress in any of his chances in the top division, or Gareth Southgate who took Middlesbrough down despite boasting better resources than Hull City last season, would be absolutely unfathomable.

And yet, as I write this, the radio is reporting that Dowie’s exactly who Adam Pearson seems intent on appointing…

Good grief.

FOOTNOTE: Reviewing this post, I don’t think I’ve given Brown enough credit for the scarcely believable, unprecedented tricks he pulled off at The Circle. I will attempt to do him justice with a proper tribute post when the dust has settled, but at such a crucial stage in the season worrying about our next manager takes precedence over eulogising the previous one.

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Leeds United set to boost local economy

The West Yorkshire economy is set for a massive boost over the next few months – and it’s all thanks to a third division football team.

For the last two years, the staff of Leeds United have suffered a collective bout of choking. The symptoms usually begin in spring time, when the previously calm and healthy players suddenly start to choke uncontrollably, resulting in a freefall down the league table.

Elland Road officials are particularly worried as this year the choking began in January, putting even their customary division three play-off adventure in doubt.

So now the club – currently ranked the seventh best in Yorkshire – has taken a dozen paramedics off the dole queue to tackle the latest epidemic.

Meanwhile, the city’s supermarkets have stocked up with bulk supplies of Klennex to cope with the imminent demand from fans wiping away tears from their painted faces after their annual Wembley disappointment.

And bookshops in Leeds have ordered in more stocks of A-Z travel guides to Accrington, Chesterfield and Rochdale, so that the Whites fans can navigate their way to games next season.

Leeds United officials were unavailable for comment as, like all Wessies, they are all on Withernsea beach the moment there’s a drop of sunlight.

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