Archive for January, 2010

Hull City 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 2

January 31, 2009: Hull City face West Bromwich Albion at The Circle in a relegation six-pointer, taking the lead deservedly twice only to be pegged back twice due to terrible defending.

January 30, 2010: Hull City face Wolverhampton Wanderers at The Circle in a relegation six-pointer, taking the lead deservedly twice only to be pegged back twice due to terrible defending.

So nothng’s changed over these 364 years? Not exactly. The personnel was different: only two City players started both games, Dawson and Mendy. Wolves were undoubtedly more of an attacking threat than West Brom. And we were beset by problems which meant a draw in this instance wasn’t actually that bad.

With Kamel Zayatte ruled out with ankle problems, Amr Zaki not fully fit and Craig Fagan being injured in the warm-up, Phil Brown had to change both his defence and attack from the ones he’d have intended to field. Furthermore, Tom Cairney was making his debut, Stephen Hunt was trying too hard to show his loyalties lie firmly with his employers and not his suitors Wolves and Seyi Olofinjana was sat on a bench in Nigeria, watching the Africa Cup of Nations.

Despite the problems, I thought we put in a performance that just about deserved three points. It was refreshing to see not one but two strikers on the pitch, Jozy Altidore and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, the former creating both goals and creating a one-on-one for himself which hit the keeper’s legs, while the latter superbly opened the scoring from the edge of the box and looked dangerous in the air all game.

The problem with having 2 up front, and 2 wingers as well, is it places a huge burden on the 2 central midfielders to deal with the packed opposition midfield. George Boateng battled admirably but as an attacking midfielder making his Premier League bow Cairney understandably looked a little lost when balls needed to be cleared or tackles made.

And as the game wore on Wolves increasingly won the midfield battle and managed to push several of them forward to join their lone striker in attacks. Both goals conceded came from positions where we could easily have cleared two or three occasions, but from the midfielders just as much as the defence.

An option for Brown when we’d taken the lead again could have been to shore up the midfield and go 4-5-1, perhaps with someone like the hard-working Richard Garcia joining Cairney and Boateng in the middle, but I’m pleased he didn’t. He chose to stick with an attacking set-up, presumably reasoning a third goal would kill them off, and I’m not going to criticise him for that having seen so many ultra-defensive tactics from him.

This game wasn’t a must-win. It was a must-not-lose, and we keep just one point behind Wolves, the team we’re most likely to be able to overtake. Keep in touching distance with them for the next two games, against Chelsea and Manchester City, and with the return of Jimmy Bullard and the full fitness of Zaki we’ll be in with a strong chance.

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Manchester United 4 Hull City 0

Man Utd 0 Hull 4 screenshot

BBC sport screenshot, courtesy of @jfconno

…Or Man Utd 0 Hull 4, as the BBC Sport website had it (image captured by @jfconno on Twitter).

This was my first experience in the away end at Old Trafford for 23 years, a night match in the League Cup when we got shanked 5-0, going on to lose the second leg 1-0 at Boothferry Park. For last season’s 4-3 showdown, I had to settle for a seat in the home end as City’s allocation was massively oversubscribed in the giddy early days of our Premier League adventure.

No such problems this year – in fact City had to push to get the last 1000 tickets sold this week. Funnily enough, fewer tourists wanted to come second time round, paying £42 minimum and with the Tigers winless on the road for nine months.

Not that daytrippers were absent this year – there were as many cameras flashing and megastore carrier bags stuffed with tat in the away end as the home. Particularly displeasing were the half-United, half-City scarves – I must have spotted at least a dozen around the necks of grown men sat in the away end. Now I welcome with open arms anyone who wants to support Hull City, particularly those who invest time and money watching them in the flesh. Being a supporter shouldn’t be a closed shop and we all have to start supporting the club at some point. But surely no one can claim it’s acceptable to be rooting for both teams at a game?

Despite these fence-sitters, the away end was consistently noisy throughout, which is no mean feat considering there was so little to cheer about on the pitch while the bantering opportunities with the home side were so scant. It’s easy to sneer, but United do have plenty of creative, knowledgeable, passionate supporters – witness their away support at The Circle this season and last for proof. And there were slight signs of these fans rediscovering a backbone at home too, with sporadic anti-Glazer chants the most audible noise from the home end beyond the clack of jaws on prawn sandwiches.

Old Trafford from the away end

A quick, blurry snap from the Hull City corner of the ground

But for every person in the ground vowing to ‘love United, hate the Glazers’ and wearing the green/gold protest colours of United’s forerunners Newton Heath, there were ten nudging their mates to ask why there were so many people in the stadium with Norwich City scarves. Tens of thousands who fly in from around the globe, watch the game in silence as if it were a theatre production and who probably think the Glazers are people who fit windows. I despaired for the real fans peppered among these imposters.

As for the game, we were probably closer to snatching a point than last season, despite the big scoreline. Following Wayne Rooney’s early pounce on some Boaz Myhill spillage City rode their luck for 80 minutes, staying well in the game at just one goal down as Michael Owen in particular squandered chance after chance. Then the turning point – sub Kamel Ghilas should have equalised, having created some room in the box and dragging a shot across the goal, but it dribbled narrowly wide. Cue three late Rooney goals to punish us.

However, it’d be foolish to try to create a scapegoat for our defeat. Despite Antony Gardner and Kamil Zayatte’s central defence partnership continuing to flourish, and sub Bernard Mendy impressing as he so often does against the big sides. we did not particularly deserve a draw. To even entertain the notion that a team playing Fagan as a lone striker could land a blow on the champions is laughable. It was baffling to see Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink overlooked in favour of Kevin Kilbane when making our last sub with the score at 1-0.

Also, after Rooney ripped us apart at home, why did we not put a man-marker on him throughout the rematch? Dimitar Berbatov, Nani, Paul Scholes and Owen could be playing now and still not score. If we’d put someone on breathing down Shrek’s neck rather than giving him the freedom of Stretford, we may have had a chance of stopping their danger. Teams have man-marked Jay-Jay Okocha and Geovanni in our recent past, sometimes even double-marking them, and neither of those players were anywhere near as dangerous.

Case closed? Hopefully not. Though both I and the referee missed it, Rio Ferdinand reportedly punched Craig Fagan. This warranted not a mention in online match reports nor the Sunday newspapers I read, while the lack of Match of the Day that night meant it was not exposed to a TV audience either. But it’s hard to see how Fagan would have escaped unpunished if the roles had been reversed.

Equally, when the referee whistled for Nani’s blatant dive for a penalty, where was the accompanying yellow card? And when we had a defender prostrate in our penalty box with a head injury as United scored their crucial second goal, surely the referee should have stopped the game by then?

But our defeat was not due to the ref, now will our relegation be caused by defeat at Old Trafford. Bigger games await, starting with Wolves on Saturday.

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He comes from Rochdale with lots of knowledge

Hull City have today been pipped by relegation rivals Bolton Wanderers to the loan signing of Manchester City’s Vladimir Weiss, who is regarded as such a hot prospect by the Blues that Trotters boss Owen Coyle probably had to wear oven gloves to sign the deal.

This transfer isn’t particularly shocking as, due to our straitened finances, City were apparently haggling over what proportion of the Slovak winger’s wages we could afford to pay. Presumably Bolton jumped in offering to pay full whack and therefore now have someone till the end of the season who may play a big part in their, er, relegation.

Anyway, don’t despair. Perhaps we have an exciting – and cheaper – young wingman right under our noses. According to the Manchester Evening News today, Tiger cub Will Atkinson was so impressive on loan at Rochdale that Phil Brown recalled him this week. despite Dale’s attempts to extend the deal.

The Salfordian winger scored 3 times in 8 games for the League Two table-toppers, including two in his final appearance at home to Morecambe, and attracted praise from manager Keith Hill recently in the Rochdale Observer: ‘Will Atkinson’s form has been a bonus. We took a bit of a risk bringing him in and it has paid off. He’d been out on loan at other clubs and had not been so successful, but he is in fine form here and is enjoying his football.’

In recalling Atko while he’s playing well and presumably having at least some of his wages paid by someone else, Brown must think he may need him soon. So expect to see him on the bench soon alongside Tom Cairney and hopefully, one-match wonder Liam Cooper.

As a sharpshooting right-winger, Atkinson must be worth a punt if Brown can look beyond how far Craig Fagan and Richard Garcia run on Pro Zone stats and see how many goals they actually contribute.

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Write off Amir Zaki at your peril

Hull City’s loan deal for supposed ‘bad boy’ Amr Zaki (or should that be Zaky, as his official website calls him?) has certainly ruffled some pundits and opposition fans.

Here’s an example of the mainstream opinion, courtesy of Lou Macari’s column in the Stoke Sentinel newspaper: “Amr Zaki, who disgraced himself by going AWOL at Wigan last season, reckons he can persuade some mug to take him back into the Premier League for another extortionate pay day. And he reckoned right, thanks to Hull City.”

Or how about this foaming-mouthed contribution from blogger Jason Mellor on Fanhouse: “Desperate times call for desperate measures, but surely Hull City aren’t that desperate?… Self-centred players such as Zaki bring absolutely nothing to the table…”

Blimey, that’s some spleen being vented there. So what exactly has evil Amr done to provoke such a reaction? Well, he was late returning to Wigan Athletic from international duty with Egypt. Four times. And… er, that’s it.

Let me first be clear. To be tardy in coming back from international duty is bad form once, and pretty inexcusable four times. However, Zaki is hardly alone in doing so – off the top of my head I can think of Madjid Bougherra (twice) and Roque Santa Cruz, while no doubt a Google search would offer up dozens more names. Robinho even sneaked out of a training camp to celebrate his birthday in Brazil. You could say it’s a common concern for managers in signing foreign players.

So which pundits and bloggers are forming a torch-wielding vigilante mob to drive ‘disgraces’ like Santa Cruz and Robinho out of Britain? None. So how many times is it acceptable to them to go AWOL after international duty?

Anyway, Zaki is out of the international picture at the moment, so he won’t have the chance to accidentally-on-purpose miss his flight and stay at home with friends and family for a few more days. Even if he is called up, Egypt only have one international lined up during his Hull City loan spell, and that’s against England at Wembley. So there’s no reason for him to fly back to Egypt for a game at all and no reason to stay on too long afterwards.

Importantly, the Zaki of early 2010 is a fundamentally different character to the one of 12 months ago. Then he was topping the Premier League scoring charts with 11 goals before the turn of the year, officially ranked by Fifa as the world’s best striker with 29 goals in 48 internationals, and being linked with eight-figure transfers to the most glamorous clubs. It’s not too difficult to imagine how that would inflate someone’s ego and make them think they can get away with bending club rules.

Now he returns a chastened character, written off by all and sundry and with a last chance to prove himself in the Premier League. Mess it up and he’ll almost certainly be one of those misfit players that bums around countries like Qatar, China and Kazakhstan, maintaining his big salary but with no challenge or profile.

I don’t think he wants to see the last decade of his career to dribble away like that. I believe he’s determined to show he’s got the goals still in him, and in so doing to fire Hull City to safety. He’s started well, talking a good game in the Hull Daily Mail (‘There have been many things written about me in the past. I want to prove that I am a good player but also a good man’) and moving his family to Anlaby within days of signing. Many players would see out a five-month deal staying in a hotel.

Finally, a word about Zaki’s biggest critic – his former Wigan manager Steve Bruce. From declaring he’d made a massive mistake in only signing him on loan instead of permanently, Brucey changed his tune and declared him ‘the most unprofessional player he’d ever worked with’.

Wasn’t that a bit OTT when at the very same time Bruce had a certain Marlon King on his roster? Surely missing a few flights can’t possibly be viewed by anyone as more unprofessional than being jailed for sexual assault?

I’ve just typed 700 words justifying why Zaki will be a masterstroke signing for City, but I should have just posted this link to a video showing his 10 league goals for Wigan. Poaches, penalties, scissor kicks, half volleys – this guy knows how to score.

Amr Zaky 10 Goals with Wigan Athletic from Amr Zaky on Vimeo.

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More Myhill media moans

Following on from my moans earlier this week about John Motson not bothering to learn how to pronounce Boaz Myhill’s first name, or his BBC colleague not realising he played for Wales, here’s another little example of how Hull City get a raw deal in the media.

Myhill’s performance at Spurs was rightly lauded in all newspapers, but i can’t help feel there was something patronising about their coverage. Chiefly it was the fact that I couldn’t find one newspaper on Sunday or Monday that awarded him 10 out of 10.

So we had the ridiculous situation of The Guardian commenting on Boaz Myhill thus: ‘The game of his life… Miraculous goalkeeping… Extraordinary performance… A bit special… Looked impregnable…’ and yet only awarding him 9 out of 10.

That was the same score as Liverpool’s Pepe Reina, who faced a whopping two shots on goal against Stoke City – a meek header from Ricardo Fuller straight at his hands which Reina nevertheless almost fumbled; and then Robert Huth’s two-yard tap-in which evaded the Reds keeper.

What did Myhill do wrong in the game, while keeping out 18 shots peppered at his goal? My hunch is absolutely nothing, except 10 out of 10 ratings are reserved for one of the superstar names like Didier Drogba, Wayne Rooney or Steven Gerrard of the Premier League having a great game.

A decent game from Reina in their eyes *is* equivalent to a player from Hull City, or any struggling Premier League side, having the game of his life. After all, how could Myhill be given a perfect score when the national media have barely heard of him?

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Show Alan Green a league table and a map

BBC Radio Five Live commentator Alan Green really should know better. Lives in Cheshire, supports Liverpool, has covered football matches for thirty years – he’s not some braying, London-centric junior. So you’d expect him to have a rudimentary knowledge of who Hull City are, which division they are in and in which city the team plays.

But I’m reliably informed that on at least three occasions when Leeds United fans have called his radio phone-in he’s expressed the hope that the W***e S***e gain two quick promotions as ‘Yorkshire needs a Premier League team.’ Erm, excuse me, but which bit of that phrase does Hull City not fulfil?

Besides that, Sheffields United and Wednesday, Barnsley and Doncaster Rovers are all much closer to joining the Tigers in the top flight – Middlesbrough too, depending on which boundaries you wish to set for Yorkshire.

According to his Wikipedia entry, Green’s fallen out with, among others, Sir Alex Ferguson, Mark Saggers and Sam Allardyce, while he’s made racist remarks about black and Chinese people. Well, you can add Hull City fans to the list of people he’s insulted.

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Tottenham Hotspur 0 Hull City 0

A game that will live long in the memory for Boaz Myhill’s stupendous performance in keeping out a tasty Spurs side who put five past us at a canter earlier this season at The Circle.

Particularly noteworthy were the one-on-one with Jermaine Defoe, a late Ian Ormondroyd* header and two double saves featuring lightning quick recoveries. The phrase ‘world class’ has been used to death but was totally fitting today.

But despite Myhill’s heroism, and the fact he’s played over 250 times for Hull City, and over 40 in the Premier League, BBC commentator John Motson couldn’t be bothered to find out how to pronounce his name, instead calling him Boz on Match of the Day.

Worse, the BBC’s post-match video interviewer asked Myhill if he was going to give England boss Fabio Capello a call – ignoring the fact he’s Wales’ goalkeeper already. Watch and weep at the end of this clip here.

Otherwise there was lots of tricky play for Spurs in places, but they looked pretty desperate as the game wore on and the breakthrough hadn’t come, falling back on the hoof to Ormondroyd* into the box and increasingly hopeful penalty appeals.

In the first half, their fans booed as two City players were treated for head injuries within a few minutes of each other, perceiving this as time wasting. The referee was swayed by this, within a few minutes booking Nick Barmby for not taking a throw-in himself but lobbing it to a team-mate to take. Poor decision from an otherwise good performance from the ref.

At the Spurs end there was less traffic, as Phil Brown has finally dispensed with the idea of playing strikers and instead selects multitudes of attacking midfielders – Craig Fagan, Barmby, Geovanni, Richard Garcia, Stephen Hunt – leaving seasoned international strikers Kamel Ghilas and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink on the bench. However, Barmby should have done better with a close-range shot into the side netting and Garcia put a free header well wide.

Other points that are in my mind: Spurs weren’t selling alcohol to Hull City fans in the concourse; from several seats in the away end you can’t see the far left corner of the pitch; singing ‘you’re getting taxed in the morning to red-faced Harry Redknapp was a joy.

Click here to watch highlights of the game with foreign commentary – though this bloke can probably pronounce Boaz correctly.

* Yes, I know it was Peter Crouch, not Ian Ormondroyd, but have you ever seen them in the same room together? Exactly.

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