Hull City were hardly a tip for relegation at the beginning of the season. After a successful first season back in the top flight, which resulted in comfortable survival, and an appearance in the FA Cup final, they looked set for another season consolidating themselves in mid-table.
However, Hull have struggled massively this season, and head into the remaining fifteen games of the league season in the bottom three. They are out of all four competitions they entered, have won only four times all season in the league and look almost devoid of confidence as the season hurtles towards its conclusion.
This poor form is surprising due to their failure to qualify for Europe. Questions were raised as to whether they could survive the rigours of the Europa League group stage as well as a Premier League campaign with a comparatively small squad. However, their defeat to Sporting Lokeren in August, meant that the fixture congestion from Europe was no longer a factor, and Hull were fully able to concentrate on their league form. With an improved squad, it looked as if they would experience a comfortable mid-table season. The reality is, they are in deep trouble.
The greatest obstacle for any team looking to survive in the Premier League is usually goals. Hull are no exception, and simply don’t score enough goals to win games. They are the joint second lowest scorers in the league, with just 20 from their first 23 matches. Furthermore, they haven’t scored since a New Year’s Day victory over Everton, showing that their struggles in front of goal are only increasing as we head towards the business end of the season.
However, the Tiger’s goalscoring problems stem from an unlucky run of injuries, as opposed to a simple inability to score. Hull started the season very well, losing just 2 of their first 9 matches, when they had goalscorers such as Nikita Jelavic and midfielder Mohamed Diame fit. They scored twice against West Ham, Manchester City and Arsenal in this period and looked certain for a mid-table spot come the end of the season. When these players got injured though, Hull went on an 8 game winless run, finding the target just twice in that period. This is supported further by a slight upturn in form after the return of Nikita Jelavic over Christmas, when Hull won 2 out of their 3 festive fixtures. They may have struggled desperately for goals, but this has been as a result of some unfortunate injuries.
Earlier in the season, Hull were able to find the net on a fairly regular basis, due to the fact that Jelavic and Diame were knocking goals in for them. They did not, however, take advantage of their ability to score goals and threw away lots of points from winning positions through a lack of concentration. Hull dropped points from winning positions at home to Stoke in a 1-1 draw, twice at home to West Ham in a 2-2 draw, from 2-0 up against Newcastle at St. James’ Park, gave away a last-minute equaliser at the Emirates against Arsenal, and lost to Tottenham at home from 1-0 up. Hull have thrown away more leads this season than they have held onto, and had they seen out even a couple of these games, would be sitting in a much more comfortable position in the Premier League.
This may have taken its toll on the players, who in recent weeks have looked unlikely to defeat anyone in the Premier League. Hull’s recent run of defeats has seen them defeated heavily by West Ham and Newcastle, as well as losing to relegation rivals West Bromwich Albion, and also Leicester City just after Christmas. These games would normally yield points for Hull, but have instead just plunged them further into trouble as their rivals start to push on ahead of them.
Another aspect to investigate is Hull’s transfer business over the season. They lost their best striker in Shane Long to Southampton, admittedly for a large fee of £12 million, but losing the Irishman has heavily contributed to their lack of goals. His replacement, Abel Hernandez, cost Hull £10 million and was brought in to score the goals that they would lose from Long. It was a risk buying from Hernandez from Palermo, the 2013-14 Serie B Champions, especially as Serie A is a shadow of its former self. Despite injury hindering his progress, questions remain over whether Hernandez is the striker Hull need to keep them up.
Whilst Hull fans share mixed views on the signing of Hernandez, some acquisitions over the summer have certainly failed, namely Hatem Ben Arfa and Tom Ince. Ince has been shipped out on loan to Derby County, whereas Newcastle loanee Ben Arfa has chosen to leave England all together and go to Nice, where he will not be able to play for the rest of the season under FIFA rules. These signings were designed to deepen Hull’s squad, and add some star quality, but ultimately, failed to have any impact as Hull failed to improve the squad sufficiently over the summer.
Their final attempt to fix their goalscoring problem came on deadline day as they purchased Senegalese striker Dame N’Doye from Lokomotiv Moscow. Not a lot is known about N’Doye, but his 27 goals in 66 games for the Russian club is hardly spectacular in a weaker league, and he may struggle to provided Hull with the goals that keep them in the division.
In conclusion, Hull City have struggled for four main reasons; injury, a lack of goals, throwing away leads and poor transfer business. Whilst their injury problems are unavoidable, and have contributed to their lack of goals, their poor transfer business in the summer failed to strengthen Hull sufficiently, with some of their signings already out of the club, and them struggling up front without Shane Long’s energy and goals. Their inability to hold onto a lead has led to only four league victories and a spot in the bottom three when they could be in mid-table, and they now look as if they lack any form of confidence going into the end of the season. Steve Bruce is certainly a competent enough manager to turn it around, but for now, Hull City face a real struggle to stay in the Premier League.