Hull City 2015/16 Championship Season Preview
After a two-year stint in the Premier League, Steve Bruce’s Hull City side find themselves back in the Championship. Following relegation, Steve Bruce said he was surprised that he was still in the job, and was quick to absolve full responsibility for the Tigers failings in their last campaign.
Story of Last Season
Following an impressive first season in the Premier League, recording their highest ever league finish and reaching their first ever FA Cup final, Hull City did not rest on their laurels. Significant investment, to the tune of almost £40 million (net spend nearer to £25 million), was made, as the Allams looked to take the club onto the next level. The ambition was not realised. In a campaign ravaged by injuries, Bruce’s men failed to reach the Europa League group stages and were eventually relegated on the final day of the season. The Tigers had a horrible winter period, when their injury list was at its longest, and although they appeared to have turned a corner a few times last season, they failed to gather any real momentum. Steve Bruce’s insistence on playing a 3-5-2 system made Hull predictable when coming forward, repeatedly launching crosses into the box and rarely creating a great deal, which was reflected in their poor goal scoring figures, a problem which has plagued the East Yorkshire club for a number of years now, ever since their play-off winning season of 2007/08 under Phil Brown.
Unlike most teams in the division, Hull City are likely to complete a few more signings before the window closes. Their recruitment began very late, and they were the last league team in the country to complete a signing when Sam Clucas joined the club on July 27th. Having sold Tom Ince, Robbie Brady and James Chester for a combined fee in excess of £20 million, as well as receiving a considerable sell-on fee from Blackburn’s sale of Tom Cairney, Steve Bruce has been given some cash to re-invest in the squad.
Sam Clucas – The much sought after, versatile 24-year-old Sam Clucas became Steve Bruce’s first signing of the summer, making a £1.3 million switch from Chesterfield after the two clubs faced each other in pre-season. Clucas had been linked to Cardiff and Wigan, but joined Hull after just a season at Chesterfield. A product of the Glenn Hoddle Youth Academy, Clucas began life as a box-to-box midfielder but was deployed on the left flank when he first joined Chesterfield. After the sale of Eoin Doyle, Clucas was even played up front, and he finished the season with 9 goals to his name.
Ryan Taylor – Injury-plagued full-back Ryan Taylor joined the Tigers on the same day as Clucas, having been released by Newcastle United at the end of the season. Like Clucas, Taylor is a versatile player, who can play either down the right side or deep in the midfield. The former England U21 international is happy to be on the pitch at all, having spent a great deal of his career in the medical department. If he can stay fit, Taylor will be a useful utility player, who Steve Bruce knows well from their time together at Wigan. Hull City fans will also be pleased to have a free-kick specialist, a luxury they haven’t had in their squad for a long time now.
Moses Odebaju – The latest recruit at the KC Stadium, Hull had hoped that Odebaju would be signed along with his former teammate Andre Gray, but after their joint bid of £9.5 million for the pair was rebuffed they decided to get the signing of Odebaju confirmed and go after Gray as a separate deal. Odebaju is excellent going forward and will look to overlap Ahmed Elmohamady, should the Egyptian remain at the club this window. He is a real threat going forward, and will look to create chances for the Tigers forwards, although his defensive work and decision making still needs some work.
Isaac Hayden – Steve Bruce utilised his strong relationship with Arsene Wenger to bring two Gunners players on-loan to the KC, the first of whom was Isaac Hayden. It is the 20-year-old’s first loan move, and he will be hoping to prove his first team credentials after only a handful of appearances for the Arsenal first team. Standing at 6 feet and 2 inches, Hayden is a strong young man who will not be bullied off the ball. Commonly deployed as a ball-playing defender at Arsenal, Arsene Wenger described him as an intelligent footballer, and there are suspicions that Steve Bruce may play Hayden in a holding midfield role, replacing Jake Livermore, who still has a cloud hanging over his future following his positive drugs test.
Chuba Akpom – The second man to arrive on a season-long loan from Arsenal is Chuba Akpom. Like Hayden, Akpom has represented England at a number of youth levels, but unlike Hayden, this is not Akpom’s first move away from the Emirates. It is the 19-year-old’s fourth loan move, but he is yet to make a real impression in first team football. Arsene Wenger reportedly rates the youngster, who has played 4 league games for the club, and even played against Hull in the FA Cup last season.
Michael Dawson – The departure of James Chester means that Michael Dawson is likely to be the most integral man at the heart of the Hull City defence. He was named Player of the Year at last seasons end of year awards ceremony and after a shaky start in which he struggled to gel with Curtis Davies, Dawson soon became a rock at the back, as well as helping the team with his pinpoint distribution skills. Dawson made it clear when the season ended that he was keen to remain a Hull City player and help them get back into the top flight. In a back three or a back four, Dawson is likely to be an ever-present providing he can stay fit.
Andrew Robertson – Scottish full-back Andrew Robertson is still very raw, but one can forgive him considering he was playing for part-time Queens Park until 2013. In the last two years he has stepped up to full-time football, stepped up to the Premier League, stepped up to international football and even scored against England. His explosive pace and direct approach make him a constant thorn in the oppositions side, and it is no surprise that Steve Bruce had to work very hard to warn off any potential suitors this summer, which reportedly included top four sides. With the departure of Robbie Brady, Robertson is likely to be a permanent fixture in the Hull side.
Sone Aluko – A surprise candidate as a ‘key player’ perhaps, seen as though Sone Aluko was used sparingly in the Premier League to varying degrees of success, but the 26-year-old was excellent the last time Hull were in the Championship. He played alongside Jay Simpson in a front 2 when the Tigers won promotion in 2012, and scored 8 goals in 23 games, before picking up an injury. A skillful and unpredictable talent, on his day he can be unplayable, particularly with the drop in quality of the Championship. It is difficult to predict which forwards will be at Hull City come the end of the window, as Hernandez, Jelavic and N’Doye could all leave, and there will almost certainly be some new additions in that position too, but wherever he is deployed I suspect Aluko will perform.
You’d need a crystal ball to predict what Hull City’s starting line-up will be once the season settles down. There are likely to be further signings made and players sold before the transfer window shuts for the summer. It also remains to be seen whether Steve Bruce will opt for a 4-4-2 or a 3-5-2. The Tigers probably have the strongest defence in the league, even without James Chester, and will be able to play a back four of Odebaju, Dawson, Maguire and Robertson, or a back five of Elmohamady, Dawson, Davies, Maguire and Robertson, with both of those back lines having capable Championship defenders waiting in the wings should they be called upon. In midfield, Tom Huddlestone could still leave the club, but should he stay, Steve Bruce will be hoping his class can shine through at a lower level following a poor last campaign. Mo Diame and Robert Snodgrass will return from injury in either October or November, both are quality players at this level but one suspects the former will leave the club in January. Up front in anyone’s guess, as all three strikers could go or stay, and with the cloud hanging over Andre Gray, it remains to be seen who will come in.
Predicting anything in the Championship is a fool’s game. It is a hugely open league and many would say Hull City could as easily go down as make a return to the top flight. They have lost some quality players, but their recruitment has been strong. They still have a very strong squad for this level, and should Steve Bruce be able to get them playing for him, and finally find the best way to arrange his players, they will be a force to be reckoned with. One obvious inadequacy of the Hull City squad is creativity. The Tigers have bid for Shaun Maloney who could fill that void, but right now all their creativity is through the wings, and they are crying out for some creativity through the center of the pitch. There are some very strong teams in this seasons Championship, but there’s no reason Hull City can’t mix it with the best of them.
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