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.
Chelsea 4-0 Hull City – Willian plays himself into Champions League contention
Chelsea continued their upturn in form with a convincing 4-0 win over Hull City in the FA Cup. The Blues were overwhelming favourites for the tie, but they had to get the job done and they did so effectively, scoring four times in the first-half.
They would have had one eye on the Champions League tie against Barcelona that is upcoming and that led to Antonio Conte making several changes.
The Italian decided to rest key players such as Eden Hazard, Ngolo Kante and Cesar Azpilicueta. It was the right decision as they progressed with comfort. Here are three talking points from the match:
Olivier Giroud is off the mark
One huge positive to come out of the game for the hosts was Olivier Giroud’s first goal for the club. He signed in January to provide competition for Alvaro Morata and his performances have been encouraging since signing, but to hit the back of the net takes the pressure off the Frenchman.
The signing carried relatively little risk for Chelsea as the striker has lots of experience in England and his consistency is already shining through in a Blues’ shirt.
Early into the game, he had a great opportunity to open his account, but he blazed a volley over the bar. It was a difficult chance as the ball was lifted over the defence to play him in, but a striker of his calibre should have done better.
Three goals were scored and he didn’t score one of them. If he had finished the match without scoring, it would have been talked about and that is why his goal just before half-time will relieve the pressure from him.
The rest of his game was excellent as he got two assists and linked up the play well from the front-line. Although he was brought in to be the back-up striker, Conte may give him the start against Barcelona as he is the player in form.
Hull City showed fight in the second half
The contest was over by the time the players stepped back out for the second-half, but Hull City showed fight and commitment to keep the score down to 4-0.
Nigel Adkins knows the importance of every mental victory when battling against relegation and to draw the second half can provide the players with confidence ahead of a return to league action.
Their performance was markedly improved as they created good opportunities and came close to scoring from the penalty spot. David Meyler stepped up and saw his penalty saved, but that didn’t see the players lose focus as they continued to create opportunities. During the match, they had 10 shots to Chelsea’s 14, which shows that they were far from embarrassed. They just didn’t have the quality in the final third that their Premier League opposition did possess.
It would be a huge blow for Hull City to suffer back-to-back relegations and their manager will be aware of that. This match against Chelsea was a good occasion, but it was far from a priority and their defeat won’t live too long in the memory.
They are currently 21st in the Championship and only above the bottom three by one point. Their far superior goal difference provides encouragement, but they must show this level of commitment until the end of the season if they are to avoid the drop.
Willian proved his quality before the return of the Champions League
Rotation can cause problems in the FA Cup, but in this case, it provided an opportunity to those that are on the fringes of the first-team to play themselves into contention for the Champions League.
Willian is an interesting case as he does feature prominently, but he isn’t a guaranteed first-team starter, as Pedro often gets the nod to start ahead of him.
Willian was excellent against Hull City and certainly gave his manager some food for thought ahead of the match with Barcelona. He completed six dribbles, attempted four shots and made three key passes as he terrorised the opposition defence. On the day, he scored twice, but he easily could have got a hat-trick.
Antonio Conte will be aware that his team’s big weakness is an over-reliance on Eden Hazard. The return of Cesc Fabregas goes some way to providing some support to the Belgian, but if Chelsea can get Willian playing to this level consistently, that would be a positive. He is more dynamic than Pedro and offers more flair to the attack. This performance could see him start against Barcelona.
Do Hull City run the serious risk of relegation under Nigel Adkins?
It is a worrying time for Nigel Adkins’ Hull City, who run the risk of relegation from the Championship – the second demotion in as many years – if performances on the pitch do not drastically improve.
What’s that old adage? It never rains, it pours.
This certainly seems the case for Hull City fans right now.
After Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at Deepdale represented a ninth consecutive league game without a win for manager Nigel Adkins, the Tigers find themselves in the Championship relegation zone just eight months after crashing out of the Premier League.
However, with the chaos not just limited to the pitch, are the KCOM faithful right to be preparing themselves for back-to-back relegations, as they foresee their club following the same well-trodden path as fellow ‘basket-case’ clubs, Blackpool, Portsmouth, Blackburn and Coventry?
It is curious.
Talk to any Hull City fan over the age of 20 and they will tell you the past 15 years represents a golden era in the club’s history.
From staring into the void of Conference football just before the turn of the new millennium, to battling their way to the Premier League, reaching a first ever FA Cup final and even a brief taste of European football, all in a little over a decade – it is the stuff that footballing fairy-tales are made of.
However, with the long-standing cold war between fans and ownership increasingly warming up in recent years, this modern footballing fairy-tale has quickly turned into a nightmare for the Tigers.
While relative success on the pitch since the Allam family’s 2010 takeover has appeared to paper over many underlying cracks, with fans’ favourite Steve Bruce vitally acting as peacemaker on a number of occasions during his four-year managerial tenure, the bad blood between fans and the club appears to finally be taking its toll.
Indeed, the lingering aftertaste of pro-Allam fans vs anti-Allam fans in the wake of the name-change saga, the scrapping of season tickets in favour of the now infamous ‘Membership Scheme’ which has abolished all forms of concession ticketing, and three consecutive poor transfer windows which have left the Tigers with a threadbare squad, has, after five years of hostilities, seemed to have finally caught up with the East Yorkshire outfit, creating a toxic atmosphere around the club.
Despite Friday evening being the first time this season Hull City have actually found themselves in the bottom three, it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how the club will fight their way out of this trouble.
Indeed, the club’s form has been on a downward trajectory since September.
Big wins early on in the season against the likes of Bolton and Burton, paired with the promise that new manager, Leonid Slutsky, would receive a good backing from Vice-chairman, Ehab Allam, provided fans with false hope of an instant return to the Premier League.
However, by the time the former CSKA manager was given his marching orders in December and was promptly replaced by former Southampton and Reading manager Nigel Adkins, expectations had universally been altered from ‘promotion’ to mere ‘survival’.
Worryingly for Tigers fans, Hull City’s form has actually got worse under former goalkeeper, Adkins.
Since his first game in charge – a 3-2 win against Brentford – the Tigers have failed to win another league game, losing five and drawing four.
Equally as concerning is the lack of goals during this period.
After being listed as the second highest scoring team in the division throughout Slutsky’s tenure, behind only runaway-leaders Wolves, Adkins’ Hull City have managed only three goals in nine league games, with their first of 2018 coming at Deepdale last Saturday.
For many with ties to the club, the lack of activity during last month’s transfer window represented the final nail in Hull City’s Championship coffin.
The positives of keeping youngster Jarrod Bowen and Polish international Kamil Grosicki can surely not be underestimated, with a number of clubs reportedly interested in both.
However, a typically shambolic last few hours of the window, which saw club captain Michael Dawson close to leaving the club, and only two new signings made, will do little to appease an increasingly apathetic fan base.
While calls for a new striker and battling midfielder were ignored, on paper at least, the signing of former Barnsley captain Angus MacDonald would appear decent business at £700k.
Centre-half has proved a problem position for the Tigers all season, and after three failed bids for Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna, Adkins will be relieved to get another experienced Championship defender through the door.
However, with a chequered disciplinary history and only 13 appearances for the Tykes this season, MacDonald will have to prove himself to the Hull City faithful.
The Tigers’ only other piece of January business was a loan deal for exciting Liverpool and Wales youngster Harry Wilson.
While this is the more eye-catching of the two signings, it is also the bigger risk.
The pacy winger, who has made one senior appearance for Liverpool, has an impressive goal scoring record at U23 level, but very limited experience in the senior game.
Unquestionably, the young Welshman will have to acclimatise quickly to the rough and tumble of the Championship if he is to help the Tigers climb out of the relegation zone.
The prospect of a relegation dog-fight will surely be a daunting one for the 20 year old, and only time will tell if he will sink or swim.
It is going to be a long four months for Hull City and its fans.
It may well be a cliche, but the Championship is a one of the most competitive and unpredictable leagues in the World.
In the past we’ve seen sides in more perilous positions and with far less talented squads than Hull City achieve Championship survival.
However, equally, we’ve seen ‘bigger’ clubs with more prestigious histories fall through the trap door.
Championship survival this season would arguably rank right up there as one of Hull City’s greatest achievements of the last 15 years.
However, with fires that urgently need extinguishing both on and off the pitch, it is hard to see how Nigel Adkins is going to turn this ship around.
Jack Colback linked to Sunderland and Hull City – what would he add?
Jack Colback is available to leave Newcastle United on transfer deadline day and there is a lot of interest from the Championship. Rafa Benitez is keen to trim the wage bill and the midfielder will be one that he hopes to see leave St James’ Park on deadline day. Lee Ryder from the Chronicle tweeted that a deal couldn’t be reached with Wolves, but Hull City were still interested in the 27-year-old. Sunderland have also been linked.
No deal for Jack Colback agreed with Wolves yet. Hull still interested and he wants to stay in north. No surprise to see Sunderland linked.
— Lee Ryder (@lee_ryder) August 31, 2017
It would be a remarkable move if he was to move back to Sunderland. There was a lot of bad blood when he moved to Newcastle and it would be difficult to see the supporters getting behind him again. The problem for Championship clubs is that Colback has high wages. They would need the Magpies to pay a significant portion of those to make a move possible. His options have been narrowed by his preference to stay in the north and it will be interesting to see if a destination can be found for him before the deadline.
What would he add?
The midfielder has lots of Premier League experience and would be a good addition to most squads in the Championship. He played an important role for Newcastle last season as they achieved promotion, which means he knows how to succeed in the division. The 27-year-old has high work rate and is a determined player in the middle of the park, who provides good protection for the back four. Last season, he averaged 3.4 ball recoveries per game and didn’t back away from the battle in the second tier.
Colback was once a good box-to-box midfielder, who could contribute in both halves of the pitch. His energy is a real asset that allows him to get up and down the pitch, but he has lost confidence in his attacking attributes. Last season, he didn’t score and only contributed one assist. Considering he played regularly in a team that won the division, this is a disappointment. It could be that he was held back by the role he was asked to play. A fresh start could be exactly what he needs to get back to his best.
Is a move likely?
It seems like Colback doesn’t have a future at Newcastle and they will be keen to offload him in whatever way they can. A loan deal looks likely, but it would be a surprise if he was to join Sunderland. It would be a risky move from them and one that would upset the supporters. They surely won’t take that gamble. Hull City need more players and the midfielder would be a good replacement for Sam Clucas.
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