The overnight rumour mill suggests that the 0-0 draw against struggling Millwall will be Leonid Slutsky’s final act as Hull City manager.
Whether the rumours come to fruition and the Russian is replaced by Scunthorpe’s former manager Nigel Adkins, it can be understood when looking from the outside why Slutsky is on the brink. A team relegated from the Premier League should always have the financial clout and quality of player to take this second tier by storm. If a manager cannot motivate a squad of players who 6 months ago were battling the likes of Tottenham & Manchester City, to a league position well above City’s current 20th position, surely he deserves to go?
But for Slutsky, those close to the club know the hand he’s been dealt. Supporter unrest with the club owners. Large numbers of the relegated squad sold with vastly inferior replacements brought in at minimal cost. All of this will take its toll on a person who only began to learn English in the hope of getting a job a year ago
With the pressure firmly on, Hull City take to the dragon’s lair of the New Den, lining up in a traditional 4-4-2
Tomori Dawson Hector Aina
Bowen Stewart Henriksen Irvine
The opening 10 minutes of the game saw Millwall take the game to the timid Tigers. Often playing neat triangles down the channels, the City back line struggled under these attacks, led by the initially impressive Elliott.
Having survived that initial onslaught, Elliott’s impact on the game rapidly diminished and with it, so did much of the threat posed by the home side.
Even in this early stage, one player was starting to stand out from the rest of the Hull City side. Much maligned in recent weeks, the additional space in the middle of the pitch seemed to galvanise Henriksen. Dropping back to head clear an early soft free kick, working hard to try and build an attack going forward. This is not to say his performance was the reincarnation of Maradonna, often his passing would seem timid or some of his movement was very slow, but on this performance much of the recent criticism would be excessive.
On the left, Aina often tried too many slight passes that none of his team read. He certainly has quality, but needs to work better with the rest of the team. When he does get his head up, he can get forward really well, spins past markers with ease. Once such move saw him combine with Irvine to create the best chance of the half for Bowen, only for him to shoot over.
The left side proved to be City’s key in the attacks. Too often the right sided pairing of Bowen and Tomori either played far too narrow to stretch a limited home side, or particularly in Tomori’s case, he seemed rather loathed to advance too far forward. Perhaps this is understandable as he’s a centre back being played out of position, but isn’t helping City’s cause too much. So another City attack up the left finds the impressive Henriksen whose long range shot is tipped over by Millwall’s keeper J. Archer.
Whilst City were enjoying most of the play, Millwall still posed a threat with Saville turning Bowen before cutting inside Tomori and teeing up Gregory, only for his shot to be tipped over by McGregor. The resulting corner causes further confusion in the City defence as O’Brien’s goal bound shot is cleared off the line by Hector.
A final attack of the half sees Bowen’s cross field ball find Aina, but his mishit shot bobbles to Dicko. His drive is well saved by J. Archer and City have no other players following up to apply the finishing touch.
Clearly the first half of the game is going to plan. No panicked half time substitutes are deployed as City return to the pitch.
City start the second half much as the finished the first. Campbell breaks forward and has a clear sight of goal, but another mishit shot sees the ball screwing parallel with the goal line. Dicko is on hand to follow up, but can’t get a good connection
The first substitution comes five minutes after the break as Morison replaces Elliott for the home side. A quick break then offers Saville a sight of goal, but his shot is wide. At the other end, Campbell and Dicko combine before squaring to Henriksen, but he opted to take a touch when the shot was available allowing the Millwall defence to get back.
Millwall are certainly playing with backs to the wall, with 8 outfield players crowding out any chances for City. McLaughlin is also the first to see his name taken after tripping Stewart on the half way line.
On the hour mark, shortly after Millwall replace O’Brien with Onydinma, Grosicki replaces Dicko. This had a very negative effect on the City side with the Pole taking a position on the left of the pitch and City reverting to a 4-5-1 lineup. Suddenly where the forward pairing of Campbell and Dicko were stretching a home side, the revised line-up began to isolate Campbell up front.
At this point I probably had to apologise to this lists premier Plumber, as a recent twitter conversation with him left me suggesting that forward pairing wouldn’t work. Clearly on the showing at Millwall, it does have a chance.
Also noticeable in this change in formation was that Henriksen became less than his impressive start to the game. He seemed to no longer revel in the midfield. Overall City play became congested, chances started to become rarer.
Soon after also came Millwall’s best chance of the game. A cross into City’s box sees Dawson deflect Gregory’s shot over. From the corner Cooper heads goalwards, only for a fine reaction save from McGregor to keep the clean sheet. City defenders are throwing themselves in front of the ball just in time for Morison to shoot over.
Campbell is next to have is name taken, after a firm challenge on McLaughlin leaves the defender rolling around as if shot from a sniper behind the scoreboard. From then City did seem to suffer a string of soft free kicks against them from a rather fussy referee.
Another Millwall chance sees Gregory pulling wide, before unleashing a shot that has McGregor at Full stretch to catch. But it’s not all one way traffic now. Grosicki makes a cross field run, playing a 1-2 with Irvine, but just as he finds space, he elects to chip a shot wide, when a firm drive would have caused much greater threat to the home goal.
By now, Campbell had pulled up injured, so was replaced by Diomande. Millwall also used the last of their substitutes with Ferguson replaced by Twardek.
As the clock entered those final dangerous last 5 minutes for the recent Hull City defence, Bowen is replace by the enigma that is Evandro. Some may have thought it’s not possible, but the Brazilian does in fact still exist.
The away end certainly expects the inevitable final 5 minutes, watching through parted fingers as both Aina and Irvine slip to allow Gregory a shot that’s saved. Then another Gregory chance is blasted over.
City do end the game with a final chance as Diomande passes wide to Grosicki and his cross finding Evandro, only to shoot wide.
The final score 0-0 gave the first clean sheet in a month. Perhaps a draw is the best City could hope for in a season where victories are only gained in matches against teams whose name begins with a ‘B’.
Next team up? Bristol City. But who will be the Tigers manager?