Hull City 1 Middlesbrough 3

Middlesbrough at home for the second time in 2017.

A little over half a year ago, City tonked Middlesbrough 4-2 in the Premier League, our second Premier League win in 5 days, taking us out of the relegation zone and setting us up nicely for what would turn out to be a narrow defeat in the next fixture away at Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s team had incidentally been the last to beat us at home, several months earlier on Boxing Day 2016. Things were looking good. The clocks had just gone forward, summer was approaching, and pundits and fans alike were talking up Hull City’s Premier League future under our bright young Portuguese manager.

Tonight’s lacklustre performance against Boro bore little resemblance to what we witnessed less than seven months earlier. We’re in a different league, we had an entirely different starting eleven, and performance-wise things looked so different that it might have been a different sport.

Emphasising how far and how rapidly our club has plummeted were:

McGregor

Tomori Dawson Hector Clark

Meyler Stewart

Bowen Larsson Campbell Irvine

So, a pretty adventurous looking 4-2-4 at kick-off. No surprise to see Henriksen benched, ditto Grosicki. Tomori for Aina was more surprising, but turned out to be like-for-like in terms of performance. They’re both alright, they’re both borrowed from Chelsea and can control a ball well. May be Tomori tackles a bit better, but he can’t throw the ball as far as Aina. As with most of this City squad, you can take one off and put the other on, and you’re not really changing much in the way of quality. Game on game Leonid Slutsky drops some, put some others in, but is changing nothing for the better.

The first few minutes it seemed as if Slutsky — or perhaps our recently appointed Head of Strategy (whatever that is), Oleg Yarovinsky — had at last decided that booting the ball high and long would no longer do as a tactic, and we played some neat and penetrating possession stuff on the ground, as we attacked the north stand end.

But playing two holding midfielders, Meyler and Stewart for now, only works if they hold position in midfield. After a dozen minutes both of them were higher up the pitch than they should have been, leaving a gap to the central defenders. Stewart lost the ball, it went back towards Hector on the edge of the box, who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get to it before Braithwaite hit it cleanly into the bottom left corner.

0-1

Quarter of an hour gone, one down; City are losing and it’s all their own work.

The lack of top division quality in this City team is striking, given how many of them have either played there or are borrowed from Chelsea. Apart from the obvious stuff about wanting to see my team do well, and liking the profile that it gives to the city of Hull, the main thing I miss about the Premier League is watching quality footballers play quality football. Last time we were relegated, we mostly looked like a Premier League team in the Championship, and we still played reasonable quality football most of the time. Not this time round, so far at least.

We seem to have a lot of players who can see the game in their heads but whose ability to do what they see is less obvious. On 20 minutes, Max Clark does the marauding full-back thing, powering down the left. He looks up, sees teammates running into the area, and blooters the cross about 60 ft up in the air. Here’s to you, Andy Robertson.

In midfield, David Meyler bustles about, and to his credit is often on the ball. Time and again though he sees a short and incisive pass, but can’t execute it and gives the ball away.

On the half hour, enthusiastic young Aussie Jackson Irvine bursts into the box with the ball. He looks like he should nip past the defender in front of him and be through on goal. He tries to nip past the defender in front of him. He can’t nip past the defender in front of him. Once again possession is lost.

The one bit of ball retention City can consistently do is along the back four. Dawson, square to Hector, back to Dawson, a short ball to Tomori, who advances a couple of paces, then back to Dawson, then square to Hector. You get the picture. There’s no pressure from Boro, and who can blame them, one-nil up away from home, it’s up to City to attack. But the home crowd is getting restless.

I’m all in favour of possession football when it’s a matter of patient probing to find a way through. I get that having the ball means the opposition can’t score. I admire it when teams frustrate opponents who can’t get the ball off them. But we’re not seeing those scenarios here. City are losing. The passing along the back line stems from lack of options or plan. Impatient shouts and groans come from frustrated fans.

To be frank, City are offering little and looking bereft of spirit and ideas.

Then on 35 minutes, we get a free kick just in our half. Bowen’s hopeful delivery soon bounces back and Boro advance down our left, in front of the West Stand. With little in the way of challenge, Christie sweeps in a deep cross.

In the penalty area, Boro’s record signing Britt Assombalonga strolls towards the six yard box. Noting the ball heading his way, he has time to check his reflection in the mirror and straighten his tie, before standing unchallenged a few yards in front of McGregor’s far post and nonchalantly heading the ball home.

0-2

However often the pundits might try to tell you that two-nil is the most dangerous score to hold onto, we’re not coming back from this.

For the final ten minutes of the half, there’s more “see it, can’t do it” stuff from the Tigers.

Campbell advances towards the Boro area. Campbell sees Irvine sprinting alongside, he sees the pass that would put him in on goal, but he can’t execute it.

A minute later, the ball breaks to Meyler after a free kick, he sees the 5 yard pass back to Larsson on his left. He can’t do it, and gives the ball away.

On 45, Tomori cuts inside, advances menacingly to the edge of the Boro area, sees Larsson breaking through the middle, sees the pass that would split the defence. But his pass doesn’t make it.

City are booed off at half-time, and the feeling of malaise is palpable. It’s not as if our besuited Russian manager has many options. The obvious ones are to try something different in attack. May be bring on Dicko or Grosicki . But again, we’ve got a squad and a selection policy that seems to consist of ‘pick any 2 from 4’ in most positions. If it ain’t working, pick the others. We all love Slutsky, as the song nearly goes. We all know that the problems at City are not of his doing and any manager would struggle with the hand he’s been dealt. But Slutsky is not proving himself an inventive or influential manager. If we carry on in this vein, he’ll be gone before long.

At the start of the second half, Dicko is on for Stewart. We retain the 4-2-4, with Larsson dropping into the 2 with Meyler. Stewart has been OK-ish, apart from giving the ball away for their opener. But one game he’s in, then he’s subbed, then he’s dropped, then he’s in again, then he’s subbed.

Five minutes or so into the half, Slutsky brings on Grosicki for Larsson. This time it’s Irvine who joins Meyler in the holding two. Grosicki plays on the left, showing that combination of petulance and skill that we’ve come to expect from a player who may well consider himself – probably rightly – a cut above most of his teammates ability-wise, and yet finds himself by some combination of fate, timing, and the shortcomings of agents stranded in the wrong league playing for a club unrecognisable from the Premier League team he signed for.

The changes give City a momentary lift in terms of zip and adventure. After ten minutes or so, Meyler in his deep-lying midfield position sees a fantastic through ball and this time executes the pass to perfection, down the middle to meet the curving run of Bowen, who sets it up for Dicko through on goal. Dicko has time to take a touch and place it. Instead he pokes it tamely first time at the advancing Boro keeper, Randolph. If you want to excuse him, you could point out that that he’s not been on the pitch for long. Like a number of his teammates, he’s been picked, he’s been dropped, one minute he’s not good enough, the next he’s brought on because his replacement is not good enough. Confidence and consistency are not the watchwords that spring to mind.

Meyler’s classy pass proves to be the aberration, and he’s soon back to giving the ball away, seeing Clark breaking down the left wing, his execution of the intended pass results in Boro possession.

City’s renewed spirit isn’t amounting to much, other than an argument between Tomori and Grosicki in front of my East Stand vantage point. It doesn’t seem to be a happy camp.

Campbell is taken off for Diomande — probably the most whole-hearted Norwegian on our books at the moment. I turn to my neighbour and mutter, more in hope than expectation, “if we can get one now, you never know …”

And as if he can hear me, on 70 minutes, almost out of nothing, Grosicki meets a ball from Dicko on the volley outside the area and hammers it home. A fine goal.

1-2. Game on.

Suddenly the home crowd wakes up, and it’s all City, for a few minutes at least. We start getting corners. The more nervous Boro fans wonder if they’re about to be robbed of the three points.

They needn’t have worried.

On 82 minutes, Boro sub Ashley Fletcher — a summer signing for £6.5 million from West Ham, who had just replaced Assombalonga minutes earlier — breaks into the City penalty area in front of the Boro fans in the north-east corner, with just McGregor to beat. Michael Hector, not the speediest, brings him down from behind.

It’s a penalty. And surely a red card, as Hector was the last defender and his foul prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity?

Apparently not. At first the ref busies himself organising the taking of the penalty, as if it’s some complex logistical task that has never before confronted him. Hector wisely moves away, like a guilty schoolboy edging to the back of the group. Then after what seems a minute or so, but was no doubt shorter, the linesman calls the ref over, the ref calls Hector over, a red card is brandished, and our loanee centre-back is sent off.

All very weird, and cause for the lino to get roundly abused from then on by the City fans. And by Grosicki who amazingly goes unpunished despite running 15 yards or so to shout in the face of the assistant referee.

Meanwhile, Boro score the penalty; as McGregor dives low and right, Leadbitter strikes high and left.

1-3

May be it’s going to be a repeat of Saturday, and we’ll get a pointless second?

Nope, not even that. City are even worse than on Saturday. All that’s left is for the temporary hate-figure running the East Stand touchline to give a foul when Irvine dives into one of theirs from behind. Irvine is booked. Grosicki again harangues the lino, and this time he too gets a yellow.

And that’s it. At the moment City look like a club unstoppably nose-diving on and off the field. Two home defeats in 4 days, 6 goals conceded, and little sign of a plan from a likeable manager struggling to settle on system and selection from an uninspiring squad. To force optimism, the difference between the playing side and the rest of the club, is that a victory on Saturday would go a little way to lifting the gloom with regard to the former. But on tonight’s display, getting anything away to the high-flying Blades is not likely. And changes in the boardroom seem even more unlikely.

The clocks have gone back, winter is approaching, and Championship consolidation is more pressing than any idea that Hull City could dream of a return to the Premier League in the near future.

Hull City 2 Nottingham Forest 3

This report won’t be long, as this match doesn’t deserve anything more than
a cursory recollection of the simple facts.

Slutsky recalled Meyler (for Stewart) and Campbell (for Dicko) from last
week’s Oakwell smash & grab,

In front of 15,780 (yeah, right) and after a justified minute’s applause for
City legend Les Mutrie the Tigers carded:

McGregor

Aina Dawson Hector Clark

Larsson Meyler Grosicki

Bowen Henriksen

Campbell

Although to be honest I’ve no idea where Henriksen was actually supposed to
be playing, as he wandered in a free role behind Campbell without ever
really getting his foot on the ball or win a tackle.

One of the rare bright spots of the afternoon – and indeed the season – was
the energy and inventiveness of Jarrod Bowen, and I’ll be surprised if Ehaw
hasn’t cashed-in on our top scorer come January. On four minutes he skipped
through four Forest challenges before seeing his shot cleared, and a few
minutes later he setup Grosicki to blooter wide.

Shortly after Forest took the worst ever corner kick in English professional
football, 19:04 on the clock triggered the release of a few hundred bright
yellow tennis balls raining down on the visitors goalmouth from a baying
North Stand. The game was held up whilst stewards kicked them all from the
KC sward whilst an admirable tirade of abuse echoed around the half empty
stadium. And behind me in the East Stand dimwits shouted their view that the
protestors should be “banned for life”. We truly have a club that some of
our supporter base deserve.

And so on the half hour Forest take the lead. City’s defence stand-off and
Dowell rifles past McGregor from 25 yards. Should our Scotch keeper have
done better? It was at a nice height and looked like he had a good sight as
it arrowed past him.

At this point my notes suggest City’s forwards were not showing for the ball
from midfield, and Henriksen was having another stinker. Indeed, our entire
midfield looked lightweight all afternoon, bar Meyler who always appears two
tackles from a red. Half-time 0-1.

At half-time Henriksen was shepherd-crooked by Toral, and Irving brought
ponytailed light to replace Grosicki’s hovering dark cloud.

All the positive stuff from City was coming through Jarrod Bowen, and on 48
he skipped down the right, beating two Forest before his cross was snaffled
by the keeper. Two minutes later Toral goes down in a hamstring-tweaked
heap, and is replaced by Dicko. City’s quickest-ever substituted substitute?

On 71 more crass defending from City allows Dowell the freedom of the park
and he pings one in off the post. The City players look a sad sight,
heads-down and seemingly accepting game over. But no-one told young Jarrod
as he curled a superb shot into the top corner from 25 yards. Game back on?

But, of course, it wasn’t. Dowell completes his hat-trick via the penalty
spot after Larsson coughs up cheap possession and Meyler trips goal-bound
Walker, though it looked a soft decision.

Hector reduced the arrears after drilling through a crowded penalty area on
87, but it was too little and far too late. Five minutes added saw plenty of
Forest timewasting (who could blame them) and loud boos accompanied the
final whistle.

Most of the post-match media attention focused on the tennis ball protest
and deflected from the rank awful City performance. The Tigers looked a
shell of the side fielded by Marco Silva less than a year ago, and now look
every bit a lower mid-table Championship team bereft of confidence and,
perhaps more worrying, leadership. Our defence is as shaky as an Allam
Employment Tribunal. Even Richard Sneekes would add steel to this current
midfield. City’s forwards are feeding on scraps, and are so playing deeper –
Dicko should be playing on the shoulder of an opposing centre half, not
hunting in the centre circle for the ball.

If this continues we’d all do well to start mentally attuning to preparing
for a relegation scrap, as watching Sheff United beat the White Shite on
Friday night clearly demonstrates how far off a promotion team we are. We
have some talented players, we have some journeymen and some
not-fully-committed loanees, and Slutsky needs to somehow mould this lot to
at least match the sum of its parts, which it currently nowhere near is.

Andy Medcalf

Hull City 6 Birmingham City 1

Hull City 6 Birmingham City 1

Hull City six. But it would be no less apt to have written “Hull City sex”. For this at times was as close to the genuine article as you could get: it was proper pulse-accelerating, breath-shortening, cheek-flushing, pupil-dilating (that’s enough: Listmeister) stuff.

Granted, it wasn’t the finished article and there’s clearly work to do – if all else fails when the transfer window next opens – with the defence (and a special mention here for the Blues’ late consolation, the defending for which would have graced a Laurel and Hardy film) but overall yesterday’s performance represented an immense improvement on recent home showings, in a fixture which had all the makings of a real banana skin against an opposition who had done much better than us in recent weeks and to my eyes were not as hopelessly poor as many have suggested. Particularly pleasing was the fact that City performed over the full 90 minutes, to which the scoring of three goals in each half bears witness, along with the emergence of clear indications that our hastily and tardily assembled squad is now showing signs of developing a shape and understanding.

Slutsky did observe rather pointedly a couple of weeks or so ago that he was effectively still in pre-season mode and that the team would not be functioning as he wanted until October, so was yesterday a sign that things are coming together as the manager said they would? Well, I guess that we’ll know the answer to that by the time the Forest game in four weeks’ time comes to an end, but at least for now we can enter the pivotal month of October, when the season is well and truly into its grind phase and the League table starts to take a bit of shape, with more cause for optimism than we dared have imagined after a decidedly underwhelming September, to put it mildly, to date.

Of course, and whilst not deliberately setting out to pour cold water on what will prove to be a memorable afternoon, the Slut might well have it all to do again in a couple of months as anybody who might command a fee to swell the Allam coffers is offloaded in the next window. I mean, come on, there are some gullible and naive individuals following Hull City, but does anyone seriously believe that Bowen’s new contract has been put in place for any reason other than to increase the fee for which we can sell him? Is anyone still that trusting of Ehab?

That’s enough negativity for now. The only thing that looked on the wane yesterday was the weather, with the fine, perfect-for-football conditions that prevailed at lunchtime steadily giving way to autumnal gloom as the afternoon progressed, none of which dampened the purpose or tempo of our play or the delight of the majority of the 13,000 or so (officially 15,608, yeah right) who saw City line up sort of as follows:-

McGregor

Aina Dawson Hector Clark

Larsson Meyler Toral

Bowen Grosicki

Campbell

Subs: Henriksen (for Toral, 68 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 68 min), Weir (for Bowen, 81 min)

And so off we go with City attacking the North Stand and “attacking” being the operative word, as we show a pleasing tempo and purpose right from the off and monopolise possession in the early stages, albeit with a little less assurance when the back line have the leather than in the days of those lengthy backwards-and-sideways periods of possession so beloved of Steve Bruce. And barely have we settled down when we have the lead. Meyler gets a foot in to block a Birmingham pass in midfield and the ball breaks towards the Brum goal. Campbell, showing alertness and anticipation that would be a lesson to any aspiring striker, is onto it before the defence realise what’s happening and romps away to slide the leather under the advancing Kuszczak.

There are seven on the clock, and by the time it reaches ten we have doubled the lead. Campbell turns instigator, chasing a loose ball to the by-line and going to ground under the challenge of Nsue. Referee Duncan unhesitatingly points to the spot. Nsue doesn’t look too pleased and you have to say it was a bit soft: Fraizer took his tumble much too easily. But hey-ho, that’s football, and Meyler gets his reward for setting up the first goal by firmly and accurately planting the leather to Kuszczak’s right.

As is often the case when sides go two down, the Blues rally for a while, and to be honest our defence still does not look massively comfortable, with Birmingham having too much space to play in, especially the wide men, and we have to be grateful for the fact that they really aren’t very good at crossing; arguably worse even than Elmo. You do feel, though, that the next score is going to be crucial, a feeling hammered home on 14 minutes when Campbell really ought to have done better with a free header from the excellent Grosicki’s cross, but the striker’s instinct that he showed when scoring deserts him, and he looks more like the kid at school who’s always last to be picked, heading the ball over the bar with the top of his head and very probably with his eyes tight shut.

So we go back to defending alarmingly, Hector living up to the reputation of his cartoon namesake (ask your dad, anyone under about 50) by failing to cover properly and he and Dawson both guilty of giving the leather away when under no pressure. We’ve thrown away leads to teams much more inept than this Brum outfit and this is a testing time for the nerves of the City support.

Until Jarrod Bowen rides to the rescue on 26 minutes. receiving the leather in the inside right channel from Aina and firing low from outside the box just inside Kuszczak’s left-hand post. All the more impressive for being a goal out of nothing. The away support, maybe 1,000 strong and defiantly boisterous, must now know how we felt at Derby. it’s hard to see how we’re going to hang onto this admirable young talent, and i was about to observe at this juncture that maybe we have to resign ourselves to his departure in three months’ time and just hope that he attracts the attention of the type of Premier League outfit that has more money than sense, before remembering that it matters not one jot to us, since any revenues will ultimately be spent on Lamborghinis or yachts, with maybe a loanee to replace Bowen an hour before the end of the transfer window if we are lucky.

For now, though, we are rampant, and after a Birmingham foray on 29 which forces McGregor into a save from Dean, Grosicki, enjoying himself enormously (and, it has to be said, instilling a bit of confidence into young Clark, deputising for the injured Kingsley, in the process) goes on a tremendous run before cutting inside and rifling in a low drive, saved by the custodian. Two minutes later and Turbo is at it again, curling one just over.

The last ten minutes of the half are rather formless, although we survive a scare when McGregor has to charge out of the box to block an attack. Otherwise we see the half out. What was noticeable though as the ref draws the first half for a close was the decidedly reserved ovation that the team received as they trooped off. Under normal circumstances, a City side 3-0 up would be cheered to the rafters at the interval, and the fact that they weren’t really yesterday was another example of how the antics of the owners have relentlessly dampened the zest and fervour of the Tiger Nation. it wasn’t much better at the end.

During the half-time interval, a massive roar is heard from the concourse. What could it be? Leeds losing? No, they weren’t playing. Ehab has fallen off the West Stand balcony and been savaged by a police dog? No chance: he was as usual nowhere to be seen. Maguire, Clucas, Jakupovic and Huddlestone have come onto the pitch, pledged their undying and eternal allegiance to Hull City and begged forgiveness from the fans for even harbouring thoughts of playing for any other club? Not really. Apparently some cove had won the crossbar challenge and relieved Deano of £20 in the process.

Anyway, we’re off again, the Tiger Nation wondering if it’s going to be 5-0 or 3-3, and for a while early on we are a bit under the cosh, outgoing Birmingham temporary manager Carsley no doubt having reassured his charges that there are still goals in this for them. Clearly, though, Mr Slutsky, for his part, has had words with his defence at the interval and Hector in particular has a better half, making a couple of vital blocks. We do have a real let-off though about 20 minutes into the half when Vassell nips in behind a flat-footed City rearguard to connect with a cross, but somehow manages to put his header wide when he really ought to have scored. Evidence, though, that it’s going to be our day, perhaps.

By now most of the game is being played out in their half, but we seem quite content not to take any risks. We win a couple of free kicks but too far out for Larsson to have a go. This all changes though with the double substitution on 68 minutes: not so much the replacement of the much-improved Toral with Henriksen, but more the subbing of Campbell, who seemed to have taken some sort of knock, with Dicko. It seems that the ex-Wolf has taken to the field with instructions from the manager to up the attacking tempo – quite possibly because Slutsky could see more goals in the game for City too – and if true it had the desired effect almost immediately, as Dicko picks up the leather from a City break, cuts inside and hares off towards the Birmingham goals. As he reaches the box he’s crowded out by a brace of defenders, but the leather runs loose in the direction of two City men, the first of whom is Grosicki, who without breaking his stride cracks it fiercely into the bottom corner to make it 4-0. Just reward for an impressive performance.

The game is settled now, but we’re not done yet, and indeed the move of the match on 76 minutes brings a fifth for City. Henriksen starts the move, Meyler and Larsson combine and feed it back to Henriksen, who has continued his run into the box and slides home. Sumptuous football, absolutely sumptuous. If Barcelona had scored that goal the pundits would have been purring. If Chelsea or Man City had scored it it would have been shown in every Sky Sports ad break and trailer till kingdom come.

Amidst a background of increasing rancour in the North-East corner, with the Brummies getting a touch feisty and missiles being visible on their passage from one encampment to the other as the police and stewards intervene (apparently they went for a gallop round the hockey pitches as well after the game) Vassell again goes close, steering the leather low past McGregor only for it to come back off the post.

But it would only have been a consolation at this stage, and after Grosicki sees his free kick pouched by Kuszczak with five left the despondency in the beleaguered visiting defence is laid bare when none of them bother to track Larsson, who runs unchallenged onto a fine cross from Grosicki following another silky passing move, and pokes the leather under the exposed Kuszczak.

The ref signals three minutes’ injury time, and in the first of those minutes Brum finally get the consolation goal that only the hardest of hearts would have denied them for their endeavour. Again Vassell is behind the danger. His low shot is kept out by McGregor’s outstretched right foot, it arcs up into the darkening sky and is headed, none-too powerfully, towards the corner of the goal by Gallagher who is following up. Gregsy has got back to his feet by now and – judging by the TV footage – looks likely to make the block……until Dawson sticks out a foot and the leather ricochets off it at a wicked angle – as a cricket ball might do if played with the wrong side of the bat – into the centre of the goal. Surprisingly Gallagher is credited with the goal, because it was a clear miskick by Dawson and it probably would not have resulted in a goal without his intervention.

“How shit must you be, we’ve scored a goal” yelled the away fans. “How shit must you be, we scored it for you”, chorus the North Stand faithful.

Nothing else of incident occurs, the victorious Tigers troop off to that same oddly-restrained applause and Slutsky delivers his trademark bow. We should be as pleased for him as anybody, not least because Peter Swan’s idle speculation in the HDM this week over how long Slutsky would last was frankly disgraceful. Our manager has not just had his hands tied behind his back by the Allams, he’s had his legs shackled, a ball and chain attached to his ankle, duct tape slapped over his chops and a hood made of blackout curtaining tied over his head, and is still expected to produce credible performances. Well, yesterday’s showing was two fingers in Swanny’s face, and no mistake: let’s hope he has the self-awareness to understand that.

But it would be wrong to end such a fine Tigerday on such a negative note, so it’s pleasing to report closure on a personal matter that’s been bugging me for over 50 years. For it was in September 1967 that Birmingham showed us our arses to the tune of 6-2, when I was a City fan of some eight months’ experience. By an odd coincidence six different players – Fred Pickering, Geoff Vowden. Barry Bridges, Johnny Vincent, Malcolm Beard and Bert Murray (Brum had some bloody good players in those days) – found the net for them that night. Nowadays we would shrug off such reverses, but when you’re seven a loss like that pierces your heart and the hurt can never quite be shrugged off. Today though I have peace of mind.

La Nuvola Nera

Hull City 1 Sunderland 1

If ever you want to know what makes a touchline different from a goal
line, or what materials football pitches have to be made of, then read
Law 1 of the rules of association football. It’s not racy, nor is it
unputdownable, and there are nopictures, but it’s handy. Especially if
you’ve just watched a game played on a field with no penalty spots.

No penalty spots. Can you imagine? Actually, you don’t need to. Back in
1977, Derby County were giving Manchester City something of a seeing-to
at the Baseball Ground when a bearded Archie Gemmill was fouled by Gary
Owen in the box. Penalty given, no penalty spot located. The usual April
deluges in the East Midlands had turned the pitch into a quagmire, and
as such the gluey mud had managed to scrub away any previous evidence of
a penalty spot.

A bloke with a tape measure, a bucket of whitewash and a brush walked on
to the pitch (in suit and brogues) and repainted the spot. Gerry Daly
then scored the penalty, 4-0. A very good win for a struggling side
against title challengers that season, and yet the game only has infamy
because there was no visible penalty spot.

City didn’t have the excuse of a sludgy pitch to account for the lack of
penalty spots for the visit of Sunderland. They also didn’t require any,
as no penalties were given in a decidedly average 1-1 draw between two
sides still licking their wounds and rediscovering themselves after
their mutual awfulness of the previous season.

But, you know, no penalty spots. Who’s responsible? Well, we could ask
why the referee, the underwhelming and diffident Darren England, didn’t
notice their absence during his warm-up or, indeed, any time during the
match.

Just to check this, we asked Keith Hackett.

“It’s the responsibility of the officials to check field markings.
Penalty mark is part of that. Amazing if no one noticed. Had they done
so they wouldn’t have allowed the game to proceed without the mark
(correct term in law). Potentially the referee could face a suspension
for failing to apply the laws.”

(We really did ask Keith Hackett).

So, the ref could be carpeted for this, but he’s not the painter, just
the foreman.

Now, far be it from me to suggest that the recent unjust sacking of some
loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this, but I think it’s
possible that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at
the Circle is related to this.

Either their replacements are incompetent, or they are supporting their
predecessors by not doing their own job properly. Like a protest. See if
anyone notices. And if they do, Ehab Allam can be blamed. Because like
it or not, be it incompetence or solidarity, even something as trifling
as the absence of penalty spots can be pinned on the hierarchy being
utterly unable to look after staff, recruit properly and generally act
with competence and care.

Law 1 includes the line “within each penalty area, a penalty mark is
made 11m (12 yards) from the midpoint between the goalposts.” City broke
the law.

Wonder if Ehab can sew mailbags?

Meanwhile, there was a match, and not a very good one, really. Law 3 is
about the players; maybe there’s a sub-head in there, covered in Tippex,
that says “no manager of Hull City is allowed to play Jackson Irvine or
David Meyler from the start of the game”. It could be the only reason
why neither were in the team. Markus Henriksen, devoid of confidence.
Sebastian Larsson, devoid of interest. A Scandinavian axis of ghastliness.

Sunderland, meanwhile, brought their usual noisy lot to fill up E1 while
we continued to pretend nigh on 17,000 were in attendance, with a
straight face. West Upper shut, west lower half empty, pockets of space
everywhere else. And no Jackson Irvine nor David Meyler. And no penalty
spots. We embarrass ourselves on a daily basis.

Booking their 5.15pm taxis to get to the ballet on time were…

McGregor
Tomori Dawson Hector
Aina Henriksen Larsson Bowen Kingsley
Dicko Grosicki

… ish. I’ve no idea, really. 3-5-2 at times, 3-4-3 at other times,
5-3-2 when we were defending, which was often. It was disorganised and
shambolic in the first half. Dicko was far too isolated up front and the
central midfield was in a very sorry state. Nobody really had much of an
idea what was going on.

Henriksen made just the one tangible contribution to the half, when a
smart move within the inside right channel allowed him to deliver a
venomous cross shot that Ruiter managed to parry away as Dicko closed
in. What further attacking there was seemed to happen spontaneously,
with few of the City players knowing where to go irrespective of whether
the ball was theirs or not.

Sunderland, with the acidic Lee Cattermole still in their midfield (it
genuinely shocked me when I saw the teams that Lee Cattermole is still a
thing), were quite tidy in the first half. They had passers, runners and
creators, they were putting the challenges in, they seemed quite well
drilled and positive. Any number of things could have gone wrong to make
them as despondent as City in these early weeks, but it could just be
that they are bruised and cautious following their travails last season.

And they scored early. Shocking goal from City’s point of view.
Possession coughed up, cross from the right, James Vaughan heading in.
Sunderland fans reacted like any self-respecting fans who’ve known
nothing but hardship for the last few years would; they hollered and
capered and gestured as if they knew they might never score again.

Vaughan, the dolt, kicked the corner flag clean out of the ground in the
south east corner in celebration; referee Mr England told him like a
naughty schoolboy to go and put it back again or, presumably, risk a
booking for sabotaging the pitch apparatus.

“You made the mess Vaughan, you can clear it up. And look at me when I’m
talking to you.”

Still, good of the official to notice on this occasion that the pitch
wasn’t fit for purpose.

City tried to get back into the game, but the planned use of Grosicki’s
talent on the left wing was constantly foiled by Sunderland’s ploy,
crafty as it was, to stick two men on Grosicki and boot him in the air a
lot. In the absence of any other method of attack, this became a
depressingly frequent occurrence, and Grosicki cut a thoroughly
exasperated figure by the time the whistle went at half time.

The interval began with boos and ended with cheers, thanks to the
introduction of the People’s David who has always, frankly, been a good
footballer, despite what that gruesome chant says. Meyler replaced
Henriksen, who is probably still refusing to come out of a toilet
cubicle at the Circle even now. Hector also went off as Slutsky
simplified the formation and brought on Toral. In between, someone in
each stand won a season’s worth of pies in the half-time draw. Classy
outfit, us.

We didn’t really showcase any class on the pitch in the second half, but
it did seem that boots had been forcibly applied to fundaments and City
were at least a good measure more urgent. Sunderland dropped, soaked up
the collective pressing and relied on the break to pursue a second and,
likely, clinching goal.

They nearly got it when McManaman hit a shot that McGregor did very well
to palm away, with Vaughan’s rebound well blocked by the buttocks of
Kingsley. Escape complete, although Meyler’s prompting and general
positivity was nearly ruined when he was robbed in his own half, only
for Tomori to get across and swipe the ball and accept the thankful
apology of the Irishman as he cleared the danger.

Sub number three was Fraizer Campbell, on with 20 to go for Dicko,
meaning three ex-Sunderland players were now on the pitch. Campbell
immediately did a bit of heel toe conjuring round the edge of the box
before lifting his left foot shot a tad too high, but his instant
willingness to go for a goal seemed to up everyone’s game, including the
City fans. From this moment on, it was all in the Sunderland half.

Often, when you go a goal down at home, you can tell quite quickly
afterwards whether a game is going to finish with that scoreline. This
felt like a 1-0 defeat from the moment the ball went in up to about the
80th minute here, then the hope – that dreaded, toxic, malign thing
called hope – took over. It felt possible.

Grosicki shot wide, Bowen headed one which the keeper palmed away
acrobatically. Chances. Not necessarily getting nearer to scoring, but
the ratio was growing. Sunderland looked panicky and tired. If they held
on it was as much to be despite themselves as anything.

Then, on 82, the leveller. And it was a combo of subs that did it.
Campbell played an inside ball to Meyler who stabbed it goalwards,
aiming at the near post. Did it get a flick off a Sunderland player?
Possibly. Not that any hoots were given. It was in. 1-1, eight to go.

And a player we really wanted to do well had, well, done well. Well done.

Meyler had another effort well saved and in injury time, both Meyler and
Dawson had chances blocked from corners. Though a winner couldn’t be
found, City were chasing it right to the last second and that bodes well
for future encounters. We acknowledged the plan hadn’t worked, we
restructured, we fought back, we didn’t lose.

Slutsky has had a raw deal but he seems to be the only one who doesn’t
see why Meyler should be in the starting XI. The team is inexperienced,
both in aggregate games played and with one another. By having Meyler
ahead of Dawson and McGregor, we have club stalwarts who can organise.
And Meyler looks like he’s playing properly, too. Unappreciated he may
have been for too long, but currently we are a better club for his
presence, and that’s not something we can say about everyone in the
employ of Hull City.

Reading (a) next, then consecutive home games against Preston and
Birmingham. Hopefully by then we will have Jackson Irvine and David
Meyler in partnership in the middle of the team, and penalty spots in
chiffon white near the middle of each 18 yard box.

Matthew Rudd

Hull City 4 Bolton Wanderers 0

I was unduly worried by the visit of Bolton Wanderers. Worried because though they’re newly promoted and under transfer restrictions, it seemed just our luck that City would go into the game with only one fit striker – Diomande. When Leonid Slutsky named the same team that finished at QPR last week, I was worried further. But I say unduly because Bolton were absolutely garbage and City brushed them aside with atypical ease.

City 3-4-3
McGregor
Dawson – Hector – Mazuch
Aina – Meyler – Larsson – Clark
Bowen – Diomande – Grosicki

It might have been the same names that finished the game at QPR but it was obvious from the first minute that they’d worked hard at the system. The three centre halves were well spread while Grosicki and Bowen played narrow alongside Diomande and left the channels clear for overlapping full backs. Meyler picked up a yellow card for a late challenge after ten mins and then City took the lead and never looked back. Hector went through one of theirs to win the ball off another and then sprung Grosicki on the counter in a style new England call-up Harry Maguire would be proud of. Grosicki drove past Dervite with ease and poked the ball into Diomande who lashed the ball into the roof of the net [1-0]. He’s the butt of all the jokes but Diomande started well with some honest running in behind and good pressing of their centre halves in possession and got his rewards.

McGregor made a decent save with his right boot from sub Pratley who replaced Karacan (who I think was the victim of the Meyler challenge) and then made a far less convincing save with his shoulder after appearing to misjudge a bounce. If Bolton thought they were coming back into the game, they were wrong. A lightening quick counter saw Diomande hold the ball up, play in Grosicki and he delivered from the left with the outside of his right boot onto the head of Bowen [2-0]. A pair of assists for Grosicki who it appears might be a flat-track bully and the Championship has a lot of flat tracks. The cynical amongst you might be wondering why, with six days left in the transfer window and being the only high value player left at the club from last season, Grosicki was putting on a show. I’ve no idea.

If anyone was watching Grosicki, the best was still to come as he received the ball in their half, murdered Dervite for pace again, cut inside and slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner [3-0]. This report can skip on 60 minutes now because that was game over. Bolton, who are as poor a side as we’re likely to see this season, surrendered and made it their mission to escape with just a three-nil defeat. Phil Parkinson must hate the KC(OM) Stadium. City didn’t exactly bust a gut to try and add to the score content to stroke the ball around and take the occasional counter. Mazuch had a decent game on his home debut with good use of the ball and a couple of nice interceptions. Meyler and Larsson in front had fine games too. Larsson showed an ability to make a forward pass that we often lack while Meyler took great responsibility for organising around the middle and passed the ball simply and effectively. It was a mature showing from two of the few experienced pros we’ve got – once Meyler had killed on of theirs like.

Grosicki should have made another chance for Diomande but delayed his pass and the Norwegian was offside by the time it eventually came. Bowen forced a save with a decent shot from distance and then a defender took one off Diomande’s head with the goal begging after McGregor had launched a quick counter and Aina surged 80 yards down the pitch before delivering a near-perfect cross.

Half time: Hull City 3 Bolton Wanderers 0.

The second half was a non-event. Bolton had eleven behind the ball for the most part and City weren’t open to taking risks to try and break them down. Some in the crowd got frustrated but I enjoyed watching us pass the ball around hapless opposition while Hector rehearsed pushing into midfield to make an extra-man when we had the ball and Seb Larsson practiced his diagonal balls from deep positions. A Bolton fan got fed up of watching his team be rubbish and got himself thrown out of the North Stand. City announced a 16,000+ crowd (but only on Twitter) of which about 3,000 came dressed as black seats. There was plenty of anti-Allam feeling expressed by the fans who were there. It didn’t put the players off to the best of my knowledge.

Left back Stephen Kingsley made a Hull City debut for the last quarter of an hour replacing Max Clark and midfielder Jon Toral followed suit, on for David Meyler. Our last sub provided some unintentional comedy as the board went up for number seven and Seb Larsson, who wore that number at Sunderland, jogged off applauding the crowd’s standing ovation only to be told when he got to the touchline that Kamil Grosicki is number seven here. Sorry Seb.

James Weir came on and provided a little bit of impetus for City to finish the game strongly. McGregor made a routine save at his near post from Armstrong and within a minute, Jarrod Bowen had bagged his fourth goal of the season. He made a lovely run in behind the defence and was found by Diomande with a beautiful through ball. Bowen stayed calm and finished like Andy Payton in his pomp [4-0]. He’s the real deal this kid. With the formation allowing he and Grosicki to be lazy without harming the team, they were just far, far too good for Bolton.

Full time: Hull City 4 Bolton Wanderers 0

It’s hard work this first month of the season after relegation. Every defeat feels like a disaster. Signings can never be made quick enough. Every player leaving is a crisis and every player performing well is potentially the next one to go. From out of the darkness of two successive league defeats, a new day dawns and it’s showing promise. There are players arriving to fill the threadbare squad. Most a good age and of sufficient quality to improve. We’re not building a side that will walk through the Championship but one that with a bit of luck and steady improvement should be closer to the top than the bottom.

There may still be one big “crisis” to overcome though. Grosicki is the only player left who I was certain back in June would be sold. He divides opinion, mainly due to his attitude, but there’s no doubt that he has pace that will terrify teams in this division. He might just have come good at the right time for him and the wrong one for us.

Hull City 2 Wolves 3

Good news: I think we saw the best team in the league tonight. Bad news: it wasn’t us.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Wolves at the start of the season. They spent a lot of money last summer on continental players and it never really worked out for them. But this time they look the real deal. It’s not just the excellent players they’ve brought in but they have a top manager in Nuno and he’s got them set up incredibly well. They’re playing a style of football that, particularly away from home in the Championship, is very brave. They played three at the back stretched out almost the width of the pitch while the two wing backs hugged the touchline high up the pitch and stretched City every time the ball went forward. In the middle exploiting the space this leaves they have clever players who can move the ball about well and, as we saw devastatingly for the opening goal, shoot from distance.

City had started well until Neves smashed one past McGregor from 25 yards after six minutes [0-1] but it was already clear that Wolves wing backs were going to be a crucial part of the game and we were already struggling to cope with them. Not for the first time this season our naive young full backs were exposed – in part by the opposition and partly by our failure to protect them up the field. That situation isn’t helped by us only playing one central midfielder. I’m not counting Markus Henriksen. He’s not a central midfielder – he has no effect on games, he doesn’t make a tackle or a forward pass.

I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the manager for our failure to match them tactically. He just doesn’t have any other fit players to work with. Sure, 4-4-2 is no counter for what is almost a 3-2-5 formation but replacing any of the first eleven with those from the bench is far worse a proposition.

We weren’t just second d best on the ball, with Neves dominating for them like Tom Huddlestone as his very best, but we didn’t have their knack of drawing fouls or killing time, with Neves dominating for them like the love child of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rudi Voller.

After Miranda spurned the chance to double their lead after a corner was flicked on to him at the near post, we equalised pretty much from nowhere. Hector met a Donald Trump corner along with a defender and the ball was shuffled away from the far post. We took the resulting corner short, a cross was whipped past Ruddy, headed off the line and Dawson headed it back in [1-1].

That could have been the catalyst for City to push on before half time but instead, we were sloppy in possession, gave them gifts in our half and looked susceptible to a ball over the top to either wing-back. In the end, it was the little winger Enobakhare who picked up the ball on the right touchline, breezed past Hector and laid the ball on a plate for Jota to score [1-2].

Half time: Hull City 1 Wolves 2

Our flaws were there for all to see but fixing them was going to be difficult. We had nothing on the bench to change the game. In similar fashion to the Villa game on the opening day though, the eleven sent back out changed it themselves by getting on the ball, keeping possession and forcing Wolves to worry about us. And they looked nowhere near as effective.

McGregor made a decent, but simple, save from Bonatini’s far post header in what was suddenly a rare Wolves attack. City struggled to find a final ball after getting into key areas until just after the hour a neat move worked the ball to the edge of the area where Campbell exploded into the box, beautifully beat the last man with a neat trick and was denied by a good save from John Ruddy’s out-stretched right arm. If that was close then Hernandez’s thumping header from Clucas’s corner smashing the post five minutes later was tantalising.

We had momentum. Even Henriksen won two excellent challenges in midfield. Then Campbell was subbed off for Diomande and the game went. Again, it’s hard to blame the manager when Campbell is clearly not yet at peak fitness but there is just nothing outside the first eleven and losing Campbell’s effervescence for Diomande’s clunky and clumsy wandering was the sign that this game was over. Worse was still to come when Hernandez jumped to challenge for a good Grosicki cross (not many of them to the pound) and landed awkwardly. He immediately called for the physio who called for a stretcher and Abel went off with a serious looking achilles injury. Shiiiit.

With the referee just about to announce NINE minutes of stoppage time, we made it irrelevant. Typical. Aina was caught in possession in their half and sub Nouha Dicko raced onto a ball into space to finish under McGregor [1-3]. We were awarded a seriously soft penalty eight minutes into the nine added for a foul on Diomande which David Meyler buried into the bottom left hand corner [2-3] but the game was up.

Full time: Hull City 2 Wolves 3

This felt like a game that would let us know how good we are after a comfortable win on Saturday. In the end though, it’s probably not told us anything we didn’t already know. We’re a decent outfit with 7 or 8 quality players. Michael Hector is a classy defender. We’re at least five players short of having a squad anywhere near Wolves’s (they had actual grown-ups on the bench and the manager didn’t pick who came on by playing Ip, Dip, dog shit). We desperately need a left back. Markus Henriksen isn’t a central midfielder. Kamil Grosicki will have games where you wonder if he gives a toss.

And one new one, we desperately need Abel Hernandez to not be injured for six months. Or even six weeks.

Hull City 4 Burton Albion 1

ou forget, don’t you, that a gulf in class between City and an opponent can work in our favour too. For all of its gaudy glitz, a season in the Premier League can be demoralising as the weekly assignments against the significantly wealthier continue without cessation. Back in the calmer waters of the Championship, with fish smaller as well as larger, the scope for dishing it out instead of being a permanent punchbag does possess a certain appeal. And as City pummelled an adventurous but pretty hopeless Burton, we left in a brighter mood than so often last season.

Not that Hull City AFC is a club wreathed in smiles at present. The sight of the whole Upper West Stand closed is a testament to the damage being done by the Allam family, and made for a sorry pre-match spectacle.

Luckily, one man for whom the next beaming grin is rarely too far away is the new City manager, Leonid Slutsky. On his home debut as the Tigers’ manager, he named the same XI that started and improved to draw at Aston Villa a week earlier:

McGregor;
Clark, Dawson, Hector, Aina
Grosicki, Clucas, Henriksen, Bowen
Campbell, Hernández

On the bench was new signing Seb Larsson, and City began the afternoon attacking the South Stand (hooray!).

It was open start, with Kamil Grosicki pinching the ball in the third minute and ill-advisedly opting to conclude his burst down the wing with a shot from an acute angle with unmarked teammates in the middle. Meanwhile, Stephen Warnock – who’d been struggling since a first minute knock – failed to last beyond 3.07pm, limping off to be replaced by Lloyd Dyer.

With the first anti-Allam chants of the afternoon only just subsiding, City took a gratifyingly early lead when a loose ball fell to Markus Henriksen. His fabulous volley hit the crossbar and came back out, where the alert Abel Hernández’s superior anticipation gave him a free header at goal. In it went, via a strong but vain attempted deflection from the exposed Burton keeper.

That began a spell of near total domination, as Burton Albion Brewers – as our own club cretinously renamed them in the build-up – looked close to being totally overwhelmed. Grosicki had a shot blocked after neat play by Fraizer Campbell, but the besieged visitors nearly (and should have) found themselves level soon after. Aina dithered naively on the ball, was dispossessed and Akins’ low shot went past McGregor but was ruled out for offside, erroneously it seemed.

That wasn’t unique, with a disagreeable vein of complacency running throughout City’s otherwise strong work. It became a madly end-to-end affair as Burton grew in attacking intent. McGregor smartly saved from Akins, Hernández fluffed a chance tougher than the one he’d earlier taken, Sordell sent one curling inches wide and Grosicki then wrapped up the 2017/18 miss of the season when rounding Bywater after being released on the right only to then miss the open goal. A crazy match.

It got crazier. More defensive faffing saw City fail to clear their lines repeatedly, and eventually Jackson Irvine was able to bend a superb shot past McGregor into the top right of the goal.

A great finish, and while parity flattered the visitors, they’d probably been worth a goal – City’s mucking around in defence and profligacy up front had badly undone them. Meanwhile, the 473 Burton fans crowed about this sudden and unexpected improvement in their fortunes.

But City weren’t to be the only ones capable of substantial self-harm. With eight minutes remaining before half-time and Slutsky’s charges yet to properly recollect themselves following their concession, Irvine rashly upended Bowen for the second time in the game. He’d seen yellow the first time, and although the City youngster was fully 80 yards from the Brewers’ goal, it looked a promising enough break to warrant a second caution. The Australian international forlornly departed, and the game very much felt City’s to lose.

Save for Grosicki directing a free kick well over, that was it for the half, with both sides appearing content to get to the interval and assess how best to approach the numerical disparity that Jackson’s foolishness had engendered.

Burton’s response wasn’t too unexpected. Nigel Clough deployed his depleted yellows in a 4-4-1 formation, while Leonid Slutsky took the opportunity to capitalise upon Burton’s likely lack of attacking ambition by urging his fullbacks further forward. It was to work splendidly.

On 50, City again began a half with an early goal. It came from the flanks, with the impressive Ola Aina fleet-footedly bewitching his marker before sending in a cute cross with his presumably weaker left. Grosicki determinedly attacked it at the near post, and sent a header bouncing into the far post to make it 2-1. Relief! Even if Burton were unlikely to win with ten, holding on for a point wouldn’t have been impossible, but now they had to chase.

Soon after, their stiff task began to appear impossible. A long ball was partially cleared straight to the unattended Hernández, who instantly crashed a low shot at Bywater. He may have done better with it, though its instant nature and sweet connection made it a challenging effort. Either way, he couldn’t keep it out, and on 53 it was 3-1. Game over, right?

Right. Flanagan replaced Sordell for the ailing visitors, who looked completely winded by their disastrous start to the second half. Campbell missed a chance to get his first City goal in 3,395 days when sending a header wide, but spurned opportunities no longer felt as though they’d materially affect the outcome.

On 68, any remaining doubts were dispelled. Clucas obtained possession in midfield, lost it and then quickly regained it, before threading a perfectly weighted ball to Hernández. The Uruguayan had cleverly found himself a yard of space and his control was perfect, allowing him to hare free of the beleaguered Burton defence. It never felt as though he’d miss, and he didn’t, coolly steering the ball past late-90s City loanee Bywater for his hat-trick and an emphatic 4-1 lead.

That left a quarter of the game remaining, and with the result assured, what to do? Push on for more goals and really put the distressed visitors to the sword, or relax a little with successive midweek fixtures approaching? Pragmatism won the day, with Slutsky swiftly withdrawing Clucas, Hernández and Grosicki for Meyler, Diomande and Larsson. Either way, it was a pleasant situation for the new boss to have.

14,882 was the official gate, incidentally. It felt approximately right, though tellingly it wasn’t announced over the PA system. It was displayed on the big screens though, and precipitated further calls for the Allams to bugger off.

City could and perhaps should have scored more as the cowed Albion prayed for an end to their torment – chances fell to (in no particular order) Clark, Henriksen, Dawson, Larsson, Hector, Diomande and Meyler, and if there are any frustrations to be gleaned from a comprehensive 4-1 win, it’s that City missed a boatload of opportunities throughout the game.

But hey, a 4-1 win! That didn’t happen much last season. Behind the affable exterior, Leonid Slutsky won’t have become a national manager without knowing his stuff, and he’ll know there are things to improve upon. Occasionally lackadaisical stuff in defence, too many chances being frittered away at the other end, coupled with the odd piece of bad decision making.

There’ll be tougher tests than a Burton side who played with ten men for over half the match. They don’t look like a side who’ll be seriously contesting for anything other survival this season. Wolves have won all three this season, beating two fancied Championship sides on the way – they’ll provide a much stouter examination on Tuesday. For now, four points and five goals. That’ll do nicely.

Andy

Hull City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 7

They scored seven (7).

Coulda been more.

We scored one.

Woo.

Make no mistake, this was dreadful stuff, and even though it was the heaviest home defeat in the history of our club, overtaking the 1-6 Cup reverse against Chelsea when at least we could field the excuse that three Divisions separated the two sides at the time, it was a small mercy that Spurs didn’t add more. They strolled through our set up at will for most of the first half and for all of the final quarter of an hour or so, and we really could have shipped ten or a dozen goals here. It was ghastly, though some ‘fans’ in amber and black still felt able to applaud the visitors’ centre-forward as he was subbed off after crashing a hat-trick past us. What do you think this is, a teddy bears’ picnic?

I draw a veil over the footballing bloodshed. Spurs are very good. This was a grotesque mis-match, like putting Dave ‘Boy’ Green in against Antony Joshua, though I fancy the Fen Tiger might have shown a bit more mobility and resilience than did the Hull City Tigers [sic] yesterday.

Who to blame? Relatively few of the players. Elmo has been feckless, N’Diaye has squandered his chance to impress, while Elabdellaoui will fill in alongside Gary Gill in the “o yeah, I’d forgotten about him” hall of fame, but over the course of the season most of the rest did as much as could be expected until injury or superior opposition brought them up short, and at least two, Sam Clucas and Harry Maguire, deserve to progress to proper long-term top level careers plus international recognition. Neither of the managers should be hammered either. No one would dream of criticising Marco Silva of course, despite the collapse suffered across our final three fixtures, but Mike Phelan too deserves credit for creating a viable squad for at least a few weeks during the Autumn after the utterly ruinous summer he was forced to endure. So, who to blame? I think you know. Yes, the owners of the club.

And not only the Allams. We were promoted in 2008 in the company of West Brom and Stoke. Look at what proper management and ownership can do for a football club. Two football clubs with which we can fairly aspire to compete on level terms – two clubs that have left us far behind as they have consolidated the advantages of Premier League status while we have wasted every single morsel of success. It was only in 2011 that the Allams took over. It’s not all down to them. But last summer’s crimes are down to them, most of all to Ehab. To allow a Premier League club to approach a new season scarcely able to fill eleven shirts, never mind a subs’ bench, is inexcusable incompetence or pure malice. And we could never overcome that leaden handicap. But relegation is something that we can endure, it’s no stranger. What is intolerable, and immensely damaging to the long-term health of the club, is Ehab’s utter indifference to the interests of the fans, most of all the younger fans, the future of the club yet actively driven away from its stadium by a vindictive pricing scheme. He delights in alienating the local community, he sneers at the attachment we have to our club, he is accountable to no one. And he is not going away.

Valiant deeds and shrewd management provided us with much to treasure from January through April, but May has been catastrophic. Beginning with that inexplicably limp outing against Sunderland, our team has resembled the cartoon character that keeps running even after it has left the cliff edge until it suddenly looks down and realises there is no solid ground beneath its feet. Reality hits. And so begins the long, long fall to the bottom of the valley.

Question is, how deep is that valley, how long is that fall.

Hull City 0 Sunderland 2

Marco Silva’s impressive unbeaten home record stretching back to March 2014 was shattered in ninety disappointingly tepid minutes at the KCOM – pressure on the players finally told as they bottled it and undid all the good work since Silva’s arrival.

City could have finished the day 5 points clear of Swansea but now find ourselves potentially four points (five, considering goal difference) behind by the time we kick off at Palace. The Swans have hit a patch of form at the right time, and we can’t win away. Selhurst could have been a party next week, but it now feels like a grim day out to a funeral. It’s a whole new magnitude of TypicalCity-ness.

But lest we forget our impending relegation can’t and should not be blamed on yesterday’s result alone, but squarely on the Allams’ incompetent, idiotic and downright vindictive refusal to sanction summer recruitment which ultimately saw Bruce walk in disgust.

In front of a nowhere near full KCOM (slow handclap, Ehab) for this crucial penultimate home saw Silva plump for two up-front:

Jakupovic

Elmohamady Ranocchia Maguire Robertson

Markovic N’Diaye Clucas Grosicki

Niasse Hernandez

It was a bold attacking selection – in truth one called for by many home supporters this season – and probably with an eye on the ponderous and porous nature of Sunderland’s back line. No doubt the pace and guile of both Niasse and Hernandez were sent out to give the beleaguered Wearsiders a thoroughly torrid afternoon.

Sunderland had an early chance as young Mackster Honeymen headed a Jones cross just wide following good work by Defoe.

Not for the first time this season City looked far more menacing down our left wing than our right; Robertson and Grosicki combined well and had a real understanding; their attacks largely had some sort of end product. But it’s hopelessly unbalanced on the right as Elmo (fuck off now) and Markovic fail to combine with any degree of fluency. Markovic undoubtedly has ability, but is sometimes undisciplined and goes hunting for the ball around the pitch leaving is oft exposed.

Sam Clucas was once again pivotal to City’s play, and on 19 mins he was unlucky to see his fine low volley being palmed away by Pickford at full stretch.

City had a penalty shout waved away by ref Swarbrick as Niasse’s overhead kick hit O’Shea’s arm, raised high above his head but hardly deliberate.

But a largely turgid first half was exactly what our visitors wanted. Our recently fluidity had completely drained as the dullest of first halves passed without many incidents of note. City had plenty of possession and obviously the first goal would be key – if we could net it, there was confidence we’d win – but the longer the game went on the more nervous the players, and the crowd, got. For the first time since Silva’s arrival the City players seemingly appeared aware of the enormity of their precarious league position – several froze or didn’t put in anywhere near an acceptable shift (Elmo, I’m looking at you mate).

Goalless at the break, and we reassured ourselves that City are a second-half team….

Jakupovic did well to block Defoe’s effort after a fast Sunderland breakaway, and Pickford saved N’Diaye’s header from a fine Grosicki cross.

Markovic saw his header saved acrobatically by Pickford (again) following Elmo’s cross. Jordan Pickford had a fine match as Sunlan leather custodian and surely one of the few visiting players to be still plying his trade in the Big League next season.

A turning-point as Markovic limped-off to be replaced by Huddlestone, switching Grosicki from left to right in a move that appeared to suit Sunderland more than it did El Tigres. Pickford was again the hero, superbly pushing the ball away one-handed as Hernandez shot sweetly from eight yards.

But on 69 minutes Sunderland score. O’Shea flicked on Honeyman’s corner, and Billy Jones powered a diving header in off the post. He was only six yards out, utterly weak defending from City. Zonal marking my arse, as Joe Royle used to say.

And if the players were nervous before, the goal increased arse twitching all round. Silva threw on M’Bokani in place of N’Diaye and the side increasingly had a whiff of desperation about it. Evandro came on for Elmo (to a chorus of boos from both sets of fans).

In added time Maguire gave away a soft foul wide on our left, and Larsson swung round a low free-kick and bundled home by Defoe, who looked at least a yard offside. Maguire’s positioning to defend the free kick was utterly odd – standing yards away from the potential flight on the ball, nearer to the touchline. Final twist of the knife, and the KCOM understandably empties.

So the math is now simple enough. If Swansea win at Sunderland (more than likely) and we fail at Selhurst (again, probable) we can all look forward to that tasty Burton Albion groundtick next season, and save Sky the trouble of having one of those tortuously-hyped “Relegation Showdown Sunday” shows the following week.

Sam Clucas put in another impressive shift (I suspect next week will be his last away match in a City shirt – and he won’t be the only one – final-whistle shirt-collectors note). Robertson and Grosicki generally looking connected and bright. But Elmo stank out the KCOM, and a fresh start with Odubajo next season is long yearned. The Niasse/Hernandez forward partnership wasn’t that – they appeared total strangers; forwards generally hunt in pairs, building a relationship, but yesterday ours looked miles apart – making totally the wrong runs, with virtually no-linkup between them during the entire ninety minutes.

The post-match news the Allams sacked the volunteer pitch divot-replacers (mid-shift!) after 20 years dedicated service gives Ehab another final negative PR pop on a season which was ultimately destroyed by him before it even began. The tit.

Andy Medcalf