Mid-Table Obscurity Beckons. Given How Our Season Has Gone, That’s a Success - Notes for Hull City
Friday, 29th Mar 2019 10:30 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game at Portman Road by delving into their forums.
“The season is effectively over. There’s nothing to play for. Work on contract renewals, blood a few youngsters and try to work on our away performances”, “We will need snookers to make the play-offs, just don’t mention them again”, “Talk of promotion is nonsense. We’re nowhere near ready.”
Hull arrive in Suffolk with all the hallmarks of a mid-table team with nothing to play for in March. At the start of the month they were four points off the top six, but three poor displays and one point in the three games before the international break have effectively killed any lingering play-off hopes.
For many Tigers, the season has exceeded their expectations. “This season really has been so much better than anticipated. With a little bit of investment, we could have gone up much to my surprise”, “We should be drawing up contracts, identifying targets and starting all the leg-work for summer.”
“I’m not too bothered about results now that we are safe”, “I never expected to be in the play-offs and that expectation hasn’t changed. I am happy going along in the Championship while we sort out the club’s ownership problems because we won’t get promoted without decent investment.”
“I dread to think what team we will be putting out next season.” Most fans are worried about life in September with the cushion of parachute payments. “The frustrating thing is that we aren’t off the best teams in this division but will finish mid-table and the team will be dismantled in the summer.”
“We will be a million miles away from this season next year. The team potentially will lose Jarrod Bowen, David Marshall, Kamil Grosicki or Markus Henriksen”, “Many important players will be out of contract, the club have missed extension deadlines and contracted players will no doubt move on.”
“Adkins and his team have overachieved massively this season”, “I reckon the Allams [Hull’s owners] did sign a bargain basement manager but luckily he reverted to the Scunthorpe or Southampton version rather than Reading or Sheffield United version. For that, I’m happy to give him immense credit.”
The 54-year-old replaced Leonid Slutsky in December 2017 and has won the respect of many Tigers for creating a settled and balanced team following relegation from the top flight in 2017. He will be out of contract at the end of the season and the renewal of his contract is seen as a huge priority.
“What now for Adkins? It’s striking that the North Stand have sung his name as soon as home games have started. No matter how this season ends, it won’t be in relegation that looked possible or even inevitable. He’s doing a really brilliant job and deserves better than procrastination from his bosses.”
“He must know he’ll have a reduced budget to work with and a squad stripped of everyone saleable. The Allams set City up for a relegation battle this season, and it’s only because of the efforts of the manager and his players that we thrillingly pulled clear of it but for a long time that looked unlikely.”
“The Optimist.” His upbeat manner in interviews and a hesitancy in making substitutions have been a source of minor criticism. “It’s hard to know what he says at times. He talks in riddles”, “I hope he stays. His public utterances so far indicate a willingness to stay, but frustration is clearly mounting.”
“I don’t blame Nigel Adkins in particular. His squad is made up of players who are here because they fit the owners’ budget. The back four sums our club up”, “Defensively we are a complete mess at the moment. We rarely have the same back four and don’t have enough good defensive midfielders.”
“We play a strange game, pressing in attacking areas and not in defensive areas. It’s only ever going to end up going one way employing these strange tactics”, “A word Adkins likes to use is ‘robust’ but I think that’s a work that would be the last that springs to mind when describing most of our squad.”
“It’s basically a case of us having to outscore teams.” Tigers have contrasted their settled and potent attacking quartet with an unsettled and injury-blighted back four which has leaked 11 goals in their last three away games. They rely on pace rather than physicality, playing on the counter if possible.
“When contemplating January signings, remember that for every Pugh there’s a Ridgewell.” Marc Pugh’s creative passing has helped City’s attacking play, but Liam Ridgewell’s lack of pace, coupled with the January recall of centre-half Tommy Elphick by parent club Aston Villa, has caused problems.
“Why are Eric Lichaj and Todd Kane on the bench? It doesn’t make much sense.” Tigers’ reaction to the backline when the starting line-up for QPR (above) was announced was familiar, as Adkins has regularly chopped and changed his defensive personnel in an attempt to get an effective balance.
“You need five consistent and competent defenders who aren’t permanently injured to get through a season. Some defensive pairings in the Championship have been together for years. This area has been shambolic all season and has really cost us”, “The biggest mistake was not replacing Elphick.”
Keeper David Marshall and centre-half Reece Burke have been mostly solid with an occasional lapse, but the return of Jordy De Wijs, who missed the last two games with illness, would strengthen the heart of the defence, as the veteran Ridgewell has struggled with the pace of Championship football.
Stephen Kingsley is a decent attacking left-back but he has found life tough defensively, so Adkins switched right-back Eric Lichaj across to replace him.
Right-back Todd Kane has struggled in particular against high-intensity opponents while youth product Robbie McKenzie is still cutting his teeth at this level.
“Markus Henricksen’s ban is a blessing in disguise because he has been dire for the last two weeks.” The Norway international will complete a two-game ban on Saturday after picking up a tenth yellow card in City’s defeat at Norwich but his habit of “backing out of challenges” has often been criticised.
Adkins has been praised for Kevin Stewart’s improved form as a solid defensive pivot at the base of midfield. Jackson Irvine’s heading and industry have been important in setting up attacking moves, but the midfield has struggled when dominated by high-pressing or more physical opponents.
“The wingers become peripheral if our central midfield becomes dominated.” Pugh has become the first-choice central attacking midfielder. He is more suited to the pace and physical play of football in the Championship compared to the more technically capable but lightweight Brazilian Evandro.
“The attacking quartet of Bowen, Pugh and Grosicki behind Fraizer Campbell is strong and settled.” The pace and finishing of City’s wingers, who like to cut inside on their stronger feet, is a danger. Left winger Kamil Grosicki has improved as the season has progressed but his end product is inconsistent.
In contrast, the threat of 21-goal right winger Jarrod Bowen can’t be overstated. His pace and lethal left-foot finishing in particular can conjure goals out of the slightest opportunities and most Tigers are resigned to losing him this summer. David Milinkovic is an industrious left-wing bench option.
Tigers are so full of praise for the hard pressing and selfless running of striker Fraizer Campbell that it is easy to overlook his 11 goals this season. The poor pace and finishing of two-goal Chris Martin have led to him being very heavily criticised, along with Nouha Dicko who is currently a fringe player.
Hull 2 – 2 QPR
“Well, that’s a let-down. It doesn’t really matter as we’re safe but it’s very deflating for everybody”, “Deja bloody vu. If there was a game of two halves, this was it. A poor game and poor opposition as QPR were there for the taking”, “After schoolboy defending at Norwich, we stooped to a new low.”
Jarrod Bowen put Hull ahead on seven minutes, steering the ball into the far corner and he added a second on 44 when he chested the ball down and volleyed it home. Josh Scowen’s cross crept inside the post on 62 to pull a goal back for QPR before Tomer Hemed levelled six minutes from full-time.
“Predictable”, “QPR were poor, and they fell apart when we pressed them, but we gifted them two comedy goals, gift-wrapped with a pretty ribbon and a bow on top”, “It felt like the game needed to be changed in the second half. We were a mess defensively, but Adkins didn’t do anything about it.”
Norwich 3 – 2 Hull
“It’s hard to score twice and still get no points”, “Norwich could have had about seven or eight goals. You score two goals away from home and expect to get a share of the points, but alas our defending was abysmal. They looked like world-beaters against our static defence”, “That was really painful.”
Marco Stiepermann opened the scoring for the hosts on 11 minutes when weaving into the area and guiding the ball home. Emiliano Buendia tapped in a second for Norwich on 14 but Marc Pugh pulled one back for Hull on half-time with an excellent touch and finish after an error from keeper Tim Krul.
“We seemed to give the Norwich left flank acres of space. They knew our weakness and exploited this.” Buendia made it 3-1 after an hour following a one-two with Teemu Pukki before former Canary Chris Martin headed in a Tigers’ consolation goal on 87 minutes. “Bloody hell, Martin has scored.”
Norwich gave both of Hull’s full-backs a tough night, while Henriksen who also was in the starting XI (above) was criticised for missing several important challenges. Adkins also moved Irvine to the left flank where his industry and greater defensive awareness that Grosicki should have helped Lichaj.
Tigers had some interesting thoughts on the Canaries. “Norwich weren’t great at the back and will struggle if they don’t spend heavily reinforcing the defence”, “Given the high number of chances Pukki wasted, he looked a typical Championship striker who may make no impact in the top flight.”
Nottingham Forest 3 – 0 Hull
“Forest win the battle of the substitutes. The better side won but I didn’t think we were three goals worse”, “Normally a 3-0 defeat would have me raging, but times have changed here so that I really couldn’t care, I never thought I would be apathetic about our results”, “Forest did have Pele!”
Substitutes Joao Carvalho on 72 and Karim Ansarifard on 76 minutes made Forest’s dominance pay before Joe Lolley added a third from the penalty spot on 82 after Jack Colback was fouled by Markus Henriksen. Fans of both sides were in broad agreement that the scoreline flattered the winners.
“We needed more composure in the middle, we gave up possession too often.” Tigers were happy with the back four when the starting line-up (above) was announced, but many felt that the lack of steel protecting the defence with Stewart’s absence allowed the hosts to dominate the midfield.
Goalkeepers and Defenders
“I won’t bang on about David Marshall, but his performance in the QPR game was poor.” The 34-year-old ex-Celtic, Norwich and Cardiff keeper “was poor for us in that game but he’s much improved this season”, “An unflappable organiser whose saves have helped keep our noses in front in games.”
David Marshall (Cardiff)
“Adkins has got Marshall performing like a goalkeeper should”, “Confidence has played a huge part in his turnaround this season”, “He has looked shaky in moments, sometimes failing to get near to crosses he comes out for”, “He can be slow and ponderous releasing the ball but this is improving.”
“Eric Lichaj does not, repeat, does not lose 50/50s.” The 30-year-old former Villa and Forest right-back is “a proper no-nonsense full-back”, “He’s not exactly a full-back who overlaps and gets crosses in, but he is needed in games where we really need to stand up to physical and aggressive teams.”
“It’s good to have a dependable player like Lichaj who can play anywhere across the backline”, “The mystery was why he didn’t play against QPR. He could have been an extra defender”, “I am less keen on him playing on the left, but nowadays wingers are more likely to come inside on their right foot.”
Eric Lichaj and Clayton Donaldson
“Todd Kane is a tenacious defender who plays with a lot of energy.” The 25-year-old Chelsea loanee “is not the worst tackler in the club and is reasonably mobile. Given time he gets his head up and will find a team-mate”, “I’m not sure he’s a full-back as his positioning gives opponents too much space.”
“Todd Kane has the first touch of a dry stone wall”, “He struggled at Norwich and was a disaster in the Leeds game in October, but he doesn’t hide”, “He slows a lot of our fast-passing moves down, dwelling on the ball with far too many touches. He doesn’t seem capable of one-touch football.”
“It’s about time Robbie McKenzie was rested.” The 20-year-old youth product “got mullered by QPR’s Eberechi Eze”, “He’s too lightweight and his distribution is really shocking over more than five yards”, “He needs to add some bulk as well as an experienced partner to put an arm around him.”
“I thought Stephen Kingsley might have turned a corner, seemingly it’s the wrong corner.” The 24-year-old former Swansea left-back “has had some stinkers and been roasted by wingers”, “He loses the ball or stands admiring his man rather than closing him down, giving him far too much space.”
“Kingsley is a useful attacking full-back who creates real uncertainty in opposition backlines with his overlapping, helping Grosicki down the left and creating a few attacks”, “He hasn’t been at the races in some games this season and he got away with a number of errors against Ipswich in September.”
“Get Jordy De Wijs back in at centre-back.” The 24-year-old former PSV centre-half missed the last two games through illness. “He shores up the defence and brings some stability, he’s solid as a rock”, “He especially likes aerial battles and wins them”, “He shores up the defence and is getting better.”
“For a big bloke De Wijs doesn’t half put in some powder-puff challenges at times”, “He makes the occasional mistake but it has been a steep learning curve for him”, “He’s a confident and assured lad who makes the odd error now and again be it a miskick or a misplaced pass but he’s finding his feet.”
“Liam Ridgewell seems to be having problems getting to grips with the pace of games.” The 34-year-old one-time Villa, West Brom and Birmingham man arrived in January as a free agent from MLS side Portland Timbers. “About as good as we could have expected in January with our financial backing.”
“Ridgewell is so slow that Chris Martin could catch him”, “I can’t see Adkins improving Ridgewell at this stage of his career”, “When in control of things, he organises the defence and pings long balls all over the pitch”, “He is just so past it and looks poor”, “He’s slow, laborious and not good enough.”
“Burks has been the best of a shaky back four, he has seamlessly slotted in.” The 22-year-old July signing from West Ham “has come on in leaps and bounds since the start of the season”, “He is turning out to be a cracking player. If his form keeps on improving, he could be worth a fortune.”
McGoldrick holds back Reece Burke (Bolton)
“Up against some big strikers, Burke wins every header and he brings the ball out well too”, “He is so imperious at the back. We might find a few interested glances from other clubs this summer if he keeps playing well”, “If he fills out, he’s going to become a cracking Premier League centre-back.”
“It’s good to see Kevin Stewart developing into the player we thought we had bought.” The 25-year-old ex-Liverpool man “has been instrumental in our improved form since November”, “The number of times he broke up play at Norwich was amazing”, “He has been a colossus in our central midfield.”
“Nothing goes through Stewart when he anchors the midfield. “He runs his blood to water, and his interceptions and reading of the game are excellent”, “Adkins deserves credit for turning him into a proper player.” “I lose count of the number of tackles and interceptions he makes in some games.”
“Jackson Irvine has amazing energy and industry, he’s a workhorse who never stops.” The 26-year-old former Burton man “is ubiquitous, winning every header and playing some great through balls”, “He has a terrific work rate and never stops, always getting a foot in to break opposition moves up.”
“Irvine wins all his headers and battles hard but he lacks quality further up the pitch”, “He can play on the wing but is nowhere near as dynamic as Grosicki there”, “He buzzes around like a long-haired buzzy thing but if we are relying on him to tackle for us, I fear for us. He struggles in physical games.”
“Watch Evandro closely and you will see how he finds space where there is none and uses the ball intelligently. He’s one of the most skilful players I have ever seen in a black and amber shirt”, “He never gives the ball away. We haven’t got anyone with his ability to find space, which is top drawer.”
“When Evandro is on the pitch we need a grafter in the middle to complement him.” The 32-year-old ex-Porto man “should play when we want control possession”, “If midfield is dominated or if it isn’t an open game, he wanders around aimlessly”, “He is the new Jimmy Bullard without the baggage.”
“I have to say that Marc Pugh is excellent.” The 31-year-old January loan arrival from Bournemouth “is a class act and a good dressing room character”, “The one thing he lacks is that he isn’t genuinely quick and he never has been, but put him in a system that suits him and he’s one hell of a player.”
“A player who gives his all with a good step-over and Cruyff turn. He’s mainly right-footed but plays on the left. He provides a goal threat from inside and outside the area and is a decent finisher. He works his backside off and has a great attitude. He’s definitely making us tick better in midfield.”
Wingers and Wide Midfielders
“Has Adkins lost the plot? David Milinkovic, the headless chicken, is on.” The 24-year-old Franco-Serbian left winger was on loan at Hearts last season. He was dropped from the squad for Hull’s Norwich game in November for turning up late. “He is not the like-for-like replacement for Grosicki.”
“A risky replacement signing.” Milinkovic was also given a straight red card for dissent in an U23s game against West Brom last November. “He closes players down on the ball like a man possessed and others quickly follow his lead”, “In recent cameos he has looked tricky with fancy footwork.”
“Kamil Grosicki has actually turned it around. He’s a team player, playing with a smile on his face.” The 30-year-old Poland international and ex-Rennes winger “does try to create things but he should bury his chances”, “His big weakness is his one-footedness, it’s so easy for defenders to tackle him.”
“If Grosicki made the right choices consistently he would be the player he thinks he is”, “If he was even slightly less wasteful, he would be an incredible player”, “He makes a difference as his running on the break keeps defenders on the back foot, but sadly he’ll never fall into the ‘finisher’ category.”
“It will be a long time before we get to see another Jarrod Bowen. His type come along once in a generation if you are lucky”, “He is on 21 goals, a truly exceptional return for a player who isn’t an orthodox winger. With 35 goals in two seasons, he has proved that he isn’t a one-season wonder.”
Kamil Grosicki and Jarrod Bowen (Hull City)
“Opponents are running scared of Jarrod Bowen.” The 22-year-old one-time Hereford United man “is being hailed as the English Arjen Robben”, “I don’t think the comparison with James Maddison is unfair”, “We would be in such dire straits without his goals because few come from anywhere else.”
“Derby and Blackburn took a similar approach to shutting Bowen down with the same outcome. He was forced too deep to be effective”, “He was unusually absent in that Derby game”, “He is on fire at the KCOM Stadium but is not so prolific on the road”, “He has been stamping goals like a machine.”
“I would like to see more of Nouha Dicko. He can finish and he makes defenders work, but his recent cameo against Millwall was a huge disappointment. He ambled around the pitch in a pretty aimless manner and hardly put a challenge in. His total contribution was one good wide run and a header.”
“Adkins has been unable to get Dicko firing.” The 26-year-old ex-Wolves man is a peripheral figure at present. “I like him, but he’s far better suited to a front two with a big-man, little-man combination”, “When you have him to come on and turn a game, you know you’re up the creek without a paddle.”
“Not long back from the Villa game. Martin was dire, I have never seen a worse frontman in a City shirt in recent years. He could have made Aaron Mclean look like Messi. He didn't jump for headers or make runs. He was knackered, holding onto the goalposts trying to catch his breath at the end.”
Reading's Vito Mannone and Derby County's Chris Martin clash
“Goal machine Martin.” The 30-year-old loanee from Derby “seems a bit of a Marmite player”, “I don’t remember him touching the ball in one first half but recall him falling over twice”, “He’s good with his feet and has a great ability at drawing fouls and penalties but he can’t keep up if we break.”
“He is supposed to be a burly centre forward who wins headers and brings others into play, but he has done none of this, He is second to most headers, sometimes he’s not even in the same frame as the ball and he has the turning circle of a large boat. I hear he’s a finisher, but he has missed sitters.”
“His lack of pace means he can’t attack crosses the way Campbell can and his lack of mobility means he doesn’t make runs to offer an outlet or press defenders”, “He has different qualities, like holding the ball up and winning it in the air, but his first touch is poor and the guy just never seems to jump.”
“Fraizer Campbell is such a pest and has such an intelligent footballing brain.” The 31-year-old ex-Manchester United, Sunderland, Cardiff and Palace striker “is the king of niggle. He just never stops running and he dishes out some tasty challenges”, “He ruffles a few feathers, Harassing defenders.”
“It was great work by Campbell closing down Norwich’s dodgy Tim Krul for our first goal”, “He plays like a man possessed at times but ends up too isolated up front and needs someone to play off”, “He is hopefully likely to stay next season, given that he’ll score and play more for us than anyone else.”
Tigers’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“Ipswich at the weekend. They have won three times all season, lie an impossibly distant 13 points from safety and will be in League One next season. Even overhauling a stricken Bolton Wanderers to finish in the top 23 looks like a tall order for the Championship’s longest-serving occupants.”
“Do we need to brace ourselves for some world-class Typical City, or are we finally about to reverse this patch of poor form away from home? Hmm.”
With little riding on the outcome, the game is of academic interest for many Tigers. “A match between a team that’s sunk and a team that’s sinking!”
“Last but not least, credit to Will Keane, he scored again! He rescued a point in extra time for Ipswich against Stoke, stopping the Potters gaining three points on us. Get in Will, I always knew there was a player in there.” Few expect the Town loan striker to return to Humberside when this season ends.
“A player that has had the length of time out injured that Keane has had will need a few months of playing regularly to get up to speed. Paul Lambert seems pleased with his all-round game, so let's see how he finishes the season off.”
“Keane has been unlucky with injury and for that reason has never had a run if games to get into any sort of form. I hope he goes on and does well, as I still feel there is a player in there. We have never seen the best of him. He just needs a run of games, which he appears to be getting at Ipswich now.”
Photo: Action Images
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