From play-off contenders to mid-table obscurity: Hull City’s season is unravelling in the most chaotic of ways


Travelling home from Hillsborough on New Years Day, Hull’s sleep-deprived supporters were yet to feel the after-effects of the night before.

Sitting one point outside of the top six and recording their third consecutive win, the Tigers charge at promotion was gathering speed.

A new year often acts as a point of change in an individual or a collective’s life, hoping the passing of a time can provide a clean slate or a fresh bill of health. But for Hull City football club, they wanted much the same. They wanted a play-off charge.

Its now February and a month after Big Ben bonged. It was also the day and Sheffield the scene of Hull’s last taste of victory. Hull are now three points down from this time last season and regression, amidst the chaos, is the overriding feeling.

On Saturday, they managed to halt a four-game losing run against Reading. But the lacklustre nature of their performance seems a glaring contrast to those in the first half of the campaign. While Grant McCann classed his side’s performance as “determined,” there was no disguising the crux of an irritated mood.

For the 691 supporters who made the 432 mile round trip from East Yorkshire, mid-table security beckons.

Photo: Martyn Haworth/Focus Images Ltd

The dire nature of the display was compounded by an injury to captain Eric Lichaj, who becomes Hull’s 12th casualty currently on the sidelines. Injury gloom and the deadline day departures of 16-goal man West Ham bound Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki to Championship leaders West Brom, have weakened what was an already vulnerable side.

This means priorities now change. Despite the loan signing of highly-sought after forward Marcus Maddison, Hull’s season, which showed promising early season signs, is unravelling at a tumultuous rate.

Yet for McCann its a case of as you were. Arms crossed on the Madjeski sidelines for the most part, occasionally breaking up his rigid stance with hands in the pockets, McCann refused to let Hull’s damning drop-off affect him, in front of the media anyway:

“In what we set out to do I thought we were in control,” he insisted. Teams are going to have spells against you in the Championship, but the response of my team showed great determination.”

Losing two of his most significant players, most managers would have reasonable cause to feel aggrieved . Whilst his characteristics hardly resemble that of a typical Mourinho-style press-conference rant, the Northern Irishman continues to swat questions away in his dulcet, soft tone.

At his third club as a manager yet still in his 30’s, enduring doubts continue to loom over McCann’s managerial abilities. In fairness, his team’s display at Reading was hardly a performance any manager could be accountable for.

Perhaps a moment that was symptomatic of Hull’s turgid, laboured performance came in the 28th minute. While the minutes before that were seldom spell-bounding, George Honeyman, the former Sunderland captain, managed to epitomise the bereft lack of quality within a single moment.

Unmarked, Honeyman played a simple six-yard pass, so compulsory local kids in the park could do it, to Reading’s Yakou Meite. It prompted a brief show of anguish from Grant McCann, whose rational arms folded, cerebral manner was momentarily replaced by a turn away in disgust and proceeded by a gesticulation to the bench.

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Hull were punished 5-1 last week – Photo: Getty Images

Unforced errors of that nature are usually down to the confidence of the players, where even the most simple pass can be over-complicated in a footballer’s mind. The usual run of the mill exercises they practice every day in training suddenly become complex, ambitious tasks that can no longer be done on natural instinct.

Grant McCann made six changes to the starting lineup from their 5-1 home hammering to Brentford seven days prior. The wholesale changes endeavoured to patch-up a makeshift defence who had four first-team defenders struck with some form of injury (five now after Lichaj’s). Callum Elder was wheeled out of the treatment room to fill the left-hand side while the inexperienced Sean McLoughlin was recalled from his loan spell at St Mirren and made his first start in the Championship.

For the supporters who made the arduous trip to Berkshire, they were subdued for the most part. From a team that were full of verve and spite in their ways, fans were now watching their team playing not too lose, rather than take the game to the opposition.

To compound matters, it was against a struggling Reading side who also had not won since New Year’s Day. But McCann objected. “We frustrated them,” he said afterwards. “You could see that with the quietness of the stadium.”

That’s now the mindset of McCann and his side and their performance was indicative of that. It’s now one of frustrating an opponent, rather than a proactive one. Still, it wasn’t just the home supporters who contributed to the library-like atmosphere.

Nonetheless, Hull’s defence were stern and simple in their defending, understanding their limitations. They were narrow and compact for the majority, exclusively defending the width of the 18-yard box. If the ball went out wide, the winger would track back, enabling the full-backs to stay tucked in. This often resulted in the team finding themselves as a six at the back, with the 6ft 3′ stature of Tom Eaves cutting a forlorn figure up front.

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Photo: Lancashire Telegraph

It is conceivable that McCann was forced to solely focus on his men’s defensive solidity, given the recent injury and form woes, yet the offensive aspect may be in more of a precarious position.

Before Saturday’s match, Hull had scored 42 goals. 23 of those came from Bowen and Grosicki, equating to just over 54 per cent. But they were now gone. Not only did the club lose their most prolific duo, they were taken at the worst time of all.

It’s true they had brought in Marcus Maddison to claw some sort of decorum back, but when a team loses their stars, in the final moments of a transfer window, the hangover can leave lasting affects.

Heightened by the fact that McCann employed a defensive low-block 4-3-3 system against Reading, goals and thereby excitement for the rest of the season, will be hard to come by. Hull fans already knew this though, perhaps an underlying reason for Saturday’s muted atmosphere.

The Tiger which has been emblematised on the orange and black crest through the annuals of time, is now little more than an image rather than a meaning. A season which began flavourful of confidence, determination and leadership, much like the characteristics of the animal on their badge, has become timid and despairing.

The roars that were heard at Hillsborough are now little more than a tame ripple of applause.

Hull City continue to be engulfed in a ruthless, sometimes volatile Championship where a lack of direction can prove overwhelming. From play-off hopefuls to mid-table ambiguity, the Tigers from Yorkshire are the league’s lost men.


About Author

Football, Boxing and Cricket correspondent from Hampshire, covering southern sport. Editor and Head of Boxing at Prost International. Accreditated EFL & EPL journalist.

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