Hull City Season Preview: tough summer

Steve Bruce’s exit last July appeared to be the first sign that all wasn’t well at Hull City. The club suffered relegation from the Premier League after just one season, as supporter David Morley discusses.

Bruce’s exit came at a time when the club had just been promoted, and should’ve been well underway with making signings, and making a fist of staying up in our first season back in the Premier League. Clearly all was not well when during an interview Bruce was asked about the lack of signings, and his answer was “ask Ehab”. The pre season was a shambles, and we started the season with virtually half a squad. The team clearly worked as hard as they could to grind out results, hence the win on the first day of the season against then champions Leicester. The fans were in constant protest throughout the season, some choosing to stay away completely. Deadline day saw some signings, but most fans agreed that the signings made were nowhere near good enough to keep us up. Mike Phelan tried his best, and most fans were sad to see him leave, but with results not picking up and the brand of football he was getting the squad to play being so poor (Middlesbrough away springs to mind) it was inevitable. The Christmas period saw us bottom of the league, and the rest seemed a formality, relegation all but confirmed at Christmas.

Marco Silva arrived and the owners seemed to realise the error of their ways by bringing new signings in in January, but ultimately it wasn’t enough and we were relegated. A year on and we appear to be making the same mistakes as last year, plenty of transfer talk but at the minute we haven’t made any permanent signings, but plenty have left. The atmosphere around the club is toxic, and although we have brought a new coach in, and I’m sure he will bring in a few key signings (if the owner allows it), and if some players do stay, there is very little to be positive about at the minute.

You looked a more composed outfit under Marco Silva than under Mike Phelan. What did he do to improve confidence?

Marco Silva was a breath of fresh air, he approached the game differently to anyone else I’ve seen at the club. You could see during pre match warm ups that it was completely different to the usual possession knock about you see during most pre match warm ups. The players echoed this and in turn the results changed. Our style of football changed massively than the negative, boring football played under Phelan, we actually had a go and tried to score more than the other team as opposed to putting 11 men behind the ball and trying to sneak a 1-0. The signings he made obviously changed the team also, but overall we looked much more comfortable under Silva. The counter attacking style seemed to suit the players more (thinking back to goals against Liverpool, Middlesbrough, and some of the football against United where it was fast paced, one touch passing up the pitch).

However, even if we stayed up, I firmly believe Silva was using us as a stepping stone to bigger things, and although we will never know if that was the case, we all wish him well at Watford.

Incoming manager Leonid Slutsky has a high pedigree, but limited experience of managing non-Russians. What do you make of the appointment?

It’s a very strange one. I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about him other than his roles with Russia and CSKA, and I’ve no idea if he fully understood what he was walking into with all that is going on at the club. However, he seems to have prepared for the role with him spending a lot of time learning the language, and also following football from every division, only time will tell if it is a good appointment or not. As with Silva, I think he’s here to move on to bigger things.

Leonid Slutsky is a close friend of Roman Abramovich. With Ola Aina arriving on loan, could that relationship be of benefit?

I think most fans are hoping that we see a few more of the young Chelsea stars arriving at the club in the next few weeks. Having a friend at the top of the Chelsea ranks can obviously help us if indeed we do want to negotiate for some of their players, but previously we have had strong links with other top clubs, Manchester United and Spurs being the most obvious ones. You could argue that the players we signed both on loans and permanently from these clubs helped us to gain promotion and also solidify our premier league at different points in our history, so another link to a top club in England is a huge advantage.

You’ve got Allan McGregor, Eldin Jakupovic and David Marshall in your squad. Three reasonable goalkeepers for Championship level?

The goalkeeper position is definitely our strongest and most in depth position. At the time of writing Jak is supposedly heading to Leicester for a medical, he’s a firm fans favourite so everyone will be gutted to see him go. David Marshall was given a very hard time from the off by fans, bad luck and bad form saw him dropped and we’re yet to see a decent performance from him. McGregor is a fantastic shot stopper but is very poor with set pieces, he would be my number 1 as it stands. 2 very good goalkeepers for this level though.

Harry Maguire and Curtis Davies have left for the East Midlands while fellow centre-back Andrea Ranocchia is back at Inter. How important will the experience of Michael Dawson be this year?

If Daws stays (a very big if), he will be the man that holds everything together. His communication will be important and I’m sure the young players will learn huge amounts from him. I’m sure any team in the Championship would love to have him in their squad, and if he is handled right and doesn’t experience any injuries, he will be an ever present for us this season.

Andrew Robertson is linked with Liverpool at the time of writing. Do you need another left-back?

Robertson was one of the players that did himself justice last season, and we’re happy to see him go on to bigger and better things as long as we get a decent price for him. Josh Tymon was tested in the Premier League and has had success playing with his age group England squad, and would have been perfect to step up after Robbo’s imminent departure. The owners showed themselves up yet again by offering him peanuts, and now he’s moved on to Stoke, which I’m sure anyone would have done in his position. Another left back is needed, but to be fair we need at least 10 players in other positions also.

Only seven central midfielders in the Premier League made more successful tackles than Sam Clucas (60) last year. Did he come out of that season with some credit?

Clucas was immense last year, and he started reaping the praise of fans and pundits towards the end of the season, and rightly so. He still has a lot to work on but he works hard, puts himself about and can play in a number of positions. If we keep hold of him (there are some suggestions Newcastle would like him), he will be vital to our success this season.

Tom Huddlestone has joined Davies at Derby though while David Meyler doesn’t start too often. Another midfielder needed?

I’m gutted about Huddlestone going, for me he’s the best passer of the ball I’ve ever seen in a city shirt, he was so calm on the ball and plenty of fans are sad to see him go. We need a good creative midfielder if we are going to bounce back from last seasons disappointment, and Meyler could see more game time once he bounces back from his injury. We also have Ryan Mason to come back from that horrible injury, and we have no idea when that may be, or if he’ll be anywhere near the same player. Some midfielders are definitely needed.

Kamil Grosicki had some good games on the left last year. How do you assess your wide options?

Grosicki was a good signing, he gets people excited, he’s direct and skilful. We’ve needed a player like him for years. If he wants to stay he could be fantastic this year, he just needs an end product with either his crossing or shooting. We never really replaced Robert Snodgrass on the right last year and I’d like to see us attack down both sides rather than just be a one trick pony.

Abel Hernandez got 20 goals at this level a couple of years ago. Can he re-discover some form in the Championship?

Unfortunately it’s another case of if he wants to stay or not. If you believe the rumours all of our players have shoddy buy out clauses in their contracts, so it would surely be down to the player if he wants to stay or go. He didn’t really get a good go of it in the premier league, Oumar Niasse was great in the second half of the season but he did get a couple of goals, I’m sure if he finds his goal scoring touch he could repeat his efforts from our last season in the championship. He needs the wingers to pick him out in the box, that’s where he gets his goals.

Does the shortage of signings offer an opportunity to some of the academy graduates? I hear forward Jarrod Bowen has some potential…

One of the things Bruce got right when he was at the club was pushing for the academy to be progressed and developed, Bowen is one of the graduates from that and he did very well in games last season, the thing I liked most was his desire and you could see that it meant something to him playing for the club; which has been missing from the team in recent times. If things stay as they are then plenty of youth players will get their chance, Max Clark is another one who could push through this year after a successful spell at Cambridge last season.

What are your thoughts ahead of the Championship season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

The Championship is becoming an extremely tough league, and it seems to become more competitive each year, with more and more teams pushing for play offs and higher. The quality has also improved recently, both players and managerial choices such as Rafa Benitez staying at Newcastle last year; we have Slutsky this season and there seem to be more coaches and players that some perceive to be “better” than the Championship, which will ultimately make the standard better. There are plenty of Yorkshire teams which will mean more derbies for us; it should make it more interesting for us and for some fans they prefer it to the premier league!

The dark horses for me are Derby, they are recruiting well and they’ve got two players who have done it before with us; Davies and Huddlestone will be fantastic squad players for them.

Where will you finish?

It depends on the owners. If they decide they want to stop asset stripping and start running the club as if they care, we could push for the play offs providing we keep our current squad and add to it significantly. However if we carry on selling players for pocket money, and only bring in the odd loan player, we will end up in League One come the end of the season.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

Hull City have boardroom unrest and a manager who has never worked outside his home country in charge of an ever-diminishing squad. Dawson if he stays and Grosicki should do well in the Championship but a lack of depth puts the Tigers in the worst position of the relegated clubs. 14th