Ruthless Derby expose Hull’s Plan B shortcomings

derby celebrate

Hull 0-2 Derby – www.dcfc.co.uk

Bouncebackability – a term once coined by former Hull City boss Iain Dowie – is not Hull City’s strength. Under Steve Bruce’s management, the Tigers have only won one game after going behind since September 2013. That one win came in the Premier League at Sunderland on Boxing Day last year.

Hull City are a disciplined side. They like their players to be disciplined, to sit back, to avoid taking risks. For a start, this is not entirely a disadvantage. It is part of the reason why, prior to kick-off against Derby on Friday night, the Tigers were top of the Championship having conceded just 6 goals in their last 16 matches. At the same time, it is this very mentality that Bruce has fostered which stops Hull getting back into games when they fall behind.

There was a sense of hesitancy about his side’s play on Friday night. The players did not know when to switch the ball to another flank, when to challenge for a ball, when to press and when to break into the box. They were outfought, outthought and even at times outplayed by a Derby County team that played with a much greater sense of bravery and instinctiveness.

The difference between these two teams on the night was evident in the first 10 minutes. Derby full-backs showed a willingness to push forward early on and Cyrus Christie fashioned a chance for himself in an audacious solo run. The former Coventry man cut inside from the right and his shot from inside the box was blocked by Hull’s Harry Maguire.

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Harry Maguire – www.hulldailymail.co.uk

Centre-back Maguire was one of Hull’s best performers on the night. The former Sheffield United man read the game well, looked comfortable on the ball and showed surprising leadership qualities for his age of just 22. Another candidate for the home side’s man of the match was Allan McGregor. The Scot is among the best goalkeepers in the Championship and it showed in the early stages, as McGregor showed good reflexes to stop one deflected shot and a close range header from Chris Martin.

Hull’s defence was getting penned in under pressure from the Rams. The team rarely had the confidence to close Derby’s attacks down and when they did, they did not do so with any aggression or cohesion. As well as pressing disjointedly, the Tigers rearguard looked surprisingly error prone. Speaking afterwards, Bruce said that his side made more sloppy mistakes in the first half of that match than they had previously all season.

Hull did not get striker Abel Hernandez into the game. The Uruguayan showed clever movement on the night but in the first half, his teammates too often refused to look for him and play the ball into his feet. Hull were often slow to move the ball into dangerous areas, too much of their football being played between their centre-backs, Curtis Davies and Harry Maguire. They did not use their wide players often enough, with Derby doing a good job of forcing their play inside.

Derby scored a deserved opening goal after 18 minutes through Jacob Butterfield. In-form Andreas Weimann, starting as an inside forward on the left, went on a superb solo run before the ball broke to Butterfield, who tucked the ball into right-hand corner. After taking the lead, Derby sat a bit deeper and allowed Hull to have the ball. Midfielders Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone offered no drive or dynamism in possession while Mohamed Diame was frustrating to watch, providing a couple of exciting, driving runs but not sustaining his involvement in team play. All in all, Bruce’s men struggled to accelerate into the final third, as Derby defenders stoically held their positions.

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George Thorne – www.derbytelegraph.co.uk

That pattern of play continued until the 34th minute, when the Rams got their second goal. It was Butterfield again on the scoresheet, the former Barnsley man deftly guiding the ball home from the edge of the box after a left-wing cross. Butterfield will no doubt get the headlines for Derby’s win, but a lot of credit must go to George Thorne. The holding midfielder stayed deep each time Butterfield and Hendryck went forward, allowing the attacking players to get forward with more freedom. Thorne’s discipline was, perhaps indirectly, a factor behind the energy, movement and flair that the Rams were able to show in forward areas.

Hull had conceded two goals in thirty-four minutes, when it had taken them eight games let in their last two goals. This arguably demonstrates the quality that, after a £20.5M+ summer spending spree, Derby have, in comparison with other Championship competitors who did not have what it took to unlock Hull. The Rams were clinical in front of goal, showing the kind of ruthlessness that made them look – and potentially become – a class above Championship level.

In spite of this blog’s questioning of Steve Bruce’s defensive methods, his decision to change Hull’s shape did coincide with an increase in the tempo of their football. It was particularly noticeable that Shaun Malone, anonymous for much of the first half, had more of an influence playing further forward. The East Yorkshire side were able to create a few more two-against-one situations out wide and push Derby further back.

However, the hosts were left to rue poor shooting, as they failed to make pay a spell of pressure towards the end of the first half. Hernandez’s improvised near post effort came closest to beating Scott Carson, but the former Aston Villa goalkeeper showed good positioning to stop the shot.

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Moses Odubajo – www.hullcitytigers.com

Moses Odubajo started the match at left-back, an unnatural position for him, given that the defender spent the entirety of Brentford’s successful play-off season last year at right-back. It may be no coincidence, therefore, that the former England U20 man had a greater impact on the game when moved to the right, with Ahmed Elmohamady instead in the challenging left-back slot.

From then on, Odubajo got forward on the right flank on a couple of occasions and became one of Hull’s livelier attacking outlets. The former Leyton Orient man’s cross from the right found Hernandez, but the striker’s light touch did not have a strong enough impact on the ball’s momentum. There was a need for Hull’s midfielders to be a bit braver when the ball went into the box. The crosser, often Odubajo, was normally banking on one of two or three designated attacking players getting a touch, which made the situations easier for Derby to handle.

Abel Hernandez was the player spearheading any of Hull’s moves and more work from the former Palermo man led to a chance for Shaun Maloney. Hernandez’s delicate flick found the Scot, whose shot was saved by Carson. The attacking duo were to link up once again shortly after, however. Due to his brute strength, Hernandez drew Derby defenders towards him in the box and the ball broke to Maloney, who fired over the bar.

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Stephen Warnock – www.derbytelegraph.co.uk

After that chance, though, Derby kept their shape as Richard Keogh and Stephen Warnock boldly marshalled the defence. While Hull tried to work the ball into the box from the right side of the pitch, their play was one-dimensional and they lacked width on the opposite flank. Christie got forward well for Derby in the first half, but he demonstrated his defensive capabilities in the second. The right-back negated the threat posed by Sam Clucas on the left and given that Elmohamady showed a reluctance to get forward from the left, Christie had a comfortable evening.

Despite the introduction of the often speedy Sone Aluko and Chuba Akpom on 75 minutes, neither player had a great impact Hull were running out of steam in the latter stages. Derby managed the game well and slowed the tempo down when needed, making it harder for the hosts to play with the energy they needed. In fact, it was the visitors who came closest to getting a second half goal. Another period of team pressing from Derby saw the ball fall to Tom Ince, who fired wide. The winger struggled to impose himself on the night and the former Hull player was negatively received by the home crowd.

The host’s final hope of getting back into the contest came when they got a corner with five minutes to play. Ahmed Elmohammady’s right wing delivery was flicked on by Harry Maguire before Abel Hernandez and Sam Clucas got in each other’s way, as the latter blazed the ball over the bar.

At that moment, we knew for sure that the three points would be heading to the East Midlands. Derby County defended well and their victory saw them leapfrog Hull as league leaders, as head coach Paul Clement is looking increasingly comfortable in the hotseat at Pride Park. The Rams have a tough run of fixtures ahead, with eight of their next 10 opponents being currently in the top half including three more contenders for the top two. However, if Derby can repeat Friday night’s performance on a consistent basis, they will establish themselves as a major Championship force.

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Steve Bruce – blogs.independent.co.uk

Hull, on the other hand, perhaps missed key personnel including Andrew Robertson, a left-footed full-back who might have offered the Tigers natural width on the left flank. However, there is also a need for Hull to alter their mentality, because while they showed flashes of attacking promise, they were unable to sustain the intensity of their play and did not get enough men in the box. Staying deep and leaving two or three attacking players to break is a good enough tactic for Bruce’s men when they are winning games. When they are losing them, however, more audacity and boldness is needed from the promotion-chasing Tigers.