Season Preview 13/14: HULL CITY

by Chris Quinn

Robbie Brady HullThree years after being relegated from England’s top-flight division, Hull City make their return.

A 2-2 draw with champions Cardiff on the final day of last season’s campaign was enough to secure their automatic promotion spot – but only as Watford lost 2-1 to Leeds on the same day.

A 40/1 shot at the start of the season, new manager Steve Bruce set about fixing his side’s problems from the previous campaign – goals. The signing of German striker Nick Proschwitz, who topped the scoring charts in his native second division the season before, for over £2m was meant to address the drought – but Bruce’s more expansive style led to goals across the team.

Slovakian midfielder, and Tigers captain, Robert Koren topped the goalscoring charts with nine, whilst Sone Aluko bagged eight goals.

Bruce surprised many of his counterparts in the division by experimenting with his formations throughout the season. His take on a 3-5-1-1 system allowed midfielders to break forward and wing-backs to advance, safe in the knowledge that two holding midfielders were in the centre to cover.

Hull chairman Assem Allam was born in Egypt and brought a feel of Africa to East Yorkshire by signing a triumvirate of compatriots on loan; Ahmed Elmohamaday, Ahmed Fathy and Gedo. Only the former has been signed on a permanent deal after winning the club’s player of the year title.

Last season: 2nd (Championship)
Odds: 750/1
In: George Boyd (Peterborough United, free), Maynor Figueroa (Wigan Athletic, free), Curtis Davies (Birmingham City, undisclosed), Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland, undisclosed), Allan McGregor (Besiktas, undisclosed), Steve Harper (Newcastle United, free), Danny Graham (Sunderland, loan), Yannick Sagbo (Evian, undisclosed).
Out: Sonny Bradley (Portsmouth, free), Danny East (Portsmouth, free), Seyi Olofinjana (released), Jay Simpson (released), Andy Dawson (Scunthorpe United, free), Mark Oxley (Oldham Athletic, loan).

What’s new?

As well as Elmohamady, Bruce has opted for further Premier League experience by signing former Wigan defender Maynor Figueroa , Birmingham defender Curtis Davies, striker Danny Graham on loan from Sunderland and veteran ‘keeper Steve Harper from Newcastle.

Also through the entrance this summer are former Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor and Ivorian international striker Yannick Sagbo.

Further talk of Wilson Palacios rejoining Bruce, who signed the Honduran when at Wigan, and Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, who played under Bruce at Birmingham and Sunderland, is evidence that Bruce is going for high calibre players that he is familiar with.

The influx of defenders at the KC Stadium meant there were going to be casualties in the existing squad and that has come in the form of Jack Hobbs, who has joined Leicester on loan. Striker Aaron McLean is also expected to exit.

Bruce’s desire for familiarity and experience could see the prospects of youth players being ignored this season, so a loan move to Blackburn Rovers should do Tom Cairney the world of good.

However, do not expect many more signings at the KC. Bruce has mentioned that he is keen to give the likes of Stephen Quinn, George Boyd, Aluko, David Meyler, James Chester and Robbie Brady the chance to prove themselves in England’s highest echelons:

“There’s lads who haven’t quite made it at the highest level for whatever reason but they’ve watched it and said ‘I’d love to have a crack at that. They have proved themselves as top Championship players. But now they have to prove they are Premier League players. I am convinced they can. They will make a good fist of it,” Bruce told the Hull Daily Mail recently.

Tactics/starting XI

Bruce’s success last season, and desire to give the same players a chance this campaign, should lead to the Tigers sticking to their 3-5-1-1 formation of recent times. Graham will be tasked with leading the line, with a plethora of midfielders capable of supporting.

In the hole behind him, any one of Aluko, Boyd and Brady can support, with Quinn and Koren pulling strings from a deeper position. To assist in midfield, one of Corry Evans or Meyler can provide an anchor.

Chester and Davies should complement each other well in defence, with Elmohamady and Figueroa filling the wing-back roles.

Key player

After signing permanently following an impressive loan spell, George Boyd has been longing for a step up in class and should relish the opportunity. Scoring twice on his debut against Birmingham, including in the first minute, Boyd has shone in his amber kit so far and his role in behind Graham could be pivotal to Hull’s survival.

The Tigers’ defence seems to be their strong point, so creativity may be harder to come by. Boyd’s technique is not in doubt, nor is his tireless running, and with a little more time on the ball that is afforded by stepping up divisions, Boyd could be in his element.

Keep an eye on

It was fair to say that Danny Graham didn’t have the best of times at Sunderland. Signed for a relatively large fee after fleeting and goalscoring substitute appearances for Swansea, the boyhood Newcastle fan was always going to feel the pressure whilst playing for the Black Cats. Graham is a good finisher with clever movement, but his ability to hold the ball up whilst the Tigers swarm up field could be one of his key roles.

Another new face, Curtis Davies, has been desperate for another chance in the Premier League. Davies has been impressive for the past two seasons in the Championship and has looked a Premier League player in waiting. Signing for West Brom and then moving to Aston Villa for £10m may have come a bit too soon for him; but now he is playing regular football, the tiny errors have been eradicated from his game and his pace and ability to read the game make him a top-flight defender. He also chips in with goals from set-pieces, as his tally of six last season shows.

Opening fixtures

A trip to Stamford Bridge is not the easiest of starting points, but the Tigers will be looking to rain on Jose Mourinho’s return parade. Hull’s first points of the season may come in the next fixture as they host Norwich before setting off on the road again – this time to face Manchester City.

A battle between the Championship’s top two teams last season kicks off September as Cardiff visit the KC Stadium.

Bruce has predicted that Hull will surprise many onlookers this season and a win against his boyhood club Newcastle in game five would likely raise a few eyebrows.

Where will they finish?

A lot depends on Graham and the Tigers’ attacking abilities, but their stringent defence should keep them in enough games. Hungry players who are looking to step up from the Championship can often hold their own and Bruce’s faith in the aforementioned set of players breeds confidence.

It will be tough, but they can avoid relegation – just.

BPF Prediction: 20th