Writer: Matt Wilson
Date:Sunday August 25 2013
The return of Barclays Premier League action to East Yorkshire saw a number of talking points as Hull City recorded their first points of the season in a 1-0 win over Norwich City.
Having seen his side struggle in their return to the top flight in what was a difficult assignment at Chelsea, Steve Bruce was fully aware of the need to pick up three points against Norwich with a run of "easier" home games providing an appealing opportunity to pick up points early in the season.
Steve Bruce opted to make two changes to the team that started at Chelsea. David Meyler and Danny Graham were the players forced to make way in order to allow the inclusion of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore into the three man midfield alongside Robert Koren. That allowed Robbie Brady to move into a more natural wide position whilst Yannick Sagbo was favoured in the central striking role.
For Norwich, Leroy Fer was handed his debut, starting as an attacking midfielder in behind Ricky Van Wolfswinkel. Robert Snodgrass was named on the substitute`s bench after recovering from a groin injury whilst Sebastian Bassong did not recover in time to feature in the back four.
Former Hull City defender Michael Turner was a starter for the visitors in defence.
Having gained a credible 2-2 draw at Everton on the opening weekend, Norwich managed to create the first opportunities in the opening stages of the game with City again taking a few minutes to settle, allowing Norwich to threaten twice early on. First, Leroy Fer headed a cross from Whittaker wide of McGregor`s goal before the impressive Nathan Redmond, who was Norwich`s main threat in the game, saw his long range effort parried away by Allan McGregor to his right.
City`s front three again inter-changed and swapped positions as they did at Chelsea; Aluko, Sagbo and Brady creating fluid movement in attacking areas. City looked best when Aluko could influence the play more centrally rather than from out wide, evidenced as he created City`s first chance of note. Livermore played the ball into Aluko who exquisitely controlled and back heeled the ball through to Livermore, who had by now continued his run and who was behind the Norwich defence. On his left side, and with just Ruddy to beat, Livermore chose placement rather than power but could only guide his effort narrowly over the bar.
The chance inspired City and their next opportunity led to the goal. Huddlestone sprayed the ball out to the waiting Elmohamady on City`s right hand side. The Egyptian had just one target in the area being Yannick Sagbo, but his cross was just too high for the forward. Referee Mike Jones however adjudged that former City defender Michael Turner had pulled the striker down, giving City the opportunity to take the lead from the penalty spot. After a delay involving Robbie Brady having to re-spot the penalty, the winger calmly sent John Ruddy the wrong way to side-foot the ball to the keeper`s right and to give City the lead.
Norwich forced a corner in an immediate response and felt aggrieved that, as Michael Turner went down under pressure from Curtis Davies, he was not awarded a penalty having been culpable himself just five minutes earlier. As Jones dismissed these protests, there was soon need for the referee to take further action as Yannick Sagbo and Russell Martin clashed on the edge of the area. The Ivory Coast forward was seen to thrust his head towards Martin, failing to make contact but showing enough intent according to the referee to warrant a red card. With in excess of an hour still to play, City would have to hold onto their advantage with ten men.
Quite noticeable in not just the remainder of the first half but the game as a whole was how well City played with ten men. Steve Bruce has created a side that is comfortable on the ball and despite the opponent`s numerical advantage, City could retain possession well in order to alleviate pressure from their defence. Still, Norwich would be expected to have and did have opportunities. At the end of the first half, a free-kick from Redmond from 20 yards was directed over the wall and clipped the outside of McGregor`s near post, the closest the opposition had come to finding the net so far.
Norwich introduced Robert Snodgrass at half-time in an attempt to improve their attacking threat. The away side increased their tempo too in search of an equaliser but this allowed space at the other end of the pitch. Whilst City could pass the ball around with comfort, the pace and trickery of both Aluko and Brady ensured that opportunities did arise, even if City`s counter-attacking play often failed at the last hurdle with an over-hit cross or slight misunderstanding between players in the final third.
The second half demonstrated further the ability that City showed in their second half display at Chelsea. The defence was solid - especially Curtis Davies who was imperious in defence despite taking a nasty cut to his head whilst on the left, Maynor Figueroa did a sterling job in nullifying the threat posed by Robert Snodgrass. With the fans deriding his every touch, the former Leeds midfielder struggled to make any impact.
The referee also contributed. A series of rather tame free-kicks against both sides ensured a stop start game, helping perhaps City more so than Norwich who were often disrupted in their attacking moves, allowing the City defence and midfield to create two solid banks of four.
Redmond was still Norwich`s brightest threat and he created the visitors best opportunity of the second half. His cross from the left found record signing Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and with his header being directed powerfully at goal, McGregor produced a wonderful finger-tip save to divert the ball over the bar. Apart from a couple of long range strikes from Jonny Howson, Norwich created little else despite the introduction of debutant Johan Elmander as Houghton changed his formation to go two up-front.
City gradually introduced fresh legs into a tiring side in order to keep the game tight. Aluko, Koren and Brady were replaced by Boyd, Graham and Rosenior as City sought to hold on. Boyd and Graham had an opportunity to add a second but failed to capitalise on a two on two opportunity as time elapsed. As time ticked past the 90 minutes, six added minutes was notified. Norwich become direct, seeking to deliver the ball forward quickly but the City defence coped brilliantly, Davies often heading any danger clear as City were able to record a much deserved and vital first three points of the season.
What did we learn?
The resilience shown by Hull City was a delight to see, especially against a side who have retained their Premier League status for the past two seasons and who have invested upwards of £20 million this summer in order to move to the next level and a potential top ten finish. Despite that investment and undoubted quality that Norwich possessed in their starting eleven, City did very well to prevent Norwich any real opportunities, most of their efforts coming from distance. When Norwich did get closer to goal, McGregor continued his impressive form, producing stunning saves to keep his clean-sheet intact.
The partnership of Curtis Davies and James Chester in central defence continues to grow with the former producing a man of the match display. Bruce was also vindicated in his decision to start Livermore and Huddlestone in place of Meyler and Graham. The midfield trio worked much better and although that is partly because of the lower quality of opposition than compared to that of Chelsea, it was a performance befitting of an experienced Premier League team.
The game provided much encouragement and although Manchester City is unlikely to yield any points, Bruce`s side will head into the international break with points on the board. The visit of Cardiff City to the KC Stadium next represents another good opportunity to increase our points tally and few would complain should City sit on six points from their opening four fixtures.
Date:Sunday August 25 2013
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|Hull City||0||-||1||Crystal Palace|
|9. Man Utd||14||6||4||4||4||22|
|10. Aston Villa||14||5||4||5||0||19|
|12. Hull City||14||5||2||7||-6||17|
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