Hull v Leicester
11 men. A Hull City shirt. Pride restored - that was the resounding feeling that overcame the majority of the KCOM Stadium at 2:30pm on Saturday afternoon. For Hull City had just created a piece of modern day history, the first team to beat the reigning champions since 1989, a record which had been undefeated for 27 years. Whilst that is an achievement in its own right, the way in which City managed it, amongst a backdrop of discontent and anger, is nothing short of outstanding.
Pre-season has not been enjoyable. For someone who spends their free time following City around the Country and world, this pre-season has brought multiple long term injuries to key players, a manager who resigned due to differences of opinion with the club owner`s, poor membership sales resulting in our lowest Premier League match attendance, a club who persists in failing to use the name Hull City AFC and a failed takeover resulting in Messrs. Allam retaining control over the club. In addition, the club`s only signing has been a keeper for the future whilst Play-Off hero Mo Diame left to drop down a division with Newcastle United. It would be hard to comprehend how the preparation for the new season could have been much worse.
Mike Phelan had been tasked with organising his team with pre-season results and performances, albeit a defeat to Torino aside, fairly promising. His team selection for the visit of Leicester was remarkably simple - pick the only 11 fit senior players on the club`s books. That necessity saw Jake Livermore have to partner Curtis Davies in defence whilst Sam Clucas took on the defensive midfield role, sitting behind David Meyler and Tom Huddlestone. Adama Diomande was deployed in a left wing role, encouraged to support the lone Abel Hernandez as often as he could.
Leicester were backed by a vocal away support, the "Champions of England" chanted often and loudly, yet is was noticeable that the City fans in attendance were galvanised in full support of their eleven men on the pitch. A pre-match huddle led by Davies gave City a moment to consider the task ahead, the crowd venting their frustrations initially against the Allam regime and then in full support of their heroes, the men whom for 90 minutes can allow us to be distracted from anything which happens away from the pitch.
Even in pre-season, City have looked more disciplined in their shape, focused on a specific style of play and organisation introduced by Phelan. Having seen Leicester`s astonishing charge to the title last season, there is no surprise in how they play. Vardy and Musa have pace so City sought to reduce space in behind whilst Mahrez was tracked well throughout the game, last year`s Player of the Season kept from having the free reign he did against defences last season.
The opening stages were fairly even, Davies flashing a header from a Snodgrass corner past the post whilst Leicester were unable to take advantage of good positions, Vardy aiming an air-kick after Musa had cut the ball back, the only time the Leicester pace men got themselves in behind the home side.
The first big opening of the half came at the end, from Leicester. Left back Fuchs found himself through on goal after some neat interplay, the defender prodding the ball at goal. Jakupovic did just enough to stop the ball going under his body but the loose ball fell to Vardy, the goal gaping. His strike at goal was superbly blocked by a desperate and lunging Livermore before City cleared the pressure, this heroic defensive act earning a standing ovation from the home crowd. Minutes later, the importance of that block was shown.
A Snodgrass corner from the right was whipped in dangerously, Andy King almost heading into his own net. Another corner was awarded, Snodgrass again delivering. Davies, who had gone close earlier in the game, headed to goal again having beaten Morgan to the ball but Schmeichel made a fabulous save, pushing the ball away. As the ball bounced up, both Hernandez and Diomande were in close contention. It what may have been a first for the Premier League, both strikers had the same thought. Both made a synchronised attempt to bicycle kick the ball, both appearing to connect at the same time before the ball hit the underside of the bar and went in. Hernandez celebrated as if it was his goal, the league eventually determining it belonged to Diomande. City lead the Champions at the break.
Fourteen seconds into the second half, that had changed. Mike Dean, a scourge of City in the past for more than one reason, chose to award the visitors a penalty after Huddlestone had clipped Gray following a misplaced pass by Meyler across his own goal. Whilst it was a foul, being a yard outside the box highlighted the error that Dean had made. The penalty was scored by Mahrez as parity was restored, Jakupovic diving to his left whilst the penalty stayed central.
Leicester appeared buoyed, as they had done during the second half with words having been said in the dressing room. City though did not retreat and started to grow into the game again, something which continued until the final whistle. Under Steve Bruce, City would have probably gone more defensive as the game progressed, resulting in more pressure building by the opposition. On Saturday, City continued to press and looking to attack although Phelan was restricted from going defensive by his young and inexperienced bench, City quite unusually choosing to make no substitutions
As the hour mark approached, Schmeichel attempted to restart the game quickly having claimed the ball, his throw to Gray being too quick for the wide man. This allowed Elmohamady to latch onto the ball and exchange passes with Snodgrass with his cross was not dealt with as City`s strikers attempted to make a connection. The ball broke to Snodgrass just inside the area, the winger firing a low volley into the bottom corner to restore City`s lead. For Snodgrass, a man who missed all of City`s last Premier League season due to an injury sustained against QPR on the opening day, it was an apt return to the Premier League.
That goal brought back the vocal home support who had been quietened by Leicester`s equaliser. Leicester responded by gradually introducing more and more strikers, ending with five on the pitch. Apart from a Mahrez free-kick which Jakupovic parried away for a corner and a late effort from Drinkwater, also from a set-piece that the keeper claimed, City were able to see out the game to make their own piece of history.
At the end of the game, the captain Curtis Davies called his team-mates together and they had a second team huddle on the pitch. The players celebrated afterwards, the fans providing adulation to their heroes. Davies led his team around the pitch, the players thanking the fans for their support whilst the fans thanked these eleven men for making a Saturday afternoon enjoyable again. Overwhelmingly, a feeling of pride was bestowed upon those in the stadium for these eleven men had overcome adversity to provide the City with a feel good feeling. Now, for that takeover...