It always seems easy for fans, pundits and bookmakers to forecast the three promoted teams of the English Premier League as relegation candidates. These clubs come into the highest tier of English football and face considerable odds in ‘staying up’ and forging their own brand and identity. The EPL is definitely the toughest league in the world but as we have seen so far in the first seven games, a ‘minnow’ can mix it up with the established clubs in the division. While it is early days with only seven games played, one of these ‘minnows’ has already left an impression and sounded a warning to the other clubs in the division that they should not be underestimated.
HULL CITY RESULTS
I have been very impressed with manager Steve Bruce and the Hull City side which is in eighth place in the table on 11 points. Although they had a slow start where they struggled to put away scoring chances, they have settled into a very competitive outfit. Hull has lost to Chelsea and Manchester City and drawn with Cardiff City and Aston Villa. They have beaten Newcastle, West Ham and Norwich on their way to their top half of the table position.
Steve Bruce was very successful in last years Championship division using a 3-5-2 formation which utilized the creative talents of midfielder Robert Koren. This season he has generally used a 4-3-3 sometimes shifting to a 4-4-1-1. Bruce impressed in the one nil win over Norwich when Sagbo was sent off, setting up his team behind the ball in a compact manner which gave Norwich very few goal scoring opportunities and saw out a one nil away victory. Bruce has a bit of a reputation of making his sides tough to beat. I suspect this will be a trait of Hull City this season as well.
TOM HUDDLESTONE’S INFLUENCE
Whilst watching their first game against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge I noticed that they were being overrun in midfield and were not using the ball very well. They could have been four down at the interval but played a decent second half where the introduction of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore settled them down. Hull City had better ball possession in the second period and Chelsea retreated somewhat into their defensive block knowing they did not need to chase the game. Huddlestone’s calm silky passing style from deep changed the game by restoring parity to the midfield battle and it was clear that he would be an important player for Hull this season. His ability to spray the ball around and get the attacks in gear have impressed and he certainly will benefit from playing with a side that is built around him rather than at Tottenham Hotspurs where this was not the case. Huddlestone’s club manager Steve Bruce has already tipped him for an England national team recall. He may not be the quickest player around but surrounding him with terrier like ‘shuttlers ‘ makes for a balanced brew in midfield.
Huddlestones’s presence and passing ability combined with the industry of Livermore and the commanding displays of club skipper and defender Curtis Davies have made Hull a tough side to oppose. Left footed midfielder Robbie Brady has also impressed with three goals thus far and his directness, pace and excellent set piece ability will be invaluable to Hull this season. A recent hernia problem and resulting operation have threatened to slow him down but the club is hopeful that he recovers during the current international break.
While it is early days yet in the EPL, Hull City has done well at this point to compete with established sides in the division. Just to put it into another perspective, some of the so called smaller sides in the league like Southampton and Norwich are investing in 15 million pounds signings so the work is cut out for Hull City to achieve this season. Hull may lack a top class striker but I suppose there is always the January transfer window to address this need. They did try to sign striker Shane Long from West Bromwich Albion at the end of the transfer window to address the deficiency up front but were rejected in the last hours. Nevertheless, the early signs look good despite the injury setbacks suffered by defender James Chester and midfielders Robert Koren and Robbie Brady.
Not bad so far for a ‘minnow’!