The 200% Premier League Pre-Season: Hull City
Between now and the start of the new season, we’ll be writing up all twenty of the Premier League clubs before it all kicks off again. If you’re here looking for the very latest transfer gossip, though, you’ll likely be disappointed by stopping off here. Quite asides from anything else, it’s the third week in July (a necessity borne of the fact that these have got to be written around work commitments, amongst much else), so most of the transfer rumours circulating at the moment are the result of the fevered imaginations of the sort of fifteen year-olds who spend their lives on Twitter pretending to be agents. Others will be along in the coming weeks to fill you in on that sort of thing.
Between the twin – but very different – thrills of winning the league title and that grand day out at Wembley which results in a play-off victory comes the forgotten triumph of snatching that second automatic promotion place for a spot in the Premier League. There was, for Hull City, no sensational run of form to propel the club up the table last season. Indeed, Hull failed to win any of their last four matches of the season and were as dependent on Leeds United winning at Watford on the last day of the season for sneaking above the dotted line as anything else, and the team’s statistics last season – a total of sixteen league defeats and just sixty-one goals scored, five less than Peterborough United, who were relegated from this particularly barmy division – hint at the probability of Premier League survival being a daunting challenge.
The club has been here before, of course. Hull City supporters will long cherish the memory of the first half of the 2008/09 season, when the team lost just one of its first nine league matches of the season – including wins at both White Hart Lane and The Emirates Stadium – before the reality of their newly elevated position sank in. After beating Middlesbrough on the 6th of December, they won just one more Premier League match for the remainder of the season. Relegation back to the Championship after just two seasons away was the inevitable result of such a run. Four years can feel like a lifetime in football, and Hull City is a very different club to what it was then. Manager Phil Brown is long gone, and the sale of the club to Assem Allam in December 2010 came with a £30m debt hanging around the club’s neck like an albatross and a fall from grace, the likes of which we have seen elsewhere and at more established Premier League names than Hull City more than once in recent years, seeming as likely as not.
In December 2010, however, Assem Allam bought the club, set it back on the financial straight and narrow and, no matter what our opinion might be of the re-branding by stealth that some Hull supporters have eyed with considerable skepticism over the last couple of months or so, there can be little question that the owner has breathed new life into the club. Manager Steve Bruce didn’t spend wildly to propel the club to second place in the Championship, and the club’s relatively even financial keel leaves it in a healthy position going into this return to the Premier League, with at least year’s worth of Premier League television money and – at the very, very least – the prospect of plump parachute payments even in the event of the worst happening and relegation straight back to the Championship coming at the first attempt makes the club’s prospects of financial security that much more likely over the coming years. To put it another way, a repeat of the hangover which followed the club’s last venture into the Premier League is considerably less likely than it was four years ago.
Staying in the Premier League will likely be difficult for Hull City. That much is obvious to the point that it almost doesn’t have to be repeated. Where, though, are the signs of optimism for supporters of the club? Well, he might not be everybody’s mug of Tetley’s, but Steve Bruce is a manager of considerable experience, much of it – both as a player and as a manager – in the Premier League, and this might mean that his team doesn’t fall prey to the naivete that some other clubs have demonstrated upon reaching this level in the past. Furthermore, a couple of his signings have the look of showing promise at a higher level. George Boyd deserves his turn in the Premier League after several years in the Football League following his arrival there from non-league football whilst, at the other end of the spectrum, the former Newcastle United goalkeeper Steve Harper may have had to be prised from St James Park by his fingernails after twenty years of service, but will bring considerable experience to the first team squad.
If Hull are likely to have one problem above anything else next season, however, then the most basic act, scoring goals, could turn out to be a very expensive achilles heel to bring into the Premier League. Sixty-one goals in the Championship last season tells its own story, and the club has reacted to this by seeking to bring in Yannick Sagbo in from the French club Evian, whilst it has also been suggested that the Honduran midfielder Wilson Palacios, formerly of Wigan Athletic and Tottenham Hotspur, and currently – for the time being – of Stoke City might be arriving at the club soon. Another experienced Premier League player, Palacios may well be keen to prove a point after making just four appearances from Stoke from the substitutes bench last season.
The Football League Championship is a brutal league, a forty-six match long slog in which the most slender of margins ended up deciding who won and who lost, and to finish on second place on it requires a very particular skill set. Because of this, nature allows for mistakes to be made, but the Premier League doesn’t make these allowances and Hull can certainly not afford to drop points in the way that they did last season. With just thirty-eight league matches next season against stronger opposition, there will be little room for errors, and the shortcomings that Hill displayed at time last year cannot afford to be repeated should the club wish to remain in the Premier League for a second successive season this time around.
That said, however, there is clearly plenty of flotsam and jetsam in the bottom half of the Premier League, and to write off any club before a ball is even kicked would be foolish, to say the least. None of this is to say that the club won’t find survival in the Premier League enormously difficult, of course, and Steve Bruce’s target for the season will be to end it in seventeenth place in the table, but it can be done and the momentum that promotion brings means that, with a strong start, the club definitely has a chance, and Hull City supporters might well reflect that just being there is offering the club a degree of stability that would have seemed like a pipe dream three years or so ago. It should be a warming thought, and Hull supporters might need all the consoling they can get throughout a winter that is likely to prove to be very difficult indeed.
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