It was a tensed playoff final when Hull City locked horns with Bristol City at Wembley 12 years ago. They were struggling for survival in the Championship when Phil Brown succeeded Phil Parkinson and accepted the managerial role at KC Stadium back in December 2006.
A host of youngsters were standout all throughout the 2007-08 campaign en route to scripting an immediate turnaround, but the fairy tale was written on the day when 39-year-old club legend Dean Windass found the winner with a volley from the edge of the box to secure top-flight football for the first time ever.
Rise And Demise Of Football Romanticism
The Tigers defied the odds to survive an immediate relegation and impressed many with their headstrong and fearless approach against the big boys of the English game. However, the second-season syndrome hit them severely as they went down in 2010, finishing 19th in the Premier League standings. They witnessed a couple of promotions afterwards, but the decline in the recent past has been hard to swallow with one of the pluckiest English outfits now set for League One football 15 years later.
Hull have never been a financial superpower. Rather they were on the brink of liquidation in 2010 when Egyptian-British business Assem Allam stepped in to save his hometown side. The appointment of Steve Bruce saw them reclaiming a Premier League spot along with a dream FA Cup run that ended up in a 3-2 heartbreak against Arsenal in the 2014 final at Wembley. Although the Allam family did extremely well in restoring stability before earning a promotion, the name-change saga led to massive catastrophe resulting in a chaotic outcome.
Shambles And Shockers
Neither the owners succeeded in replacing the historic “Association Football Club” with “Tigers”, nor did they manage to lure in high-profile players like the others did to earn a stable mid-table status in the top tier of the league pyramid. Instead, rifts with the likes of Bruce and Nigel Adkins damaged their reputation, while the decision of retaining Grant McCann despite finishing rock bottom caused controversy and fans’ outrage for genuine reasons.
Having said that, McCann alone is not responsible for the decline. The players let down the manager too, particularly in their 8-0 humiliation against Wigan Athletic. They were only four points off third place during New Years’ Eve but endured 16 defeats in the final 20 games including a 3-0 final day defeat versus Cardiff City.
“I don’t want to see anybody lose their job, but it has got to come down to the manager. He’s got to ask himself questions, he’s got to ask his staff questions. And at the end of the day, players have got to say ‘I have let you down’. Do they really care anymore? I don’t think they do.”
Windass was spot on while speaking to talkSport following the Latics game. He even offered to manage his boyhood club for ‘nothing’. However, the gamble of relying on young McCann is indeed something we are not really accustomed to in the modern-day game.
Dubious Decision Or A Calculated Risk?
In an ideal scenario, such decisions deserve plaudits for the spirit of the game. But is it a wise move at all in today’s football? Questions would rightly be raised about McCann’s credibility and competence of managing a club of Hull’s calibre. He is a budding manager who had an exquisite spell in charge of Doncaster Rovers before plying his trade to the East Riding of Yorkshire. The promises exhibited in the early months helped him earn an impression in the Championship circuit.
“We’ll be a very high energy team and we like to play on the front foot. We’ll be open at times but it will be fun to watch. The players will enjoy playing in the formation and we take risks. I’m a firm believer that, if you don’t take risks, you don’t get anywhere. When we don’t have possession the team will work hard to win the ball back with a high press and real energy all through the team. That will bring us success, I’m a firm believer in that, and we’ll work hard on that every day in training to make sure it comes to fruition.”
This is what the Northern Irishman said after being appointed Hull’s head coach last summer. His high-pressing and energetic display guided Doncaster to an unanticipated playoff place finish before being knocked out from the semis by Charlton on penalties.
The gameplan and vision he implemented was a joy to watch when on song, but the ‘open at times’ term became way too familiar week in week out as the Tigers finished the season conceding 87 times, 5 more than Luton Town – the only other side that conceded more than 80 times.
The numbers during his Doncaster regime were not impressive either. They were the third-worst defensive side behind Oxford and Peterborough United among the top-half League One outfits and the frailty at the back saw them failing to defend an extra-time lead against Charlton in the playoff semifinal return leg tie. Darren Pratley hit back seconds after John Marquis’ strike before the Addicks gunned down the Rovers in the tie-breaker.
McCann did not learn from his mistakes though and despite a busy summer, the gaffer failed to replace the experience and expertise of Kamil Grosicki, Jarrod Bowen, Fraizer Campbell and David Marshall. Grosicki and Bowen, in particular, left on the winter deadline and the failure to find quality alternatives led to this shambolic breakdown. Injuries and fitness woes troubled them too, but the strategy of relying on lower league stars collapsed miserably when it mattered the most.
Intent Over Outcome?
Why the Allams retained his services then? Many might find it bizarre, however, the 40-year-old has a lot to offer in the forthcoming future. The owners would struggle to find a high-profile name to manage Hull in the third-tier and the decision of allowing McCann to rebuild from the scratch makes sense from certain perspectives in spite of all the dissent and protests in the aftermath of the demotion. The pressure will be on the manager as well whose career is at stake and the aspirations of managing a top-flight side would suffer a massive setback if he fails to attain an immediate promotion in the 2020-21 campaign.
Although we have seen him preferring a 4-3-3 set-up during his brief coaching stint, the Tigers boss must find a Plan B to turn things around when things are not in favour in a 46-game season. He should focus on recruiting an outright defensive midfielder to marshall the ‘back four’ and the business the club have done so far deserve acknowledgement. They have addressed the issue by roping in a couple of deep-lying playmakers (Richard Smallwood and Greg Docherty), but the lack of experience might still haunt them in the long run, particularly after the abrupt exit of Jackson Irvine and Eric Lichaj.
Having said that, Hull are favourites to grab a direct promotion next year. But they have little time to undergo transition and must deliver from the very first gameweek to avoid further downfall. 2020-21 would be decisive for the manager, players, and potentially for the Allam family too who are at the crossroads of an anxious future.
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