To hear Steve Bruce talking after yesterday’s 1-1 draw at the KC Stadium you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was only Hull City who had players away on international duty over the past fortnight. The Hull manager used the international break as an excuse for his side not being able to win what he had described as a “season defining” match beforehand, so you would guess from what he said that his team’s opponents had not been inconvenienced by it as much as his had.
Not a bit of it actually. This Daily Mail article isn’t wholly reliable because it makes makes no mention of the fact that Hull’s Robbie Brady was an unused sub for the Republic of Ireland in a couple of matches during the International break, but it’s clear to see that it’s Cardiff, not Hull, who had more right to use the demands of all of that travelling and additional football as an excuse for not winning the match – in fact, even if you add on Brady’s air miles in the past fortnight, the whole Hull squad traveled less distance and only played five minutes more football than City’s Gary Medel did while representing Chile since he last played for us!
It goes further than that though, Hull had their three internationals available to start yesterday’s match – Brady came off halfway through the second half, but Figueroa and Elmohamady played the full ninety minutes, so it seems to me that any disruption caused to Hull was minimal. Compare that to Cardiff, Kimbo only lasted forty five minutes, Bellamy was absent and, while lasting the whole game, Medel probably had his least effective Cardiff match so far and that’s before we even get on to the tale of two keepers!
Hull’s Alan McGregor didn’t join up with the Scotland squad because of an injury which had cleared up sufficiently for him to play yesterday and, despite what City fans sing, he really is Scotland’s number one at the moment. However, in McGregor’s absence, David Marshall had the opportunity to add another couple of international caps to his collection last week, only for a hip injury sustained in the second of them, against Macedonia, to force him off at half time and then keep him out of the match at Hull.
Marshall’s misfortune gave Joe Lewis a chance to make his Premier League debut. Now, before yesterday, I’d only seen Lewis play for us in a couple of pre-season friendlies, the FA Cup match at Macclesfield and three or four Development team games last season – not much to form an opinion on then, but more than the large majority of City fans I’d say. Based on what I’d seen, I’d rate Lewis as good as Marshall in terms of shot stopping and reflexes, but less convincing when dealing with crosses and not as good in the concentration stakes – I would have not been too surprised to have seen Simon Moore being used as Marshall’s deputy this season.
Therefore, the news that Lewis was playing did not fill me with a great deal of confidence beforehand. Fair play to him though, he did a fine job yesterday. Perhaps he could have pushed Aluko’s early shot more to the side thereby not presenting Danny Graham with the sort of chance he would have put away without a moment’s hesitation a couple of years ago, but, that’s being hyper critical really – Lewis let no one down. He was confident and decisive in his punching of crosses and, if Hull’s goal came from one of those punches being turned back into the penalty area, no blame whatsoever could be attached to the keeper who, indeed, had grounds to question the defence as to why Huddlestone’s cross was allowed to bounce in a central area not too far from goal before it was nodded in by Curtis Davies.
Marshall missed most of the 2010/11 campaign with a hip injury, so it’s a bit concerning to learn of another one he’s suffered to that part of his body. Hopefully, it won’t turn out to be as serious as the earlier one was (there’s been nothing so far to indicate that it will be), but Lewis showed yesterday that a long term injury to our first choice keeper may not be the disaster most of us would have thought it was before yesterday – I know it’s only one match, but Lewis did not look out of place at all at this level against Hull.
So, Joe Lewis put up a pretty convincing case to suggest we may not be as weak in terms of squad depth as many in the media would have you think we are. Yesterday saw a few other examples of players some supporters seem keen to write off doing their bit for the cause. For example, I get the distinct impression that I rate Don Cowie quite a bit more highly than many of our supporters do, but, that said, I had him down as a candidate to be loaned out this season – instead of that, I’d say that Malky is almost showing more faith in him at the higher level than he did in the Championship last season.
Perhaps this is because in a team environment where containment, rather than trying to force the issue, has become more important, Cowie’s more disciplined game and ability to follow the orders he is given has made him a more reliable option for our manager than, say, Craig Noone or Jordon Mutch who were both ahead of him in the midfield pecking order by the end of last season. That’s not to say that Cowie is just a grafter who stops the opposition playing – I know it’s not going to last, but, currently Don Cowie is providing the assists for 50% of our Premier League goals! There is a serious point behind that, admittedly, none too convincing stat mind. That is that Cowie can deliver a quality cross from dead ball or open play situations. There are not many members of our squad I would have preferred to be given the chance to put in the cross which led to our goal over Cowie (wasn’t it great to see Peter Whittingham in such an advanced position to put away the chance so confidently as well) - he’s a player who is easy to under estimate.
For a side that is regarded as set piece orientated when it comes to attacking play, we’ve scored two cracking goals so far this season – Gunnarsson’s against Man City was an example of a team patiently probing for an opening and then striking, but yesterday’s was, if anything, more impressive in my book because of how incisive it was. From captain for the day Steven Caulker bringing the ball out from the back in a manner which will make us far more of a handful for opponents if he can keep on doing it, right through to Whittingham’s volleyed finish it was a goal of Premier League class – Caulker’s pass was accurate and hit with the right pace and from there, it was just three touches and McGregor was picking the ball out of the net.
Cowie and Whittingham got two of those touches and it’s worth noting that Nicky Maynard, a player who might be thought of as someone whose chances of first team game time were not looking too good with the arrival of Andreas Cornelius and Peter Odemwingie, who got the third. With Rudy Gestede also seeing twenty odd minutes of action after replacing Fraizer Campbell, it was a good opportunity for what I suppose could be called unglamorous members of our squad to prove they have a part to play over the next eight months.
Kevin Theophile-Catharine was pushed straight into the starting line up in the first game we’ve played since he signed, so he doesn’t really fall into the same category, but with nobody really knowing what to expect from him, he added to the impression that we were relying a lot less on the “big name” players yesterday than usual. Based on first impressions, he looks like he will be a very good addition to the squad. Strong and quick defensively, he also showed good ability going forward and laid on a great chance for Gunnarsson just after our goal.
That scoring opportunity was one of only a few we had. Campbell and Medel both could have been in on goal with a better first touch, but it was a generally a case of the home side having the chances while we had more of the ball. Hull’s manager had more of a case when he said that his team had more openings, but this was still another impressive performance in many ways by City because of the way seeming “bit part” players rose to the occasion – it was easy to see why Malky Mackay was pleased with his side last night.
* picture courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/