It makes for a change to see that Hull City are in Europe (well, at least for a little more time anyway). The Tigers qualified for the UEFA Europa League courtesy of their FA Cup final trip last season, and their recent history makes for quite the romantic story. A decade-long journey has seen Hull go from the Football League’s bottom tier to the Premier League, an FA Cup final, and their first European adventure.
The Tigers started the season well, with big wins over Liverpool and Fulham at home and Newcastle away proving crucial. They spent a lot of the season mid-table, but in the end, they had to settle for a disappointing (albeit record) 16th place finish with 37 points. Looking at the tail end of last season, they didn’t win any of their last five games, and that loss in momentum seemed as a result of reaching the FA Cup Final.
Hull have been promoted to the Premier League twice, the second time under Bruce’s guidance, and last season, they delighted in proving the doubters who claimed they would not be good enough to survive - wrong.
Bruce’s tactics of alternating between a back three and a back four, and playing attractive (for Hull), passing football, the Tigers had a spark about them. Curtis Davies excelled in the centre of the defence, whilst Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore controlled games from central midfield.
Jake Livermore flourished after joining Hull on loan from Tottenham Hotspur last term and he combined with former Spurs team-mate Tom Huddlestone in an effective central midfield partnership; a permanent deal for Livermore will see the two joining forces again this season. Deals for Tom Ince and Robert Snodgrass also make for good business, with Bruce adding some talented wide players to the squad.
The new additions have looked promising so far, with Ince looking to prove himself, Snodgrass showing flashes of what he’s capable of, and Livermore carrying on his dependable form from last season. Sheffield United's Harry Maguire has also joined the Tigers, as has Andrew Robertson from Dundee United.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Only Ahmed Elmohamady made more appearances for the Hull last year than Curtis Davies, their captain. Davies, 29, has found a home as Hull’s stable centre back, and always, will be key in keeping the goals conceded at an absolute minimum. His three goals in the run to the FA Cup final further cemented his place in Hull history, and Davies will be counted on to help nurture the younger talent like Maguire and Robertson.
Michael Laudrup, André Villas-Boas and Owen Coyle all began last season looking forward to Europa League campaigns but it was not too long before all three were sacked by Swansea City, Tottenham Hotspur and Wigan Athletic respectively. As excited as Steve Bruce is by the potential prospect of sides such as Internazionale visiting the KC Stadium, Hull’s manager knows that European involvement will inevitably make his job that much more difficult – not to mention dangerously vulnerable.
The Tigers need to find a way to score more than the 38 goals they scored last season. Couple that with conceding a similar or lower number of goals (53) compared to last season, and they could well be looking at a mid-table finish. Snodgrass and Ince look like promising signings, but Hull need to find consistency from at least one of their numerous strikers to beat last season’s finish. Shane Long, Nikica Jelavic, Sone Aluko and Yannick Sagbo - can they step up? I get the feeling that we may be asking that question again come January’s transfer window.
That being said, I think Hull won’t fall victim to the dreaded ‘second season syndrome’, and build on last season to finish a record 14th.