Hull City have been a breath of fresh air for the EPL this season as, on their first foray in the English top flight, they took the Premier League by storm. Almost every football expert, and non-expert, had the Tigers pegged as certain relegation fodder before a Premiership football was even kicked back in August. Subsequently, almost every neutral supporter took delight in watching Phil Brown’s disciplined side confound the critics as Hull defined the odds and turned in a stunning early season streak that saw them lose only 1 game in their opening 9 matches.
This run included a stretch where the boys from the KC recorded 5 wins in 6 games, with only Everton being able to garner a point in a 2-2 draw on September 21. During this spell Newcastle, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham, and West Brom all succumbed to the Premiership upstarts. The most notable game was probably the win at the Emirates which was an enthralling match that featured an absolute stunner of an equalizer by their midfield playmaker, Geovanni, as Hull battled back to record a famous 2-1 victory.
The only blemish in the early season form was a bit of a puzzle as City were taken to task at home by Wigan who inflicted a five-nil hammering in the last game of August. Overall, Hull were leading the way in the top early season stories of the league, at one point climbing to a solid third place in the table. Early comparisons to other promoted teams in recent history such as Ipswich and Reading that took to the top flight like the proverbial duck were well justified.
However, as everyone appeared to be planning the Hull City 2009 European tour and handing Phil Brown the Manager of the Year award, is it possible that the early “glitch” against Wigan was maybe something bigger than it initially seemed? Is the early season Premier League honeymoon over for Hull City?
The spotlight shines brightest when a team is at the top and the recent slide is as alarming as the early season form was enlightening. Consider the record since the 3-0 win at The Hawthorns in late October:
Won-1 Drawn-4 Lost-6 GF-14 GA-26
That’s 7 points out a possible 33, and while the goals scored tally is quite respectable at over one per game, the team’s goal difference has plummeted with 26 conceded. To be fair, 9 of those goals came against Man U (3-4), Chelsea (0-3), and Liverpool (2-2) – with the game at Anfield a match that most pundits agreed Hull deserved to win. But alarmingly, a 4-1 defeat at home to a very less than impressive Sunderland was followed by a 5-1 mauling at struggling Man City. Brown gave his half-time team-talk on the field in front of the visiting Hull fans, as he insisted on apologizing for a dreadful first-half performance.
While Hull are certainly not the only team vulnerable to swings in form, the first half of their season can be split into two very strikingly different segments. In a packed Premiership table, Hull City still sit in 8th place with just under half of the season remaining. They are already almost three-quarters of the way to the magic 40 point watershed level, but after such a blistering start expectations have already been raised. Interestingly in terms of points they are actually closer to a relegation spot than a European spot, albeit by only a single point.
There is no doubt Hull will continue to battle with passion, and produce flair and entertainment as their season progresses. But with little ambition being shown in the transfer market, and the surprise element no longer a factor, hopefully for the KC faithful, the Tigers will not capitulate into a one season (or even partial season) wonder that has befell some of their predecessors.
Phil Brown has already established his credentials at the highest level to the point that he will likely become a hot managerial commodity, regardless of the ultimate outcome for Hull. Thus far, the boys in gold and brown remain one the leading candidates for story of the season – certainly one of the most positive stories of the season no matter how the year unfolds.