After the home defeat to (already relegated) Sunderland, and two back-to-back wins for Swansea, Hull City were left with a mountain to climb in order to stay in the top flight.
The penultimate fixture against fellow strugglers Crystal Palace was literally a “must win game” with even a draw seeing the Tigers relegated.
Taking the field on a sunny afternoon in South London were –
Maguire Dawson Ranocchia Robertson
Elmohamady N’Diaye Evandro Clucas Grosicki
Markovic and Hernandez were unavailable through injury.
The travelling Tiger-Nation were in great voice, but their faith was sorely tested immediately after the kick-off, as with only two minutes on the clock the home side were ahead.
Dawson headed back to Ranocchia putting him under pressure. The Italian swung at the ball, but the resulting air shot saw the ball trundle comically under his foot, allowing Zaha an easy finish with Jakupović not standing a chance. 1-0, a sickening start, and one that immediately made “Mission Impossible” even harder.
City regained their composure, but their patient passing game repeatedly had little end product. Clucas fired a left footed shot from outside the box on seven minutes, but his effort flew past the right post. A minute later Evandro’s header released Maguire, who shot from the edge of the Palace box, but his attempt sailed high and wide.
A distinct pattern was now emerging. Palace are every inch an Alladyce team – two banks of four and long ball counter-attacks. Not pretty, but very effective, and City are not really laying a glove on them.
On 34 minutes Palace have a corner. Puncheon fires the ball into the box and Benteke heads home unchallenged. Another zonal marking fail, 2-0.
Silva made two changes at the break with Jarrod Bowen and Shaun Maloney replacing Ranocchia and Robertson, both of whom had picked up knocks in the first half.
Bowen added a bit more purpose to City’s attacking play, but Palace were still largely untroubled. Grosicki worked hard but was having one of his more frustrating games, where he gave the ball away a number of times, or fired wildly from the edge of the box rather than passing to a better placed teammate.
Curtis Davies replaces Harry Maguire because of an injury on 50 minutes, but it was looking clear by now that the mother of all comebacks was not looking likely.
This feeling was compounded on the 84th minute, when Dawson felled Schlupp with a clumsy tackle from behind in the City box. A more clear cut penalty you’ll never see, and the spot kick was well finished by Milivojevic to make it 3-0.
Insult is added to injury in added time when van Aanholt has far too much room to slot past Jakupović and make it 4-0.
City didn’t register a single shot on target during the game. A damning statistic for a team fighting for survival, and one that underlines the fact that this Premier League campaign has ended with a whimper rather than a bang.
Marco Silva has performed wonders since joining in January, and is a very talented manager, but even he is not a miracle worker. If he leaves the Tigers it will be with his reputation enhanced, and with a debt of gratitude from the City fans for giving hope to a seemingly desperate situation.
Although this was the result that sent City down, and the previous defeat to Sunderland felt pivotal, they were both no more important than any of the other 19 defeats. In reality City were doomed before the season began with a woefully inadequate preparation leaving the club barely capable of fielding a full squad, and with a temporary manager. There’s only one person to blame for that…
Mark Sellers (@mrmarksellers)