We’re on to number three in our series, supplied by Mark Sellers.
To be truthful I’m glad this season is finally over.
After the highs of the 2013/14 season – a solid return to the Premier League and the joy of City’s first Cup Final – this season should have been one of steady improvement, building on our first foray into Europe to a mid table finish. The reality was anything but.
The drop from the Premier League in 2010 was deserved after a poor season, but this one somehow felt so avoidable. The received wisdom is that “you’re better off out of Europe” but there are plenty of mid-sized clubs that have managed good Europa League runs and also maintained a decent league placing (Swansea enjoyed a European campaign and finished 12th this year, and Fulham were Europa finalists in 2010 and also managed a mid-table league position).
The taste of European football (something that City fans could only have dreamed of a few short years ago) was over almost before it had begun. What could have been a unique chance to experience European nights in Turin, Seville, and Zurich ended prematurely and now features as a footnote to a season of underachievement. It seemed like the Europa League was not taken seriously, but why? Of course it would have tested the limits of the squad, but the momentum and belief of a decent run could have carried The Tigers far in all competitions.
Both domestic cups were also disappointing, with City falling at the first hurdle to West Brom in the League Cup and Arsenal in the FA Cup. Early revenge on Arsenal was always going to be unlikely, but why was the League Cup taken so lightly? This competition offers a club of City’s size a decent chance of Silverware (Birmingham City won it in 2011), yet few seem to take it seriously with most playing under strength sides. As with Europe this craven “focus on the league” approach didn’t do City any favours and the paucity of ambition is galling to the fans.
Looking at the record of league games, the ten game winless period, starting on the 18th of October and ending with the Sunderland victory on Boxing day stands out, as does the lack of any winning runs. Two back-to-back victories was the most the club could manage this season, and the longest undefeated run was three games. Yet despite this chronic inconsistency it didn’t feel (certainly in the first half of the season) that we’d be in real danger of going down. This was because there were lots of other teams below us that seemed hell bent on self-destruction, and though we often lost, so did they, thus giving a false sense that all would be fine. This feeling evaporated when a resurgent Sunderland, Leicester, and Aston Villa finally started getting points and City didn’t. The two game spell when six points were gained at the end of April against Palace away and Liverpool at home were probably the highlights of the campaign. Ultimately, though, these wins proved to be a false dawn, as only another point was gained out of the last four games with just one more goal scored.
So how much blame should be attached to Steve Bruce for the relegation? After a twelve month period that featured promotion and a Cup Final it’s fair to say that Bruce had a huge amount of goodwill “in the bank” with both City fans and the Allams. It’s because of this there hasn’t been a huge clamour for him to go (much to the bemusement of fans of other clubs and the national press). That could very quickly change if he makes a poor start to the Championship.
Essentially the team-strengthening programme, which should have seen City become an established Premier League club, was a failure. This was never more evident than in the closing stages of the season when the core of the starting eleven was consistently made up of the players that got us out of the Championship. Hatam Ben Arfa stands out as the worst of the moves but the fact that the club broke their transfer record to land Hernandez is not far behind. Hopefully a move back to Serie A will recoup most of that fee, otherwise he will forever be regarded as one of City’s biggest wastes of money. Bruce was unlucky with injuries, particularly with Diame who looked to be making a big impact in midfield. The fact that Snodgrass was also injured in his first game was unfortunate, but these things can happen. It was also very significant that the spine of the team from the previous season, McGregor, Davies, Livermore and Huddlestone all failed to perform well in this one.
Of course the bad news wasn’t confined to on pitch activities this season. The other “elephant in the room” has been the ongoing name change debacle and the walking PR disasters that are the Allams. Although they cannot be blamed for the failings on the pitch they have certainly made supporting Hull City much less pleasant than it ought to have been. The second application for the name change, the shameful Airco fiasco, and the spiteful ASI decisions have all contributed to ill feeling at the KC with supporters at best feeling dispirited and at worst turning on one another. The positive cocaine test for Jake Livermore announced before the penultimate game of the season was also a depressing “whatever next?” moment.
So what does the future hold? Despite Bruce’s failings this season he is still be very well equipped to lead us in the Championship, and even with some players leaving we will have a strong squad at this level. Although there is much to dislike about the Premier League (I won’t miss half-and-half scarves and paying £43 to visit West Ham) I want to see City playing at the highest level possible. As well as the obvious benefits for the club and the region, the fact the new stratospheric £5bn TV deal comes into play in 2016 means that the longer City are out of the top flight the harder they will find it to compete financially with clubs like Stoke, Swansea, or West Brom. This has been the case since the start of the Premier League, but the increased TV money means this will be even truer than before.
Still, the Championship is an entertaining and competitive league, and if anything, we should win more games than this season. There will be Yorkshire derbies, cheaper tickets, and sensible kick-off times. The bookies have City as favourites to win the division, so here’s to taking six points from Leeds United and actually enjoying football again!
Mark Sellers @mrmarksellers