The Thursday Preview: Hull Vs Blackpool
As (a) a supporter of a team that has almost nothing to look forward to over the next nine months and (b) someone who’s had to spend these last few balmy evenings with the curtains drawn due to blogging demands, I can’t say that I’m spectacularly excited about the coming year.
I apologise if you came looking for the equivalent of a Super Sunday trailer for the beginning of the new season. I don’t mean to stick a pin in anyone’s enthusiasm; it’s just that after what only feels like a fag break of a summer, we’re back into it. 46 games of graft and perseverance.
That said, I can’t help but give Sky a pat for their decision to screen Hull’s Sunshine Band opener against Blackpool. It’s certainly one that whets. The easy decision would have been to wheel out West Ham or Birmingham in the opener in an attempt to disguise the division as some kind of mark two Premier League, but in this contest they’ve picked what should be a corker between two capable sides that have been under the radar during the off-season.
Both, of course, have experienced time in the top flight in very recent memory but neither have been name checked too frequently in myriad season previews with pundits backing Leicester, West Ham and Forest in the main.
Blackpool are no strangers to being overlooked; indeed, the last time they started a season in the Championship, this very website wrote them off, suggesting that they would finish bottom of the pile. On the back of a far from unproductive year in the top-flight, few would chance a similarly negative forecast now but it’s difficult to predict which way the Tangerines will go this time around.
Key players Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell have departed, and in fielding experimental mix-and-match teams during pre-season Ian Holloway hasn’t yet shown his hand. An educated guess, though, would predict a fairly conservative back-line consisting of last year’s defensive stalwarts Matt Gilks, Stephen Crainey, Alex Baptiste, Ian Evatt and Neal Eardley.
Further ahead, there’s likely to be a little more change with Barry Ferguson and Kevin Phillips expected to start in amongst the tried and tested. To my mind, however, Holloway’s level of recruitment has been pretty average in comparison with other clubs at this level. Indeed, his squad continues to resemble a ragbag and speculative signings such as Paul Bignot, Matt Hill, Craig Sutherland and Bojan Djordjic could all go either way. But only a fool would write off an Ian Holloway side at this stage, and the Seasiders will no doubt be competitive.
They have a tough start, though. Resplendent with Manchester United reserves courtesy of their Warren Joyce connection, Hull have had a right old time of it in pre-season, notching up five comfortable, controlled victories against opponents that number Liverpool, Bradford and Chesterfield.
It’s been a remarkable turnaround for a club that was so top-heavy with deadwood this time a year ago. Since raising eyebrows through his pragmatic decision to swap the Shire of Leicester for that of York, Nigel Pearson has engineered a rapid turnover in personnel and philosophy. Gone are the Zayettes, Kilbanes and Cousins, who have been moved on and replaced by stock Football Leaguers and peplicious youngsters.
There may be a question mark over new goalkeepers Pà©ter Gulà¡csi and Adriano Basso given their lack of minutes in recent times, but the Tigers otherwise benefit from a strong spine going into 2011-12. Centre halves James Chester and Jack Hobbs almost define the word ‘solid’ and the signing of Paul McKenna in central midfield to complement the attacking talents of Robbie Brady, Cameron Stewart and Corry Evans looks inspired. Up top, City boast an experienced and utilitarian foursome that will trouble defences.
That’s not to say that Hull don’t have their problems; with Paul McShane out injured, the need for another centre back is pressing, and Jimmy Bullard is a spot that, try as they might, City haven’t yet been able to pop. Indeed, while significant earners such as Geovanni and Pà©ter Halmosi have been whittled from the squad, the odd throwback remains with the likes of Seyi Olofinjana and Kamel Ghilas still on the books.
But that’s nothing that a season-long loan can’t fix, and I like the look of this Tigers side. Last season they managed an impressive sequence of 17 away games unbeaten and if they can balance that kind of form with an improved record at the KC then the play-offs look like a realistic birth to aim towards. Hull are missing a couple of key players in Stewart and Aaron McLean tomorrow evening, but as much as I hate to bet against Blackpool given their ability to ruddy cheeks, I think that City will start as they mean to go on.