Hull City: 2010 The Year of the Tiger

Brian RhodesSenior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2010

The Tigers are sitting in 18th place in the Premiership with the worst defence in the league. Having conceded a massive 46 goals in only 22 games doesn't sound like grounds for optimism, but with just over half of the season finished, things are on the up for the Tigers.

Recent fixtures against a resurgent Arsenal and Tottenham have showed promise and a battling commitment by the players—the same could be said for the loss to Manchester United. Phil Brown's men have showed they can keep pace with the best in the league.

Given a slice of luck and a better standard of refereeing, the Tigers could well have gotten more out of the games, but for the class of the champion's England striker, the Tiger's could have gained a valuable point against Manchester United.

It is often mentioned that the Tiger's manager is the weakest link in the Hull City chain and the players don't play for him, but that is a long way from the truth. If anything, the commitment the players have shown their manager over the past few weeks has demonstrated what a ridiculous idea this is.

Indeed, Brown has started to get his team to be more attacking of late, even against so-called better opposition with his charges following his tactical plans very well. He has reverted to a conventional 4-4-2 formation rather than the 4-5-1 formation with the exception of the recent games against Spurs and Manchester United in which the absence of Jozy Altidore forced changes on the side.

The 4-5-1 formation works very well for some teams, but in Hull City's case it doesn't fit the balance of the side. It has become more noticeable over recent weeks that for all Geovanni's obvious footballing talents, he doesn't quite fit. He is a square peg in a round hole, and the team's balance is better with a conventional midfield of two wide players, a holding midfielder, and a midfield general.

Geovanni 's ability to produce something from nothing is not in question, but his ability to fit in a team that is in a relegation dog fight is. He is prone to run with the ball and move all over the field as he sees necessary, but he needs to be more focused in his play.

He has become a better all-around player since joining the Tigers, as he now tracks back, tackles and works for his team, but the maverick Brazilian temperament still comes through as he is on the left one moment then the right the next.

Since Jimmy Bullard's injury against Aston Villa, Brown has tried a few options not least Geovanni in that role as the midfield general. However, with the reintroduction of George Boateng into the defensive midfield role, there is more balance to the side.

This also will allow the team to be better equipped to reintegrate Bullard on his return to full fitness at the tail end of January, against Wolverhampton Wanderers, if reports on his fitness are to be believed.

For the Tigers to have a better chance of survival, it might be prudent for Brown to play Bullard in games he feels the club have a clear chance of victory. He should maybe take a leaf out of Mick McCarthy's book and wrap Bullard in cotton wool for matches against the likes of Chelsea, and Villa, to protect him for the games in which we have a more realistic chance of success.

Brown has formed his team around players with spirit more than aptitude in a lot of ways. Fagan and Garcia are both good players, but would never be classed as greats of the game. What they lack in ability they make up for it in their pugnacious attitude. They are the sort of players who would crawl naked over broken glass for the team if it meant winning three points. When some players heads drop, they will battle harder.

Another player who will be key is Stephen Hunt, the tenacious Irish international. He is resolute and bellicose but not without a dash of skill. He has a habit of getting on the end of balls that he has no right to. Against Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium, he latched onto a header to bring the team back into the game from between two of Bolton's huge centre backs.

Jozy Altidore, the raw, young American striker, is improving every week as he gains more Premier League experience. His partnership with Fagan was gaining momentum as they learn to read each other's routes and runs. Altidore, has gone from neophyte to battling bruiser tirelessly running for his teammates.

He works over the opposition defenders for Brown, so his manager can then bring on the old war horse, Jan Vanegoor of Hesselink, when the opposition is at its weakest. However, his absence due to compassionate grounds after his family was involved in the Haitian earthquake disaster have curtailed his involvement in recent weeks.

Altidore or Fagan's place in the Tigers attack could change radically with the loan signing of Amr Zaki. The ex-Wigan striker will be out to show his last spell in the Premiership wasn't just a flash in the pan. I would expect Zaki to partner Altidore with Fagan reverting to the right wing position he played so well in the Championship.

The biggest worry for the Tigers is the defence, but more because of familiarity. Brown has had to change the defence around a fair amount. He started with Michael Turner in the centre back position alongside Kamil Zayette, he then lost Turner to Sunderland.

The influential and superb Anthony Gardner returned to full fitness, but the defence then lost Paul McShane—who had replaced Sam Ricketts, who was sold. As the players were finally starting to communicate well with each other, McShane sustained an injury and Benard Mendy was recalled.

The resurgence of Mendy as an offensive right back has been great to see, but his communication with his centre back partner Zayette is still a work in progress, but this is improving as they get more matches under their belt.

However, Seyi Olofinjana absence while taking part in the African Cup of Nations, has been a big hole to fill. It is a role that he has made his own in the absence of club captain Ian Ashbee.

All in all, the Tigers second half of the season has the potential to be very fruitful. Brown will have the return of Bullard, who was so influential in November. He has a team that is fully committed to him on the field. The manager has a striker that has the potential to score 10 goals by the end of the season and, if he can form a partnership the Tigers' attack, could be formidable.

With more games under their belts, they will start to bear the fruit of their endeavours.

Brown has hit on his team's best formation with players that can come in most positions to fill others' shoes if needed, and he has got a team that doesn't hang its head even if it is losing.

With games coming up against Chelsea, and Manchester City in the next few weeks, some of the club's hardest challenges will be over. The meat and drink of teams that the Tigers will be battling with for survival will be theirs for the taking.

2010 the Year of the Tiger.