Hull City on the Brink of Relegation: Where Did it All Go Wrong?

Brian RhodesSenior Analyst IApril 17, 2010

HULL, ENGLAND - APRIL 10:  Boaz Myhill and George Boateng of Hull City looks dejected after Burnley's third goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Hull City and Burnley at the KC Stadium on April 10, 2010 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

In the aftermath of the dismal 4-1 defeat to relegation rivals Burnley this weekend, the Tiger-nation has been in a reflective mood as everyone is looking for answers to just how the dream came crashing down around our feet.

In the Chinese Year of the Tiger, many thought that some of the superstitious luck of the fabled Chinese Tiger might have rubbed off on East Yorkshire's mighty Tigers.

This hasn't been the case, but where did it all go wrong?

This is no easy answer to the question...just more questions, as there is no one reason for the fall from grace for the Tigers.

Maybe, it was the unrealistic expectations that fans had of the club's potential in the Premiership?

Maybe, it was a lack of finances of the club's owner or the financial mismanagement by the club's former chairman?

Was it the poor signings of the manager? Was it the loss of major players to other clubs? Was it the incredible injury list that club had to endure?

It was all of these and more.

When Phil Brown dragged our perennial underachieving side kicking and screaming up the Championship table, was it too soon? Was the team ready for the biggest footballing stage? We certainly looked the part when we walked out at Wembley Stadium and homegrown hero Dean Windass volleyed us into the richest league in the world.

We looked the part as we dismantled teams that were experienced Premier League outfits, with years of top-flight experience. We dismantled Arsenal, we dismantled Tottenham, we dismantled Newcastle on more than one occasion and helped to send them down. We beat teams that we should have had no chance of beating, but it wasn't to last.

The first year in the sun ended with a whimper, with a microphone forced into Phil Brown's hand as he was goaded into a poor rendition of the Beach Boys' "Sloop John B."

The lazy and self-generating media jumped all over Brown's song of relief. A song that was a release from a season of stress and tension that had gone to the wire. Fans of the club and rivals jumped all over it like Brown had crossed the line that nobody should. How could he have the temerity to celebrate a fantastic first season in the toughest league in the world if his team had lost on the last day of the season?

However, those people missed the point.

At the start of the season, the club and Brown were given no chance of surviving at all in the Premiership. Brown himself was tipped to be the first manager to lose his job, as the Tigers would struggle to cope with the high octane football environment of the Premiership.

His song of celebration was not one of not going down and scrapping past the post because others failed, but because over a season his Hull City team had, against all the odds, gone and survived for another season. For a great deal of it the team had been the toast of the Premiership.

The club's fizzled-out first season didn't help to stem the tide of second-season syndrome for Brown, as he would need many new recruits to bolster his struggling side.

Brown realised that the club had been punching above its weight, and despite misguided efforts to bring big names as a way of generating publicity for the club, his efforts to bring in the real players that he was targeting were blows to Brown.

Most notably, Fulham's Bobby Zamora chose to remain with the Cottagers, and Marc Antoine Fortune chose Celtic over the Tigers.

This left the Tigers with a hodge podge of sub-Premiership standard players and has-beens, with the club having to pay ridiculous wages to get them to even entertain joining the team, let alone signing with them.

However, during this whole affair and attempt to bring in new talent to the club, Brown's friend and club chairman Paul Duffen made sub-par deals that he would come to regret as he stretched the club's finances to almost breaking point.

The club's second season started how the Tigers' first season should have by conventional wisdom: struggling to find points and eking out results in a war of attrition.

The sale of ever-present centre back Michael Turner to Sunderland by Paul Duffen was a slap in the face for Hull City fans. The ridiculously low fee left Tigers fans feeling like they had been lied to by Duffen and Brown after their initial claims that he would only be sold if a fee of around £10-million was offered. The price Sunderland paid was well short of their estimation.

However, the form of the Tigers' first season continued unabated with players coming in for one or two games, playing reasonably well, only to find themselves dropped the next week. The lack of stability stood in stark contrast to the start of the previous season when only a handful of players were used.

Brown was constantly tinkering with his formations and his playing staff, to the point that it seemed that even the fans had a better idea of the club's best XI and which tactical formation the team should play, but the management team didn't seem to have a clue from one week to the next.

This was never more striking than when American Jozy Altidore was introduced for the first time at the KC against Bolton Wanderers. The Trotters were all over the Tigers, but with 30 minutes left Brown introduced the American and reverted to a conventional 4-4-2 formation from the static and defensive 4-5-1 formation with immediate effect.

From a team struggling even to make a shot on goal the team was rejuvenated. Algerian international Kamel Ghilas and Altidore made a formidable partnership up front, with the end result of them combining to give the Tigers all three points. This was in stark contrast to the first hour of the match that looked to be going only one way that was definitely not the Tigers' way.

However, after such a fantastic and energetic display by the front two, Brown inexplicably did not pick Altidore in the next league match, and when he did bring him off the subs' bench he took Ghilas off 10 minutes later, not giving either a real chance to combine or get an understanding of each other's style. Yet again, in the following game he replaced Ghilas with Altidore, and Ghilas has hardly had a chance since, much to the disgust of many Hull City fans.

Obviously, Brown and now Dowie get to see the players on the training ground but it beggers belief some of the negative and bizarre team selections this season.

However, the most bizarre selection has to be Adam Pearson's decision to place Phil Brown on gardening leave with only nine games remaining in the season. If he had chosen to replace Brown when he returned to the KC in November it would not have been as much of a shock to the system for so many.

It is not that Brown didn't deserve to be removed, because he did if it was just on results. Brown's tenure in the Premiership alone has been less than stellar, but the timing would not give his replacement time to assess the playing staff and formulate how he would tackle the club's ailing fortunes.

What was more surprising was the appointment of Iain Dowie. A manager who had been at the helm of two other Premiership teams and saw them drop into the Championship. Hardly, a ringing endorsement of his Premiership credentials.

It could be argued that if Brown couldn't keep the club in the Premiership at least he knew the playing staff and has proved that he can get a team promoted from the Championship. Can the same be said for Dowie? As a manager he has won promotion to the Premiership with Crystal Palace but in no short part off the back of a fantastic couple of seasons by striker Andy Johnson, who seemed to be scoring goals for fun under Dowie.

In Brown's defense it should be mentioned that as a manager he has not been bankrolled to the hilt like many clubs in the Premiership or the Championship, with Hull City owner Russell Bartlett the least wealthiest owner in the top two divisions of English football.

It has also been a hindrance that when the club is going through such financial problems, the club has been loaning money to its owner to enable him to be solvent. Hardly the recipe for a sound financial background for Brown.

It has been rumored that it was a liquidity issue for Bartlett that led to Turner's move to Sunderland for such a small amount and Bartlett was in such a financial bind that a quick sale was needed, even though Turner claimed to be happy at the club.

However, the club was struggling to sign players even with the silly wages that Duffen was willing to offer to the likes of Portsmouth.

Brown went on record regarding his disgust at Pompey's plight, not because the South Coast club has been deducted points after going into administration but because of their fiscal irresponsibility. It meant that when Brown tried to sign some of the players that are now at Portsmouth, the club could not compete with the money on offer at Portsmouth.

It seems ironic that mercenary players that took the money to sign with Portsmouth over a lesser deal with the Tigers ended up not getting paid because of Portsmouth's own mismanagement.

In defence of both Brown and his replacement, the temporary management consultant Dowie, they have both had some considerable injuries to contend with. In defence it is hard to remember a time when the club has had any stability at the back.

From Turner at the back with Kamil Zayette, to Ibrahima Sonko and Zayette, to Anthony Gardner and Zayette, to Sonko and Liam Cooper, and back to Gardner and Zayette. At the centre back position alone Hull City have started seven different players due to injuries at one stage or another, and this doesn't address the other defensive positions and the problems that the club have had in midfield and attack through injuries.

Arguably, the best two periods in the season were November with Jimmy Bullard in the midfield and in early February with Tom Cairney pulling the strings for the Tigers. However, in both instances the players and the team could get no consistency as injuries prevented them from a prolonged run in the side.

Ultimately, the Tigers' plight has been compounded by a total lack of funds in comparison to their Premier League opposition even down to the likes of Portsmouth, who have gone into administration. This has hampered the chances of Brown being able to bolster his squad with quality rather than quantity.

The team have had no stability, whether through a major run of injuries or Brown's management skills, to make matters worse.

However, it is just another reason to decry the Premiership's ever-increasing gap between the haves and have nots, with Hull City definitely in the latter category.


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