Admittedly, the premise of this article is somewhat premature. However, (although they’re trying hard not to show it) Hull City fans must be having some doubts regarding their newly appointed manager.
Saturday’s 6-1 loss to Bournemouth was one of the worst top-flight performances in the history of the club. Having only announced Phelan’s permanency a few days prior, any hope of a renewed honeymoon period was dashed as Eddie Howe’s men made light of the Tigers trip down south.
Phelan swept Hull fans off their feet over summer, rescuing the club from crisis after Steve Bruce walked out. A thread bare squad, endless uncertainty behind the scenes and branded the league’s ‘no hopers’ Phelan guided the club to back to back wins. “Sign him up!” was quite reasonably the general noise coming from both fans and pundits.
The problem is, since the whirlwind last two days of September, which saw Phelan recruit six new players, results have been about as bad as they can get, a 1-1 draw with Burnley coming as Hull’s solitary post August Premier League point.
It’s fair to say Phelan should be cut a bit of slack in relation to defeats at the hands of the league’s heavy weights. Losing to Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea came as no surprise but conceding 11 goals in the process is far from ideal.
For Phelan’s first three league games as caretaker, he had simply no options. The starting line-up was made up of eleven of the twelve fit senior professionals available. All Phelan could do was motivate what he had and promote a rigid system of defensive football. It was the ultimate back against the wall job and Phelan carried out the task perfectly.
So surely having carried the club through crisis, signing six of his own players would give Phelan the chance to kick on. Finally, he could prove his managerial ability after years of being a No.2.
Yet, the new signings seem to have confused the side’s uncompromising thwarting approach. The discipline so evident in the games in August has disappeared; the side have given away three penalties and received two red cards in the games since. Brought in to consolidate a hard working but thread bare group of players the new options at Phelan’s disposal have still not borne fruit.
Saturday’s collapse at Dean Court was the first of a nine game run in which the Tiger’s face ‘beatable’ sides, a mother lode of six pointers. So far, so bad. Phelan must now curate his best XI, an aspect of the game in which Fergie’s former right hand man has failed to demonstrate competence. As an assistant Phelan’s C.V. is as good as they come but with his only previous experience in the hot seat coming at Norwich (lasting just five days, without even overseeing a match) he still has a lot to prove.
It’s apparent that, despite Phelan arriving at the club back in February 2015, many of the regular fixtures in Hull City’s starting XI are now under threat. In many ways, this is a refreshing change from the Bruce era, but with the club likely to be at the centre of a relegation battle it may be ill advised for Phelan to adopt a ‘tinkerman’ approach.
The return of Michael Dawson should give the defence some much needed stability- Livermore did a stellar job as a makeshift centre-back but nothing says dependability at the KCOM like a Dawson at the back.
And it seems that after seven consecutive starts, the policy of playing Adama Diomande wide left might finally have been scrapped (Praise be).
With Stoke next up, it’s surely a case of back to basics for Mike’s men. (Dawson tackle, out-wide to Elmo- Elmo to Snodgrass, Snodgrass to Abel- Goal. FT 1-0) If only!
At any rate, as they slip down towards the relegation zone fans will brace themselves for a potentially bleak campaign.
Those long summer days of August now seem like a lifetime ago. It is now up to the Hull boss to find a way for his side to rediscover the lovin’ feelin’ that prevailed back when everything seemed so simple.