TO HULL AND BACK
As Hull City continue their remarkable rise to the upper echelons of the Premier League, some cynics still remain. Phil Brown, the Tigers manager, had a retort waiting for them his though after his side’s 1-0 win over West Ham a couple of weekends ago. “People were talking about bubbles bursting,” he began.
“My simple answer to a bubble bursting is to blow another bubble.”
His words may resonate with Chelsea fans after our very own bubble exploded on Sunday, with the 0-1 scoreline at Stamford Bridge against Liverpool halting our much-publicised record, with the Blues declaring on 86 league games on home soil without defeat. Although we don’t get the immediate chance to start another run, a trip to Hull and back with three points will quash any talk of psychological traumas and the like, and prove that we can’t be written off just yet.
Liverpool set up their system perfectly on Sunday, with Chelsea stifled in the middle and a strong penalty area presence from Rafa Benitez’s defenders keeping out the crosses from our full-backs. Wingers Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou would have been declared anonymous if their collective mistakes hadn’t been so glaring, and should consider themselves lucky if they get places in the starting eleven at the KC Stadium. Nicolas Anelka was well marshalled by Jamie Carragher and therefore barely got a sniff, however, with the introduction of an impressive Franco Di Santo mid-way through the second-half of the Liverpool game almost reaping rewards as the Argentinean showed almost unbeatable heading ability at times, the Frenchman could find himself with a partner to help him out against Hull.
Joe Cole could make a timely comeback while Michael Ballack, Michael Essien and Didier Drogba are definitely out. Young centre-back Michael Mancienne meanwhile, has joined Wolverhampton Wanderers on loan.
Hull have reached the top three of the Premier League with a combination of flair, skill, strength and stubbornness, while not letting themselves get over-awed by the so-called star names they face every week. Brown has obviously learned a thing or two from Sam Allardyce, manager while he was assistant at Bolton, and with the inspired signing of Brazilian playmaker Geovanni from Manchester City bringing goals to the promoted side, Hull have proved themselves already as a team to be reckoned with. Although they only have a goal difference of plus three, Fulham, Newcastle, Arsenal, Tottenham, West Ham and West Brom, the teams who have fallen to defeat against Brown’s side, will all testify that you can still win games without racking up cricket scores every week.
With only striker Craig Fagan out and full-back Andy Dawson a doubt, Phil Brown has a near-full strength squad to choose from.
Despite the difference in league status between the two sides in bygone years, we have met them twice in the last decade in cup competitions. Last September, we played them in a one-sided League Cup 3rd round tie, with a 4-0 win coming courtesy of goals from Scott Sinclair, Kalou (who got two) and Steve Sidwell. Back in 1999, Gus Poyet bagged a hat-trick in a 6-1 romp at Boothferry Park in the FA Cup. Chris Sutton and Roberto Di Matteo got one each before a last-minute Mike Edwards own goal piled on the misery for Hull.
However, Hull did get the better of Chelsea the last time we played them away in the league, with a 3-0 win back in October 1988.
Hull’s start to their debut season in the top-flight has caught everybody by surprise, and they are not to be under-estimated. Our defeat against Liverpool was a huge blow, and hopefully we can get back to winning ways against the club which dares to dream, Hull City.
Prediction: If we do win, I hope its not a thrashing (wishful thinking). Hull have re-awakened the magic of the Premier League and deserve a pleasant journey this season. But we need the points too, and there is little room for sentiment in football. A 2-1 win for Chelsea.