In my wildest dreams I hoped we would use the Hull City match to put all our recent troubles behind us and steamroll the opposition. I’m convinced this side has it within itself to overwhelm anybody and I still think that match will come before too long, one of those ‘What ever were you worrying about?’ instances, but looking back perhaps this wasn’t the occasion for that. For all their own problems, Hull aren’t anyone’s idea of a poor outfit and the time we travelled to the KC and received a 3-0 pasting is the one league game this season when I genuinely thought we’d been outclassed. Here we threatened to be undone again, but that didn’t happen and while the late, late winner from David Nugent had a definite touch of fortune about it, we’ve been done ourselves enough times and perhaps had that little rub of the green coming to us.
The first half was a frustrating pain in the arse. Everything that clicks about Boro – defensive solidity, controlling midfield – and all those elements that make us so irritating – passes going astray when it matters, advances into enemy territory ending in nothing, toothless up front – were entirely in evidence, like a season in microcosm. Anyone wanting to know why we aren’t guiding this division by the hand need only watch those 45 minutes to get it. Like us, the Tigers were set out to soak up our attacks and I was impressed especially by Huddlestone’s mopping up (is it only me who thinks his talents are wasted at this level?), but they didn’t have to break sweat very often as Jordan Rhodes once again worked his exercise in futility playing our lone gunman. I get the impression with our striker that it’s just a matter of time. The goals will come. No seriously they will; god knows what that price tag does to a bloke’s mentality, not to mention the difficulties intrinsic in ploughing the lonely furrow in attack for a side not noted for its boundless goal scoring sprees. For now it isn’t quite clicking. Chances are few. When they do come the opposition defence knows enough to man-mark him effectively, which makes every opportunity a snatched effort taken on split-second instinct and that can make him look daft.
Elsewhere, I can’t be the only one who recoils in horror when it’s revealed Albert Adomah will be starting on the left wing. Once he was moved to the left in order to accommodate Downing his game improved immeasurably and he worked a lot better with Nsue than he ever could with Friend. Cristhian Stuani is one of those players you wish could rediscover his form from earlier in the season, when he made everything look easy and not laboured, quite the opposite of what he was doing here. Gaston Ramirez has been our brightest spark through a difficult period for the team and there’s an audible gasp whenever he picks up the ball in promising positions, but his tendency to try and do everything himself just leads to him being dispossessed – is this just a case of trying to ingrain himself effectively within the line-up? And sorry, but I’m less convinced of Grant Leadbitter by the match. If it was up to me I’d give Adam Forshaw a run instead, but I don’t want that to happen and then for it not to work and to be told off by Aitor Karanka for suggesting I have an opinion on how the team might play better.
Hull had their moments and certainly had the better of the much of the second half. Sexy Steve Bruce‘s assertion that his was the superior team is questionable, but they did have more clear chances and until the closing stages had been in the ascendancy. There’s always a sense of fortune about winning it in the way we did, however you could equally put it down to good use of a fine and talented bench, and the way Nugent has proved on various occasions that he always has this dangerous side to his game. It was a brilliant and cathartic late winner. Imagine the game petering out into a 0-0 draw, the more questions than answers this would impose and being second solely on goal difference. Instead, with all teams at the top having played the same number of matches we’re two points clear of Brighton, a slim four behind Burnley, and the rest of the season looks a whole lot better.