Hull’s bright start more a blip than trend – they’re still relegation fodder
The club’s good start surely cannot last and they remain joint favourites to go down
Hull City caretaker manager Mike Phelan thinks a third consecutive win – with his former club visiting today – might just get him the job permanently. Photograph: Rebecca Naden/Reuters
“That Whitsun, I was late getting away.”
– Philip Larkin, ‘The Whitsun Weddings’
Manchester United fans disembarking at Hull this evening will have the pleasure of seeing the fetching Philip Larkin statue that decorates the station, with his train-track opening line carved into the base. There is a sweep to the statue that makes it almost worth the journey on its own.
Admittedly, freshly eager United supporters are unlikely to concur. One glance at Larkin and they’re off to Hull City, hoping the August 2016 version of United can make it three in three in the Premier League.
Late getting away, it’s not how José Mourinho operates. United are buoyant in a manner rarely seen post-Ferguson. Performances may not have wholly merited the alteration in mood, but then Larkin did speak of “All the power that being changed can give.”
Power, change, Mourinho. Manchester United feel different.
As David Moyes and Louis van Gaal proved though, change is not always the solution. Change can quickly become churn and if United’s support and board needed a reminder of that, they will see it on arrival at the poorly named KCOM Stadium. Hull City are also undergoing change; some might call it flux, or chaos.
This is a club in the throes of a takeover, where the fans are rebelling against the current owners, where the first-team coach Keith Bertschin was sacked on the team bus and where the frustrated manager, Steve Bruce, decided to walk off just three weeks before the start of the season. There have been no significant signings but there have been sales. All this from a club who won six of their last 16 Championship matches last season and had to come up via the playoffs.
It’s why everyone expected Hull to be late getting away; if they got away at all.
The pessimism was such that just as last season it was said Tottenham managed to finish third in a two-horse title race, Hull will finish 21st in the 20-team Premier League.
Yet here they are – like United – sitting on two victories from two games. Hull have conceded one goal.
Caretaker manager Mike Phelan, previously of United, thinks a third consecutive win might just get him the job permanently, although whether the incoming Chinese owners share Phelan’s thoughts is unknown. We would not be in shock if they didn’t.
Phelan has at least made us reconsider Hull, but only up to a point. The overriding sense is that Hull’s bright start is the blip, not the trend. They’ve got six points early but surely it cannot last and they remain joint favourites with Burnley to be relegated, which could be harsh on Burnley. While the Clarets won the Championship, the Tigers came up in late May, winning the play-off final against Sheffield Wednesday courtesy of a goal from Mo Diame, who has since left for Newcastle.
Hull had been relegated the same month a year before. The club who confirmed that relegation were United, which was painful for Bruce. So whatever happens today, it will not be as dramatic as the last meeting.
And Hull City know about drama. There may be a general opinion which views them as about exciting as a Tony Pulis tracksuit, but away from the limelight Hull have rumbled on, making history, breaking transfer records, rowing furiously. Bruce’s four-year tenure, lengthy in modern football, masked some of this.
Bruce grimaced when his former club ensured Hull were going down 15 months ago. It wasn’t just United’s presence on Humberside that day, Bruce knew Hull really should have stayed up that season. Their failure enabled Newcastle and Aston Villa to postpone their own demise.
What a difference survival might have made. There would have been a third consecutive season in the Premier League, and all the money, status and bargaining power that brings. Bruce was on the cusp of serious achievement.
To some it will have sounded low-key, but this was Hull City’s first-ever match in Europe. It was the consequence of Hull City’s first-ever major final, the FA Cup epic against Arsenal. After a 110-year wait, Hull were 2-0 up in eight minutes at Wembley and lost 3-2.
And it was all just over two years ago.
The instability since has led Hull to the stage were they are simultaneously up and down. An opportunity knocked and it was ignored or misunderstood. No wonder the fanbase and Bruce grew agitated.
True, Hull have not got away late this August, but still, there is not much confidence that by next Whitsun Hull City will reach that place called 17th.