Sitting in 19th place in the Premiership—with the worst defense in the league—having conceded a massive 42 goals in only 20 games doesn't sound like grounds for optimism, but with just over half the season over, things are on the up for the Tigers.
Recent fixtures against a resurgent Arsenal showed promise, and a battling commitment by the players—and the same could be said for the loss to Manchester United—of Phil Brown's men showed that they can keep pace with the best in the league. Given a small pinch of luck and better refereeing they could well have gotten something out of the games in particular, but for the class of the Champion's England striker, the Tiger's could have gained three valuable points against Manchester United.
It is often mentioned that the Tiger's manager is the weakest link in the Hull City chain and that the players don't play for him, but that is far from the truth. If anything the commitment the players have shown their manager over the past few weeks has thrown this ridiculous idea out of the window.
Indeed, Brown has started to get his team to be more attacking of late, even against so-called better opposition with his charges following his tactical plans very well. He has reverted to a conventional 4-4-2 formation rather than the 4-5-1 formation that he used at points during the latter part of last season and occasionally this season.
The 4-5-1 formation works very well for some team, but in Hull City's case it doesn't fit the balance of the side. It has become more noticeable over recent weeks that for all Geovanni's obvious footballing talents, he doesn't quite fit. He is a square peg in a round hole, and the team's balance is better with a conventional midfield of two wide players a holding midfielder and a midfield general.
Geovanni's ability to produce something from nothing is not in question, but his ability to fit in a team that is in a relegation dog fight is. He is prone to run with the ball and move all over the field as he sees is necessary, but he needs to be more focused in his play. He has become a better all round player since joining the Tigers, as he now tracks back, tackles and works for his team, but the maverick Brazilian temperament still comes through as he is on the left one moment then the right the next.
Since Jimmy Bullard's recent injury, Brown has tried a couple of options not least Geovanni in that role as the midfield general. However, with the reintroduction of George Boateng back into the lead midfield role, there has become more balance to the side. This also will allow the team to be better equipped to reintegrate Bullard on his return to full fitness at the tail end of January.
For the Tigers to have a better chance of survival, it might be prudent for Brown to play Bullard in games that he feels the club have a clear chance of victory. He should maybe take a leaf out of Mick McCarthy's book and wrap Bullard in cotton wool for matches against the likes of Chelsea, Villa, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs to protect him for the games when when we have a more realistic chance of success.
Brown has formed his team around players with spirit more than aptitude in a lot of ways. Fagan and Garcia are both good players but would never be classed as greats of the game, but what they lack in ability they make up for it in their pugnacious attitude. They are the sort of players who would crawl over broken glass for the team if it meant winning three points. When some players heads drop, they will battle harder.
Another player that will be key is Stephen Hunt, the wonderful little Irish international. He is tenacious and bellicose but not without a dash of skill. He has the habit of getting on the end of balls that he has no right to. Against Bolton at the Reebok Stadium, he latched onto a header to bring the team back into the game from between two of Bolton's huge centre backs.
Jozy Altidore the raw young American striker is improving every week as he gains more Premier League exprience. His partnership with Fagan is gaining momentum as they learn to read each other's routes and runs. Altidore, has gone from neophyte to battling bruiser tirelessly running for his teammates. He works over the opposition defenders for Brown, so his manager can then bring on the old war horse, Jan Vanegoor of Hesselink, when the opposition is at its weakest.
The biggest worry for the Tigers is the defense, but more because of familiarity. Brown has had to change the defense around a fair amount. He started with Michael Turner in the centre back position alongside Kamil Zayette, he then lost Turner to Sunderland.
The influential and superb Anthony Gardner returned to full fitness, but the defense then lost Paul McShane—who had replaced Sam Ricketts, who was sold. As the team was finally starting to communicate well with each other, McShane sustained an injury and Bernard Mendy was recalled.
The resurgence of Mendy as an offensive right back has been great to see, but his communication with his centre back partner Zayette is still a work in progress, but this will improve as they get more matches under their belt.
However, with the Seyi Olofinjana leaving to take part in the African Cup of Nations, the holding role he has made his own in the absence of club captain Ian Ashbee will be a big hole to fill. Dean Marney who will be his stand-in can run tirelessly but does not have Olofinjana's footballing ability, and he will be sorely missed whilst on international duty.
All in all the Tigers second half of the season has all the potential of been very fruitful. Brown will have the return of Bullard, who was so influential in November. He has a team that is fully committed for him on the field. Brown has a striking partnership that is blending into a good formidable duo and, with more games under their belt, will start to bear the fruit of their endeavours.
Brown has hit on his team's best formation with players that can come in in most positions to fill others shoes if needed, and he has got a team that doesn't hang its head even if they are losing.
With games coming up against Chelsea, Tottenham, and Manchester United in the next few weeks, some of the club's hardest challenges will be over. The meat and drink of teams that the Tigers will be battling with for survival will be theirs for the taking.
The New Year, bring it on. The future's bright, the future's amber.