Michael Turner, Tigers Legend
Turner was signed to replace Leon Cort at the heart of the City defence. Cort had followed Peter Taylor to Crystal Palace for a fee of £1.25m. Turner scored a debut goal in a friendly at West Park, Winterton and his league debut at West Brom was impressive but his form soon dipped, matching that of Parkinson's Tigers team. The lanky Turner was lightweight, easily bullied by strong centre forwards and struggled to match the pace of smaller ones. While his height meant he won a large percentage of aerial challenges, he was never particularly convincing. His positioning was poor, he was always stretching or stooping to win headers and he failed to read the game. Turner's most obvious flaw was his ability to use the ball, or lack thereof. He was uncomfortable in possession, unable to bring the ball out of defence and aimless in his distribution. Giving the ball away cheaply meant doing more defending, a viscous circle.
The Tigers and Turner hit rock bottom in October, losing 5-1 at Colchester and 4-2 at home to Southampton in the space of 5 days, defeats that lead to the sacking of Parkinson. His replacement, caretaker manager Phil Brown, immediately dropped Turner, kindly taking him out of the line of fire. He returned for a trip to Leeds United, just prior to Christmas of 2006 and performed well. Brown had an immediate influence on Turner, helping him do the basic things right and instilling some desperately needed self-believe. Turner formed a decent partnership with Damien Delaney and the Tigers stayed in the Championship by a whisker. On the day Championship safety was assured, a 1-0 win at Cardiff, Turner was magnificent. His performance was brave, dogged and competent.
In the summer of 2007, Phil Brown made finding an experienced partner to bring out the best in Turner a priority. In came Wayne Brown from Colchester United for a bargain £400,000. Wayne Brown's aptitude rubbed off on Turner, who got better by the week. With Phil Brown's coaching, a solid partner, more confidence, capable team mates and his own hard work, Turner became a crucial part of the City side. The team went from strength to strength, lead by Dean Windass and Fraizer Campbell up front and marshaled by Turner and Brown at the back, Hull City crept into the play-off picture, steamed into the promotion picture and eventually won promotion to the Premier League at Wembley.
There was a lot of debate in the summer of 2008 about which members of the City team would step up to the top flight and whether the new signings would have the desired effect. One thing that almost everyone was sure of was that Turner would rise to the challenge. His lack of pace was the only chink in his armour. Despite that confidence, I'm sure no Hull City fan truly believed he'd take the step up with such ease and would go on to become one of the best centre backs in the league. Gone was the weak centre half signed in 2006, Turner was the immovable object at the heart of the Hull City defence. Rarely in a poor position, he read the game; he made half the number of tackles and twice the number of interceptions. His tackles were impeccably timed. Before, he'd concede soft free-kicks by climbing or holding strikers, now he was more intelligent, even sly.
He's comfortable in possession, not brilliant, but capable. He plays the game simply and he rarely squanders possession. Most importantly, Turner has shown that he has the heart of a lion, or should that be a Tiger? He'll put his head in the way of the ball, or his body or his legs, whatever it takes. He'll throw himself in front of anything that comes between the attacking team and his goal. He has that quality that a great defender has to have: an absolute hatred of conceding goals. In the absence of Ian Ashbee and George Boateng, he even became the team captain for a couple of games at the start of this season.
Whether the club could hold onto Michael Turner has been the source of much debate and anxiety in Hull for the last few months. With names like Liverpool and Manchester City being mentioned, his departure often seemed inevitable. It probably came as a bit of a shock to most fans when the club that eventually signed Turner was Sunderland. With respect, Sunderland finished one point above Hull City last season and haven't been much of a force in English football for a long time. Sunderland have shown ambition this summer though and as such, can lure players like Turner and Darren Bent. It would have been a much easier pill to swallow, though, if Turner had joined a club the stature of Liverpool.
Almost lost amongst the furor over Turner was the news that Paul McShane has returned to Hull on a permanent deal. When McShane signed on loan in August 2008, the word from Sunderland was that he was a calamity. Evidence of this was plastered all over YouTube, McShane appearing to have made enough mistakes to launch his own series of "Own goals and gaffes". What followed was almost as pleasantly surprising as Michael Turner's ascension. McShane was a confident, committed and thoroughly competent full-back. He wasn't great on the ball but defensively, he was rock solid. He flew into every tackle and won most them of them, he competed in the air and he made brave blocks. He was a massive part of the Hull City side that took the Premier League by storm. Lazy pundits point to the overblown fuss at Manchester City as the point at which Hull City's season fell apart. Most fans consider the biggest factor to be Marlon King's departure or Jimmy Bullard's horrendous injury. I personally look to the day Sunderland recalled McShane. It ripped a bit of the heart out of the team and broke up a defensive unit that was excellent, more often than not.
Having McShane back is superb, he's a born competitor and he'll be a big improvement at right back. That is obviously countered by the loss of Michael Turner. While Hull City are left hoping the undoubtedly talented but usually injured Anthony Gardner will fill Turner's boots, the big man will be embarking on a new challenge at Sunderland. He deserves the chance to move on at the top level, it's a travesty that he doesn't already have an England cap. He'll be superb for Sunderland, of that I have no doubt.
This article was also published by Sunderland fanzine A Love Supreme
- The rise and rise of Michael Turner