The Tigers completed a run of 5 successive league defeats for the first time since October 1998. Though it has to be said, losing to Sunderland, Manchester City, Aston Villa, Everton and Arsenal is slightly less gut-wrenching than that run was. Barnet, Halifax, Mansfield, Cambridge and Cardiff were the teams in that run. City, fielding yet another different 11 in an attempt to find any sort of formula for success, played quite well against Arsenal but were predictably broken down in the last 10 minutes when the exertions of the previous 80 caught up with them.
Phil Brown made 5 changes from the team that lost at Everton in a 4-4-1-1 formation. Doyle replaced McShane at right back. Ricketts took over from the suspended Zayatte, with Kilbane making his debut in the vacated left back slot. Halmosi came back in on the left of midfield and Cousin played on his own up front. In the final change, Ryan France achieved the feat of playing in all four divisions for the Tigers. While it was great to see a fine servant rewarded for the effort, it made little sense because Garcia had been the finest performer in the midfield at Newcastle. It was indicative of the current trouble facing City though. Phil Brown is desperately struggling to find the right 11 to try an achieve results against good opposition. The midfield area is crippling us as a team. Brown has now tried almost every combination of Ashbee, Marney, Boateng, Garcia, Barmby and France and has now run out of ideas. In late summer, when Boateng was still running on a little fuel instead of fumes and Marney had a bit of confidence, we looked energetic and aggressive in the middle of the park. Those days have long gone. We've spent the last 8-10 games being uncompetitive. It's affecting the whole team because we're sacrificing forward players to allow more in the midfield and it just doesn't matter. You can play 7 in the middle but if they're as poor as what we have had recently, you will never, ever win games at this level. Lot's of teams play with 1 up front, but they have midfielders who hold onto the ball allowing attack minded players to make runs from the middle and from full back. We don't have that at all. We're playing a poor version of one up top which far too often involves hitting poor balls at a lonely front man and expecting miracles.
Without the ball today, we were very good. We covered a lot of ground, we got men between their midfield and attack and we stopped Arsenal cutting through us. With the ball though, we just weren't good enough and we invited pressure over and over. Ashbee obviously has limitations on the ball but that's fine, plenty of teams play with a holding player whose job is to win the ball and give it to someone who can play. The problem is the other 3 can't play. Halmosi looks awful. He plays 90% of the game with his back to goal and that's in his own half. He just doesn't have it in him to get the ball out of his feet and use it. It's obvious to see why Brown has targeted two left sided players in the transfer window so far. Mendy gives a great attacking option when you can release him into space. He caused Arsenal some problems and he made the goal but in general play, he's not an option. He's not the sort of player who'll keep the ball under pressure or pass it simply. He's effective when he's running at a full-back and rarely otherwise. France just isn't a central midfielder, he never has been. He's effective off the ball because he's selfless and tireless but he's not anywhere near good enough in possession. As a result, we just didn't get on the ball enough. Geovanni is generally exciting in possession but isn't in possession enough or in the right areas. Without him causing trouble, we look a quiet toothless. We started well, we put them under pressure very quickly and we forced two early corners. We had a good game plan; to let them have all the ball they wanted in their half and attack them quickly when they crossed over half way. It worked well for a time, we limited them to just pot shots from free-kick's, though two very good ones, Turner deflecting one just wide and Myhill tipping the other onto the bar. We weren't a threat on the ball though, we nicked it in good areas but fed it forward poorly. Only Mendy and Geovanni excited and Mendy looked unable to beat the full-back at all because Clichy is quick. If we'd defended properly, we'd have gone in level though. Unfortunately, we made a hash of a corner, Adebayor climbed above (perhaps on) Michael Turner, Myhill got caught in no-keepers land and Doyle wandered in off the post. It was far too easy and a blemish on an otherwise excellent half for the defence. Immediately following the goal, Geovanni pushed up to become a second striker but it didn't change the pattern at all.
We started the second half well and started to put pressure on the ball again when they had it. We'd dropped off in the second quarter of the game. Manucho replaced Halmosi after about 52 mins and he and Cousin did a good job in tandem of swinging the momentum our way. We had more pressure on them earlier in their possession, we had genuine targets to hit with the ball and the crowd got right on side. It might've resulted in a penalty, though I missed the actual incident because I followed the ball, but Manucho won a header in the box and ended up in a heap. Ash was adamant that it was a foul. Shortly after, we got some reward. Ricketts swung a terrific pass into Mendy and for the first time in months, perhaps ever, he didn't try to beat the full-back, but delivered a terrific ball in the air from a deeper position. Cousin charged into the front post and planted a header in the top corner. Fantastic. For about 10 minutes, it looked like we might go on and win it. We had our tails up. It was chucking down and freezing cold, proper Hull weather and the southern/foreign softies didn't appear to fancy it. By the last 10, we'd run ourselves into the ground. At the Emirates in October, we looked as fit as a fiddle, right to the last, hanging onto our famous win, but now, we look a little more leggy and this sort of effort takes it out of us. The goal that took them into the lead for the second time was just as disappointing for us than the first. Geovanni burst out of our box with the ball and failed to find Manucho. Two passes later and Van Persie was on the edge of our box holding off Ricketts, Doyle got sucked inside, Mendy didn't track Nasri and the terrific little midfielder tucked it inside the far post. It was a delightful finish but the ease with which they took the ball off us and cut through us for pretty much the first time in the game will annoy Browny. They scored another to clinch the game, a nice move but yet another offside decision we didn't get. As it turned out, it might've been worse as Bendtner hit the post later on. We finished on the front foot but it was too late.
Defensively, it was a very good performance from a seriously makeshift back four. Ricketts did a terrific job at centre-back. He could maybe have got closer to Van Persie for the second goal but that's harsh criticism. He did OK on the ball and won his headers. His pace helped him a little were another full-back may have struggled. Kilbane gave a very promising debut. He's competent in possession, he doesn't mess about when in danger and he covers the ground with consummate ease. His long throws might be a decent weapon too. Turner did what he normally does. He lost out in the air to Adebayor more than he usually does but recovered well .he won the balls that dropped on the floor, timed his challenges well and looked pretty much at ease against good opponents. Doyle was the poorest of the back four but wasn't awful. He did OK most of the time to get himself in the right position against the threat of Nasri and Clichy and Mendy helped him out by tracking back. He didn't cover the ground quickly enough though; he's going to have to be pretty perceptive if he's going to overcome his physical shortcomings. Myhill did well kicking under pressure and distributed short some of the time. He came out quickly, was generally decisive and made two good stops and one amazing save. His kicking from dead balls was poor though and he should've done a lot better for the first goal.
Up front, Cousin did about as well as he could've done of getting himself onto the ball and finding his mates. He did a decent job of challenging for everything and forcing Arsenal to head the ball out. We didn't have anyone looking to pick up the second balls though, so it was wasted. When Manucho came on, they created more of those situations but the pick-up from the middle didn't improve. Manucho looked a willing runner and a physical threat. His touch seemed OK and the was aware of what was going on around him. We didn't really get to see him in front of goal.
We shouldn't really be too disheartened by a defeat against a good Arsenal side. They are stacked full off good footballers and great athletes. The problem is that this poor run is ongoing. How we are still in the top half is anyone's guess? What is an absolute fact is that we have the fixtures available to us to stay in the division. Spurs, Newcastle, Blackburn, Portsmouth, West Brom and Stoke have all got to come to us and we have trips to West Ham, Fulham, Bolton, Wigan, Middlesbrough and Sunderland. All tough games, I'm sure, but all winnable too if we show the right appetite.
For that though, we're going to need to find the right shape and the right team, a settled team. I'd expect Kilbane to move onto the left midfield if we don't find another wide man. He's comfortable on the ball, hard working and has a nice left foot, he'd give good balance. The key thing is that we get in a central midfielder. We desperately need someone in there who can pass the ball. The problem is that they don't grow on trees and good ones cost a fortune. An average player like Jimmy Bullard would cost nearly seven million pounds, that's madness. I'd personally look at Scotland, perhaps Scott Brown or Pedro Mendes. Dean Whitehead was mentioned, he'd do a god job. Unfortunately at the moment, the Man City money and Spurs desperation has inflated the market. If we're serious about competing then we've got to find the resource from somewhere. I'd also like to see us go to West Ham in 10 days time without Geovanni. We're not playing well enough for him to be effective. Rather than crippling his spirit, leave him out, put out a balanced midfield and two strikers who'll cause problems. We have four good front men but no supply. Let's concentrate on that.
Ratings: Myhill 7, Doyle 6, Kilbane 7, Ricketts 8, Turner 7, Mendy 7, Halmosi 5 (Manucho), Ashbee 6, France 6 (Garcia), Geovanni 6 (Fagan), Cousin 8.