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Hull City: Meyler the difference as Tigers salvage point

Hull City 1 – 1 Sunderland (Saturday, September 16th)

By Michael Try

City will have been hoping for an end to their recent woes when Sunderland came knocking on the KCom door; each club hoping to kick-start their season after disappointing results following relegation. Indeed, being former Premier League clubs seems to be an albatross around their necks, bringing extra levels of pressure to any encounter. Both teams were eager for three points, but  the performance has raised questions, going forward.

Hull lined up an increasingly familiar 3-4-3; the only change from the away game to Fulham being Meyler dropped in favour of Henriksen. Tasked with breaking down Sunderland’s counter attacking  4-2-3-1 formation, Hull seemed to have the better of the exchanges at first, probing Sunderland’s defence for weaknesses and spending the majority of the opening stages on the ball, being, as Slutsky himself calls it, “maximum aggressive”.

The attacking intent was clear, with wing-backs Aina and Kingsley being as high and wide as wingers when in possession; the focus being to stretch out the field and create space for the attackers. Indeed, in the opening few minutes Hull almost scored a tap-in after fine work from Bowen (recent EFL player of the month) when he managed to break free of his marker and pass across the box, only the outstretched hand of Sunderland keeper Ruiter diverting the ball away from the incoming Dicko and Grosicki.

However, for all their aggressive posture, this was Hull’s only true chance to score;  the final ball was often lacking and Sunderland were well drilled to repel Hull’s attempts to create meaningful chances. It was Sunderland in fact who scored first. Although the time they spent in Hull’s half was much briefer, it was significantly more effective and they were able to freely make their way through the Tiger’s midfield into dangerous wide positions.

Striker James Vaughan found himself unmarked at the far post to head Sunderland into the lead from a McManaman cross. Fans will undoubtedly feel frustrated at similar goals being conceded once again.

At this point Hull seemingly deflated and passes were increasingly misplaced and Sunderland were able to take control of the game as possession was wasted over and over – Hector at one stage gifting Vaughan a free run at McGregor, who needed to produce a fine save to keep the game at 0-1.

Hull did manage to find some composure as the half-time whistle approached, with Hector at one point finding  Bowen with a long pass, but he couldn’t get the ball under control fast enough to take advantage. It was a move that Slutsky seems to encourage for both his wide men, tasking the centre backs to find the wingers inward runs between opposition defenders with long ranged balls, but in this half seemingly nothing Hull did had that extra bit of luck in order to pull it off.

The second half saw Hull shift to four at the back and make two changes; Henriksen off for Toral and Hector making way for Meyler. It was the later who changed the course of the match – his introduction providing Hull with bite in midfield and a platform to attack. Meyler managed to be first to most loose balls, breaking up Sunderland’s play before passing the ball for attack after attack.

His introduction allowed Hull to finally click into place and be able to smoothly transition the ball up the field and provide a safe passing spot for his teammates should they encounter trouble with intelligent positioning.

It’s simply a myth Meyler is “bad” at passing. He is safe and smart with the ball, a talent that might not earn highlights reels but allows the ball to reach dangerous positions nevertheless. His introduction was the catalyst for a Hull resurgence in the second half, and the crowd erupted in joy when he toe-poked in an equaliser to level proceedings, being fed by a slick backheel from Frazier Campbell who had replaced Nouha Dicko.

It is hard to overstate how different Hull played in the second half. Sunderland found themselves pinned back, desperately clinging on to a point and Hull where playing with a focus and drive which seemed alien to them in the first half.

Full time found Hull drawing 1-1 with the visitors, and while in the first half many would have been joyous for Hull to have salvaged anything, the second half display couldn’t help but leave the want for more.

This match is likely to prove it’s worth only within the context of the games to follow. We saw two wildly different Hull sides either half and it is a difficult task ahead for Leonid Slutsky to figure out how to make this team play consistently. If he does figure that out, other sides will dread coming to the KCom, but for now many questions about the players, formation, and roles will need to be answered while the season progresses on – the immediate task on the horizon being Reading away next week, who lay only one place behind Hull.