A year after inheriting the rotten corpse of Hull City’s relegated Premier League squad, Nigel Pearson must now turn up at the training ground and breathe a sigh of relief.
After a season which began with the genuine threaten of relegation, but ended with a club record-breaking unbeaten away run and push for the play-offs, the Tigers now look forward to what could turn out to be the club’s most mundane period… on the pitch at least – for five years. Much of the summer has been spent battling on two fronts – one to ship out the overpaid wasters from that Premier League adventure, and the other to bring in young, hungry loanees, mostly from Manchester United’s reserve and junior sides.
With defender Joe Dudgeon and winger Robbie Brady added to the ex-Red Devils already in the squad – James Chester, Corry Evans, Cameron Stewart and Paul McShane – it is feasible that City could line up with no fewer than five former United starlets in the starting eleven. When Stewart returns from injury the number will likely rise to six.
Pre-season form, never a clear indicator of what lies ahead, is promising, with a semi-strong Liverpool side despatched 3-0 at the KC Stadium last week. But for all the positive signings, Pearson still needs to strengthen a squad that already appears to be creaking under the weight of injuries to players including centre-halves Paul McShane and Jack Hobbs.
A first choice goalkeeper must be selected, with Hungarian under-21 international Péter Gulácsi (on-loan from Liverpool) likely to get the nod ahead of Brazilian Adriano Basso. And we all remember what happened the last time the Tigers brought in a Brazilian…
Dele Adebola’s ‘capture’ from Nottingham Forest was openly mocked by many fans, but the word from pre-season training is that he is one of the fittest, most aggressive strikers to be seen at the club for a long time and could be the ideal ‘big man’ in a traditional ‘big man-little man’ strike duo with goal-machine Matty Fryatt.
Much may depend on what else Pearson can achieve before the transfer window slams shut. Few fans would argue with another player being added to the ranks in each of defence, midfield and up front. But the potential departures of yet more Premier League relics will also have a huge impact. Jimmy Bullard is currently suspended for two weeks for an apparent breach of club rules during a training camp in Slovenia. Out of favour for all of last season, the knee-knackered middle man was on the verge of a return to Pearson’s good books before his apparent misbehaviour on tour. His £45,000-a-week wages continue to cripple many of the management’s efforts to rebuild the squad. If he leaves the club – either through a possible transfer to top flight new boys QPR, or potentially even by having his contract terminated – it will free up much-needed funds.
Alternatively, although somewhat unlikely, he may yet make another miraculous recovery and return. If fit and given a run of games, it is almost conceivable that Bullard could be the division’s best player, pulling the strings for a Tigers team still bereft of creativity.
Another leftover from the Premier League is Nigeria international Seyi Olofinjana. The big man spent last season doing reasonably well on loan at Cardiff but has returned, only to be struck down by a mystery injury.
Many City fans would welcome him back as the brute force needed to fill the Ian Ashbee-sized hole in the middle of the park. Implausible as it may be (and it is massively implausible), a Bullard/Olofinjana double act could propel the Tigers to the play-off places at the very least. But fans must remain level-headed. In what will prove to be the most competitive league in the country, if not all of Europe, it could well be difficult to improve greatly on last season’s almost miraculous eleventh place finish.
An improvement on poor home form is essential, as is a return to finding the net more than what seemed like once every other game. Anything less than wins and plenty of goals in east Yorkshire will leave City fans moaning more than usual.
However with at least ten sides in the Championship harbouring genuine promotion aspirations, City should prepare for another season of ups and downs and be ready to settle for another crack at the play-offs, only to be let down and finish comfortably mid-table.
Prediction: Matty Fryatt scores twenty league goals, but City finish a mediocre mid-table 12th.
Written by Marcus Dysch, We Are Going Up’s Hull City Blogger
Marcus tweets at @marcusdysch