Hull holding their own
Two games, four points. A start to file under "encouraging -- with qualifications."
The league table, first. We can divine nothing from a league table written before August is out that we could not predict before the season began. The likely champions will be in either sky or deep blue. Manchester United will not trouble the Premier League's trophy engraver. Everton will finish fourth-seventh. Burnley and QPR probably won't. And so on.
Nonetheless, Hull City boss Steve Bruce will be pleased by the tiny sliver of clear amber water that's already opened up between his side and some of those likely to contest the eighth-20th portion of the Premier League. Already Crystal Palace, Burnley and QPR are two games' worth of points behind.
After all, Bruce's ill-judged team selection for the Europa League game at KSC Lokeren last week proves that, despite this being their debut in European competition, for him the dour grind of top-flight survival remains paramount. Exasperating for those who fear that European qualification has been sacrificed at the unlovely altar of Stoke City at home, but that is the regrettable nature of the modern game.
So what of that Stoke game? The visitors' horizons are gradually being elevated from survival to mid-table prosperity, so while this is a game any side would be disappointed to lose, there are more than a few that are easier. They were never quite as functional as made out anyway -- you cannot hoof and throw-in your way to way repeated Premier League survival season after season; one always felt they were the victims of stereotyping, something those in the city of Hull ought to empathise with.
- Report: Stoke City 1-1 Hull City
When Hull City lost a man early on, it was therefore easy to fear the worst. Playing against any side at this level sporting a numerical advantage is desperately difficult; few City fans would have quarreled with a share of the points as the luckless James Chester trudged from the field with the match not a quarter of the way through.
And yet, and yet ... there's always a smear of disappointment at leaking a late equaliser. Before it, City had battled gamely, created a couple of opportunities (we'll return to those shortly) and despite the increasing pressure as the game wore on, looked as though a perfect Premier League opening were going to be made.
Incidentally, we shall not unduly linger upon the unfortunate decision that the referee made when misjudging a throw-in. They're human, they err, and no side ever conceded directly from a throw-in anyway. It stings, but it happens.
Once that sharp dismay had receded, a more rounded reflection was possible. City had recovered from early adversity to play with heart and energy, which reflects no little credit upon them.
However, some preseason anxieties remain. City are not a side that create a slew of chances to score, game after game. That isn't for the want of effort or for anything tactically negative on the manager's part, it's simply how games pan out for the Tigers. Almost all Premier League sides are exceptionally well-drilled -- after all, you cannot teach natural ability, but organisational aptitude is something you can teach.
It places a weighty burden upon the recipients of those chances to take them. With Shane Long having been sold to Southampton, the Tigers are not overburdened with attacking options.
That in turn places pressure on the rest of the side, who know that a single concession may be decisive. That proved to be the case away to Lokeren last week; for this week's second leg, everyone is unhappily aware that shipping an away goal to the Belgians will probably settle the tie. Scoring three times in a game is not something City have recent form for.
However, these are not new concerns. And the Tigers stayed up easily and made a Cup final last season with an excess of goals. So why not again?