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Chelsea out to maul Black Cats

Chelsea 7 hours ago
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Mar 18, 2010

Iain Dowie's to-do list

Charismatic, colourful and criticised, Phil Brown was Hull City. Now, at least for the next nine games, Iain Dowie is. Without much time to make an impact or the ability to recruit his own players, he nonetheless has a huge task: to keep them in the Premier League and earn himself a longer contract. But how?

Rebuild morale

If a week can be a long time in politics, it can be a chastening time in football. Barely had Brown been placed on gardening exile than Alan Curbishley, a man with a proven pedigree in the Premier League, was ruled out of contention to replace him. Talk of Mark Hughes and Avram Grant led to nothing; even Gary Megson and Paul Jewell, it appeared, were not interested. It amounted to a collective snub before the eventual choice of Dowie, who seemed to get the job through default and whose last successful season in management was in 2003-04. It is not the sort of record to foster optimism, but Hull cannot afford to be downcast now.

Change his fortunes and Hull's

Hull have only won one of their past 15 league games and just seven of the last 58. Dowie, meanwhile, has long lost his reputation as one of the most progressive and promising young managers in the game. None of his last three jobs, at Charlton, Coventry and QPR, can be called a triumph, even if two were very brief spells. Club and manager have a mutual need to prosper. For Dowie, the challenge is to prove as effective as he did at Oldham and Crystal Palace at the start of his managerial career.

Make it fourth time lucky

The precedents are not encouraging for Hull. Dowie arrived at Newcastle at an almost identical stage of last season. There were eight games remaining then and his brief spell as Alan Shearer's assistant culminated in demotion. He began the 2006-07 season at the helm of Charlton, though he was sacked in November; they finished in the bottom three in the summer. And his only full season in charge of a Premier League club was with Crystal Palace in 2004-05. They, too, went down. But experience of relegation battles is only a benefit if he has learnt from them.

Beat Portsmouth

Hull are at Fratton Park on Saturday. Portsmouth are relegation certainties, looked demoralised at Anfield on Monday and a club who have had a nine-point penalty for going into administration this week. They should provide the ideal opposition for a manager's first game. Win and only goal difference could separate Hull from the comparative safety of 17th place. But for a side whose only victory in four months came against Aston Villa, winning has proved easier in theory than in principle.

Win the winnable games

Brown may consider himself unfortunate. His final game in charge was against the prospective champions Arsenal; his last dozen included two meetings each with Arsenal and Manchester United, plus encounters with Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City and trips to Everton and Blackburn, both in fine form at home at the time. The result is that Dowie inherits a seemingly simpler position; only one of the remaining nine matches is against a team in the top seven (Liverpool) while the other three visitors to the KC Stadium (Fulham, Burnley and Sunderland) have a combined total of two away league wins all season. Take nine points from those matches and Hull may be able to sense salvation.

Find a goalscorer

Hull are not alone in this, but the lack of a regular scorer is particularly pronounced for the Tigers. Stephen Hunt has struck six times from the left of midfield, but none of the various attackers have mustered more than three. Yet Jozy Altidore, despite a meagre return of one goal in 22 games, has put in some excellent displays, most recently against Arsenal, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink is a fine finisher, albeit one with limited mobility, and Amr Zaki showed his predatory instincts at the start of his spell at Wigan. Show one the path to goal and that might be enough.

Keep Jimmy Bullard and Stephen Hunt fit

In a squad short of quality, there are two obvious exceptions to the rule. Both are capable of galvanising the team and both have the ability to turn workmanlike displays into victories. Bullard's injury-ravaged Hull career contains a mere six starts, but he was named the Premier League's player of the month in November and contains a passing range his team-mates cannot rival. If his attitude off the pitch is the subject of speculation in East Yorkshire, his infectious enthusiasm on it remains invaluable. Hunt, meanwhile, is the outstanding candidate for Hull's player of the season award, but the Irishman has missed the last two games with a foot problem.

Reproduce the performance against Arsenal

Brown pronounced himself "a proud manager" on Saturday night. It is easy to see why; besides the recklessness that got George Boateng dismissed and the poor parry from Boaz Myhill that preceded Nicklas Bendtner's injury-time winner, Hull did little wrong. The spirit and commitment, the organisation and the industry that enabled their ten remaining players to perform so commendably against Arsenal should stand them in good stead; if, that is, they will play in the same manner for another manager and against lesser opposition.

Ignore the consequences

Hull's financial position is both precarious and public knowledge. Relegation could prompt administration, bring a fire sale or result in Dowie's dismissal. Yet, difficult as it may be, the challenge is to avoid thinking about that. During their time in the Premier League, Hull have been at their best when they have played fearless football; it characterised the remarkable run of six wins in the first nine games of last season, as well as the victories against Everton and Manchester City in the current campaign. That sort of approach is required now.

Keep Quiet

Perhaps Brown did not perish at the hands of jam-makers, but 72 hours after issuing his full and frank apology to the Women's Institute, he was removed from his position. It may be entirely coincidental, but chairman Adam Pearson is a serious and professional individual whose initial instructions to Brown included keeping a low profile. The deposed manager contrived to oblige for four months, but the last week's headlines have provided unpleasant reminders of the impromptu attempt at karaoke in the centre circle, and the infamous half-time team talk on the pitch. Whether or not Hull survive, Dowie's chances of long-term employment should be aided by acting with rather greater orthodoxy than his predecessor did.

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