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Friday, January 21, 2011

Tigers Tigers Turning Bright

Moving into the top half of the Championship, a takeover off the pitch, and strengthening in the January transfer window, Nobes looks at why Hull City fans can look ahead to 2011 with optimism.

Nigel Pearson is beginning to turn things around at Hull after relegation last year

The poet, Philip Larkin, was once asked whether he enjoyed living in Hull. "I don't suppose I'm unhappier there than I should be anywhere else," he characteristically replied.

As the Championship season enters its second half though, there should certainly be an increasing happiness amongst the city's football fans.

After a miserable couple of years, things
for Hull City are finally beginning to look up again.

The East Yorkshire outfit's two-season spell in the Premier League came to end last May amid concerns over the club's financial predicament.

Promotion in 2008 under Phil Brown had been followed by a spectacular introduction to life among England's elite. City recorded wins at Newcastle, Tottenham and, most famously, Arsenal.

They also held Liverpool at Anfield on their way to collecting 27 points from their first 20 games. Hull began to get comfortable in their new surroundings and the riches it brought.

However, the club who had been in League Two facing the likes of Boston and Kidderminster as recently as 2004, had begun to lose perspective.

No action was more indicative of this 'head in the clouds' mentality than the signing of Jimmy Bullard in January 2009. Brown's £5 million marquee capture was handed a four-year deal with the club - worth £45,000 a week, whatever division City were in.

Seriously injured in his very first game, Bullard made just 14 more appearances in the Premier League for Hull.

After the most memorable 12 months in the club's history though, 2009 brought a turn for the worse. They collected just eight points from their remaining matches, avoiding relegation by a single point.

The rot that had set in continued last term, with Hull perpetually residing in the bottom three. Brown was removed with nine games of the season remaining, but replacement Iain Dowie failed to keep the Tigers up.

Figures began to be banded around about the loss of income the club would feel - £21 million some suggested.

Chairman Adam Pearson, no relation to the manager, was fighting to ensure a club who had spent almost £40 million of their £50 million turnover on their playing squad weren't going to go to the wall.

It was with some surprise, then, that Nigel Pearson opted to make the move from Leicester to the KC Stadium over the summer.

Why had he felt the need to leave the comfort of the East Midlands - where he had taken the club from League One to Championship play off semi finalists in two years - and joined an apparently sinking ship?

He was risking his burgeoning managerial career by looking to turn around a club paralysed from heady days of overspending in the Premier League.

Hull's former owner Russell Bartlett flanked by new owners the Allams

Despite the sale of winger Stephen Hunt, City's new boss found himself paralysed by the club's financial problems - being mostly restricted to the free signings of midfielders Robert Koren, Nobby Solano, and James Harper.

It was no surprise then to see a slow start to life back in the Championship on the banks of the Humber. A paucity of goals ensuring that, for all of their hard work and Pearson's organisation, winning matches was proving a challenge.

Defeat by local neighbours Scunthorpe left them just outside the relegation zone on goal difference with a third of the season gone. It has proven to be their nadir.

Since that loss to the Iron, Pearson's side have lost just one of their last 11 league matches - ironically enough to his former club Leicester.

Saturday's 2-0 victory over Barnsley propelled them into the top half of the table for the first time since August. Only second-place Swansea have conceded fewer goals at home than Hull's six in 13 games at the KC, too.

Pearson has even manage to cure the chronic travel sickness which saw City go 18 months between away wins. Trips to Norwich, Preston, Sheffield United, and Portsmouth have all produced maximum spoils.

Perhaps even more importantly though, the takeover of the club by local businessman Assem Allam and his son Ehab have helped secure the club's financial future.

A £30 million cash injection into the club has allowed the manager to make some impact in the transfer market and bolster his flagging attacking line. Striker Aaron McLean was snapped up for more than a million from Peterborough.

He has also returned to Leicester to bring forward Matty Fryatt to Yorkshire with the striker notably speaking of his desire to link-up again with his former manager being central to his decision to move to Hull.

Young Manchester United centre half James Chester has also joined Pearson's revolution for the sum of £300,000.

As well as backing him financially, the new owners and the chairman have also been vocal in their support Pearson.

It's in stark contrast to how other bosses have been treated following takeovers at clubs, particularly ex-Hull boss Phil Parkinson at Charlton.

Now, a rejuvenated City face a tricky trio of games against high-flyers Reading, QPR, and Leeds. They will all provide a good test of how far Pearson's side have progressed before they meet up again with Scunthorpe - and a chance for revenge.

A continuation of their fine recent form over the next month though, and Hull fans will be dreaming of a repeat of the kind of relentless charge under Brown which took them to the Premier League in the first place.

And even Larkin would have found that prospect something to smile about.

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