When City roar
In light of off-field issues, Hull City's players deserve real credit for rallying to claim a historic win over Liverpool at the KC Stadium. A 3-1 victory will be seen as a disaster on Merseyside but that should not detract from what was a valid effort on the part of Steve Bruce's players
By Alex Dunn. Last Updated: 02/12/13 3:57pm
David Meyler: Played a key role as Hull City beat Liverpool for the first time ever
On a day when the majority inside the KC Stadium were united in defiance at the morning's widely reported inflammatory comments from Hull City owner Assem Allam, those in black and amber showed a similar sense of togetherness as they made history of their own by recording a first-ever victory over Liverpool.
A supporter-led 'City Till We Die' campaign in response to Allam's attempt to rebrand the club Hull Tigers has irked the Egyptian businessman to such an extent he took to a Sunday newspaper to muse: "They can die as soon as they want. As long as they leave the club for the majority who just want to watch good football." As comebacks go, 'we'll die when we want' isn't exactly Woody Allen in its witticism, but it purveys the overall party line pretty well.
Steve Bruce, caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, used his programme notes to issue a rallying call of unity and it was one his players took to heart as they addressed a worrying slump of four defeats in five Premier League games to record a 3-1 victory that hardly flattered them.
For Liverpool, it was another worrying day at the office as they looked flat throughout in an attacking sense and at the other end as porous as a colander despite Rodgers' protestations to the contrary pre-match.
News of Daniel Sturridge being ruled out for around six-to-eight weeks began to filter around the ground just before kick-off, with Rodgers having tinkered his line-up accordingly. If this is an indication of what is to come in his leading scorer's absence, title talk could be rendered redundant by Christmas.
Raheem Sterling was handed his first Liverpool start in almost two months. The 18-year-old winger last made the first XI against Crystal Palace on October 5 and had not featured at all since a substitute appearance against Newcastle a fortnight later.
Philippe Coutinho was left on the bench as his manager held reservations over an ankle problem that has troubled him of late. The Brazilian's guile will be badly needed over the festive period.
Victor Moses and Kolo Toure also returned for the visitors, while Alex Bruce and David Meyler were recalled by the home side. Both would prove to be inspired choices on the part of Bruce senior.
Starting line-ups for Hull City versus Liverpool at the KC Stadium
Where it was won and lost
The pattern of the first half was set almost from the off as Liverpool dominated possession without ever really looking likely to break Hull down in open play.
On this showing, the dissolution of Liverpool's SAS strike-force looks to be a major headache as Liverpool changed shape to accommodate the inclusion of Moses and Sterling. Jordan Henderson (14) was charged with supporting Luis Suarez centrally (see average position graph below) but whilst his form has been praised of late, he lacks the cuteness of a No.10 and it showed in the perfunctory nature of Liverpool's attacking threat. In the first period, he had just 22 touches, with only Simon Mignolet having fewer.
Average positions in the first period for Hull (left) and Liverpool (right)
Neither Sterling nor Moses could make much of an impression either. The former managed not a solitary cross in the opening 45 minutes, with Sterling hardly faring much better either as he put in just two of his own.
Hull's game plan was unapologetic. Wing-backs Maynor Figueroa and Ahmed Elmohamady sat deep to form a back five at times and in choosing their forward forays wisely, they were for the large part more effective than those they were charged to quell in red.
Indeed, Hull's opening goal on 20 minutes owed much to Elmohamady. When Moses attempted an elaborate flick deep in his own half that would have caused groans of exasperation in a five-a-side game, the Egyptian stole possession before playing a cute pass inside to Jake Livermore. An incisive one-two with Meyler made a yard of space before a sizable deflection off the unfortunate Skrtel (Liverpool's best defender all afternoon - more clearances (16) and touches (91) than any other player) gave Mignolet not a prayer.
Jake Livermore's opening goal owed much to a deflection off the unfortunate Skrtel
In the Sky Sports studio, Jamie Carragher was scathing in his criticism of the Liverpool loanee: "In the week Victor Moses has been complaining about not playing enough, these are the reasons why. He's not responsible enough in his own half. You can't make decisions like that as a wide player and that's why wide players notoriously end up on the bench."
Liverpool's response was hardly emphatic but the manner in which they drew level certainly was as Steven Gerrard lashed a free-kick directly past Allan McGregor, whose feet were planted as he made a move to his right before Liverpool's captain smashed it to his left. That both goals were their respective sides' first shots on target said a lot about the cagey nature of the contest.
Steven Gerrard levels for Liverpool with a fine free-kick
Hull's profligacy in possession invited Liverpool forward but with Suarez largely looking isolated and struggling against City's back three - Curtis Davies was immaculate for the large part - McGregor got to the break without having made a noticeable save. Liverpool may have been laboured but Ray Wilkins had more concerns about Hull repeatedly ceding possession: "I thought Liverpool were very comfortable. When you've over 60 per cent of possession away from home, you're obviously doing right. Hull City need to keep the ball. If they keep giving it away, Liverpool will score again and win the game."
Hull City were guilty of profligacy in possession in the first period
Save for the briefest of flurries after the interval and a Moses effort that drew a smart stop from a sprawling McGregor, Liverpool were listless and outfought throughout a second period that will worry Rodgers greatly.
Co-commentator Dave Provan was on the money when he surmised: "Hull have a good compact shape and Liverpool are struggling to pass it through them. They've run out of ideas." If the first half was all about containment, the second was about ambition for the home side. No longer content to sit and soak and play for a point, Hull's wing-backs started to press higher up the field as Tom Huddlestone and Livermore began to dominate their personal battle with Gerrard and Lucas Leiva.
When Meyler scored Hull's second, it was far from against the run of play. Liam Rosenior's high ball into Liverpool's box exposed a weakness in the heart of the away side's defence that is becoming a worrying seasonal trope, as first Davies and then Yannick Sagbo caused panic as Kolo Toure's fluffed clearance was returned with glee past Mignolet via Meyler's left boot.
There was much to admire about the Irishman's strike but it was the ugly part Sagbo played that is even more illuminating. As good old fashioned No.9 performances go, few will be better than the big Ivorian's on Sunday. For spells, he was unplayable in the air. Lofted passes would usually play to Skretel's strengths but against Sagbo he more than met his match. The Hull man was involved in 14 duels (nine of the aerial variety) and won a remarkable 57.1 per cent of them.
How Meyler (left) and Skrtel's own goal (right) were constructed
He also topped Hull's passes tally in the opposition's half on 33, with his excellent hold-up play key to the way Bruce's side were able to break with purpose. A leggy finish when played through four minutes from time was testimony to his exertions.
Other than a Suarez effort bent wide, Liverpool were well beaten by the time Sagbo again showed intelligence in his build-up work before feeding in Huddlestone, whose tame effort struck Skrtel's flying block to leave Mignolet picking the ball out of his goal for a third time for the second consecutive weekend. The dubious goals panel will surely rule that Huddlestone's goalscoring duck stays intact, as his wait for a haircut continues in vain.
On a weekend that could have been an unmitigated disaster for the football club, Steve Bruce and players deserve huge credit for letting off-field issues wash over them to produce the type of performance that not only writes their names into the record books, but on a wider level could have a massive impact on their bid to ensure their latest top-flight sojourn is not a short one. For Brendan Rodgers, a lack of vitality in attack in Sturridge's absence and a largely abject defensive display will provide plenty to ponder and put right come Monday morning.
"It gives the players a bit more belief. Some of them haven't played a lot in the Premier League and what they need is results like today to give them that belief that they can play at this level. We disappointed ourselves last week so you needed a response. So it was a big game in that respect."
"I thought that we had plenty of effort and commitment which I always get from the team but we just made too many mistakes today. Defensively as a team we made too many mistakes and obviously with the ball I don't think we created enough so it was a very, very disappointing result all round."
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