Bullard puts finger on City's problems
Manchester City 1 Hull City 1: Hull penalty condemns Hughes' men to a record seventh successive draw despite return of Robinho to powerful attack
Sunday 29 November 2009
Robinho returned and did what he does, bringing City fans to their feet after his 75-minute comeback. But their applause for the Brazilian's first appearance in almost three months was eclipsed twice in the final minutes, first by the clashing of seat-backs generated by a substantial early exodus, then by the boos that marked a club record run of seven consecutive draws.
Hull, meanwhile, were celebrating the continuation of a dramatic upturn in the fortunes of their manager, Phil Brown, who seemed about to lose his job a month ago but has since supervised a four-match unbeaten run and revisited the scene of last season's most notable team-talk to claim a first away point for three months.
It came thanks to Jimmy Bullard's conversion of an 82nd-minute penalty, to which the Hull players reacted by mocking their manager in a re-enactment of the on-field dressing-down he gave them after they had leaked four first-half goals here on Boxing Day last season.
Brown has been trying to forget that moment, and ducked out of his pre-match press briefing to avoid another round of embarrassing questions on the subject. But he could not help but see the funny side as the Hull players sat in a circle as Bullard pretended to be their finger-wagging boss.
"I couldn't speak to them this time because I was laughing so much," Brown said, his readiness to appreciate their humour much improved after two wins and two draws in Hull's last four games. Given that he credits those players with keeping him in a job, his warmth towards them is understandable. "We are beginning to see the spirit of this group coming through, and the reason I'm here is down to the players' support for me."
Mark Hughes, by contrast, will have found smiling rather more difficult as he locked himself away with his team after a seventh consecutive draw left City's prospects of a meaningful challenge for a top-four place looking the stuff of fantasy.
For all that Robinho's first match since August in a City shirt raised expectations again, the collective efforts of a team set up to banish a frustrating sequence with a vibrant and successful performance amounted to no more than a few flashes of promise. Robinho had not forgotten how to confuse an opponent and there were moments when Hull looked mightily tormented, not least when City's five key attackers – Robinho, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Steven Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips – combined in one glorious move after half an hour. The shot on the end of it, by Wright-Phillips, flashed wide.
But it was a move all too rare, at least in terms of end product. Tevez created problems whenever he had the ball but too often the home crowd's hopes were deflated by a stray final pass.
When City did score, in first-half stoppage time, they had some good fortune to thank as another attempt from Wright-Phillips, which Matt Duke appeared to have covered, went in off the head of the defender Anthony Gardner.
Hughes took issue with the penalty award that enabled Hull to claim their equaliser but conceded that his side are still falling short of what he is asking of them. "I didn't think it was a penalty," he said. "The referee first seemed to give it for handball against Joleon Lescott when he certainly did not handle it.
"Then he said it was for a foul by Kolo Touré on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, but I felt that was harsh. It was just a coming-together really. But having said that, there are times when we look like a strong unit and other times when we can still look like a team brought together very quickly."
But Hughes, who left out his tired England midfielder Gareth Barry "to protect him" from injury, rejected suggestions he is under pressure: "We are frustrated by the run of draws but we are still in the mix at the top end of the Premiership and it will be only a matter of time before the draws turn into wins, and I believe the owners understand where we are."
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Tevez
Match rating: 5/10
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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