Stay of execution for Hull's dead man walking
Sunday 08 November 2009
It is doubly unfortunate for Phil Brown that Hull City's opponents in a match which could be his last as the Tigers' manager should be Stoke City.
While Hull have taken just 16 points from the 29 Premier League matches they have played in 2009, the Potters have amassed 41, a contrast in achievement which a growing number of Tigers fans believe illustrates why, despite Brown's repeated and faintly desperate claim that he is the most successful manager in the club's history, the time has come for a parting of the ways.
The indication from Brown, and more to the point the club, however, is that today's game at the KC Stadium is not quite make or break. Although Brown lost a key ally when the previous chairman, Paul Duffen, fell on his sword two weeks ago, his replacement, Adam Pearson, and the club's owner, Russell Bartlett, were impressed by City's spirited second-half efforts in defeat at Burnley last week, and it would take something of a horror show for Brown to face immediate dismissal.
With that assurance, Brown dealt calmly with an understandably large media presence at City's Cottingham training ground on Friday, insisting that meetings with both Bartlett and Pearson had been productive.
"They were positive conversations with an end product, and that's what you set out to achieve," he said. "Adam, he is not affected by the fickle side of the game – meaning he sits down with his manager and plans and plots a way forward, and that's what he's done, simple as that. I now understand what he wants from me and he understands what I want from him."
That mutual understanding does not, however, extend to identifying the 15 players which Pearson believes need to be shed from City's first-team squad to reduce the club's huge annual wage bill, acknowledged to be in the order of £36m. In fact, when asked if he thought City's squad was too big, Brown responded with a flat negative, though he did admit the squad will have to be trimmed.
Whether Brown will actually make it as far as the transfer window will depend on whether City can regain a measure of the momentum they established in the early months of last season, which in turn will require the former Bolton coach to abandon the negativity which, in the opinion of many, has characterised his selections and tactics since opponents began to work City out around this time last year.
Not, of course, that Brown was about to admit as much, understandably preferring to concentrate on the signs of improvement at Turf Moor. "When adversity kicks in, and it was thrown against us in terms of refereeing decisions... you want a performance, and I thought we finished strong, bright, sharp – and showed that spirit," he said.
"If we keep on performing like that, results will follow. I'll guarantee it."
City may finally be able to give Jimmy Bullard his home debut. It could be a turning point. Before he signed Bullard for £5m almost 12 months ago, Brown had targeted James Beattie, but the then Sheffield United striker preferred Stoke. His goals and contribution since then have been crucial, while Bullard has been more or less permanently injured.
But while it would be unfair to expect the former Fulham midfielder to produce miracles over City's next three matches, all of which are at home, lose them and Brown will surely need precisely that to survive.
Hull v Stoke is live on Sky Sports 1 from 1pm today
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