Fatigue dooms Tigers at Anfield

Posted by Philip Buckingham

Clive Brunskill/Getty ImagesHull City appeared to be a step behind Liverpool all match long in their New Year's Day defeat at Anfield.

At the start of this season, Steve Bruce suggested that the challenge facing his Hull City side would be akin to pitting a Ford up against a series of Ferraris.

The plucky Ford has upset a few more illustrious motors in a climb up to 10th at the halfway mark of this Premier League season, but in a New Year's Day defeat at Liverpool, there was nothing left in its tank. City ran on empty at Anfield and it showed in a 2-0 defeat. December had been fruitful, with nine points from its seven games, but it had also taken its toll. The Tigers were all out of gas on Merseyside.

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Liverpool away afforded no hiding place at the end of their festive line, and though there was resistance to avoid an uncomfortable surrender, City rarely looked capable of causing Liverpool a second upset of the season.

A 3-1 win on the opening day of December had seen Bruce's men overrun Liverpool with a performance that captured all that was good about the year they have just left behind. Disciplined and purposeful, they gave Brendan Rodgers' men a thoroughly good chasing all around the KC Stadium.

The set-up was exactly the same 31 days on, with only Paul McShane out in an inconsequential change, but City could not find the energy to make it work all over again.

Once Liverpool made the superiority count through Daniel Agger's header eight minutes before the break, it was destined to be a pointless trip to Merseyside. Luis Suarez's beautiful free-kick even allowed Liverpool to cruise through the second period, barely asked to even break a sweat.

While goalkeeper Allan McGregor was City's stand-out performer, saving from Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho to keep things respectable, Simon Mignolet was not asked a single question in the opposite goal. Four days after thumping Fulham 6-0, that was a rueful statistic for the Tigers to digest.

There was no shame in losing at Anfield. Stronger sides than City will suffer the same fate this season against a Liverpool side whose home record can only be bettered by Manchester City.

Yet the last month has underlined the tightrope that Bruce and his men will walk for the remainder of the campaign. Just 14 different players were used to start those seven games in December and by the first day of January it showed.
The return from injury of Robbie Brady and Sone Aluko before the end of the month, as well as Stephen Quinn who returned to the bench at Anfield, will swell Bruce's options, but a slender squad always leaves little room for an injury crisis.

Bruce will hold firm, though. A reluctance to boost the numbers in his squad needlessly leaves him scouring the market for no more than two January signings. That figure could be even less if the right players do not become available.
At least there is now a week to breathe. The FA Cup, much like the Capital One Cup, is a competition Bruce has given little credence to during his managerial career and it would be a surprise to see anything but wholesale change when his side travel to Middlesbrough for a third round tie on Saturday afternoon.

This time last year he chose to make nine changes for a tie at home to Leyton Orient, and a similar approach will give his influential figures such as Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore and Yannick Sagbo a free weekend ahead of facing Chelsea seven days later.

One man's rest is another man's opportunity. All seven of the substitutes named at Liverpool will all be hopeful of a start at the Riverside and the most anticipated chance will belong to Matty Fryatt.

Once the goal-scoring king of the KC, after finishing the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons atop the club's charts, Fryatt endured rotten luck when missing most of City's promotion season with an Achilles injury. He attempted to play himself back into contention during pre-season, but ended up needing a loan spell with Sheffield Wednesday to get him firing once more.

After requiring just six minutes to notch a first Premier League goal when coming off the bench in the rout of Fulham, he again made a mark at Anfield. There is little question Fryatt's performances suggest he is against another move.
Aaron Mclean, Gedo and Nick Proschwitz have all been deemed surplus to requirements in Bruce's plans, but a decision on Fryatt is still pending. Another goal at Middlesbrough and perhaps City will have had an answer to their attacking frailties under their nose all along.

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