Jelavic can't halt Hull's away-day blues

Posted by Philip Buckingham

Hull are crestfallen after Ryan Bennett stole a late winner for Norwich City.GettyImagesHull are crestfallen after Ryan Bennett stole a late winner for Norwich City.

One glance at the bottom half of the Premier League tells us that this is destined to be a season of perilously fine margins. From Aston Villa in 10th to Cardiff City on the last rung of the ladder, just six points are all that split 11 clubs troubled by fears of relegation.

In among the tightly packed crowd are Norwich City and Hull City, two clubs now separated only by goal difference. There was little between the sides on the second weekend of the season at the KC Stadium and even less when meeting again at Carrow Road on Saturday.

Frustratingly for the Tigers, though, just as their first meeting of the season ended with a 1-0 home win, so did the second. After Robbie Brady's penalty stole three points for Steve Bruce's men back in August, it was Ryan Bennett's turn to earn Norwich a precious victory with a late header this time around.

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On both occasions the losing manager has had their grumbles of complaint, believing their side worthy of a point, but Bruce's argument felt hollow on Saturday. Norwich were far from spectacular and were contained with relative ease for much of a wretched game, but they were the only side to show consistent intent to find a win. For that alone they were worthy winners.

This was arguably as poorly as City have performed since winning promotion out of the Championship. Southampton inflicted a far heavier defeat in November, but were a side at the peak of their considerable powers on the day. Norwich, meanwhile, were a fragile group there to be picked on. On the back of eight games without a win, Carrow Road felt as though it was waiting for every error from those in yellow.

Back to those fine margins, things could have been very different for the Tigers. Handing new signing Nikica Jelavic a start, the former Everton striker needed less than two minutes to be presented with a golden chance to become an instant hero for his new employers. Robert Koren's intelligent pull-back begged to be finished, but Jelavic could only strike the post. Six inches to the right and it could have been the first cue for celebration.

Sadly, it was as promising as it got for Bruce on a return to the club he once served as a player. Wasteful in midfield and lacking all sense of a passing rhythm, the visitors invited the pressure that eventually resulted in Bennett's late winner. There is always a limit to how much water a dam can hold.

Bruce, quite rightly, was desperately disappointed with the creativity of his side. Once Jelavic had struck the post and Liam Rosenior had volleyed wide inside the first seven minutes, every attack was aimless and uninspired. It was not the fault of Jelavic, who admittedly tired in the second half, but of an uncharacteristically disjointed midfield. Tom Huddlestone, sent off late in the piece for a second yellow card, was a shadow of the player City fans have come to adore.

Defeat continued a worrying theme away from home for the Tigers. Just five of their 23 points have come on the road and though Bruce is correct in his defence that eight of the top nine have all been visited, he knows the run cannot continue with Crystal Palace, Sunderland, Cardiff and West Ham next up on his travels.

City are simply not the threat they are at the KC Stadium. Take away the 3-2 win at Newcastle, to date their only away win of the Premier League season, and they have scored just four goals in 10 games. Saturday's toothless demise at Carrow Road was the sixth time they have drawn a blank away from home.

The cavalry has arrived in the shape of Jelavic and Shane Long, another big-money arrival from West Brom last week, and Bruce must hope both can strike up a quick understanding when travelling to Crystal Palace on Jan. 28. Long, who missed out on a debut at Norwich due to an ankle injury, and Jelavic are the 14 million pound investments that been recruited to inspire survival.

That happy fate remains City's to surrender. The five-point advantage over the bottom three remains something few would have dared hope for at the start of the campaign and ensures breathing space continues to flow around the KC Stadium.

All that could change with another flat performance at Selhurst Park, but City have shown themselves to be far better than defeat to Norwich suggested. A win over the Eagles and all will suddenly feel a whole lot better.


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