Thursday, December 17, 2009
Backseat Brown helping Tigers roar again
Changing the manager is the normal response to a mediocre run of results. If normality and Hull City parted company at some point in 2008, they may be reunited in the future, at least if Adam Pearson has his way. Hull appear a different outfit after disposing of previous chairman, Paul Duffen, at the end of October. The subsequent improvement may be the new chairman effect.
Winning two and drawing three of six matches may not sound spectacular. For a club with a mere four victories in their previous 40 Premier League matches, it represents a dramatic difference. Half their goals and the majority of their points this season have come in the time since Pearson returned and Hull have spent several weeks outside the relegation zone.
Conventional wisdom is that clubs prosper by giving managers unqualified backing. At Hull, the opposite appears to be the case. Duffen was Phil Brown's foremost advocate, stating his position was safe even in the event of relegation. Stressing there should be distance in relationships at the club, Pearson has offered no such guarantees and the pressure seems to have galvanised Brown.
Yet the upturn in results has been accompanied by a downturn in sightings of him. Perhaps one is an inverse indicator of the other: the lower his profile, the better Hull's fortunes. What is certainly true is that Pearson has instructed his manager not to draw attention to himself any more. It was notable that, before the 2-1 win against Stoke, the first game of his second spell at the KC Stadium, Pearson praised Peter Coates and Tony Pulis for their achievements while keeping a low profile (this was before the Stoke manager was alleged to have head-butted his centre-forward while naked).
In Hull's heady start to Premier League life, Brown went from character to caricature very quickly. "He does like the spotlight," his assistant, Brian Horton, admitted. That is understandable. An extrovert and an optimist who had spent several years in Sam Allardyce's considerable shadow, Brown was finally granted a platform.
Now it has been removed by his new employer. Losing a larger-than-life image has seen some obvious changes. Brown has ditched his trademark headset, claiming it is broken. Horton has done pre- and post-match interviews, especially in the build-up to the Manchester City match, which marked a return to the stadium where Brown opted for a team talk on the pitch, an incident that quickly acquired infamy. The veteran assistant's attempt to put it into context - claiming Alan Mullery once threatened to run his players over - was bizarre, but nonetheless proved less newsworthy than Brown's comments would have done.
There have been other teething troubles. While Brown has sufficient nous to give blander answers than he once did, he does appear to be reining himself in. He also had to abort a recent interview after belatedly discovering it was not with a local publication, but a major newspaper with a similar name.
But Pearson's attempt to rebrand Hull as a quietly efficient, well-run club has started encouragingly. Cost-cutting has already brought redundancies behind the scenes, but reducing a wage bill that has been estimated at £40 million has to begin in earnest in January. Squad players such as Daniel Cousin, Tony Warner and Peter Halmosi may be deemed surplus to requirements, along with Bryan Hughes and Caleb Folan, who have already been loaned out, and Ibrahima Sonko, borrowed from Stoke.
It is a matter of months since eight-figure bids were lodged for Alvaro Negredo and Darren Bent. Now austerity is necessary. But Hull's recent revival indicates that, after a dreadful year, Brown can conjure performances from his squad. The first-half display in the 3-2 win over Everton was arguably the best in 13 months.
Significantly, too, Jimmy Bullard was rested for it. Before his brief comeback was sadly curtailed at Aston Villa, Hull's record signing was the catalyst for the recovery, but he was not the only cause. Providing the shot that led to Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's winner against Stoke was an indication of his influence; the finger-pointing, Brown-esque celebration at Manchester City a sign of his appeal to the wider public; but it has not just been about Bullard.
Keeping Anthony Gardner fit has been one factor, not least because Kamil Zayatte's better performances tend to come when the Englishman is his central defensive partner. George Boateng's recent form - his best since joining Hull - is also important, as is the spark provided by Stephen Hunt.
Brown's input of late has also been more beneficial than before. Introducing Vennegoor of Hesselink contributed to turning a draw against Stoke into a triumph as well as rescuing a point at the City of Manchester Stadium, when the Dutchman won the disputed penalty Bullard converted. Especially against Everton and West Ham, Hull have been more attacking than usual, suggesting some positive tactics.
With Hull facing Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea in three of their next four fixtures, sustaining the revival will prove a difficult task. But if the Tigers have renewed hope, it has come from a period of uncertainty for their manager. Insecurity rarely brings such returns.