The FourFourTwo Preview: Hull vs Southampton
Defiers of pre-season odds square up.
It’s been a satisfying seven months for the footballing representatives of these two very different coastal towns. Against all predictions, Hull have remained solidly mid-table for most of the term thanks to their home form (won five, drawn four, lost three), and while they are far from clear of the relegation mire, they do look in far better shape than virtually all those languishing below them.
- S'land 0-2 Hull (Prem)
- Hull 1-1 Spurs (Prem)
- Palace 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- Southend 0-2 Hull (FAC)
- Norwich 1-0 Hull (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Stoke (Prem)
- Fulham 0-3 So'ton (Prem)
- So'ton 2-2 Arsenal (Prem)
- So'ton 2-0 Yeovil (FAC)
- S'land 2-2 So'ton (Prem)
Steve Bruce has also added some real vim by snapping up Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, who could easily muster enough goals to take the Tigers into the top 10. Bruce has compared them to a budget version of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo, and both looked like bargains as they slammed home during last weekend’s 2-0 away win over Sunderland – Hull’s first victory since the end of December. Should the duo stay fit, they could resolve City’s key problem this term – failing to convert some impressive possession into goals and points.
Two hundred miles south, Southampton supporters can also have little complaint: unlike this time last season, they’re well clear of danger, and their ability to grab results on the road (won four, drawn four, lost four), particularly against teams beneath them will have Mauricio Pochettino fancying their chances in this one.
If Saints fans can complain about one thing this term, it is that during a deeply unpredictable Premier League season as a whole, their own side have become almost entirely predictable: a very good, but not-quite-European-qualifier quality side, they’ve been routinely losing to or drawing with the teams above them, while routinely beating or drawing with those below (including Hull, who they schooled 4-1 during an exemplary display back in early November, which moved them up to third place).
Reflecting this, Saints didn’t do too well out of their festive run against Chelsea, Man City, Spurs, Everton and Newcastle, but are doing better from their current run of soft fixtures, going seven unbeaten. With Gaston Ramirez and Dejan Lovren still absent, and Hull improving, a clash on Humberside far tighter than that meeting in Southampton is likely.
Hull are still missing James Chester (hamstring) and Joe Dudgeon (knee), but Sone Aluko is fit again after a four month hiatus with a rotten Achilles injury, adding to the Tiger’s suddenly rude health up front. Naughty goalie Allan McGregor is sin-binned for the final game of his three-match ban; eternal deputy Steve “Deputy” Harper will deputise. Southampton are without only two players, but unfortunately they are Ramirez and Lovren, still battling back from ache-y ankles.
Player to watch: Shane Long (Hull)
Kevin Phillips reckons West Brom selling Long was “suicidal”, and the further the Irishman’s goalscoring streak propels Hull up the table, the harder it’ll be to disagree. Bruce has been crying out for a poacher to turn his well-drilled side into proper match-winners, and the former Baggies man looks just the ticket, especially when paired with Croatian plunderer Jelavic. “I can already sense an understanding there, and it’s exciting,” says Long of the pairing. “The first thing we think about when we get the ball is where on the pitch the other one is. It can grow into something good.” It certainly worked at the Stadium of Light: the pair took 13 shots, scoring one each, while Long also won 4 aerial duals, created 2 chances, won a couple of tackles and made a block.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- So'ton 4-1 Hull (Prem, Nov 13)
- Hull 0-2 So'ton (Ch'ship Mar 12)
- So'ton 2-1 Hull (Ch'ship Nov 11)
- Hull 5-0 So'ton (Ch'ship March 08)
- So'ton 4-0 Hull (Ch'ship Dec 07)
Bruce and Pochettino have met but once in the top flight before, at the height of Southampton’s dizzying early-year charge into the Champions League places. Adam Lallana, Morgan Schneiderlin, Rickie Lambert and Steven Davis all notched in that November game – Hull were appalling in patches – and Bruce admitted “they blew us away – congratulations to them,” afterwards, while the Argentine hailed his side as “amazing.” Saints have become gradually less amazing ever since, while Bruce’s years of Premier League savvy have helped him rebuild his team since that low point. With Hull now boasting a strikeforce not too far behind Saints’ own line-up, these two positive, ball-playing sides should match up far more evenly.
TIPS & TRENDS
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Facts and figures
- 19 of Hull’s 25 games this season have had fewer than 3 goals including 10 of the last 12.
- Only Arsenal have conceded fewer home goals than Hull this season.
- Southampton have lost just 2 of their last 12 trips to bottom-half teams (W4 D6 L2).
- 7 of Southampton’s last 18 matches have finished either 1-1 or 2-2.
Best Bet: Draw @ 3.30
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An enjoyable 2-2 romp.