Post-match analysis: Why Hull are showing signs of climbing the tree despite being bottom at Christmas

Post-match analysis: Why Hull are showing signs of climbing the tree despite being bottom at Christmas

The Tigers were left to rue missed chances after hitting the woodwork three times in a 1-0 defeat to West Ham.

Chris Lincoln

It is the title nobody wants on Christmas Day. One that leaves everyone associated feeling like the Grinch. With the trap door commonly pending, "bottom at Christmas" brings with it the dreaded fear of relegation.

Robertson flourishing within adaptable formation

Yet Mike Phelan's Hull City showed signs that they could still climb the chimney and can count themselves somewhat unlucky in their most recent defeat to West Ham. The Tigers smashed the post on three occasions and were the better side for large chunks of the game. Though ultimately they could not achieve the most important aspect of football...find the back of the net.

With a small squad at his disposal, Phelan has tried various different tactics and formations. Yet the 3-5-2 employed in recent matches could provide the lifeline the Yorkshire club are desperately seeking. The balance of the set-up allows wing-backs Andrew Robertson and Ahmed Elmohamady to burst forward, a tactic the former was particularly dangerous with against the Hammers. Hull's best period of the match came in a two minute spell when they hit the post twice, firstly when Mark Noble diverted Robertson's whipped cross against the frame, before the Scotsman himself let rip with a strike that clattered the opposite post.

Yet to see the explosive crackers in midfield

A change in position for Robert Snodgrass is allowing the top goalscorer to be the central pivot of the majority of Hull attacks. Whether dropping off the opposition defence to link the midfield and lone striker, or seeking to get on the end of crosses, Snodgrass' intelligence allowed him to drift into gaps that an unorganised Hammers defence could not deal with.

Hull's attacks are also beginning to look more fruitful with an increased tempo in passing. With Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore occupying the central areas, the Tigers have midfielders possessing the potential to pick a pass from the bottom of Santa's sack. However, they are not proving their class lately with just 64 passes between them against West Ham in a Hull side that completed just 68% of their links on Saturday. Too much emphasis is being placed on Snodgrass and the wide players.

The former Spurs duo combined with defensive midfielder Sam Clucas provide little in the way of goalscoring threat. With Snodgrass and one of Dieumerci Mbokani or Adama Diomande the only players likely to burst into the opposition penalty area, the Tigers often find themselves severely outnumbered in the final third. Markus Henriksen seems to still be learning the pace of the Premier League as could be seen by his early caution when coming on as a substitute, whilst Jarrod Bowen is still learning his trade as a professional attacking midfielder. Ultimately, defender Harry Maguire has proved more of a threat when stepping out of the back three to join Hull's attacks.

Individuals need to hold their hands up

Yet the overwhelming problem for Hull is converting their chances. West Ham's defence were at sixes and sevens for the majority of the game, allowing Mbokani to burst through on numerous occasions. However, the Tigers are the lowest scorers in the league and their lack of confidence in front of goal was evident again, particularly when the Congolese striker found the post rather than the net when one-on-one with Darren Randolph.

A lack of composure in attack and loss of concentration in defence is a regular feature of the Tigers at the latter end of 2016. When they flew to second in the league at the start of the season, Hull's success was built on an industrious back line that threw their bodies at every shot to produce block after block. Yet those courageous moments are beginning to filter out, as instead the Tigers are producing various costly individual errors. This weekend it was a lazy and needless pull by Huddlestone that allowed West Ham to convert from the penalty spot.

In short, Hull have potential. Yet they need to find a goalscorer, a runner in midfield and cut out the individual errors if they are going to defeat fellow struggling teams like West Ham and remain in the top flight next year. Mike Phelan will be hoping Santa leaves him a change of fortunes in his stocking this weekend.