On 3rd January 2017, despite Hull sitting bottom of the Premier League three points adrift of safety, there was much shock when the club announced they had parted company with Mike Phelan in favour of a ‘fresh approach‘. That approach came in the form of former-Olympiakos boss Marco Silva, a completely unknown figure to English fans. Romantics, such as Paul Merson, chastised the Hull board for dispatching yet another English manager in favour of an average foreign one who simply did not understand the league. However, Silva has proved his doubters wrong and in only two months has completely transformed Hull.
Before the start of the season, Hull were written off by everyone. Only two weeks before the big kick-off, they were in disarray with the Allam family actively looking to offload the club with the rift caused by the proposed name change having caused irreparable damage between fans and owners. They had only twelve fit senior players and the whole fiasco caused the vastly experienced Steve Bruce to resign earlier in the summer.
The unenviable task of preparing this team for a long hard slog to stay in the Premier League fell to Bruce’s assistant Mike Phelan. He endeared himself to fans straight away with two shock wins over champions Leicester and Swansea City to put the odds-on candidates for relegation third in the league, just one goal away from top spot after two weeks. The wins coming with Shaun Maloney the only senior player on the bench and in fact Phelan’s options were so limited he made only one substitution in the two victories. With this kind of approach clearly unsustainable, the club bundled deals for David Marshall, James Weir, Ryan Mason, Will Keane, Markus Henriksen and Dieumerci Mbokani over the line before the window slammed shut.
This was not to be a new dawn for the club though as reality hit hard, the Tigers would go on to lose 13 of their next 18 games, winning just the single game at home to Southampton on 6th November. On the 3rd January, the club were rooted to the foot of the table with 13 points. All things considered, Mike Phelan was generally regarded to be doing a good job as his side were by no means cut adrift and were putting in some promising performances in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances. This was not enough for the board though and Phelan was dispatched with Silva arriving just two days later.
The new man
The 39-year-old Portuguese enjoyed a fairly unremarkable career in his homeland as a right back playing almost exclusively in the second and third tiers with the likes of Estoril and Odivelas. He retired at the age of 34 to pursue a career in management. In just his first season in the job, he earned his beloved Estoril promotion back to the Portuguese top flight for the first time in seven years. He left the team after a 4th place finish in 2014 to join Sporting Lisbon, leading them to the third place and the Taca de Portugal trophy in his one season in charge before leaving in bizarre circumstances. He was allegedly sacked for not wearing the club’s official suit in a cup match against FC Vizela. He had the last laugh though as the following season, 2015/16, he led Olympiakos to the Greek title, with a stunning run of 17 consecutive victories, sealing the trophy with six games remaining. He then resigned sighting personal reasons and his next appointment came on Humberside.
His impact was immediate, in his first game in charge, he led his side to a 3-0 win over Swansea in the FA Cup. He then followed this up with a 3-1 win at home to Bournemouth. He was then forced to lead his side into a horror run with Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal in their next four league games and would have been delighted with the four points his side managed to take from that run. Saturday’s win at home to Swansea was another step in the right direction as it continued the resurgence and put them within one point of safety. His side also pushed United extremely close in the EFL Cup semi-final, they even recorded a 2-1 victory in the second leg but were just edged out by the eventual champions 3-2 on aggregate. He sits on an impressive 42% win record in all competitions and is giving his side a real and unexpected chance to stay up this season.
To make up for the abysmal summer window, Silva got stuck right into his first transfer window bringing in no less than eight players to the club (three permanent, five loans). The most successful of these being Everton outcast Oumar Niasse who has four goals since signing including winners against Liverpool, Manchester United and Swansea. Inter Milan loanee Andrea Ranocchia has stepped into the void left by the injury to club captain Michael Dawson well and Kamil Grosicki has taken over well from talisman Robert Snodgrass. He has not yet hit the heights of Snodgrass but seems to be finding his feet in the Premier League week by week. Alfred N’Diaye, Lazar Markovic, Omar Elabdellaoui and Markus Henriksen have all played their part with Evandro being the only signing that is yet to really step in and show what he can do.
What has changed?
The most obvious change has been the defence, Silva has come in and made Hull much more compact. Before Silva’s arrival, Hull were conceding on average 2.25 goals a game and had suffered 4, 5 and 6-1 at the hands of Arsenal, Liverpool and Bournemouth respectively. Under Silva, however, this figure has come down markedly to 1.25 goals a game. With the Tigers now conceding a goal less a game, they have considerably more chances to win matches. This turn-around has been particularly evident in matches against the top teams with Hul digging in well to earn a credible 0-0 draw at Old Trafford in February and they soaked up pressure well before countering to devastating effect to beat Liverpool 2-0 at the KCOM stadium in the same month.
Silva has also demonstrated considerable tactical awareness. He has not been afraid to mix things up and play three at the back at times but usually prefers to play 4-1-4-1 with Tom Huddlestone protecting the back four and Hernandez or Niasse leading the line. This consistency has no doubt helped the side, who were used to the constant chopping and changing as Mike Phelan frantically searched for that winning formula. Selecting the right formation takes a great amount of tactical awareness, something Silva has demonstrated elsewhere too. His decision on Saturday to bring on Niasse for N’Diaye turned the game, with Niasse scoring twice to steal the three points. He has also been vindicated in his decision to drop £3.5m summer signing David Marshall in favour of Eldin Jakupovic, the Swiss’ superb performances earning him a nomination for the Premier League player of the month for February.
14 January- Hull 3-1 Bournemouth
In Silva’s first Premier League match, the Tigers gained the perfect revenge for the 6-1 demolition they suffered after the 574-mile round trip to the south coast in October. Abel Hernandez marked his return from a long injury lay-off with two goals to cancel out Junior Stanislas’s early penalty and the scoring was rounded off with an own goal from Mings.
1 February- Manchester United 0-0 Hull
When the two sides met back in September, Hull defended valiantly and put their bodies on the line for 90 minutes only to be robbed of a point by a 92nd minute Marcus Rashford winner. This time there was no such heartbreak as they saw the job through and could even have won it but Markovic’s late effort came crashing back off the post. Jakupovic was the hero on the night, making six great saves and put his name firmly on the player of the month nominations list.
4 February- Hull 2-0 Liverpool
Goals from N’Diaye and Niasse sank Jurgen Klopp’s high flyers to move Hull off the foot of the table. They executed the perfect counter attacking performance having only 28% possession and only 7 shots to Liverpool’s 22 but when the big moments came, they were clinical.
Hull may well still find themselves in the relegation zone and still face the very real prospect of playing Championship football next season but they are putting up a real fight. It’s safe to say they were expected to put up a pathetic attempt to survive reminiscent to the Derby side of 2007/08 but Silva, plucked from obscurity, has breathed new life into this side and he’s done it in tough circumstances. Down on money, confidence and real quality and denied the presence of star men Robert Snodgrass and Jake Livermore who were sold in January. It will be a miraculous achievement if he can keep Hull in the Premier League and even in if not, he will be praised for his work. No matter which division Hull are in next season, expect Silva to be a wanted man.
Feature image credit: Paul at Wikimedia Commons