Reality check needed at Hull City
Tuesday 3 March ~
Recently the Hull City manager has come to be referred to Phil "Phil Brown" Brown to mark his unfortunate fondness for the third person singular. This first came to public notice when he decreed that a particular performance was not what he expected from a "Phil Brown team". The other sign that the positive coverage generated by Hull's fine early-season form, which took them up to third place in early October, had gone to Brown's head somewhat came when he gave his players a half-time dressing down on the pitch at Eastlands when they trailed 4-0. Some have also wondered who exactly Brown is talking to via his earpiece, given that he is always at pitchside rather than watching from the stands, and have ungraciously assumed that he is listening to a recording of himself reciting positive slogans. But even taking all this into account it was still extraordinary to see him being jeered by Hull fans during the team's defeat to Blackburn on Saturday.
The cause of the derision was the substitution of Brazilian midfielder Geovanni, who made his displeasure known by gesturing at the manager behind his back from the dugout. Plainly there is a crisis of confidence at Hull – a squad who won at Arsenal and Spurs in successive weeks and scored three at Old Trafford have now won only once in 18 games. If the team were to be relegated if would represent just about the worst slump any team has in the second half of a season. But if the supporters who were booing have been watching the team for a decade or so they will have seen them twice finish in the bottom four of the fourth division; just two seasons ago they came close to being relegated from the Championship. Wherever Hull finish, this will be best season in their history. If there are audible demands for "Brown out!" before the end of the season, it will be a sign that certain regulars at KC Stadium are in the grip of mass delusion.
Two other sets of supporters also booed their team off at the weekend. There was some mitigation at Villa Park where the home fans, already annoyed by Martin O'Neill's decision to field reserves in their UEFA Cup defeat in Moscow, had just seen their team concede twice in the last few minutes to draw with Stoke. Then again the reason the fans were unhappy was that the lost points might jeopardise the team's qualification for the Champions League for the first time ever – no Villa side had got close to this target before O'Neill took charge.
There was much less excuse for jeering at Highbury, even allowing for the fact that Arsenal's goalless draw with Fulham was their fourth match without scoring. Arsène Wenger has entirely remoulded Arsenal during his 12 years at manager, turning them into a club with an international reputation for playing attractive and exciting football. That this has not produced a trophy for four seasons should not overly trouble anyone with a sense of perspective. It's possible that Arsenal may finish lower than fourth this season for the first time under Wenger. If that happens, the club won't have that Champions League income to spend on squad strengthening. So they will need a manager capable of picking up relatively cheap acquisitions from around the world. Handily enough they already have such a person in charge – as long as he can think above the noise of the booing.
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