Lineups and Shape
Issues out of possession
As was the case against West Brom, there were a number of worrying aspects about our performance against Hull defensively.
Hull’s shape in possession differed to how it looked out, using a 3-4-3 in possession with Greaves tucking in from left back. This firstly caused us issues with our press for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, Clarke and Amad joined Simms on the first line to enable us to press in a 4-3-3 (or at times 4-4-2) shape against their back three, with Embleton dropping into midfield if we did so.
However, when Hull pushed their wing-backs on, this allowed them to create 2v1’s against our full-backs as neither of Embleton or Amad were tracking. This meant Hull often looked to play diagonals out wide, where their narrow front-three would look to pin our backline narrow.
When building from deep Hull similarly caused us issues with our press. Greaves was tucking into a central position to force us to defend incredibly narrow, which again created more space in the wide areas for their wing-backs and forced our full-backs to jump out.
There was also a reoccurring issue from the match against West Brom, where both Evans and Neil were jumping out to press, but if this was bypassed then there were massive gaps in-front of our backline to receive in.
Issues in possession
Although we were relatively controlled in possession in our own third, we really lacked any sort of penetration through Hull’s shape.
They defended in a compact 4-4-2 and looked to prevent central passes, which was largely successful for them. Embleton and Diallo were guilty of dropping too deep to get on the ball, and it allowed them to squeeze up the pitch without any sort of threat in-behind or behind their midfield line.
There was one occasion in the second half where Clarke was able to receive on the half-turn and drive at the Hull backline, however this was the only noticeable moment all match from settled possession.
All of our best moments came from when we were able to turn the ball over and attack quickly, such as the shots on goal from Simms and Amad in the first half.
The second half started in a similar vein to the first, with Hull constantly targeting the wide areas and looking the create overloads. The penalty came from exactly this situation: Hull play into Slater (circled) who keeps it moving to Longman, Gooch goes to engage Longman, Hull’s forward makes a run into the gap behind and Ballard covers across to give away the penalty.
It must also be said that despite his immense quality on the ball, Amad’s defensive work is incredibly poor. He often switches off when the ball isn’t on his side, and constantly struggles to double up with his full-back (such as the penalty situation after initially switching off). I think this is partly the reason for Embleton’s inclusion in recent matches, who provided that bit of balance defensively.
The red card itself actually forced us to deal with Hull biggest threats. Amad was moved over to the left and started playing almost as a wing-back, and this forced change of shape actually allowed us to engage their wide men. We looked relatively comfortable when sitting a bit deeper and defending with a five, and also drew Hull forward which gave us more space to exploit behind (such as Stewart’s opener).
However, what started to happen was Roberts also started to drop back and follow Hull’s full-back (who switched to a 4-4-2 late on). This meant we dropped into a back-six at times, which gave Evan’s and Neil and incredibly difficult job to cover the width of the pitch defensively. Ultimately this is how the equaliser came about, with Neil unable to shift across in time and Woods able to pick out Tufan in the penalty area.
Although Hull created little from open play in terms of chances, there were a number of aspects of our performance to be worried about, as was the case against West Brom.
Our pressing has been quite naive, committing lots of players and leaving our backline exposed. We also failed to deal with the obvious threat from wide throughout the match, and it actually took a red card for us to address this.
I don’t think it is much coincidence that our away form has been better away from home this season. When we sit a bit deeper in a more organised shape, break quickly at speed and use fast combinations through pressure, we look a far better side. When we have settled possession however we often struggle, and also leave ourselves quite exposed on transition. I do trust Mowbray’s experience to recognise and address this however, and I wonder how much of our quite aggressive (arguably naive) style of play has more to do with the players at his disposal than other factors.