By Declan Taylor
In September 2002 Hull City were playing at Boothferry Park in Division Three; fast forward six years and they sit seventh in the Premier League. It has been quite a journey for the Tigers.
Victory in last season’s Championship play-off final saw Hull end their 104-year wait for a place at England’s top table and they have not looked out of place so far. Just one defeat in their opening five games has seen the Tigers confound their pre-season doubters but Saturday brings their first meeting with one of the ‘Big Four’.
We caught up with Phil Buckingham from the Hull Daily Mail for an expert view on Arsenal’s opponents this weekend. Read on for his take on the Premier League ‘experience’, manager Phil Brown’s impact and the prospect of facing the Gunners.
THE STORY SO FAR
“Everyone is pinching themselves a bit. In all honesty I didn’t see the club being here 18 months ago when Phil Brown arrived but he’s done an amazing job really. These are unprecedented times for the club, we’re talking a 104 year wait to be in to be in the Premier League. I think everyone’s just loving every minute of it and the start we’ve made to the season has just put the icing on the cake.
SILENCING THE CRITICS
“The manager and the players quite enjoy being written off, it took all the pressure off them. I think everyone outside of Hull tipped them to be another Derby. I don’t think that was ever going to be the case, they’ve got too much team spirit in the camp. At this moment in time they’re just enjoying proving people wrong.
“It’s going to very difficult to maintain the form that they’ve shown in the first five games. Eight points from every five games and you’re talking about real top half stuff and that might be a bit of a tough ask. They haven’t faced any of the big four yet and it’ll just be a case of keeping the momentum going for as long as they can - that’s the key for any promoted teams. I think it’s more about how you deal with hard times and fortunately for Hull none of those have really come yet.
"If you ask the managers and the players, the main target is to get to that 40-point mark. If they get to that in March, and are well ahead of schedule, perhaps they could change the goals then. But now the only aim is to get enough points to avoid the drop.”
MAN OF THE MOMENT
“If you analyse Phil Brown’s time at Derby, an awful lot of things went wrong for him there. It was a club in turmoil with a high turnover of players and maybe he wasn’t given enough time. In contrast to that, everything’s gone right for him at Hull. First of all he got the club off the bottom of the league in his first season, successfully avoiding the drop into League One. And then inside a year he was given backing when the club got taken over and all of a sudden he has propelled the club to somewhere it has never been. It’s a remarkable job he’s done it has to be said.
“He’s quite a hot-tempered character down on the touchline and you’ll see him kicking a ball around with the players in a tracksuit before the game. But then he’s suited and booted during the game and very vociferous on the sideline. His best qualities as a manager is his man-management, it really is second to none. We’re not privy to what goes on the in the dressing room but he’s a big thinker and I think he’d like to pride himself on dealing with players in the right way.
“There’s no shortage of heroes around here these days and Phil Brown deserves as much of a claim as anyone. At the time everyone thought the Championship was where Hull needed to establish themselves first and foremost before thinking about the Premier League. Then to go on so convincingly, taking the club to new heights, ‘remarkable’ is the only word I can use to describe it.”
THE ONES TO WATCH
“Obviously Geovanni started the season very well but he’s been on the bench the last couple of games. He may well get a run out against Arsenal because they might revert to a 4-5-1 and be a little less gung-ho.
“The real star man to look out for from my point of view is Michael Turner, the centre half. He’s a London lad. he started life at Charlton then he went to Brentford. He’s just had a meteoric rise and his best quality is that he doesn’t realise just how good he is. He is a real talent, player of the season at Hull last year, and his big test was to come up the Premier League and not look out of place and he’s certainly done that. Up at Blackburn a couple of weeks back he had Roque Santa Cruz well and truly under wraps and that’s no mean feat. If he can keep that sort of form going it will only be of benefit of the club.
“Marlon King is another one. He got two up at Newcastle and he’ll be the first to admit that he’s got to prove to a few people that he can cut it as this level. At Watford he had a bad injury in the Premier League and he moved on to Wigan and it hasn’t gone right for him. Coming to Hull is his big chance to really show that he’s a Premier League striker and he has started really well. I don’t think it’s any surprise that the one game he missed was against Wigan - under the terms of his loan he wasn’t allowed to play against them - is the game that Hull struggled.
“When he plays he gives them something different. He can lead the line, he’s strong, he’s powerful and he’s got a good eye for goal as well. I think Hull will want him to perhaps chip in with double figures this season.”
“The notable injury is Craig Fagan who broke his leg against Newcastle and he’s a big miss. Anthony Gardner missed last weekend but I’m sure he’ll be close. Nicky Barmby is another one who should be able to throw his hat into the ring on Saturday. “I think 16 of the 20 teams in the League will go to the Emirates with the same mind-set as us.
It’s such a difficult place to go and you really have to stop Arsenal from playing, the best way to go about that is to pack the midfield. It’s almost an impossible task for a club like Hull City to go to Arsenal and get anything. It will just be about keeping shape more than anything else because, as we know, Arsenal like to drag teams all over the pitch.
THE EMIRATES EFFECT
“I’m sure they wanted to get to the Premier League to come to places like the Emirates instead of the Colchesters of this world, no disrespect. I think one or two might be daunted by the occasion I’m sure, but there are a few old heads that have been around and done it before. The likes of George Boateng will start on Saturday and he has been around the block before. It’s important that players like that really stand up and be counted on Saturday.”