Hull City slide towards Championship football next season took a significant step on Saturday with yet another defeat. Goals from Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose handed Tottenham all three points, condemning Hull to its 19th loss of the campaign and leaving them in 18th place. Despite creating a similar amount of chances as their opponent, the lack of cutting edge upfront was ultimately Hull’s downfall. It has been the story of their season with several pundits pointing to their inefficiencies in front of goal as the key reason for their perilous position. A glance at Hull’s top marksmen paints an awful picture – Croat Nikica Jelavic’s return of only eight goals this season is enough to have him lead the way with fellow striker Dame N’Doye in second place on five goals. Hull’s lack of goals certainly indicates a problem but is it really the reason why they find themselves in the relegation places with one game left?
With an average goal per game ratio of 0.89, Hull are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league but they are far from the worst. Unsurprisingly already relegated Burnley have the worst record of all (0.73 goals per game) but so do Aston Villa in 15th place (0.84 per game) and Sunderland in 16th place (0.83 per game). Despite a poor goal to game ratio, Aston Villa have secured their place in the Premiership mostly thanks to some impressive performances of late under new manager Tim Sherwood. Sunderland however aren’t quite out of the woods but only need a single point from their remaining two games to stay up. With away games against Arsenal and Chelsea left, it may not be that simply and could hand Hull the opportunity to escape. Newcastle could also be drawn into the mix after suffering another loss at the weekend, this time at bottom club QPR. Strangely Newcastle and QPR both have much better goals to game ratios than Hull (1.03 and 1.11 respectively) largely in thanks to their respective front men, Papiss Cisse and Charlie Austin but both clubs have had defensive frailties which have cost them dearly.
Newcastle and QPR have the two worst defenses in the Premiership conceding 63 and 68 goals so far. Hull however have only let in 51 goals, a much better record than both (the 8th worst in the league) and even a better record than 6th placed Tottenham who have conceded two more goals this season than Hull. So with a better defense than six other sides in the league why are Hull in danger of the drop? For answers we need to look at their results. From the 19 defeats that Hull has suffered this season, they have lost seven of them by only 1-0 and ten in total by just a single goal. Added into this out of the ten draws that Hull have recorded, Hull took the lead in six of them before conceding the equalizer late on in the game. Their inability to both hold the lead and build upon it has really been their undoing this season.
It’s somewhat ironic that Steve Bruce has to face the club where he made his name as a player – Manchester United in the final game of the season, knowing anything but a win will condemn Hull to relegation. United under Van Gaal have had a difficult season but have achieved their objective of a top four finish. With little to play for in the final match, United’s Dutch coach may decide to field some of his fringe or youth players with a view to seeing what they can do. This could be the luck that Bruce needs. All he needs is one goal from his misfiring strikers. However taking the lead is one thing, defending it is another. It may be this that ultimately condemns Hull to the drop.