Last season marked Hull City‘s most successful campaign in their 110-year history. After recording their highest league finish of 16th in their second spell in the Premier League – a position which is closer to the trapdoor of the relegation zone than the summit of the league or even mid-table safety, though in truth the Tigers were never seriously threatened by relegation – the club then went on to compete in their first ever FA Cup Final, running Arsenal close in a thrilling five-goal game in which Hull scored twice in the opening ten minutes.
The famous trophy was beckeded in the red ribbons of the North London club rather than the amber and black of the Humberside outfit as the referee called time on the game, and with it the season, though the Tigers could still reflect on a memorable and undeniably successful campaign, despite the prospect of a first piece of silverware being agonizingly snatched from their grasp in the depths of extra time.
Many Hull City fans could be forgiven for being satisfied with a slightly less memorable season this year, with Premier League survival the one modest wish. Reaching the cup final saw another milestone for the Tigers as they qualified for a European club competition for the first time, and though this was a source of pride and excitement for the club, there were worries that a demanding European campaign could have a detrimental effect on their domestic performances. As it happens, Hull exited the Europa League in its early qualifying stages to Belgian club Lokeren, which for many came as both a disappointment and a blessing, allowing the club to focus on their primary aim of consolidation in the league.
Hull City manager Steve Bruce, however, is not one to rest on his laurels. After a miserable spell in charge of Sunderland which was destined to end badly, this is a man who still feels he has a point to prove, despite having overseen two successful campaigns at the KC Stadium. Bruce knows that he possesses the tactical nous to cope with the challenges of Premier League football, with his tinkering between a back three a conventional back four impressing many last season. His astute dealings in the transfer market also caught the eye, with the excellent Tom Huddlestone – a £5million signing from Tottenham Hotspur – bringing composure to the Hull midfield, whilst January acquisitions Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long showed early signs of becoming an effective striking duo.
Long’s stay at the club ended up being short-lived following his move to Southampton in the summer, and knowing full well that strengthening would be needed to see the club develop on their promising second stint in the Premier League, Bruce wasted no time in delving regularly into the transfer market. After early deals for Robert Snodgrass, Jake Livermore, Tom Ince and Michael Dawson – useful additions no doubt, but unlikely to generate much attention outside of Humberside – Hull City became one of the stars of Deadline Day, the transfer window’s grand finale.
Their quartet of last-minute signings suddenly sees the Tigers boasting a seriously impressive squad for a recently promoted side – with the vastly underrated Mohamed Diamé, the mercurial, fleet-footed Hatem Ben Arfa and the skilful Uruguayan duo of Gaston Ramirez and Abel Hernandez, Hull now possess players who have the potential to show that an FA Cup Final appearance does not have to be the apex of the club’s achievements.
This influx gives Bruce a wealth of options with regard to his formation and his starting eleven, though with such an array of wide attacking players a 3-5-2 may no longer be best suited to the team. A provisional 4-2-3-1, however, would allow Hull’s new recruits to slip seamlessly into the side, with the experienced Dawson and club captain Curtis Davies forming a central defensive partnership, a midfield pair of Diamé and Huddlestone to protect the back four, an attacking midfield trio of Ben Arfa, Ince and Ramirez – the latter occupying the number 10 position – and a lone striker in the form of Hernandez or Jelavic.
It must be remembered that Hull City’s impressive outlay in the transfer market – Hernandez was a club record signing at £10 million – has only been made possible due to the generosity of owner Assem Allam and his continued faith and belief in Bruce’s vision for the club. If Allam could only abandon his universally derided plans for a rebranding of the club, then Hull City fans may be able to look forward with cautious optimism and see last season’s exploits as a mere stepping stone to further success, rather than the absolute limits of the Humberside club’s capabilities.