Hull and Steve Bruce are back in the Premier League but anyone looking at either the circumstances of their promotion or their summer activity will be understandably wary of their ability to compete now that they’ve returned.
Goal differential is usually very highly correlated with a team’s final place in the table. Not so for Hull’s 2012-13 season in the Championship. They managed to earn automatic promotion despite a goal differential of a meager 9 goals. That was a lower total than the 4 teams directly below them in the table that made the playoff and significantly lower than three of those four. Usually a team that qualifies for automatic promotion has some outstanding quality – either attack or defense – at the Championship level. Again, not so for Hull. Their defense was good at the Championship level but certainly not dominant and their attack was actually below average. Clearly any team winning promotion should celebrate the achievement but Hull’s odd circumstances mean that they had their work cut out for them over the summer to compete in a better league.
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As is typical for a team moving up a division, there were a lot of players who departed over the summer but unlike Crystal Palace losing Wilfried Zaha, there weren’t major contributors with big Premier League potential walking out the door. Instead, there were a lot of players who left on frees or were released to make way for players coming in to compete in the Prem.
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The names may not be particularly inspiring and the wages aren’t necessarily known but Steve Bruce has transformed a group that was only so-so overall at the Championship level last season into a group – especially at the back – that knows how to be solid in the Premier League. At least they used to know. Whether this predominantly veteran group is still up to the challenge is another question. The good news is that they’ve largely avoided paying transfer fees. Here’s a summary of Hull’s transformation so far this summer:
Maynor Figueroa (Wigan, free) – Figueroa is a solid veteran presence who brings some versatility to Hull’s defense as well as 150 matches in the top flight as well as nearly 100 caps for his country. At 30 years old, he isn’t likely to improve but as a stop-gap the move makes sense given the lack of a transfer fee.
Curtis Davies (Birmingham, undisclosed) – Davies has vacillated between being a very good Championship defender and a maybe-adequate Premier League defender over his career. What he brings is some “been there, done that” but what he doesn’t bring is much chance of being an above average player. With Cardiff having acquired Steven Caulker from Spurs who is probably better than Davies right now and still has upside, you’d like to have seen Hull hold out for a better option.
Allan McGregor (Besiktas, £1.8m)/Steve Harper (free, Newcastle) – The veteran moves just keep on coming with two goalkeeping additions who have played at a high level. Neither are likely to be exceptional but neither are likely to be completely out of their depth on the field in the Premier League either. McGregor, who has been a controversial figure in the past, might prove an interesting figure off the pitch.
Ahmed Elmohamady (Sunderland, £2m) – Having already played 40 matches for Hull over the past two seasons while on loan from Sunderland, the right wing/right back will have to show improvement. Initially brought to Sunderland by Steve Bruce, he didn’t make the cut once Bruce left. Is the 25 year-old ready for another crack at the Premier League? After 3 goals and 9 assists for a team that wasn’t a scoring machine, there is enough potential that fantasy managers should be watching him carefully.
Danny Graham (season-long loan, Sunderland) – What happened to Danny Graham? He had a very nice season in Swansea’s first campaign but fell victim to second season syndrome and was shipped off to Sunderland despite Swansea not really having a replacement. His ineffectiveness continued at Sunderland to the point where Hull was able to acquire him on loan without anyone batting an eyelash. With playing time, Graham might recapture his form of two seasons ago and Hull had better hope he does because the other options on hand weren’t even prolific in the Championship.
Yannick Sagbo (undisclosed, Evian) – The one signing that doesn’t reek of “safe and uninspired”, Sagbo is young and has the potential to be a difference-maker. The problem here, regardless of his potential, is whether it is realistic to expect him to convert potential into results while taking a step up from Evian to the Premier League without an exceptional supporting cast. He may be more of a purchase looking ahead to the 2014-15 season in the Championship after which he might be ready to lead the line for a team that stays up in the Premier League.