A friendly match on a rainy summer Tuesday evening in the “UK City of Culture 2017” (cough) is not something you’d think would appeal to many. As many as 2500 plus mags disagreed and descended on the KCOM Stadium to see Rafa’s mags’ first run out on English soil of the season. We really are a mad bunch. Mike Ashley does not deserve to own a football club with these fans and this manager.


The opposition was of course HuIl City, whose season kicks off a week on Saturday (incredible how short the summer seems when there’s a World Cup). I travelled down straight from work with fellow mag and TF podcast contributor Marc Cowley and have to admit the first portion of the journey was spent questioning our decision! That all changed when we arrived in Hull to the sound of 2500 strong belting out Rafa’s name just before kick-off. Football has finally come home. The man is loved beyond compare and he knows and appreciates that. In Rafa, we have a mutual trust and we know that he will fight for us for as long as he is contracted to do so.


Match started very positively for us. It was refreshing to see a good number of our senior lads in the line-up with Lascelles, Shelvey, Diamé, Yedlin and Matt Ritchie all looking fresh and ready to go. The rest of the side was patched up with a mixture of squad and youth players. I had suspicions from the off that Rafa was making a point about the depth of his squad and I think by the end of the game this was all but confirmed.


Alas, we did start very well and early on we controlled the game through the midfield with Shelvey’s passing range showing no signs of rustiness. Ritchie, Yedlin and Murphy were all getting to the byline and whilst we didn’t see much end product, I was impressed with our creativity so early in pre-season. In the 15th minute, Shelvey put the kind of ball over the top to Joselu that Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling were begging for in Russia. Joselu was left in acres of space one on one with the keeper. Thankfully, his finishing as better than Kane’s was against Croatia as he coolly drilled it across the keeper for 1-0.


We continued to look comfortable up until around the 30th minute, when we started to look a little bit leggy and Hull appeared a little bit sharper than us. There was some de ja vu watching

Ritchie and Murphy quite isolated and too deep out wide. As always, the work rate was there, but we were struggling to piece anything together in terms of a goal threat. We ended up gifting Hull a scruffy equaliser shortly before half time. 1-1 at that point was probably flattering to the home team but it was evident that they were more match fit given that the Championship season kicks off next week.


At this point I’ll address the young lads who made up the rest of the team. We all know the terrible record of producing good players that our academy has, and yet every season we all get excited about the one or two that get mentioned as prospects. This year it’s Sean Longstaff, who scored in Ireland last week, playing at number 10 and Callum Roberts who was at left back. We also had a Yedlin lookalike at centre half and some other names appeared as the match played out. I don’t want to be too critical of the lads, who didn’t play badly, but apart from Longstaff nobody really stood out. Longstaff had a couple of glimpses but this match was Rafa is showcasing the lack of produce from our underfunded, understaffed, third rate academy. None of these players look like Premier League quality. Anything is possible with Rafa but he has enough work to do with some of our first team!


The second half started with a load of changes. Most notably, Ciaran Clark was on for Lascelles and he was soon joined by Isaac Hayden at the back in an unexpected move. I don’t think I’ve seen a centre half look quite as uncomfortable since Mike Williamson after his public shaming by Honest John Carver.


It didn’t make any sense on the face of it but this further felt, on reflection, like a deliberate move from Rafa to demonstrate the situation we could find ourselves in if we don’t add to this squad. His comments to the press post match eluding to the worrying lack of movement on transfers further backed this up.


The patchwork team endured 40 minutes of pressure in the second half and were deservedly behind 2-1 until 85mins. Perez and Ki had been brought on and we had a bit of shape and organisation again. The lads decided to have a bit of a go and showed the character of a Rafa Benitez side in just not wanting to lose a football match. Ki took 2 consecutive corners and the second was nodded home by Perez who really does look like he has his eye for goal back. It was nice to see a new player make an impact and the match ended on a positive note after a poor second half.


I’ll say it again. This was as much about making a point about the squad for Rafa as it was getting in some valuable preseason minutes for the lads. It would probably have been better if we’d lost but Rafa will never be able to do that! Our reserves aren’t good enough and if we suffer any injuries this season we will lose lots of football matches if this is all we have.


A quick one on the fans. I can’t criticise 2500 on a weeknight in July but I have to admit I now cringe at some of the songs. Jimmy Saville has been dead for 7 years. Let it go. And yes, of course Hull City had some empty seats for a friendly in July….. The atmosphere was good and that energy should have been more focussed on being united behind Rafa and the lads and against the ownership of the club.


All in all a good trip out though. Work this morning will be tough….

Simon Campbell