Friday 17 November 2017

Empty seats mark start of new era for Silva's Tigers

Hull City 2 Swansea 0

Hull City's Adama Diomande in action with Swansea City's Angel Rangel. Photo: Reuters
Hull City's Adama Diomande in action with Swansea City's Angel Rangel. Photo: Reuters

Michael Walker

By the end a match had broken out and something resembling an atmosphere had drifted into the ghost ship otherwise known as the KCOM stadium. By the end Marco Silva had enjoyed his first match and his first victory as Hull City manager - and Paul Clement had suffered his first defeat in charge of Swansea.

By the end Hull were into the fourth round of the FA Cup. The victory came courtesy of Abel Hernandez's first goal since August and a sweetly struck drive in injury-time from 17-year-old Josh Tymon. There was something here.

Hull City's Michael Dawson out-jumps Swansea City's Borja Baston to the ball. Photo: Reuters
Hull City's Michael Dawson out-jumps Swansea City's Borja Baston to the ball. Photo: Reuters

But for so much of this afternoon, momentous as it was for the two clubs' new managers - and the two scorers - this was about the missing. In a ground that holds 25,000 people, there were around 20,000 empty seats. It was literally and metaphorically soulless. The long and ongoing fans' protest at the running of Hull City by the Allam family brought its first boycott of a game. It fulfilled its aim, once again illustrating the power of an empty seat.

Silva must have wondered just what he has taken on as he took his place on the touchline. He was not even afforded an introduction: the man with the microphone saluted "the start of a new era" and, fooling no one, "the magic of the FA Cup", but there was no mention of Hull's new manager.

Instead the 39-year-old Portuguese stood in his coat and stared a stadium filled with emptiness. It was one weird afternoon. Even the build-up, such as it was, felt strange. On the walk to the ground, the usual pre-match hubbub was absent, the gloom of a grey day had settled early on those who did come. They shuffled quietly towards their entrances, no singing, no rattles, no romance.

Inside, the North Stand had been closed and likewise the top tier of the main stand. When the game kicked off you could hear individual shouts, from the pitch as well as those seats where someone had turned up.

Swansea City's Stephen Kingsley fends off Hull City's Ryan Mason. Photo: Reuters
Swansea City's Stephen Kingsley fends off Hull City's Ryan Mason. Photo: Reuters

On a day marked by absenteeism, the owners had no presence in the thin match programme, no column welcoming Silva, nor one thanking Mike Phelan, another of the disappeared. There were, though, 17 pages on Swansea. And it was a moment for Clement too, the first time he had strode up a tunnel as Swansea manager. After his cameo role at Crystal Palace on Tuesday, this was Clement's full debut, so to speak. Like Silva, he made enforced changes; like Silva he must have been underwhelmed by how the first half petered out.

Ki Sung-Yueng almost scored eight minutes in with an improvised volley, but that was Swansea's only effort on target in the first half. Hull replicated that - Sam Clucas drilling a low 32nd minute shot at Kristoffer Nordfeldt. Thankfully, mainly down to Hull, the second half improved. On 74 minutes Ki hit a post.

The opening goal was all about the home side's substitutes. Hernandez, after two months out, came on just past the hour and looked lively. Shaun Maloney followed and it was the Scot who teed up the Uruguayan to score the decisive opener from six yards.

That brought some crackle into the stadium and after a brief flurry of pressure by the visitors, Robert Snodgrass broke away in injury-time and found another substitute, Tymon. From 20 yards the teenager buried a diagonal shot off the far post.

The whistle blew. Silva shook hands with Clement and walked back down the tunnel.

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