The rise and fall of Phil Brown has been as surreal and dramatic a tale as the Premier League has witnessed, but it has not been concluded just yet.
Brown's story not over yet
HULL // The rise and fall of Phil Brown has been as surreal and dramatic a tale as the Premier League has witnessed, but it has not been concluded just yet. Predictions of the demise of Hull City's charismatic and eccentric manager have been commonplace since the removal of his ally, the former chairman Paul Duffen. But since inheriting a side threatened with demotion from the Championship, Brown has specialised in the improbable. What could have proved his finale was no exception.
A win that appeared unlikely at half-time, when Hull trailed, was secured in injury time by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, the man with the longest name in the division providing one of the bigger goals in Hull's recent history. Third a year ago, they are fourth from bottom now but both the result and the manner of it served to reinforce Brown's position. He had already received the qualified backing of the new chairman, Adam Pearson, before the game, but his removal is less likely now.
"He's a good manager, he has got lots of good ideas and he has got a great future in the game," said Brown's assistant, Brian Horton. The Hull boss, told to keep a lower profile by Pearson, opted not to face the media. "He does like the spotlight, doesn't he?" Horton added. "There's nothing wrong with that. He's having a drink now instead." Hull remain in jeopardy, but comebacks inevitably have a galvanising effect, while prominent contributions from the manager's buys underpin his authority.
Hull benefited from both. Deservedly losing to Matthew Etherington's goal, they rallied with three of Brown's more maligned additions figuring. Their equaliser came from a man signed from Stoke. Seyi Olofinjana met Stephen Hunt's pass with a deft turn and a well-placed shot into the top corner. It was out of keeping with the rest of Olofinjana's undistinguished Hull career, but beautifully taken nonetheless.
The winner, meanwhile, was initiated by Hull's biggest buy. Signed almost 10 months ago, Jimmy Bullard had been limited to 69 minutes' football either side of a career-threatening knee injury. On both his full and his home debut, the £5 million (Dh30m) midfielder had sufficient energy to shoot. It swerved, but met with a poor parry from Thomas Sorensen. Vennegoor of Hesselink, who had been dropped from the team and who had only been introduced seven minutes before, drilled the ball in.
It was fitting that Bullard contributed. He offered energy and a precision of passing that few of his colleagues could rival. "Tremendous," enthused Horton. While Bullard was typically bullish, Stoke, uncharacteristically, subsided. Their captain Abdoulaye Faye was sent off, collecting two cautions for two altercations with the Hull substitute Nick Barmby. "I'm really disappointed with the two bookings," said the Stoke manager Tony Pulis. But three minutes and one defensive change later, his defence was breached.
Promoted with Hull, they are entrenched in the Premier League while Brown's men are endangered. Stoke had led through the most potent player on the pitch. In a side scarcely noted for frills or flourishes, Etherington offers flair on the left flank. He also provided a finish when Ryan Shawcross' diagonal pass sailed over Bernard Mendy. Etherington accelerated on to it and rifled a shot beyond Matt Duke.
Following a dangerous cross from Etherington, the Hull goalkeeper spared his captain Anthony Gardner an own-goal. "That changed the game," Horton added. Eight minutes later Olofinjana had levelled. Vennegoor of Hesselink then completed the turnaround. "It's a great feeling," said Horton. "It's like we've won at Wembley again." For the Dutchman, it was a goal the day after his birthday. For Brown, it ensured that Remembrance Sunday was very much a day to remember.