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Sean's Programme Notes - Hull

1 December 2012

I would like to welcome the players, staff and supporters of Hull City to The City Ground for this afternoon's npower Championship game.

In my last match-day notes I talked about our season being at a 'tipping point', where we might have to make one or two changes to move things forwards to start trying to convert draws into wins.

The three games since then have summed up how difficult that can be.

The first of these games saw us beat a physical Sheffield Wednesday side. During the game they only had 112 passes with a third of those coming from the goalkeeper. To put that into context when Middlesbrough played Wednesday, Boro's two central midfielders had over 200 passes between them. We knew we were going to be up against a direct side, dangerous on the break and not dissimilar to Millwall. But whereas we fell into a lot of costly traps in the Millwall defeat we learned those lessons and competed well to claim a deserved three points.

The two away games that followed showed us at our Jekyll and Hyde best and worst.

At Wolves we paired Simon Cox and Billy Sharp up front to try to utilise the space of an expansive Molineux pitch. For all the bright attacking play we produced in an open first 45 minutes we still allowed Wolves to get 11 crosses in from our right. A tactical switch at half-time ensured we were more organised in the second half and deservedly won the game courtesy of Adlene Guedioura.

Although injury to Simon meant we were again forced to change the starting XI at Ipswich, we travelled in confident mood, keen to build on the positive attacking and defensive elements of our performance at Wolves. What we got, I never anticipated.

In football, at whatever level, you have to do the basics well. We made a poor start, giving the ball away from the kick-off but instead of regrouping and staying calm we got worse. Everything we did played into Ipswich's hands as we gave the ball away cheaply and allowed them to break on us at pace with players in poor positions. We looked like the team struggling for confidence near the bottom of the division not a team that had picked up eight points from 12.

Although we changed things at half-time, and equalised through a well-worked goal involving Billy and Chris Cohen the frailties we had shown in the first half never disappeared completely and we were soundly beaten. Losing I can take but losing in that manner is unbelievably disappointing.    

Everyone will have their opinion on who should be in the team. But for every argument for one player being included someone else will offer an equally valid opinion on why another player should play. Reading names on a squad list is one thing, finding the right combinations in the right structures is entirely another.

There's no question there's a lot of quality in the squad but have we consistently found the right balance and blend? In my opinion, not yet. There have certainly been times when we have looked a controlled, organised outfit but getting the required consistency from the right individuals playing in a role for the good of the team is an ongoing challenge.

The right blend may actually be something that, on paper, wouldn't be the obvious answer. But football's not played on paper; the right thing for the team may actually be leaving players out who, on paper, you would think would be a no-brainer to include. They are the big, often risky, calls. Win and you're hailed a genius, lose and you're castigated. Opinions in football are that black and white.   

Adopting a consistently professional mindset is also key to improved performances.

This story caught my eye recently - the England rugby team 'poaching' British Cycling's 'Head of Marginal Gains'. This sports scientist was credited for leading British cycling's quest for perfection in all areas. Every last detail that could impact on an individual's performance being scrutinised and controlled to guarantee the best chance of maximal performance at the right time.

If a football club announced it had poached another club's 'Head of Marginal Gains' it would almost certainly be met with scepticism. It sounds like a job in a satirical comedy.

But in an age where the demands on players' bodies are greater than ever, these are exactly the things football should be embracing.

Massive inroads have been made in sports science in football in recent years - most clubs now have their fair share of performance analysts, physiologists, physiotherapists, nutritionists etc. 

But it remains fact many players still consider themselves 'footballers' not professional athletes.

Consequently, there can be reluctance to accept change in the way things are done on and away from the training pitch. Things that are everyday practices in all successful sports, like basic hydration, are greeted with a raised eyebrow and the inevitable, 'Why? We've never done it before.'

But modern day footballers are professional athletes.

Their bodies are more finely-tuned than ever, so more can go wrong with them. Managing that to balance high-intensity performances - often twice a week - and injury prevention is paramount.

Mental management is equally as important. I was interested to see Brendan Rodgers has recruited renowned sports psychiatrist, Dr Steve Peters, as part of his backroom team at Liverpool. Dr Peters is known for working with the likes of Olympic gold medallist cyclists, Chris Hoy and Victoria Pendleton, on behaviour management. One of his key ideas is the 'Chimp Brain'; that if athletes can control their emotional response to situations and apply rational thought, performance improves.

Players should want to understand how sports science can help them manage their bodies and minds to become better athletes. They should want to take responsibility for becoming the best player they can be by doing all the things that can help them achieve that.

That isn't about ability, that's everything about attitude. These 'marginal gain' approaches are undoubtedly the way football will continue to go. The players who accept this and take responsibility for doing the right things for their own performances are the ones who will progress fastest in the modern game. It's not revolutionary just basic professionalism but that's still too rare a commodity.

As we continue to try to move this football club forwards on and off the pitch please keep supporting your local team.

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