Hartlepool United 2 Hull City 0

Crikey, this is getting serious.  Mike Scott reports on another capitulation on the Durham Coast.
Ugly. An apt word for the town of Hartlepool. And an apt word for performances of the current Hull City squad. Once more eleven ill-equipped sportsmen entered the field of play against more organised and willing opposition. The Hull City eleven, although seemingly superior on paper, lost badly. It was two-nil. It could’ve been ten-nil. I’ll give my account of the game, then I’ll give my opinion on what’s gone wrong. Both will be ugly.The current fashion to shuffle the City pack continued at full strength as City lined up thus:

Glennon Petty Anderson Whittle Regan Green Ashbee Keates Johnson Alexander Dudfield

Smith dropped, that was the good news. Regan was switched to the left (has Edwards perhaps lost a limb in a freak Hessle harvesting accident?) and Petty took his best role at right back. Ashbee came back from suspension, the diminutive (in so many ways) Keates made his debut and three up front were restored with Dudfield’s recovery from a gippy tummy. Morrison and Greaves were benched (along with Bradshaw, Williams and Musselwhite) while Price and Smith were not asked to make the trip north. A bold managerial masterstroke? Err, no. Hartlepool carded a team very similar to the one that thumped City 4-0 last season. They have had barely any incomings nor outgoings over the summer, and have a settled squad that know their roles. City do not. The difference was apparent as early as the third minute when the admirable Gordon Watson raced down the right channel, held the ball up on the City goalline and drew three (count ’em, three!) City defenders towards him. Not one of the three attempted a tackle, instead trying to corral the ex-Owl in the manner of a wild west buffalo. Amazed at this generosity, Watson waited a full five seconds while the right midfielder Clarke scuttled up behind him. He then gently rolled the ball to the unattended Clarke who whipped in a cross to the distinguished looking Tinkler who, alarmed by his lack of marker at such an early stage, fluffed his shot wide. And so a pattern began to emerge. In the first minute Gary Alexander had neatly freed Johnson down the right, but the Leeds man’s cross found only the keeper Williams’ (Anthony) midriff. This early Alexander promise was a false dawn, as he went on to turn in a poor performance, not helped by the senseless booing of the City support that began after 15 or so minutes and reached a grizzly crescendo in the second half. The same crescendo that reduced the nervy looking Petty into a pile of footballing rubble in the first half. It was clear that this was a rather strange day for supporting City away when a small child was berated after seven minutes as being a “fookin nobhead” for returning the ball to the pitch after a wayward Pools shot. The baying for blood that ensued for the rest of game was totally destructive, but perhaps not entirely impossible to understand – although the bloke in front of me who exhorted Pearson to “fook off and tek yer money wiv yer” really did beggar belief. An ugly mood for the crowd, an ugly clash between hope, expectancy and despair. Within ten minutes Hartlepool had amassed four corners, all of which were wasted. The fifth saw Tinkler convert a header at the back post but the referee – probably rightly – disallowed the goal, adjudging that the greying Poolster had used an opponent’s shoulders to gain upthrust. The home side was entirely dominant and pummelled City incessantly. Whittle and Anderson defended manfully and both full backs looked reasonable for the first 20 minutes or so, but the midfield, as against Bury, afforded them no protection whatsoever and the waves of attacks continued. On 21 a low right wing Pools cross saw Petty airshot horribly at the back post, and the startled Williams sliced a hurried shot well wide. This was the first mistake of the day by Petty, but the hordes descended upon him with a flurry of wrath and fury that was not entirely deserved. He played like a complete arse for the rest of the half. But now what is this? Amid the ugliness emerges beauty. The Tigers realise that Dudfield on our left has the measure of the sloth-like Barron at right back, and start to switch the ball to him as often as possible. From this the Tigers gleaned confidence and started to play some pleasing possession football. In this spell Dudfield raided the Pools penalty box with no end product once or twice, and Ashbee thumped a swerving 25 yarder just wide after being teed up by Green. Crikey thought the City fans, are we about to play OK and win the League after all? No way. Just as City took the upper hand so Hartlepool released Watson down their left wing, and after a inconsequential half challenge by Petty was evaded the once-crocked forward slid a nice ball across the face of the six yard box where the gleeful Williams (Eifion) slid a shot goalwards. Alas it was also Glennon-wards and the big keeper blocked, only to see the rebound fall to the feet of the now seated Williams, who prodded into an unguarded net. A modicum of Tigery promise, and 1-0 down. The slight breeze that billowed the City sails died, and eleven heads dropped collectively. Pools were now rampant, City quite appalling, and the home should have gone nap before half time. The game was played in the City box with only Whittle standing out as someone who could keep his composure while all others flapped and fannied about. For three successive corners Watson stood totally unmarked at the back post while Green guarded unoccupied territory at the front post. While the City fans screamed for someone to mark up, the City team looked blankly at Watson and let him be. Thank God Pools can’t take a decent back post corner, or Watson could’ve tapped it in with his knob. Pools’ Smith saw a free header swing just wide after one particularly negligent piece of collective non-defending by the away side, while Keates twice sliced clearances appallingly, the second time straight to the feet of Williams (Eifion) on the edge of the box, only for the umpteenth last ditch Whittle tackle to block a routine shot on goal. As the half time whistle tooted, a battered and bloodied City XI retreated for what was no doubt a prolonged session of teacup throwing and Scousease cat-calling. Emerging unchanged for the second half, City made the first chance within two minutes when Dudfield got free down the left and pulled a cross back to Alexander whose fatal hesitation resulted in him being closed down and screwing an impossible shot well wide. This was enough for some of the City, err, “support” to now get on Alexander’s back with a tirade of heckling and name-calling rarely witnessed since, well, since Saturday. Gary’s head dropped. If it had’ve dropped any further, it would’ve dropped off. After 53 minutes Bradshaw was stripped and ready for action – surely Molby would spare Alexander the torture of playing towards the City fans that were baying for his blood and calling him a “fat bastard”. No, the Dane – cocooned in his soundproof dugout for the full 90 minutes – withdrew the nippy Johnson and left poor Alexander to plough an increasingly morose furrow at the spearhead of the City attack. Bradshaw on, surely the message to be relayed was to play the ball on the deck. Nope. Clearance after clearance was hoofed up to the little striker, who battled vainly to win headers while giving away ten inches to centre back Lee. This dumb tactic persisted even after Alexander was later withdrawn and the similarly squat Williams (Ryan) was introduced. Cretinous? Yes. Whose fault? I’ll come to that. On 62 minutes a left wing Pools corner (their 117th of the game, or so it seemed) was cleared back to the taker, and as he whipped in a second cross the City defence appeared to consider their work already complete and the grateful Watson stole in at the back post to convert a routine header. Once again the attempt was blocked by Glennon, and once again it fell unfortunately at the feet of the striker who tapped home from eighteen inches or so. Double bad luck for Glennon, who played OK in this match. Within four minutes Watson had again carved out a gilt-edged opening, charging down a clearance that fell to Smith, whose shot was skied horribly. By now Pools knew they had the points in the bag and eased up, while City realised they were chuffing awful, and also eased up. In one moment of passion Ashbee dished out retribution in a manner that contravened the laws of the game for a late tackle perpetrated on him seconds earlier, and the competent referee made a note of his particulars. One bright moment saw Keates play a decent through ball (a collector’s item from the stumpy ex-Saddler) to Dudfield whose left wing cross was arced towards Bradshaw, but the Pools defender just got a toe in first as Gary shaped to clip his shot goalwards. With ten minutes to go the game had fizzled out completely. Many City fans went home, and the Pools fans inquired as to whether this could become a more regular weekly fixture rather than the current twice a season. I could see their point. Watson finished the game’s action in the 89th minute with a lovely lob from 20 yards that landed on the roof of the net. The ref blew his whistle two and a bit minutes into the four minutes of added time indicated – an act of mercy, methinks. It is clear that individuals are not performing to expectation. Ashbee was poor today, Green was worse apart from the ten minute purple patch in the first half, just prior to Pools’ goal. Petty played like a man scared of his own supporters in the first half and perked up in the second, but it is questionable as to whether he is really any good, although it is hard to fault his willingness to run around. Regan was OK. Keates made his debut today, and I don’t think it unfair to confide that I sincerely hope his first City match is also his last. He couldn’t pass, couldn’t defend and couldn’t mark. He’s five foot five so he doesn’t possess an aerial threat. I can’t understand what he’s FOR – he is a shorter Craig Lawford. But, sweet reader, I lay the real blame at the feet of our manager. I honestly don’t think he has a clue what he trying to achieve at the moment. He has it in his mind that an attacking 4-3-3 formation is a good thing, yet he is incapable of instilling into his players (and they are HIS players in the main) the necessary mobility and flexibility to make it work. He is trying to make the players fit the system, rather than choosing a system that suits the players. Thus we play with three static forwards that fail to interchange, three static midfielders who take as little responsibility as possible and four defenders who struggle manfully to plug the breaches that occur. We seem to be playing Subbuteo tactics with real life players, in stark contrast to the mobile interchanging style of play that Hartlepool employed today to devastating effect. No one wants to take charge, no one wants to organise, no one wants to succeed above all else. Five games in we have a squad of players that appears almost to a man demoralised, and a manager who changes formations and teams with alarming regularity. Molby is incapable of motivating his players to perform to the required standard for the third division. Games in hand and points deductions aside, we are bottom of the league. My view is that Molby continues to be an abject failure, and could be no more than three games away from the sack. I don’t say “Molby out” because I want him to succeed, but the state of affairs can’t be allowed to persist and the manager must take the ultimate blame if this slump continues much longer. And judging by Adam Pearson’s head-in-hands display as he left the Victoria Park directors’ box today, I think our chairman might be of like mind to me.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Petty, Whittle, Anderson, Regan, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Dudfield, Alexander, Johnson.  Subs: Bradshaw (for Johnson, 54), Williams (for Alexander, 69), Musselwhite, Greaves, MorrisonGoals: noneBooked: Ashbee, PettySent Off: None   HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Williams A, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Robinson, Clarke, Tinkler, Humphreys, Smith, Watson, Williams E.  Subs: Arnison (for Barron, 58), Widdrington (for Smith, 79), Boyd (for Williams E, 82), Provett, Henderson Goals: Williams E 32, Watson 63 Booked: Williams E Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 4,236