|At last! A wonder strike from Dean Keates inspires the Tigers to show some much needed passion and guile. Meanwhile, the opposition field a werepig. Mike Scott reports on matters.|
|Those of us who have supported Hull City for a few decades know the score. The Tigers are generally crap, a total let-down, but about every 5 or so years they have a purple patch of perhaps only 4-6 weeks that somehow makes suffering all the dross worthwhile. The last of these purple spells was April 2001 when Big Kev was steering a course towards the Division Three play-offs. Prior to that we must go back to early in 1993-4 when Dolan’s Tigers topped Division Two, March 1989 (the run-up to the Liverpool cup tie) and the back end of the 1983-4 promotion season.Well the Tigers need another excellent spell now if their promotion aspirations are to come to anything. And while this game against a steady and well organised Leyton Orient side was not exactly top drawer stuff, it signified a move in the right direction after Monday’s Durham Coast debacle. “Well organised Leyton Orient”. “Well organised Hartlepool”. “Disorganised Hull City”. It is the way in which the Tigers started to throw off the latter tag, and therefore look more capable of living with more organised opposition, that was the key difference in this game. The disarray at Victoria Park was replaced by a more solid feel yesterday, Molby’s back-to-basics training ground theme has had some effect. It’s a fragile new beginning – the Tigers wobbled horribly after Orient opened the scoring against the run of play – but it’s there, and the collective effort of Ashbee, Anderson and Keates in talking up team confidence bore fruit on this warm and pleasant Saturday afternoon. Returning again to a 4-4-2 line-up that fits the personnel on show were:
Glennon Regan Anderson Whittle Smith Johnson Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Bradshaw
The main surprise was Dudfield’s banishment to the bench alongside Price, Muss, Edwards (hoorah!) and Morrison. Keates kept his place and, despite going absent for a while after Orient’s goal, played much better than at Pools, capping his performance with a thunderous equaliser. Williams gave flashes of his true worth on the left, inspired in the second half by an upbeat Bunkers. Alexander looked a new man and led the line superbly without getting any luck in front of goal. Molby’s tactics, oft explained by the Dane, rely on a high tempo game that takes play to the opposition and forces mistakes and fatigue. Take away the high tempo, as happened at Hartlepool, and there’s not much left. But today City did, for a good 80 of the ninety minutes, maintain a fast pace through quickly taken free-kicks, pressing play all across the pitch and getting the ball forward quickly, either directly or through midfield, when in possession. The opening stages of the game saw this harum-scarum philosophy work to good effect and a useful Leyton XI, with highly rated Lockwood looking ever more like a were-pig at left-back, were rocked onto their collective heels. Three times in the opening 15 minutes City carved through the O’s backline and made good chances in the six yard box (one for Johnson, two for Alexander) that were blocked by committed but last-second defending. The one scare was when a straight punt clearance by Orient saw Whittle chase back with the useful Watts in attendance, Justin looking to usher the ball back to Glennon. Glennon was slow to react however, and in the end Whittle headed clear for a corner just as he made full-on and painful contact with Glennon’s considerable midriff. After some panic amongst the City support Justin returned gingerly to his feet and resumed his masterclass in Division Three defending. With three or four good chances made but no goals as reward, one wondered as to the mood of the footballing gods. They haven’t smiled on the Tigers for some time now, but were they feeling that the East Coast team were worthy of some TLC, or were they grimacing and plotting another body blow? It was the latter. Whittle hit a bobbling backpass to Glennon, who did well to spoon the ball up and out 35 yards in the face of the onrushing ex-Imp Thorpe. Orient’s Brazier was then allowed to comfortably control the high ball on his D-cup chest as “Jack” Regan looked on – I like Regan a lot, but his failing is an unwillingness to challenge the high ball. As Regan put his trousers back on, Brazier fed the advancing dreadlock-bedecked Hutchings in the box and his low cross was met by an unattended Toner in the inside right position who thumped home from 20 yards. The whereabouts of left back Smith were not recorded in my notes – suffice it to say he wasn’t challenging the goalscorer as he should have been. City then “did a Hartlepool” for ten minutes. The team spirit faded away, passes went astray, little effort was expended in the important areas of the pitch. Orient won 2-3 corners, all of which saw alarm bells ringing, beacons flashing and small children running about screaming, such was the panic in the City 6-yard box. But all were somehow repelled, the home side began to recover. Excellent work by Alexander set up a Regan cross that was dealt with in some haste by the O’s defence, and the clearance dropped invitingly to Ashbee whose volley skidded pleasingly towards goal only for the keeper Evans to save adeptly low down near his left post. Evans is on-loan at Orient this season, his first name is Rhys. Thankfully for the East Londoners, he is not as poor as the last netminding Rhys they had on loan, the much-reviled Rhys Wilmot who, when borrowed from Arsenal, was widely attributed with full blame for their 1985 relegation season. Ashbee’s shot was well saved but with 37 minutes gone a repeat Regan cross saw a repeat clearance fall to Keates 25 yards out. The diminutive Midlander steadied himself and drove a rasping shot into the net past a flapping Evans, and then proceeded to celebrate wildly in front of a bubbling Kempton. It was a fine strike and was executed just as I was confiding in a colleague that “that fookin Keates has gone missing again”. Good on yer, little man! Within seconds Watts burst through the City defence and a back post cross found another Orient player unencumbered by the attentions of Smith, but this time Glennon saved. City restored the high tempo and an even half finished even, at 1-1. Half time gave the opportunity to peruse the “End of An Era” merchandise catalogue handed to City fans on their entry to the soon-to-close Boothferry Park. And some fine items are on show there. I would recommend buying the calendar and twelve cheap picture frames from Ikea – then you’ll have a wall-full of BP memories for your favourite room, all for a fraction of the cost of the dreadful £60 daub on offer than makes all the players on the pitch looks 14 feet eleven inches tall. And so to the second half. O’s right back Joseph was clattered by Williams within the first minute and was withdrawn for a young chap called Donny Barnard, who looked rather intimidated by the vociferous Kempton support that he patrolled in front of. More good work on the right from the overlapping Regan saw a cross find Alexander, whose skilful shot was well pouched by the keeper. Then a superb move that began on the left with Williams, switched to the right with Johnson and ended up on the penalty spot with Bradshaw saw the aggressive young striker fluff his shot as the Bunkers goal beckoned invitingly. Young Bradshaw played well today and showed a pleasing willingness to mix it with the opposition in a manner that his fresh face wouldn’t necessarily suggest. Orient made a few half chances, the best of which fell to Thorpe, whose scuffed shot trickled across the face of Glennon’s goal, and Watts whose free header was straight at the grateful netman. But the great majority of the openings were the home side’s – Bradshaw slipped when 1-on-1 with the keeper after a thrilling surging run from Johnson, Alexander was twice more released in the box with shooting opportunities, Johnson shot straight at the O’s keeper after a penalty box melee – and only the final touch was missing from a tidy Tigers performance. As both teams tired in the final quarter several subs were introduced – Dudfield for Bradshaw, Morrison for Johnson – and a few late challenges were penalised by the very efficient Premiership referee Cathy Barry. In the end a 1-1 draw was perhaps just reward for both sides, but I suspect Orient manager Paul “Bog” Brush will feel that his side could not have complained if a City winner hadn’t have flown in, such was the sheer number of chances created by the home side over the ninety minutes. Overall then, this was a heartening performance after the abject shite of Hartlepool. If we can sustain this for a goodly run of 8-10 games then real momentum can be attained and the points will surely follow. That elusive first victory for Molby has still to arrive, but I feel it’s a lot closer after this performance. Time for the Tigers to maul some poncy university types? Oh yes!
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Johnson, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Bradshaw. Subs: Dudfield (for Bradshaw, 65), Morrison (for Johnson, 89), Musselwhite, Edwards, PriceGoals: Keates 38 Booked: Smith Sent Off: None LEYTON ORIENT: Evans, Joseph, Smith, McGhee, Lockwood, Toner, Harris, Hutchings, Brazier, Thorpe, Watts. Subs: Barnard (for Joseph, 52), Campbell-Ryce (for Watts, 76), Barrett, Martin, Nugent Goals: Toner 19 Booked: Harris, Hutchings, Toner Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 7,684|