|Steve Weatherill reports on another rousing Tigers performance, albeit one that ended ultimately in defeat against lofty opposition.|
|Ah, cynicism, be a stranger. I’m no admirer of the tired old League Cup, but the crowd of just over 7,000 that watched this tie last night will not be forgetting what they witnessed in a hurry. This was terrific entertainment, as vibrant a 90 minutes as we’ve seen at the Ark in a while. I do mean 90 minutes, and not a minute longer, because once extra time began with the scores locked at 1-1 it took Leicester just twelve seconds to claim the lead and less than five more minutes to skate into a 4-1 canter, but over the fluctuations of normal time our team performed with a zest and zeal that wholly eliminated any hint that there might be two Divisions and more stretching between the current status of these two clubs. In the extraordinary course of a dynamic interlude of play between 85 and 90 we simply battered the visitors’ defence with a sustained surge of attacking verve that had us agonisingly close to victory more than once. And we would have deserved that success. On roastingly lively form:
Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Appleby Keates Ashbee Williams Alexander Jevons
A standard 4-4-2, and off we went on a still soft September evening attacking North Stand under a gibbous moon sinking slowly behind the Main Stand. The pattern was sketched quickly; lively and committed football, with both teams getting forward at pace. Leicester threatened first as a long cross reached Trevor Benjamin in an alarming amount of space deep inside our box. The former Cambridge man confounded those critics who doubt the quality of his first touch by flapping haplessly at the ball and failing to make any contact at all. A career in freefall, no doubt. Meanwhile, at the other end, Alexander was leading the line well and pressing the visiting defence into a cheering number of hastily booted clearances directly into Kempton. The discomfort of Matt Elliott, who used to be a good player in his Scunthorpe days, had me chuckling. The game was shaping up nicely as a contest when, sickeningly, Leicester scored. Rogers ran with pace and power from very deep in the midfield and, with no one able to track such a hurtling burst, we could only look on aghast as a pass was whipped into his path and duly thumped under Glennon into our net. It was the sort of goal that just doesn’t get scored in our Division – doesn’t even get dreamed about, for that matter. And Leicester smiled knowingly, patted City on the head and offered us some sweeties, and began to stroll around as if enjoying a half-paced training-ground kickabout. Glennon-Hyde fubled a corner, and was rescued by desperate defence. Callum Davidson repeated the trick that had brought the opening goal and, running from deep, surged clear to receive an astute pass, only to discover Dr Jekyll had taken over between the posts and Glennon nudged a vicious shot over the bar with brilliant nonchalance. The game suddenly lacked bite, and it was all too easy. Ha! Don’t patronise us, matey! A free-kick was awarded to us 30 yards from their goal and Ashbee didn’t hesitate. He slid a pass towards Jevons in the box and, with the Leicester defence utterly bemused and tumbling like blossom in May, the ball pinged around before landing at the feet of Alexander, 12 yards from goal. He steadied himself and rammed a firm shot past Ian Walker. Joy at the equaliser, joy at Alexander getting on target for the first time this season … GAME ON! And it really did all change now. Leicester were rattled. Their fluency was gone – or, at least, we could now match it. Their evening stroll was abruptly terminated and they bared their teeth. Both teams did. It was red-blooded stuff, and from here on in there spiralled an exhilarating helter-skelter of fast-paced attacking football. Williams dribbled spectacularly down the left before rolling a shot just inches wide of the far post with Walker scrambling across his line in a vain attempt to intercept. The Tigers were forcing the pace now, and it was splendid stuff. Appleby had staked a claim for the Frankie Bunn Memorial Award by falling over his own feet when he first touched the ball, but he had quickly regained the favour of the Kempton. He looks an exciting acquisition; strong, sensible on the ball, and confident. He also managed to entertain us royally by fouling Dennis Wise’s victim, Callum Davidson, right on the touch-line, while succeeding in winning the free-kick. A bemused Davidson sat dejectedly on the grass, off the pitch, having the cold spray directed at his ankle as a mist of what looked like dry ice enveloped him, in the manner of the odd bird who sat at the front of the stage when Hawkwind did “Silver Machine” on Top of the Pops. But Davidson, even if still feeling mean, had no chance to prove it, for he was subbed shortly afterwards in favour of the lively Jordan Stewart. For international-spattered Leicester, Mussy Izzet made it two home games in a row in which we have been treated to the sight of a young man pining nervily for his expected big-money move, and Izzet, like Matt Lockwood of Orient before him, showed why he is moderately highly-rated without ever suggesting he is truly worth a place at the top table. Izzet, more than most of the visitors, was growling increasingly fractiously at the turn of events and his frustration earned him a yellow card, and he could have suffered further after stupidly engaging Ashbee in frank debate directly after his caution. The break was reached at 1-1, with the alert Regan concluding the half by heading clear at the back post, and it had been lots of fun. It got better. The second half was terrific, rising to a vibrant crescendo. Williams darted fully 60 yards down the left before feeding Smith, sensibly providing support, and his cross, bound for Jevons racing in at the near post, was hastily beaten behind for a corner. Up at the other end Glennon stretched his full length to stop a low shot. Then a corner to Leicester was blocked on the line by a combination of Glennon’s hand and a defensive boot, and the ball bounced clear via a graze of the crossbar. Johnson now came on for Appleby and we continued to look every bit as likely to win this game as (giants of the world game) Leicester City. A raking Johnson cross from the right was met by Alexander, making a classic striker’s diagonal run, and his flick header flashed just wide of the far post with Walker a flat-footed spectator. Williams powered down the left once again and attempted to release Johnson with a cross-field pass which he struck just too close to a defender, who gratefully intercepted. And then we had a decent shout for a penalty as Impey wrestled Williams off the ball as he plunged into the penalty box. It was a game played with an unusually fast tempo (by the standards of our Division at least) and it was end-to-end. Terrific! Williams was stampeding down the left like a herd of buffalo. Well, like one buffalo. Quite a small buffalo. In fact, his was the most thrillingly assertive display of hard direct running by a wide man seen at the Ark since Oleg Blokhin paraded his shimmering majesty twenty years ago. It was a truly magnificent sight as time and time again Williams raced 40, 50, 60 yards with the ball under close control, picking it up deep inside our half and instantaneously converting defence into attack as he carried the ball unerringly deep into Leicester territory. Of course, the ringing plea sounds – “Do this in League games, and do it more than once every two seasons!”. Fair enough, though League opponents at the Ark will never emulate Leicester’s attacking ambition and Williams will never again enjoy such vast savannah in which to cavort at will. But let’s enjoy the moments while we can – last night’s performance from Williams was simply glorious. At no stage did Leicester dominate midfield, which confers credit on the hard-working Ashbee and Keates. Izzett had been seen off – subbed on 70. When Leicester threatened – and, of course, they did, particularly courtesy of some dangerous crosses whipped in with savage pace – both central defenders once again validated the claim that they are a top team. Anderson won header after header, while Whittle, as ever, supplied a demonstration of the art of proper sensible defending. By all means, stride clear of the penalty box with the ball at your twinkling toes and distribute the ball forward as if you are Gaetano Scirea if that’s your defensive bag. It isn’t Justin’s. He just gets in the way. It’s very worthy. The fast-improving Smith did little wrong and plenty right and Regan who, like Whittle, believes in positionally sound, unflashy defensive rigour, also deserves credit, and all of a sudden we have a distinctly capable back four taking shape. And while I’m in positive mood, a word for the ref, Mr H Webb. He didn’t look much like Cliff Richard, but then again he didn’t look much like a typical ref either. He was fit, alert and quite excellent. Always up with play, eager to play the advantage, and can we have him again regularly, please? Last five minutes. Fantastic stuff. City rampant. Flowing, incessant, super-confident attacking football. A slick move places the ball at Johnson’s feet 12 yards out. He has more time than he realises, for the weary Elliott is backing off, but he hooks a right-foot shot over the bar. A corner, more corners. A long cross from Johnson flies across the danger area and Jevons strains, but cannot quite get a decisive toe-end to the ball. The net gapes. It’s wonderful; it’s not quite enough, and in the final seconds of normal time Leicester break and we are in Smith’s debt as he thumpingly blocks a dangerous link between Dickov and the languid Reeves. It’s 1-1, it’s extra time, it’s been great. I abbreviate the remainder, for extra time went horribly flat. Straight from the kick-off a through ball reached Dickov. He seemed to have dithered and lost the shooting opportunity but then he curled a well-judged shot beyond Glennon and just inside the post. Moments later Jevons appeared in a tidy attacking position of his own but blinked and pushed his shot well wide, and we were duly signed off. Rogers powered through and was doubtless surprised to see his shot, hit straight at Glennon, squirm lamentably under our keeper’s body and apologetically into the net. Then Glennon made a feeble attempt to leap for a hopeful cross and it was headed past him and, bang bang bang, it was 4-1. The game was utterly dead now and was concluded with pointless passing triangles. Mad Scot Billy McKinlay succeeded in getting himself booked for a foul in these passionless surroundings, as his victim, Ryan, did just enough pleading with the ref to appear to be Mr Sportsman but not enough to deter the card being brandished. And, at the end, Ashbee bulged the net with a header from a corner to lift the scoreline to 2-4. A disappointing end – a tremendous evening’s football.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Appleby, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Johnson (for Appleby, 67), Price (for Keates, 98), Musselwhite, Edwards, Bradshaw Goals: Alexander 31, Ashbee 118 Booked: Appleby, Ashbee Sent Off: None LEICESTER CITY: Walker, Lewis, Sinclair, Elliott, Rogers, Impey, Izzet, Davidson, Benjamin, Scowcroft, Dickov. Subs: Stewart (for Davidson, 42), McKinlay (for Benjamin, 59), Reeves (for Izzet, 74), Stevenson, Heath Goals: Rogers 18 97, Dickov 91, Scowcroft 99 Booked: Izzet, McKinlay, Sinclair Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 7,061|