Bristol Rovers 1 Hull City 1

Bristol Rovers (1) 1   Hull City (0) 1 A game of two halves.  Steve Weatherill reports on the Jekyll and Hyde tendencies of the new Tiger breed.
Two games, two points, two red cards. A rum do in the rugby citadel of upland Bristol, as City were woeful throughout the first half, trailing deservedly 1-0 at the break, and then, by contrast, vigorous and effective but goalless in the second half up until the moment deep inside the last 10 minutes when Strong was sent off, whereupon sheer spirit surged to the surface, and substitute debutant Johnson thumped home an equaliser to seal a welcome and well-merited point. All in all, a decent game with no particular pattern, save that – for no obvious weather-related rationale – the whip hand was clothed in blue up until half time and amber thereafter, but nonetheless many of the impressions gathered on the opening day of the season inched closer to being confirmed: our attack is potent and though neither Dudfield nor Green looked as menacingly on-message as they had three days earlier, Bradshaw’s display outshone the limp offerings provided last Saturday by Williams, while Elliott is simply magnificent. Meanwhile, midfield is patchy. Ashbee again came and went as the game progressed. And we remain a defensive shambles. We began with the same ersatz diamante 4-3-3-ish formation as we had deployed against Southend, although a small personnel adjustment saw Williams left out and Bradshaw included. Dudfield took over the right-side attacking role and wee Bradshaw stepped in as cutting-edge. So:

Glennon Edwards Anderson Strong Smith Ashbee Greaves Green Dudfield Elliott Bradshaw

A scrappy opening ten minutes gradually gave way to obvious Rovers superiority. They looked fit and lively, as you would expect of a Ray Graydon side, and, though their lower Division hackers will never aspire to the pacy trickery of their manager in his gifted playing days, they pushed urgently down the flanks and found us defensively wanting. Our principal tactic appeared to consist of the obtuse one of allowing the thrower to go wholly unmarked, so each time the home side won a shy their man threw it in, received it back and trundled happily off into space down the wing. Perhaps someone can confirm just how many throw-ins Bristol enjoyed during the first-half last night? Too frustratingly often we were defending hopefully as crosses looped in, instead of cutting off delivery at source, and it was this malfunction that led to the first major scare. Challis, limited but eager shaven-haired left back, was permitted time to hoik a long cross towards the back of the box where more poor marking allowed another of theirs time to bring the ball down and smash a low shot beyond Glennon, only for Anderson to rescue City with a clearance from bang on the whitewash of the goal-line. I will confess I have some difficulty telling our pair of centre-backs apart. Though facially dissimilar, Strong and Anderson’s build is comparable and so is their hair colour and shape, so from a distance a case of mistaken identity is all too possible. I find myself imagining we have a composite central defence comprising two men both called Armstrong, so bear with me if such imprecision slips into these reports, but on this occasion credit for salvation definitely goes to Anderson. More woe as Rovers dominate. Edwards and Dudfield got hopelessly confused down the right, allowing one of theirs ample time to loft in another looping cross. Tait, briefly clueless for City last season, got ahead of Armstrong and nudged the ball over Glennon and on to the top of the bar. It was a good position and he should have scored. But he’s rubbish. Then Strong lost his man; the shot was soft, and Glennon made a diving meal of a fairly simple save. Oo, it was rotten. The sun-kissed undulations of urban Bristol away to our left made happier viewing than the ragged Tigers. Bristol were playing orthodox 4-4-2 and dominating midfield. Green was isolated in the advanced sections of the middle and was able to exert negligible influence on the pattern of play. The ball kept rolling Glennon-wards. Smith was regularly out of position down the left and when he wasn’t, he was easily outpaced by an opponent. On the other side poor old Mike Edwards was having a 24-carat nightmare, frequently uncertain in choice of position and hesitant in the tackle. And I’m afraid he didn’t strike a pass cleanly all night long. Tait was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon made a sharp stop. Then, a short thirty seconds later, the other home striker, Grazioli, was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon was beaten to his right by a crisp finish that rolled into our net just inside the post. I call it as I see it and I thought it offside. Reliable witnesses around me assert Grazioli had run from deep and that he was onside. Whatever. We deserved to be losing and now we were. It’s not even half-time yet, and it could have got worse soon after as Smith backed off like a chipmunk faced by a cougar as one of theirs raced at him. The cross was duly delivered without the pressure of any challenge, and Grazioli, allowed plenty of room by Armstrong, whirled into an overhead kick which Glennon managed to cling on to. On 43, Elliott darted from left to right and, bringing his right boot into serious competitive action for the first time, he hammered in a fierce shot that was tipped over the bar. Aside from an earlier Dudfield cross which Green had headed disappointingly high it was our only attacking flash of a first half which now, mercifully, was called to a close by prancing Premiership whistler, nervy eleven-year-old and keen Airfix modeller Andy D’Urso. I had expected Mr Molby to change our formation at the break and to stiffen midfield. But he didn’t. Instead the Dane changed our players’ attitude. And some. Perhaps Ashbee and Greaves had been encouraged to play a little closer to Green, but most of all, all three had been instructed to up their work-rate. And they did, and so was midfield wrested back into our grip. A Molby plea to “Get it out wide to Elliott, that lad can PLAY!” had also evidently been issued, and was acted on. And he can play, and he did. It was a gradual improvement. Initially too much was lumped in the air at Bradshaw who, though as tenacious as a vole, cannot seriously compete aerially with standard-sized centre-backs. Bristol even threatened briefly as Tait found space. But he mangled his chip and Glennon held it without a tremble. Time for the Tiger. Green slipped a cute pass to Elliott, racing in from the left wing. He took it in his stride, near the edge of the box, and fired in a vicious meaty drive which the keeper was mightily relieved to see nestle in the side-netting, just wide. Then a slick move out of midfield presented Bradshaw and Dudfield with a gleeful 2 on 1, only for idiot referee D’Urso to haul play back all the way to half way for a useless free-kick in our favour. Never mind – all City now. Bradshaw’s darting run and flick header – saved at a stretch. Elliott strains down the left and slides an inviting ball across the face of the goal – Dudfield mysteriously hesitates and stands watching as the ball screams “hit me!!” as it travels across the goalmouth just three yards in front of the transfixed Dude. Our lack-lustre Bergkamp-lookalike pays for this moment of indecision and is hauled off in favour of Johnson, the Leeds loanster, who takes up the same right-sided berth. This lad is exciting. He is very powerfully built, in the way that so many Premiership players who regularly visit their pharmacist seem to be, and is also obviously schooled to get himself and the football forward at pace whenever the chance presents itself. Molby also made another like-for-like exchange as he brought off Greaves and introduced Price. Plenty of time for an equaliser yet. Green shot from 25 yards – just wide. Then an outrageous Bradshaw flick had the entire Rovers defence gasping in admiring bemusement as Green accepted the gift and motored forward into space, but his shot was soft and easily stopped. As yet Green’s play is a shade over-ambitious and his choice of options was certainly less well-judged last night than on Saturday, but he is a rare talent and I don’t expect Mr Molby to curtail his invention. All the more so in the case of Elliott. His commitment as a Christian is his business; his commitment as a footballer is ours. And he never gives up. He’s a genuine hard-worker, which, combined with flair, pace and shimmering self-confidence, makes him a hugely exciting prospect. We’re lucky to have him. Positive thinking all round, but we’re into the last ten minutes now and we’re still one down a long way from home. Glennon has possession and the players are trotting upfield when Strong seizes the moment and kicks one of theirs to the floor. O, yes, smart move. The linesman sees it – he can’t miss it – and once the tale is told Mr D’Urso has no option but to reduce us to ten men. I suppose that will be a three game ban for Strong and I hope that will bring us Justin back permanently. He was back temporarily last night, as we re-organised the defiant ten by bringing off Smith for the reliable Whittle. Well, I didn’t think we’d get anything from the game now, even though the efforts since the half-time break had made us worthy of a point’s reward, but team spirit was now allied to footballing power and elegance and we sneaked it. Green stroked a delightful pass down the left wing for Elliott to race on to. He picked his spot for the cross delivered from the by-line and rolled the ball into the path of Johnson, who had spotted the possibilities as soon as Green had lofted the ball forward. His 40-yard lung-bursting run was rewarded by the opportunity to ram the ball home from near the penalty spot. 1-1, about right, and, in contrast to Saturday, we duly survived an ominous repeat of the “3 added minutes” board.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Greaves, Bradshaw, Dudfield, Elliott.  Subs: Price (for Greaves, 61), Johnson (for Dudfield, 61), Whittle (for Smith, 81), Musselwhite, Williams Goals: Johnson 85 Booked: Anderson, Elliott, Johnson Sent Off: Strong   BRISTOL ROVERS: Howie, Boxall, Uddin, Barrett, Challis, Carlisle, Quinn, Bryant, McKeever, Tait, Grazioli.  Subs: Astafjevs (for McKeever, 78), Gilroy (for Grazioli, 84), Clarke, Hogg, Gall Goals: Grazioli 30 Booked: none Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 7,501