|The Taylor revival continues as the Tigers rout Torquay in distant Devon. Steve Weatherill waxes lyrical.|
|Shiver with excitement this bright morning! Two consecutive victories, fresh hope and optimism, players dulled with despair suddenly revealed as glitteringly talented diamonds. The deep plunge of long-term failure replaced by golden sunlight. But that’s enough about Scotland. Hull City, yes, right! Them too! Ooo! We’re good! I mean, we’re really good: promotion-winning, title-chasing, get on the bandwagon NOW or you’ll be missing out good. We flayed Torquay and, with exultant terrace talk turning to available odds on two successive promotions, nothing and no one’s going to stop us now. “Err, Steve … aren’t you getting a little carried away here?” Well, yes. But that’s what football’s for, isn’t it? Hull City gets sand kicked in its face all too often, mainly by puny wimps who shouldn’t even dare to try, so all the more reason to large it when it’s us doing the bullying. And this was a terrific victory. In the catalogue of searing away performances, file it below the awesome 4-1 evisceration of Wimbledon in the mid-80s, but on a par with the Bobby Doyle-inspired New Year massacre of Barnsley and well ahead of the more recent 4-0 win at hapless Carlisle. Torquay came into this game in second place in the table and you could see why; they are a well-organised, hard-working side and, until deep inside stoppage time at the end of the first half, there was nothing to choose between the two teams. Then Ian Ashbee crashed an astonishing 25-yard volley into the top corner of their net. No, really. If you missed this, set your video, buy a video – whatever. A jaw-dropping goal. At 2-1 down during the second period Torquay remained dangerous opponents, but we quelled them with a splendidly worked third goal, and thereafter we revelled in the rare sight of City looking elegantly capable of scoring at will. An exquisite fourth goal, scored by Stuart Green, rounded off a vibrant afternoon’s demolition. And yes, promotion is a word that should be on our lips this morning. We played an ambitious formation:
Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Keates Ashbee Green Branch Jevons Elliott
Keates secured an early yellow from referee Ross for a robust challenge, but the game settled into a lively pattern, with both teams bringing the ball forward confidently though without offering any serious penalty-box threat. Torquay took advantage of the linesman’s failure to spot an obvious offside to set up a shooting chance which was belted well wide of the near post guarded by the Muss. Then a chipped cross from Regan seemed to be looping on to the Jevons forehead, only for a defensive intervention to rescue the home side. Next up, a low cross-shot from Torquay which the Muss fingertipped away at the expense of a harmless corner. There are good reasons why 4-3-3 formations are uncommon. They leave the opposition plenty of space in which to play, and our 4-3-3 was now being placed under increasing strain. Torquay had rapidly decided to test debutant Delaney, and though the rangy new boy looks a very competent and appealingly mobile footballer, I doubt he is a natural left-back, and even Stuart Pearce himself would have been alarmed at the lack of support from team-mates available in that part of the field. Elliott was tempted to drop deeper to offer defensive assistance, but each time he did this he was rightly howled forward by an animated Peter Taylor. Why play 4-3-3 if you’re going to sacrifice your winger? A compromise was struck in the shape of a temporary switch of Elliott and Jevons, with the latter helping out defensively when Torquay tried their luck down our left. So, 4-3-3: a high-risk strategy, but one that promises excitingly unbalanced games. Torquay thumped a free-kick from outside the box just past the post and then proceeded to waste an inviting opportunity when Delaney lost possession inside his own half after receiving a poorly struck pass from Keates. Three Torqs confronted two backpedalling City defenders, but one of the home side’s trio foolishly strayed offside, and we escaped. Into 3 minutes of added time at the end of the half, and a game that had been pretty even took a decisive lurch in favour of the amber-and-black cause. Jevons crossed long to Elliott, who headed the ball back into the danger area, where Jevons, arriving at pace, was just unable to get a toe on the ball. And then .. Ian Ashbee. My word. The ball dropped to him, 25 yards out, and he smashed it, on the volley, straight into the top corner. Keeper Dearden, feet rooted to the turf, could move only his head, watching aghast as the ball flew past him at the speed of light, or at least a Serena Williams serve. Ashbee hurtled around the pitch whirling dervishly, his mouth agape, as team-mates and fans cavorted in astonished glee. In its execution the strike was as perfectly achieved as Zidane’s goal in last season’s European Cup Final, though, given that I doubt we’ll witness anything similar ever again from the dogged but limited Ashbee, perhaps the better comparison is with the freak televised goal-of-the-season scored from long range for Fulham in the mid-70s by talentless workhorse Alan Mullery. In City terms, think of the audacity and breathtaking magnificence of Deano’s goal in the 2-2 game at Wycombe a few years ago, though Ashbee yesterday shot from a shorter distance. 1-0 City, and time enough before half-time for Green to slip a shot past rattled Torquay’s post. And this was one of those rare occasions on which the break did not interrupt the flow. We came out for the second half bursting with self-belief and the momentum delivered prompt reward. Jevons struck a low shot, but it had little power and looked a simple save for ex-Tiger Kevin “Billy” Dearden. But, in a feeble flop reminiscent of the risible efforts in the Torq goal of his recent predecessor Neville “used to be good in the 1880s” Southall, Dearden went lumpenly to ground and missed the ball, pure and simple. It rolled apologetically into the ropework: 2-0. Any team would have been floored by the devastation visited on them either side of half-time, and poor old Torquay were reeling. A Green cross was floated to Jevons and, with Dearden standing stock-still and glum on his line, a powerful header seemed to be on its way into the net for a third goal, only for the left-back to effect a game goal-line clearance. But this Torquay side is near the top of the table for good reason, and they began to gather some composure, and started to take the fight back to us. First possession, then glimpses of chances. Muss punched a dangerous cross away for a corner. Whittle raced to intervene with a perfectly-judged tackle as Regan hesitated. There was rather too much positional dithering from Mr Regan yesterday afternoon. The game was stretched now and though we had our moments, notably when Dearden came out of his box to head the ball away from the advancing Elliott only for Branch to waste the open goal by chipping an awkwardly bouncing ball well wide, Torquay were penetrating with increasing regularity, with David Graham a particularly tricky opponent. And the Torqs scored. One of theirs was permitted too much time down the left, near the by-line, and his cross was shoved into the net from about 8 yards out. An immediate double substitution revealed Mr Taylor’s anxiety. Jevons came off, and was joined on the bench by Elliott, who tucked himself up in a tartan blanket, swigged some Irn Bru and buried his nose in a handsomely-bound copy of “Ivanhoe”. On came Alexander and Williams. And Ryan immediately played a major role in extending our lead to 3-1. He took up possession down our left, tripped himself up, but righted himself with urgency and from having apparently lost the ball he fought back vigorously and contrived to win a corner. This sailed on to the forehead of Justin Whittle, towards the back of the penalty box stramash, and his header, down into the tangle of bodies on the edge of the six-yard box, was gleefully thumped into the back of the net by Anderson’s weighty right boot. Crumple! That’s what Torquay did. They thought they were right back in it. Weren’t. And now we preened ourselves with disgusting self-satisfaction, like the bronzed, ripplingly-muscled Adonis who strolls the beach confident of his sharply-defined six-pack and well-filled Speedos. Envy and admiration is our due,and the team justified such presumption. Green’s natural role is a central midfielder. He has skill and vision on the ball, and is wasted if played out wide. And he was now conducting play with relaxed grace. But he could do this only courtesy of terrier-like aggression from Keates, who teetered on the brink of a second yellow card all game long but did plenty to stop Torquay seizing control of midfield, and the ebullient Ashbee, who concentrated with care on the unglamorous holding midfield role. Branch limped off, on came Burton, we re-shuffled and Delaney pushed forward, but nothing now would disturb our command. Keates chipped over the bar from 25 yards. Williams crossed to Alexander, whose forceful header was directed straight at Dearden. And our eager frontman came close again when he muscled a hapless Torq defender off the ball, before turning and shooting, but again only to lodge his effort firmly in Dearden’s gloves. Mr Taylor must be wondering just why such an impressive collection of players has been turning in such gruesome under-performances over these last ten months; I know I am. A fourth goal was lurking, but what a gem it was once finally revealed. Green to Alexander, back to Green, the defence is split wide open, Green is racing away, five yards clear of the despairing cover, only Dearden to beat … and the ball is whisked confidently past the keeper’s left hand and just inside the post. 4-1, a delightful digestif. And so we won, and we won well. The game finished with a reminder that we had thrashed a decent side, as Regan was again harried into surrendering possession only for the Muss to block the shooting opportunity crafted by Torquay. And up the Football League we go. I suppose this six-point week is mainly a demonstration of the players’ relief at the termination of the Molby reign rather than proof of Peter Taylor’s managerial genius, but right now Adam Pearson must be congratulating himself on a big and brave decision that so far he seems to have got dead right. The Taylor era. So far, so very good.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott. Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 66), Alexander (for Jevons, 66), Burton (for Branch, 74), Peat, Holt. Goals: Ashbee 45, Jevons 47, Anderson 68, Green 85 Booked: Burton, Delaney, Keates Sent Off: None TORQUAY UNITED: Dearden, Canoville, Hazell, Woozley, Holmes, Brown, Russell, Fowler, Hill, Graham, Gritton. Subs: Osei-Kuffour (for Brown, 51), Prince (for Holmes, 73), Hockley (for Fowler, 78), Attwell, Douglin. Goals: Hill 65 Booked: Canoville, Fowler Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 3,607|