|Promotion chasing Oxford come to the KC to spoil and delay their way to a draw. Mark Gretton describes how City nearly made it three wins in a row. But didn’t.|
|So the all too brief winning run came to an end and we again dropped points at home, dropped points that will almost certainly extinguish the optimism behind even the most black and amber tinted spectacles. But getting that out of the way at the start, that apart, this was another hugely encouraging display to build on to the back of the games at Carlisle and Macclesfield. We played well from start to finish, the defence was solid, the attack created chances and the midfield, glory be, was an effective link between the two, buttressing the first and launching the second. In short, we looked again like a proper football team and we did it against a side 4th in the league who looked frankly terrified of us throughout the second half and whose ambitions seldom rose above a point. Rubbish they were, so I shan’t really talk about them. That’ll show ’em. Lining up as I took my seat were:
Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Delaney Appleby Ashbee Keates Elliott Walters Forrester
So Delaney back for Smith, new man Reeves on the bench, kept company by Melton, amongst others and those on the pitch were immediately into their work attacking towards the South East stand, forcing 4 quick fire corners which the visitors dealt with with strategies veering from competence to panic, the latter including a defender scooping just over his own bar. That’s nice, we thought, and we kept on thinking it, as the flow of traffic was entirely towards the Oxish goal. An Elliott cross-cum-shot was tipped over after the netman gazed at it for an inordinately long time, before deciding, belatedly but correctly, that it was on target, then Elliott was again involved in flicking on Joseph’s long ball for Forrester whose shot was deflected wide. Anderson played a good ball long and wide to Joseph who ran on and shot, the keeper parried to the feet of Forrester who pounced tigerishly. It looked like 1-0, but a defender had anticipated even more rapidly than our diminutive goalsmith and the block was brave and effective. In truth, some intelligent breaking down of our moves was about as good as it got for the Oxen in the early stages. Appleby, Ashbee and Keates had the midfield in their grip, won the 50-50’s and then set us moving towards their goal. Walters was strong and Forrester active. Our occasional problems were almost all created by carelessness on our part rather than adventure on theirs. On 24 minutes Elliott was, as he is too often, in Delaney’s way, so he took a ball far too short with his back to the defence and no good out ball. He fannied about, lost it in the tackle and belatedly fell over, allowing them to skip upfield before the ever reliable Whittle broke up the attack. Elliott seemed to stay down forever in just the sort of blunder that had let Cambridge in a fortnight ago. I don’t object to Elliott doing a bit of what we might delicately call ‘cheating’, on principle. No, when we have a fine exponent of the art,such as David Brown, I think it’s an excellent thing. None who saw it will ever forget, for example, the splendid moment at the Ark when he fell over as Rotherham oaf Guy Branston slide-tackled him fairly, managing to tread on the Rotherham man’s South Yorkshire gonads as he did so. As Browny climbed to his feet in careworn but brave fashion, the understandably irate Branston confronted him, causing Browny to stagger back, fall over and Branston, now having completely lost it, to be sent off, though he had never at any point made any assault on our hero other than raking Browny’s studs with his groin. No, that sort of thing can only ever be good, and Elliott needs to work on it if he is to reach those heights. Alternatively he could, I suppose, try and stay on his feet and chase after the man to whom he’s lost the ball. It’s a thought. As the half wore on, the Oxters did come into it more. They forced a corner that was turned over. After Delaney had misspassed they put in a cross for a free header for Basham that was gratefully pouched by Fettis. And just before the half ended they got away completely, with only Justin Whittle blocking the route to goal. And block it he did, stepping smartly in front of their attacker and flattening him as he knocked the ball past the skipper and prepared to roast him for pace. Instant decision making from Justin but it looked as though the retribution might be swift and terrible. But the referee was lenient and the card was yellow and we exhaled as one as we went to half time just wondering if they might have turned the corner. Half time, 0-0. Second half and Appleby was immediately replaced by Reeves. Whether this was typical tinkering Taylor in ‘if it aint broke, then fix it mode’ was hard to say. Appleby had produced the mixture of strong tackling and astute passing to which we are rapidly becoming accustomed, but he may still be coming to full fitness. Anyway, Reeves was a straight positional swap, wide right on midfield, but operationally he was different. Less likely to come and find the ball, he was more likely to advance. He looks a sallow youth with bog brush hair, in truth not an early playground pick, you would have gone for the much harder looking Walters and hope that he didn’t nick your Curly Wurly. But he worked hard from the off and he can play. Oddly enough, the real catalyst was an injury to Joseph on 58 minutes and his replacement by that renowned and redoubtable right back Steve Melton. This looked like an awful Planet Peterism, but it ushered in our best play of the day. Excellent work by Walters in holding up and delivering the ball just so set Elliott free for the sort of run on goal he enjoyed at Carlisle which, up there had ended with him firing narrowly but wastefully wide of the keepers right hand post. This was very different, as the ball was dragged narrowly but wastefully wide of the left hand post. There was also the little difference of us being 4-0 up at Carlisle at the time and pretty damn mellow, here it was head-in-hands time. But now we were motoring. Reeves won the ball well, interlinked with the advancing Melton, ran wide for the well-placed return and got over an excellent first time cross. Walters was there, headed down, the keeper spread himself dutifully but forlornly and the bloody ball hit him and he clung on to it. Credit it him if you must, but it should have been in. Another intelligent ball forward found Forrester who ran wide, crossed for Elliott and the shot was blocked. Then Forrester picked it up in the inside right position, advanced menacingly on a thoroughly spooked defence, drew back the bow and arrowed one in, dipping, dipping, over the keeper….and on to the cross bar and away. Oxford had given up any ideas of winning it. Their highly rated strikers, Martin Basham and Lee Steele, the latter who has tormented us often in the past in his long term role as ‘Shrewsbury’s only decent player’ (a part now played by Luke Rodgers) were anonymous and were both withdrawn in favour of shoring up a creaking defence. They took an age over goalkicks and an eternity over throw ins, managing to get a booking for timewasting. They also goaded the referee into adding on 5 extra minutes at the end. But they only looked remotely like scoring once, putting over from 4 yards when the ball had ended up loose in our area. Taylor had looked forward to this game, saying that we would have freedom to play as the oppo would come at us. If you were churlish, which thank the Lord I’m not, you might think that this was more of Planet Peter. But in truth, it was surprising that a team so highly placed would be so grateful for a point away to someone in the bottom half. Further evidence, were any needed, of the dreadful standard of teams in this division this time around after last year’s unexpected upwards quality blip. We kept control and kept attacking, but our best chances had come and gone. Walters weakly hit shot was then followed by a much better effort on the turn and just over. Elliott had a scruffy effort scrambled away. Ashbee, worryingly was stretchered off near the end and we couldn’t quite do it. But we had done a lot and we had done well and we are a point nearer to safety and our inevitable place as promotion favourites season 2003-2004. And, for now, that’s enough.
|HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Appleby, Ashbee, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester. Subs: Reeves (for Appleby, 45), Melton (for Joseph, 56), Smith (for Ashbee, 88), Dudfield, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Whittle Sent Off: None OXFORD UNITED: Woodman, Waterman, Bound, Crosby, McNiven, Savage, Hunt, Ford, Robinson, Basham, Steele. Subs: Scott (for Basham, 62), Louis (for Steele, 90), Hunter, Whitehead, Hackett. Goals: None Booked: McNiven Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 17,404|