Scunthorpe United 3 Hull City 1

Derby day comes around and while there are small signs of improvement, there is no let-up in tactical switches and ultimate defeat.  Mike Scott struggles to see the bright side as the club descends towards the relegation dogfight.
OK, this was another nudge in the right direction. A reasonable performance that only diminished when the home team hit a rather undeserved but well taken third goal with just under 10 minutes left. There were some decent personal performances. This was a long way better than Southend, the low point of the season, indeed the low point of the last 5 years. But was it good enough? No. The question that was asked of me as we trudged out of the Meccano Stadium was “can we avoid going down?”. And of course my knee jerk reaction was “yes, of course, there’s no way we can get relegated”. But then I started to consider the facts. 22nd in Div Three has been secured in the last five years with 46, 48, 40, 51 and 41 points (the latter was us in 97/8). There is no dead duck at the foot of the table this year, so a target of 45-48 points is likely to secure the last position of safety. That means City needs another 7-10 points, or 2-3 wins. There are 14 games left. We have the worst form guide rating in the division, we haven’t won in six. We are slowly regaining some semblance of form, but it is painfully slow. We haven’t got much time left. We need to turn this around. We need to defend better. Yes, we can go down. But I don’t know that we will. Yet. “Stability” is the typical cry of City fans, just before the suggestion that we need two new signings and three current first teamers dropping. I do it myself, we’re allowed. Taylor likes to tinker with the team week on week, I think we can safely establish that. Today we went with a 3-4-1-2 formation that defended well in the first half but lacked cutting edge, then attacked better in the second half and gave away three goals from breakaways. It’s like that “hammer the raccoons’ heads” game in the amusements at Whitby – press down on one raccoon and another pops up. Press down on one City deficiency and another one pops up. Mr Taylor is having a lot of trouble with his team at the moment. He’ll probably change it again next week. Good. Smith and Williams both played poorly today and are undeserving of another start for a while. Webb trundled around willingly but looks like a tall fit kid who can’t play football very well. We might as well play Wade Dooley up front. Or Kareem Abdul Jabaar. And most bizarre of all, Taylor chooses the day that Stuart Green is out of favour with the club and about to move to Carlisle to play a formation that would’ve fitted perfectly his skills, strengths and, let’s not forget them, his weaknesses. So off we went on a chilly but sun-drenched day on the North Lincolnshire badlands lining up thus:

Fettis Joseph Whittle Delaney Regan Ashbee Keates Smith Williams Webb Forrester

It looked a bit more attacking, except the attacking width was provided by defenders – one decent at going forward, one terrible at going forward, both poor at defending. Smith was the one to fail on both counts. Williams was in the hole – they should’ve filled it in with Ryan at the bottom. Elliott – an international in the week – on the bench for the team 14th in Division Three. Green in the stand. Still too much craziness for my liking. As said before, this was an improved performance in terms of effort. The degree to which this was down to the galvanising effect of the local derby can only be gauged next week, but nonetheless the Tigers came out fighting from the off. Where in recent weeks responsibility was abdicated, now two players were going for the same headers – Delaney and Whittle in the opening minutes, Delaney and anyone else in the vicinity for the rest of the game – there was no doubting young Damien’s fire and passion today. His defending wasn’t too shabby either, while it is true to say that two of Scunnie’s three goals were scored by runs down his channel the fact is that Damien was upfield on attacking duties on both occasions and others failed to deal with the situations presented. City started OK as Scunthorpe looked a little nervous. Ex-Crewe man Smith advanced down the left and fed Forrester out wide. Our new striker, roundly booed by his former south bank idolisers for much of the game, lobbed in a low cross that Webb latched onto but failed to hit with sufficient sweetness and Evans in the Scunt goal smothered gratefully. But after ten or so minutes the home side exerted a firm grip on the game, centred on sending the ball directly into our box for the youngster Hayes and the experienced Carruthers to knock down either to each other or onrushing midfielders. While City repelled these thrusts and went in at 0-0 one can’t help but think that with a little more luck the home side could’ve opened their account – the home fans, who had seen their side’s form dip in recent weeks, must’ve feared the worst. Calvo-Garcia, Hayes and Calvo-Garcia again hit three good chances inches wide, while a Ridley shot and a Carruthers prod drew good saves from Fettis. On countless other occasions the three centre halves nodded and tackled in a last-ditch kind of way, while City offered little or nothing in return at the other end. Only in first half injury time did the Tigers threaten the Scunt goal when a deep Williams corner was headed meatily goalward by Whittle only to see Evans scuttle sideways to scoop the ball round the post. At half time we were “entertained” by the Glanford mascot Scunny Bunny. This furry affair spent at least ten minutes standing in the centre circle staring menacingly at the City fans while Roary entertained the young mascot for the day. The Bunny swayed around in the manner of someone under the influence of alcoholic fluids. He couldn’t join in the footie as he had huge inflatable comedy boots on. He clearly couldn’t see through his costume very well. So he limited himself to passing the time of day with the fork-wielding groundsman. I bet the Scunthorpe kids loved it! The second half started very brightly for the Tigers and we sustained a five minute spell of intense pressure right from the off. Joseph bunged a throw-in to an unmarked Regan wide right and the full back’s cross was cleared for a corner. This was defended badly by Scunny and the ball fell to Ashbee whose goalbound shot was deflected wide. From the second corner the ball was served up to Whittle eight yards out, his shot was saved well by the diving Evans. A couple of other crosses were put dangerously into the Scunnie box and were dealt with in a flap. And then a goal – at the other end. A corner was cleared hastily to Hayes on halfway, who turned and set off goalwards. Regan was brushed aside easily and then Smith treated us to just about the limpest leg-wave half-tackle that we’ll see this season and Hayes was away on goal. As he reached the edge of Fettis’s box he had the confidence to lash a right foot shot that hit the top left corner as he looked, giving our Ulsterman netminder no chance. A short spell of pressure for City, yet 1-0 down after crap tackling. A couple of minutes later poor defending resulted in Hayes again getting through on goal, but the good save he drew from Fettis with his shot was rendered pointless by the lineman’s flag. Then Calvo-Garcia went through a couple of tackles before hurling himself groundwards as Whittle challenged. It was so far away that I couldn’t see how serious the felony was, but as the home side screamed “penalty!” referee Parkes, equipped with two very shiny legs, signalled a City free kick and motioned a dive. This seemed to knock Scunthorpe out of their stride for a while and City got a brief upper hand. Elliott replaced the totally ineffective Williams and we went with three forwards. Correctly, in my opinion – it worked for a time and soon we equalised. Joseph and Regan rode a couple of weak challenges on the Scunt left and Joseph’s cross found Forrester, who swivelled neatly and hit a shot which deflected off a defender’s foot up and over Evans and into the net. A burst of Tigery relief blasted forth from the Caparo Stand and Forrester punched the air gleefully as he received the adulation due for his first strike in Black and Amber. Within 2 minutes of the restart a fine Ashbee tackle and pass on halfway fed Elliott down the unattended inside left channel, but his run onto goal culminated in a shot that was screwed uglily wide. City continued to press for the quarter hour between 60 and 75 minutes as Scunthorpe withdrew into their shell. Delaney booted a clearance which Beagrie elected to watch drop a couple of yards behind him and his arrant laziness was punished as Regan took up the cudgels and advanced towards the byline. His fine cross was met by Elliott at the back post two yards out, but once again the Ulsterman fluffed as he skied a shot that might’ve been easier to score. Not quite Ronnie Rosenthal, but not far short. Then Scunthorpe did us again. A rare foray over the halfway line on 75 minutes saw a punted long cross descend just under Fettis’s crossbar. Rather than touch it over for a corner Fettis got his directions wrong and succeeded only to spoon the ball onto the head of Sparrow two yards out, who gratefully nodded it into an open net. It was a spawny goal in many respects, but Fettis must take the principal share of the blame. Musselwhite’s views on the matter have not yet been recorded. Soon after a corner fell to Jackson and his defender’s shot was cleared off the line. On 81 a slick passing combination down the right engineered Sparrow a run through our defence. As half hearted tackles rained in, Sparrow slalomed through pleasingly before firing a low shot just inside Fettis’s left hand post. From 1-1 and looking poised to score a winner and end Taylor’s jinx, poor play from our back line had seen Scunthorpe take an emphatic 3-1 lead within six minutes. The game died as a spectacle and even the combined prowess of Dudfield and Melton, introduced for Smith and Forrester, couldn’t spark a revival. We lost. Again. Let’s review the evidence. The 3-5-2 looked to provide a better balance between attack and defence when we got hold of the game. When we were pushed back it was the inability of Webb and Forrester to hold the ball and relieve the pressure that did for us rather than the formation. Yet can you say a new defensive line-up has worked when you concede 3 goals? Whatever the chosen formation of Mr Taylor, let’s STICK WITH IT. Let’s get the best players in the squad in their best positions. That’s Burton at left wing back. That’s Smith and Webb in the reserves. That’s Williams on the bench. Perhaps that’s Green rehabilitated and placed in behind the front two of Forrester and “A Big Man” of your choice. Anderson’s return next week may well see us go back to a back four, or a back three with Delaney wide left. More tinkering I’m afraid, but we must continue to strive to find better form than that currently on show – because make no mistake we are showing relegation form, even if we do eventually escape relegation by a handsome margin. I think Taylor would be well advised to consider the remaining games as a relegation dogfight rather than a play-off push. Promotion is gone. Let’s stay in this division.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Delaney, Regan, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Smith, Webb, Forrester.  Subs: Elliott (for Williams, 62), Dudfield (for Forrester, 84), Melton (for Smith, 84), Burton, Musselwhite. Goals: Forrester 65 Booked: None Sent Off: None   SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Evans, Stanton, Jackson, Byrne, Ridley, Sparrow, Calvo-Garcia, Kilford, Beagrie, Carruthers, Hayes.  Subs:  McCombe (for Carruthers, 85), Brough (for Beagrie, 89), Graves (for Kilford, 89), Parton, Capp. Goals: Hayes 50, Sparrow 76, 82 Booked: Calvo-Garcia, McCombe Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 6,284