Hull City 0 Lincoln City 1

And so Fortress KC is finally breached.  Despite defeat this was a less worse performance than recent efforts.  Steve Weatherill peers closely to see the bright side.
Mr Clattenburg. Referee, arch-villain and unwitting comedian. His display was both woeful and richly entertaining. This week’s “I’m really not sure I’ve ever seen that before” moment arrived early in the second half as Jamie Forrester and Ryan Williams lined up in a defensive wall ready to repel a Lincoln free-kick wide out on the visitors’ right. Mr Clattenbrock methodically paced out ten yards from the ball, only to find himself still a couple of yards short of our two players. So, bemused that the normal routine of fussily ushering players back a pace or two was denied him, he proceeded instead to beckon Williams and Forrester forward from their chosen position. Sharing a “we’ve got a right one here” sideways glance, our smirking duo complied. Mr Clattengirth is indeed a right one, but most of his interventions into this game were a good deal less than harmlessly eccentric. Witness the penalty that decided the destination of the points. Holt was a shade daft but unlucky with it at Southend last week; it was déjà vu all over again this week as poor Delaney made an ill-judged challenge yet found himself victim of an enthusiastic dive by a scheming Imp, whereupon Mr Clattenfridge gleefully pointed to the spot, and the game’s only goal duly followed. Mr Clattenpreeningponce loves the limelight and he abused his power at the Circle yesterday, identifying ludicrous free-kicks, dishing out bizarre yellow cards – either in circumstances where there was no foul, a fate that befell the unfortunate Keates, or where a clear red should have followed a savage assault, a generosity accorded Lincoln’s Futcher – and generally making a fool of both himself and the panel responsible for appointing referees to professional football matches. And I’m not going to mention him again. We could have had Mr Collina himself yesterday and the best we could have expected from another mundane display was a 0-0 draw. The Tigers were meek, ill-organised and lacked fluency. Were we better than at Southend, at home to York and at Orient? I suppose we were, a bit. I damn with the faintest of praise. A numbingly ordinary, yet thoroughly committed Lincoln side were never at any stage subjected to any sustained pressure. When Mr Taylor informed us during the week that he would “surprise” us with his team selection for today, I feared this would be in the same vein as the surprise lately revealed to Ms Lesley Ash by her plastic surgeon. But, Taylor-watchers, in fact only the elimination of Melton would not have been on my “read my lips” list. Ashbee and Keates returned, the lately lack-lustre Green was dropped from the 16, while Elliott, a player Mr Taylor seems to have no idea how to use, was relegated to the bench. Meanwhile the mystery as to what position Mr Taylor thinks is Joseph’s best was further deepened. And so:

Fettis Joseph Anderson Whittle Delaney Dudfield Ashbee Keates Williams Forrester Webb

And off we went, after a minute’s silence for Dale Roberts ruined because some idiot failed to remember to turn off the blaring television screens that festoon the stadium concourses. The first incident in a very plain opening arrived when a lofted Whittle ball was attacked by Webb, but Marriott in the visiting goal pouched the ball. An Imp response was the result of a gift from our midfield as Ashbee dithered in possession while none of his team-mates offered him a useful passing option, lost the ball and watched aghast in the company of 13,000 others as Cornelly sprinted clear of our defence only to clout the ball high over the crossbar. Lincoln are big and clumsy, and set-pieces are their preferred feast. We allowed them too many, but began to defend their unsophisticated hoofing with relative comfort. 25 minutes in, and little has happened to stir the blood. But now we begin to look the superior force. Williams cuts inside from the left, but rolls a tame shot straight at the keeper Marriott. Then Forrester cleverly tees the ball up for Webb, but his shot clears the bar. Dudfield makes progress down the right and squares to Ashbee, whose shot is safely held by Marriott. Then Delaney plays a neat pass into Forrester’s feet, just inside the box; his pass is met by Webb but the shot drifts wide. The lively Forrester sets up Williams, who slides a weakly struck shot just wide of a post. As is ever the way in this Division, it sounds better than it actually was – this is not a rolling maul of attacking football, but rather isolated glimpses of endeavour against a backcloth of generally ordinary passing and unimaginative running. But when, bang on 45, Forrester turns sharply in the box and sends a low shot skimming towards the corner of the net, a brief feeling of “that’s a goal and we just about deserve it” sprints across the brain … only for Marriott to lunge acrobatically to his left to stop the ball with his fingertips, whereupon Webb’s follow-up immediately incurs the wrath of a linesman’s offside flag before the ball is whacked against a post. No sooner has the “one added minute” announcement been made than the half-time whistle is blown, and it is 0-0. Again. If the amber-and-black nose was in front just before the break, the gaudy red-and-white striped version took a slight advantage after the re-start. A penalty box melee resulted in Butcher enjoying the luxury of a free strike on goal from 20 yards out. Relief: he screws his shot wastefully wide. Then the beanpole Futcher nods a header wide before sprinting back to his defensive post, angrily berating himself for failing to make more of a clear scoring opportunity. At the other end, we win a corner, and – what’s this! – evidence is presented of training ground preparation. Two men combine at the corner, drawing out defenders; the ball is slipped back to Joseph who fires in a powerfully hit cross which Justin races to meet, heading the ball only a foot over the bar. Forrester, an energetic presence up front, makes a preposterous attempt to dupe the referee into awarding us a penalty. He doesn’t succeed, but all too quickly it becomes evident that it was worth a try. Because next up, approaching the mid-point of the second half, Lincoln too enter the halls of prepostery. But they are showered with gifts. The penalty is given by the man whose name I promised not to repeat and though Fettis guesses correctly, the spot-kick is expertly whisked into the top corner of our net by boisterous bruising Bald Brummie Bimson. It is tough on Delaney, fingered as the culprit, who produced a perfectly sensible and well-organised performance at left-back yesterday. (I don’t know if Bald Bimson is actually a Brummie, but obviously he should be, and that’s good enough for me). Williams is now pulled off in favour of Elliott, and most of our attacking ambition is focussed on the left side. Forrester shoots – just over. Elliott dribbles to the by-line, but his cross is smothered by a resolute defence. A handball appeal doesn’t convince me and therefore has no hope of convincing the match officials. Then Elliott sets up Forrester, whose shot is blocked. It’s undeniably better – but it’s still not fluent. We need more wit and flair – we need Stuart Green: or, to be exact, we need the Stuart Green who shimmered and shimmied through the later months of 2002 but has gone AWOL since Boxing Day. A strong and well-organised Lincoln side are not for yielding. Dudfield looks rickety and is not doing any damage down the right. Forrester is lucky to stay on the pitch after an outrageously blatant elbow to the face of an opponent with 10 minutes to go, but, that apart, his is a decent display. But his partner Webb looks disappointingly limited and has little influence on the course of the play. Keates’s contribution has been blunted by receipt of a yellow card for Doing Nothing At All But Being Quite Close To The Referee While Doing It, and generally we’re not packing a punch. Which is not a slur that can be aimed at the occupants of the stands. Several “Get behind the team” loudmouths near me took aggressive issue with adjacent Boo-Boys and, in the time-honoured fashion, promises to sort it out “right now, under the stand” were made. I love this stuff. It’s simply a local version of America versus Iraq, except without the mendaciously slimy “of course, war is the last option” preliminaries. However, quite unnecessarily, the stewards intervened to keep the willing would-be combatants apart, and a sullen order was duly restored. So there you are. Equip Mr Blix (crazy name, crazy guy!) with a nice shiny orange jacket and I do believe peace can even yet be satisfactorily brokered in the troubled oilfields. Sorry! Don’t mention the oil. Donaldson, a rangy young chap, takes the place of Delaney with ten to go as we switch to a back three in readiness for a final onslaught. But, apart from a Donaldson header over the bar, the onslaught is conducted with cottonbuds and silken veils, and Lincoln repel it all too firmly. At the end the Lincoln players and fans celebrate as if they have won the Cup, the League, the Grand National, the Boat Race and the Sleaford Summer Fete Grand Prize for a Root Vegetable That Most Looks Like A Celebrity (a turnip with an uncanny resemblance to Pope John Paul II just edging out a potato that had in fact already been penetrated by a local farmer convinced that it was Judith Chalmers and that this was his lucky day). Now, I am not here to sneer. Their club was near enough out of business a short while ago, and though I have no love for Lincoln City nor admiration for their traditionally ugly brand of football, their glee at victory was all too obviously doubled by a righteous feeling of pride that Hull City (in relative terms) have it all yet are still such a soft touch. I can understand that. And so …. The publication of the fixture list back in June had us all peering at the final day, thinking “Hmm … a trip to Wales … what if both of us need the points? That’ll be a bit tasty! No colours outside the ground that day”. As the season developed, that was adjusted to “what if we need the points to go up or to get into the PlayOffs, and they need them to stay up? That’ll be very tasty … no colours, and order me up a suit of armour would you batman?” And now? “What if we both need the points to stay up?”. I feel another trip to the bakers may be looming.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Dudfield, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Webb, Forrester.  Subs: Elliott (for Williams, 66), Donaldson (for Delaney, 81), Appleby, Regan, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Ashbee, Delaney, Keates Sent Off: None   LINCOLN CITY: Marriott, Bailey, Weaver, Morgan, Futcher, Bimson, Butcher, Willis, Gain, Ward, Cornelly.  Subs: Bloomer (for Ward, 63), Yeo (for Cornelly, 63), Pearce (for Willis, 89), Sedgemore, Cornwall. Goals: Bimson 65 (pen) Booked: Butcher, Futcher, Gain Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 13,728