|Needing a win to retain their League status, struggling Swansea and their chum in the black shirt with the whistle took care of business. Steve Weatherill admonishes the Swans’ twelfth man for his many misdemeanours.|
|Most times in life expectation wins out over hope. And so it was yesterday at the Vetch Field.I had hoped to witness us relegate football’s most evil club, preferably in the most viciously painful fashion – a disputed last-minute winner, perhaps. But I’ve had realism beaten into me over long and crushing years of watching Hull City, and in truth I had expected the occasion to overwhelm even the most valiant, and it was hard to avoid the logical conclusion that by hook or more probably by crook Swansea would survive. And so it came to pass. But the men overwhelmed were not our players, who in the main showed a commendable fighting spirit in the most hostile of environments and who for much of the first half held out the promise of winning nationwide gratitude by severing Swansea from the Football League. The cowering gibbering apologies for human beings that officiated at this game were directly responsible for Swansea’s salvation. Bad refereeing I can tolerate – we get it most weeks. Biased refereeing stinks. We suffered it at home to Hednesford a few years ago and we suffered it again yesterday. Mr Mathieson was his name. It was shameful stuff. It didn’t take him long to put his cards on the table. A clumsy challenge from Ben Burgess ten seconds into the game merited a brief cautionary word at most but with the home fans baying for blood and clambering over the seats as if to swarm on to the turf referee Mathieson hastily whipped out his yellow card. He couldn’t have made his intentions clearer if he had commandeered the tannoy and announced “Don’t worry Swansea fans, I’ll see you right, just don’t hurt me, please, I want to get home for my tea tonight”. Our players were understandably cautious and began feebly – and got feebler. Swansea pumped the ball forward artlessly, we defended far too deep, and cracks were obvious. A ball down their left, in behind Otsemobor, found one of theirs offside, but normal service will be resumed only once Swansea are safe, and in the meantime the linesman whistled tunelessly, pointed to the “Wife and two kids back home, don’t hurt me please” notice pinned to his back and allowed play to continue. A cross was met firmly and a shot thudded against the post before spinning behind for a goal kick. The referee gave a corner. It was already plain that our team would be facing an arduous task without the commission of any individual errors, but that proviso wasn’t long in being shattered. Big-Hits Melton attempted a reckless and dreadfully-judged tackle out wide, just inside the penalty area, over went his immediate opponent, and referee Mathieson gleefully pointed to the spot. “O terrific, we’re really going to show some guts this afternoon, aren’t we City?” mused a morose travelling support of 192, as Thomas stroked an unstoppable penalty past Fettis and a roar of relief burst from the three sides of the Vetch crammed with the usual gang of mutants and thugs. Five or six of humanity’s detritus raced on to the pitch, one of whom joined the players in their celebratory cuddles. All the invaders were allowed to take their time in strolling back to the terraces and picking their spot to resume enjoyment of the game. No attempt at all was made to apprehend these criminals, though it would have been perfectly easy so to do. No doubt Swansea, on their regular visits to football’s governing authorities, tell tales about how they are committed to stamping out misconduct in their ground. All lies. We had lined up 4-4-2:
Fettis Otsemobor Joseph Whittle Smith Reeves Keates Delaney Melton Burgess Elliott
And ten minutes in they were all rubbish, we were losing 1-0, and this looked likely to yet another in the long procession of scoreless, pointless surrenders by Hull City teams visiting Swansea. And then Elliott equalised. Burgess set it up, the home defence was shredded, and Elliott struck a confident left-foot shot past Cutler in the Swansea goal. And then Reeves put us 2-1 ahead. This was shocking defence – dithering, confused and wonderful to watch. Reeves strode clear with the ball and lifted a cute chip up over Cutler, and three sides of the ground now went very quiet. The fourth side erupted in joy, delight, and, my o my, it felt good, it felt so very good. The whole mood had altered. We had arrived under the billing of sacrificial victim and suddenly we were running the show. Swansea looked empty and confused, the home crowd was eerily quiet, and that long-odds bet, that we might really make a fight of it and send Swansea tumbling out of the League, was suddenly available at a rapidly shortening price. Elliott was mobile and full of ideas: his partnership with Burgess could develop into something very interesting indeed. The midfield (except Melton) was competing vigorously, and, on an afternoon where delicate ball skills were never likely to be on the menu, Delaney’s energy and enthusiasm were offering just what was required. Swansea had a half-chance, but put it over the bar; we whipped in a free-kick from the left, just too high. Then more sloppy defending from the lamentable Swans presented Elliott with a shooting opportunity which brought out the best in Cutler. Swansea looked most dangerous when they tried to bring the ball from deep and run at us from midfield, but they really aren’t good enough to piece together moves of the necessary quality, and as we approach half-time 2-1 up the entertainment value on the away terrace is increasing in direct proportion to the growing and palpable sense of anxiety among the seething home fans. Whereupon Mr Mathieson steps in. Justin Whittle sweeps imperiously across the box, removes the ball from the possession of a doleful attacker and clears the danger. It is superb defending, in the excellent unflustered professional style we have come to associate with Justin. The Swansea players’ heads drop a little further, the home crowd sigh in despair. And Mr Mathieson awards a penalty. Apparently for hand-ball. Madness. Absurdity. Cheating. No one can quite believe it. Certainly no one appealed for a penalty, not even the most rabid Swansea fan (and that’s rabid): even though the incident occurred right in front of the tightest, maddest knot of home supporters. It was quite ludicrous. But what can you do? Nothing, except give thanks that we hadn’t needed anything from this fixture. It was pure injustice, but had it been injustice that really affected our club’s fate for the season it would have been a great deal harder to stomach. The penalty was tucked away for 2-2, and then it was half-time. And soon after half-time they scored again. A free-kick by Martinez from wide on the left was headed back across the face of our goal and bundled in from close range by Johnrose. A few minutes later Otsemobor received a pass in space, but refused to transfer the ball to waiting team-mates and instead cut infield. He promptly lost possession, the ball fell kindly for Thomas and he chipped the ball over Fettis from 25 yards out. It was an undeniably fine finish, but Otsemobor’s play was witless and criminally unprofessional. I will secure pole position for the Malaysian Grand Prix before this guy ever plays a game in the Premiership. We released Mike Edwards to make room for this can’t-defend, won’t-defend dummy? It is obvious that both sides recognise that a two-goal advantage is to be treated as decisive, and at 4-2 the heat vanishes from the game. Roberto Martinez, television pundit and occasional footballer, is controlling midfield with a display of assured passing and thoughtful movement of the ball that would have graced the CV of Bobby Doyle himself. Swansea are safe. We’ve done our best by Exeter with a spirited first half display, but if the plucky Grecians want to know why they’ve gone down despite their superb finishing spurt, then they can look to referee Mathieson and his ridiculous penalty award in Swansea’s favour just before half-time. That is the incident on which this game turned, and it may kill off Exeter. Sleep easy, Mr Mathieson. Only Stuart Elliott was unwilling to sleepwalk his way to the final whistle and the promise of a beach holiday (but not in Wales). A low shot forced Cutler to concede a corner and a short while later a cross-shot brought a good diving stop from Cutler to his left. It is a shame to see the avuncular Roger Freestone ousted from the home side’s net but they seem to have discovered an able replacement. Meanwhile another atrocious piece of defending from Otsemobor gifted possession to Swansea, though the error fortunately went unpunished. Burgess was replaced by Webb; Otsemobor by Burton, who went to left-side midfield while Melton moved across to right-back. It was all a bit tame now. We’ve given up. Keates and Delaney have worked industriously, Elliott has played an uncommonly fine game. Burgess began well, but faded. Collectively our defence was too often shaky, but special mention is reserved for Smith, Otsemobor and Melton. All three were scandalously poor. There are three minutes to be added and in the first of them O’Leary shoves his arm firmly across Webb’s throat as the young striker rushes past him inside the Swansea box. It is as clear a penalty as you could wish to see. Of course it is not given. And so 4-2, an enormous pitch invasion, and I hope the players reached the sanctuary of the dressing rooms safely. I didn’t hang around. I was off and away, but only after being wished a safe journey by a smiling and genuinely pleasant member of the local Heddlu. A smile in Swansea? As unexpected as seeing City score in Swansea. And so we will be back to Wales again next season. With what sort of a team? The improving imaginative and potent outfit that has put Carlisle, Bournemouth and Kidderminster to the sword in the last couple of months? The bloody-minded, hard-working bunch that ground out wins at Macclesfield and Boston? The ragged, rudderless rabble that turned in such dismally insipid displays at Darlington and Rochdale? O blimey, I dunno. Season 2002/03. 49 games. Most of them pretty poor. It’s over now.
|HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Joseph, Whittle, Smith, Reeves, Delaney, Keates, Melton, Elliott, Burgess. Subs: Webb (for Burgess, 62), Burton (for Otsemobor, 66), Anderson, Regan, Musselwhite.Goals: Elliott 9, Reeves 25 Booked: Burgess Sent Off: None SWANSEA CITY: Cutler, Jenkins, O’Leary, Tate, Howard, Coates, Britton, Martinez, Johnrose, Nugent, Thomas. Subs: Freestone, Hylton, Smith, Richards, Williams. Goals: Thomas 8 (pen), 45 (pen), 57; Johnrose 48 Booked: None Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 9,585|