A roller coaster ride in Cheshire ends with honours even between a patchy City side and struggling but neat-passing Crewe.
Tonight, as I reflect on this game while leaning back into the voluptuous leather folds of my baboon-hair armchair (available from IKEA’s Raj range), relaxing my purple jowls and generous canteen of stomachs with the companiable assistance of a whisky-and-blackcurrant and a Capstan full-strength Lite brought to me by my charming Uruguayan maid Felicia who has been staying with me on most generous terms these past three years while I seek to resolve her work permit difficulties, I am, I feel, willing to give best only to Sir Nicholas Soames himself as the very image of the stylish gent who made this country what it is today, or at least was sixty or so years ago. And so, after inhaling a draught of Prussian snuff, allow me to regard you over the rim of my monocle and advise you on the matter of Turning Points in Football Matches.
Ah yes, I can spy ‘em like a charging rhino in the sights of a high-velocity rifle. After 80 minutes of this match in Crewe we’re 2-1 down. It’s a devastating season-damaging scoreline. A homester sprints into clear space past a labouring Andy Dawson and draws back his boot to smash a shot beyond the horribly exposed Boaz Myhill. 3-1? No! Our brilliant goalkeeper sticks out a sturdy right hand and pushes the shot aside. Turning point! The ball spins into the penalty box maelstrom and is promptly shoved back into our net. 3-1? No! A linesman has raised his flag. Offside. Turning point! The ball is put on the spot for the free-kick, hustled forward and only a few seconds after our own penalty-box trauma Billy Paynter is belting a hopeful looping 25-yard shot goalwards. It sails over Turnbull in the home goal, dips gracefully and smashes against the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line. 2-2? Oh yes! Turning point!
Imagine, had we lost this game …. BUT WE DIDN’T! A game-altering change in fortune, a season–altering change in fortune, a turning-point that confirms that the progressive Hull City era of Pearson/Taylor is not stuck in the mud, is not about to be reeled back into the darkness of the lower Divisions whence it came with alacrity and verve.
Ah yes, the last time I felt as confident about a turning point was when Steve Doyle put us 3-2 up with a stupendous long-distance shot at Elland Road back in the winter of 1990. “They’ll not come back from that” I cackled, “we win this game, and that, my friends, is a turning point. With Richard Chetham in shrewd control of our club, advised by wily local numbers man Martin Fish and Stan Ternent in the manager’s hot seat, we can only dream of where Hull City will be once the decade of the 90s is done with.”
Felicia, fetch me a pewter tankard of tawny port and my shiniest riding crop, and look sharp about it you pert young filly.
A chilly grey afternoon in Cheshire, with a hint of drizzle, saw us lined-up as follows:
France Cort Collins Dawson
Price Green Delaney Ellison
Is that about right? Certainly Andrews played as the deepest-lying of the three central midfielders, though he showed an alarming readiness to vanish just when a spoiler amid Crewe’s attacking ambition was most wanted. Price and Ellison, out wide, were best placed to support lonely but tenacious frontrunner Craig Fagan but in the early stages of the match they did no such thing, preferring instead to hang back as reticent auxiliary defending midfielders. The line-up screamed out Mr Taylor’s overwhelming concern not to lose this game, with potential victory a secondary matter. And, given the state of the League table, I don’t criticise that.
And yet for all the apparent tiger anxiety to keep this affair stuffy, the opening exchanges were as breathlessly manic as any we’ve witnessed all season.
Andrews loses the ball feebly, but a Crewman hits a weak shot, easily pouched by Myhill … we enjoy a decent but fruitless shout for a penalty as Price surges into the box … a powerful shot by France is well held by Turnbull … Collins slips, a twelve-yard shot seems sure to bulge our net, but Boaz blocks it superbly, and the follow-up effort is stopped too … Fagan surges forward on a glorious run in from the right, crosses powerfully to the back post where Big Bad Kev Ellison nods the ball goalwards only to be foiled by a stop hard on the whitewash – the ball loops out for the advancing Green to head it home but a desperate header saves Crewe’s day at the expense of a corner.
Zippy stuff. And that’s just the first eight minutes.
It then goes quiet for ten.
And then they score.
And it’s a rubbish goal. Cort and France get in each other’s way messily, the ball drops to burly big-eared frontman Eddie Johnson and he bludgeons a low shot past Boaz’s sprawling right hand.
That’s poor. But we pick up. Price has made an occasionally lively start on the right, but now he has licence to roam, and he gets more involved with the attack. Ellison helps out too, and Fagan is full of aggressive intent. Crewe are – of course – a decent passing side, but they look defensively frail, and we can win this if we play in their half.
As we do. On 31 Andrews plays the ball wide to Ellison, who sends a fine long ball across to Delaney on the far side of the box. He sensibly knocks the ball towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Fagan pounces to thump the ball home.
At 1-1 the score is a fair reflection of the balance of play but I’m still convinced we look much the stronger side if we attack with relish.
As we don’t. It’s Cheshire’s finest (apart from Chester and Macclesfield and Stalybridge) who seize the initiative. Cort blocks a dangerous low shot from the edge of the box. Collins, not at his most commanding, fouls just outside the box and watches in relief as Lunt’s free-kick offers easy pickings for Myhill. But we survive and look forward to some choice words and substitutions at half-time, until, on 42, we surrender parity again. France is left gasping by a pacy run from the impressive Vaughan and his low cross is turned in from close-range by Roberts. It’s a good typical Crewe goal – skill on the ball, fast movement, passing – but it sharpens the sense of fear about how this season might develop if we lose this one on top of the ill-deserved reverse last week in Brighton.
Half-time, 1-2. A very lively, if largely low-quality, game of football.
Second half. Pretty rotten.
On 47 a mishit cross by full-back Moss forces Boaz to back-pedal in alarm to tip the dipping ball over the crossbar. On 58 Leon Cort is left in space at the back-post after a cutely taken free-kick by Andrews (I think) but his first touch is woeful and a golden chance is lost. Cort’s ace though. I don’t moan.
But once we’re past the hour mark, I do feel a change is needed. Three perhaps.
And so, on 62, off go Fagan (tired, lots of running, often unsupported), Price (faded as the game went on) and Andrews (no call for a deep-lying midfielder when we’re a goal down). The brutish boo-boys jeered the retention of Ellison – they are idiots, an eccentric impact player such as The Rattlesnake is precisely what we needed at this stage, as So’ton (and Sir Clive Woodward) could confirm – while Stuart Green might have been a little surprised to learn that his patchy display had been rewarded by a chance to play the full 90. He was now joined by a trio of subs, Barmby, Paynter and Elliott. So we now went 4 in midfield – from left to right, Elliott, The Lion of Cork, Green, Ellison – and two up front, Paynter and Barmby.
But the game stayed horrible.
Scrappy. Stretched, so sporadically exciting. But our hopes of a point receded as the service to Barmby and Paynter crumbled to dust. Ellison had the boo-boys howling again on 74 as a crisp pass was directed straight to the feet of a Crew, whose ball forward allowed them a 2-on-1. They wasted it, to our relief. That was a bit of a turning-point.
A bit of a turning-point! Ah yes, a bit of one, but a much bigger one was looming. We played six more pallid minutes before – BOOM! – the afternoon blew up in Crewe’s faces. Myhill saves, linesman flags, ball’s whipped upfield and Paynter scores.
Two apiece, and we unleash the “3-2, we’re gonna win 3-2” song which really means we’re delighted to nick a point. Except we really do nearly win 3-2. On 89, a good Barmby effort is parried. There are three added and on 91 Delaney, a modern-day Ferenc Puskas, strokes an imperious pass out to the right-wing, allowing Ellison to whip the ball unerringly onto the Paynter forehead, from where it flies gloriously goalwards, defied only by a spectacular diving save from the capable Turnbull.
There’s more. On 93 France slides a gorgeous pass across the face of the goal. Elliott’s six yards out. Unmarked. Unchallenged. Like Mike Hendrick trying to get bat on Joel Garner Elliott flails at the ball and misses grotesquely. Two points and a barnful of self-confidence go missing.
Absorbing, frustrating, messy, fun-now-it’s-over-and-we’ve-not-lost. That sort of a game.
HULL CITY (4-1-4-1): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Andrews; Price, Delaney, Green, Ellison; Fagan. Subs: Barmby (for Price, 60), Paynter (for Andrews, 60), Elliott (for Fagan, 60), Duke, Lynch.
Goals: Fagan 33; Paynter 80
Booked: Dawson, Ellison
Sent Off: None
CREWE ALEXANDRA: Turnbull, Moss, McCready, Foster, Tonkin, Lunt, B Jones, Roberts, Vaughan, S Jones, Johnson. Subs: Varney (for Johnson, 71), Moses (for B Jones, 90), Tomlinson, Rix, Rodgers.
Goals: Johnson 19; Roberts 41
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: E Ilderton