After a promising start in near-silence at Elland Road, the Tigers waste early chances before conceding soft goals and, in the end, take a beating off Leeds United. Hrmmph.
A grey day, a grey result. As noonday rain fell steadily on a sodden pitch at shabby Elland Road we lined up as follows:
Lynch Cort Collins Dawson
Price Andrews Delaney Elliott
Which was in itself a surprise. I’d reckoned on a much more defensive formation, probably a 4-5-1, but Mr Taylor obviously reckoned us more likely to find the Leeds weakspots if we pressed them high up the field. And, you know, he was dead right – for the duration of the first half, at least. For we began with vigour and ambition.
An Elliott shot over the bar, a Delaney shot deflected wide, a Cort header, just too high. Off target so far, but we’re the dominant team. Sights are trained with more care – a blasted Paynter shot prompts home ‘keeper Sullivan into a deeply unconvincing tip-over and then Paynter sets up Delaney for a firm low shot into Sullivan’s ample gut.
That’s the first quarter-of-an-hour gone and we’re playing with skill, invention and confidence. It’s proper stuff. Increasingly nowadays our team passes the ball around carefully and relinquishes possession only with the utmost reluctance. It’s the Taylor method, it’s hardly Hull City orthodoxy down the decades, but it’s very encouraging as we seek to build a squad good enough for this Division and, ultimately, one able to climb upwards out of it.
Cracking stuff. And was it only a coincidence that this positive display was provided by players wearing our proper amber-and-black stripes, rather a silly and anaemic change strip? Well, yes, I suppose it was, but even so it was heartening to see us in true tigerish styl-ee, wholly in charge of the afternoon’s football.
So what do Leeds do? Commit a grotesque and wicked foul.
And don’t imagine it’s a coincidence that the vicious assault is committed by the captain, Butler. Just outside the entrance to our corner of the ground stands the ugly and inelegant statue of Billy Bremner, a man for whom no foul was too base if the tide had turned against his team. So it was then, so it is now. Butler, outplayed, scythes down Fagan from behind, utterly indifferent to the career-ending potential. He gets a yellow card and trots away smirking, having successfully challenged our flowing football with barbarian intimidation. Welcome to Elland Road.
What Butler failed to do was provoke the Leeds support to make some noise. Not a peep. Pathetic. Sure, the team was getting royally outplayed, but Leeds fans are too stupid to notice, and in the past the one thing you could guarantee at Elland Road was noise, buckets of brutal noise. Not any more. Silent as a library, as the permitted City 1500 were quick to remark. What has football come to, that we can outsing Leeds at their place with such effortless ease?
Might it be that Ken Bates’s apparent readiness to prefer meek surrender to his local police rather than stand up for his right to take as much money as he can off visiting fans has much to do with the humiliation that a seethingly full away end would inflict on his tuneless home fans?
On 24, Andrews gives the ball away wastefully in midfield, and Leeds launch their first serious attack, but it comes to nothing as Robbie Blake sends a feeble shot well wide. But only five minutes later we’re again handing out gifts, and it’s almost fatal. City are attacking, Leeds hoof the ball clear, Lynch is the last man, on the half-way line, his first touch is perfect and he brings the ball under control but then he loses his grip and crumples to the turf, presenting the ball to Robbie Blake who sprints clear into our empty half, fully fifteen yards separating him from the nearest defender, and only Myhill in his line of vision.
Only Myhill! 30 yards out Blake slows down … reaching the edge of the box he is screaming DITHER! DON’T FANCY IT! … by the time he’s inside the penalty area his head’s spinning in fear. Low shot, superbly stopped. Boaz – the best goalkeeper outside the top Division.
Leeds have created two chances thanks to our errors, and without our help they’ve shown nothing. On 34 Dawson sends a delightful long pass sailing forward for Fagan, who cuts inside and clips the top of the crossbar with a rasping shot. We deserve a goal. But we don’t get it, and in the concluding five minutes of the half the game finally looks vaguely balanced as Leeds start to improve. On 40, Boaz pouches a Blake shot and then on 42 a cross flies across our box, Blake escapes Lynch on the far post and slides a shot into the net …. or so it seems from our angle, but in fact the effort has slipped a couple of inches wide of the upright.
And now we arrive at the key segment of the game.
On 44 a superb attack rips Leeds apart. Paynter dances through and needs only to play the ball square to Fagan who has gloriously left his marker far adrift. Fagan would have time for a touch, maybe two, before crashing the ball beyond the marooned Sullivan. But Paynter doesn’t pass. He goes round one man, trips over his feet, finds himself surrounded by a posse of defenders, and still, finally, manages to squeeze the ball out to Fagan, who has to take an awkward shooting opportunity first-time but still succeeds in slamming a powerful shot goalwards – Sullivan blocks it heroically.
There are two added minutes and the home side score right at the end of them. It’s a swirling high cross which Collins misjudges, allowing Blake to put a half of blundertude behind him by slipping the loose ball out wide to Douglas who fires low past the exposed Myhill. A dismal and desperately unlucky way to finish off a half in which we played some very high-quality controlled football.
But it was a turning point.
At the beginning of the second half the rain is gone, but so is our self-belief. Leeds use the ball with much more purpose than previously and, in particular, move the ball out wide on both sides, with Derry increasingly influential in the middle. On 52, Eddie Lewis, able Yank, strokes a shot across the face of the goal, and Boaz, motionless and helpless, watches the ball bounce against the far post and back into play. On 53 a low free-kick snakes through a thicket of legs and is pushed away by our goalkeeper’s fingertips. But on 54 it goes badly awry. A looping back-post corner tempts Boaz injudiciously off his line. He fails to collect the ball, it’s knocked back into the melee, bounces off the top of our bar not once but twice, and is finally shoved over our line for the second – and decisive – goal.
And, frankly, after that we never looked seriously able to mount a recovery mission.
There were a lot of weary legs out on the pitch. Three games in six days – some heavy pitches too. It showed. We toiled. Sure, Leeds too have been faced by the gruelling demands of high-velocity football over the English Christmas, so it was the same for both sides – but they held a two-goal lead and could afford to play at a more relaxed tempo. They did it perfectly competently too, holding a solid and well-organised shape and challenging us to discover the extra energy needed to force the pattern of the play. We couldn’t do it.
On 67 Lynch came off for Wiseman (who was impressive) and Fagan was replaced by Green (who waved his arms around a lot). On 81 Barmby replaced Price, who had slowed to an exhausted crawl by this stage. Perhaps the substitutions could have usefully been inserted a bit earlier, but the truth is that the game was lost, and it was no easy task to choose which of our struggling players most deserved a rest – Paynter was out on his feet before the end, and even the massive Damien Delaney was walking on rubber legs before the final whistle brought its mercy.
I suspect that this level of fatigue will force a distinctly unadventurous approach to the Sheffield United game, and a chance for starts by all our fringe and reserve players in the Villa Cup tie.
Enough, nearly. There is little to report on the last half-an-hour or so. On 71 a Cresswell shot took a huge and absurdly fortunate deflection off Cort and looped over Myhill into the net, but the strike was chalked off as a result of a push by a home played charging in support through the middle. And then, finally, on 90 Myhill advances outside his area to hoof clear, but a weak effort lands at the feet of sub Healy, who has an empty goalnet to aim at from 40 yards or so. He blats the free chance feebly over the crossbar.
The sun’s out now.
But not in my heart, gentle readers.
Astute pre-match parking selection allowed us to be away and out of West Yorkshire before half-past two, but I felt unable to resist torturing myself by tuning in to the Radio Leeds phone-in. Initially this seemed to have the edge on Radio Humberside’s version in that Leeds people, unlike their Hull counterparts, actually attend the game before ringing up to parade their dopy views, but it soon became apparent that attendance at the match is no guarantee of having understood any of what was happening during it. Our cascade of first-half attacking would appear to have occurred in a capsule entirely invisible to the ill-spoken stuttering Wessies. Ten minutes of pained listening was enough for me to conclude that poor old Eddie Gray, as host, has fallen on desperate times, and that the home fans were unanimous and sincere in regarding today’s display as their best at home all season. Which astonishes me. Leeds were, on this evidence, inferior to Reading, Watford, Wolves, Luton, Norwich, perhaps Derby County and Preston and certainly Sir Clive Woodward’s champions-elect So’ton. And that’s their BEST performance? A Leeds fan who’d read this far might be tempted to reply – “ooo, me head hurts, why does he use so many long words? I don’t understand any of this stuff, what does it all mean?” But if we were tempted to pause and buy into the absurd conceit that a supporter of that vile club might possess a reading age of more than eight, then that reply might instead run “I think you’ll find we’re 3rd in the table, so run along with your sour grapes now sonny”.
Sigh. Well, OK. We lost. Didn’t deserve to, sort of, but there’s no doubt we faded out of sight long before the close. That’s West Yorkshire’s orcs and ogres out of the way. South Yorkshire’s loom next. If Sheffield United’s fans are nowadays as prim, proper and silent as those we shared a ground with in Leeds today, then it really might be time to retire my scarf and settle down with my memories.
Sheffield United? Prim?
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Price, Andrews, Delaney, Elliott; Paynter, Fagan. Subs: Wiseman (for Lynch, 68), Green (for Fagan, 68), Barmby (for Price, 82), Woodhouse, Duke.
Sent Off: None
LEEDS UNITED: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Crainey, Miller, Douglas, Derry, Lewis, Cresswell, Blake. Subs: Hulse (for Cresswell, 78), Healy (for Blake, 78), Pugh (for Crainey, 80), Bennett, Richardson.
Goals: Douglas 45, 57
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: A Hall