Premiership parachute payments and two million pound strikers didn’t faze the Tigers on a wet London Saturday afternoon, but eventually Palace’s quality up front told and the Tigers were defeated unluckily.
This may have ended in defeat – and even Palace fans I spoke to outside the ground offered the view that the 2-0 scoreline flattered the home side – but I reckon this was the Tigers’ best performance of the season so far. City rode out the absence of Ashbee, with Welsh and Woodhouse stepping up and playing excellently (aided by Palace’s three man attack leaving them short-numbered in midfield) and played much of the game in their opponents’ half without creating the number of good scoring chances that such possession levels might demand. For their part Palace were restricted to three or four decent openings over the entire 90 minutes – their superior strikers finished two of them with aplomb, that was perhaps the ultimate difference between the sides. Brown made a lively debut up front and showed strength and skill, how Fitz Hall avoided a booking for persistent fouling over 90 minutes I’ll never know. Barmby was quiet though and despite having our best chance, his other contributions were modest. I wonder if Nick has found his level this season and is maybe set to struggle to hold down a regular starting berth once Fagan and McPhee are available.
With Leon Cort restored to full fitness (although he was stretching quite gingerly by the end) and Sunderland loanee Chris Brown wearing all the 2s up front, City lined up:
Coles Cort Delaney Edge
France Woodhouse Welsh Elliott
The one weak spot was perhaps at right back – Danny Coles is a splendid centre back but he looks like a centre back playing at right back, rather than a right back, when selected at right back. We need Lynch, a right back, back. Right?
From the off it was apparent that Chris Brown may be young and slight, but he is also tall and powerful and not afraid to push defenders around a bit. Fitz Hall, recently of Oldham and now Palace’s captain, was clearly struggling to cope with this onslaught and twice in the opening quarter Hall yielded petulant free kicks in the 25-yard-from-goal area that Azerbaijani observers might term “Elliott territory”. But the wily Ulsterman was not deputed to take free kicks today and both of Edge’s dangerous crosses were cleared by a Palace defence evidently well drilled in dealing with set pieces. At the other end Palace’s three man strike force with Johnson in behind Macken and Morrison was not working. Johnson was having a “I’m England me, I don’t need to try against Hull” kind of first half, Macken was a clumsy oaf with little apparent capability as a footballer and Morrison, much livelier, had little service thanks to City’s dominance of midfield, Woodhouse in particular turning in the sort of performance that made you remember he was a million pound player three or four years ago.
Kiraly in the Palace goal, wearing his ludicrous trademark pyjama bottoms, cut an uninspiring figure as he lounged around his box and flapped at crosses in a seemingly clueless but strangely effective way. With 10 minutes on the clock Edge and Elliott inter-passed sweetly on the left and Edge ended up with a clean run on goal from the left side of the Palace box. Kiraly rushed off his line, effected a half clearance which ricocheted back to Edge’s feet, whose cross to Brown in an unguarded box was scrambled away by the retreating Boyce. Embarrassed by his obvious error, Kiraly rolled around in fake pain for a minute or two clutching an unscathed trackie bottom that contained an uninjured leg. The daft sod. The resulting corner was cleared by another “Hungarian flap” – a goalkeeping feature in South London, and a pleasant goulash based dish.
The best moment for City came after 23 minutes, before Palace had threatened our goal even once and at a time when the game was being played almost exclusively in the home side’s half. Welsh chipped a ball forward from halfway into Brown and he showed prodigious strength to hold off his defender, dribble the ball forward to the wide left corner of the Palace box and dink a pass across the face to Barmby advancing unmarked 20 yards out. Barmby selected his shot carefully and side-footed into the roof of Kiraly’s net, but the finish was an inch too high and clipped the underside of the cross bar.
The build-up of possession by City, culminating in Barmby’s chance to score, seemed to spur a lethargic Palace on a bit and they emerged from their shell to score against the run of play. A throw midway inside City’s half was received by midfielder Soares (a fine prospect on today’s evidence) and with Elliott’s cover missing he embarked on a slalom run through the City defence of Tombaesque proportions that resulted in him reaching the goalline after four missed tackles. His low cross was drilled into the six yard box where the predatory Morrison arrived in advance of both Cort and Myhill and a simple tap in gave Palace the lead.
Johnson showed brief interest at that point and decided to have a run from halfway, deep at the City defence. Only when he encountered the resilient Edge near the Tigers’ penalty spot was this particular maze-up curtailed. Players dribbling at the heart of our defence is something for City to work on in training this week, methinks. Brown found himself 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper after Elliott fell over but still managed to donkey kick the ball into the striker’s path but an offside flag was (correctly) raised as Brown aimed a shot that the keeper saved anyway. The half finished with Palace only threatening briefly and with City enjoying some superb one touch passing football that nearly found Barmby in the free, but Hall lunged and cleared for a corner.
The away seats at Palace were truly bizarre especially for those of us near the back. The stand is presumably converted terrace and is set at such a shallow angle that the rearmost seats must be a good forty yards back from the touchline. At times it was a bit like watching a football match from the window of a passing train as it crossed a viaduct. That said the atmosphere generated by the City support was truly exemplary and a roaring noise was made throughout most of the game, a fact appreciated by the City players at the final whistle.
The second half started with City continuing to press but as time passed Johnson realised that just lurking around behind the front two and waiting for the ball to be rolled to him was perhaps wasteful of his talent, and he dropped deeper into midfield and began to exert more influence on the game. He fed Macken down the inside left channel but the former Man City striker rolled his shot wide of Myhill’s far post. How this lad was worth five million of anyone’s money, even Kevin Keegan’s, is beyond me. Ryan France was proving very influential on the right and cutting across into the hole behind Brown, which was a good thing because Barmby was utterly anonymous by now. It was therefore a surprise when Ryan was withdrawn at the same time as Barmby, with Price going to the right (and again playing well) and Green slotting into an advanced midfield role. It worked to an extent as we continued to hold sway in the centre of the park but Brown was now very isolated up front and Palace were able to get more possession as a result. Ellison came on to restore our 4-4-2 shape with Elliott up front and Green replacing the departing Woodhouse in the centre. It was a surprise to see Woodhouse come off, but he had fulfilled that great footballing cliche of “covering every blade of grass” and was perhaps being given a respite in advance of Tuesday’s game against Stoke. Ellison rampaged around a bit and actually did OK, but it was Brown on 77 minutes who again did splendidly well to win a free kick right on the edge of the Palace box and give the Tigers their best chance of restoring parity. Alas, the task of converting the chance was entrusted in Stuart Green, who chipped his shot up over the wall … the crossbar, the first tier of seats behind the goal and into Row X. Deflated, the Tigers perhaps conceded defeat at that moment.
Wily Ulster old-timer Michael Hughes had now moved wide left after Morrison’s withdrawal and he was Palace’s main outlet. His best moment came when cutting inside and running across the edge of the penalty box before planting a right foot shot into Myhill’s midriff. As the 90 minutes approaching City pressed forward but Palace defended stoutly, a clearance was poorly dealt with by Welsh on halfway and Johnson was left with a clear run on Myhill’s goal, the nearest defender ten yards behind him. Everyone expected Johnson to score, there is that sort of aura around a goalscorer of his ilk, and he didn’t disappoint slipping the ball beneath Myhill’s despairing sprawl from 18 yards out. Injury time saw Cort head a Green free kick just wide when perhaps a consolation goal was deserved.
In all then, a good showing by City despite the result. The contrast with the Wolves game – another high ranked opponent – was remarkable as City not only resisted any temptation to sit back and watch more illustrious opponents do their stuff, but took the game to the away side with some skill and used a slick passing game to dominate proceedings for much of the game. A combination of Palace’s well organised defence and City’s lack of a second predatory goalscorer up front meant that few chances were carved, but overall the signs are excellent. This is a midtable Tigers team at least. Let the consolidation continue.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Coles, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Woodhouse, Welsh, Elliott; Brown, Barmby. Subs: Price (for France, 62), Green (for Barmby, 62), Ellison (for Woodhouse, 76), Burgess, Duke.
Sent Off: None
CRYSTAL PALACE: Kiraly, Boyce, Ward, Hall, Borrowdale, Soares, Hughes, Watson, Morrison, Johnson, Macken. Subs: Riihilahti (for Soares, 65), Butterfield (for Morrison, 75), Andrews (for Macken, 89), Popovic, Speroni.
Goals: Morrison 27, Johnson 89
Booked: Johnson, Macken, Watson
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: K Wright