City travel to Reading and suffer periods of extreme pressure as well as periods of parity. However a bad 90 seconds sees two goals scored and City beaten again after Nick Barmby had levelled an early opener.
56 minutes into this game, and Craig Fagan wins the ball in a tackle in midfield. The ball swirls out to the wing, beyond Fagan’s reach, but Mark Lynch, hurtling forward from right-back wins a 50/50 challenge with a nervy home defender, surges to the by-line and, ball under control, looks across to the penalty box. Ben Burgess is there, beyond the penalty spot, and Lynch picks him out with an excellent cross. Burgess heads powerfully back across the face of the goal and Nicky Barmby, typically more alert to the possibilities than anyone else on the pitch, runs in intelligently to intercept the ball and slides a deft header high past Hahnemann, the exposed home keeper.
It’s a truly superb goal. Fast, energetic, plenty of men shoved forward, and we’ve shredded the home defence. It’s an equaliser, and at 1-1 early in the second half we’ve got a big shout in this game. And for almost quarter of an hour, as the cold sky of sparkling blue gently turns roseate before surrendering to the icy grip of winter’s night, we look as capable as the homesters of collecting all three points.
Whereupon a thrilling overhead kick followed by a dazzlingly quick surgery performed bloodily on the belly of over overworked defence makes it 2-1, then 3-1. And we’re doomed.
Fact is, quite a few teams in this Division are better than us. We can fight, we can resist, and we did all of that yesterday at the Madgitski Stadium. But Reading are better than us. And we lost to them.
Plugging away in a worryingly downhill direction were:
Lynch Cort Collins Delaney
Barmby Welsh Green Fagan
Sort of? It was, I think, designed to serve as 4-3-3 in our more ambitious moments, and as 4-5 -1 when we needed to stifle, which was more frequent, and so a lot was asked solo of Burgess, while Fagan and Elliott, on the flanks were expected to do a lot of running and, tougher still, a lot of quick thinking and re-positioning. Still, make no mistake about it, our best and busiest player was our excellent goalkeeper. Myhill was – again – splendid yesterday and the scoreline would have been a deal more damaging had he not been.
5 minutes in and, already we’re indebted to Myhill. A well-struck left-foot half-volley from Con-vey ex-tracts a top-class leaping-save from My-hill. The subsequent corner is survived, though only after a hair-raising melee. Busy Convey is repelled for no more than three minutes and on 8 he sprints into space clear of our bemused and tattered defence and sends a hugely confident shot flying beyond Myhill to billow the net. Short of standing in Wiltshire, I could not have been worse positioned to judge whether the scorer was offside, but it seemed significant that our fans were more incensed than our players, and I suspect that one or both of Cort or Delaney had loitered to leave Convey safe from the flag.
Reading have the lead, and display no sense of urgency in a quest to extend it. On 17 Elliott and Barmby link well to set up a glimpse of a chance for Burgess, but he’s crowded out. On 19, up the other end, Lita, the former Bristol City player and a handy performer, whips in a clever overhead kick which draws a stretching save from Boaz. A minute later and we’re torn apart down our left, with Delaney AWOL and Green and Elliott scurrying in vain to cover – a cross is whipped in low, a shot is blasted goalwards, a save is made superbly to his left. It’s Boaz. He’s terrific.
Good job too. We’re second best.
Reading’s strength lies largely in a tight and tough midfield. Sidwell is, I understand, rated as tidy a player as you’ll find outside the Premiership. Well, I like to argue with orthodoxy, but I’m not bothering here. He’s a sensible player. He does his job. He doesn’t do daft stuff, or fancy stuff. I was very impressed. I like young Welsh and if with a couple of years more experience he’s as well organised and influential as Sidwell, I’ll be well ‘appy (as I believe the Redknapps would have it).
On 25 Burgess heads the ball back across the face of the box and a Cort shot is well blocked by baldy tough guy netman Hahnemann, who also leaps to his feet to stop Burgess pushing home the rebound. On 38 a well-constructed move results in a cross from the right and a looping Barmby header clips the outside of the far post. A couple of decent if sporadic efforts. But we’re a goal down at half-time and I heard no one arguing that was about right. Had I done so, you know, gentle people, I would have remonstrated with them.
The Marjoriedawski is a very fine stadium. I was a shade surprised, I’ll admit. I had it pegged as an indentikit New But Dull Stadium. After all, Elm Park was as ordinary a ground as you’d find. Perfectly pleasant, if functional – but without any single feature out of the ordinary. But the Majmahal is a steep –sided ground on three sides with a well-planned main stand to add provocative assymetry on the fourth. An engineer may be able to contradict me, but it felt steeper than St Mary’s – and certainly it seemed to be a more intense and honest arena for football than Southampton’s dull bowl. Sure, the Mahjongski scores badly for inaccessibility but once you’re inside, you’d like it, I think.
I lived in Reading in the 1980s and I like the place. Good new ground, too. Nevertheless I wish ill on the club. Music after goals. It’s unforgivable, it really is.
Out for the second half, and our chance to hurt them early on. Barmby is playing more centrally now and his influence is waxing. Elliott has a brief glimpse of goal but is foiled by a truly splendid nerveless tackle in the box by Sidwell. I was impressed by him, as I may have hinted. And then we equalised. A seriously good goal, as I’ve already told you. But then they get a second off Myhill’s fingertips and the underside of the crossbar, and, with our team looking horribly dispirited and short of a leader, they promptly scythe a path right through the middle of our defence and slide a shot across poor Boaz and inside his far post.
More bastard music.
We throw some substitutions at the problem (Fry, Paynter, Ellison), but Reading kill the game with practised expertise. The game is up.
We should, by the way, be playing in amber-and-black. Not this unsuitable and frankly undignified dark and pale nonsense.
After 89 minutes, it seems inevitable that the game will drift away as a 3-1 home win, but Lita suddenly surges into our box to convert the easiest chance of the afternoon – but he BALLOONS it high into the night sky. I do like a proper ballooning, and my goodness me this was certainly that. It’s suddenly a shade lively – on 91 Ellison, on as sub, gets no power at all on a free header only eight yards out and Hahnemann catches the effort with ease (Cuh! C’mon Kev! Balditude should be a basis for more, not less, power in a header, just go ask Andy Lochhead and Alan Gilzean), before, in the final flurry, with a knot of City fans down the front showing appealing old-style belligerence towards home fans and officious stewards alike, Myhill produces an extravagantly brilliant save far to his left.
I was back home instructing the batman to mix the pineapple daquiris by twenty past six. That was a pleasing break for me from the norm of long footballing slogs. But, as I slipped on my velvet smoking jacket and lubricated both myself and the gramophone for an evening in the company of Noel Coward, I was still a bit deflated. For the truth is my favourite football team got cuffed flat and got soundly gubbed at the Marigoldglovesski.
Let me be clear. Reading aren’t a great team. But they’re a good team, and, most of all they’re an improving team. Lately they’ve got a bit stronger each season. Likely they’ll go up to Division 1 soon, come back down, re-build, go back up, eventually try to stabilise as what they will doubtless inanely call ‘a Premiership club’. They can’t ever win it, but they can survive once they’ve done the groundwork. That’s what we’re trying to do. It’s no small ambition. Outside of Chelsea, everyone’s just trying to survive at the moment. Survive, and then progress a bit. That’s what we’re doing, just less visibly at present than during most of the Taylor times.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Delaney; Fagan, Green, Welsh, Elliott; Barmby, Burgess. Subs: Fry (for Elliott, 73), Ellison (for Barmby, 77), Paynter (for Burgess, 77), France, Leite.
Goals: Barmby 55
Sent Off: None
READING: Hahnemann, Murty, Sonko, Ingimarsson, Shorey, Little, Harper, Sidwell, Convey, Doyle, Lita. Subs: Oster (for Little, 76), Hunt (for Convey, 76), Obinna (for Doyle, 84), Makin, Stack.
Goals: Convey 7; Doyle 69; Little 70
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: C Penton