Hull City 0 Aston Villa 1

An interesting but ultimately fruitless televised cup-tie sees Premiership big boys Aston Villa ease past the Tigers with a solitary goal.

Splendid cup tie at the KC today. It may have been one of those rubbishy lunchtime kick-offs that can sterilise both the game on the pitch and the atmosphere off it, but thankfully both sets of players and supporters created an entertaining spectacle and a great noise. Villa seemed content to contain the Tigers rather than dominate, and this allowed us to have a decent go at them without really creating many chances. I think if we had have scored then they had a few gears they could have moved through to raise their game – as it was, they took advantage of the current deflect-o-thon afflicting shots on Hull City’s goal to bag the only goal of the game and ease into the Fourth Round. Which is nice, because the last thing City need just now is a Cup run to distract the players from their fight for league points and safety.

A raucous 2,000 or so Villa fans awaited the Tigers support as the game kicked off and fairly soon the pattern of the game was clear. City had carded all the fit attacking players they had (with the exception of Elliott) and played the ball forward early on the basis that Villa’s strikers were far too good to have near the ball very often. And to a limited extent it worked, except that the absence of the injured Barmby denied us the creative spark that we needed to unlock their stout defence. So we started:

France Cort Collins Dawson
Price Andrews Delaney Ellison
Fagan Paynter

The inclusion of Ellison was the one surprise, presumably because his stronger defending skills were more highly prized than Elliott’s forward penetration skills (skills which frankly haven’t looked likely to penetrate a wet paper bag in recent weeks anyway). And Super Kev proceeded to put in a thoroughly adequate 45 minutes play, tracking back well, running the wing powerfully and delivering a couple of decent crosses. It was therefore some surprise when he was hauled off at half time for Elliott, who had a reasonable second half but in truth offered nothing extra to what Ellison had done before.

The early exchanges were modest as City tried to get the ball forward quickly, Villa repelled it and occasionally looked very fast and dangerous when they attacked, a bit too good for our defence if truth be known. That said Cort played well and Collins was more than adequate after looking quite a bit less than adequate for the last 3-4 games. City won an early free kick and it was cleared to the man that can do no wrong, Jason Price, on the edge of the box. Jason slammed it high into the Villa crowd behind the goal, an early signal of a Price performance that didn’t lack effort and running, but did lack any sort of threat on Villa’s goal.

After 8 minutes the first sign of danger, and it shook City to their boots. Three slick one touch passes into the feet of sprinting attackers saw the ball flit from their back line to the edge of City’s box where Hendrie hit his shot high. A further long range shot by Milner went wide in similarly scary circumstances, then before 15 minutes were up Angel was the recipient of possession deep in the City box after more slick passing and he thumped the ball into the net only to have the goal chalked off for offside. I understand TV replays were less than supportive of the assistant referee’s decision to raise his flag.

Villa were far more professional than City. I mean that is a nasty way. They tested the referee’s limits and exploited them mercilessly (the time wasting late in the game being a good example alongside several robust but unchallenged tackles). They brought down our players when they looked to sprinting free, accepting the foul and even a yellow card in Barry’s case when he chopped Price down as he raced onto a sumptuous ball over the top of Villa’s defence. They demonstrated a lot more footballing nous than City did, revealing perhaps that our young squad is good for the future but has its limitations just now. Last season and this season we have received very few bookings. Does that mean we are footballing purists, or push-overs?

Whatever. As the half continued Keith Andrews began to assert himself and he looked the pick of the four central midfielders on show for a while as he dinked, feinted and passed his way around the centre of the park to considerable good effect. Andrews combined with Paynter to release Ellison down the left into space and Kev struck a powerful low shot just outside Sorensen’s near post – it was our first real chance, after 18 minutes. Our next noteworthy penetrative moment didn’t come for another 18 minutes when France intercepted a pass on halfway and surged intelligently deep into the heart of Villa’s retreating defence before releasing Price wide, who duly sponged the ball off for a goal kick. Basically, City huffed and puffed a bit, but didn’t so much blow Villa’s house down as barely blow open an ajar window. In the meantime the away side made more good chances, Hendrie drawing a fine low save from Myhill and Davis seeing his drive tipped over by our ex-Villian netminder. By this time Dawson had limped off – succumbing to what is a possible broken foot and leaving us desperately short in the left back department. Lynch came on and did OK, but I suspect he’s not a long term solution if Dawson is out for several weeks and a loan signing may be needed, unless Edge’s departure was a signal that a new leftie had already been lined up by Taylor.

I am told that there was a strong case for a City penalty after Barry fouled Price – I confess that I read this on the OWS, I don’t recall the occasion and wrote nothing down, so I suspect my judgment at the time was that the referee was correct to wave play on. What I definitely do recall is that as the first half approached its conclusion we won a corner that was cleared to Andrews who lifted a clever ball towards Cort, who had stayed up after the set piece, and big Leon steered a header deep into the Villa six yard box towards Fagan who had a brief sight of goal before Sorensen smothered the Brummie Tiger’s shot.

Perhaps buoyed by the 0-0 scoreline and the creation of a decent chance just before half time, City emerged enervated and ready for forward action from the off. For a ten minute spell the players and supporters fed off each other and attacking endeavour was accompanied by a roaring crowd. An interchange between Elliott and Lynch saw a cross eventually fall to Price in space beyond the far post, and the Welshman gathered himself before clopping a low shot that was far too close to Sorensen considering the time he had, and the chance went away. Seconds later Leon Cort’s bonce met a corner firmly and the ball was cleared off the line by a post-hugging full back. Hendrie continued to carry a threat and had two chances snuffed out by leaping last ditch City tackling in the six yard box, but seconds later the decisive goal came.

City had been on the attack but a quick Villa clearance had seen Angel and Hendrie combine to threaten City’s box. While this threat was cleared to halfway, it did leave our defence at midfield well retreated and we didn’t push up very quickly, if at all. This allowed Gareth Barry to trap the ball on half way, advance 30 yards, duck a couple of tackles and find himself with the ball on his right foot 25 yards out. Barry is a very left footed left sided left back, but nevertheless he drew back his right foot and took a swipe at the ball, which was erratically struck and appeared to be heading well wide of the far post. At which point it deflected off Cort (probably) and lolloped into Boaz’s goal as he watched, helpless and wrong-footed. Barry cavorted merrily at the importance of this lucky strike for he perhaps knew that this was a game in which just the one goal would decide matters. He was right.

Not much else to report really. City’s only other chance came when Andrews and France combined and Ryan hit a fizzing cross to the nearpost that Elliott nodded inches wide. Villa had a few other half hearted chances but didn’t seem overly bothered at not scoring them, City brought on Green for Paynter and Green achieved precisely nothing apart from dropping so deep to receive the ball that he was playing passes that Collins or even Myhill could have just as easily performed. A pointless performance from Greenie, and another illustration of just how far out of his depth he is these days. The boy needs a transfer and a new challenge. We need to stop seeing him as a game-turner. Greenie did have one chance as he found space in the inside left channel but he characteristically struck it feebly and wide. Oh dear.

So another Cup run ends – in this case before it began. We have seen in recent games against Sheffield United and – to a lesser extent – Leeds what we must achieve to get to the summit of the Championship. And despite some excellent spells of play in both games, we showed ultimately that we still have some way to go. I don’t think we saw a true reflection of how far we are short of Premiership standard today, because Villa played largely within themselves and only attacked in fits and starts. All three games did, however, show that Taylor is beginning to craft a team that is capable of living with very decent football sides for shortish periods of time. The addition of better players in certain positions over the next 6-12 months will see the Tigers improve further and allow us to expand on these flashes of good form. The current squad is not good enough to do much more than survive in this league at the moment, we all know that and I suspect Taylor would admit that himself if his life depended on it. But we have seen again today that we are going in the right direction, long may that continue.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Price, Andrews, Delaney, Ellison; Paynter, Fagan. Subs: Lynch (for Dawson, 28), Elliott (for Ellison, 45), Green (for Paynter, 69), Welsh, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

ASTON VILLA: Sorensen, Delaney, Mellberg, Hughes, Barry, Milner, McCann, Davis, Hendrie, Angel, Moore. Subs: Samuel, Taylor, Whittingham, Ridgewell, Gardner.

Goals: Barry 61

Booked: Barry, Milner

Sent Off: None