A splendid afternoon in the Potteries as City ride their luck and eventually dismantle a poor Stoke City side, netting three unanswered goals. Truly a sign that while we struggle against the top six, we are more than capable of living with most of the other 17 Championship sides.
Now, how SWEET that was! True, it doesn’t come close to wiping out the pain of our defeat at Stoke’s hands in the FA Cup Quarter Final back in 1971 (remembered in yesterday’s programme by tormentor-in-chief Terry Conroy), but it more than makes up for the savagely unjust 0-1 reverse at the Circle back in September. Stoke looked a downright poor side then, they looked as hapless again yesterday and this time we got a richly-deserved three points. The game may be remembered most of all for the unusual feat of our goalkeeper in saving two penalties – two separate ones, not a twice-taken single – but don’t for a moment imagine this suggests Stoke were unfortunate to get beaten. Stoke got precisely what they deserved. A caning.
Applying well-judged punishment:
France Collins Cort Delaney
Price Welch Andrews Elliott
And we started smoothly. On 3 Parkin was crowded out at the back post, but on 7 we took the lead. A free-kick in the middle of the field. One of ours (Andrews?) loiters over the ball as if ready to take the kick but instead sprints forward into space to receive the pass. It’s hardly the most complicated trick in the book, but Stoke’s entire team stands watching passively, mouth agape as if just told that a whale has been spotted in the Trent, and the ball is lofted dangerously to the back post, Cort heads goalwards, it’s blocked, it’s at the far end and I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s a melee, the ball’s bundled over the line, Elliott claims it but an own goal is the media verdict.
Never mind the detail. The conclusion is plain – this is a feeble, ragged, ill-disciplined Stoke side. And we’re ready to cuff them.
On 10 a corner is knocked out to Price who smashes a superb half-volley back at Simonsen in the Stoke goal – a well-judged tip-over. Then, on 11, the rangy Sidibe turns and tricks Collins all too easily, advancing on Myhill with intent but unable to find a sufficiently powerful shot to disturb our ace netman. On 14 a slick break involving Fagan and Price shreds the home defence, and it needs only a alert cross to the unmarked Parkin beasting into space at the back post to double our advantage – but the opportunity is squandered as Parkin waits in vain for the pass. On 17, Collins is again culpable as he misses a tackle allowing ugly Old Trafford failure Luke Chadwick to skip free into our box but Welch intervenes with a superbly judged tackle.
That’s a lively start. But the better team is the away team. By far. Stoke offer flashes of individual ability, most of them involving Sidibe, but we look a proper team today. Welch and Andrews make an excellent pairing in central midfield, ably supported by Price – who drifts out of play a bit too often, as if his head needs a rest every ten minutes or so, but who is still magically transformed from the lame no-hoper we’d gladly have got rid of for free a month ago – and Elliott, whose display in the Potteries was as lively and relevant as anything he’s produced since the Spring. With Fagan and Parkin quickly developing a classic fast littl’un, bruising big’un routine up front, there is, all of a sudden, reason for surging optimism.
But we won’t regularly face teams like Stoke. They had a bit more possession as the first half petered out tamely, but the play was, if not formless, then largely conducted unimaginatively in the middle third of the field. Which suited us just fine. Even the absurdly whistle-happy referee Andy D’Urso was helping us, by ensuring the game never developed any rhythm favourable to Stoke. On 43 lightweight forward Paul Gallagher hit a low shot, comfortably held by Boaz, but we reached half-time one to the good, and worth that as a minimum.
Second half. Jubilant Tiger fans, present in healthy numbers. We will surely win this. And yet it could all have gone wrong. On 49 Collins and an attacker stumble into each other – no foul, surely, a simple collision. To our dismay the mincing referee is pointing to the spot. No matter. Gallagher runs up tentatively as if the demons in his head, as well as the large travelling support, are commanding him to fail, and he hits a poor sort of a penalty which Boaz leaps to his right to push away triumphantly.
It could be a turning point, though really it’s a turning five minutes. It could have been 1-1 but shortly after, on 54, it’s 2-0. And this one’s delicious. A long ball is aimed at Parkin, and he shows a glorious touch to control the ball, turn past a cowed and retreating defence and slide a confident shot past Simonsen. As already suggested by his goal last week against Palace, this big man has real delicacy on the ball, and his acquisition looks a super piece of business by Mr Taylor.
At this point all the stewards and all the police in the ground hare around the side of the pitch towards a commotion in the far corner. It’s impossible to tell what mischief was afoot but the best bet was that stewards were desperately attempting to stop disillusioned home fans from heading for home with well over half an hour of the match to go. Stoke looked clueless. We brought on Duffy for the tiring Price, dropping Fagan to right-side midfield, and settled back to enjoy the cruise.
But there was one more moment of alarm. Another penalty, just after the hour – and no complaints about this one, a clear foul (though who by? I don’t know, maybe France). Gallagher didn’t fancy a second go (or maybe more in point his team-mates wanted him nowhere near the spot kick) so the job was transferred to Uglyman Chadwick. “Hmm” pondered the whey-faced youth as he started a nervous run-up, “I think I’ll shoot straight down the middle and hope that this immense goalkeeper dives out of the way”. Boaz stood his ground, grinning wolfishly, and let the ball sail safely into his gloves. Catching practice. Humiliated Stoke.
The game is scrappy now. A broken pattern of our choosing, for we are in control – though atrociously fussy refereeing helps too. D’Urso is a clown – he reminds me of David Elleray in his complete absence of any feel for the rhythm of the game, a total inability to distinguish between clumsy mistake and sly malice.
More importantly, there’s no way back for the home side.
Allow me a dose more gloating. Stoke’s a club on the slide. It gives me a shiver of pleasure to write that. And it’s true. They made a dreadful impression in Hull earlier in the season when a previously well-supported club brought no more than couple of charabancs across from the grim Potteries. And yesterday a gloriously unmistakable air of gloom hung over their functional, soulless new ground (which looks a great deal more impressive from outside than from within). No noise. Vast steppes of empty seats. Supporters streaming away grim-faced long before the final whistle.
I loved every moment of their pain.
On 74 Elliott barges through and forces a shot past Simonsen but just wide of the post, as the splendid Fagan waits in exasperation for the square ball that never arrives. Then on 80 we score a magnificent third goal. Ball out of defence to Duffy, who calmly transfers the ball out wide to Fagan. Duffy continues his run down the middle, little remarked by the shoddy home defence, and Fagan hits a quite brilliant low, firmly-struck pass into Duffy’s stride. The elegant Scot takes a perfect first touch, glances up at the exposed goalkeeper and rolls a confident shot past his left hand and into the back of the net.
Artistry! It is, of course, not a normal goal in the sense that it’s rare in League football for there to be such a gap in ability and honesty between the two teams. Stoke have long ago given up for the day, their defence shredded. But, with this third goal, we showed ruthlessness and considerable skill and vision on and off the ball. More room for optimism.
Fagan now departed for Wiseman, and Elliott for Ellison, and the Stoke fans for an early tea. The remaining minutes featured a series of puzzlingly furious assaults on poor Kevin Ellison by assorted Stoke players, while our professional determination ruled out the obviously appealing way to conclude the match, namely by deliberately conceding a third penalty so Boaz could try for his hat-trick and ownership of the match ball.
Well, what larks! Favourite game of the season? O, I think so: three goals, each better than the one that went before, two saved penalties, a vastly encouraging team display and, best of all, misery heaped on the vile Stokies. Favourite game for a good while, in fact, never mind just this season. Away wins, ye canny whack’ em.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Delaney; Price, Andrews, Welsh, Elliott; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Price, 63), Wiseman (for Fagan, 83), Ellison (for Elliott, 86), Paynter, Leite.
Goals: o.g. (Russell) 7; Parkin 55; Duffy 81
Booked: Collins, Elliott, Fagan, France
Sent Off: None
STOKE CITY: Simonsen, Buxton, Hoefkens, Duberry, Broomes, Chadwick, Russell, Henry, Sweeney, Gallagher, Sidibe. Subs: Harper (for Chadwick, 70), Rooney (for Harper, 78), Junior, de Goey, Kopteff.
Booked: Broomes, Duberry, Rooney
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: A D’Urso