Steady but unspectacular, City fail to take more than a point against ten-man Millwall in the club’s first ever visit to the New Den.
When the Lions play the Tigers on Valentine’s Day the clichés hang thick in the air, so I donned the Tiger Chat match reporters’ armour-plated leopard-skin catsuit for the occasion, reached for the trusty quill pen and parchment, and wondered just who would be spending the next 90 minutes getting the kind of humping we were all hoping to be involved in but had predictably been denied for considering this meeting of felinically-nicknamed clubs a more appropriate occasion than a romantic meal for two hundred quid.
City almost carded the same line up for the fourth game in a row (which stattos will tell you would have been the first time since December 1843), the only change being Fagan for Duffy, who dropped to the bench:
France Cort Collins Delaney
Ellison Welsh Andrews Elliott
Against a Millwall team of:
Livermore Morris Elliott Ifil
Craig Whitbread Robinson Lawrence
There must have been a lot of happy women in South London last night, as the Millwall fans numbered only 38 at kick off and it was only later on, after a few more had been dumped by their long-suffering girlfriends or shot their load a bit eagerly, that the crowd swelled to the 7,108 reported.
On a mild evening for the time of year, beneath a full moon sheathed in gossamer cloud, City lined up in black shirts and white shorts, and in the first half attacked the goal at the far end from the City support. On the big screen to our left we saw the teams lining up in the tunnel, an Anfield-like sign informing us with an entire disregard for punctuation that we were in the Lions Den. We quivered at the prospect. Ahem. In keeping with the occasion, the screen then announced that love was in the air for Millwall Mick and Bacardi Sue, which I assume is one of those new-fangled alcopops that southern folk drink. Had this been a home fixture, no doubt the KC scoreboard would have proclaimed sweet love between Bransholme Barry, Pamela Pint and her sister, a Packet of Pork Scratchings.
The early exchanges were unexciting and mostly favoured the home side. Two crosses, one from either side of the pitch, were cleared, the latter by a typically thumping Cort header. Then a corner from their right saw Myhill punch clear under pressure. On 11 Livermore set up May, who blazed wide of Myhill’s left hand post. Then a throw from the right reached their Elliott (Marvin) who shot powerfully and low to Myhill’s right, but our trusty netman pushed it wide, and from the resulting corner tipped over a header from May.
City’s first clear chance arrived minutes later, as Fagan won the ball on the half way line and raced towards goal, clear of the Millwall defence and towards the onrushing Marshall, but the chance was squandered as Fagan failed to make up his mind what to do. His push past the keeper was too weak to be called a shot, but too strong for him to catch before it limply crossed the goal line, and the chance was gone. But it was encouraging stuff, and both Parkin and Fagan were getting involved.
At our end, a dangerous through ball down the left was met by a strong and well-timed tackle from France. As the Russian-speaking chap stood next to me commented (he wouldn’t take a chair despite my offer), it was end to end stuff. In truth, though, the early exchanges lacked quality. The sides were struggling to take control, flirting teasingly when what the game and the evening demanded was a good solid tongue down the throat.
May juggled with the ball, showing good control, played a one-two with Powel before shooting just over. Andrews broke the Tiger corner mould and failed to float one gently into the area, instead hitting a low pass to the edge of the area, and two shots were blocked before the ball was cleared. Shortly afterwards Fagan took control on the left and threaded a low cross in to Parkin, who had to stretch to connect with it and succeeded only in putting the ball wide of the near post.
City’s goal came under pressure on 29 when Delaney allowed Ifil to nip in and win a ball he shouldn’t have got anywhere near, but his shot was well wide. Down the far end a Cort shot was well saved by Marshall. Minutes later Bo came for a corner and appeared to be punched, kicked and generally battered by several of theirs, but still surfaced with the ball. Referee Probert seemed unwilling to get involved at this stage, the pea in his whistle remaining inoperative in the early stages. It was a full 32 minutes before we were awarded a free kick, and when we won a second, it produced a red card.
On 34 Andrews played Fagan through. We stood in anticipation as our feisty hero bore down on goal. As he reached the edge of the area and took the ball past Marshall, ready to slot it home, he was flattened by one or both of Marshall and/or centre back Robinson. It’s got to be red, we hollered, and after a chat with the linesman and an argument with all of the Millwall players apart from Robinson, who was taking a well-earned rest on the turf, referee Probert chose Robinson, and red carded his horizontal frame as the medics stretchered him off.
The Lions had been told by Manager Tuttle after their defeat at QPR on Saturday to show some passion this week, and the Tigers had sought to take advantage of this offer on Valentine’s Day, bringing to the capital a cheap bottle of wine purchased from Jackson’s and some only-slightly-out-of-date chocolates. But they found their initial fubling advances met with the chastity belt of the Lions’ defence. The sending off, we thought, would be the unbuckling. The Tigers sensed the invitation finally to maul, and from high up in the stands we settled back voyeuristically to enjoy the opening wide of the Millwall defence, and the loving penetration from the throbbing City attack.
After the sending off Elliott took the resulting free kick but his drive was a good foot wide (although I distinctly heard the girl to the left of me snort derisively and tell her boyfriend it was really only 4 inches). But after that, the first half was mostly theirs. Surprisingly perhaps, for a team down to 10 for whom a point might be seen as a bonus, Millwall reshaped into what looked like a 4-3-2 formation with Ifil slotting in at right back and Lawrence moving to centre back. City, on the other hand, seemed to sit back, content in having won the battle to keep a full team on the pitch, and let them attack. The sending off also seemed to raise the Millwall supporter from his slumber, and a couple of minutes before the break he finally made some noise as they won a free kick.
The final chance of the half fell to them. Collins took the injury time board a bit too literally and got himself injured in a seemingly innocuous challenge on Ifil. A free kick on the edge of our box was given and Collins hobbled off. Whilst Taylor chose not to replace him with only seconds to go to half time, it was clear that he was unfit to continue. Morris took the free kick in the style of someone not very good at taking free kicks, putting it harmlessly wide.
As the teams sauntered off for half time we wondered if Taylor might dim the lights in the dressing room, stick on a Barry White LP and reach for the chocolate body paint and edible underwear. Instead, he introduced Thelwell to replace the injured Collins. Delaney moved to centre back and Alton became a left back for the evening. He looked a bit rusty, but put in a reasonable 45 minutes and depending on Collins’ fitness there will be some who would suggest playing Alton at right back on Saturday and moving France into midfield.
At the start of the second half it was Millwall who were getting more of the possession and doing more with it than City could manage. Ifil had a shot saved and Myhill produced a good tip over from a cross. City’s best opportunities were coming on the break, as the Lions tamely squandered possession, a lot of the time releasing Elliott on the left to maraud down the wing. Sadly, from that side the final ball was disappointing, and I can’t recall any of his balls finding its chosen target. As the bloke behind me opined ad nauseum, the reason he was unable to pass to Fagan “could be religious, you know.” Quite. On the right it was breaking down earlier than that, with our midfield seeing a lot of the ball but being guilty of some pretty average passing.
On 62 Paynter replaced Ellison, who had had another reasonable game for a left footer on the right, and Fagan swapped into the right wing position. We had a few minutes of pressure as Parkin was felled and the ball made its way via France and Elliott to Delaney, whose cross was cleared to Welsh, who shot over. Then a slick move involving Elliott, Fagan and Parkin set up France, who shot high and wide. Green replaced Welsh on 67 and there was a flurry of yellow cards for tackles down our right, none of which looked all that bad. Green took a shot from the left when there were better options in the middle, and Parkin had a chance to put Fagan through, but his pass was intercepted. Cogan replaced Ifil for them.
Just as it was looking like nothing of quality would be stroked from the City palm this evening, we scored. A ball in from the left found Parkin 25 yards out. The Beast was released; he controlled the ball instantly, turned and played it ahead of himself and away from Whitbread, before curling it home from the edge of the box before Marshall had time to steady himself and make a decent attempt at a save. It was fast, assured, accurate strikemanship from a confident and skilful forward, and we were finally rewarded with the money shot we had craved all evening. The home team were down to 10, there were barely 10 minutes to go. The three points were in the City bag.
Not so. This season will go down to the wire, no doubt, because the squad seems too stretched to maintain a run of form. Too many players looked tired on Saturday when three points were available, and again at Millwall a poor side were allowed to take a point from a game we should have won. And so we will remain within range of teams like Millwall and Brighton for longer than we should. Williams replaced Morris and on 80 a punt to the edge of the City box was knocked down to Livermore, who hit a sweet left footed drive past Myhill and into the far corner. Cue some crap music. Good goal, very well taken, and in truth an equaliser was only fair. Millwall had taken the game to City almost from the moment they went down to 10, and sadly we weren’t good enough over the 90 minutes to beat a team that look destined for the drop. There were no howlers from the City ranks, overall it just seemed like a pretty average performance from the majority.
The final 10 saw them coming closest to taking the win, as Williams looked lively and twice raced clear down the left only to have to turn back onto his right (anti-Ellisonically), giving the City defence enough time to snuff out the danger. Cogan went closest to scoring as his fine shot from outside the box dipped only just too late to find the top corner. In the end Andrews was forced to concede a free kick and get himself booked in stopping a break during time added on.
In truth it was a disappointing result, but a point gained, another game played, and a night on which none of the sides around us took advantage of the chance to move any closer. We stood waiting, oiled for the occasion, ready for our team to get it on, but Taylor’s half time viagra took an age to get going and only worked for a couple of minutes before things went limp again. Perhaps I should send him some of the emails I receive offering top quality pills at low prices on t’internet. We’ve all been there of course, the Mrs has waxed and buffed, she’s put on that special something you bought her after watching Robin Asquith in Confessions of a Hot Dog Salesman in Flares, and even allowed you to leave Xenia, Warrior Princess on in the background to add a little spice. She’s fed you with a tasty shepherd’s pie and painted her exposed flesh with the dessert, but when it’s come down to the action you just weren’t up for it. She’s gone home in a tiff, disappointed with it all, and you’ve turned on Match of The Day. But as Peter Taylor will tell you, we’re still above them and they haven’t closed the gap. One of the sides on show tonight will soon be kissing the Championship goodbye and getting into bed with League One, and I doubt that will be us.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Delaney; Ellison, Andrews, Welsh, Elliott; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Thelwell (for Collins, 45), Paynter (for Ellison, 63), Green (for welsh, 68), Duffy, Duke.
Goals: Parkin 78
Booked: Andrews, Paynter
Sent Off: None
MILLWALL: Marshall, Ifil, Robinson, Lawrence, Whitbread, Craig, Elliott, Morris, Livermore, Powel, May. Subs: Cogan (for Ifil, 76), Williams (for Morris, 80), Doyle, Braniff, Dyer.
Goals: Livermore 80
Sent Off: Robinson
REFEREE: L Probert