Eighteen long hard seasons since City beat Leeds home and away, the Tigers – inspired by classic Beasting from lone goalscorer Jon Parkin – once again taste victory against West Yorkshire’s Most Unpleasant.
77 minutes into an absorbing and frequently thrilling game of football, and Craig Fagan picks up the ball and wheels into space, looking for a pass. Stuart Green has made a supremely intelligent run into space down the right and Fagan transfers the ball skilfully to the sunny Cumbrian. His touch is sure, and his cross is a delicious looping invitation to a man sliding into position at the back post with the predatory instincts of a panther and the physical presence of a tyrannosaurus rex: it is the Beast and he leaps high, hangs in the air as if borne on the wings of an angel and thuds a perfectly judged header into the sodden turf, whence it bounces past the exposed Sullivan in the visiting goal, and wins us the game.
Wins us the game! Wins us all the three points, and completely banishes relegation fears as our club’s dizzily progressive ascent up the league continues.
And sends evil Leeds whimpering homewards like a whipped cur.
There will be more on the richly well-deserved fate of the vile Wessies. Much more. But though the essence of football is usually that the joy of witnessing the opposition cowed, tamed and defeated exceeds the pleasure of victory – and never more so than on derby day – I will dwell for a moment on the excellence of our team. We have improved so much through the course of this season. From the team that began the season, fresh and lively but looking out of its depth against the stronger sides well established in this Division, we have moved on and re-shaped into a team that is convincingly at home in this standard of football, solid at the back, awkward in midfield, and dangerous up front, and heading more-or-less for midtable. This victory was thoroughly deserved: we were the stronger, more effective side from start to finish, and Sullivan had to work a great deal harder than Myhill. And roll on 2006-2007: we haven’t stopped improving yet.
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Welsh Andrews Ellison
And on 2 minutes we were treated to a reminder of just what dark forces were ranged against us. Unpleasant bullboy Rob Hulse committed an outrageous shove, right in front of the linesman. This was ignored, but moments later, when Hulse himself was tripped, the whistle was promptly blown and we were facing a free-kick on the edge of the box, invitingly located for sly Leeds. A firm strike, a sprawling Myhill save. Game on: but it won’t be a fair one. It never is with wicked Leeds.
We scored on 8, a sumptuous left-foot Beast volley leaving an awestruck Sullivan clutching thin air as the ball whistled past him, but the linesman had flagged for offside early, and correctly. But the signs were already encouraging. The Leeds back four looked creaky. Butler and Gregan made a thuggish but one-paced pair of centre-backs. Fagan, fizzing with energy and ideas, was already showing speed enough to terrify them, while the pattern of play on New Year’s Eve, when we’d got outmuscled and ultimately grew dispirited, had no chance of being repeated. Because now we’ve got the Beast. Leeds had as much joy in taming Parkin as has everyone else since he joined us from Macc. No joy at all.
I wouldn’t know how you do stop the Beast. Try and climb all over him and he just absorbs the pressure and holds the ball. Stand off, and his first touch is so confident that he simply turns and passes. A superb player.
On 16 a defensive shambles allowed Ellison to turn and shoot. The ball was deflected but lost its pace and Sullivan had time to adjust and make the save. We are the better side.
Disgusting Leeds are playing some sort of a 3-4-3, with Hulse alone up front, the initially impressive Eddie Lewis, of the land of the free and the torturing, wide on the left and fatso Robbie Blake on the right. Lank-haired Sean Derry as the notional playmaker. And they look poor. They do create a serious moment of alarm on 25 when Lewis and the feeble Liam Miller combine down the left and a low cross lays on an inviting opportunity for Blake in the middle, but his effort is woeful and flies high and wide. It’s their best chance of the half.
On 35 Fagan touches the ball on to Parkin, who executes a breathtaking backheel into the path of Green surging into the box …. A powerful shot, a leaping save. This is seriously good football. On 38 the bustling Ellison feeds Fagan, whose cross reaches the Beast … he heads goalwards, but the ball is defected wide. We’re well on top. At the end of the half there are two added minutes and the closest call of the whole first 45 arrives right at the end of them. Cort, marauding forward, wins a throw-in in an advanced position. Fagan takes possession, turns deftly and fires in a powerful low cross which Parkin meets six yards out and, under despairing defensive pressure, he shoves the ball goalwards. It would be past Sullivan if it were not for the pure bad luck that it’s hit straight at him – the ball cannons off Sullivan’s knees and out to safety before the bemused Londoner realises what’s hit him.
Half-time. 0-0. Cracking stuff.
But not initially. Grey clouds and rain showers blow in from the west, and the second half begins with a degree of passivity from our team which offers a worrying reminder of how we surrendered so meekly at Elland Road in December. Happily it doesn’t last. On 52 Fagan does well down the right but his cross is mis-hit by Green. No danger to snide Leeds. Oo but it’s lively now. Derry shoots – just wide. Fagan races forward, tries to dribble through three of them. Can’t quite manage it.
The game is terrific now. On 63, Blake shoots – just over. 64, Fagan shreds grisly Leeds down the right but when the ball reaches the Beast in a crowded goalmouth he is momentarily nonplussed and the chance is gone. Immediately after, Cort soars and heads goalwards, only to suffer as Sullivan swoops on the ball down low by his own feet. Then, on 68, Ellison is clearly fouled in the box, but no penalty is given and smelly Leeds whisk the ball clear and upfield at high speed, deep inside our half and then our box, Blake sets up Miller, but he screw a dismal effort well wide of Boaz’s goal.
Crikey, this is good. And we’re besting them without any help from referee Ilderton. Fussy, prancing, and inclined to prefer the away team in case of doubt. Gah. I like Mr Howard Webb but otherwise refereeing is a dying art. Graham Poll to the World Cup? Come on. Still, I’m pleased to see that nice German dentist on the list. I like him too.
Back to Mr Ilderton. He booked the Beast for Being Tall, and at that moment I feared our talisman might be withdrawn. He was getting frustrated with the absence of refereeing protection from the increasingly desperate attempts of the thieving Leeds players to hound him, harry him and generally foul him. It looked as if Butler could have taken a machete to assault the Beast and Mr Ilderton would have smilingly waved play on.
Of course, the machete would have finished up hopelessly out of shape.
And the Beast stayed on. And he scored the winner. Talisman, genius, goal-maker, goal-scorer. Ours.
Elliott had replaced the doughty Ellison on 70, and now, one up, our job was to keep a grip on the game as the increasingly eager Leeds players threw everything into a desperate late surge designed to keep the flickers of their automatic promotion aspirations alive. Or so you would have thought. In fact, Leeds had looked poorly-led and lacking urgency all afternoon, and that didn’t change even after they’d found themselves a goal down. We remained the superior side in the time that remained. Cort, bloodied, had been off for treatment, but he returned to dominate aerially and resist malicious but futile Leeds attacks. The visitors could do with a player of Cort’s ability and honesty. But playing it straight has never been the Leeds way.
On 82, Sullivan tipped a chipped Andrews free-kick around the post. Paynter came on for Green, and we approached the 90th minute looking more in control than you would have expected. Ha! Not so easy, my friend, we are Hull City after all. And we dropped deep, and we wasted possession, and Andrews tripped one of theirs on the edge of the box.
Urgh. Don’t fancy this one. But David Healy, on as a sub, hit a useless shot wide, and we were into the final added-on 4 with our lead intact. C’mon City! 4 became 6 as referee Ilderton adopted a strategy of giving resentful Leeds every opportunity to level the scores, but, aside from a Hulse shot on the turn that flew two feet too high, they were simply not good enough.
Or we were too good. We are getting steadily better, I’ve said that already, but it is so deeply, warmingly true. Rancid Leeds offer a reliable benchmark: we competed with them for 45 minutes three months ago, but then fell away. This time, we beat them and deserved to, and this at a time when you would suppose sneering Leeds had far greater incentives to tuck into the game aggressively than we did. There were excellent performances all over the pitch from the Tigs, but I think Stuart Green deserves special mention. Six or so weeks ago and you couldn’t imagine him ever looking worth a regular place in this Division and yet now he is an obvious pick: committed, skilful, determined. Young and getting better.
Final whistle, exultation on three sides of our ground, save only for those sad souls who scurried away head down in dismay, revealed as sporadic cancerous Leeds infiltrators by their failure to celebrate when City scored. Misery is your reward, and a righteous one. Leeds United Football Club is a vindictive pit of hate, but they haven’t got any more points tonight than they had at the start of the day. Cos we’ve got ‘em.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Welsh, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Ellison, 71), Paynter (for Green, 84), Duffy, Wiseman, Duke.
Goals: Parkin 76
Booked: Myhill, Parkin
Sent Off: None
LEEDS UNITED: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Gregan, Crainey, Douglas, Derry, Miller, Lewis, Hulse, Blake. Subs: Graham (for Miller, 77), Healy (for Lewis, 77), Richardson (for Blake, 80), Kilgallon, Bennett.
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: E Ilderton