A rip snorter. Goals aplenty, a splendid comeback, freak weather, an obvious penalty denied, neck-hair-raising atmosphere. A real derby is played out at Bramall Lane, the home side claiming all 3 points deep into injury time.
There are probably three levels at which to reflect on yesterday’s game. On one level, it was very much a case of “same old, same old” where our Blunt friends are concerned, in that having clawed our way back onto level terms from a 0-2 deficit with twenty minutes to go, and survived the inevitable farrago of dodgy decisions (of the ten genuinely bad ones I counted, only one was in City’s favour) which have characterised our every fixture against the Blunts since time immemorial, we eventually were cruelly stripped, deep into injury time, of the hard-earned point which had looked to be ours. On another level, it was case of the Tiger coming back down to earth, in that, despite some very pleasing football at times and a generally spirited response to the riotous second-half backing from the 3 000-plus Tiger Nation delegation, our unbeaten run came to an end and, mathematically at any rate, our status for next season is still not guaranteed. And on a third, and final level, but perhaps most memorably, this was an absolutely rip-roaringly barnstorming good old-fashioned Div 2 Yorkshire Derby, with both teams slugging it out on a proper football ground, in an often-seething atmosphere (although this was confined to the way end except when the Sheff goals went in) with the weather fluctuating from one extreme to the other seemingly in keeping with the oscillations of the pendulum of the game, in some respects even overshadowing the WS game. As my companions and I sat post-match in our pre-match hostelry and reflected over a further couple of pints on the day’s events, the general view was that it was some years since we had seen one of those, and, as we gravely informed the youngsters among us in what we fondly imagined to be sage tones, it might be a while before we saw its like again.
Sure, it was a pity that we lost, as a point would have pretty much made us mathematically safe, but to be honest we ought to have to come to expect that, aside from the odd occasion (about every 15 years or so) when we take the Blunts apart on a grand scale, it generally doesn’t happen for us against that lot. Personally, I knew our fate was sealed when my new (4 games old) lucky pre-match routine, the 107th of my City-supporting career, went wrong; this consists of bashing out on the keyboard on the morning of the game a certain tune which would have been familiar among City-goers of the late 60s, and it took me four goes to get it right, having hit a bum note on the first three attempts.
On the plus side, the comparison between yesterday’s game and the first encounter at the Circle gave an encouraging indication of how far we have come in the last three months. It may fairly be said that the Blunts have had a touch of the promotion jitters of late and this was reflected in their performance at times yesterday, but that should in no measure hide the fact that, despite some below-par individual performances, City looked a deal more comfortable in this fixture and with their Championship status than they had done back in January. Taylor was not wrong with his post-match quote to the BBC that we have shown we can now play in the Championship. Granted, there were times when the old respect thing reared its ugly head yesterday, but it’s gradually becoming less of a problem.
On duty yesterday were the following:
Thelwell Cort Delaney Dawson
Paynter Green Andrews Ellison
Yes, it really was like rolling back the years yesterday, A Derby game kicking off at 3.00 (Humberside Police please note; it isn’t rocket science, you know), jostling through the hordes shoe-horned into the labyrinthine staircases and concourses of the Bramall Lane end to get to ones seat, being allowed to smoke in the stand, and a raucously-vocal City contingent all served to heighten the mood of anticipation. As, following an infinitesimal but impeccably-observed moment of silence in memory of recently-departed American songster Gene Pitney, the black-shirted Tigers kicked off towards the Shoreham (as it used to be called) the rain which had lashed the dye out of our trousers on the walk from the pub subsided – temporarily – in favour of bright sunshine and the scene was set.
And in the early stages, it was the Tigers who made the running. On 6 Fagan returned a poor clearance first time inches past Kenny’s right hand post, and the Beast, who it must be said generally met his match in Short throughout the afternoon and had his least effective game in a City shirt to date as result (but don’t worry folks, that won’t happen every week), took down a long ball and steered it inches wide of the other post. Sheffield were absolutely at sixes and sevens during these early stages, the biggest threat to City at this stage coming from referee Crossley who, as Mike Scott pointed out to me so many times yesterday that I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t mention it, never plucked up the courage once during the afternoon to make a difficult decision. After the quarter hour mark, at which point the rain started to teem down again, the Blunts started to crank a little bit of steam out of themselves, but we remained composed, and went close again on 23 when Andrews squared to Ellison, for whom a gap suddenly opened up for the ex-Chest to thump a low drive which seemed destined for the bottom corner only for Kenny to get down and save well.
It could so easily have been 3-0 to us at this stage, but instead on 27 we very nearly went a goal down in what was our first real scare of the afternoon. A poor clearance from Cort (who curiously lacked his customary levels of authority and effectiveness yesterday) was turned back in and Jagielka hit a low effort which Boaz, moving in the wrong direction, managed to block with his legs and then gather the ball as it stopped dead in front of him.
This scare seemed really to get to City. From being generally positive and spunky we suddenly became hesitant and withdrawn, and the Blunts, sensing their chance, and no doubt apprehensive of the welcome their performance so far would elicit from Warnock (and how relieved I was to discover that I was not the only one among my friends not to have known for the last three years that Neil Warnock is an anagram of Colin Wanker) were not slow to capitalise on this and gain the ascendancy as a result. At first they seemed to lack the penetration to exploit this but then on 37 produced a goal out of almost nothing. There didn’t seem a lot of danger when Tonge whipped in his cross from the right but Shipperley, showing remarkable agility for a man of his girth, beat the cover and toe-ended the leather inside Myhill’s right hand post.
At this point we were dealt a stark reminder of just how the fetid tide of footyism has flooded our beloved game. For as Shipperley turned away in triumph to receive the plaudits of the City contingent in front of him, out of the tannoy blasted the ubiquitous “Tom Hark”. In Sheffield. At what I thought was a proper football ground whose regulars would give short shrift to such embarrassing behaviour. I’m sorry, but this is dashed bad form.
This heralded probably the quietest period of the game, the only real incident of note in what remained of the half coming again at the City end a couple of minutes from the break when Cort stood off Webber, whose drive was tipped over by Boaz.
More cringe-making stuff from the Bramall Lane PA man at the start of the second half, with his exhortation to the “Red and White Wizards”, followed by the first line of Annie’s Song as a prompt to the Blunts to sing that song of theirs – called the Greasy Chip Butty song or something similar – which actually sounds quite impressive until you cotton on to the lyrics and wince at the sheer banality of them.
Any hopes that City would reprise the ascendancy they had shown in the game’s first quarter were soon dashed as Sheffield – clearly having had a bollocking from Colin anyway – got and stayed on top from the off. City were all over the place at this stage and it was not surprise when on 52 Ifill beat the City defence to a Webber cross and headed in from the near corner of the six-yard box.
Oh bugger. We looked in for a real towsing now. But City never lose their capacity to conjure up the unexpected (even if it is normally to an adverse effect), and, with the support of the City faithful now rising to thunderous levels – nice to see and hear when so often the fans go quiet in adversity – and the double substitution on 56 things turned round in a manner and with a speed that nobody in the City end could seriously have been expecting. The team, given new impetus by the roaring-on they were getting, started to press forward and suddenly the Blades were looking anything but sharp. After one of theirs had been beaten fairly to the ball by Ellison in the box and won a free kick by falling over (dodgy decision number 6), we came scorching down the right wing and a raking cross from Alton, who generally had a decent game, evaded everybody except Elliott, who had time to control the ball, pick his spot and smash the ball past Kenny’s right hand.
Was it my imagination, or did Stu’s team mates seem reluctant to congratulate the Ulsterman as he did his celebratory somersault? No matter: this was game on big style, now. The game had swung our way, although it looked to have swung back against us a mere minute after the goal when, after Cort had done well to block a Jagielka effort, a long ball found Duffy who hared into the box and beat the advancing Kenny to the ball. the leather ran loose, and as Greeny, who turned in a pleasingly spry performance on the whole, headed towards it and the unguarded onion bag beyond he was upended by Kenny in a manner which would have had Eddie Waring waxing lyrical. Mr Crossley however opted to do a Wenger (presumably, at least; if he had seen it it’s hard to see how he could have done anything but point to the spot). The sheer fury emanating from the Bramall Lane End was literally enough to make your eyes water, as this raised the standards of injustice with which we have to put up when we play that shower to unimaginable levels, and Taylor didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it either.
So, dodgy decision number 8, and with it the chance of doing what had seemed impossible three minutes previously and securing a point now surely whipped heartlessly away from us. Oh, ye of little faith! With the only noise in the ground coming from the City end (but enough noise being made from there to make up for the lack of it elsewhere) and with Kenny clearly struggling with an injury sustained whilst committing his foul on Greeny, we press forward again on 70. This time a lofted ball comes though to Green, who crosses to the near post and Duffy, arriving at the point of contact a nanosecond before the ailing Kenny, pokes it over the line.
Total ear-splitting, stand-shaking, breathtaking pandemonium. Easily the equal of the hysteria which greeted the Beast’s winner against the WS.
We might even have gone in front on 74 when Elliott’s header from outside the box was misdirected with the still-struggling Kenny out of his goal. But surely the energy created by the City fans in that event would have caused the universe to implode, and rather than provoke any cosmic adventures of that nature City opted to settle back for a point which – if you were going to be fair (some chuffing hope!) – you might say was a tad hard on Sheffield. Inevitably, and with the home crowd finding their voices but only for the purpose of getting impatient with their own team, there were a couple of scares in normal time, with one of theirs putting a free header wide from two yards out on 84, and then Nsworthu hit the outside of the post with a low drive.
But injury time – swelled to a lengthy five minutes due mainly to the injury to Kenny – came, and when after a couple of minutes of it Jagielka was through on Boaz in a one-on -one, only to see his effort blocked by the City netman, we thought we might be home and dry. But this is City and, well, you know the rest. The City defence jabbed and feinted at the resulting corner, and when a point-blank stop from Boaz came out again Nsworthu smacked home the rebound. Needless to say, Mr Crossley, taking no chances, then brought an end to the proceedings before the end of the allocated five minutes.
The Blunts celebrated like reprieved killers, as well they might as, frankly, on this showing, they won’t get too many chances to do so next season. Oh yes, Colin the former chiropodist will soon be reminded how callous the Premiership can be for the ill-equipped (sorry, that was a bit corny….er, I’ll get me coat). I was going to say that when we next meet them in the League in 07/08 they’ll find us a very different proposition, but, even if they do, will it be enough to defeat the Sheffield hex?
Anyway, hopefully our Championship status will be put beyond any doubt next Saturday when we entertain Burnley, along with their strange supporters who, if you watch them, all walk in oddly short, shuffling steps with their shoulders hunched.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Dawson; Paynter, Andrews, Green, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Paynter, 56), Duffy (for Fagan, 56), France, Wiseman, Duke.
Goals: Elliott 65; Duffy 70
Sent Off: None
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Kenny, Short, Morgan, Kozluk, Unsworth, Jagielka, Ifill, Tonge, Armstrong, Shipperley, Webber. Subs: Kabba (for Ifill, 87), Akinbiyi, Montgomery, Gillespie, Lucketti.
Goals: Shipperley 36; Ifill 52; Unsworth 90
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: P Crossley