Hull City 1 Preston North End 1

A sunny KC Stadium witnesses its last match of a season of learning, the Tigers showing that they have accepted their lessons well as they match play-off bound Preston.

A decent canter on a sunny afternoon, and another measure of the progress the Tigers have made during the season now drawing to a steady close. With Preston entering the game as the play-off zone’s form team, and City’s recent hard work in avoiding being sucked into the relegation mire bringing a successful outcome, it was perhaps inevitable that the opening exchanges saw the away side enjoy the majority of possession without threatening City’s well marshalled defence. Once goals were exchanged – one splendid, one comical – the Tigers settled into general dominance and had their elevated opposition playing for time and generally looking second best. A far cry from the Deepdale drubbing dished out in November.

With City not sporting quite as many of the late season changes as one might expect, they lined up:

Wiseman Cort Delaney Rogers
Ellison Andrews Welsh Green
Fagan Parkin

Most notable selections were Ellison on the right and Green on the left, both deputed to hang wide and cut inside when in possession, a tactic that worked only sporadically even against Preston’s largely second string back four, where Jamaican Davis and Scots Alexander and Davidson were absent. It was Preston that started the brighter and City soon lined up in “none shall pass” two banks of four formation. While this quelled Preston’s attacking threat effectively – only the nippy Whaley looked a danger while the lithe Dichio looked even poorer than all the other times we’ve seen him – it meant that City offered little going forward, with Fagan looking subdued and Parkin having a third straight quiet game compared with the high standards he set for himself when he joined the Tigers fold. As Preston knocked it about sweetly City had one brief glimpse of goal when Parkin fed Ellison, SuperKev fed Rogers and Rogers won a corner that culminated in Fagan driving a shot over the bar. After 20 minutes Ellison won a couple of throws on the right before whipping in a tidy cross that was cleared for a corner. Rogers’ flag kick was met meatily by Delaney but his header was just over.

Preston first genuine chance came when Jarrett punted a shot way over the crossbar, but on 33 minutes they finally showed a bit of striking class. A long ball from defence sailed over the City back four and dropped on the edge of the penalty box near the right apex. Delaney was chasing back with Whaley, a nippy fella whose looks appear to suggest he was sired by a night-time alliance of Floella Benjamin and Bernard Manning. Delaney made a hopeless mess of dealing with the high ball and missed his header as Whaley lurked. The ball dropped to the ex-Bury man and he took a neat touch before thumping a tremendous shot into the far corner of the net past Myhill’s right hand. A goal out of nowhere, but one that was reward for the balance of possession and ambition that had gone before.

This goal catalysed the Tigers and they started to pose an attacking threat. A Rogers free kick from the right was punched weakly by fake-tanned shiny-haired keeper Nash and the ball dropped to Ellison whose long distance header drifted wide of the post. Then a marvellous interchange down the right between Green (who had by now swapped with Ellison) and Fagan resulted in a cross to Parkin, unmarked ten yards from goal, but the Beast’s shot was directed into the ground and the ball looped up and over the goal. City were looking the better side and when Fagan knocked the ball past Mawene and beat him for pace, the defender hauled Craig to the turf. Not content with earning a yellow card for his misdemeanour, Mawene then generously chested the resulting Green free kick past his keeper to equalise the scores. A remarkable thirty seconds of craptitude by the French ex-Ram.

Half time saw some remarkable ball juggling skills being exhibited by a portly ginger kid in the centre circle. I imagine he’d be ill-equipped to cope with a thigh-high Peter Skipper lunge tackle as he bounced the ball on his shoulder. The second half began in less than inspiring style, much like its immediate predecessor, but after some early Preston chances the away side appeared happy to defend and time-waste their way to a point that matters very little in the context of who will ultimately win the play-off and the chance to be cuffed 0-6 by second string elevens of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool next season. A minor alert came when Rogers handled and a quick free kick was only half cleared to Mawene, whose clever lofted ball towards City’s penalty spot found Dichio unmarked. The big man – like snooker hero Tony Meo, “of Italian extraction” – performed a flick header but aimed it straight at Myhill’s midriff when the rest of the undefended goal beckoned invitingly. Three minutes later Dichio again had a chance, this time a shot after a corner was returned into the box, but he again finished feebly and straight at City’s custodian.

The change came when Duffy replaced Fagan on 64. Duffy immediately looked hungry and ready to chase down causes – lost or otherwise – and this lifted everyone in the City side and the crowd, except the moron behind me in East who shouts “lazy twat Duffy” every week, even when Darryl is nowhere near the play or even, occasionally, not on the field of play. Duffy and Parkin soon combined to feed Welsh whose angled cross fell to Parkin on the back post via Ellison’s bonce, but the Beast’s shot was smothered by Nash. Then, after Preston introduced the large and angular Agyemang up front for a spectacularly ineffective rampage, Duffy had a shot flash just wide after Welsh rode two tackles to advance into the box. Duffy had another chance when Mawene’s panic header fell to the young Sweatie’s feet, his shot on the turn was well directed to the far corner but under-hit and Nash pouched easily. Preston had a the last decent chance when Whaley was played in by a sweet midfield pass but his shot was shovelled aside by the splendid Myhill. Dichio headed the resulting corner straight at the goalie, not for the first time today. Paynter and Thelwell were introduced late, mainly for time wasting purposes, and the game dribbled to an end.

OK, so Preston had a load of injuries and this was only half of their first team. But this was nevertheless a decent Tigers performance with none of the end-of-season lethargy witnessed last season post-Swindon and none of the general uselessness witnessed last week against Burnley. Rogers was again excellent and should be signed as soon as possible. Andrews was again tidy if unspectacular – those who believe Andrews to be useless should ask themselves what they actually expect from a holding midfielder – while Welsh looked keen to tackle, pass and take people on. Green was quiet but did nothing wrong. Cort and Delaney quelled Dichio with ease but looked nervous when confronted with Whaley’s trickery.

So now for the last foot-slog of the season south to Watford and the last game. Fancy dress in the form of hiking boots and rucksacks will be de rigeur as the Hornets no doubt card their youth team in preparation for the play-off semi the following week. It’s been a roller coaster season compared with recent glories, but in the end I believe it has been a far more rewarding term than even the previous two as the Tigers’ players and management have adapted superbly to the much higher standards that the Championship demand. A brief flirtation with the play-offs around February, culminating in a solid mid-table finish, will hopefully be the order of things next season as new summer signings are added to effectively new signings Coles, McPhee and Ashbee. Bring it on!

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Ellison, Andrews, Welsh, Green; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Fagan, 64), Paynter (for Ellison, 83), Thelwell (for Wiseman, 87), Dawson, Duke.

Goals: Mawene o.g. 43

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

PRESTON NORTH END: Nash, Mears, Wilson, Mawene, Hill, Sedgwick, Stock, Jarrett, Whaley, L Neal, Dichio. Subs: Agyemang (for L Neal, 70), McKenna (for Jarrett, 82), C Neal, Alexander, Hibbert.

Goals: Whaley 33

Booked: Dichio, Mawene

Sent Off: None