City Till We Die

Hull City 0 Bristol City 0

Hull City 0 Bristol City 0

This is not a season report. It’s a match report. If it was a season report, I might point out that City are in an historically fantastic position, requiring at most just one win to take us back to the Premier League. Quite possibly we might need less than that, given the slump in form of Watford and Crystal Palace in recent weeks. We might even be promoted today (Saturday), if Watford lose and Palace draw or lose. Nothing is settled yet, but it’s looking like being one of the greatest seasons – some are saying the greatest season – in the club’s 109 year history. But this is a match report, not a season report. And tonight (Friday) Hull City were dire. Playing against the official worst team in the division, already relegated Bristol City, the Tigers looked anything but promotion material. Gone were the fluent passing and lightning raids down the wings that have characterised much of our play in recent months, in came the long and high hoof, and the selfish show-boating solo run into trouble. We served up a spectacle which must have had many a Sky Sports viewer channel-surfing in the hope of finding something a little easier on the eye. Our one genuine goal-scoring chance came in the 92nd minute of a 0-0 draw lacking incident, quality, and anything likely to excite the neutral. For us City fans, it was an evening of nervous frustration. We’re wheel-spinning on the verge of promotion to the Premier League. Playing as if they’d only been introduced to each other in the tunnel before the game were: Stockdale Chester Faye Hobbs Elmohamady Boyd Meyler Quinn Brady Gedo Fryatt It’s a mild spring evening, and the game kicks off with City playing towards a North Stand containing a few dozen hardy Bristol fans, and a few hundred City supporters (possibly recipients of free tickets?). There’s a bit of an atmosphere in the KC. Not much of one though. Some sections of the crowd try to pick things up a bit, get a few a songs going, but after ten minutes or so it’s not really happening in the stands. This is a metaphor for what’s unfolding on our muddy and rutted pitch. In the opening 30 seconds of the game there’s a quick and slick attack, with the returning Matty Fryatt reminding us of his skills. It comes to nothing, and in rapid succession City launch three long balls out of defence. What’s going on? That’s not how City play. It’s not how we’ve got to second in the league. Even when it’s looked dangerous to do so, we’ve insisted on playing the ball out of defence and building attacks with close passing and running off the ball. Tonight though, we’ve started playing the long ball. There’s the odd flash of more intricate skill, but nothing to threaten Heaton in the Bristol goal. On 7 minutes Gedo runs down the inside right channel and pulls the ball back to Boyd, on the edge of the box, but Boyd’s weak shot is blocked. On the half hour Gedo is again involved in a couple of neat passing moves. First he has a quick one-two with Quinn, but runs into a Robins defender. Then he receives the ball from Meyler and passes it on to Elmohamady, whose cross from the right comes to nothing. That’s more or less it in terms of playing our normal game in the first half. Everything else is either the long and high pass, or the solo run into trouble. Fryatt has a dinky little foray past a couple of defenders on 28 minutes. Before that, the excellent Jack Hobbs decides to leave his defensive duties for once and dribble upfield, exchanging passes with Gedo and winning a corner. Brady takes it, as he takes all our dead-ball situations in the absence of Koren. Not for the only time tonight, he fails to find a teammate. So it’s a very scrappy first 45. David Meyler is energetic as ever, popping up all across the midfield looking to close down the opposition. The more languid George Boyd drops deep regularly, wanting to get on the ball and try to make something happen. But there’s no real shape to the team. Bristol, either by design or because they’ve nothing left to play for except damage limitation this season, are sitting deep and putting plenty of bodies in between our midfield and the goal. Many a City pass is either blocked or overhit. We can’t find a way through. Half-time, and the assumption is that Steve Bruce will do some re-organising and re-focusing in the dressing room. Surely we’ll come out better. There’s still plenty of time to score. My thoughts turn again, as they have done several times today, to a match against the other Bristol side, Rovers, on a warm spring day some 29 years ago at Boothferry Park at the end of the 1983-84 season. Some of you might, as I do, recall it and recognise some similarities with today’s game. A classic season for a resurgent City under Colin Appleton, we were on the verge of promotion. With three games to go it looked very likely that we’d go up into Division Two. Then we lost an away game 1-0 (to Port Vale). But that was just about OK, because we would win at home against Bristol Rovers. We didn’t though. We drew with Bristol 0-0. (I can still see in my mind’s eye – as I did in reality from low down in Bunkers that day – Billy Whitehurst screwing a great chance just wide). So it went to the last game of the season, Burnley away, and in the end our inferior goal difference deprived us of promotion. Similarly – but with a more positive outcome – nine years ago this week, against Huddersfield, there was another nervy 0-0 at the KC on the verge of promotion. That was to get us out of the fourth tier of English football and we were watched by 23,495. (The attendance tonight was 4900 fewer, very disappointing by comparison, as we stand on the edge of automatic promotion out of one of Europe’s toughest divisions and into the Premier League). Following that 0-0 against Huddersfield in 2004, we went away, to Yeovil, and produced an Ashbee-inspired classic win to secure promotion. I pushed thoughts of those games out of my mind and waited for an improved City to break through in the second half. Whatever our manager said at half-time though, little changes. Quinn tries to poke a ball through the Robins’ defence for Boyd to run on to, but it’s too long. We keep playing high balls that don’t suit our team. On 53 we win a free-kick that’s almost a corner, just at the junction of the Best Stand and the South Stand. Brady overhits it, but it goes for a genuine corner the other side. Brady has to go across to take this one too, which he does, this time short to Boyd, who loses possession. Not much has changed. Except Bristol now seem emboldened enough to venture forward occasionally. On 50 minutes Stockdale fubles a weak and low cross, but Hobbs tidies up. Shortly after that, the otherwise excellent Hobbs is beaten for pace in our box, but the Bristol forward fails to find a colleague with his cross. It’s getting nervy. On 58 George Boyd seems unaware of what’s going on as a Robins player takes the ball off him just inside our half. Then – disgracefully it seems to me – he stands and watches, rather than pursuing, as Bristol advance on our goal. A stronger team might have managed more than the soft shot at Stockdale that results. (I wonder, if we go up, should we take up the option of turning Boyd’s loan into a permanent deal? Not on recent form.) Another long ball over the top for City is too long for Fryatt to run onto before it runs into touch. On 65 a double substition, Gedo and Fryatt off, Simpson and Proschwitz on. With a goal apiece for Simpson and Proschwitz in 2013, you’ll forgive me if I didn’t see this as heralding our much sought after breakthrough. And it didn’t. Simpson, as he usually does, had some decent touches, but never really threatened. Proschwitz the same, but without the decent touches. So we move into the last quarter. Robbie Brady has got on the ball a lot tonight. Recently more than ever – he did this a lot at Molineux on Tuesday – he has started to dribble across the pitch from left to right, rather than attack down his wing. He did this again on 73, ending up getting fouled in the centre circle, winning a free kick which Faye lumped forward. Shortly after, we get a free kick about 30 yards out. Brady, of course, to take. Everyone goes forward and lines up ready for an outswinger into the box. Brady instead plays it straight to one of theirs, who breaks forward with our defence chasing back. Happily Bristol make little of this opportunity. Nor of the other half chances they get in the second 45. They have a couple of long-range shots, which go wide either side of Stockdale’s goal. On 80 minutes we have a penalty shout, as Quinn appears to be pushed from behind and to go down relatively easily. I can’t tell from my East Stand seat, but there’s not too much fuss from City’s players when the ref turns down the appeal. Perhaps TV watchers will tell us that it should have been given, but Steve Bruce, who had a good view of the incident, said afterwards that the ref had got it right. As the time left moves into single figures, we’re realising that we’re probably not going to score. The admirable Abdoulaye Faye tries to inspire his teammates with a crunching tackle and a thumping defensive header. Then Liam Rosenior comes on for James Chester, and all of a sudden the combination of Rosenior and Elmohamady down the right looks impressive, winning a corner that Brady takes to no avail. There are 4 added minutes, in the second of which David Meyler’s foraging forward run finds him in the Bristol penalty area, about 10 yards out. He tries a snap-shot, hard but close to the keeper, who saves competently. And that’s that. 0-0. If this was a season report, not a match report, I’d be positive overall. I think we’ll go up. But it really isn’t done until it’s done. In some ways, tonight’s shoddy display emphasised that fact. On the other hand, let’s not forget that though we didn’t win the game, we won one more precious point. Perhaps it will prove a decisive point. I’ll leave the scenarios to the chat list. Ed

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