Hull City 0 Oxford United 0

Promotion chasing Oxford come to the KC to spoil and delay their way to a draw.  Mark Gretton describes how City nearly made it three wins in a row.  But didn’t.
So the all too brief winning run came to an end and we again dropped points at home, dropped points that will almost certainly extinguish the optimism behind even the most black and amber tinted spectacles. But getting that out of the way at the start, that apart, this was another hugely encouraging display to build on to the back of the games at Carlisle and Macclesfield. We played well from start to finish, the defence was solid, the attack created chances and the midfield, glory be, was an effective link between the two, buttressing the first and launching the second. In short, we looked again like a proper football team and we did it against a side 4th in the league who looked frankly terrified of us throughout the second half and whose ambitions seldom rose above a point. Rubbish they were, so I shan’t really talk about them. That’ll show ’em. Lining up as I took my seat were:

Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Delaney Appleby Ashbee Keates Elliott Walters Forrester

So Delaney back for Smith, new man Reeves on the bench, kept company by Melton, amongst others and those on the pitch were immediately into their work attacking towards the South East stand, forcing 4 quick fire corners which the visitors dealt with with strategies veering from competence to panic, the latter including a defender scooping just over his own bar. That’s nice, we thought, and we kept on thinking it, as the flow of traffic was entirely towards the Oxish goal. An Elliott cross-cum-shot was tipped over after the netman gazed at it for an inordinately long time, before deciding, belatedly but correctly, that it was on target, then Elliott was again involved in flicking on Joseph’s long ball for Forrester whose shot was deflected wide. Anderson played a good ball long and wide to Joseph who ran on and shot, the keeper parried to the feet of Forrester who pounced tigerishly. It looked like 1-0, but a defender had anticipated even more rapidly than our diminutive goalsmith and the block was brave and effective. In truth, some intelligent breaking down of our moves was about as good as it got for the Oxen in the early stages. Appleby, Ashbee and Keates had the midfield in their grip, won the 50-50’s and then set us moving towards their goal. Walters was strong and Forrester active. Our occasional problems were almost all created by carelessness on our part rather than adventure on theirs. On 24 minutes Elliott was, as he is too often, in Delaney’s way, so he took a ball far too short with his back to the defence and no good out ball. He fannied about, lost it in the tackle and belatedly fell over, allowing them to skip upfield before the ever reliable Whittle broke up the attack. Elliott seemed to stay down forever in just the sort of blunder that had let Cambridge in a fortnight ago. I don’t object to Elliott doing a bit of what we might delicately call ‘cheating’, on principle. No, when we have a fine exponent of the art,such as David Brown, I think it’s an excellent thing. None who saw it will ever forget, for example, the splendid moment at the Ark when he fell over as Rotherham oaf Guy Branston slide-tackled him fairly, managing to tread on the Rotherham man’s South Yorkshire gonads as he did so. As Browny climbed to his feet in careworn but brave fashion, the understandably irate Branston confronted him, causing Browny to stagger back, fall over and Branston, now having completely lost it, to be sent off, though he had never at any point made any assault on our hero other than raking Browny’s studs with his groin. No, that sort of thing can only ever be good, and Elliott needs to work on it if he is to reach those heights. Alternatively he could, I suppose, try and stay on his feet and chase after the man to whom he’s lost the ball. It’s a thought. As the half wore on, the Oxters did come into it more. They forced a corner that was turned over. After Delaney had misspassed they put in a cross for a free header for Basham that was gratefully pouched by Fettis. And just before the half ended they got away completely, with only Justin Whittle blocking the route to goal. And block it he did, stepping smartly in front of their attacker and flattening him as he knocked the ball past the skipper and prepared to roast him for pace. Instant decision making from Justin but it looked as though the retribution might be swift and terrible. But the referee was lenient and the card was yellow and we exhaled as one as we went to half time just wondering if they might have turned the corner. Half time, 0-0. Second half and Appleby was immediately replaced by Reeves. Whether this was typical tinkering Taylor in ‘if it aint broke, then fix it mode’ was hard to say. Appleby had produced the mixture of strong tackling and astute passing to which we are rapidly becoming accustomed, but he may still be coming to full fitness. Anyway, Reeves was a straight positional swap, wide right on midfield, but operationally he was different. Less likely to come and find the ball, he was more likely to advance. He looks a sallow youth with bog brush hair, in truth not an early playground pick, you would have gone for the much harder looking Walters and hope that he didn’t nick your Curly Wurly. But he worked hard from the off and he can play. Oddly enough, the real catalyst was an injury to Joseph on 58 minutes and his replacement by that renowned and redoubtable right back Steve Melton. This looked like an awful Planet Peterism, but it ushered in our best play of the day. Excellent work by Walters in holding up and delivering the ball just so set Elliott free for the sort of run on goal he enjoyed at Carlisle which, up there had ended with him firing narrowly but wastefully wide of the keepers right hand post. This was very different, as the ball was dragged narrowly but wastefully wide of the left hand post. There was also the little difference of us being 4-0 up at Carlisle at the time and pretty damn mellow, here it was head-in-hands time. But now we were motoring. Reeves won the ball well, interlinked with the advancing Melton, ran wide for the well-placed return and got over an excellent first time cross. Walters was there, headed down, the keeper spread himself dutifully but forlornly and the bloody ball hit him and he clung on to it. Credit it him if you must, but it should have been in. Another intelligent ball forward found Forrester who ran wide, crossed for Elliott and the shot was blocked. Then Forrester picked it up in the inside right position, advanced menacingly on a thoroughly spooked defence, drew back the bow and arrowed one in, dipping, dipping, over the keeper….and on to the cross bar and away. Oxford had given up any ideas of winning it. Their highly rated strikers, Martin Basham and Lee Steele, the latter who has tormented us often in the past in his long term role as ‘Shrewsbury’s only decent player’ (a part now played by Luke Rodgers) were anonymous and were both withdrawn in favour of shoring up a creaking defence. They took an age over goalkicks and an eternity over throw ins, managing to get a booking for timewasting. They also goaded the referee into adding on 5 extra minutes at the end. But they only looked remotely like scoring once, putting over from 4 yards when the ball had ended up loose in our area. Taylor had looked forward to this game, saying that we would have freedom to play as the oppo would come at us. If you were churlish, which thank the Lord I’m not, you might think that this was more of Planet Peter. But in truth, it was surprising that a team so highly placed would be so grateful for a point away to someone in the bottom half. Further evidence, were any needed, of the dreadful standard of teams in this division this time around after last year’s unexpected upwards quality blip. We kept control and kept attacking, but our best chances had come and gone. Walters weakly hit shot was then followed by a much better effort on the turn and just over. Elliott had a scruffy effort scrambled away. Ashbee, worryingly was stretchered off near the end and we couldn’t quite do it. But we had done a lot and we had done well and we are a point nearer to safety and our inevitable place as promotion favourites season 2003-2004. And, for now, that’s enough.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Appleby, Ashbee, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Reeves (for Appleby, 45), Melton (for Joseph, 56), Smith (for Ashbee, 88), Dudfield, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Whittle Sent Off: None   OXFORD UNITED: Woodman, Waterman, Bound, Crosby, McNiven, Savage, Hunt, Ford, Robinson, Basham, Steele.  Subs: Scott (for Basham, 62), Louis (for Steele, 90), Hunter, Whitehead, Hackett. Goals: None Booked: McNiven Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 17,404

Hull City 1 Torquay United 1

Parity snatched from the jaws of victory.  Keith Dean describes another decent display that ultimately ended in disappointment.
When will we ever learn. I know it wasn’t particularly important last night but it’s still incredibly infuriating. How many times have we seen our team pass over a golden opportunity to finish off a game from a position of dominance and then defend far too deeply and nervously in the final period before succumbing to the inevitable last minute, or in this case injury time, goal ? It’s been a much-told tale over the years and last night was just yet another addition to the list. Add to that another unfathomable and erratic performance from the match official, and you’ll realise that, on reflection, it was one of those evenings when it would have been a far better idea to stay in with a good book. The first refereeing blunder was a failure to book all 10 outfield visitors for taking to the field in an horrendous mix of black and white striped shirts with pissy yellow shorts. Equally as shocking was the realisation that, for the first time this season, your match reporter was able to say that we put out an unchanged team. No injuries, no suspensions (yet) and no managerial tinkering.And, thank goodness, no repeat of Sat’day’s comically disasterous start for it is safe to add that it was a rather cautious and unproductive opening. When some semblance of shape finally showed its face, it was the Tigers who shone that bit brighter. Elliott began to look a little menacing, cutting in from his touchline and running straight at the heart of their defence. And, on the opposite flank, Reeves and Ostethingummy were linking well with the ever-willing Forrester. We’d had a few pops at goal from outside the box, all blocked and cleared, before the first real opening was created at the other end. A free-kick was hit in with pace from the left and a flick header from the edge of the area took it goalwards but it proved to be only a marginal concern for a well-positioned Fetts.That was a rare foray forward for the Torqs as we continued to dominate possession and looked for a way past their solid midfield and back four. The clearest chance we had before half-time stemmed from a similar dead-ball position. Appleby whipped it onto Walters’ head. His effort was low and well angled forcing a full-length diving save. The ball squirmed free and, whilst it was an amber shirt that dashed forward on to the loose ball, it unfortunately was that of Anderson who managed only to place his shot straight back into the prostrate keeper’s midriff. We finished the half with a Reeves free-kick getting up and over the wall and sailing a foot or so wide of the right-hand post and then a low, vicious cross from the right flank was met by the shins of a back-tracking defender on the 6 yard line. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the ball fly into any of the four corners of the goal, or even through the goalie’s legs, but sadly it flashed wide of the post and away for a corner. Not a particularly memorable first half then. Much as it has been against Oxford in fact. The majority of the chances had fallen to the home team but, as a spectacle, it had been dulled by irritatingly pernickity refereeing and an away side that was clearly out to defend and frustrate. The second half though, well, it was certainly not dull. There was a shed load of chances at both ends after the game had been opened up with an early City goal. Our first chance came from a looping Delaney cross to the near post that Reeves, running in all the way from the opposite flank, got his spikey head to but he couldn’t put his effort on target. Breaking out from a defensive position, we deservedly took the lead. A quick push left us with Elliott free, overlapping on the left. Appleby tried to put him clear but his pass was halted by a full-stretch despairing slide. The ball fell invitingly at the feet of Keates who continued the move with a simple but inch-perfect pass into the area for Elliott to run onto. He advanced a yard or so before finishing low and hard past the keeper’s left hand. And from then on we were treated to another 30-odd minutes of similar cut and thrust football with both sides looking dangerous on the break. We had the better chances initially whilst the Torqs got at us more but without testing Fettis too severely. Walters saw a well hit drive fly just over before we were forced back and had to resist a bit of pressure. Our young Liverpool loanee lad got himself into a bit of a tangle with two opportunities to clear a left wing corner from his position on the far post. The loose ball fell to a visitor but his cross-shot was off target and had no colleague following up in support. They then had another quality free-kick that was met with a good header from within the D but it was smartly caught by Fettis under his crossbar. From this spell of defensive activity, we broke away and earned that perfect opportunity for a two goal cushion. Justin wellied a clearance forward that was partially blocked on halfway and fell to Elliott in loads of space on the left. He went on and on, with the defence backing off, until he reached the edge of the area at which point he knocked it between two of them and ran through on goal. There was some contact, not a great deal I grant you, but enough for his tumble to look merited and enough for the ref to point to the spot. Forrester stepped up and hit a poor shot that was far too close to the keeper, and at a comfortable height, and was routinely parried away. The despair was eased somewhat in that we continued to push forward and create the clearer chances. We hit a lot of quick, but accurate, long balls out of defence to Forrester and Walters and they both had shots fizz narrowly off target. Melton, who was on for Appleby, made his first telling contribution with a good block tackle midway in his own half. He played it out to Elliott who hit a peach of a diagonal ball over the full-back into Walters’ path. Again, he failed to hit the target. Forrester repeated the trick moments later and then the moment that was to prove equally as crucial as the penalty miss. A great low cross from our right wing flew across goal, only five or six yards out. A defender moved in to effect a clearance but could not decide quite how best to deal with it. In the end he ran into its path and stomached the ball against the post with his keeper completely flat-footed. Forrester and Reeves both had a chance to make something of the rebound before the custodian finally leapt at their feet to claim the ball. From there the tide turned and we had to endure a final ten minutes of spurned chances in front of our goal. A corner was not cleared properly and the resulting cross, from the right, sailed over the heads of all the City defence to an in-running Torq. His mishit shot flew down into the turf before looping up and over Fettis and against the bar. Then they opened us up on the left. The cross was controlled on the edge of the box, centrally, and laid off to another supporting midfielder who really should have hit the target but blazed his shot inches  wide. Then, with a City played down injured in midfield and the visitors not sure whether to play on or push on, a long range drive was deflected straight to the feet of one of theirs just ten or so yards out. His first-time effort looked destined for the net but Fetts had raced out and flung out a hand to make a tremendous instinctive save that looked like being enough to preserve the three points. Oh no. That ain’t how it works. We were into added on time (Jevons had replaced Forrester) when a Torq found himself with too much space to the right of goal. He flashed in a brutal shot that Fettis did well to get his body behind but the parry went almost directly upwards and it was one of theirs who won the header and, even though our keeper had scampered across and was able to get a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent it creeping over the line off the inside of the post. Bugger. I’d heard a snippet of an interview with Mr Taylor on Humberside before kick-off in which he suggested that six points from two home games this week would leave him still thinking our season may yet go beyond that last ever trip to the Vetch. Anything else, he admitted, would mean that the season was over. So what will he do with the remaining matches ? Give some of the young ‘uns and those recovering from injuries a chance to prove themselves ? He’s spent all his time in charge so far confounding us by avoiding a settled team so maybe he’ll continue to mistify us by adopting that tactic now that it doesn’t really matter any more. Suspensions will enforce some changes in the coming weeks and I can agree, to a point, about not playing the loanees who won’t be here next season. Who knows. And quite frankly, for now at least, who cares? Roll on the summer.
HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Appleby, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Melton (for Appleby, 62), Jevons (for Forrester, 89), Smith, Regan, Musselwhite.Goals: Elliott 54Booked: Reeves Sent Off: None   TORQUAY UNITED: Van Heusden, Hazell, Woozley, Taylor, Canoville, Russell, Hockley, Fowler, Clist, Gritton, Kuffour.  Subs: Graham (for Kuffour, 34), Woods (for Hockley, 63), Hill (for Gritton, 83), Dearden, Benefield. Goals: Hill 90 Booked: Fowler, Graham, Hazell Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 13,310