|A dominant City performance sweeps aside a stunned South Bank eleven. Mark Gretton reports on late goals, jubilation and a naked man.|
|For the busy amongst you we won 2-0, deserved pressure finally bringing two late goals, making us unbeaten in 5 since Molby departed and, just to keep it all in perspective, keeping us 11 points off the leaders, 7 points off a promotion spot and 4 points out of the playoff zone, as we occupy an 11th place that was considered catastrophic when we ended up there at the end of the last campaign.Right, now bollocks to perspective. We were excellent on Saturday, settling into an easy rhythm from the outset, dictated throughout by the marvellous Stuart Green. The boy really can play. When I tell you that older supporters were likening him to the wondrous Theodore Whitmore then you can imagine what we witnessed. He shimmered, he shone, he floated and he completely dismantled a Scunt side that had as severe a chasing on our greensward as I can remember. Ah, poor Scunny! Now I enjoy a good local derby as much as the next, so it saddens me that we don’t get to play any. For a start such matches have to be, well, local, not between places 30 miles apart. Remember that for North Lincolnshire folk, who regard somewhere like Newark the way that the rest of us might regard Atlantis, 30 miles is equivalent to interstellar travel. They are not local, they are not our neighbours. And they are rubbish. But now is not the time to be patronising. I’ll do that a bit later. We lined up thus:
Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Keates Williams Jevons Alexander
And we played towards the North Stand and pretty full it was too as though the visiting fans thought they might not be completely outclassed. And for the first 10 minutes, strange to relate, that proved to be the case. They had a couple of free kicks, one scuffed wide, one well held by Musselwhite and then Calvo-Garcia advanced and shot past the post. The visitors were holding their own whilst we seemed to be coming to terms with the fact that, though Williams was playing wide on the left, Green was not a mirror image on the right and we initially looked a little lop-sided as Green wandered and Regan hung back. But then after what had looked like random brush strokes leaving only a few splodges on the canvas, as the Kempton wondered aloud is this art?, the brush was seized by Stuart Green and our afternoon went from Turner Prize tosh to Fine Art majesty. He drifted from right to left, occupied the centre, tackled, passed and prompted and what had looked a slightly clunky mechanism suddenly meshed sweetly. A typical interchange with Keates made room on the right and Regan, doing what he does best, was suddenly keen to overlap and a good cross went behind for a corner. Next up he wandered over to the left flank and set Williams away, the Scunts again clearing at the expense of a corner. After 20 minutes Alexander shot wide after a sumptuous move from the right as the Keates/ Regan axis was again launched by the ubiquitous Green. Then Green won a free kick that Keates put wide, then a Green run to the left resulted in a corner from which Delaney shot narrowly wide. My notes at this stage said ‘it’s all us’ – but you’ve probably gathered that and also, as Joy Division would have put it, that everything had gone Green. The Scunts, well, what can we say? I know they seethe at the thought of us being a big club, so I won’t use that term in order to avoid giving offence, but they really looked out of their depth. For the baseball fans amongst you it was as though the Duluth-Superior Dukes, plucky minor league outfit, had unaccountably wandered into the major league and were getting a seeing to from the mighty Minnesota Twins. In all honesty I hadn’t expected them to be this poor. After all, in Torpey and Carruthers they have a nineteen goal strikeforce so far this term and thick-as-mince manager Brian Laws had remembered this time that Calvo-Garcia was a midfield player and played him accordingly instead of at the heart of the defence as he did here last season. Their other star ( I know, I know) is ex-Bradford, SheffU and Everton serial failure Peter Beagrie who enjoyed a comically useless afternoon. We are told that Beagrie is injured, but that is to do less than justice to a complete waster of a footballer who can produce displays of such mediocrity when fit as a flea. Anyway he lasted well into the second half, so presumably the manager felt, useless though he undoubtedly was, he was better than what he had sat next to him on the bench. As this included Lee Ridley and Steve Ridley but not, sadly for us Dad’s Army fans, Arnold Ridley, perhaps this was understandable. You did feel at times as though Private Godfrey, or even his sister Dolly, might have brought more to the Scunts table. But perhaps they felt they needed Beagrie’s presence when they are playing such an, er, sizeable club as us. The Stuart Green show continued as he put Jevons through for a shot that was blocked for another corner and then set up Jevons again, the striker this time cleverly juggling the ball before getting in his cross that again was cleared for a corner. Green wasn’t the only impressive midfielder on view. Keates was busy and skilful and Ashbee continues to surprise, combining his major role of buttressing the defence with supporting the attack as the extra man whenever possible. The ‘opposition’ were now visibly flustered, perhaps due to playing against such a large club, and the cracks were appearing. Beagrie got a good shouting at from a hard working defender and was now virtually a second left back. It didn’t help. The keeper and proper full back got in a right tizzy, each left the ball for the other, then both hoped it would run out of play. It didn’t, but Jevons didn’t react as quickly as he might have done and the chance passed although the laughter from the Tigerfolk went on through the half-time interval. A fine half, good football, but the final pass hadn’t quite been there and the Scunt central defence had stood up to it well. Second half and we carried on, a high speed move between Green, natch, Alexander and Ashbee filleted them again but again there was no finish and we just started to fret that it might be one of those afternoons, that can sometimes bedevil huge clubs playing against minnows. And the Scunts got going! No, really, they did. A bright move ended in a free kick and Musselwhite custoded the leather in typically assured fashion. He might have had to work harder when the torpid Torpey roused himself briefly to screw, and I use the term advisedly, a shot wide. A bad miss from a man having a very bad game. At the other end Alexander headed a difficult chance wide from Green’s cross and then Jevons badly wasted a free header. But we didn’t let up, Keates and Williams linked on the left and little Ryan ran directly at ’em before shooting past the post. Next up Jevons tried the run and shot thingy and got his on target as the keeper fubled and seemed to have let it past him but then got up with great nonchalance to clear his lines with an ‘I meant that, y’know’ air about him. I suspect the lining of his shorts told a different story. Elliott came on for Jevons and this produced no let up for the Scunt defence as the sub turned refulgently but spoiled it by tumbling over too easily as he burst into the area. The referee waved away our howls of anguish and he was probably right to. Branch came on for Williams and Tigerinsecurity grew as Elliott gave away a daft free kick on the edge of our box, in rather the same way that Hodges duped us last time. But the Scunts have lost their gifted fatboy, lured away by moneybags Rochdale, an humongous club I reckon, and no-one in the visitors line up made us pay as the wall blocked the shot. Like a wall, it was. So we were in the last five minutes and we still hadn’t broken through. But with rain pelting down, the Scunts dam was finally breached. The defence unaccountably watched a ball run towards their line, but Damien Delaney didn’t, he charged after it and, better yet, he reached it and dragged it back. Michael Branch was there and he drilled it between the keepers knees and joy was unconfined. There was no way back for the visitors and they clearly knew it, not even making a token effort to go forward. But the best for us was still to come, the loping Delaney got a ball forward that looked again as though it should have been the defender’s but Gary Alexander, having spent the afternoon buffeting and barging, got on the end of it, got inside his man and then wellied it past the keeper in a fashion to put Manc disaster Diego Forlan to shame. A glorious finish to the game. Unlike Forlan, Gary has scored many goals and so celebrated modestly and kept his shirt on, but one fan didn’t, leaping o-er the greensward with tackle out. He’d either done this incredibly quickly or he’d been stood au naturelle since the first goal, but he looked pretty well made, the blokes round me thought it looked a good 8 inches, the women thought 2. But we’d won, and it was wonderfully pleasing, not just because it was another three points and further signs that Peter Taylor really is doing things right, but because we’d never wavered in our desire to play proper football and beat the opposition senseless with it. The goals were late but they were no less deserved for that. ‘Brain’ Laws bleated that the goals came from defensive errors and they did, but that was a result of them being asked to work without a let up from the outset. In truth, their defenders were the only ones who can look back on their afternoon’s ‘effort’ with any satisfaction at all. Torpey and Carruthers were appalling and the midfield seemed to have given up long before the end. As we filed out, watching disconsolate Scunts standing in the good old Hull downpour whilst we walked past them and shouted words of encouragement and consolation, they were probably thinking, like Groucho Marx, that they’d had a great time, but this wasn’t it. In truth they’ve had a number of good days at the Ark over the years, more than we might like to admit. But they were spanked this time, as the Americans and we fetishists like to say. I suppose that’s what happens sometimes when you’re up against a real behemoth of a club.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Elliott (for Jevons, 63), Branch (for Williams, 78), Burton, Peat, Deeney.Goals: Branch 85, Alexander 90 Booked: Delaney, Elliott Sent Off: None SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Evans, Stanton, McCombe, Balmer, Dawson, Barwick, Graves, Calvo-Garcia, Beagrie, Carruthers, Torpey. Subs: Featherstone (for Barwick, 45), Brough (for Beagrie, 73), L Ridley, S Ridley, Collins. Goals: None Booked: Balmer, Beagrie, Dawson. Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 11,885|
|Bottom of the table Swansea come to Boothferry and benefit from another gutless Tigers performance. According to the manager, it’s all the fans’ fault. Steve Weatherill sets out the case for the defence.|
|O crikey, chums, another horror show. As bad as the Macclesfield debacle, except that yesterday we did at least tug a point clear of the mire – but at home to The Bottom Of The League, we won’t be hanging out the bunting for that modest triumph just yet. Our Chairmen filled his programme notes with a biliously daft rant against Radio Blunderside, alleging a negative attitude (fie! Whatever might that stem from?), while our Manager took to the airwaves after the game to blame the fans for getting on the players’ backs, to lament the trials of having to play home games at the Ark (yesterday once again bulging with a crowd in excess of 8,000) and to offer not a hint that he has a strategy for improving this curdling season, aside only from waiting for Stuart Elliott’s return. On the pitch, we were defensively unfocused on the rare occasions when Swansea threatened, the midfield was drab throughout and the attack mooched around grumpily. So here we are, a quarter of the way through the season, and if you have identified any signs of progress, sustained or even sporadic, under the Molby regime, then you have sharper eyes than me. And with legendary t/chat penman Mike “Mike” Scott lately offering up a schoolboy howler pertaining to Stuart Elliott’s nationality, it is hard to evade the conclusion that our whole club is blundering around like a rudderless ship lost without navigation somewhere out beyond the Dogger Bank. It looks THAT grim right now. I can only agree with the wise man on Bunkers whose succinct summary was “Fishcake!”.A bad game, this. Plugging away on a grey but clement afternoon:
Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Green Keates Ashbee Williams Alexander Jevons
We attacked Bunkers, while Swansea aimed at their meagre travelling band dribbled over the North Stand terrace. There were only about 50 of them, the worst following I can ever remember my least-favourite opponents fetching across the border. They are plainly a club intent on descent, and I applaud that with glee, but as the game lurched into a formless muddle they seemed able to stifle us all too easily. We had most of the possession, but showed little wit when confronted by sturdy Swans determined to huddle behind the ball and allow us minimal space. Swansea broke down their right and slid a low cross into the six-yard box where a chance winked briefly, before a safety-first hoof preserved parity. Then, at the other end, a gorgeous flicked pass by Williams opened up the stolid visiting defence, offering a shooting opportunity to Green, who had made an intelligent dart from right to left. But the delicately struck shot slipped just wide of Roger Freestone’s far post. It was a bright moment, but embedded deep in shapeless dross. A moment of ungainly confusion between Musselwhite and Whittle on the edge of the penalty box saw the ball spin free to a Swan 25 yards out from goal, and, with the Muss stranded, we looked undone. The ball was struck firmly but Anderson had cantered back to guard the goal-line and he thumped a header clear. Alert defending … following ill-disciplined, indecisive defending. And then, for the third home game in succession, we conjured up a lead that our banal play didn’t merit, and for which no expectation had been generated. It began from a Swansea corner, but the ball was quickly cleared to Williams, who made rapid progress and released Green, inside the attacking half of the field. He demonstrated beautiful skill and vision to slide a glorious pass into the path of Jevons, who strode away from the defence and finished cleanly, low past Freestone’s left hand. A sparkling goal in a half speckled by drudgery. A trio of attacks brought us up the to the break. Keates darted gamely down the right, but crossed just behind Gary Alexander, whose attempt at an audacious backheel was pure comedy. Then a Swansea corner was sent soaring goalwards, but the Muss punched the header clear with confidence. And finally Jevons found some space down the left but saw his shot blocked easily by Freestone. No shape, no fluency – a poor 45. It’s half-time, it’s 1-0: would we do a Carlisle and now assume glittering superiority, or would we collapse grotesquely in the genial style served up to bemused Macclesfield? Neither. We let Swansea equalise, and the game petered out into a tame draw. It was a rotten second half. The Swansea goal, first of all. Throw-in wide on their right, deep inside our half. The ball sails high through the air, one of theirs heads it on, another of theirs loops another header up over the Muss who backpedals frantically, but he’s too late, and the ball tumbles gently into our net. Indecisive work from the Muss, who should have stayed put on his line or else come charging out to collect the ball with all the zeal of a rhinoceros fixed on the task of putting David Attenborough and his poncey voice and intrusive film crew into the middle of Madagascar. But though I put “being stuck in no-man’s land” on our keeper’s charge sheet, I wasn’t much taken with the lack of defensive intervention either. Swansea celebrated two free headers well inside our penalty box before the ball trundled into our ropework. Shoddy covering. Perhaps Mr Molby blamed Smith, because he hauled him off in favour of the divine Mike Edwards shortly afterwards. It was a triple substitution: Johnson came on for Williams and Dudfield replaced Alexander. As a tactical move, it smacked of desperation and it was not a success. Swansea fancied it now, and the Ark was unsettled. Fortunately the visitors carried little punch, with the spiky Watkin more intent on sly feuding than playing proper football. But this current Tiger pack is in no position to sneer at feeble opponents. We do feeble all too convincingly ourselves. Ashbee is at his least effective when playing at home against teams that are content to stifle midfield, because he simply adds to the ugly roadblock of turgid scrapping. Keates generally has a shade more imagination on the ball, but carried little threat yesterday, and so our plodding central midfield duo contributed almost nothing to our attacking vigour. Williams was patchy, while Johnson, when he arrived, mostly looked bored. Green, as ever, flashed brightly but briefly. Up front, Alexander rarely looked likely to trouble an obdurate defence, while the newly-shorn Jevons, though perkier than his partner and worth his goal, is still not fully convincing, and is certainly no target man. A brief aside pertaining to the referee. He was awful – a true exponent of the “rabbit caught in the headlights” school of whistle management. He hadn’t a clue. A rough midfield melee early in the second half fazed him completely and Swansea soon realised they simply had to crumple to the turf to induce him to halt play. He dithered, he wobbled, he was dreadful. But he made no difference to the result of the match. Dudfield, on as sub, looked our liveliest player as the half ticked onwards. The Dude, striding elegantly down the left, is stopped illegally, and, from Green’s lofted free-kick, Ashbee finds space at the back post but heads directly into Freestone’s ample gut. Then Swansea break down the left and a ball crossed low towards the six-yard box seems to offer a chance to Watkin, but it is whisked away from him at the crucial moment. Now it’s us, and Johnson sprints down the left before sliding a neat cross on to the Jevons forehead, but the flick bounces down into the ground and away beyond the far post. Dudfield crosses soon afterwards, but it is just two inches too high for Jevons, and the ball bounces away harmlessly. It almost sounds exciting when you write up these incidents all-in-a-row. But it wasn’t exciting. These were eccentric moments of interest spattered on a grey canvas. And the mood in the condemned old ground was part sullen, part resigned. Three added minutes brought nothing of note and a wretched game was gone and forgotten. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen plenty worse. But, as this season evolves, the combination of, on the one hand, an increasingly large pot of poor displays and, on the other, the sense that we as a club are frittering away the momentum on offer from acquisition of a shiny new ground is really getting me down.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Dudfield (for Alexander, 57), Johnson (for Williams, 57), Edwards (for Smith, 57), Glennon, BradshawGoals: Jevons 27 Booked: Johnson, Keates Sent Off: None SWANSEA CITY: Freestone, Evans, O’Leary, Theobald, Howard, Lacey, Phillips, Jenkins, Williams, Thomas, Watkin. Subs: Reid (for Williams, 86), Moss (for Lacey, 88), Marsh, Keaveny, Wood Goals: Thomas 52 Booked: Freestone, O’Leary Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 8,070|
|At last! A wonder strike from Dean Keates inspires the Tigers to show some much needed passion and guile. Meanwhile, the opposition field a werepig. Mike Scott reports on matters.|
|Those of us who have supported Hull City for a few decades know the score. The Tigers are generally crap, a total let-down, but about every 5 or so years they have a purple patch of perhaps only 4-6 weeks that somehow makes suffering all the dross worthwhile. The last of these purple spells was April 2001 when Big Kev was steering a course towards the Division Three play-offs. Prior to that we must go back to early in 1993-4 when Dolan’s Tigers topped Division Two, March 1989 (the run-up to the Liverpool cup tie) and the back end of the 1983-4 promotion season.Well the Tigers need another excellent spell now if their promotion aspirations are to come to anything. And while this game against a steady and well organised Leyton Orient side was not exactly top drawer stuff, it signified a move in the right direction after Monday’s Durham Coast debacle. “Well organised Leyton Orient”. “Well organised Hartlepool”. “Disorganised Hull City”. It is the way in which the Tigers started to throw off the latter tag, and therefore look more capable of living with more organised opposition, that was the key difference in this game. The disarray at Victoria Park was replaced by a more solid feel yesterday, Molby’s back-to-basics training ground theme has had some effect. It’s a fragile new beginning – the Tigers wobbled horribly after Orient opened the scoring against the run of play – but it’s there, and the collective effort of Ashbee, Anderson and Keates in talking up team confidence bore fruit on this warm and pleasant Saturday afternoon. Returning again to a 4-4-2 line-up that fits the personnel on show were:
Glennon Regan Anderson Whittle Smith Johnson Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Bradshaw
The main surprise was Dudfield’s banishment to the bench alongside Price, Muss, Edwards (hoorah!) and Morrison. Keates kept his place and, despite going absent for a while after Orient’s goal, played much better than at Pools, capping his performance with a thunderous equaliser. Williams gave flashes of his true worth on the left, inspired in the second half by an upbeat Bunkers. Alexander looked a new man and led the line superbly without getting any luck in front of goal. Molby’s tactics, oft explained by the Dane, rely on a high tempo game that takes play to the opposition and forces mistakes and fatigue. Take away the high tempo, as happened at Hartlepool, and there’s not much left. But today City did, for a good 80 of the ninety minutes, maintain a fast pace through quickly taken free-kicks, pressing play all across the pitch and getting the ball forward quickly, either directly or through midfield, when in possession. The opening stages of the game saw this harum-scarum philosophy work to good effect and a useful Leyton XI, with highly rated Lockwood looking ever more like a were-pig at left-back, were rocked onto their collective heels. Three times in the opening 15 minutes City carved through the O’s backline and made good chances in the six yard box (one for Johnson, two for Alexander) that were blocked by committed but last-second defending. The one scare was when a straight punt clearance by Orient saw Whittle chase back with the useful Watts in attendance, Justin looking to usher the ball back to Glennon. Glennon was slow to react however, and in the end Whittle headed clear for a corner just as he made full-on and painful contact with Glennon’s considerable midriff. After some panic amongst the City support Justin returned gingerly to his feet and resumed his masterclass in Division Three defending. With three or four good chances made but no goals as reward, one wondered as to the mood of the footballing gods. They haven’t smiled on the Tigers for some time now, but were they feeling that the East Coast team were worthy of some TLC, or were they grimacing and plotting another body blow? It was the latter. Whittle hit a bobbling backpass to Glennon, who did well to spoon the ball up and out 35 yards in the face of the onrushing ex-Imp Thorpe. Orient’s Brazier was then allowed to comfortably control the high ball on his D-cup chest as “Jack” Regan looked on – I like Regan a lot, but his failing is an unwillingness to challenge the high ball. As Regan put his trousers back on, Brazier fed the advancing dreadlock-bedecked Hutchings in the box and his low cross was met by an unattended Toner in the inside right position who thumped home from 20 yards. The whereabouts of left back Smith were not recorded in my notes – suffice it to say he wasn’t challenging the goalscorer as he should have been. City then “did a Hartlepool” for ten minutes. The team spirit faded away, passes went astray, little effort was expended in the important areas of the pitch. Orient won 2-3 corners, all of which saw alarm bells ringing, beacons flashing and small children running about screaming, such was the panic in the City 6-yard box. But all were somehow repelled, the home side began to recover. Excellent work by Alexander set up a Regan cross that was dealt with in some haste by the O’s defence, and the clearance dropped invitingly to Ashbee whose volley skidded pleasingly towards goal only for the keeper Evans to save adeptly low down near his left post. Evans is on-loan at Orient this season, his first name is Rhys. Thankfully for the East Londoners, he is not as poor as the last netminding Rhys they had on loan, the much-reviled Rhys Wilmot who, when borrowed from Arsenal, was widely attributed with full blame for their 1985 relegation season. Ashbee’s shot was well saved but with 37 minutes gone a repeat Regan cross saw a repeat clearance fall to Keates 25 yards out. The diminutive Midlander steadied himself and drove a rasping shot into the net past a flapping Evans, and then proceeded to celebrate wildly in front of a bubbling Kempton. It was a fine strike and was executed just as I was confiding in a colleague that “that fookin Keates has gone missing again”. Good on yer, little man! Within seconds Watts burst through the City defence and a back post cross found another Orient player unencumbered by the attentions of Smith, but this time Glennon saved. City restored the high tempo and an even half finished even, at 1-1. Half time gave the opportunity to peruse the “End of An Era” merchandise catalogue handed to City fans on their entry to the soon-to-close Boothferry Park. And some fine items are on show there. I would recommend buying the calendar and twelve cheap picture frames from Ikea – then you’ll have a wall-full of BP memories for your favourite room, all for a fraction of the cost of the dreadful £60 daub on offer than makes all the players on the pitch looks 14 feet eleven inches tall. And so to the second half. O’s right back Joseph was clattered by Williams within the first minute and was withdrawn for a young chap called Donny Barnard, who looked rather intimidated by the vociferous Kempton support that he patrolled in front of. More good work on the right from the overlapping Regan saw a cross find Alexander, whose skilful shot was well pouched by the keeper. Then a superb move that began on the left with Williams, switched to the right with Johnson and ended up on the penalty spot with Bradshaw saw the aggressive young striker fluff his shot as the Bunkers goal beckoned invitingly. Young Bradshaw played well today and showed a pleasing willingness to mix it with the opposition in a manner that his fresh face wouldn’t necessarily suggest. Orient made a few half chances, the best of which fell to Thorpe, whose scuffed shot trickled across the face of Glennon’s goal, and Watts whose free header was straight at the grateful netman. But the great majority of the openings were the home side’s – Bradshaw slipped when 1-on-1 with the keeper after a thrilling surging run from Johnson, Alexander was twice more released in the box with shooting opportunities, Johnson shot straight at the O’s keeper after a penalty box melee – and only the final touch was missing from a tidy Tigers performance. As both teams tired in the final quarter several subs were introduced – Dudfield for Bradshaw, Morrison for Johnson – and a few late challenges were penalised by the very efficient Premiership referee Cathy Barry. In the end a 1-1 draw was perhaps just reward for both sides, but I suspect Orient manager Paul “Bog” Brush will feel that his side could not have complained if a City winner hadn’t have flown in, such was the sheer number of chances created by the home side over the ninety minutes. Overall then, this was a heartening performance after the abject shite of Hartlepool. If we can sustain this for a goodly run of 8-10 games then real momentum can be attained and the points will surely follow. That elusive first victory for Molby has still to arrive, but I feel it’s a lot closer after this performance. Time for the Tigers to maul some poncy university types? Oh yes!
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Johnson, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Bradshaw. Subs: Dudfield (for Bradshaw, 65), Morrison (for Johnson, 89), Musselwhite, Edwards, PriceGoals: Keates 38 Booked: Smith Sent Off: None LEYTON ORIENT: Evans, Joseph, Smith, McGhee, Lockwood, Toner, Harris, Hutchings, Brazier, Thorpe, Watts. Subs: Barnard (for Joseph, 52), Campbell-Ryce (for Watts, 76), Barrett, Martin, Nugent Goals: Toner 19 Booked: Harris, Hutchings, Toner Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 7,684|
|Crikey, this is getting serious. Mike Scott reports on another capitulation on the Durham Coast.|
|Ugly. An apt word for the town of Hartlepool. And an apt word for performances of the current Hull City squad. Once more eleven ill-equipped sportsmen entered the field of play against more organised and willing opposition. The Hull City eleven, although seemingly superior on paper, lost badly. It was two-nil. It could’ve been ten-nil. I’ll give my account of the game, then I’ll give my opinion on what’s gone wrong. Both will be ugly.The current fashion to shuffle the City pack continued at full strength as City lined up thus:
Glennon Petty Anderson Whittle Regan Green Ashbee Keates Johnson Alexander Dudfield
Smith dropped, that was the good news. Regan was switched to the left (has Edwards perhaps lost a limb in a freak Hessle harvesting accident?) and Petty took his best role at right back. Ashbee came back from suspension, the diminutive (in so many ways) Keates made his debut and three up front were restored with Dudfield’s recovery from a gippy tummy. Morrison and Greaves were benched (along with Bradshaw, Williams and Musselwhite) while Price and Smith were not asked to make the trip north. A bold managerial masterstroke? Err, no. Hartlepool carded a team very similar to the one that thumped City 4-0 last season. They have had barely any incomings nor outgoings over the summer, and have a settled squad that know their roles. City do not. The difference was apparent as early as the third minute when the admirable Gordon Watson raced down the right channel, held the ball up on the City goalline and drew three (count ’em, three!) City defenders towards him. Not one of the three attempted a tackle, instead trying to corral the ex-Owl in the manner of a wild west buffalo. Amazed at this generosity, Watson waited a full five seconds while the right midfielder Clarke scuttled up behind him. He then gently rolled the ball to the unattended Clarke who whipped in a cross to the distinguished looking Tinkler who, alarmed by his lack of marker at such an early stage, fluffed his shot wide. And so a pattern began to emerge. In the first minute Gary Alexander had neatly freed Johnson down the right, but the Leeds man’s cross found only the keeper Williams’ (Anthony) midriff. This early Alexander promise was a false dawn, as he went on to turn in a poor performance, not helped by the senseless booing of the City support that began after 15 or so minutes and reached a grizzly crescendo in the second half. The same crescendo that reduced the nervy looking Petty into a pile of footballing rubble in the first half. It was clear that this was a rather strange day for supporting City away when a small child was berated after seven minutes as being a “fookin nobhead” for returning the ball to the pitch after a wayward Pools shot. The baying for blood that ensued for the rest of game was totally destructive, but perhaps not entirely impossible to understand – although the bloke in front of me who exhorted Pearson to “fook off and tek yer money wiv yer” really did beggar belief. An ugly mood for the crowd, an ugly clash between hope, expectancy and despair. Within ten minutes Hartlepool had amassed four corners, all of which were wasted. The fifth saw Tinkler convert a header at the back post but the referee – probably rightly – disallowed the goal, adjudging that the greying Poolster had used an opponent’s shoulders to gain upthrust. The home side was entirely dominant and pummelled City incessantly. Whittle and Anderson defended manfully and both full backs looked reasonable for the first 20 minutes or so, but the midfield, as against Bury, afforded them no protection whatsoever and the waves of attacks continued. On 21 a low right wing Pools cross saw Petty airshot horribly at the back post, and the startled Williams sliced a hurried shot well wide. This was the first mistake of the day by Petty, but the hordes descended upon him with a flurry of wrath and fury that was not entirely deserved. He played like a complete arse for the rest of the half. But now what is this? Amid the ugliness emerges beauty. The Tigers realise that Dudfield on our left has the measure of the sloth-like Barron at right back, and start to switch the ball to him as often as possible. From this the Tigers gleaned confidence and started to play some pleasing possession football. In this spell Dudfield raided the Pools penalty box with no end product once or twice, and Ashbee thumped a swerving 25 yarder just wide after being teed up by Green. Crikey thought the City fans, are we about to play OK and win the League after all? No way. Just as City took the upper hand so Hartlepool released Watson down their left wing, and after a inconsequential half challenge by Petty was evaded the once-crocked forward slid a nice ball across the face of the six yard box where the gleeful Williams (Eifion) slid a shot goalwards. Alas it was also Glennon-wards and the big keeper blocked, only to see the rebound fall to the feet of the now seated Williams, who prodded into an unguarded net. A modicum of Tigery promise, and 1-0 down. The slight breeze that billowed the City sails died, and eleven heads dropped collectively. Pools were now rampant, City quite appalling, and the home should have gone nap before half time. The game was played in the City box with only Whittle standing out as someone who could keep his composure while all others flapped and fannied about. For three successive corners Watson stood totally unmarked at the back post while Green guarded unoccupied territory at the front post. While the City fans screamed for someone to mark up, the City team looked blankly at Watson and let him be. Thank God Pools can’t take a decent back post corner, or Watson could’ve tapped it in with his knob. Pools’ Smith saw a free header swing just wide after one particularly negligent piece of collective non-defending by the away side, while Keates twice sliced clearances appallingly, the second time straight to the feet of Williams (Eifion) on the edge of the box, only for the umpteenth last ditch Whittle tackle to block a routine shot on goal. As the half time whistle tooted, a battered and bloodied City XI retreated for what was no doubt a prolonged session of teacup throwing and Scousease cat-calling. Emerging unchanged for the second half, City made the first chance within two minutes when Dudfield got free down the left and pulled a cross back to Alexander whose fatal hesitation resulted in him being closed down and screwing an impossible shot well wide. This was enough for some of the City, err, “support” to now get on Alexander’s back with a tirade of heckling and name-calling rarely witnessed since, well, since Saturday. Gary’s head dropped. If it had’ve dropped any further, it would’ve dropped off. After 53 minutes Bradshaw was stripped and ready for action – surely Molby would spare Alexander the torture of playing towards the City fans that were baying for his blood and calling him a “fat bastard”. No, the Dane – cocooned in his soundproof dugout for the full 90 minutes – withdrew the nippy Johnson and left poor Alexander to plough an increasingly morose furrow at the spearhead of the City attack. Bradshaw on, surely the message to be relayed was to play the ball on the deck. Nope. Clearance after clearance was hoofed up to the little striker, who battled vainly to win headers while giving away ten inches to centre back Lee. This dumb tactic persisted even after Alexander was later withdrawn and the similarly squat Williams (Ryan) was introduced. Cretinous? Yes. Whose fault? I’ll come to that. On 62 minutes a left wing Pools corner (their 117th of the game, or so it seemed) was cleared back to the taker, and as he whipped in a second cross the City defence appeared to consider their work already complete and the grateful Watson stole in at the back post to convert a routine header. Once again the attempt was blocked by Glennon, and once again it fell unfortunately at the feet of the striker who tapped home from eighteen inches or so. Double bad luck for Glennon, who played OK in this match. Within four minutes Watson had again carved out a gilt-edged opening, charging down a clearance that fell to Smith, whose shot was skied horribly. By now Pools knew they had the points in the bag and eased up, while City realised they were chuffing awful, and also eased up. In one moment of passion Ashbee dished out retribution in a manner that contravened the laws of the game for a late tackle perpetrated on him seconds earlier, and the competent referee made a note of his particulars. One bright moment saw Keates play a decent through ball (a collector’s item from the stumpy ex-Saddler) to Dudfield whose left wing cross was arced towards Bradshaw, but the Pools defender just got a toe in first as Gary shaped to clip his shot goalwards. With ten minutes to go the game had fizzled out completely. Many City fans went home, and the Pools fans inquired as to whether this could become a more regular weekly fixture rather than the current twice a season. I could see their point. Watson finished the game’s action in the 89th minute with a lovely lob from 20 yards that landed on the roof of the net. The ref blew his whistle two and a bit minutes into the four minutes of added time indicated – an act of mercy, methinks. It is clear that individuals are not performing to expectation. Ashbee was poor today, Green was worse apart from the ten minute purple patch in the first half, just prior to Pools’ goal. Petty played like a man scared of his own supporters in the first half and perked up in the second, but it is questionable as to whether he is really any good, although it is hard to fault his willingness to run around. Regan was OK. Keates made his debut today, and I don’t think it unfair to confide that I sincerely hope his first City match is also his last. He couldn’t pass, couldn’t defend and couldn’t mark. He’s five foot five so he doesn’t possess an aerial threat. I can’t understand what he’s FOR – he is a shorter Craig Lawford. But, sweet reader, I lay the real blame at the feet of our manager. I honestly don’t think he has a clue what he trying to achieve at the moment. He has it in his mind that an attacking 4-3-3 formation is a good thing, yet he is incapable of instilling into his players (and they are HIS players in the main) the necessary mobility and flexibility to make it work. He is trying to make the players fit the system, rather than choosing a system that suits the players. Thus we play with three static forwards that fail to interchange, three static midfielders who take as little responsibility as possible and four defenders who struggle manfully to plug the breaches that occur. We seem to be playing Subbuteo tactics with real life players, in stark contrast to the mobile interchanging style of play that Hartlepool employed today to devastating effect. No one wants to take charge, no one wants to organise, no one wants to succeed above all else. Five games in we have a squad of players that appears almost to a man demoralised, and a manager who changes formations and teams with alarming regularity. Molby is incapable of motivating his players to perform to the required standard for the third division. Games in hand and points deductions aside, we are bottom of the league. My view is that Molby continues to be an abject failure, and could be no more than three games away from the sack. I don’t say “Molby out” because I want him to succeed, but the state of affairs can’t be allowed to persist and the manager must take the ultimate blame if this slump continues much longer. And judging by Adam Pearson’s head-in-hands display as he left the Victoria Park directors’ box today, I think our chairman might be of like mind to me.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Petty, Whittle, Anderson, Regan, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Dudfield, Alexander, Johnson. Subs: Bradshaw (for Johnson, 54), Williams (for Alexander, 69), Musselwhite, Greaves, MorrisonGoals: noneBooked: Ashbee, PettySent Off: None HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Williams A, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Robinson, Clarke, Tinkler, Humphreys, Smith, Watson, Williams E. Subs: Arnison (for Barron, 58), Widdrington (for Smith, 79), Boyd (for Williams E, 82), Provett, Henderson Goals: Williams E 32, Watson 63 Booked: Williams E Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 4,236|
|The Tigers return to winning ways against plucky non-Leaguers made-good Boston. Not a vintage performance, but a triumph of skill over aggression. Mark Gretton, like City, gets the job done.|
|Stacks of goal mouth action, end-to-end excitement, incisive yet flowing football and a passionate crowd roaring as their favourites strive to crush the opposition – this match had none of it. That would be the Lincoln game and a treat it was too. But this one also differed from that one in the important respect that this one we won whilst that one, though we dominated with a ruthlessness that would have impressed Cynthia Payne, we didn’t. For those with other things to do, that’s as much as you really need to know. There isn’t a lot of football to tell you about, indeed, as those stood nearby realised that your correspondent was charged with reporting on the proceedings they laughed heartily at his increasing desperation as he waited for something, anything, that might be entered into the match reporters Blue whale embryo-hide bound notebook. It never really did happen, but we won anyway and for that much thanks.Doing just about enough were:
Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Melton Keates Branch Alexander
So no start for Marc Joseph but Steve Melton got a go in a midfield that was more fluid than stated on the screen, with only Ashbee in a genuine holding role with Green, Melton and Keates willing to interchange. Ah, Boston. They are as limited a side as I’ve seen for some time, which says an awful lot and none of it good. Think Hednesford and Hayes and you’ll get a pretty good idea. Bostonians must look north west to Sincil Bank with more than a feeling of inferiority – compared to this lot their Lincoln neighbours are football purists. They included ex-tiger pretty boy Matty Hocking in their defence, a player who was always marked out by his poise rather than his brute force. At the final whistle Hocking applauded his fans and then came over and similarly clapped the Kempton. Nice, polite lad, Matty. He must wonder what the hell he’s doing at Boston. And we got wind of their chosen approach in the first couple of minutes, as one of theirs thundered through the back of Carl Regan, fortunately causing no apparent damage and fortunate to not even concede a free kick. It was immediately clear that we were the stronger in terms of ability and class, but they had a muscular desire to knock us out of our stride that we struggled with all afternoon. This meant a poor first 20 minutes when, frankly, nothing happened other than a rare Bost foray producing a whipped in cross that was headed over. I longed for it to rise to the heights of being largely formless. Still, Branch and Alexander were working hard though seeing little of the ball and our cleverest midfielders Green and Melton did combine well to provide what should have been a shooting opportunity but wasn’t as possession was lost on the edge of the area. A few speculative crosses from Regan were well-claimed by their keeper Bastock in front of the North Stand visitors and that was as much as we got before half-time. Boston had created even less, but had spoiled effectively by standing firm at the back and kicking stoutly at ball or player as either came within range, a steady stream of yellow cards punctuating this endeavour. Half-time couldn’t come soon enough and it didn’t. Second half and Boston showed commendable enterprise as they got within 40 yards of our goal, clueless number 18 Elding found the ball dropping neatly on to his right boot and he essayed a volley that went for a throw in. Cue much Kemptonian mirth, the Boston fans looking on silently from under foreheads so low they ought to have featured warning signs. We perhaps should have stayed in the pub. We’d been enjoying one of those philosophical debates over a pint as to what you would do if you were waiting in one evening knowing that Denise Lewis, Ashia Hansen and Jade Johnson were due to visit to seek your guidance on their various jump techniques when you get a knock on the door and who should have turned up unexpectedly but Gail Devers, coyly requesting you help her get her leading leg over more efficiently. We never got to conclude this one as a most surprising thing had happened on the TV, a Newcastle player had sent over a simple cross from wide on the left and Fabien Barthez, deputising for former Hull City star Roy Carroll, decide to execute a piece of French mime. Now French mime is widely and correctly derided as the most risible, tedious and pointless ‘art form’ in the world, but it was curiously welcome here as Barthez chose to depict ‘Man waving goodbye to his wife as she departs on an aeroplane to a better life without me, I am so sad, boo-hoo-hoo’ rather than catching the ball as a less experienced keeper might have been tempted to do. Consequently the miss hit ball directed far too close to him scudded over his shiny bonce and nestled into the top corner as he waved his arms and bent his body mystifyingly. ‘We’ll not see that again in a hurry’ we thought and we were right, it was getting towards four hours later that Delaney picked up the ball after yet another City move had broken down, misdirected the cross and let Bastock screw it up from there as he waved it into his top corner. Truly it is a funny game. The referee could have stopped it then as it was obvious that Boston had nothing that was going to pull the game back. It would have been nice had we cuffed them after this, but, a Branch cross that Green headed over apart, we suffered still from a lack of width causing us to founder on the grim Bost defence. But there was more excitement, of a sort. McCarthy was late on Branch, Branch kicked McCarthy, McCarthy punched Branch, the referee booked Branch and then sent off McCarthy. I think McCarthy may have already had a card, most of them had, but it probably merited a straight red anyway. They say it’s easier to play with 10 than 11, making you wonder why teams don’t try and steal a march by starting with 10 and then going down to 9 or 8 to really ram home their advantage. It would be stretching it to say the game came alive, but at least some of the torpor was shed as Boston tried to open it up a tad. As they ground their way forward we got a bit more space and Green lashed an excellent shot goalwards that was well saved from a corner, Regan spooned one over from a decent move and Green again crossed dangerously but wide. Another fairly desultory passing move, of the kind we had been producing all afternoon suddenly then caught fire as Green found Elliott (on for Branch) and the substitute’s shot was again well saved. The unthinkable almost happened after an hour as the visitors chugged forwards, we stood off politely and they got in a rather good shot that Musselwhite, in the spirit that goal keepers were exhibiting all afternoon, let go as it caromed against a combination of upright and bar and out again to a more tame follow up which the Muss this time claimed. It was as good as it got for the small time small towners on their day out in the big city. Alexander was replaced by Jevons and we finished in the ascendancy, Green becoming more influential as he crossed for Ashbee to shoot over before both players were then involved in our only really good move of the match. Passes strung together effectively got the ball forward rapidly to Jevons who finished clinically only to see the linesman flag tardily. A pity. And that was that. As I said, we needed the win and we got it. Hard to say a lot more than that. Melton gave the sort of vaguely encouraging performance that gets nice things said about you if it is during the first couple of games but gets you moaned at for not going after the ball more if you are still doing it after half a dozen games. He looks a ball player, rather than a ball winner which I understood to be what Taylor thought we needed, but of course it’s too early to judge fairly. A poor game and desperate opposition, completely devoid of class. In terms of energy and effort and brutality, though, they were as tough as you’d want to meet and, consulting the league table, they would appear to have been too strong for five teams already this season. Beating then is not a negligible accomplishment and if the manager is able to produce a team of fancy dans who can do the hard yards when needed, then he will have done much.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Alexander, Branch. Subs: Elliott (for Branch, 58), Jevons (for Alexander, 71), Burton, Joseph, Deeney.Goals: Delaney 49 Booked: Branch, Elliott, Whittle Sent Off: None BOSTON UNITED: Bastock, Hocking, McCarthy, Warburton, Chapman, Thompson, Costello, Higgins, Angel, Battersby, Elding. Subs: Douglas (for Elding, 67), Cook (for Battersby, 85), Conroy, Redfearn, Weatherstone. Goals: None Booked: Chapman, Elding, Thompson, McCarthy Sent Off: McCarthy ATTENDANCE: 9,460|
|Steve Weatherill reports on another season opener that promised much, but ended in disappointment|
|And how was your Summer of Sport? So many thrilling moments of splendour, etching the memory like diamond on speckled slate. The World Cup – the sight of a million and more jubilant Koreans thronging Seoul’s City Square like a lava flow of molten red or, on the pitch, the resurgent genius of Ronaldo, the breathtaking delicacy of the Borghetti bonce, or the fluidity of that gorgeous Turkish midfield. Cricket – the faultless stroke-making of Marcus Trescothick and, you know, at one stage I do believe I spied a Yorkshire bowler who wasn’t injured. Wimbledon, and the heartache of a nation discovering to general astonishment that Tim Henman would get turfed out of the tournament just as soon as he ran across someone who didn’t treat grass as a giraffe would the polar ice-sheet. The Commonweath Games, and the extraordinary feats of Ian Thorpe, the unstoppable front-running of dainty Paula Radcliffe and those mesmerising tiny shiny yellow skirts favoured by the victorious Australian netball team. And always looming on the misty horizon was the shrill bell that would awaken us from our reverie and send us trudging back to our daily bread.Southend at home was the uninspiring verdict of the fixture list, and now season 2002/03 is under way and … well! how about that!… so far it looks remarkably similar to season 2001/02. Bright and lively at the beginning, brimming with flair and promise, only to deteriorate messily and ultimately to deliver horrid disappointment. City led twice, Southend equalised twice, on the second occasion as the game laboured through the three minutes added on at the end of the ninety for the sole purpose of torturing the anguished home support. Meet the new boss ….
Mr Molby is touted as a devout 4-3-3 man, but the starting line-up looked more nuanced that that from where I was standing:
Glennon Edwards Strong Anderson Smith Ashbee Greaves Green Williams Elliott Dudfield
A diamond formation, if you like: Green played directly behind Dudfield, with Williams and Elliott operating consistently close to the touch-line, while the burly Ashbee and the fit-again Greaves performed the holding job in the centre of the pitch, a role that was our most obvious (but far from only) omission from last season’s tactical thinking. The positive elements to take from yesterday’s game? The attack. Dudfield, Elliott and Green were all excellent and, since we have injured bludgeon Gary Alexander to restore to the side sooner rather later, yesterday’s evidence provided a strong case that we will score a lot of goals this campaign and that we will do so on a rising tide of flowing, attractive football. Young Green, on a season’s loan from Newcastle, is a remarkably intelligent footballer. He passes well and, off the ball, he moves into space with a guileful awareness which far surpasses most of what we’ve had to endure from this Division’s midfield hammer-throwers in recent seasons. File under “let’s hope we don’t drag him down to our level”. Elliott is a splendid accomplice. He is fast, sharp-thinking and confident on the ball. He too looks a cut above the normal drudgery of this Division, and his wing-play should terrorise defences this season. And though you would be entitled to comment wryly that much the same was being breathlessly said of Beresford this time last year, I get the strong impression that Elliott is a much more complete footballer than could ever have been imagined of that departed one-trick pony speed merchant. Of Dudfield we know plenty already, and I am glad to be able to report that yesterday Lawrie revelled in this sparklingly fluent environment by producing the brand of trickily elegant football that in the course of the first half of last season stamped him as our most skilful non-Jamaican player since Garry Parker. The negative elements to take from yesterday’s game? The defence. Smith, Anderson, Strong and Edwards all had disappointing games on an individual level – I list them in order from “most” to “least” in the hierarchy of disappointment – and, furthermore, at no stage did they look convincing as a unit. Southend were allowed far too much room to devise attacking options, even deep inside the final third of the pitch. Smith, in particular, rarely seemed positionally alert and far too many Southend advances were carried unopposed deep down his flank. Strong and Anderson look ugly, as all true central defenders must, but their play is too restrained for my liking. Curdle my blood with your challenges if you please, gentlemen. Well, off we went, on the sunny afternoon that is the prerogative of the first day of any season, and a pleasingly lively opening to the fun was crowned by a very fine Tiger goal, rippling the North Stand net. Dudfield won the ball with a vigorous challenge and promptly released a superbly weighted pass into the box where Scott Green, sprinting forward on a run that was delightfully judged and quite enough to elude Southend’s baffled cover, converted the chance crisply with an accurate shot into the far corner from twelve or so yards out. A crowd of over 10,000, all but 300 of amber and black fidelity, roared, and settled back for more of the same. And there was more. A neat interchange between Dudfield and Williams provided space for the latter to dart clear of the visitors’ lumbering back-line – Cort and Phil Whelan? Built for speed they aren’t. Elliott cleverly pulled another defender away from the danger area with a nippy run off-the-ball, allowing Ryan space for a good shooting chance, but he rolled his shot the wrong side of the near post. Then a defensive mis-header invited Dudfield to shoot, but his low effort was saved by the competent Shrimp netman, Flahavan. The absence of comedy keeper Mel Capleton was one of several issues on which stubborn Southend refused to provide us with maximum entertainment value yesterday. Things got a bit silly for a while. A tackle which nowadays has players and fans howling “Two-footed! Over the ball!” sent a Tiger to the turf, whereupon several of our team surrounded the offender and jostled him. More Southend players scurried up, so did more of City’s, and soon enough most of the players on the pitch were performing the ritual “don’t you shove me like a tart, or I’ll shove you back like a slightly bigger tart”. I mean, I love watching this sort of daft melee, but, honestly, the tackle in question wouldn’t even have been treated as a foul back in the days of Duncan Forbes and Eddie Colquhoun. Nobody was hurt, either from tackle or subsequent pastiche posturing, but the referee, a small man with a moustache (where DO such people acquire their fashion ideas?), was in a blind panic, and simply whipped out his yellow card and brandished it in the face of – as far as I could see – four of their players, seventeen of ours, both linesmen, several St John’s Ambulance men, and the apprentice sweeping up the off-cuts of pig from the floor of Imison’s top-notch butchers over on Boothferry Road. In fact, further pointless yellow cards followed as the half proceeded to do anything but boil over. It was a sorry case of a referee hopelessly out of his depth, and it would have taken a brave man to express the view that we would not be seeing red before the game was complete. No such bravery was forthcoming and, as we would later discover, wisely so. Still, we continued to go forward with enthusiasm as a subdued Southend side looked likely to accept that Hull away on the first day of the season was best written-off as a solid no-pointer. Elliott impressed throughout down the left. He’s not a big lad but has an enviable capacity to bring down high passes from forehead to boot and then unhesitatingly to savage his nearest opponent. Dudfield too was in lively form, and he duly produced a spectacularly brilliant chipped pass into space for Green to race past the hapless visiting rearguard and thump a shot just past the angle of post and crossbar. Dudfield looks a little like Denis Bergkamp; this was a moment of sublime skill of which the transportationally challenged Dutchman would have been proud. Two minutes later Green repaid the favour with a cute pass that Dudfield slipped just wide. And so we hold a 1-0 lead at the break, and we had created pretty much all of the proper chances throughout that first 45. Defensively there had been occasional moments of alarm, the majority of which had arisen down the flank defended unconvincingly by Smith, but Southend had rarely looked capable of taking advantage of any scraps that had come their way. And so the complete alteration in the mood of the match came as a considerable surprise. We trotted out for the second half and never re-captured the confident swagger of what had so encouragingly gone before. Southend began slowly to assert themselves and, visibly puzzled as to just why they were enjoying so much quality possession, nevertheless found themselves playing with the air of a side that has thrust upon it the realisation that, after all, defeat is not inevitable. And so had the balance shifted. Time and time again Rawls, the lean number 11, was able to receive the ball in an advanced position, control it and look for the next man to pass to. Why weren’t our central defenders treating him more aggressively, not to say brutally? Graeme Jones looks like a striker in his final season as a professional but even he was enjoying far too much freedom deep inside our half. Defensively we looked ragged; the deep-lying midfield duo was less prominent than in the first period, with Ashbee, in particular, supplying a hot-and-cold first half/second half display. Southend levelled from a corner which was only half-cleared, nudged feebly to the back of the box. One of theirs controlled the ball, slipped inside and stroked a chip high over Glennon and just underneath the bar. From where I was standing in Kempton, it was a deliberate attempt on goal, not a cross that drifted crazily off course, and a reward for audacious skill. As the thread of the game had drifted out of our hands, it had been surprising to see no subs warming up, but happily that equalising goal acted as a cold shower to our team, and we started to play properly again. Smith knocked a well-judged long ball down the left side to Elliott, who squared to Green; a toe-poked shot flew just over the bar. Then Green surged through the midfield and released a delightful ball into the path of Elliott, advancing towards the edge of the box with a narrow window of freedom from defensive attention. But Southend were rapidly covering the gap so Elliott had only a brief opportunity to craft an attempt on goal. It was quite enough. A confident sidefooted shot slid cleanly over the turf, past Flahavan’s groping left hand and just inside the far post. 2-1. Elliott celebrated a delightful moment of exuberant vision by standing in front of Kempton and pointing up to the heavens. He is, I understand, a committed Christian and this was therefore his method of indicating to us that this was the first City goal that should be credited to the Lord since October 1978. Southend still fancied their chances, and came close when a delicate chip left Glennon rooted glumly to the spot, only for the ball to fall just beyond the crossbar. Our goalkeeper looks as chubby this season as last, and his mobility would surely be improved were he to lose half-a-stone or so. Meanwhile the sleek Dudfield found space up at the other end, and belted a left foot shot just too high. We were worth our lead by virtue of the attacking imagination displayed during the first half in particular, but the margin for error was narrow. Narrower still once Ashbee was sent off. It was another innocuous foul but of the silly type that the referee, now on to his fourteenth biro and fifty-fourth emergency supplementary notebook, had been punishing with yellow all afternoon long, and Ashbee walked. Dudfield teed up a shot for Elliott, which was struck over the bar. Philpott replaced Williams. And we were into the last couple of minutes. And then ninety was up and there were three minutes extra. And you knew what was going to happen. Our ten men crowded behind the ball, allowing Southend to compress the pattern of play exactly where they wanted it, deep inside the territory we were protecting. The entire Tiger team was all-too-readily penned into its own penalty area and when a weak Philpott header fell to Bramble, he had no hesitation about whipping in a fiercely struck shot. It was swerving well wide but cannoned into a limb ten yards from goal and the ricochet sent the ball spinning into the back of our net, with Glennon hopelessly wrong-footed by the deflection. There was, however, nothing lucky about that Southend equaliser. They took the chance presented by our witless decision to cram so many bodies into the area closest to our goal, instead of keeping Tiger players upfield who are, after all, eminently capable of taking and keeping the ball in order to run down the clock. When Bramble shot into that penalty box maelstrom, he knew he was more likely than not to gain a generous deflection. I’m looking forward to enjoying our attacking flair this season, and the speed of its delivery may make us even better value on the counter-punch away from Hull than on our own home pitches. But did I mention that our defence needs sorting out?
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Greaves, Williams, Dudfield, Elliott. Subs: Philpott (for Williams, 89), Price, Musselwhite, Whittle, BradshawGoals: Green 8, Elliott 68Booked: Ashbee, Smith, Strong, WilliamsSent Off: Ashbee SOUTHEND UNITED: Flahavan, Broad, Cort, Whelan, Searle, Clark, Maher, Selley, Jenkins, Rawle, Jones. Subs: Bramble (for Clark, 73), Thurgood (for Broad, 80), Gay, Belgrave, Beard Goals: Jenkins 62, Bramble 90 Booked: Broad, Jones, Maher, Selley, Whelan Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 10,449|