Hull City 6 Birmingham City 1
Hull City six. But it would be no less apt to have written “Hull City sex”. For this at times was as close to the genuine article as you could get: it was proper pulse-accelerating, breath-shortening, cheek-flushing, pupil-dilating (that’s enough: Listmeister) stuff.
Granted, it wasn’t the finished article and there’s clearly work to do – if all else fails when the transfer window next opens – with the defence (and a special mention here for the Blues’ late consolation, the defending for which would have graced a Laurel and Hardy film) but overall yesterday’s performance represented an immense improvement on recent home showings, in a fixture which had all the makings of a real banana skin against an opposition who had done much better than us in recent weeks and to my eyes were not as hopelessly poor as many have suggested. Particularly pleasing was the fact that City performed over the full 90 minutes, to which the scoring of three goals in each half bears witness, along with the emergence of clear indications that our hastily and tardily assembled squad is now showing signs of developing a shape and understanding.
Slutsky did observe rather pointedly a couple of weeks or so ago that he was effectively still in pre-season mode and that the team would not be functioning as he wanted until October, so was yesterday a sign that things are coming together as the manager said they would? Well, I guess that we’ll know the answer to that by the time the Forest game in four weeks’ time comes to an end, but at least for now we can enter the pivotal month of October, when the season is well and truly into its grind phase and the League table starts to take a bit of shape, with more cause for optimism than we dared have imagined after a decidedly underwhelming September, to put it mildly, to date.
Of course, and whilst not deliberately setting out to pour cold water on what will prove to be a memorable afternoon, the Slut might well have it all to do again in a couple of months as anybody who might command a fee to swell the Allam coffers is offloaded in the next window. I mean, come on, there are some gullible and naive individuals following Hull City, but does anyone seriously believe that Bowen’s new contract has been put in place for any reason other than to increase the fee for which we can sell him? Is anyone still that trusting of Ehab?
That’s enough negativity for now. The only thing that looked on the wane yesterday was the weather, with the fine, perfect-for-football conditions that prevailed at lunchtime steadily giving way to autumnal gloom as the afternoon progressed, none of which dampened the purpose or tempo of our play or the delight of the majority of the 13,000 or so (officially 15,608, yeah right) who saw City line up sort of as follows:-
Aina Dawson Hector Clark
Larsson Meyler Toral
Subs: Henriksen (for Toral, 68 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 68 min), Weir (for Bowen, 81 min)
And so off we go with City attacking the North Stand and “attacking” being the operative word, as we show a pleasing tempo and purpose right from the off and monopolise possession in the early stages, albeit with a little less assurance when the back line have the leather than in the days of those lengthy backwards-and-sideways periods of possession so beloved of Steve Bruce. And barely have we settled down when we have the lead. Meyler gets a foot in to block a Birmingham pass in midfield and the ball breaks towards the Brum goal. Campbell, showing alertness and anticipation that would be a lesson to any aspiring striker, is onto it before the defence realise what’s happening and romps away to slide the leather under the advancing Kuszczak.
There are seven on the clock, and by the time it reaches ten we have doubled the lead. Campbell turns instigator, chasing a loose ball to the by-line and going to ground under the challenge of Nsue. Referee Duncan unhesitatingly points to the spot. Nsue doesn’t look too pleased and you have to say it was a bit soft: Fraizer took his tumble much too easily. But hey-ho, that’s football, and Meyler gets his reward for setting up the first goal by firmly and accurately planting the leather to Kuszczak’s right.
As is often the case when sides go two down, the Blues rally for a while, and to be honest our defence still does not look massively comfortable, with Birmingham having too much space to play in, especially the wide men, and we have to be grateful for the fact that they really aren’t very good at crossing; arguably worse even than Elmo. You do feel, though, that the next score is going to be crucial, a feeling hammered home on 14 minutes when Campbell really ought to have done better with a free header from the excellent Grosicki’s cross, but the striker’s instinct that he showed when scoring deserts him, and he looks more like the kid at school who’s always last to be picked, heading the ball over the bar with the top of his head and very probably with his eyes tight shut.
So we go back to defending alarmingly, Hector living up to the reputation of his cartoon namesake (ask your dad, anyone under about 50) by failing to cover properly and he and Dawson both guilty of giving the leather away when under no pressure. We’ve thrown away leads to teams much more inept than this Brum outfit and this is a testing time for the nerves of the City support.
Until Jarrod Bowen rides to the rescue on 26 minutes. receiving the leather in the inside right channel from Aina and firing low from outside the box just inside Kuszczak’s left-hand post. All the more impressive for being a goal out of nothing. The away support, maybe 1,000 strong and defiantly boisterous, must now know how we felt at Derby. it’s hard to see how we’re going to hang onto this admirable young talent, and i was about to observe at this juncture that maybe we have to resign ourselves to his departure in three months’ time and just hope that he attracts the attention of the type of Premier League outfit that has more money than sense, before remembering that it matters not one jot to us, since any revenues will ultimately be spent on Lamborghinis or yachts, with maybe a loanee to replace Bowen an hour before the end of the transfer window if we are lucky.
For now, though, we are rampant, and after a Birmingham foray on 29 which forces McGregor into a save from Dean, Grosicki, enjoying himself enormously (and, it has to be said, instilling a bit of confidence into young Clark, deputising for the injured Kingsley, in the process) goes on a tremendous run before cutting inside and rifling in a low drive, saved by the custodian. Two minutes later and Turbo is at it again, curling one just over.
The last ten minutes of the half are rather formless, although we survive a scare when McGregor has to charge out of the box to block an attack. Otherwise we see the half out. What was noticeable though as the ref draws the first half for a close was the decidedly reserved ovation that the team received as they trooped off. Under normal circumstances, a City side 3-0 up would be cheered to the rafters at the interval, and the fact that they weren’t really yesterday was another example of how the antics of the owners have relentlessly dampened the zest and fervour of the Tiger Nation. it wasn’t much better at the end.
During the half-time interval, a massive roar is heard from the concourse. What could it be? Leeds losing? No, they weren’t playing. Ehab has fallen off the West Stand balcony and been savaged by a police dog? No chance: he was as usual nowhere to be seen. Maguire, Clucas, Jakupovic and Huddlestone have come onto the pitch, pledged their undying and eternal allegiance to Hull City and begged forgiveness from the fans for even harbouring thoughts of playing for any other club? Not really. Apparently some cove had won the crossbar challenge and relieved Deano of £20 in the process.
Anyway, we’re off again, the Tiger Nation wondering if it’s going to be 5-0 or 3-3, and for a while early on we are a bit under the cosh, outgoing Birmingham temporary manager Carsley no doubt having reassured his charges that there are still goals in this for them. Clearly, though, Mr Slutsky, for his part, has had words with his defence at the interval and Hector in particular has a better half, making a couple of vital blocks. We do have a real let-off though about 20 minutes into the half when Vassell nips in behind a flat-footed City rearguard to connect with a cross, but somehow manages to put his header wide when he really ought to have scored. Evidence, though, that it’s going to be our day, perhaps.
By now most of the game is being played out in their half, but we seem quite content not to take any risks. We win a couple of free kicks but too far out for Larsson to have a go. This all changes though with the double substitution on 68 minutes: not so much the replacement of the much-improved Toral with Henriksen, but more the subbing of Campbell, who seemed to have taken some sort of knock, with Dicko. It seems that the ex-Wolf has taken to the field with instructions from the manager to up the attacking tempo – quite possibly because Slutsky could see more goals in the game for City too – and if true it had the desired effect almost immediately, as Dicko picks up the leather from a City break, cuts inside and hares off towards the Birmingham goals. As he reaches the box he’s crowded out by a brace of defenders, but the leather runs loose in the direction of two City men, the first of whom is Grosicki, who without breaking his stride cracks it fiercely into the bottom corner to make it 4-0. Just reward for an impressive performance.
The game is settled now, but we’re not done yet, and indeed the move of the match on 76 minutes brings a fifth for City. Henriksen starts the move, Meyler and Larsson combine and feed it back to Henriksen, who has continued his run into the box and slides home. Sumptuous football, absolutely sumptuous. If Barcelona had scored that goal the pundits would have been purring. If Chelsea or Man City had scored it it would have been shown in every Sky Sports ad break and trailer till kingdom come.
Amidst a background of increasing rancour in the North-East corner, with the Brummies getting a touch feisty and missiles being visible on their passage from one encampment to the other as the police and stewards intervene (apparently they went for a gallop round the hockey pitches as well after the game) Vassell again goes close, steering the leather low past McGregor only for it to come back off the post.
But it would only have been a consolation at this stage, and after Grosicki sees his free kick pouched by Kuszczak with five left the despondency in the beleaguered visiting defence is laid bare when none of them bother to track Larsson, who runs unchallenged onto a fine cross from Grosicki following another silky passing move, and pokes the leather under the exposed Kuszczak.
The ref signals three minutes’ injury time, and in the first of those minutes Brum finally get the consolation goal that only the hardest of hearts would have denied them for their endeavour. Again Vassell is behind the danger. His low shot is kept out by McGregor’s outstretched right foot, it arcs up into the darkening sky and is headed, none-too powerfully, towards the corner of the goal by Gallagher who is following up. Gregsy has got back to his feet by now and – judging by the TV footage – looks likely to make the block……until Dawson sticks out a foot and the leather ricochets off it at a wicked angle – as a cricket ball might do if played with the wrong side of the bat – into the centre of the goal. Surprisingly Gallagher is credited with the goal, because it was a clear miskick by Dawson and it probably would not have resulted in a goal without his intervention.
“How shit must you be, we’ve scored a goal” yelled the away fans. “How shit must you be, we scored it for you”, chorus the North Stand faithful.
Nothing else of incident occurs, the victorious Tigers troop off to that same oddly-restrained applause and Slutsky delivers his trademark bow. We should be as pleased for him as anybody, not least because Peter Swan’s idle speculation in the HDM this week over how long Slutsky would last was frankly disgraceful. Our manager has not just had his hands tied behind his back by the Allams, he’s had his legs shackled, a ball and chain attached to his ankle, duct tape slapped over his chops and a hood made of blackout curtaining tied over his head, and is still expected to produce credible performances. Well, yesterday’s showing was two fingers in Swanny’s face, and no mistake: let’s hope he has the self-awareness to understand that.
But it would be wrong to end such a fine Tigerday on such a negative note, so it’s pleasing to report closure on a personal matter that’s been bugging me for over 50 years. For it was in September 1967 that Birmingham showed us our arses to the tune of 6-2, when I was a City fan of some eight months’ experience. By an odd coincidence six different players – Fred Pickering, Geoff Vowden. Barry Bridges, Johnny Vincent, Malcolm Beard and Bert Murray (Brum had some bloody good players in those days) – found the net for them that night. Nowadays we would shrug off such reverses, but when you’re seven a loss like that pierces your heart and the hurt can never quite be shrugged off. Today though I have peace of mind.
La Nuvola Nera