Hull City 1 Bury 1

Steve Weatherill reports as the Tigers continue their unwanted habit of tossing away a lead against limited opposition.
Another bad one, I’m afraid. We weren’t too shabby in the first half and took a deserved lead; we were pretty ragged in the second and found ourselves deservedly pegged back by the visitors. Bury were a hard-working side and no more, but that is quite sufficient at present to rein in Molby’s men. Again, you would have to be a profound optimist to consider that things are shaping up nicely for version 2002/03 of the Tigers, or even shaping up at all. So perhaps we can be sensibly encouraged to stick to being mere realists and accept that that it’s only August yet. And – bright side seekers – we finished with a full complement of eleven men yesterday. Justin Whittle was mercifully back in the starting line-up, though Dudfield was excluded from it, and, with Elliott injured, Morison, our loanee from Sheffield Wednesday, stepped into the left side role. But expectations that Mr Molby would persevere with his favoured 4-3-3(-ish) proved ill-founded. We carded a no-nonsense 4-4-2:

Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Petty Green Greaves Morison Johnson Alexander

However, it wasn’t quite time for the football, and – wonder of wonders, I kid you not – out trotted the Reverend Allen Bagshawe, for some characteristically witless words, and then the ground fell silent. And so the preening self-importance of football took another loathsome lurch into infamy as it arrogantly paraded the bathetic triviality of a few seconds of silence before an insignificant sports event as a tribute to poor children “the nation” never even knew existed before their death. It is a wicked war of exploitation in which I cannot grasp why football would choose so callously to ally itself to the media’s glutinous confectionery of commercialised grief over deaths they deem to lie at the summit of newsworthiness in pursuit of nothing other than extra profit (“we care! Buy our paper! More about their favourite toys! Buy our paper! WE CARE!! OUR REWARD IS BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER, GRIEVE WITH US AND WIN PRIZES!!!”). Time for some football, I think, but not until Johnson had been yellow-carded for a two-footed tackle of the type that seems inevitably to be punished these days even though the challenge was well-timed, won the ball and did not inflict even a scratch on the Bur. Johnson was back in action shortly afterwards, craftily going to ground all too easily on the edge of the box and winning an undeserved free kick from the clean-shaven referee. The ill-gotten free kick was wastefully scooped high over the bar by Stuart Green. Smith, signed for his dead ball skills, looked on disconsolately, hands on hips. It was modestly lively fare, though neither side offered much in the final third. The incidents that did involve interest in the goalmouths were largely at the North Stand end attacked by City. Mid-way through the half Alexander set up Johnson for a shot that was blocked and then, a minute later, “Jack” Regan strode forward and smashed a viciously swerving 25-yard shot just over the bar. At this stage Regan’s willingness to bring the ball forward was pleasing, though he was hindered by playing just behind Petty, who was generally loitering far too deep and simply looked positionally ill-suited to the right-side role in midfield. Elsewhere, Morison, though demonstrably no Elliott, looked deft on the ball but lightweight and, perhaps, less than fully match-fit, while Green was enjoying a confident spell of intelligent passing and moving. The muscular Johnson was a more likely scorer than his out-of-sorts partner Gary Alexander and, round about the half hour, the Leeds loanee put us ahead. And a strange sort of goal it was. Johnson seemed likely to be beaten to a hopeful through ball by Bury keeper Garner, but he slid into a challenge on his knees, as if intent on setting up a rolling maul of the type feared by quivering visitors to the High Veldt charged with the lonely task of taking on the Springboks, but he emerged to regain his feet and find the ball becalmed at his feet, with Garner rucked aside. Johnson composed himself and raked a shot into the open goal from a narrow angle before any defenders could rush back to cover, and, perhaps to his surprise, glanced at the referee to discover that the goal had been given. Bury, it should be said, had little heart for a protest, so perhaps the goal looked more dubious than it really was when observed from my distant eyrie in Kempton. Green now got himself booked, albeit a shade harshly, as Bury, deprived of Plan A, the “Defend for a 0-0” option, roused themselves and kicked on into Plan B, “Exploit their left-back”. Smith duly lost the ball carelessly and a pacy attack was halted only by a perfectly timed challenge on the edge of the box from Justin Whittle, in front of an appreciative Bunkers. Shortly afterwards it was Regan’s turn to squander possession and on this occasion it was a delicate defensive header by Anderson that protected us from a dangerous cross. Both centre-backs looked the part, and they shepherded us through to the sanctuary of half-time and a 1-0 lead. It was thus far an adequate display, no more, but it was the best we were going to get. Bury bossed it once the game re-started. For ten or so minutes we were chasing possession in vain as the visitors passed the ball around with disconcerting comfort. The sum total of serious efforts of goal was zero, and Glennon pouched a patter of feeble crosses calmly enough, but the impression was that our team had, yet again, let its collective mind drift away from the job at hand. On this occasion, Mr Molby wasn’t slow to act. Morison had just enjoyed his best moment of the match, a decent little jinking run and swerving shot that was well held by Garner, but he now came off for Price. I’d guess Morison had been told he’d get an hour, no more, until his fitness is topped-up. Johnson, who had faded in the second period but had still easily out-performed Alexander, was replaced by Dudfield, and our display briefly perked up. A penalty box melee in front of Bunkers; Dudfield chips the ball up for Alexander’s craning forehead; just wide … corner claimed, duly refused. A lung-bursting run by Green; a back-pass, a hoof clear by Garner. Just as we seemed to have grappled control of the pattern of play back from Bury, they equalised. It is, perhaps, the iron rule of lower Division football – you score most readily when you’re under pressure at the other end. Something to do with defensive dis-organisation? It was a messy goal, with a deflection or two involved, perhaps a wretchedly unpredictable squirt off a surface now moistened by rain that had begun to fall just after 4 o’clock, but the end result was that one of theirs was able to scramble it over the line from about 8 yards out, as Glennon threw his considerable bulk at his adversary in vain. So, 1-1, and it got worse horribly rapidly. Glennon spilled a low shot directly into the path of one of theirs about ten yards out and our portly keeper was doubtless hugely relieved to see the chance wastefully booted high over the bar. Then Glennon let another cross elude his nervous grasp and although on this occasion no damage was done, his confidence was visibly shredded. Throw abysmal distribution on to the charge sheet and our netman was an all-too-ready target for the witless Kempton boo-boys, now well into their stride just four games into the new season. People who tell you “This is gunna be our season” before a ball has been kicked should be cuffed smartly around the ear, for it such inflated expectation that fuels the stupidity of fans getting on player’s backs long before the clocks have gone back, a fault to which the Hull City support is woefully and perennially self-defeatingly susceptible. But Glennon could usefully lose some weight and start keeping goal properly. Names such as Forrest, Dunfield and Newby do not trip off the keyboard, but all the same these scions of Lancashire lower-Division football were now busily taking us apart. Bury passed and moved, over-ran us in midfield and looked entirely capable of seizing all three points. Green was having a quiet spell; Greaves had been having a quiet spell since kick-off. The tireless running and focused energy which made Mark Greaves one of our most valuable players eighteen months or so ago appear wholly exhausted. Petty was ordinary, Price anonymous. We have no possession of the football at all and only the supreme professional Justin Whittle, ably supported by the improving Anderson (know your history: a Hull City side will always be the better for the addition of a Scotsman), protected us now. Greaves surprised us all by winning a header from a rare Tiger corner, but its gentle goalward loop never suggested success and it was headed easily clear, and the Bury deluge resumed. Bradshaw replaced Petty, an attacking move that was predictably foiled by our midfield’s inability to supply quality passes up to the attacking trio, though the snappy Bradshaw managed to irritate a couple of defenders close to a foot taller than him with his perkiness. I think he is part terrier. And so we hung on. There were three minutes of “added” and by now Bury had acquiesced in a share of the points. The final moment of note arrives on 92 when the arithmetically-minded Smith belts a 30-yard shot twelve yards too high and eighteen wide, but you didn’t have to be much good at sums to know that this was another disappointing afternoon’s football. I don’t do “Man of the Match” nominations – it’s a team game. But we are very lucky to have a man like Justin Whittle in amber and black.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Petty, Green, Greaves, Morrison, Alexander, Johnson.  Subs: Price (for Morrison, 56), Dudfield (for Johnson, 60), Bradshaw (for Petty, 84), Musselwhite, Keates Goals: Johnson 36 Booked: Green, Johnson Sent Off: None   BURY: Garner, Swailes, Redmond, Unsworth, Barrass, Dunfield, Forrest, Clegg, Stuart, Abbott, Newby.  Subs: Woodthorpe (for Barrass, 45), Billy (for Clegg, 78), Preece, Nelson, George Goals: Abbott 64 Booked: Barrass, Redmond, Swailes Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 8,804

Exeter City 3 Hull City 1

Exeter City (2) 3   Hull City (1) 1
Another trip to the West Coast sees the Tigers capitulate meekly to a limited Exeter City side.  Steve Weatherill reports on more red cards and red faces.
Desperate, woeful stuff. I’m shaken, I’m baffled, I’m frustrated, I’m angry. And I’m worried. Who can bear the thought of another season in this accursed Division? Who can begin to measure the agony of squandering the momentum available from our shiny new stadium by failing to baptise it with a promotion season? It is, perhaps, too early to start grappling with such self-torture, but this thumping reverse at St James’s Park was emphatic and wholly justified, and revealed – or, better, merely confirmed – deep flaws in the set-up and personnel chosen for this season by Mr Molby. I’ll trot out the team and then I feel the need for a cathartic rant.

Glennon Regan Anderson Strong Smith Ashbee Price Green Dudfield Elliott Alexander

“And so, Mr Molby, all those four defenders are your personal acquisitions and all four, that’s ALL FOUR, are conspicuously short of the required standard. What’s the point in fetching in Regan, a loan signing from Barnsley, and then bringing his modest talents into the team in place of Mike Edwards rather than the bewildered Smith? Sure, Smith had his best game for the club yesterday. And was still dreadful. So Edwards to left-back, please. Then there’s Strong. I suppose that he, like Smith, must once have been quite a good footballer, and quite recently too, but all the evidence is that this is a man plunged on a very rapid descent down the slippery slope of under-achievement. Sure, you hauled Strong off at half-time yesterday and quite right too, Mr Molby, but the damage had been done by then. And while I’m on, Lawrie Dudfield, a word with you too, if you please. You have abundant talent, and it was a joy to see you back to your sleek best against Southend. But you were off the pace at Bristol, and you showed minimal appetite for the fight yesterday at Exeter. I don’t want any repeat of the way you sulked your way through the later stages of last season – pull yourself together man, and do it now.” … Yes, I know, calm down, calm down, it’s only three games in, and only a half-wit with the attention span of a young puppy would seriously have expected our new manager to have crafted an irresistible promotion machine out of the smouldering wreck that was bequeathed to him last April. Marathon not a sprint, yeah yeah, don’t patronise ME sonny. Yesterday was plain awful. With Elliott off injured, Green red-carded (yes! that’s three in three!) and Dudfield subbed after guilt was established on a charge of recidivist lethargy there were spells during the second half, in particular, where we looked like a dullard lumbering pub team, casually held at bay by polished superiors. At Exeter! Throw in a first half during which we took the lead but then rapidly threw it away, and proceeded to get ripped to defensive shreds time and again, and the mood of sullen shock that settled on a City support that had braved a fearful motorway obstacle course to win the prize of viewing this shambles was palpable and painful. Exeter began by attacking the away end, and any expectation that we would extract maximum glee from witnessing the combined incompetence of aged sledgehammer Steve “Roberta” Flack, winsome waster Lee Sharpe and long-suffering absurdly Afro’d Don “Beyonce” Goodman was rudely shattered as it became horribly apparent that this comedy trio were far too lively and canny for our defence. Goodman set up Sharpe who transferred the ball on to Flack, and, in a penalty-box melee that owed everything to a lack of defensive leadership and decisiveness in our ranks, we were ultimately rescued only by a desperate toe-end from Regan. Sharpe looked keen to impress (though, one would suppose, any watching managers and scouts that swim in more elevated seas than the English 4th Division were the intended targets, rather than the Exeter support) while Goodman was visibly relishing being permitted the unaccustomed luxury of receiving and controlling the ball without any serious interference from opposing defenders. It was disturbingly poor stuff, so City, quixotically, scored. A ball was knocked in by Elliott from wide on the left towards Alexander, stationed just outside the penalty area. He squared the ball with his first touch to Green, who stroked a breathtakingly nonchalant side-foot strike into the back of home net. 1-0, and we dream of the unravelling of a relaxing afternoon in the Devon sunshine and a three-point reward. Such basking never looked likely. Exeter, to their credit, got stuck right back in. A free-kick reached Goodman in space, but he headed wide when he should have scored. Then the home side worked the ball down their right – our left: Smith’s side, I add more in sorrow than anger – and when the pass was pulled back to Lee Sharpe fifteen yards out, he had time enough to take a steadying touch and roast the ball into our net via the underside of the crossbar. Such slack, unfocused defensive organisation seems to be a chronic problem for this City side, and Exeter were by no means satisfied with their deserved equaliser. Flack headed the ball down to Goodman who held possession with supreme indifference to the feeble amber-and-black pseudo-challenges that surrounded him before sliding a pass on to Sharpe. His shot was tipped wide by a morose Glennon. Then a ball hoisted in from their left finds Coppinger, a nippy midfielder who has run unopposed from a deep-lying position, and his shot crashes noisily against the crossbar before bouncing out to safety. And now we lose Elliott. Earlier he had been booked after sprawling across the turf under a robust challenge from an Exe. I thought the booking was for simulation, in which case the referee got it horribly wrong, for Elliott never recovered from the tumble and was now forced to limp off. However, it may be that the referee booked Elliott for a tackle over the ball in the original incident, in which case his injury was, I suppose, self-inflicted. It’s often hard to tell at Exeter – the rake of the terraces is very shallow. Whatever: Johnson replaced Elliott, and slotted in on the right side, while Dudfield switched to the left flank vacated by Elliott. Only moments later Exeter too made a change, though this seemed unforced. Don Goodman ambled happily off, to be replaced by Martin Thomas. There was no apparent injury so perhaps the bustling front-man is contractually required to play no more than a half-an-hour’s cameo these days, delighting his band of admirers with a wink and a burly side-step before taking off early-doors for the sanctuary of more illicit girth-enhancing pleasures. He is surely the West Yorkshire Maradona. The dismal charade continues. Exeter are targeting Smith’s wing for most of their attacking endeavour, and Coppinger cuts in energetically from that side to smash a left foot shot just over our bar. It is a vain aspiration that we might cling on to 1-1 up until half-time, and that vision is trampled underfoot as the dismal half reaches its concluding moments. First, Green is sent off – a straight red for a high tackle. From where I was standing, this was one of those daft sendings-off, like Ronaldinho’s against England in the World Cup, where a referee treats a slightly ill-timed, over-eager but wholly unmalicious challenge as a potential leg-breaker. Well, perhaps, in unusually unfortunate circumstances, such challenges might break legs, but there’s something gone awry with the game’s values when this type of misjudgement is penalised at the same level of severity as Roy Keane’s frequent calculated on-field criminal assaults. But Green is gone and we are down to ten men, and soon after we are 2-1 down as well. It is a truly abysmal goal. The ball bounces towards Strong, in the middle of the goalmouth, six yards out. Instead of lashing it clear, he seems transfixed; have the markings on the new Official Approved Football been tested for their capacity to plunge players into a glassy-eyed trance? Strong dithers, and simply wobbles the ball a couple of yards behind him, where a surprised but grateful Flack intervenes to nudge it past Glennon and over the line. Half-time brings immediate sanction, for the woeful Strong is pulled off in favour of Justin Whittle, while the terminally torpid Dudfield loses his place to Williams. But inside a minute of the re-start it is catastrophically 3-1, as Exe skate down their right and a near-post cross is nodded home by a flurried combination of Flack and Whittle. I don’t consider this was more than bad luck thrust upon Justin. He can hardly be expected to step into the team at this late stage and immediately perform at his usual flawless defensive best, and he did all he could to block Flack’s run. On the evidence we’ve seen so far this season, Strong would have been placidly inspecting his fingernails while Flack rammed an unopposed header into our net. Justin always competes and he is now, I trust, a fixture in our first eleven once again. With the home side 3-1 up and City playing with ten men and deprived of our three most flairful players in Elliott, Dudfield and Green, there was little genuine expectation of a revival, either among players or fans. And so it proved. The second half was anaemic and deserves to be disposed off with maximum brevity. Flack should have scored again when Smith lost his man and permitted the delivery of a cross and an easy scoring opportunity, but the header was negligently tucked wide of Glennon’s post. Alexander, lacking last season’s bite, appeared to have run clear of the cover, only to be tackled pursuant to a poor first touch. In fact, the Exeter central defensive pairing of Curran and Santos was highly impressive throughout, showing mutual understanding, positional sense and commitment in the challenge. Then, up at the other end, Coppinger drifted through two tackles as he cruised from right to left before loosing a shot that Glennon held. Didn’t Coppinger once score for Hartlepool at the Ark? He was very good indeed yesterday. More will be written by stupified others, I should imagine, not least about Exeter’s willowy mascot, but I am weary with the sense of things going horribly wrong. I mean, I’ve only mentioned in any detail the players who played REALLY badly. There was also Williams, who came on at half-time and promptly vanished; Price, who offered nothing going forward and rarely shored up Smith’s over-run emplacement (a formidably large task, I admit); Ashbee, who was booked again. It was truly an all-round shocker. I’ll stop now, I think.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Price, , Dudfield, Alexander, Elliott.  Subs: Johnson (for Elloitt, 26), Whittle (for Strong, 46), Williams (for Dudfield, 46), Musselwhite, Bradshaw Goals: Green 10 Booked: Alexander, Ashbee, Johnson Sent Off: Green   EXETER CITY: Miller, McConnell, Curran, Gaia, Power, Coppinger, Cronin, Walker, Sharpe, Flack, Goodman.  Subs: Thomas (for Goodman, 31), Roscoe (for Sharpe, 67), Sheldon (for Flack, 82), Fraser, Whitworth Goals: Sharpe 21, Flack 45, o.g. (Whittle) 46 Booked: none Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 4,257

Bristol Rovers 1 Hull City 1

Bristol Rovers (1) 1   Hull City (0) 1 A game of two halves.  Steve Weatherill reports on the Jekyll and Hyde tendencies of the new Tiger breed.
Two games, two points, two red cards. A rum do in the rugby citadel of upland Bristol, as City were woeful throughout the first half, trailing deservedly 1-0 at the break, and then, by contrast, vigorous and effective but goalless in the second half up until the moment deep inside the last 10 minutes when Strong was sent off, whereupon sheer spirit surged to the surface, and substitute debutant Johnson thumped home an equaliser to seal a welcome and well-merited point. All in all, a decent game with no particular pattern, save that – for no obvious weather-related rationale – the whip hand was clothed in blue up until half time and amber thereafter, but nonetheless many of the impressions gathered on the opening day of the season inched closer to being confirmed: our attack is potent and though neither Dudfield nor Green looked as menacingly on-message as they had three days earlier, Bradshaw’s display outshone the limp offerings provided last Saturday by Williams, while Elliott is simply magnificent. Meanwhile, midfield is patchy. Ashbee again came and went as the game progressed. And we remain a defensive shambles. We began with the same ersatz diamante 4-3-3-ish formation as we had deployed against Southend, although a small personnel adjustment saw Williams left out and Bradshaw included. Dudfield took over the right-side attacking role and wee Bradshaw stepped in as cutting-edge. So:

Glennon Edwards Anderson Strong Smith Ashbee Greaves Green Dudfield Elliott Bradshaw

A scrappy opening ten minutes gradually gave way to obvious Rovers superiority. They looked fit and lively, as you would expect of a Ray Graydon side, and, though their lower Division hackers will never aspire to the pacy trickery of their manager in his gifted playing days, they pushed urgently down the flanks and found us defensively wanting. Our principal tactic appeared to consist of the obtuse one of allowing the thrower to go wholly unmarked, so each time the home side won a shy their man threw it in, received it back and trundled happily off into space down the wing. Perhaps someone can confirm just how many throw-ins Bristol enjoyed during the first-half last night? Too frustratingly often we were defending hopefully as crosses looped in, instead of cutting off delivery at source, and it was this malfunction that led to the first major scare. Challis, limited but eager shaven-haired left back, was permitted time to hoik a long cross towards the back of the box where more poor marking allowed another of theirs time to bring the ball down and smash a low shot beyond Glennon, only for Anderson to rescue City with a clearance from bang on the whitewash of the goal-line. I will confess I have some difficulty telling our pair of centre-backs apart. Though facially dissimilar, Strong and Anderson’s build is comparable and so is their hair colour and shape, so from a distance a case of mistaken identity is all too possible. I find myself imagining we have a composite central defence comprising two men both called Armstrong, so bear with me if such imprecision slips into these reports, but on this occasion credit for salvation definitely goes to Anderson. More woe as Rovers dominate. Edwards and Dudfield got hopelessly confused down the right, allowing one of theirs ample time to loft in another looping cross. Tait, briefly clueless for City last season, got ahead of Armstrong and nudged the ball over Glennon and on to the top of the bar. It was a good position and he should have scored. But he’s rubbish. Then Strong lost his man; the shot was soft, and Glennon made a diving meal of a fairly simple save. Oo, it was rotten. The sun-kissed undulations of urban Bristol away to our left made happier viewing than the ragged Tigers. Bristol were playing orthodox 4-4-2 and dominating midfield. Green was isolated in the advanced sections of the middle and was able to exert negligible influence on the pattern of play. The ball kept rolling Glennon-wards. Smith was regularly out of position down the left and when he wasn’t, he was easily outpaced by an opponent. On the other side poor old Mike Edwards was having a 24-carat nightmare, frequently uncertain in choice of position and hesitant in the tackle. And I’m afraid he didn’t strike a pass cleanly all night long. Tait was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon made a sharp stop. Then, a short thirty seconds later, the other home striker, Grazioli, was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon was beaten to his right by a crisp finish that rolled into our net just inside the post. I call it as I see it and I thought it offside. Reliable witnesses around me assert Grazioli had run from deep and that he was onside. Whatever. We deserved to be losing and now we were. It’s not even half-time yet, and it could have got worse soon after as Smith backed off like a chipmunk faced by a cougar as one of theirs raced at him. The cross was duly delivered without the pressure of any challenge, and Grazioli, allowed plenty of room by Armstrong, whirled into an overhead kick which Glennon managed to cling on to. On 43, Elliott darted from left to right and, bringing his right boot into serious competitive action for the first time, he hammered in a fierce shot that was tipped over the bar. Aside from an earlier Dudfield cross which Green had headed disappointingly high it was our only attacking flash of a first half which now, mercifully, was called to a close by prancing Premiership whistler, nervy eleven-year-old and keen Airfix modeller Andy D’Urso. I had expected Mr Molby to change our formation at the break and to stiffen midfield. But he didn’t. Instead the Dane changed our players’ attitude. And some. Perhaps Ashbee and Greaves had been encouraged to play a little closer to Green, but most of all, all three had been instructed to up their work-rate. And they did, and so was midfield wrested back into our grip. A Molby plea to “Get it out wide to Elliott, that lad can PLAY!” had also evidently been issued, and was acted on. And he can play, and he did. It was a gradual improvement. Initially too much was lumped in the air at Bradshaw who, though as tenacious as a vole, cannot seriously compete aerially with standard-sized centre-backs. Bristol even threatened briefly as Tait found space. But he mangled his chip and Glennon held it without a tremble. Time for the Tiger. Green slipped a cute pass to Elliott, racing in from the left wing. He took it in his stride, near the edge of the box, and fired in a vicious meaty drive which the keeper was mightily relieved to see nestle in the side-netting, just wide. Then a slick move out of midfield presented Bradshaw and Dudfield with a gleeful 2 on 1, only for idiot referee D’Urso to haul play back all the way to half way for a useless free-kick in our favour. Never mind – all City now. Bradshaw’s darting run and flick header – saved at a stretch. Elliott strains down the left and slides an inviting ball across the face of the goal – Dudfield mysteriously hesitates and stands watching as the ball screams “hit me!!” as it travels across the goalmouth just three yards in front of the transfixed Dude. Our lack-lustre Bergkamp-lookalike pays for this moment of indecision and is hauled off in favour of Johnson, the Leeds loanster, who takes up the same right-sided berth. This lad is exciting. He is very powerfully built, in the way that so many Premiership players who regularly visit their pharmacist seem to be, and is also obviously schooled to get himself and the football forward at pace whenever the chance presents itself. Molby also made another like-for-like exchange as he brought off Greaves and introduced Price. Plenty of time for an equaliser yet. Green shot from 25 yards – just wide. Then an outrageous Bradshaw flick had the entire Rovers defence gasping in admiring bemusement as Green accepted the gift and motored forward into space, but his shot was soft and easily stopped. As yet Green’s play is a shade over-ambitious and his choice of options was certainly less well-judged last night than on Saturday, but he is a rare talent and I don’t expect Mr Molby to curtail his invention. All the more so in the case of Elliott. His commitment as a Christian is his business; his commitment as a footballer is ours. And he never gives up. He’s a genuine hard-worker, which, combined with flair, pace and shimmering self-confidence, makes him a hugely exciting prospect. We’re lucky to have him. Positive thinking all round, but we’re into the last ten minutes now and we’re still one down a long way from home. Glennon has possession and the players are trotting upfield when Strong seizes the moment and kicks one of theirs to the floor. O, yes, smart move. The linesman sees it – he can’t miss it – and once the tale is told Mr D’Urso has no option but to reduce us to ten men. I suppose that will be a three game ban for Strong and I hope that will bring us Justin back permanently. He was back temporarily last night, as we re-organised the defiant ten by bringing off Smith for the reliable Whittle. Well, I didn’t think we’d get anything from the game now, even though the efforts since the half-time break had made us worthy of a point’s reward, but team spirit was now allied to footballing power and elegance and we sneaked it. Green stroked a delightful pass down the left wing for Elliott to race on to. He picked his spot for the cross delivered from the by-line and rolled the ball into the path of Johnson, who had spotted the possibilities as soon as Green had lofted the ball forward. His 40-yard lung-bursting run was rewarded by the opportunity to ram the ball home from near the penalty spot. 1-1, about right, and, in contrast to Saturday, we duly survived an ominous repeat of the “3 added minutes” board.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Greaves, Bradshaw, Dudfield, Elliott.  Subs: Price (for Greaves, 61), Johnson (for Dudfield, 61), Whittle (for Smith, 81), Musselwhite, Williams Goals: Johnson 85 Booked: Anderson, Elliott, Johnson Sent Off: Strong   BRISTOL ROVERS: Howie, Boxall, Uddin, Barrett, Challis, Carlisle, Quinn, Bryant, McKeever, Tait, Grazioli.  Subs: Astafjevs (for McKeever, 78), Gilroy (for Grazioli, 84), Clarke, Hogg, Gall Goals: Grazioli 30 Booked: none Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 7,501

Cardiff City 2 Hull City 1

I started my away-match travelling for this season on a murky
evening in a foreign country amid a tiny band of Tigers fans, and
I repeated the dose yesterday. But Cardiff had little in common
with the joyous optimism of that win at Partick Thistle back in
late July. Indeed, the omens could hardly have been worse.
Cardiff haven’t started the season very well, but they’re still
doing better than us; our away form has been mainly poor; we seem
able to defend in the Cups but not in the League; and the sour
taste of Saturday’s rank injustice lingers deeply. And this was,
after all, Cardiff, League football’s 91st most inviting venue
and a long, long way from home.

Well, we lost. The game could be taken as a summary of our whole
season so far. Occasional bright moments, providing sources of
optimism. But individual errors and an overall lack of positional
coherence, with a bit of bad luck thrown in, denied us any
reward.

We brought back Rocastle and Bettney, the two loan players
ineligible for Saturday’s Cup tie, and, with Hodges and Mann
dropping out of the starting line-up, we played:

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Greaves Wright Hocking
Joyce Rocastle Peacock
Bettney Darby

But we fell gloomily behind after only two minutes. A ball was
knocked forward into our box, their man had time and space to lay
it off to Andy Saville, who in turn had time and space to get his
head over the ball and shoot into the corner of the net from 15
yards. It was at the distant Canton end, so the City support of
100 or so were denied the opportunity to offer our former striker
a sporting round of applause on his goalscoring success.

The game settled into an even pattern, with minimal penalty area
activity, but after about 20 minutes, they made it 2-0. A free-
kick on the edge of our box was laid square into the path of one
of their midfielders, who was not closed down and he fired hard
and low past Willo’s left hand into the goal. Slack defending.

We now had fears that a dispirited Tigers team might be buried
by an avalanche of goals, but the team put some fight into it,
greatly assisted, it must be admitted, by the inadequacies of the
home side. And the balance of play began to switch our way,
albeit against the background that the overall standard was
pretty poor. By the last 15 minutes of the half, we were on top.
Darby got a toe-end to a Peacock cross and the ball looped
crazily up in the air and against the bar, with the keeper
confounded by the ball’s peculiar wobbling. Then Duane found
space for a header from only 6 yards out, only to see his effort
blocked by a desperate goalkeeper. Brave save; Duane should’ve
buried it. Then Greaves laid a fine ball into Tricky’s path, but
Peacock, advancing into the box free of defensive attention,
slipped his shot across the keeper and agonisingly just wide of
the post. Cardiff were at bay, but it felt like we needed a score
before half-time. And we didn’t get one.

If the first half had been largely listless, the first 20 minutes
of the second half were plain awful. We watched, numb with
despair. Nothing happened. Hodges had replaced Bettney (who spent
far too much time in the first 45 minutes marooned out wide) and
Fewings came on for Greaves, with Rioch moving to midfield to
free up left back for Fewings. So we had adjusted to a 4-4-2-ish
sort of a formation, though Rocastle consistently dropped very
deep (and was later still swapped for Lowthorpe). But the
football was dire, until, suddenly, we scored, totally out of the
amber. A long ball from our left found Peacock (I think!) on the
edge of the box, who cleverly laid the ball into Darby’s path and
our returning hero thumped his shot home for 2-1. Shortly
afterwards, Peacock tore inside on a dynamic run in from the
right, and struck a fine shot against the top of the bar. Rioch
was trying to pump fuel into our performance, though, as ever,
Gregor mixed frenetic energy and laudable attempts to provide
leadership with misplaced passes and occasional positional
howlers. He has the makings of a fine player, but is flawed yet.

The home side was not lifeless, and Willo pulled off an excellent
sprawling close range block with his legs, but City had the upper
hand. However, time was running out and, with the game slipping
away from us, it needed something remarkable to save us. It came
courtesy of the Cardiff defence, which in the very last minute
of the match parted handsomely to usher Duane straight through
the middle with an inviting one-on-one on the keeper. Duane
stroked his shot wide of the keeper’s left hand … and the ball
slid gently beyond the post as well. If Duane had been a week
closer to full match fitness after his long lay-off, who knows
….

We deserved the point we didn’t get, though neither side played
at all well.

Beaten, we retreated. A long slog back into England and on up
North was lit up at the end by a Nottingham taxi driver who took
one look at our scarves and said “Hull City? By heck, you should
have had a penalty on Saturday, shouldn’t you?” Yes, mate. Missed
opportunities, denied opportunities … we’ve had more than our
fair share so far this season. I think it would be useful for us
to defeat Doncaster in ten days time.

steve weatherill

Hull City 0 Hednesford Town 2

Imagine this. You are an overweight, middle-aged man. You have
a dead end job, where no one likes you. You dye your hair black
and sport a stupid little toothbrush moustache, but you still
enjoy not the slightest hint of success in your occasional forays
into your town’s bars in search of a pull. Not even your cheap
and nasty aftershave helps you when your chat-up line is “I’ve
got a lovely whistle”. Your own mother forgets your birthday. So
what do you do to try and cover up your deep feelings of anxiety
and inadequacy? You become a football referee, of course. And you
exercise your power-without-responsibility to the aggravation of
players county-wide, and eventually country-wide. The desperate
lack of refereeing competence in England means that one day you
find yourself elevated to take charge of an FA Cup tie between
a highly respected League club, with a tradition going back over
90 years, and a poorly supported bunch of non-League non-
entities, enjoying a brief flirtation with life outside the West
Midlands Sunday League. You know that the game is one of several
at which the Match of the Day cameras will be present, but if the
League side wins, the game will be no more than a footnote to the
programme, and your chance of TV fame will be lost. But if the
non-League team wins … well, it’ll be a featured match and you
will be in the news. Surely you might get some friends then, you
ponder …..

So what do you do? If you have the integrity and fair-mindedness
to put your personal inadequacies behind you, you get on and
referee the game in a sporting, impartial manner. In which case
Hull City would have defeated Hednesford yesterday by 2 or 3
clear goals. If, however, you are the “Mr D Laws” with whom we
were tragically saddled yesterday, you lie, cheat, steal your way
to victory for the visitors and the return home to put your feet
up with a steaming mug of Horlicks, to bask in your infamy.

For that is the story of this FA Cup tie. City were the victims
of rank corruption. We were the better side, by far. We performed
with commitment and skill. No complaints about City. But the
referee (and his linesmen) had written the script of this game
long before 3 o clock.

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Wright Greaves Hocking
Joyce Mann Hodges Peacock
Darby

We were the superior side in a largely lively first half. Our
closest chance came from a well-timed Joyce run down the middle,
thwarted only by a last-ditch tackle, sending the ball spinning
away for a corner. We had plenty of good possession, but couldn’t
quite pin down real goalscoring opportunities. The welcome return
of Mann and Darby already looked a big improvement, even though
both had traces of rustiness about their play. Hednesford were
in the game, and came close when a corner flew through a melee
at the near post, but Hocking, alert at the far post, headed the
ball clear as it seemed to be dipping into the net. Almost
immediately, the referee took a decisive hand. One of theirs
turned just inside the box past Gregor. I don’t think Gregor
touched him, but even if he did, it was the slightest nudge, and
in no way contributed to a ludicrous theatrical dive by their
man. As he fell in a pathetic heap, I was half enraged at the
deceit and half amused by how bad his acting was … and then I
saw the referee was pointing at the penalty spot. The visiting
players made clear their views with huge grins and mobbed
celebrations; they might as well have pulled up their jerseys
Ravanelli/Fowler-style to reveal a t-shirt beneath bearing the
words “Fooled you, ref!”. But maybe this ref planned to be fooled

Willo guessed correctly, diving to his left, but the ball was
cleanly struck high into the roof of the net.

We nearly levelled just before half-time, when Hocking headed
against the bar, which was followed by a desperate scramble. But
we were beginning to get the picture – had it gone in, a mystery
offside would have been produced like a rabbit out a rancid hat.

We came out with re-doubled determination after the break and
took complete control as we attacked Bunkers. Early on, a flick
header from a corner sailed over the line for the equaliser. One
of theirs tried to hack the ball clear, but his front foot was
behind the goal-line, so there could be no doubt that the
football itself had easily crossed the line. It was a goal.
Neither linesman nor referee were interested. O yes, we were
getting the picture all too clearly now. Atrocious bias was mixed
with appalling bad luck. A goal-bound Hocking header struck Darby
… the ball then dropped to Duane who tried a Whitby-style
backheel into the net … just wide. Then a shot took a looping
deflection to land in the side-netting; it looked as if it had
gone in, but it had flown just the wrong side of the post. Then
Duane turned neatly about eight yards out only to lose his
balance and scoop a soft shot into the lucky goalkeeper’s arms.
We were all over them, looking especially dangerous from corners.
But we couldn’t score. There was little to be seen of them –
Willo made a good save from a shot from 15 yards on pretty much
their only moment of possession in our half. But they didn’t need
to score – they had the lead and they had the ref.

Our torment went on. Peacock dribbled coolly and swung over a
long cross to the back post, where Duane, intelligently heading
the ball back across the face of the goal, saw his effort bounce
off the bar. We kept pressing. Fewings came on and pushed forward
energetically. The Duke joined the fray but had an unhappy cameo
appearance, let down by his first touch. Peacock looked most
likely to undo them; Duane, in his first game back, was now
visibly tiring. But the source of what should have been our
equaliser was our captain. Gregor cut inside from the left
touchline with one of his trademark barnstorming runs, scooting
past three of their men, and running thrillingly on into the box,
where he pushed the ball past the last defender, ready to line
up a glorious shooting opportunity. The last man strode into
Gregor’s path and, with a brutality that would have made an ice-
hockey crowd wince, cruelly body-checked him. Surely, we thought,
even this referee can’t ignore that … but he could. Play on.

They scored in injury time on the break.

I don’t doubt that the wicked Mr Laws has covered his back and
that the bare statistics of this match will suggest a fair deal.
We were awarded fouls, sure. But almost always in our own half,
where no damage could done – indeed, on occasion we were awarded
free kicks that denied us a promising advantage. And when we did
get an occasional free kick anywhere near their penalty area,
their wall would retreat 5 yards at most, if we were lucky, and
the ref would smile and direct that we take the kick. A similar
story at throw-ins, where they were getting the throw even when
it was plainly geometrically impossible, given the ball’s
trajectory, for it to have come off anyone other than a
Hednesford player. Above and beyond the fundamental issues of
giving them a non-penalty and denying us a cast-iron one, the
referee made sure all game long that we were at an insuperable
disadvantage.

Hednesford were rubbish. No, that’s not quite fair. They looked
shapeless, short of commitment and generally inferior to us. But
they were mostly old heads, they’ll doubtless have realised the
score with the referee from the start. They knew that all they
needed to do was to play sensibly and wait for gifts to be
showered on them. And so it proved. City too must have spotted
the impossible odds they were up against, but it is to the credit
of our players that they did not give up.

I’m not objective. But if we get beaten and deserve it, I’ll say
so. Not yesterday. I wish ill on Hednesford and piles on Mr Laws.
But ultimately there is a bottom line in Cup football. They are
in the next round, and we are not. Impotent rage and frustration,
which is what I’ve been feeling since shortly after 3 o clock
yesterday, isn’t going to change a thing. I’ve been watching
football for thirty years, from Moscow to Morecambe, Carlisle to
Cadiz, and I have never seen such bias. Bad refereeing, yes, we
see that most weeks. But cheating? I didn’t think it happened
here.

steve weatherill

Hull City 1 Shrewsbury Town 4

Can there possibly be a bright side to this alarming scoreline?
Well, until deep into first-half injury time, when Shrewsbury
scored their second goal, we were distinctly the better side, and
had played reasonably well. However, the second half was truly
wretched and ultimately we took a ghastly hammering.

We played:
Wilson
Wright Greaves Hocking
Peacock Fewings
Brien Joyce Rioch
Hodges Ellington

And we started well enough, attacking Bunkers. A splendid piece
of Hodges trickery, down near the by-line, created space for a
low cross, which Ellington reached with a straining toe-end, but
the ball flew just over the bar. We looked to be putting together
our attacks with some conviction … whereupon they scored.
Steele had disturbing amounts of time and space to run at and
across our defence before firing a left-foot shot low past the
blameless Wilson’s right hand into our net.

But we kept going in the right vein. Joyce chip; Hocking flick;
Greaves arriving in the box .. just over the bar. And offside
too, but it was a fluid, promising move. Then Wright glanced a
header from a floated Joyce free-kick narrowly beyond the far
post with visiting keeper Benny the Gall well beaten. The Duke
displayed heartening determination in the box to wrench
possession from a Shrew, then turn sharply and shoot towards the
corner of the net, only for the keeper to produce a fine diving
save. We were by no means dominant, but we were the better side.

But injury time in the first half dragged on, for no apparent
reason. On about 48 minutes, a cross to the back post was met by
Devon White, largely unmarked for no apparent reason, and his
header was despatched into the back of our net.

A short while into the second half, a free-kick close to the
corner flag was hoisted to the back post, where White lurked once
again ready, willing and able to head the ball home. Well, I say
he “lurked”; a man of the vast dimensions of Devon White is
physically incapable of lurking. He performed his celebrated
version of a large, talentless lump of lard, but it was enough
for our defence to leave him wholly unmarked and for White to
bless the day he came across Hull City. For, to add to his score
for Notts County in August, this was three already this season
against us. Miserable defending.

The rest of the match was just dreadful. The players had more or
less given it up, and performed with minimal effort. Lowthorpe
came on for Brien, and went to right-back with Peacock switching
to midfield, but it made little difference at this stage. Moments
of skill and joy? There were none, I’m afraid, other than from
the Shrews’ superb number nine, Lee Steele, a pacy and strong
front runner acquired from non-League. If we do re-direct our
transfer policy towards buying players who’ve proved their worth
at 4th Division level, then Steele should be snapped up
immediately.

The crowd (of about 4,800) was largely quiet, save only the small
bunch of boo-boys on the West side of Bunkers, with their “get
your cheque book out”s and their “What a load of rubbish”s. They
have short memories and are fools, but the match was undeniably
terrible.

Shrewsbury made it four with a 20-yard shot which took a wicked
deflection off someone’s heel to leave Willo with no chance at
all. The only question was whether the bobbling ball would spin
just inside or just outside the post; it was the sort of day
where you felt the grim inevitability that it would enter the
net, and it did. We scored after a decent build-up down the right
saw the ball laid square into the path of Gregor Rioch who
thumped home a meaty left-foot shot from the edge of the box. A
well-taken goal, but even Gregor hardly bothered to celebrate it,
so obvious was its irrelevance to the outcome of the match.

Brien, of course, was a disaster yet again in the holding
midfield role and exerted no discernible influence on the pattern
of play. He must go. I find it hard to see that Peacock will ever
make a wing-back; and Hodges is not capable of doing a job up
front. Not mobile enough. But, yet again, my main anxiety
concerns the three centre-backs. They leave too much to each
other. Opposition forwards seem to have so much time and space
against us. The system just doesn’t seem to work.

A bad day. And our mood got gloomier again as we banged on the
car radio to discover that Hednesford had scored 5 away from
home. I started this piece trying to find a bright side and the
only one I can dream up to finish on is that City are frequently
at their best when underdogs. And that is quite feasibly
precisely our status for next Saturday’s very tough match.

steve weatherill