Wrexham 0 Hull City 0

A valuable point ground out against high flying opposition.  Ian Thomson gets eleven men behind the ball before reporting.
Definitely a case of a point won rather than two lost, this one. This St Andrew’s Day encounter at the Racecourse was in many ways the converse of what we have seen several times this season, with teams coming to the Ark to frustrate City and to stifle the flair of which they are so devastatingly capable given the chance. Our heroes showed themselves to be fast learners under Taylor tutelage, as they dug in deep to hustle, deny, thwart and eventually palpably unsettle a home side fast developing a reputation for free-flowing football and goals. It wasn’t pretty to watch for long spells, but it was damned effective. Wrecsam fans will argue that they gave us a footballing lesson and deserved to win, based purely on the amount of possession they had. This however has to be placed in the context that they saw the whites of the Muss’s eyes on probably a third to a quarter of the number of occasions on which City managed to do the same to the Boston keeper Bastock in the second half last Saturday, when Boston tried to do the same to us. All this doesn’t give your reporter much to write about in terms of action, but that is not to detract from the fact that this was, despite the lack of the right kind of excitement and comparatively few chances, in many ways a satisfying performance which ought to have engendered as much confidence in the City camp, and especially its under-fire back division, as it will have been a blow to our hosts and their fans, who, talking to some after the game yesterday, were expecting before the game to see us swept aside. OK, so we didn’t boss the game as we have some this season, but it was never going to be that sort of game from our perspective, and it’s precisely because some of our more talented players, especially the loanees, can’t do it week in week out that they find themselves on loan to City rather than turning out in their own club’s first XI in the First every week. Most tellingly of all, though, let the moaners remember that Plymouth cantered to the title last season, at the expense of more skilful sides such as Luton in particular, by doing, in almost every away match, exactly what we did yesterday (and, for good measure, doing at most home games exactly what we did to Boston last Saturday). But we can do the flair bit as well. The Wrecsam programme, whose notes on City were quite excellent (I doubt whether you’re reading this, Mark Griffiths, but if you are congratulated on a thoughtful and well-researched piece of writing), commented that the Taylor influence has brought increased cohesion in the side. Prophetic words, I fancy, for this was a game which, had it been played against the same Wrecsam side at any time after Christmas last season, or in the first twelve games of this, City would probably have lost by easily three goals. That’s what you have to remember about yesterday. Well, that and the fact that, despite having been exhorted, en route from the pub to the ground before the game, to insert into this report the phrase “the City defence was as indecisive as an Oxford don getting into a minibus”, I can find no reason to do so. Taking to the drenched and windswept Racecourse (a fine stadium, incidentally) were the following:-

Musselwhite Regan Anderson Whittle Delaney Green Ashbee Melton Keates Branch Alexander

Subs: Jevons (for Alexander, 50 mins), Joseph (for Branch, 82 mins) Wrecsam kicked off, with the customary yellow ball, towards the healthy contingent of City fans (the home fans I spoke to said it looked about 700, although the crowd of 4 412 was about a thousand up on recent home attendances), which sad to report contained a large body of racist freaks, resplendent in their Style Island (fake Stone Island) gear and imitation Burberry baseball caps from Bransholme market, although they were soon quietened by the simple tactic of the Heddlu adopting a near-intimidatory amount of interest in them (Mr Pearson please note). The first real incident of note was on nine minutes when Ferguson junior was booked for going through the back of one of ours (sorry, didn’t get who), but the pattern of the game was being set as the home side attempted to take control, hustling City in all corners of the pitch and allowing us no space at all, and City took a little while to settle down, being far too profligate with the ball in these early stages. After 11 the Wrecsam 9, Trundle, was given too much room but shot tamely at the Muss, but then came one of perhaps three real City chances in the entire match, when persistence from Melton in the home third of the field allowed him to create space for himself on the edge of the box, but our Brighton loanee dragged his shot wide when perhaps he ought to at least have found the target. But it was pretty much backs to the wall stuff for the rest of the half. Muss denied Morrell on 18 and then Delaney let a flicked-on throw glance dangerously off his head over the angle of post and bar. Wrecsam’s best chance of the game came a couple of minutes after that, when for once two homesters ? Morrell and the number 5 – evaded the attentions of the City defence but both went for the same far-post cross and got in each other’s way, the ball being headed against the outside of the post when, if either had left it to the other, the result might well have been different. But really, apart from Justin heading over his own bar when a cross was knocked dangerously back into the middle, there was only one further moment of real trouble in the City box, when three City defenders, outdoing their Wrexham counterparts, all went for the same ball, it dropping to a Wrec whose powerful header was brilliantly tipped round the post by the Muss. Moreover, as the half wore on, and Wrecsam realised that City, increasingly giving as good as they were getting in the middle of the field as well as at the back, might be about to put the mockers on their game plan, early signs of frustration kept in and the challenges made by our hosts started to take on an increasingly physical nature, an approach facilitated by referee Cain, who wasn’t really very able (boom-boom!); one wonders what was made of it all by Adam yesterday eve (ka-boom?tschh!). I would even go so far as to say that our hosts were in some ways more relieved to hear the half-time whistle. But this is a club managed by Denis Smith, a man who, wherever he has laid his managerial head during his odyssey around the League, has invariably started off in swashbuckling style only for things to deteriorate gradually and, ultimately, fatally. And pretty much the same could be said about the Wrecsam effort during the second half yesterday, at least after a couple of scares early in the half; firstly when Morrell, given too much room, forced a save from the Muss, who again came to the rescue to stop a near-post effort following the resultant corner, and secondly when Delaney stupidly gave the ball away through dithering on the edge of his own box, which led to a goalmouth scramble with the ball ultimately being blazed high over (about as high as Chris Lee’s famous penalty on the same ground, for those who were there and remember the occasion, except that this was at the other end). This, however, heralded the one spell of the game in which City looked as though they might breach the Welsh defence. After some fine passing down the left Delaney, barely a minute after his lash-up at the other end, crossed the ball in and Green thundered the bouncing ball over the angle of post and bar with the home keeper Whitfield spectating. The City left back then drove straight at the keeper from outside the box after 53 minutes. Four minutes after that, and the closest we came all afternoon. Green, who worked hard throughout but was never given the time or space to do much, picked up a poor clearance, cut inside and laid an inviting ball into the path of the onrushing Melton whose low and sweetly-struck drive the diving Whitfield just managed to stop but could not cling onto, but sadly for the Tigers the cover got back to shepherd the ball to safety before we could react. It seemed at that point as though my confident half time prediction that City would power forward and put Wrecsam to the sword in the second period might, for once, come to pass, but in point of fact that was almost the last goal-related incident of note in the entire match, although Jevons just failed to connect with a dangerous ball from Keates a couple of minutes from the end after some fine work from Ashbee in midfield. There really was scarcely anything of note to report in the last half-hour, except that the match seemed to be heading for some sort of record for unpenalised handballs from the home side, although any smugness the home fans were feeling was swingeingly dispelled by the award of a goal-kick to City after a hopeful shot from far out looped high over the City bar having clearly been deflected by a City foot. That Mr Cain was merely incompetent as opposed to biased was at least a modicum of consolation. The hard-working but largely ineffectual Alex was replaced by Jevons, but City’s attacking momentum diminished as rapidly as it had surfaced, and the game became increasingly restricted to the middle third of the pitch, the mounting raggedness of the home side becoming ever-apparent, all played out to a backdrop of the Wrecsam band, high up in one corner of the futuristic new stand at the Racecourse, continually performing a repertoire seemingly limited to “Men of Harlech” and “Land of my Fathers”, while City kept it tight and took no risks, frequently turning the ball back when in possession, which brought sporadic boos from a few lamebrains in the City end. Eventually Taylor decided to play even safer, sending on Joseph for his first Tiger outing in place of Jevons, and the point was duly secured, despite Mr Cain allowing play for some reason to continue somewhat beyond the allotted three extra minutes. A commendable performance in some respects, then, against very determined and motivated opposition in foul conditions. Some will point to a mere three real chances and the fact that we failed to force a single corner in the entire game, and there’s no argument to that. But the unbeaten League record under Taylor carries on, despite playing a number of front-runners during that spell, and the overriding impression from yesterday has to be that we have now shown ourselves capable of playing with real character and resolve, qualities not habitually associated with Hull City, when the occasion demands. That must count for something too. So, onto Darlington and the final showdown at the famous old stadium.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Alexander, Branch.  Subs: Jevons (for Alexander, 61), Joseph (for Branch, 82), Elliott, Smith, Deeney. Goals: None Booked: Delaney Sent Off: None   WREXHAM: Whitfield, Roberts, Carey, Bennett, Edwards (C), Barrett, Whitley, Ferguson, Edwards (P), Morrell, Trundle.  Subs: Pejic (for Carey, 52), Sam (for Trundle, 84), Jones (for Barrett, 89), Rogers, Holmes. Goals: None Booked: Ferguson Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 4,412

Hull City 0 Macclesfield Town 3

Whoops!  City slip on another Cheshire banana skin, and fracture their Cup hopes for another season.  Mike Scott pieces together the broken bones.
Oh Hull City. Why do you have to make things so complicated. I’ve seen the way your acting like you somebody else, it gets me frustrated. This was a bolt out of the blue, a weak performance from highly promising beginnings that saw the Tigers crash out of the FA Cup. Pre-match speculative talk was of the chairman offering enhanced players’ bonuses as an enticement to help facilitate a lucrative home 3rd round tie in the new stadium – well if such an offer was made, then clearly it proves that our current squad is not motivated by such base and coarse trinkets as hard cash. Killing us softly with their song were:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Burton Green Ashbee Delaney Williams Alexander Jevons

The suspended Keates was replaced by the returning-from-suspension Ashbee while the Cup-tied loanee Branch was replaced by the Grimsby-don’t-care-if-he’s-cup-tied-or-not Jevons. And it all started much as it left off against Lincoln last week. Within 30 seconds Stuart Green skipped through the left side of the Macc defence and crossed, the clearance falling to Ashbee who lifted a tricky falling effort over the bar. Moments later Green again pulled the attacking strings and a cross found Alexander at the far post who nodded across goal only for Jevons to sky a close range effort, albeit under the close attention of the Macc defence. When Macc were looking to attack they went down their right using Eaton, but Burton was getting the better of the early exchanges. When the wide man finally did get a cross in Lightbourne was unattended and his header drew a fine save out of Musselwhite. This appeared to be a turning point. The crowd was quietened. Burton’s game went to pieces. And from the resulting corner Macclesfield opened the scoring. A melee in the six yard box culminated in Delaney swinging at the ball and it rebounded off another City player to Tipton, who has never knowingly refused an open goal chance from three yards. 0-1. But still there was some life in the City team, even though the home support was largely mute for the remaining 79 minutes. Within seconds Regan had fed Jevons who rode two challenges and swept a shot just past Steve Wilson’s post. But as time went on Macclesfield began to get City’s measure and the attacking threat waned. Macc line up 3-5-2, although with Lightbourne tucking in on the right it was often more like 3-6-1. More than enough defenders, and a flooded midfield aimed at swamping the threat of Green. It worked. I would also praise the excellent Tipton up front. I presume he only turns it on for City, otherwise his career would’ve encompassed Oldham and Man City, not Oldham and Macclesfield. His willing running saw him pop up all over the place – wide right, wide left, in the hole, between the centre backs. He even served tea and pies to hungry North Standers at half-time. Perhaps. Tipton was a thorn in City’s side all day, and I suggest we sign him for the simple reason that he then wouldn’t play against us again. After 15 minutes Tipton crossed for Lightbourne to head just wide. That was twice the big Bermudan headed goalwards with scant attention from Whittle and Anderson, and he was finding his range. His next intervention was less positive however, a crude lunge at Regan that earned him a yellow card. From the resultant free-kick Wilson flapped characteristically and twice Whittle had chances to head goalwards from 12 yards but instead elected to square to no-one in particular. The Macc back line creaked a little for 10 minutes as Williams briefly exerted a greater influence on the game, but the threat from the away side continued to be there. When Anderson ceded possession carelessly on the halfway line and the onrushing Tipton fed Lightbourne, City heaved a sigh of relief as Ashbee motored back to block the shot and concede a corner. So relieved, in fact, that they didn’t defend the resultant cross at all and the well-practiced Lightbourne despatched a routine header under the dive of Mussy for 0-2. City continued to play a passing game, quite right too, but the zest had gone out of our play and the attacks lacked any real threat. Green wriggled through the midfield crowd scene to set up Alexander whose first time shot was blasted high and wide when space for at least two touches and a composed finish was available. Regan was set free by Jevons and the cross found Alexander in the box, but his header went over the crossbar – once more Wilson was left untested. Regan may have got this cross in but much of the rest of his play was poor, as passes went astray or were blocked. A similar story was seen on the left with Burton and Williams – Macc had clearly determined that they should cut off the City supply lines at source, and it was a highly effective tactic. As the half closed two flashes of individual skill saw Burton and Delaney both craft shooting chances, but Burton’s dribbled wide off his shin and Delaney’s was parried adeptly by Willo. As the half time whistle approached Jevons drew a further save out of Wilson, and the feeling on the terraces was that while we had been undone by Macc for the second time this season, some well-crafted changes to the formation could see City get back into the tie. The home draw against Leeds was not yet out of the question. A vigorous half-time workout by Elliott confirmed that the required surgery was to be undertaken, but when the players emerged for the second stanza it was apparent that some strange decisions had been made. Williams had been very ineffectual and did not deserve a minute longer on the pitch, and the same could be said for the invisible Delaney. But instead, it was Jevons and Whittle that were withdrawn for Elliott and Peat, with Delaney switching to centre back, Williams to centre midfield, Peat patrolling the left and Elliott going up front. Lessons learnt. Williams is as short as Keates, but is no centre midfielder – he was shocking. Elliott is far more dangerous armed with a left sided brief than he is through the centre. Delaney is a good passing centre back, but lacks positional nous. Peat is capable of being totally ineffectual, he barely touched the ball for the full 45. It was a tactical switch that failed in almost every sense, and I sincerely hope that Mr Taylor realised this. Macclesfield came out and defended with their 3-6-1 line-up now a permanent feature, and they worked hard to protect their goal – plenty hard enough. Burton’s problems of the first half continued to escalate and he spannered a succession of passes and clearances into touch. He was soon replaced by the restored-to-fitness Shaun Smith, who performed OK in the circumstances, and all the manager’s jokers were played. But still no penetration, and the game died a sorry and dampsquibby death. Only the ex-City stalwart Wilson could be relied upon – he rolled back the years and flapped gruesomely at a corner on the hour, the ball dropped to Delaney who showed the composure of a drug-crazed po-going safety-pin-laden Sparks fanatic as he skied his chance over the bar from two yards out. Peat briefly left the shooting stick that he perched upon while observing the game go past him, and fired a decent shot after cutting inside from his wing, and Wilson showed that his shot stopping skills are still in good order as he pushed wide. But the final throw of the dice went in favour of the away side, as a cleared corner fell to the slap-headed Whittaker who lashed a fizzing drive into the top corner, giving Mussy no chance. The only remaining moment of note was when Williams went down and injured and Stuart Green kicked the off the pitch to allow the trainer on. Not a quick roll over the touchline for young Stuart, oh no, he lashed a full blooded drive that propelled the ball at warp speed into the front row of the West Stand director’s box. I don’t know who sat next to Mrs Pearson yesterday, but whoever it was had a sore head this morning. So a meek capitulation for a second time in six weeks against hard working but limited opponents. David Moss, the Macc manager, clearly has Hull City sussed, I just hope he keeps his masterplan to himself. This next week will be very interesting, this is Peter Taylor’s first real test. Will he get the players back up for the visit of statesiders Boston next Saturday? Will he modify the tactics to freshen up the attacking potency? Will he never ever on any account play Ryan Williams in the middle of midfield again? Just two more matches for Hull City to shine at Boothferry Park. Over to you, Mr Taylor.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Delaney, Ashbee, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Elliott (for Jevons, 45), Peat (for Whittle, 45), Smith (for Burton, 69), Holt, Harvey. Goals: None Booked: Regan, Williams Sent Off: None   MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Tinson, Ridler, Welch, Hitchen, Whitaker, Monroe, Eaton, Adams, Lightbourne, Tipton.  Subs: Abbey (for Eaton, 60), Martin, Hardy, O’Neill, Askey. Goals: Tipton 12, Lightbourne 27, Whitaker 76 Booked: Adams, Lightbourne Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 7,803

Lincoln City 1 Hull City 1

City play excellently once more but fail to chase off a dogged and ugly ten man Lincoln.  Steve Weatherill reports on how hoof and flair finished even at Sincil Bank.
We are fantastic. I mean, our team – this team – is fantastic. Get along and see it for yourself, if you haven’t taken the opportunity already. The brand of football currently being played is as good as anything we’ve seen in a tiger generation and I doubt the bottom Division has ever witnessed such thrillingly fast-paced and imaginative attacking. It might all go wrong – we’re Hull City fans and it would be to defy our history to suppose a crash and crumple isn’t just around the corner. Perhaps we will lose the astounding Green to a (temporarily) higher-placed club. Perhaps our rich collection of bookings will damage us as suspensions crowd in. Perhaps all we are seeing right now is a brief upward blip caused by the players’ joy of liberation from the oppressive Molby yoke. But these last six games – three clear wins and three draws in which we were unarguably the superior side – have been hugely encouraging, and the final brace in particular, at home to Scunthorpe and now away at Lincoln, has revealed a wonderful quality of wit, flair and invention. Now, you might think – hang on, is this sarcasm? I’ve got a bit of a track record, I admit. And – 1-1 at Lincoln: is that so great? We’re in the bottom half of Division 4! And when I tell you Lincoln only had ten men for the majority of this match, you will be tempted to think these Tigers are going to have to produce an awful lot more to deserve this level of exultation. But I intend no sarcasm. Sure, this is a game we should have won. The gulf between these sides was easily three or four goals wide. But only wretched luck and obstinate woodwork kept us at bay. Lincoln City were vaporized by our power and energy, and someone soon is going to get an almighty trashing courtesy of our claws. More than that – football at this standard is going to get us promoted by Easter. With Delaney stepping into midfield to plug the gap created by Ashbee’s suspension, we carded:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Burton Green Keates Delaney Branch Alexander Williams

And it all began horribly badly. In the first minute Keates sent an inviting free-kick sailing wastefully high over the bar. And then, in the fifth, Lincoln scored. And it was a bizarrely ugly goal for us to concede. The Muss watched transfixed as a header looped over him. John Anderson scrambled back to clear but the loose ball fell to the beanpole Futcher, whose toe-ended shot wobbled nervily back towards our goal, which was gruesomely unprotected. The ball sighed into the netting. Everything stood still – there was an air of unreality, as if everyone was expecting a linesman’s flag or the referee’s whistle. But the goal stood. Perhaps our players were so mesmerised by pre-match hype about Lincoln’s set-pieces that we expected something a bit more subtle than this lame and hopeful hoofery. But we had defended the situation appallingly badly, and had paid the ultimate price. I mean, not actually the ultimate price. We’d gone one down away to Lincoln. That’s not really the ultimate price, I don’t think. No one was taken away to play in that game show like on “The Running Man”, and no one got a stake up their bum, like Vlad the Impaler used to do. Or even found themselves in the pub beforehand discussing the relative merits of William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith, a development which took me by surprise, I must admit. Also, guessing crisp flavours. But anyway. Yes. 1-0 Lincoln. It was time to get to grips with the dismal Imps. But we were confronted by a sturdy adversary. The crossbar. No one could quarrel with the award of the Man of the Match to the Lincoln woodwork, which was in defiant mood all afternoon. Williams zipped down the left wing and crossed at pace, only for a defender to flick the ball powerfully over his own keeper and hard against the bar. Our midfield is taking control, and Lincoln’s lead is set to be short-lived. Branch bursts through the middle on to a through ball from Green, only for the last Lincoln defender to tug despairingly at his shirt. Branch crumples to the ground and the ref duly brandishes red. It was harsh. Branch fell with practised ease under a feeble assault. Then again, cry no tears for Lincoln. We had outwitted them with a slick move, Branch’s run was targeted directly on goal and the Imps have a track record of twenty years of on-pitch thuggery against us for which to atone. Green belted the free-kick into the wall, but an equaliser was imminent. Regan, a capable attacker albeit an occasional defensive ditherer, sprints hard down the right and crosses to Delaney, who glances a header towards the back of the six-yard box, where Alexander intervenes with a meaty header into the corner of the net. A pacy move, an alert piece of finishing, and the ten men of Lincoln are in for a chasing. And a chasing they got. We just couldn’t stick the ball in their net. Delaney won the ball with a firm tackle and released Williams down the left. His cross was batted away desperately, but Green returned the ball into the middle with a deft outside-of-the-boot chip, only for hasty defence again to repel the threat. Then Green transferred the ball from right to left, Williams headed the ball first-time on to Burton, whose cross reached Alexander’s forehead, and his flick-on was well saved. Delaney again won possession with a well-judged tackle and passed to Williams, who slid a superb pass down the inside right channel for Green to chase and, with the home defence opened up like a sardine can, the shot carried not quite enough power to trouble Marriott (if it was Marriott. I’m not good on opposition goalkeepers). Then Keates, with the ball at his feet twenty-five yards out, spotted Branch’s clever run and slipped a magnificent pass through the narrowest of gaps into Branch’s stride just inside the box and behind the defence. Branch evaded the goalkeeper and turned his shot goalwards but a startlingly able piece of long-stop retreating defending by one of their lumps diverted the ball up and over the ball. Then Alexander, to Keates, to Branch – just offside, but a thrilling move. This is glorious football, it really is. I’m not even doing full justice to the flowing elegance of our play. I’m just giving you the concluding highlights of most of these moves – I’d be here all day if I spelled out the seven or eight passes that methodically constructed our persistent attacks. Normally in this Division there’s a litter of broken play in midfield, out of which hopeful attacks involving two or three passes might occasionally emerge. Not yesterday, at Sincil Bank. We were passing and moving with grace and confidence from back to front, and it was magnificent to watch. Admittedly, Justin Whittle hasn’t turned into Franz Beckenbauer just yet, but young Burton is comfortable with the ball at his feet, and Regan carries possession forward confidently enough. Delaney’s physical presence in midfield was a welcome surprise, after the poor impression he’d made when asked to step into this role in the later stages at Shrewsbury, and he was a major factor in preventing Lincoln getting a sniff of control in midfield. So too Keates, whose running was relentless and who also showed flashes of real skill on the ball. This was his best game for the club. I’d say the same of the intelligent Branch, and Williams too had a perfectly satisfactory game. And Stuart Green? Genius. On the few occasions Lincoln got the ball they generally just hoofed it into touch and checked their watches anxiously. Their sole tactic was to hurl long throws into our box and hope something ugly might happen. Next time you hear someone from Lincoln City FC moaning about the precarious finances of lower League football, ask them just why anyone should waste their hard-earned cash coming to witness this poverty-stricken, leaden apology for the beautiful game. It is our task to ride the shiny white charger brought to mind by Stuart Green’s dazzling football boots and take the broadsword of truth and justice to these peasants. We were utterly dominant and even in first-half add-on time we had two more near misses. Burton slipped the ball into space for Delaney to surge down to the by-line. His cross reached Anderson, ambitiously venturing into the opposition penalty area, but the shot was hasty and high. Then Delaney again won the ball in midfield and released Williams, but his cross was taken under pressure by the keeper. 1-1 at the break; it could have been 4-1. It took us just twenty seconds of the second half to resume our fluent and hugely appetising display. A first-time touch by Williams gave Branch space to play Keates in for a shot, which was blocked at the expense of a corner. Then, peculiarly, Lincoln enjoyed a spirited few minutes. They even had a glimpse of a chance, when a flicked header from a cross flew wide of the Muss’s left-hand post. But we were just resting. Regan and Anderson combined effectively down the right and crossed deep into the box where Justin contrived to head the ball back square across the face of the goalmouth, where it was hoofed clear, instead of aiming for goal. Green struck an astonishing 60-yard pass on to the Branch toe, and Lincoln, stretched almost to breaking-point, conceded a corner with relief. Keates provided Green with a shooting chance but the ball slipped just wide of the far post. We weren’t rolling forward quite as irresistibly as during the first half, perhaps because an awful midden of a pitch was draining strength from legs (especially those belonging to Delaney and Williams), but the tiger pressure was mounting. If there was an anxiety, it was that a fussy referee might even things up and conjure up a red card for one of ours. Alexander, close to his bustling muscular best if a shade sharp-elbowed on occasion, sailed close to the wind but stuck at yellow. Burton too picked up a yellow for jostling a Linc to the turf, and though the meagre home support, all of whom look like Ploppy or Mistress Ploppy off the Blackadder episode where they execute the wrong man (ultimate price!), howled for a red, they were not entitled, for although there wasn’t much cover behind Burton, the breaking player was heading away from goal. Elliott now came on for Branch, and we hit sparkling heights once again. Green and Elliott are wonderful together, fast and imaginative, and with Keates in particularly vigorous form anchoring midfield and Regan operating as a supplementary right-winger, the winning goal looked inevitable. Green passed, Alexander stepped over the ball on the edge of the box, Elliott took it on and, from close to the penalty spot, blasted a ferocious shot past a bemused Marriott, and, thump, against the crossbar. Alexander wrestled his way eagerly to the rebound and nodded that too against the quivering woodwork, before a third chance fell to Green who headed over the top. It was an agonising moment, and it cost us two points. But it was fabulous attacking football. Enough. Lincoln slowed the game down as desperately as they possibly could, and they eventually got an ill-deserved point out of the afternoon’s proceedings. But we were great, just great. A grand day out. Feel flush. Bracket us with the best. We’re going up.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Delaney, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Branch.  Subs: Elliott (for Branch, 68), Jevons (for Green, 89), Holt, Peat, Deeney. Goals: Alexander 22 Booked: Alexander, Burton, Delaney Sent Off: None   LINCOLN CITY: Marriott, Weaver, Morgan, Futcher, Bailey, Willis, Sedgemore, Gain, Bimson, Cropper, Yeo.  Subs: Mike (for Cropper, 69), Smith (for Yeo, 78), Camm (for Willis, 85), Pettinger, Ward. Goals: Futcher 7 Booked: Willis Sent Off: Morgan   ATTENDANCE: 6,271

Shrewsbury Town 1 Hull City 1

A fine Tigers performance spoilt by an inconvenient last minute Shrews equaliser.  Steve Weatherill reports on another good day at the office.
On 87, a slick Shrewsbury move provided one of theirs with a clear shooting opportunity from the edge of the penalty area. A blasted drive was brilliantly tipped away by the Muss, diving gallantly to his right, and we celebrated jubilantly, confident that inspired netminding from our returning hero had bagged us the points on a damp and misty evening by the Severn. But three minutes later, bang on the 90, Shrewsbury were awarded a free-kick on their right, close to the edge of the box. The referee blithered and dithered, he even allowed them two bites at the cherry, but amid total bemusement the ball was eventually poked into our net for an ill-deserved home equaliser. The match had something in common with Saturday’s draw against Rushden, in the sense that we had been indisputably the superior force, especially during the second half, and yet had been forced to concede a share to dogged opponents. But that’s where the similarities end. Shrewsbury played with resolution but they aren’t half the team that Rushden are, and we should have had them trussed up like the Christmas turkeys that will soon join the Christmas decorations, toys and traditional Harry Potter manger scenes in the shops long before that inelegant climax. Even though I’m pleased to report that City, and Green and Ashbee in particular, played pretty well again last night, it was still two points dropped rather than one gained, and frustrating with it. We kicked off in a 4-4-2: Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Keates Ashbee Williams Alexander Elliott Is that really Green’s best position? And Elliott’s? And is Williams really worth his place? A trio of “No!”s answer those questions on last night’s (and other supporting) evidence, but in the meantime the game began in furious fashion but with relatively little poise anywhere near either goalmouth. The Muss pouched a tricky low shot to his right, then an easier lofted effort to his left, while, at the other end, Alexander crumpled to the turf in a comedy bid to win a penalty and was fortunate not to receive a booking. Anderson then did succeed in attracting the penmanship of another eccentric referee, but redeemed himself by hooking clear when, following a looping back-post cross which the Muss watched with mild interest instead of claiming, a savagely dangerous cross was whipped back across the face of our box. A frantic opening. This was our fifth last-ever visit to Gay Meadow, and the surroundings were as delightful as ever. Tall trees by the swollen brown river, soft autumnal textures, a cascade of jumbo kit-kats. The pitch, expected to be sodden, played firmly enough for confident football. Why would Shrewsbury ever wish to leave their tranquil dell? Could the reason be that dread word, professionalism? But what’s this? Along the small terrace, backing on to the Severn, is infiltrated a mean-throated band of local youths, who are singing aggressive songs with sweary words in them! At Shrewsbury! I’ve never heard the like. It didn’t sound ugly, and it certainly didn’t threaten, it merely sounded wholly incongruous. What could be more out of place at Gay Meadow than such absurdly obnoxious posturing? It’s as if your dimple-cheeked, cherubic 9-year old niece were to look at you sweetly, and observe “Uncle, you’re a bit of a fuckwit, aren’t you”. I was surprised, I have to admit. Back to the game, and an extraordinary moment. You know that goal Ashbee scored at Torquay? The one that some foolish observers suggested was best enjoyed as a freak because, believe you me, this bloke isn’t ever going to do anything similar again, not if he plays until he’s 90? Well, if I may quote my own match report from that euphoric afternoon at Plainmoor: “I expect talented ballplaying midfielder Ian Ashbee to do this sort of thing every ten days or so from now until 2014”. And last night the ball dropped gracefully on to the Ashbee boot twenty-five yards from goal and he smashed in another of his astonishing volleys, this time only to see it crash against the outside of the post and bounce clear. It was a magnificent strike and keeper Dunsavin was immobile in shock. Keates now secured another yellow card for a challenge that was merely clumsy but not malicious, and we entered a disturbingly sloppy phase in which Shrewsbury shuttled the ball around quite happily and we depended on Justin Whittle to intervene and boot it clear when necessary. This, of course, is Justin’s long suit and he did his job as reliably as ever. But it wasn’t pretty to watch. The diminutive Williams and the rangy Delaney are physically a mis-matched pair, and unfortunately they look mis-matched in all other respects too, and so our left side looked uncertain both going forward and defensively. Green, playing on the right, flickered briefly, while Elliott, though lively and mobile, is just not a natural as half of a striking duo. Alexander headed over from a corner late on in the half, but generally was again guilty of a bit too much aimless mooching around. All in all, we were content to reach the break on level terms. Parity was what we deserved, but, Ashbee’s volley aside, we had offered a performance well below the standard enjoyed so far under the Taylor regime. Into the second-half and more high-velocity but medium-grade-skill football. The Earl appeared to up-end his man in the box, but the referee, close to the scene of Delaney’s alleged crime, awarded nothing and, since it occurred at the far end, I have neither basis nor motive to disagree. Then a cute Alexander dummy allowed the ball to run free to Williams just outside the box, but the infuriating wee man’s first touch was dismal and the space quickly  vanished under a mere of converging Shrews. Up the other end: the lively Rogers darts clear at pace but his cross is flicked comfortably over our bar by a wasteful Shrew. And then, as on Saturday, we took a firm grip on the game and demonstrated that once we hit our stride we have the players to win this Division. Doesn’t mean we will win it. But we’re capable of it. Alexander, suddenly summoning memories of the muscular front man who regularly rampaged through opposition defences this time last year, grabbed possession and forced his way into a shooting position just outside the box and hammered a low shot just wide of the keeper’s far post. Then a wonderful flowing move involving five or six Tigers, including the increasingly prominent Green, resulted in a glorious low cross from the left and, with Dunsavin stranded, only a superb defensive header, in the manner of Olarticoxea (sp?) from Lineker in the dying minutes of the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final, protected the home side from going into deficit. But that wasn’t to be long delayed. We attack again at pace, Green releases a brilliantly judged pass beyond the lumbering defence and Elliott, timing and directing his run perfectly, connects to slide the ball under Dunsavin and put us into the lead. 500 City fans? More maybe? A degree of total tiger mayhem, the lead is ours and the amber-and-black football is increasingly imperious. Shrewsbury need to defend, and they have only unsophisticated tools to do the job. As anyone who drives the high roads of this nation is aware, the problem of abandoned cars is growing. Rusting, incinerated hulks, the victims of wanton joyriders and insurance fraudsters. The police are overwhelmed. On my own personal favourite stretch of motorway, a vehicle that first appeared a while ago half way up the grassy bank looking almost serviceable has steadily deteriorated, mirrors cracking, wheels disappearing, bonnet ruptured and chassis corrupted. Such is the career of Matt Redmile. A big brute of a central defender when we first encountered him at Notts County, he was already visibly coming apart at the seams as his displays at Meadow Lane spluttered to a halt and now, well into his 28th season with Shrewsbury, you wouldn’t even risk a trip down the shops with him. Redmile got booked, he could have had ten yellow cards last night and deserved the lot of them, and he was powerless to quell our nimble attacks. Keates came off for Burton, who went to left-back and Delaney stepped forward into central midfield. This didn’t really work. Delaney, for sure, belongs in midfield, but on the left side of it. That berth was filled by Ryan Williams. Who was rubbish last night. Never once did he pose a threat to Shrewsbury. Ashbee, however, was playing well, heavily involved in the midfield scrummages, while Green was soaring resplendent on the glittering floodlit turf. This young man’s sheer talent on the ball is enormous. He moves confidently, on and off the ball, he passes quickly and thoughtfully, and he likes to keep play moving at pace. A dapper run took him past two feeble challenges and he shot straight at Dunsavin from 15 yards with Jevons, now on for Elliott, howling for a pass in space to Green’s right. Jevons had a point, but so did Green – in this sparkling mood, I’m happy to let Stuart Green make his choices and try his luck. Ah well. At 1-0 you’re never safe, but we really did seem to have Shrewsbury’s measure. Time ticked by, the points looked ours. And then the Muss saved, Shrewsbury scored, and a pot-pourri of harum-scarum at both ends accompanied us through the three added minutes to an unsatisfying single point. But there was plenty last night, especially in the second half, to buttress the growing optimism about season 2002/03. Bring on Saturday and a match which I understand you young people regard as a “derby”.
HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Elliott.  Subs: Burton (for Keates, 69), Jevons (for Elliott, 76), Philpott, Peat, Deeney. Goals: Elliott 59 Booked: Anderson, Keates Sent Off: None   SHREWSBURY TOWN: Dunbavin, Moss, Redmile, Artell, Drysdale, Lowe, Wilding, Atkins, Woan, Rodgers, Jemson.  Subs: Tolley (for Wilding, 63), Stevens (for Jemson, 76), Kendall, Murray, Murphy. Goals: Stevens 89 Booked: Redmile Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 3,086

Hull City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

A goal in seconds promised another rout, but this time Taylor’s Tigers fought for a well-deserved point against quality Northamptonshire opposition.  Steve Weatherill tells the tale.
It’s tempting to feel frustration about this one. We took the lead inside the opening minute, but still couldn’t win, and so saw our winning run under Mr Taylor terminated. But restrain yourself. This was a lively match against powerful opposition, and we were palpably the better side, especially in the second half, so take from this encounter just one point but further confirmation that our team is marching steadily up this Division. We kicked off attacking North Stand, with the same line-up that began the demolition of Torquay, excepting only that Alexander took over as central striker from Jevons, who in turn slotted in on the right to replace the broken Branch. So:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Keates Ashbee Green Jevons Alexander Elliott

And the game started, and we went 1-0 up. Really, no messing. 30 seconds? No more. Green made a run from deep, bursting through the centre to receive the ball with the Rushden midfield on its collective heels and their defence astonished at our attacking presumption. Inside the box, Green shoots, Sollitt saves, but the ball runs loose and Green capers to his right and gleefully slides it into the corner of the net. It was a tremendous beginning, putting City in control before we’d had any opportunity to size up the relative merits of the two sides. But once the game settled down it became plain that Rushden were no dummies. Anderson headed over the bar from a corner that was deftly flicked on at the near post, but then, in front of Bunkers, our defence was horribly exposed by a dangerous left-to-right ball and the diminutive Jamaican international Hall stretched but put the chance over the bar when he could and should have scored. Then Rushden’s other, more effective Jamaican, the giant Onandi Lowe, slid a sweet pass into space for Duane Darby – for it is he! – to chase, and we were relieved he didn’t have his Whitby head on as the low skidding shot flashed across the Muss and wastefully wide of the far post. Rushden looked the better side for a spell, but our midfield trio worked hard to maintain a balance. However, Keates and Ashbee have a worrying tendency to make themselves a target for referees. Keates was lucky to avoid a red card last Saturday, but was, by contrast, sorely unfortunate to get booked yesterday. An innocuous challenge left his immediate opponent sitting on his backside on the turf, entirely unhurt, but as the referee approached, his fingers rightly making no move towards his pocket, the non-leaguer threw himself into a spasm of writhing and groaning, and the ref, duped ridiculously easily, waved a yellow at a fed-up Keates. Another Estelle Morris of a match official, but even Cabinet Ministers seem readier to own up to basic inadequacies than football referees. Our turn for a dose of superiority, and an Elliott free-kick was headed in a loop up over the crossbar and on to the roof of the net by Anderson, under pressure from the visiting defence. Then Jevons crossed from the right and Elliott and Keates contrived to get in each other’s way and the glimpse of a shooting opportunity was lost. We had a few corners too and, in a radical departure from hallowed Hull City tradition, they were whipped in at pace and looked genuinely dangerous. An early imprint of the Taylor method? If the new manager not only abandons our woeful incompetence at corners but also gets players to show a bit of movement when we’re trying to take a throw-in, then we truly will be witnessing the rise of a New Hull City. But Rushden took a turn at pressing, and this time they equalised. Regan was harassed by Darby and surrendered possession feebly, only for Ashbee to intervene with a well-judged saving tackle just as Duane was readying himself for a shot. Then, from a corner, a ball to the back post was headed back across the face of our goal and thumped home on the half-volley from about eight yards out. We didn’t defend this set-piece particularly sturdily, but Rushden were value for their goal. On 45, Green dribbled through a couple of tackles and drifted a shot just wide of the post, and then it was half-time. 1-1: a decent game between two decent sides. Rushden started the second period on top. A surge through the centre was halted by resolute City defence, but Lowe, hopping from foot to foot in agitated manner, was right to be irate – he had been left in complete freedom and a pass to him, out on the left, would have left the Muss exposed. Lowe had the beating of Regan and looks a fine player for this Division, while we could be grateful that Duane, his partner, was being criminally under-used. Darby is a master at controlling the ball and shielding it from attentive defenders, but few such passes were being guided his way by his team-mates. Mr Taylor opted for a change. Williams replaced Elliott, and we switched to a more orthodox form of 4-4-2, with Green playing wide on the right side of midfield. The team gradually re-discovered its poise and took control. Alexander sent a venomous left-foot shot five yards wide. Green received the ball from Williams near the dead-ball line and, in a twinkling shimmy of white boots, he skated round his marker, only for Rushden to shovel the ball out desperately for a fruitless corner. Alexander and Williams combined well out on the left, only for the promising move to fall apart on the edge of the box as both left the ball to the other. Jevons and Delaney exchanged delightful passes, setting up Alexander for an effort that was held by Sollitt. Then Keates delivered a free-kick long to the back post, where Whittle headed back across the goalmouth and Sollitt again stretched to clutch the ball. This was impressive stuff from City. We were playing with appealing fluency and genuine conviction, and in this spell we were definitely worth a second goal. Delaney looks to me more like a midfielder than a left-back, which is to say he’s going to be vulnerable to exploitation defensively, but, with Elliott off, he was getting forward with panache and showing an eagerness to receive long passes. Jevons plays with his head up, but isn’t a natural goalscorer; Alexander is a natural goalscorer (which is something his growing collection of boo-boys, the same lamebrains who two years ago were whining on about the need to sign a 20-goal-a-season man, might wish to recall), but currently lacks confidence. Green is adding a bit more consistency to his performances with each game and, as beleaguered Rushden tried to waste time at every throw-in and every goal-kick, Green, now abandoning the right-side for the centre, was the man most likely to rip them apart. It was high-quality football from our team, but not quite incisive enough. Rushden still possessed menace – or, more specifically, Onandi Lowe did. A thumping header from Lowe was held by the Muss. Then Lowe skipped round Anderson with alarming ease before advancing to hit a left-foot shot wide of our goal. Time for another change, and Mr Taylor sent on Bradshaw for Jevons, and then Burton for Keates, playing the willowy and hugely promising youngster at left back, with Delaney stepping forward into midfield. The game is drawing to a close, but we’re still pressing, and Rushden are still hanging on nervously, selecting time-wasting as their main tactic. A Regan cross – Williams is foiled at the back post by alert defence. Another fine ball played in from right to left – Burton, gliding forward into space intelligently, just fails to get his forehead on the ball. It’s over, it’s 1-1. We were the better side, and Rushden were quite possibly the best-organised opponents we’ve faced this season. If, as seems logical from last season’s placings and this season’s results so far, Rushden are a good bet for promotion, then so are we.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Jevons, Alexander, Elliott.  Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 55), Bradshaw (for Jevons, 80), Burton (for Keates, 80), Peat, Deeney. Goals: Green 1 Booked: Ashbee, Keates Sent Off: None   RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS: Sollitt, Bignot, Peters, Tillson, Setchell, Hall, Gray, Mills, Bell, Darby, Lowe.  Subs: Wardley (for Bell, 73), Mustafa, Turley, Duffy, Dempster.. Goals: Gray 38 Booked: Bignot Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 10,659

Port Vale 3 Hull City 1

Kids and reserves were given a chance in the LDV Vans Trophy, but were, as Keith Dean writes, swept aside by a strong Port Vale XI.
We’re any of you actually there ? I get the distinct feeling this morning that I could report absolutely anything about last night’s match and be as vague as I want about the key moments without fear of contradiction. But that would be breaking the ethical code of your match reporters circle so sit back and take in a fact-filled account of the glamour of the LDV. Her-hm. Port Vale 3 Hull City Fringe Reserves 2nd XI 1. Mr Horton’s programme notes make it clear that the homesters were taking this competition seriously and he fielded a team including a number of first-teamers. In stark contrast we carded this motley collection of first team subs, reserves, juniors and the odd ne’er-do-well:

Musslewhite Chapman Heard Burton Price Williams Kerr Philpott Peat Alexander Bradshaw.

So, nine names there that you might be familiar with. And a couple of who-the-hell’s-hes in defence. It was a sign of things to come as the right side of our defence looked particularly vulnerable throughout. Muzz, on a return to the scene of former glories, was given a warm reception by the home fans in the BIG stand. Quite why it was labelled thus is a mystery as, if anything, it was the smallest of the four structures. Maybe the stadium owners have a plan or desire to name all parts of it after Tom Hanks films ? You’re guess is as good as mine. The game kicked off with the Tigers attacking the goal in front of their few, but vociferous fans, with heavy drizzle been blown across the pitch from left to right. Or perhaps that should be from over the Green Line Enclosure towards the Forest Gump Executive boxes. We had the better of a lively first ten minutes with Bradshaw and Peat seeing plenty of action down the left flank. The quality of the crosses was a bit disappointing but we were stringing together some neat passing to create the openings. A great, instant turn and cross from Peat forced an early corner, the first of many in the opening period, and we again took advantage down that flank shortly after when Bradshaw latched onto a long ball out of defence. He hit in a low cross which Alexander reached, just ahead of his marker, and flicked the ball out wide to the right. Williams ran in, in plenty of space, but blazed his shot a couple of yards wide. But from there it all went flat as the home team took the lead and never looked in any real danger for the rest of the evening. A high ball was lofted into the area, Heard got his head to it but didn’t get any distance on the clearance. It bobbled around at the feet of Brett Angell (it needed someone from the City defence to take control and get in a challenge) and he was left with enough time and space to turn and hit a low shot into the bottom right-hand corner. Young Tiger heads dropped visibly and it was clear that we were in for a long evening. Only a great one-on-one save from Muzzer, at the edge of the box, prevented the lead being doubled before the half  hour. It wasn’t to take much longer though. 35 minutes gone and the stocky, but not yet fallen, Angell got his second. A low cross from the left was allowed to go right along the six yard line without hindrance and was met full on by a Vale forward. Somehow Muzz blocked the shot with his legs (by making himself big, Ron ?) but was unlucky to see the ball balloon straight up into the air and for Angell to be waiting at the bottom of its trajectory to nod home before we could get in a challenge. We did at least make some effort in pushing forward and forced a series of corners. Peat was given the responsibility of whipping them in from the right and was unfortunate to see one cleared off the line, low at the near post, and then Goodlad, the home keeper, flapped at another but we had no-one on hand to tap in the loose ball. But, to be fair, if anyone was going to score during the final 15 of the first half, then it was certainly Vale. A mixture of naive defending and a lack of understanding between the City defence and midfield gifted them a number of chances and it was only their lack of composure in front of goal that kept the scoreline down. And when we did push forward, the home team were quick to break and leave us short at both back and down the sides. The half finished with a half-hearted claim for a goal when a Williams corner was collected by Goodlad periously close to his line. His feet may have been over but I’m not sure the ball was. And then Alexander got his head to a Williams cross but with insufficient power to trouble the goalie. The half time entertainment was provided by a tribute band to Haircut 100 who went by the name of Now All Going Bald and Average Age 100. And as for the second 45, it was a bit of a strange affair really. Vale, having realised they’d got the game won, seemed to let up. We introduced more fresh-faced young uns, scored a weird goal, and then let them regain the two-goal advantage. Donaldson and Russell were given their chance in place of Williams and Alexander after an hour and the former opened his goalscoring account shortly afterwards. He found himself inside the box, left of centre, surrounded by defenders, with the ball ricocheting around very much as it had prior to the opening goal. He got in some sort of a shot but it didn’t look to have the pace to beat the keeper. Maybe he got a second chance but, after an inexplicably long pause, there was a muffled roar and the players began running back to the halfway line. The goal was scored at the far end, amongst a packed penalty area and by Clayton Donaldson. I can add nothing more than that I’m afraid. And so we rallied briefly, scenting a chance to prolong the tie. But it was always patently clear that the makeshift nature of the side would prove a big hindrance. Vale, on the other hand, looked like they had played together all season and forced Muzz into more great saves. One, a full-length dive to his right to palm away a low drive, would have made even Monsieur Barthez or Signor Buffon proud. But he was helpless, after 80 mins, when a cross from the left was met at the far post and one of theirs finished clinically with a first time shot back across goal. One last substitution saw Fry on for Kerr. And what exactly will Mr Taylor have taken from this match ? Well, I would suggest he could go through it with a fine-toothed comb for many hours and he would still struggle to come up with many positive aspects. Muzz was marvellous, of course, but Alexander, Bradshaw and Williams were OK at best. Peat looked as though he could be a useful prospect and it would probably be unfair to criticise the youngsters when you consider the standard of the oppo (although Burton didn’t look anywhere near as comfortable playing at centre half as he has at full back for the first team). So the most disappointing and frustrating part of the whole evening was the lack of effort and committment from the likes of Philpott, Kerr and Price. These are players who should really be pushing for first team places unless they have already realised that the standard of play from the current first eleven is beyond them ? Poor show nonetheless, lads. And clearly none are likely to be taking part in the next instalment of our thrilling league revival against Rushden on Saturday. Skill, team understanding, pace, thrills and spills. That’s not something we can expect from the LDV’s, that’s purely just something for the weekend.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Heard, Chapman, Burton, Price, Philpott, Kerr, Peat, Williams, Bradshaw, Alexander.  Subs: Russell (for Williams, 60), Donaldson (for Alexander, 60), Fry (for Kerr, 82), Harvey, Turnbull. Goals: Donaldson 62 Booked: Bradshaw Sent Off: None   PORT VALE: Goodlad, Brightwell, Carragher, Collins, Rowland, Ashcroft, Charnock, Cummins, McPhee, Paynter, Angell.  Subs: McClare (for Charnock, 66), Armstrong (for Angell, 66), Delaney, Boyd, Burns. Goals: Angell 9 34, Carragher 79 Booked: None Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 2,621

Torquay United 1 Hull City 4

The Taylor revival continues as the Tigers rout Torquay in distant Devon.  Steve Weatherill waxes lyrical.
Shiver with excitement this bright morning! Two consecutive victories, fresh hope and optimism, players dulled with despair suddenly revealed as glitteringly talented diamonds. The deep plunge of long-term failure replaced by golden sunlight. But that’s enough about Scotland. Hull City, yes, right! Them too! Ooo! We’re good! I mean, we’re really good: promotion-winning, title-chasing, get on the bandwagon NOW or you’ll be missing out good. We flayed Torquay and, with exultant terrace talk turning to available odds on two successive promotions, nothing and no one’s going to stop us now. “Err, Steve … aren’t you getting a little carried away here?” Well, yes. But that’s what football’s for, isn’t it? Hull City gets sand kicked in its face all too often, mainly by puny wimps who shouldn’t even dare to try, so all the more reason to large it when it’s us doing the bullying. And this was a terrific victory. In the catalogue of searing away performances, file it below the awesome 4-1 evisceration of Wimbledon in the mid-80s, but on a par with the Bobby Doyle-inspired New Year massacre of Barnsley and well ahead of the more recent 4-0 win at hapless Carlisle. Torquay came into this game in second place in the table and you could see why; they are a well-organised, hard-working side and, until deep inside stoppage time at the end of the first half, there was nothing to choose between the two teams. Then Ian Ashbee crashed an astonishing 25-yard volley into the top corner of their net. No, really. If you missed this, set your video, buy a video – whatever. A jaw-dropping goal. At 2-1 down during the second period Torquay remained dangerous opponents, but we quelled them with a splendidly worked third goal, and thereafter we revelled in the rare sight of City looking elegantly capable of scoring at will. An exquisite fourth goal, scored by Stuart Green, rounded off a vibrant afternoon’s demolition. And yes, promotion is a word that should be on our lips this morning. We played an ambitious formation:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Keates Ashbee Green Branch Jevons Elliott

Keates secured an early yellow from referee Ross for a robust challenge, but the game settled into a lively pattern, with both teams bringing the ball forward confidently though without offering any serious penalty-box threat. Torquay took advantage of the linesman’s failure to spot an obvious offside to set up a shooting chance which was belted well wide of the near post guarded by the Muss. Then a chipped cross from Regan seemed to be looping on to the Jevons forehead, only for a defensive intervention to rescue the home side. Next up, a low cross-shot from Torquay which the Muss fingertipped away at the expense of a harmless corner. There are good reasons why 4-3-3 formations are uncommon. They leave the opposition plenty of space in which to play, and our 4-3-3 was now being placed under increasing strain. Torquay had rapidly decided to test debutant Delaney, and though the rangy new boy looks a very competent and appealingly mobile footballer, I doubt he is a natural left-back, and even Stuart Pearce himself would have been alarmed at the lack of support from team-mates available in that part of the field. Elliott was tempted to drop deeper to offer defensive assistance, but each time he did this he was rightly howled forward by an animated Peter Taylor. Why play 4-3-3 if you’re going to sacrifice your winger? A compromise was struck in the shape of a temporary switch of Elliott and Jevons, with the latter helping out defensively when Torquay tried their luck down our left. So, 4-3-3: a high-risk strategy, but one that promises excitingly unbalanced games. Torquay thumped a free-kick from outside the box just past the post and then proceeded to waste an inviting opportunity when Delaney lost possession inside his own half after receiving a poorly struck pass from Keates. Three Torqs confronted two backpedalling City defenders, but one of the home side’s trio foolishly strayed offside, and we escaped. Into 3 minutes of added time at the end of the half, and a game that had been pretty even took a decisive lurch in favour of the amber-and-black cause. Jevons crossed long to Elliott, who headed the ball back into the danger area, where Jevons, arriving at pace, was just unable to get a toe on the ball. And then .. Ian Ashbee. My word. The ball dropped to him, 25 yards out, and he smashed it, on the volley, straight into the top corner. Keeper Dearden, feet rooted to the turf, could move only his head, watching aghast as the ball flew past him at the speed of light, or at least a Serena Williams serve. Ashbee hurtled around the pitch whirling dervishly, his mouth agape, as team-mates and fans cavorted in astonished glee. In its execution the strike was as perfectly achieved as Zidane’s goal in last season’s European Cup Final, though, given that I doubt we’ll witness anything similar ever again from the dogged but limited Ashbee, perhaps the better comparison is with the freak televised goal-of-the-season scored from long range for Fulham in the mid-70s by talentless workhorse Alan Mullery. In City terms, think of the audacity and breathtaking magnificence of Deano’s goal in the 2-2 game at Wycombe a few years ago, though Ashbee yesterday shot from a shorter distance. 1-0 City, and time enough before half-time for Green to slip a shot past rattled Torquay’s post. And this was one of those rare occasions on which the break did not interrupt the flow. We came out for the second half bursting with self-belief and the momentum delivered prompt reward. Jevons struck a low shot, but it had little power and looked a simple save for ex-Tiger Kevin “Billy” Dearden. But, in a feeble flop reminiscent of the risible efforts in the Torq goal of his recent predecessor Neville “used to be good in the 1880s” Southall, Dearden went lumpenly to ground and missed the ball, pure and simple. It rolled apologetically into the ropework: 2-0. Any team would have been floored by the devastation visited on them either side of half-time, and poor old Torquay were reeling. A Green cross was floated to Jevons and, with Dearden standing stock-still and glum on his line, a powerful header seemed to be on its way into the net for a third goal, only for the left-back to effect a game goal-line clearance. But this Torquay side is near the top of the table for good reason, and they began to gather some composure, and started to take the fight back to us. First possession, then glimpses of chances. Muss punched a dangerous cross away for a corner. Whittle raced to intervene with a perfectly-judged tackle as Regan hesitated. There was rather too much positional dithering from Mr Regan yesterday afternoon. The game was stretched now and though we had our moments, notably when Dearden came out of his box to head the ball away from the advancing Elliott only for Branch to waste the open goal by chipping an awkwardly bouncing ball well wide, Torquay were penetrating with increasing regularity, with David Graham a particularly tricky opponent. And the Torqs scored. One of theirs was permitted too much time down the left, near the by-line, and his cross was shoved into the net from about 8 yards out. An immediate double substitution revealed Mr Taylor’s anxiety. Jevons came off, and was joined on the bench by Elliott, who tucked himself up in a tartan blanket, swigged some Irn Bru and buried his nose in a handsomely-bound copy of “Ivanhoe”. On came Alexander and Williams. And Ryan immediately played a major role in extending our lead to 3-1. He took up possession down our left, tripped himself up, but righted himself with urgency and from having apparently lost the ball he fought back vigorously and contrived to win a corner. This sailed on to the forehead of Justin Whittle, towards the back of the penalty box stramash, and his header, down into the tangle of bodies on the edge of the six-yard box, was gleefully thumped into the back of the net by Anderson’s weighty right boot. Crumple! That’s what Torquay did. They thought they were right back in it. Weren’t. And now we preened ourselves with disgusting self-satisfaction, like the bronzed, ripplingly-muscled Adonis who strolls the beach confident of his sharply-defined six-pack and well-filled Speedos. Envy and admiration is our due,and the team justified such presumption. Green’s natural role is a central midfielder. He has skill and vision on the ball, and is wasted if played out wide. And he was now conducting play with relaxed grace. But he could do this only courtesy of terrier-like aggression from Keates, who teetered on the brink of a second yellow card all game long but did plenty to stop Torquay seizing control of midfield, and the ebullient Ashbee, who concentrated with care on the unglamorous holding midfield role. Branch limped off, on came Burton, we re-shuffled and Delaney pushed forward, but nothing now would disturb our command. Keates chipped over the bar from 25 yards. Williams crossed to Alexander, whose forceful header was directed straight at Dearden. And our eager frontman came close again when he muscled a hapless Torq defender off the ball, before turning and shooting, but again only to lodge his effort firmly in Dearden’s gloves. Mr Taylor must be wondering just why such an impressive collection of players has been turning in such gruesome under-performances over these last ten months; I know I am. A fourth goal was lurking, but what a gem it was once finally revealed. Green to Alexander, back to Green, the defence is split wide open, Green is racing away, five yards clear of the despairing cover, only Dearden to beat … and the ball is whisked confidently past the keeper’s left hand and just inside the post. 4-1, a delightful digestif. And so we won, and we won well. The game finished with a reminder that we had thrashed a decent side, as Regan was again harried into surrendering possession only for the Muss to block the shooting opportunity crafted by Torquay. And up the Football League we go. I suppose this six-point week is mainly a demonstration of the players’ relief at the termination of the Molby reign rather than proof of Peter Taylor’s managerial genius, but right now Adam Pearson must be congratulating himself on a big and brave decision that so far he seems to have got dead right. The Taylor era. So far, so very good.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott.  Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 66), Alexander (for Jevons, 66), Burton (for Branch, 74), Peat, Holt. Goals: Ashbee 45, Jevons 47, Anderson 68, Green 85 Booked: Burton, Delaney, Keates Sent Off: None   TORQUAY UNITED: Dearden, Canoville, Hazell, Woozley, Holmes, Brown, Russell, Fowler, Hill, Graham, Gritton.  Subs: Osei-Kuffour (for Brown, 51), Prince (for Holmes, 73), Hockley (for Fowler, 78), Attwell, Douglin. Goals: Hill 65 Booked: Canoville, Fowler Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 3,607

Hull City 3 Rochdale 0

Molby out, Taylor in, Russell picks the team, Boothferry roars, Rochdale are mauled.  Mike Scott sums up an incredible week in the Hull City soap opera.
The players had no respect for him, he had alienated many City supporters, the results were dreadful, performances mixed and the chairman was conspicuous in not giving him public support in the last week or so. When you say it like that it’s no wonder that Jan Molby had to go, whether he’d been in the job for five months, five years or five minutes. And this Rochdale game put the final icing on the cake, because yesterday we learnt that the true legacy of the brief Molby era was a squad of players of genuine quality, skill and commitment. It’s just that the big Dane couldn’t bring it out of them. The sacking was a footballing necessity and a financial necessity. With things slipping average gates under Molby were touching 7,000 – which may transform to 10,000 in the new stadium. With a new manager and a lift in fortunes the gates should return to 9,000 – 15,000 in the new stadium is quite possible. Add up how many extra fourteen quids that is in the 19 home games between now and May and you’ll see that Molby’s contract pay-off was an investment, not an expense. Call it the dawn of a great new era full of pride and passion, or call it eleven players with mortgages to pay trying to impress their new gaffer. The optimists and the pessimists can debate it as much as they like, the fact remains that this was a powerhouse performance by City that is likely to remain without parallel in this division all season. We took a very reasonable Rochdale side and trampled all over them, by the last ten minutes the Lancastrians were disjointed and dispirited road-kill. The hard work of lifting a depressed squad of players starts now Mr Simpson – don’t call Big Jan for advice. The mood was set before the game as Peter Taylor was introduced to a rapturous Boothferry Park. Not for him a quick waft of the hand in the general direction of Immingham, Taylor strode on to the green sward in a purposeful manner and, surrounded by a gaggle of six frantic photographers to heighten the drama (I would wager at least four of them had no film in their cameras), he proceeded to command the centre circle with a clenched fist waved at the City masses. It was just the sort of outward demonstration of passion and “yes-I-can-be-arsed-actually”-ness that we have craved for many moons. Taylor mounted his white charger and galloped back to his West Stand seat alongside Adam Pearson as Kempton belted out “Peter Taylor’s Black and Amber Army” and grown men whispered “Jan who?” to each other. Out with the old and broken, in with the new and gleaming. Except the future and the past were apparently the same. City carded but one change in the starting eleven from last week’s Kiddie kapitulation (debutant Burton in at left back for the crocked Edwards and Smith), while we also saw the return of big money signings Alexander and Holt to the bench. The line-up was apparently 4-3-3, thus:

Musselwhite Regan Anderson Whittle Burton Green Keates Ashbee Branch Jevons Elliott

Except this wasn’t 4-3-3 as we have known it in recent times. This was 4-2-4, 4-5-1, 2-2-6 and 7-3-0 all rolled into one fluid, shimmering and energetic formation that defended in numbers when it had to, flooded the midfield in moments when Simpson and Flitcroft started to get some good possession, then transformed into a potent attacking swarm when we had the ball on the ground and passed elegantly to feet. It was probably the kind of thing that Molby had in mind when he said that his preferred system was a fast-moving 4-3-3 shape. It was the kind of thing that he could never bring out of his signings. Billy Russell for Scotland manager? It started cagily. City, as ever, had the earn the right to play against a potent looking Rochdale side. They had the giant yet mobile Griffiths at the back alongside the still-imperious ex-Tiger Richard Jobson, they had the scurrying Simpson in midfield alongside the combative Flitcroft and the languid yet visionary Bishop, while up front they had the capable Connor (middle name Tom’o) and Clive Platt, perhaps the best pound-for-pound striker in this division and, I dare say, the one above it as well. Quite why a Sheffield Wednesday or a Coventry City hasn’t stepped in secure Platt’s talents yet I don’t know – perhaps he’s waiting for his KC Stadium call-up? Hilariously, as we would later discover, they had the diminutive Edwards in goal. Make no mistake, Rochdale are a good team and the early exchanges saw both teams carve out half chances, Platt firing over the bar and Jevons cutting in the from the left and finding the near-post side-netting. On 6 Simpson picked up a City clearance and whipped an inviting cross onto the bonce of Griffiths on the near post, which the big man steered inches over Musselwhite’s crossbar. Then on 14 Simpson gratefully received a sliced Anderson clearance and fired goalwards only see his carefully guided effort clawed away by Musselwhite. City had heard their footballing reveille (a special military reference for our Omagh readers!) and duly scratched their balls, got out of bed, pulled on their socks and started drill. Burton, who tiptoed through the warm-up with a demeanour that suggested an uncomfortable warm feeling at the back of his pants, was dumped unceremoniously by Flitcroft who, when he repeated the trick two minutes later, saw yellow. This rough treatment seemed to galvanise the young defender and he went on to give as assured a debut by a Junior that Boothferry Park has witnessed in many seasons – he’ll give Edwards a run for his money on this showing, and Smith an extended run in the reserves. The Tigers started to get the ball down and play it simple, quick and incisive and the game swung heavily in the home side’s favour. It began when penetration down the right saw Ashbee accept possession and sweep a tasty ball from right to left. This culminated in the onrushing Burton finding himself in the box with only the goalie to shoot past, but his delayed strike was charged down for a corner. Then Branch was released through the heart of the Rochdale defence and his arced run ended in a right foot shot that was parried with Jevons lurking unmarked on the far post. Green picked up the rebound and swung in a cross that was cleared for a corner. The first flag-kick was cleared behind the goal by Jobson, but the second found Elliott eight yards who headed goalwards, his effort diverted away from the keeper’s dive and into the roof of the net by Jevons two yards out. 1-0. Total Tiger Mayhem. We started to play without fear. We started to play sweet passing football. As Rochdale wilted, City cut swathes through their midfield and defence and only a series of last ditch tackles by Jobson and Griffiths prevented further score. A sweet passing interchange between Green, Keates and Elliott resulted in Jevons being freed down the inside left channel, and his shot was charged down for a corner. A minute later a repeat opportunity for Jevons and a repeat desperate lunge. As those around me with rather too much ale on board confused Regan and Whittle and used cigars to inadvertently set fire to hiking garments, the waves of attacks continued. Jevons was a constant thorn in Rochdale’s side and Jobbo saw yellow after clattering him when another gaping defensive hole was opening up. Branch hit the resultant free kick just about as high, wide and away from the goal as I have ever seen from 25 yards – I suspect he won’t be invited to set piece practice this week. Jevons again freed himself from Jobson’s clutches after accepting a sumptuous Green through ball, only for the wily ex-Latic to oldham at bay with a last gasp tackle on the edge of the box. Could the Dale rearguard hold out after such a sustained onslaught? As we entered the 45th minute we got our answer. Keates (I think) had the ball in his own box and swung a clearance to Jevons with space to run into on the left hand side. With Griffiths inexplicably backing off at least ten yards (as in Ayala vs Owen, 1998) Jevons slid a pass to the onrushing Elliott whose lung-busting run was rewarded only with a fine parried save by Edwards. But what’s this looming up towards the ball? Yes! It’s the similarly lung-busted Branch who picks up the scraps and sweeps the loose ball home from 14 yards. 2-0 and caps, bowler hats, transistor radios and small boys are thrown in the Kempton air in unrestrained jubilation. The players leave the pitch at half-time with a back-of-neck-hair-bristling roar resounding around the old place where there are, the modified scoreboard assures us, only five more matches to go before it is handed over to 5-a-side corporate footertainment. At half-time I mused on the performance of Ian Bishop in the Rochdale midfield. A talented and skillful midfielder at the highest level for Manchester City and West Ham, his descent from the “show” to Spotland has been rapid. And as City assumed the ascendancy in midfield Bishop, now 37, saw fit to go totally absent. He was often seen skulking out wide as Keates and Ashbee powered through the middle, and at least twice accepted possession behind his centre backs, so far back was he pushed to find space. His passing remains pleasing but he was happy to hoof anytime Keates came a-tacklin’. Good players like him should just retire, not jib out of any effort in the third division. And so the second half. It didn’t quite live up the super-charged first period but it did see the Tigers continue to press forward and deny Rochdale attacking options for much of the 45. Within seconds of the restart Bishop had lazily conceded possession to Jevons inside his own half and the rampant Scouser, who with his shorn barnet had the look of a pacier Duane Darby about him today, floated an effort just wide with the outside of his right boot. The second period was notable for the regular and effective incursions down the left by the now swaggering Burton. The tiring Elliott was grateful that young legs were getting beyond him and penetrating the danger area, and Dale right-back Evans’ ears stuck out further and further as his afternoon worsened. Burton’s best moment was, in the time-honoured way of football flair and fluke, a deep cross that drifted goalwards and failed by only a matter of inches to drop in off the back post. Rochdale were not without their moments either. Platt, who was very quiet in the first period, found some good possession down the City left flank but the motoring Keates was willing to help out Burton when the need was there. Bishop rolled back the years just once on the hour, pinging a mouth-watering through ball to Connor whose left foot shot was adeptly tipped over by the Muss. Musselwhite made a couple of other good saves, caught everything fired into his box aerially and generally adopted the “none-shall-pass” that made him such a hero in his early months at the club. Glennon looked on in envy from the subs bench, munching casually on a pie. Green picked up a clearance from a corner he had taken and fired a curling shot that was tipped away by Edwards, and as the ball rolled towards the South West corner flag a coming-together between left back Doughty and Branch saw the ex-Evertonian and Griffiths, whose intervention and shove was deemed too feisty by the competent ref, receive a yellow card. With 25 left Regan rampaged royally down the wing and swung a swooping cross onto the head of Elliott, whose last touch of the day was gratefully accepted by Edwards’ midriff. Williams entered the fray after Elliott received a standing ovation and the shape reverted to an ambitious 4-4-2. By now Rochdale had brought on the youthful Townson (another ex-Evertonian to add to the four in City’s line-up, as the programme noted annoyingly, stealing my thunder) but the young pace-man had little chance to impress. Only once did he get any change out of Whittle and Anderson when he won a free-kick that Bishop whipped goalwards dangerously only for the excellent Muss to tip over. Rochdale also threw on the stumpy Hodges, whose antics for Scunny at BP last season ensured that he got a hostile reception, much to the amusement of Stuart Green who was detailed to police him. The cockney craphouse might as well have stayed on the bench and let the 10 men get on with it, such was the lack of any impact made by his introduction. Platt had one further chance, a shot wide after strong running by Flitcroft, while his partner Connor also had one more opening but his shot was pouched comfortably. But despite these minor aberrations the balance of play was still with the home side – and as the visitors tired and lost interest in the last ten so more City chances came. A deep cross from the right by Branch found Williams beyond the far post, who rolled a tempting ball into Green’s path, only for the Cumbrian colossus to shoot narrowly over. Then a moment of true comedy. Rochdale attempted to pass their way out of trouble at the back as Branch, still willing to chase and harry in the 85th minute, er, chased and harried. The ball found its way to Edwards but the pass was fractionally short and as striker and keeper converged, the ball squirmed out at the striker’s feet and he gratefully accepted an open-goal roll-in from within the six yard box. Icing on the icing on the cake. Yum. All that was left was for more ovations as Branch and Jevons left the field, while Alexander and Johnson entered it. I do hope that the club can sort out Alexander’s problems, which are widely believed to be more to do with bedroom antics rather than footballing reasons, and rehabilitate him into our front line. But if that doesn’t happen then in Elliott, Branch, Jevons and the freshly operated-on Dudfield we have attacking options to see even the hardiest 3rd division defence quail. As the final whistle blew the roar of the home fans was matched by the silence of the away support, which had numbered 800 or so at the start but has dissolved away in the last quarter of the game. As goalie Edwards trotted from his Bunkers goal to the away support he applauded an empty stand, as the remaining 100 or so stragglers had immediately upped sticks and shuffled back to their Lancashire-bound motor cars and buses. A really superb performance then, a real team effort. I have already singled out Burton and Jevons for special praise, they both deserve it. So did everyone really. But my man of the match was without a shadow of a doubt Stuart Green. As recently as 3 weeks ago I wrote that he was a luxury that City could ill-afford, but I am now happy to eat my words. If this boy can be motivated to play the full ninety minutes (not just the 2-3 fifteen minute bursts that he gave Molby) to the best of his abilities then he will, along with a fully fit Elliott, be the reason why we can still piss this division, because he showed against Rochdale that he is a genuine Premiership class player. No wonder Sir Bobby wants him back when we’ve finished with him. Well played Stuart Green. Well played Hull City. Onwards and upwards, with Taylor and Burton on board we are clearly suited to achieve greater things.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott.  Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 67), Johnson (for Branch, 85), Alexander (for Jevons, 85), Glennon, Holt Goals: Jevons 28, Branch 45, Branch 84 Booked: Branch, Whittle Sent Off: None   ROCHDALE: Edwards, Evans, Griffiths, Jobson, Doughty, Oliver, Flitcroft, Bishop, Simpson, Platt, Connor.  Subs: Townson (for Simpson, 64), Hodges (for Doughty, 79), Gilks, MacAuley, Patterson. Goals: None Booked: Flitcroft, Griffiths, Jobson Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 9,057

Kidderminster 1 Hull City 0

Jan Molby’s return to Kidderminster was much talking about and awaited in this quaint part of Worcestershire.  The inevitable defeat for the Tigers, amid more tactical blundertude, is described by Ian Thomson.
As those of you who were unfortunate enough to be at Aggborough for the corresponding game last season will recall only too vividly, City’s showing on that grisly day would, despite the strength of the field, be a prime contender in any survey to find the all-time top ten nightmare Tiger performances. We’re now nine months on, and the regime which supplanted the previous one, the beginning of whose end was probably that sad display, has now had a third of a season more or less to rebuild, refresh and reinvigorate. So the return of the Tigers yesterday to that twee little enclosure next to the Severn Valley steam railway promised to provide a good opportunity to gauge the progress made in the interim. I have to tell those of you who were not there yesterday that the comparison, is, frankly, frightening for anyone possessing any concern or affection for our club. Granted, the effort and spirit on display yesterday were ? to a limited extent -a step up on the arrant gutlessness we witnessed last January (although it would have been virtually impossible for it be otherwise), but, in all other respects, far from progressing we are quite clearly going backwards. Kidderminster are a somewhat less than ordinary side; within five years or so they will be playing Conference football again, as the euphoria of promotion to the League and the consequent infusion of passion and self-belief is eroded year-on-year by the constant grind of keeping a League club going against a background of tiny gates and local public indifference, culminating in a gradual and ultimately fatal decline in performance on the field; this has already happened to Barnet, Scarborough and Halifax and will probably happen to Macclesfield before it catches up with Kiddy. Despite this, and despite a dogged performance throughout from our hosts masquerading as the frenzied tearing apart they had promised us ? or, rather, our manager, who they perceive did the dirty on them ? our expensively-assembled gaggle of higher-league cast-offs, complete with this week’s quick-fix panic loan signing and some curious inclusions and omissions, never looked like besting them or even knowing how to. Indeed, it’s hard to say what we did look like, or to seek to identify precisely what the game plan actually was, or what the specific role of individuals was meant to be. Just what were we trying to achieve? More pertinently, just what are we trying to achieve? Given the constant merry-go-round of signings, selections and droppings, formations and tactics, the only area of consistency being the declining quality of the football, have we actually got a plan for getting out of this wretched division in which we now seem to be so solidly incarcerated, and if so might Mr Molby like to try to explain what it is, instead of constantly looking for excuses and scapegoats? There was surprisingly little outward disaffection among the long-suffering 600 or so City fans (including, it was nice to see, TigChatter Adam Gurwitch, which I hope I’ve spelt correctly, here from the Antipodes via a lot of other places, it seems) at Aggborough yesterday ? perhaps they were relieved that we got off so lightly ? but relationships between the Club (or more particularly, the manager) and the fans can surely not now be far from total meltdown short of a rapid, sustained and above all substantial improvement in football and results. And I’m not talking here about the idiots who boast on the opposition’s message boards every Friday about the pasting City are going to administer only to be on the City message boards by 4.58p.m.on the Saturday calling for Molby’s head ? almost as irritating as those who dutifully chant the mantra “we’ll be there or thereabouts” without ever offering a scrap of justification for this increasingly-doubtful looking proposition – but rather the more reasonable, sensible, knowledgeable types who know that we badly need some stability and that Molby had to be given time, that a team and strategy have to be built which will not only get City out of the Fourth Division but will provide a springboard for continued achievement, but who are becoming bewildered, concerned, and increasingly angry that after what is now a fair amount of time there is not even a sign of any effective strategy starting to emerge or of any measurable improvement having been made. Once you lose them, Mr Molby, you won’t get them back. Should you doubt this, ask Terry Dolan. Anyway, let’s talk about the football, such as it was. Fixing the steel clamp of despair around the heads of the Tiger Nation yesterday were the following:-

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Edwards Keates Ashbee Green Branch Jevons Elliott

Subs: Smith (for Edwards, 14 mins), Dudfield (for Elliott, 64 mins), Johnson (for Jevons, 80 mins) So, a strange selection in some respects. Where was Alexander, in particular, who hasn’t been any more inept than the rest of them? And was Elliott really match fit (no, as it soon became evident)? And back to our manager’s preferred 4-3-3. Conditions were beautiful for the time of year as the game kicked off with the Tigers attacking the home end. Barely had the fans torn themselves from their pre-match conversations and turned to face the pitch than the ball was in City’s net as the Dane Henriksson (the best player on view yesterday by a country mile) fed the lumbering centre-forward Broughton (the worst player on view yesterday by a country mile), who curled the ball home oblivious to the raised flag of the linesman on the right. City won a corner on 8 which came to nought, but five minutes later one of the few moves of quality in the entire match ended with Ashbee playing the ball out left to Elliott, who cut inside but didn’t connect as sweetly as he could have with the final shot, Kiddy custodian Brock saving easily. A minute after this Broughton cynically hacked Edwards down as the two of them chased an aimless long ball, forcing the latter’s replacement by Smith. The haranguing of the Kiddy striker turned to guffaws a little later as he rounded Muss with the City defence spectating, only to go too wide and scuff his shot harmlessly into the side netting. It was all becoming pretty wretched fare by this time, however with the home side running around like a pack of eager hounds and City by comparison resembling an aged and corpulent Labrador which has just polished off the Christmas dinner leftovers. The last thing of any real note attempted by City in the first period came on 25 mins when Branch ? no better or worse over the 90 minutes than any other member of the increasingly long list of City loan strikers in the Pearson regime – came in from the right and hooked one over the bar. The home side consequently enjoyed a comfortable and largely-unchallenged ascendancy in the last third or so of the first half, which ended in what the late Eddie Waring may have termed a grandstand finish for Kiddy as the Muss was called upon to make two fine saves from Henriksson and the number 5 Hinton, and one rather easier one from the unavailing Broughton, in the final seven minutes or so of the half. I had remarked during the first half to my fellow Tiger-Chat match reporter Mark Gretton, standing to my right, that Kiddy would be unable to maintain their headless-chicken approach for the entire game and that if we could see our way through to half-time without going behind we ought to fancy ourselves, and for a quarter of an hour or so after the restart it looked a though that might not be an inaccurate prophecy. This was our best spell of the game, during which, without ever actually dominating or even looking a coherent unit, we put our hosts under a fair amount of pressure and might easily have scored. First the rapidly-deteriorating Broughton inexplicably headed a cross a couple of inches over his own bar while under no pressure, to the huge amusement of the City support, while Branch went equally close on 52 from an Elliott cross, and then Brock did well to reach a dangerous-looking Keates free-kick. But then sadly, typically, City yet again fell for the sucker punch. A free-kick from the left just after the hour was only cleared as far as the right-back, whose cross back into the box was steered in by the impressive Henriksson. It was difficult to see it all very clearly from the far end , but one has to say that the pony-tailed Dane seemed to have rather a lot of time to finish given the amount of amber and black in the box. In the days before the game, the Kiddy fans, billing this as their game of the decade, had promised a torrent of hatred, in the guise of banners, t-shirts and general abuse for our manager, and menace for City supporters, to the point where, according to Fieldhouse anyway, the home club were to provide extra security measures. Well, my eyesight ain’t what it was, but I didn’t see any banners. Similarly, no anti-Molby T-shirts were to be seen, although in the case of most Kiddy fans whatever legend was borne on their clothing would have been obscured by a beard at the front and either a rucksack or anorak, or both, at the back. Extra security ? presumably this consisted of a perspex dome to protect the pies in the tea bar from spittle and dentures involuntarily ejected as the multitudes howled. As for the vocal onslaught itself, this seemed to consist only of a few mild taunts from the 50-strong home choir in the five or so minutes after their goal. Maybe that was as much excitement as they could cope with – who knows? It did beg the question of what they would have made of the way the City fans ? especially the moronic ones – would have behaved if the boot had been on the other foot. Anyway, City eventually decided that they had done enough for the day and that any attempt to get back on terms or even go one better could sit firmly on the “too difficult” pile. Certainly the midfield, their numerical inferiority being exacerbated by Regan’s propensity to go for a stroll when he should have been supporting them and Smith’s loss of any semblance of ball control, were never going to grab this one by the sphericals, especially as Ashbee had to spend so much time deep to cover for Regan. Despite this, and infuriatingly, there were still chances to win, as Branch was allowed a free header on 67 which he flashed just over, and then the best chance of the match was unforgivably scorned on 76, when a quick ball out of midfield gave us a two on one, with Branch in possession and a completely free Dude, who by this time had replaced the ailing Elliott, on his right. Instead of doing the obvious, the Wolf loanee opted to drive the ball hard against the calves of Scott Stamps as the Dude and the City faithful stood aghast. After that, the only talking points were a fine double save by the Muss from Henriksson (again), the City keeper denying Henriksson and Broughton when separately through in the space of about thirty seconds near the end, and an altercation in the Kiddy box which, while rookie ref Ilderton was sorting it out, gave the Kiddy wall the chance to move back to the very place from which they had just been moved by the ref., The latter’s party piece, incidentally seemed to be moving the offending side back for dissent and pacing out ten yards not only on those occasions but other free kicks as well. So another dismal, depressing, demoralising defeat, offering little in the way of signs of improvement and hope for the future. On the way home, I had to change trains at Birmingham New Street, where I purchased a Sporting Star, a good – old fashioned West Midlands Saturday sports paper on pink newsprint which still hits the streets within 45 mins of the final whistle. On the front page, below and to the left of “Kidder (sic) Maul Molby”, was the headline “Wolves in Crisis”. It’s hard to resist the conclusion that we are very far behind ? please prove us wrong, Mr Molby.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Edwards, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott.  Subs: Smith (for Edwards, 15), Dudfield (for Elliott, 64), Johnson (for Jevons, 80), Glennon, Williams Goals: None Booked: None Sent Off: None   KIDDERMINSTER HARRIERS: Brock, Ayres, Hinton, Clyde, Stamps, Flynn, Melligan, Williams, Shilton, Henriksen, Broughton.  Subs: Smith (for Hinton, 82), Bennett (for Melligan, 82), Danby, Foster, Joy. Goals: Henriksen 60 Booked: Ayres, Broughton, Flynn, Henriksen, Stamps, Williams Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 3,787

Oxford United 0 Hull City 0

Mark Gretton reports on the return of Paul Musselwhite and the kind of dour nil-niller that can squash promotion hopes at twenty paces.
And so to posh uni country for consecutive away games and our second visit to Oxford in the last 6 months. As in March we had a lovely sit-outside pub luncheon before watching two underachieving sides desperate to regain former glories that were never really that glorious anyway. Again we didn’t break our Kassam scoring duck and again we didn’t win at Oxford, although this is nothing new. Their programme informed us that we hadn’t done this since the mid-seventies, Wagstaff, Galvin and Vince Grimes the scorers. But unlike March we got a point. And we deserved it in a performance of which, whilst you might question some of the quality and organisation, you couldn’t, even if you were the manager, question the commitment. This was a lot better than Tuesday as it had to be. A final furious five minutes that would have gladdened the heart of Grandmaster Flash might have won it for us as we subjected them to the sort of big finish that has been largely absent from our teams over the last decade or so. In this time Dudfield spotted hesitancy between their keeper and a defender that had prior to this been our property and nipped in to streak it just wide of the empty net from a tight angle. Then Dudfield, thankfully playing this games as The Dude rather than The Dud, was even closer after Green made the sort of clever pass that he had essayed for much of the afternoon into his path. Dudfield steadied himself, took aim, struck it cleanly and missed, but by so little that the watching tigerfolk were already in the air in pre-acclaim mode. After that we pummelled them from a series of corners without quite finding the knockout blow. So a 0-0 draw and the inevitable feeling of going out on a date and it going pretty well and when your mates ask you how it was you say ‘Oh, great, great, had a really good time’ so they know and you know that, fulfilling as it was to find someone who likes The Manic Street Preachers and The West Wing, what it really needed to top it off was for you to score, and you didn’t. But in truth a draw was an eminently fair result, despite our big finish we couldn’t actually find a finish and they would have won but for one appalling miss and two excellent Musselwhite saves. So the Muss was back in place of Glennon. No cries of dismay from the faithful greeted this announcement over the PA, although it is possible that this was because no-one heard it. Memo to City. Try and have a spiffy new sound system to match the spiffy new Circle. This one belonged in a railway station. And so it came to pass that Glennon sat this one out on the bench, which left it sinking into the ground at his end whilst Bradshaw, Edwards, Johnson and Dudfield were airborne at theirs. Lining up in 4-4-2 order were:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Green Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Jevons

And a comfy enough start we made of it, The Muss taking an early catch to calm our nerves more than his, Smith getting in a thudding early challenge and us moving it around nicely enough. Our passing looked good and acquired purpose as Williams and Green combined to gain a corner from which Ashbee and Jevons had shots charged down. Gradually the Oxters came into it, an Anderson error led to a shot ricocheting wide and they began to bypass our midfield. That they sought to attack our left was not surprising, as they had filleted and grilled Holt here last season. But instead of an inept defender with some ability going forward we now have, er, Smith. Now of course Smith has improved hugely from some early season horror shows, but here he got a searching examination. He didn’t, as is the current fashion, go from A grade to Unclassified, but he was beaten on the outside more than he and his team mates would like, particularly as Whittle, Anderson and Musselwhite had clearly not established who was going to pick up the subsequent crosses. One of these was a shot-cum-centre which everyone watched slip just by our post. But we kept doing good stuff, better than them really, Ashbee and Jevons set up Williams for a tame shot before the favour was returned for Jevons to produce a similar weedy effort. Neither side was much cop at keeping the ball and after they had again coughed it up, Alexander flicked on for Williams to produce another non-taxing shot. Then Alex himself got on the end of a through ball but was unable to deflect it with the necessary force. He looked like he was getting closer as a fine ball from Green found him bearing down on goal only for sometime Dolantiger Matt Bound to slide in and make an excellent challenge. Half-time with no score and neither side creating quite enough to suggest that they thought they would. Whilst the teams rest Oxford have the same boring fail-to-kick-the-ball-through-the-hole interval routine as do we. Before the game they had a bewildering obstacle race between someone dressed as a cow with horns and someone dressed as a blood clot. This was hard to fathom. The cow chap could well have been the Oxford mascot, but whether the blood clot was there to symbolise the ability of City to bring on a stroke or heart attack in their sympathisers I couldn’t say. Anyhow, the silly cow beat the silly clot. I think it’s the sort of razzamatazz you think you should have with a new ground, designed to distract attention from the fact that your stadium only has three sides and lacks a piece in the football hot bed stakes. These caveats apart the Kassam is impressively appointed, offers a clear view of an excellent surface and is much better than many new builds in the bottom division. Second half started much as the first ended, we passed it well but lost it before we set up a clear chance, they got it forward more directly but with no more potency. Green was prominent for us, through the middle rather than wide on the right, our width on that flank provided only when Regan advanced forwards. Working hard for them up front was Oldfield, who looked alarmingly like now departed veteran Oxford fatbastard Paul Moody except that no-one ever accused him of working hard. But Oldfield held the ball up well and bounced around both Whittle and Anderson. He also set up a very good chance for Scott who, from 12 yards off a measured pullback and a clear sight, managed to hit the best chance of the game over the bar. The home side were definitely on top on the hour, Jevons was on his heels and looked knackered, we gazed anxiously at the bench, but all was slumber. An Ox got clear and was felled by Justin’s challenge. Their fans predictably screamed, we looked on anxiously, yellow card and free kick was the verdict. From around 20 yards they got in a very fine strike only to be thwarted by an even better Musselwhite save, stretching low to his left. Then we got free Williams ran at them and set up the labouring Jevons who had a free shot but took so long to position it that a defender got back to make a good block. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Keates free on the edge of the area. No doubt musing to himself “Other spirits there are standing apart/upon the forehead of the age to come” he found neither the others, their foreheads or a particularly spirited effort as his shot was high and wide. On 75 minutes we made the change, Dudfield came on. It was at least 15 minutes late, but, we thought, better late than never. Then, astoundingly to at least these old eyes, we saw the number held up was Alexander’s not Jevons’. Now our combative front man had not been at his belligerent best, but at least he was still able to run, something that seemed beyond Jevons after the first half hour. The change didn’t really work the trick as we were again forced back, one of theirs was again set up with a pullback and from 8 yards he shot low and true for the corner, only to be frustrated by a tremendous Musselwhite stop when the ball had seemed to be past him. Custodian of the leather! And that was as good as it got for Oxford. Jevons was left on lumbering but Williams departed for Johnson on 85 and his pace and that of Dudfield seemed to unsettle Oxford as we ended the game pleasingly in their half and around their area. So it ended equal, equal commitment, equal lack of bite when it mattered. Whether we were watching a couple of promotion teams is another matter. On balance I would have thought not, but if this season has taught us anything, it is how unwise it is to make sweeping predictions on the basis of one game.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Dudfield (for Alexander, 78), Johnson (for Williams, 84), Edwards, Glennon, Bradshaw Goals: None Booked: Whittle Sent Off: None   OXFORD UNITED: Woodman, Crosby, Bound, Viveash, McNiven, Savage, Hunt, Ford, Powell, Scott, Oldfield.  Subs: Omoyimni (for Oldfield, 72), Louis (for Savage, 85), Whitehead, Robinson, Waterman Goals: None Booked: None Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 5,445