Hull City 2 Southend United 2

Steve Weatherill reports on another season opener that promised much, but ended in disappointment
And how was your Summer of Sport? So many thrilling moments of splendour, etching the memory like diamond on speckled slate. The World Cup – the sight of a million and more jubilant Koreans thronging Seoul’s City Square like a lava flow of molten red or, on the pitch, the resurgent genius of Ronaldo, the breathtaking delicacy of the Borghetti bonce, or the fluidity of that gorgeous Turkish midfield. Cricket – the faultless stroke-making of Marcus Trescothick and, you know, at one stage I do believe I spied a Yorkshire bowler who wasn’t injured. Wimbledon, and the heartache of a nation discovering to general astonishment that Tim Henman would get turfed out of the tournament just as soon as he ran across someone who didn’t treat grass as a giraffe would the polar ice-sheet. The Commonweath Games, and the extraordinary feats of Ian Thorpe, the unstoppable front-running of dainty Paula Radcliffe and those mesmerising tiny shiny yellow skirts favoured by the victorious Australian netball team. And always looming on the misty horizon was the shrill bell that would awaken us from our reverie and send us trudging back to our daily bread.Southend at home was the uninspiring verdict of the fixture list, and now season 2002/03 is under way and … well! how about that!… so far it looks remarkably similar to season 2001/02. Bright and lively at the beginning, brimming with flair and promise, only to deteriorate messily and ultimately to deliver horrid disappointment. City led twice, Southend equalised twice, on the second occasion as the game laboured through the three minutes added on at the end of the ninety for the sole purpose of torturing the anguished home support. Meet the new boss ….

Mr Molby is touted as a devout 4-3-3 man, but the starting line-up looked more nuanced that that from where I was standing:

Glennon Edwards Strong Anderson Smith Ashbee Greaves Green Williams Elliott Dudfield

A diamond formation, if you like: Green played directly behind Dudfield, with Williams and Elliott operating consistently close to the touch-line, while the burly Ashbee and the fit-again Greaves performed the holding job in the centre of the pitch, a role that was our most obvious (but far from only) omission from last season’s tactical thinking. The positive elements to take from yesterday’s game? The attack. Dudfield, Elliott and Green were all excellent and, since we have injured bludgeon Gary Alexander to restore to the side sooner rather later, yesterday’s evidence provided a strong case that we will score a lot of goals this campaign and that we will do so on a rising tide of flowing, attractive football. Young Green, on a season’s loan from Newcastle, is a remarkably intelligent footballer. He passes well and, off the ball, he moves into space with a guileful awareness which far surpasses most of what we’ve had to endure from this Division’s midfield hammer-throwers in recent seasons. File under “let’s hope we don’t drag him down to our level”. Elliott is a splendid accomplice. He is fast, sharp-thinking and confident on the ball. He too looks a cut above the normal drudgery of this Division, and his wing-play should terrorise defences this season. And though you would be entitled to comment wryly that much the same was being breathlessly said of Beresford this time last year, I get the strong impression that Elliott is a much more complete footballer than could ever have been imagined of that departed one-trick pony speed merchant. Of Dudfield we know plenty already, and I am glad to be able to report that yesterday Lawrie revelled in this sparklingly fluent environment by producing the brand of trickily elegant football that in the course of the first half of last season stamped him as our most skilful non-Jamaican player since Garry Parker. The negative elements to take from yesterday’s game? The defence. Smith, Anderson, Strong and Edwards all had disappointing games on an individual level – I list them in order from “most” to “least” in the hierarchy of disappointment – and, furthermore, at no stage did they look convincing as a unit. Southend were allowed far too much room to devise attacking options, even deep inside the final third of the pitch. Smith, in particular, rarely seemed positionally alert and far too many Southend advances were carried unopposed deep down his flank. Strong and Anderson look ugly, as all true central defenders must, but their play is too restrained for my liking. Curdle my blood with your challenges if you please, gentlemen. Well, off we went, on the sunny afternoon that is the prerogative of the first day of any season, and a pleasingly lively opening to the fun was crowned by a very fine Tiger goal, rippling the North Stand net. Dudfield won the ball with a vigorous challenge and promptly released a superbly weighted pass into the box where Scott Green, sprinting forward on a run that was delightfully judged and quite enough to elude Southend’s baffled cover, converted the chance crisply with an accurate shot into the far corner from twelve or so yards out. A crowd of over 10,000, all but 300 of amber and black fidelity, roared, and settled back for more of the same. And there was more. A neat interchange between Dudfield and Williams provided space for the latter to dart clear of the visitors’ lumbering back-line – Cort and Phil Whelan? Built for speed they aren’t. Elliott cleverly pulled another defender away from the danger area with a nippy run off-the-ball, allowing Ryan space for a good shooting chance, but he rolled his shot the wrong side of the near post. Then a defensive mis-header invited Dudfield to shoot, but his low effort was saved by the competent Shrimp netman, Flahavan. The absence of comedy keeper Mel Capleton was one of several issues on which stubborn Southend refused to provide us with maximum entertainment value yesterday. Things got a bit silly for a while. A tackle which nowadays has players and fans howling “Two-footed! Over the ball!” sent a Tiger to the turf, whereupon several of our team surrounded the offender and jostled him. More Southend players scurried up, so did more of City’s, and soon enough most of the players on the pitch were performing the ritual “don’t you shove me like a tart, or I’ll shove you back like a slightly bigger tart”. I mean, I love watching this sort of daft melee, but, honestly, the tackle in question wouldn’t even have been treated as a foul back in the days of Duncan Forbes and Eddie Colquhoun. Nobody was hurt, either from tackle or subsequent pastiche posturing, but the referee, a small man with a moustache (where DO such people acquire their fashion ideas?), was in a blind panic, and simply whipped out his yellow card and brandished it in the face of – as far as I could see – four of their players, seventeen of ours, both linesmen, several St John’s Ambulance men, and the apprentice sweeping up the off-cuts of pig from the floor of Imison’s top-notch butchers over on Boothferry Road. In fact, further pointless yellow cards followed as the half proceeded to do anything but boil over. It was a sorry case of a referee hopelessly out of his depth, and it would have taken a brave man to express the view that we would not be seeing red before the game was complete. No such bravery was forthcoming and, as we would later discover, wisely so. Still, we continued to go forward with enthusiasm as a subdued Southend side looked likely to accept that Hull away on the first day of the season was best written-off as a solid no-pointer. Elliott impressed throughout down the left. He’s not a big lad but has an enviable capacity to bring down high passes from forehead to boot and then unhesitatingly to savage his nearest opponent. Dudfield too was in lively form, and he duly produced a spectacularly brilliant chipped pass into space for Green to race past the hapless visiting rearguard and thump a shot just past the angle of post and crossbar. Dudfield looks a little like Denis Bergkamp; this was a moment of sublime skill of which the transportationally challenged Dutchman would have been proud. Two minutes later Green repaid the favour with a cute pass that Dudfield slipped just wide. And so we hold a 1-0 lead at the break, and we had created pretty much all of the proper chances throughout that first 45. Defensively there had been occasional moments of alarm, the majority of which had arisen down the flank defended unconvincingly by Smith, but Southend had rarely looked capable of taking advantage of any scraps that had come their way. And so the complete alteration in the mood of the match came as a considerable surprise. We trotted out for the second half and never re-captured the confident swagger of what had so encouragingly gone before. Southend began slowly to assert themselves and, visibly puzzled as to just why they were enjoying so much quality possession, nevertheless found themselves playing with the air of a side that has thrust upon it the realisation that, after all, defeat is not inevitable. And so had the balance shifted. Time and time again Rawls, the lean number 11, was able to receive the ball in an advanced position, control it and look for the next man to pass to. Why weren’t our central defenders treating him more aggressively, not to say brutally? Graeme Jones looks like a striker in his final season as a professional but even he was enjoying far too much freedom deep inside our half. Defensively we looked ragged; the deep-lying midfield duo was less prominent than in the first period, with Ashbee, in particular, supplying a hot-and-cold first half/second half display. Southend levelled from a corner which was only half-cleared, nudged feebly to the back of the box. One of theirs controlled the ball, slipped inside and stroked a chip high over Glennon and just underneath the bar. From where I was standing in Kempton, it was a deliberate attempt on goal, not a cross that drifted crazily off course, and a reward for audacious skill. As the thread of the game had drifted out of our hands, it had been surprising to see no subs warming up, but happily that equalising goal acted as a cold shower to our team, and we started to play properly again. Smith knocked a well-judged long ball down the left side to Elliott, who squared to Green; a toe-poked shot flew just over the bar. Then Green surged through the midfield and released a delightful ball into the path of Elliott, advancing towards the edge of the box with a narrow window of freedom from defensive attention. But Southend were rapidly covering the gap so Elliott had only a brief opportunity to craft an attempt on goal. It was quite enough. A confident sidefooted shot slid cleanly over the turf, past Flahavan’s groping left hand and just inside the far post. 2-1. Elliott celebrated a delightful moment of exuberant vision by standing in front of Kempton and pointing up to the heavens. He is, I understand, a committed Christian and this was therefore his method of indicating to us that this was the first City goal that should be credited to the Lord since October 1978. Southend still fancied their chances, and came close when a delicate chip left Glennon rooted glumly to the spot, only for the ball to fall just beyond the crossbar. Our goalkeeper looks as chubby this season as last, and his mobility would surely be improved were he to lose half-a-stone or so. Meanwhile the sleek Dudfield found space up at the other end, and belted a left foot shot just too high. We were worth our lead by virtue of the attacking imagination displayed during the first half in particular, but the margin for error was narrow. Narrower still once Ashbee was sent off. It was another innocuous foul but of the silly type that the referee, now on to his fourteenth biro and fifty-fourth emergency supplementary notebook, had been punishing with yellow all afternoon long, and Ashbee walked. Dudfield teed up a shot for Elliott, which was struck over the bar. Philpott replaced Williams. And we were into the last couple of minutes. And then ninety was up and there were three minutes extra. And you knew what was going to happen. Our ten men crowded behind the ball, allowing Southend to compress the pattern of play exactly where they wanted it, deep inside the territory we were protecting. The entire Tiger team was all-too-readily penned into its own penalty area and when a weak Philpott header fell to Bramble, he had no hesitation about whipping in a fiercely struck shot. It was swerving well wide but cannoned into a limb ten yards from goal and the ricochet sent the ball spinning into the back of our net, with Glennon hopelessly wrong-footed by the deflection. There was, however, nothing lucky about that Southend equaliser. They took the chance presented by our witless decision to cram so many bodies into the area closest to our goal, instead of keeping Tiger players upfield who are, after all, eminently capable of taking and keeping the ball in order to run down the clock. When Bramble shot into that penalty box maelstrom, he knew he was more likely than not to gain a generous deflection. I’m looking forward to enjoying our attacking flair this season, and the speed of its delivery may make us even better value on the counter-punch away from Hull than on our own home pitches. But did I mention that our defence needs sorting out?

HULL CITY: Glennon, Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Greaves, Williams, Dudfield, Elliott.  Subs: Philpott (for Williams, 89), Price, Musselwhite, Whittle, BradshawGoals: Green 8, Elliott 68Booked: Ashbee, Smith, Strong, WilliamsSent Off: Ashbee   SOUTHEND UNITED: Flahavan, Broad, Cort, Whelan, Searle, Clark, Maher, Selley, Jenkins, Rawle, Jones.  Subs: Bramble (for Clark, 73), Thurgood (for Broad, 80), Gay, Belgrave, Beard Goals: Jenkins 62, Bramble 90 Booked: Broad, Jones, Maher, Selley, Whelan Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 10,449

Hull City 0 Oxford United 0

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

Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Delaney Appleby Ashbee Keates Elliott Walters Forrester

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

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

Hull City 1 Torquay United 1

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

Hull City 2 Cardiff City 2

If I had pitched today’s events as an aspiring scriptwriter to Hollywood as a thriller full of twists and turns I would have been sent away to make it a bit more believable. This is the way it really happened honest Guv. A week ago it felt like any dreams of promotion were over, the play offs looked nailed on and talk of if we had been offered 3rd at the start of the season we would have bit your hand off. Men of steel have gradually melted into puddles of mercury and nails bitten to the quick. Did anyone really believe we would progress through the lottery of the play offs, Saturday was surely our final chance and we are in our poorest run of form this season. Writing a cheque to book my own seat for the semi-final was the moment I finally succumbed to the collywobbles and believed the end of the world was nigh. Leeds of all teams would hold our destiny in their hands, still sitting comfortably? A FLAG meeting in the morning and talk of themed stands, SMC’s and the future of season tickets just cranked up the tension although Linton Brown running around with coffee and bacon banjos set the surreal scene for the rest of the day. So on to the final game of the season? Early reports are that Koren is not fit and will play no part. Humberside are reporting we are going 4-4-2 with Brady upfront. We arrive to a packed ground and the team is announced: Stockdale Rosenior                                  Faye                Chester                        McShane Elmo                                        Meyler             Quinn                          Boyd Brady                                      Simpson We start brightly Elmo shoots from distance and it’s deflected wide for a corner, Mcshane climbs highest from the corner and we get another corner but a foul ends our first spell of pressure. McShane whips in a cross just too high for the onrushing Simpson, Cardiff then threaten for the first time but Stockdale dives on a dangerous near post cross. Elmo goes on a mazy run puts in a decent cross but Cardiff are defending well. We crank up the pressure with a series of half chances a Quinn shot, Elmo putting in some decent crosses a shot deflected straight in to the keepers hands a great long ball by Meyler is well controlled on the chest by Brady but Cardiff again tackle well and the threat subsides. On 20 minutes Cardiff come close to breaking the deadlock a shot deflected inches from the far post. Stockdale throws out quickly to set up a quick break from Elmo and then neat interplay from Quinn and Boyd and a lay off from Simpson sets up Mcshane marauding down the left, his shot deflected out for yet another corner. Elmo and Rosenior combine with a quick combination of passes, Boyd releases Brady with a ball through and Brady curls a ball over the bar. Meyler bursts through the Cardiff midfield and is brought down, Brady strikes the resulting free kick straight in to the wall. We give away a soft free kick and Cardiff scare the horses for the second time but we are spared as the ball deflects wide again, Stockdale playing better today punches the corner well clear. Another well hit shot from the lively Brady is well pouched by Marshall in the Cardiff goal. Cardiff fans start singing 1-0 to the Watford and desperate attempts to find the score find no conformation. Then they announce 2-0 Watford and nobody seems to be able to find out what is happening. Cardiff whip in a decent cross but the colossus that is Faye heads clear. We finally hear from Watford and the news is good, Leeds have taken the lead, Cardiff fans just having a bit of fun at our expense the little scamps. We make our first change just before half time as Proschwitz replaces the injured Simpson. Brady again finds space to run and shoot but again just over. The whistle blows and we are still in it, 0-0 and playing well. We hear more from Watford, they are 16 minutes behind us following an injury to their replacement keeper. They have a child in goal now, we must now be favourites.  Bugger Watford equalise and it’s all on a knife edge again. We start still in Second but Watford not quite at half time, why are we not starting the second half at the same time? It’s a conspiracy we are doomed, doomed I tell you. Frazier comes on at half time and the feeling that the Gods are against us multiplies. Brady tip toes into the box and is felled, penalty please Mr Referee, Nothing doing and Boyd is closed down before he can get a shot away. On 49 minutes a long ball falls at the feet of Cambell, he skips past a despairing lunge and has our goal in his sights, he never looks like missing and slips the ball past the despairing dive of Stockdale. We are behind and dropped into 3rd place and thoughts turn to trips to Bolton, Forrest or Leicester on a Friday night. We respond brightly a Brady cross is headed just wide by Mcshane with Pros desperately sliding in to apply a finishing touch but missing by inches. Brady finds Proshwitz but he shoots weakly, the ball finds its way back to Brady who pulls back to Meyler and his shot is palmed away by Marshall. It’s Quinn who reacts quickest and edges out to the left of the box, he puts in a tempting cross and the German goal machine stretches to get there first and apply the killer touch. We are level as are Watford, we are going up possibly. It is now all City we are taking control and piling on the pressure, Quinn shoots but is deflected out for a corner. Brady whips in the corner, Mcshane flings himself at it and somehow ends up sliding the ball in from two feet out, we are ahead for the first time, cue pandemonium. Hull City A.F.C    2   The team formally known as the Bluebirds 1 We are going up…….Surely nothing can go wrong now. Cambell breaks clear but the mighty Faye steps in to maintain our lead. We continue to be a threat with efforts from Pros and Brady. We are starting to sit back as the clock ticks to 70 minutes and Bruce is urging us to push up. Cardiff get a free kick on the edge of our box, the wall stays strong and after a bit of panicking we clear the loose ball. We are now just clearing everything long and starting to look tired, Brady has run himself into the ground and is looking at the bench pleadingly. He is withdrawn for Fahti as we attempt to hang on, we hear that Watford are down to ten with Deeney sent off. Cardiff are irritatingly still giving it a proper go and only solid defending and Stockdale showing more command of his area than recently are keeping us sane. 4 minutes of stoppage time are announced, we are just a sensible few minutes away from automatic promotion. Meyler chases a ball through and is pushed over in the box, the Ref points to the spot we have a chance to wrap it up. The pitch is invaded as people think the game is over. It takes a while to clear and it is our German who steps up, Germans never miss penalties it’s an unwritten law of football. Bruce can’t watch he turns away we hold our breath and he hits it at waist height, Marshall guesses right and saves to his left. A minute later and a ball into our box comes off a knee and hits Faye’s upper arm, another penalty. This time it is calmly placed in the bottom corner and the scores are levelled. The final whistle blows and we are left in Limbo waiting for the end of the game at Watford. 15 minutes still to play and all our nerves are shot. A wander into the concourse and a quick nip out for a becalming fag and I can bear to look at the screens showing the updates from Sky. Leeds have taken the lead and now we must just wait for the final whistle, the stadium announcer keeps us up to date, stoppage time now at Watford, the big screen showing images of our players waiting for updates. Finally the final whistle goes at Watford, we have done it, we are Premier League. The players gave it everything and City fans just about managed to keep the faith, it was as good an atmosphere as I think we have ever seen at our new home. Congratulations and thanks are displayed to the Allams on banners by those on the pitch. We came so close to going bust again and after one of our best seasons and most exciting games are to dine at the top table, our owners, manager and players deserved nothing less in the end. We can now spend the summer watching cricket and enjoying the rumours of our new signings, I believe a certain Mr Rooney and Mr Bale are looking for moves.

Barnsley 2 Hull City 0

C’MON!! It’s still on! This wonderful team has given us a stream of unforgettable memories this season, it’s shown dazzling skill and imagination and a huge appetite for responding positively to adversity, it’s tough-minded, it’s brilliantly managed. We’re in the Play Offs at worst and, since the League table is incapable of lying, we are in them as the best team and, even more positively, it is still securely in our own amber and black hands to win promotion outright. A home win, a single home win, a deflection, a freak bounce, that is all we need right now. That is ALL we need! And, as my good friend Ed Bacon observed at the final whistle at Oakwell yesterday, ‘If anyone had offered us that at the start of the season, we’d’ve snapped their hand off, wouldn’t we Steve’. So! Onward Tigers fans, to next weekend, to glor ….     phhhttttt  …..  bzzzzzz  ….   mmmnnngghhh …..
Can’t do it any more. No. Sorry.
I mean, everything I have written in that opening paragraph is unarguably true – well, except the bit about Ed Bacon: in fact, as the whistle blew, eyes narrowed, he murmured ‘The frog at the bottom of the well sees only the sky’ and moved away through the monied ranks of all South Yorkshire’s police in a state of Zen calm. The rest of it though – terrific team, terrific season, still our prize to claim – is spot on. But it sounds hollow this morning.
This was a dreadful display.
We were tentative at Wolves. Leg-weary at home to Bristol City. At Barnsley we were tentative and leg-weary from start to finish, but you can throw in half-paced, unimaginative, completely and totally leaderless and sullen too, and add a pinch of gutless and unwilling to take responsibility on top as well.
It felt as bad as anything since the Dolan era.
I know that’s ridiculous. I know it’s a gross over-reaction. And I know that this time next week we might be a Premier League club, and none of this lament will matter a jot. But that’s how it felt, and that’s how it feels. Not a single player among our 14 was even satisfactory yesterday, and you really do have to trip back to the days of Dolan since we’ve been forced to dismiss the whole lot of them as sub-standard. That, however, was the sum total of yesterday’s horror show.
On a dark freezing cold midwinter afternoon in South Yorkshire, watched over by the sheeted dead gibbering in their ivy churchyards, ghouls and boggarts capering over the ice-gripped moors, and kestrels, blood-clawed kestrels every bloody where, we carded:
                        Stockdale
      Chester         Faye      McShane
Elmohamady                               Brady
                          Evans
                    Quinn    Meyler
                    Fryatt    Boyd
And the first five minutes of the match fizz with action and dynamism. Faye, newly installed as skipper, commits to a lunging tackle out wide. Fortunately his timing is perfect, and the ball scorches out of play to clatter against the hoardings. Then Boyd breaks down the left, but his square ball is rolled too close to ‘keeper Steele, who collects ahead of the advancing Meyler.
And then, after 4 minutes, they score. Time for one of theirs in central midfield, space to play an easy ball in behind our defence, Mellis in the inside right channel, a booming thunderous shot that thumps the underside of the bar and enters the net.
Stockdale was helpless. No blame there. Less so Evans, who is meant to defend the central three back-line, less so McShane, whose side of that central three was so woefully left exposed.
A minute later Boyd chips hopefully over the goalkeeper, but without conviction, and the effort is easily headed clear. And then very little happens for a long time.
Barnsley were watchful on both flanks, carefully offering neither Brady nor Elmo any invitation to surge into space. Or even amble into space. Yesterday, ‘surging’ we emphatically did not do. And Barnsley flooded midfield, making life difficult for Corry Evans in particular, and aimed to dominate possession. Which they did do, successfully, convincingly.
Barnsley had a clear game plan, and executed it cleanly. We looked tired, slow and shapeless, and inflexible too. No Plan B. Not much of a Plan A either. Barnsley were well worth this win.
Poor Quinn must surely be carrying an injury. He hardly touched the ball. This is not the dynamic and skilful midfielder who has lit up this season with his consistent excellence. Meyler was just about the most lively of our midfield trio, but all of the Barns were his superior. Brady rarely looked able to snap the home side’s shackles. Elmo never did, not even once. The pace and menace down the flanks with which we’ve tormented teams this season is vanished. James Chester looks terrified when the ball comes close to him unless it’s in the air. He has zero confidence in his first touch, and wastes possession as if it’s his religion. Our strikers? They’ve stopped striking. There is no hint of them starting again.
No one leads. Faye has the armband but he’s not a shouter and he is anyway far too genial a chap. Right now we need someone in this side to put the fear of God into persistent non-performers. Ashbee could do it, Barmby and Windass too. It’s down to Steve Bruce here.
It’s a tired, bitty, messy affair. Boyd bibbles a weak 25 yarder straight at the keeper half way through, but otherwise half-time is reached with the Tigers having shown no threat in the final third at all. And it could have got even worse in the two added minutes when Noble-Lazarus, a scion of a minor Silesian branch of the Habsburgs, wanders through four – four! – feeble attempts to tackle before shooting wide. At the break the consolation is only that it’s just a single goal deficit.
Boyd has loped around ineffectually, but Fryatt has been largely static and entirely valueless, so whereas the arrival of Simpson straight after the break is no surprise, the exclusion of the Scottish internationalist ahead of last season’s obviously-still-not-fit top scorer definitely is. Simpson offers energy but no finesse, but since the first period brought neither, he’s a welcome entrant.
Brady delivers a free-kick on 46 from wide on the right which results in a looping header easily held by Steele, but if we are hoping for a perkier performance consequent on a Bruce dressing-room grilling, then we are to be disappointed. On 50 it’s 2-0. Far too much time and space is allowed to theirs in an advanced position and O’Grady, one of the home side’s several lively and impressive midfielders, thumps a shot from right to left and past Stockdale.
The shot didn’t fly into the far corner. It was close enough to Stockdale’s right hand for him to have made a much better effort to stop it. The same was true of Kevin Doyle’s decisive goal at Wolves the week before last, which was similarly a shot that didn’t rip into the corner of the net but instead was saveable, albeit that on that occasion it was Stockdale’s left mitt that was left flapping in vain.
It was horrible to watch now. When we got the ball (rarely), we gave it away (routinely). Every City head had dropped.
Entertainment was taken where we could find it, largely in the shape of hostilities breaking out between City fans, including one spectacularly vivid incident in which one angry chap promised his aggressor that he would ‘phone him up tomorrow and sort him out’. Marvin Hagler v Tommy Hearns it wasn’t.
Proschwitz, who is useless, replaced Fryatt, who is not but was yesterday.
No movement, no passing, no support for team-mates. Ball lumped aimlessly forward. Why are we doing this, after a season of success achieved through playing properly? Self-belief has shrunk so far, it is invisible now.
Evans is removed on 78 in favour of Rosenoir, who heads to left-back and we convert to a species of 4-4-42. Too late. Maybe 78 minutes too late. The players are looking too jaded to inject the fierce pace that is required to make a 3-5-2 system work both going forward and defensively, and anyway opponents now know exactly how we are going to play and plan accordingly. Barnsley did. Cardiff will.
An Elmo cross almost hits Proschwitz on the head but fortunately the big German is able to turn his head away from contact with the ball and avoid any risk of facial bruising. On 80 the poor love is forced to apply his Kopf to the ball when free inside the box but fortunately he doesn’t seem to be hurt at all and he kindly directs the header safely and softly over the crossbar to preclude any risk of the goalkeeper’s gloves getting dirty.
Terrible stuff from Proschwitz, who also punts a lame little shot feebly wide a bit later on. Which means that, for all his failings, Proschwitz at least accumulated more sights on goal in his half an hour on the pitch yesterday than the rest of our strikers combined. Maybe more than they’ve managed in the last three matches in total. Our forward famine is truly dismal.
On 83 McShane applies his head properly to a Brady corner, but his effort flies over the top. And we are done (for). Game over.
Steve Bruce walked off ahead of most of the players and acknowledged the supporting chants aimed at him by the fans in the section I was in, fairly close to the tunnel. And, of course, he deserves our support. We have 78 points and have done a whole bunch of wonderful things this long season. And we have one game left. Minimum. Mr Bruce would doubtless observe that we just have to dust waselves doon and go again, and it is a practice I commend to you this bleak Sunday morning.
I didn’t enjoy yesterday, and I didn’t enjoy writing this. I doubt I will enjoy next Saturday.
steve weatherill

Hull City 0 Bristol City 0

This is not a season report. It’s a match report. If it was a season report, I might point out that City are in an historically fantastic position, requiring at most just one win to take us back to the Premier League. Quite possibly we might need less than that, given the slump in form of Watford and Crystal Palace in recent weeks. We might even be promoted today (Saturday), if Watford lose and Palace draw or lose. Nothing is settled yet, but it’s looking like being one of the greatest seasons – some are saying the greatest season – in the club’s 109 year history. But this is a match report, not a season report. And tonight (Friday) Hull City were dire. Playing against the official worst team in the division, already relegated Bristol City, the Tigers looked anything but promotion material. Gone were the fluent passing and lightning raids down the wings that have characterised much of our play in recent months, in came the long and high hoof, and the selfish show-boating solo run into trouble. We served up a spectacle which must have had many a Sky Sports viewer channel-surfing in the hope of finding something a little easier on the eye. Our one genuine goal-scoring chance came in the 92nd minute of a 0-0 draw lacking incident, quality, and anything likely to excite the neutral. For us City fans, it was an evening of nervous frustration. We’re wheel-spinning on the verge of promotion to the Premier League. Playing as if they’d only been introduced to each other in the tunnel before the game were: Stockdale Chester Faye Hobbs Elmohamady Boyd Meyler Quinn Brady Gedo Fryatt It’s a mild spring evening, and the game kicks off with City playing towards a North Stand containing a few dozen hardy Bristol fans, and a few hundred City supporters (possibly recipients of free tickets?). There’s a bit of an atmosphere in the KC. Not much of one though. Some sections of the crowd try to pick things up a bit, get a few a songs going, but after ten minutes or so it’s not really happening in the stands. This is a metaphor for what’s unfolding on our muddy and rutted pitch. In the opening 30 seconds of the game there’s a quick and slick attack, with the returning Matty Fryatt reminding us of his skills. It comes to nothing, and in rapid succession City launch three long balls out of defence. What’s going on? That’s not how City play. It’s not how we’ve got to second in the league. Even when it’s looked dangerous to do so, we’ve insisted on playing the ball out of defence and building attacks with close passing and running off the ball. Tonight though, we’ve started playing the long ball. There’s the odd flash of more intricate skill, but nothing to threaten Heaton in the Bristol goal. On 7 minutes Gedo runs down the inside right channel and pulls the ball back to Boyd, on the edge of the box, but Boyd’s weak shot is blocked. On the half hour Gedo is again involved in a couple of neat passing moves. First he has a quick one-two with Quinn, but runs into a Robins defender. Then he receives the ball from Meyler and passes it on to Elmohamady, whose cross from the right comes to nothing. That’s more or less it in terms of playing our normal game in the first half. Everything else is either the long and high pass, or the solo run into trouble. Fryatt has a dinky little foray past a couple of defenders on 28 minutes. Before that, the excellent Jack Hobbs decides to leave his defensive duties for once and dribble upfield, exchanging passes with Gedo and winning a corner. Brady takes it, as he takes all our dead-ball situations in the absence of Koren. Not for the only time tonight, he fails to find a teammate. So it’s a very scrappy first 45. David Meyler is energetic as ever, popping up all across the midfield looking to close down the opposition. The more languid George Boyd drops deep regularly, wanting to get on the ball and try to make something happen. But there’s no real shape to the team. Bristol, either by design or because they’ve nothing left to play for except damage limitation this season, are sitting deep and putting plenty of bodies in between our midfield and the goal. Many a City pass is either blocked or overhit. We can’t find a way through. Half-time, and the assumption is that Steve Bruce will do some re-organising and re-focusing in the dressing room. Surely we’ll come out better. There’s still plenty of time to score. My thoughts turn again, as they have done several times today, to a match against the other Bristol side, Rovers, on a warm spring day some 29 years ago at Boothferry Park at the end of the 1983-84 season. Some of you might, as I do, recall it and recognise some similarities with today’s game. A classic season for a resurgent City under Colin Appleton, we were on the verge of promotion. With three games to go it looked very likely that we’d go up into Division Two. Then we lost an away game 1-0 (to Port Vale). But that was just about OK, because we would win at home against Bristol Rovers. We didn’t though. We drew with Bristol 0-0. (I can still see in my mind’s eye – as I did in reality from low down in Bunkers that day – Billy Whitehurst screwing a great chance just wide). So it went to the last game of the season, Burnley away, and in the end our inferior goal difference deprived us of promotion. Similarly – but with a more positive outcome – nine years ago this week, against Huddersfield, there was another nervy 0-0 at the KC on the verge of promotion. That was to get us out of the fourth tier of English football and we were watched by 23,495. (The attendance tonight was 4900 fewer, very disappointing by comparison, as we stand on the edge of automatic promotion out of one of Europe’s toughest divisions and into the Premier League). Following that 0-0 against Huddersfield in 2004, we went away, to Yeovil, and produced an Ashbee-inspired classic win to secure promotion. I pushed thoughts of those games out of my mind and waited for an improved City to break through in the second half. Whatever our manager said at half-time though, little changes. Quinn tries to poke a ball through the Robins’ defence for Boyd to run on to, but it’s too long. We keep playing high balls that don’t suit our team. On 53 we win a free-kick that’s almost a corner, just at the junction of the Best Stand and the South Stand. Brady overhits it, but it goes for a genuine corner the other side. Brady has to go across to take this one too, which he does, this time short to Boyd, who loses possession. Not much has changed. Except Bristol now seem emboldened enough to venture forward occasionally. On 50 minutes Stockdale fubles a weak and low cross, but Hobbs tidies up. Shortly after that, the otherwise excellent Hobbs is beaten for pace in our box, but the Bristol forward fails to find a colleague with his cross. It’s getting nervy. On 58 George Boyd seems unaware of what’s going on as a Robins player takes the ball off him just inside our half. Then – disgracefully it seems to me – he stands and watches, rather than pursuing, as Bristol advance on our goal. A stronger team might have managed more than the soft shot at Stockdale that results. (I wonder, if we go up, should we take up the option of turning Boyd’s loan into a permanent deal? Not on recent form.) Another long ball over the top for City is too long for Fryatt to run onto before it runs into touch. On 65 a double substition, Gedo and Fryatt off, Simpson and Proschwitz on. With a goal apiece for Simpson and Proschwitz in 2013, you’ll forgive me if I didn’t see this as heralding our much sought after breakthrough. And it didn’t. Simpson, as he usually does, had some decent touches, but never really threatened. Proschwitz the same, but without the decent touches. So we move into the last quarter. Robbie Brady has got on the ball a lot tonight. Recently more than ever – he did this a lot at Molineux on Tuesday – he has started to dribble across the pitch from left to right, rather than attack down his wing. He did this again on 73, ending up getting fouled in the centre circle, winning a free kick which Faye lumped forward. Shortly after, we get a free kick about 30 yards out. Brady, of course, to take. Everyone goes forward and lines up ready for an outswinger into the box. Brady instead plays it straight to one of theirs, who breaks forward with our defence chasing back. Happily Bristol make little of this opportunity. Nor of the other half chances they get in the second 45. They have a couple of long-range shots, which go wide either side of Stockdale’s goal. On 80 minutes we have a penalty shout, as Quinn appears to be pushed from behind and to go down relatively easily. I can’t tell from my East Stand seat, but there’s not too much fuss from City’s players when the ref turns down the appeal. Perhaps TV watchers will tell us that it should have been given, but Steve Bruce, who had a good view of the incident, said afterwards that the ref had got it right. As the time left moves into single figures, we’re realising that we’re probably not going to score. The admirable Abdoulaye Faye tries to inspire his teammates with a crunching tackle and a thumping defensive header. Then Liam Rosenior comes on for James Chester, and all of a sudden the combination of Rosenior and Elmohamady down the right looks impressive, winning a corner that Brady takes to no avail. There are 4 added minutes, in the second of which David Meyler’s foraging forward run finds him in the Bristol penalty area, about 10 yards out. He tries a snap-shot, hard but close to the keeper, who saves competently. And that’s that. 0-0. If this was a season report, not a match report, I’d be positive overall. I think we’ll go up. But it really isn’t done until it’s done. In some ways, tonight’s shoddy display emphasised that fact. On the other hand, let’s not forget that though we didn’t win the game, we won one more precious point. Perhaps it will prove a decisive point. I’ll leave the scenarios to the chat list. Ed