Hull City 1 Sunderland 1

If ever you want to know what makes a touchline different from a goal
line, or what materials football pitches have to be made of, then read
Law 1 of the rules of association football. It’s not racy, nor is it
unputdownable, and there are nopictures, but it’s handy. Especially if
you’ve just watched a game played on a field with no penalty spots.

No penalty spots. Can you imagine? Actually, you don’t need to. Back in
1977, Derby County were giving Manchester City something of a seeing-to
at the Baseball Ground when a bearded Archie Gemmill was fouled by Gary
Owen in the box. Penalty given, no penalty spot located. The usual April
deluges in the East Midlands had turned the pitch into a quagmire, and
as such the gluey mud had managed to scrub away any previous evidence of
a penalty spot.

A bloke with a tape measure, a bucket of whitewash and a brush walked on
to the pitch (in suit and brogues) and repainted the spot. Gerry Daly
then scored the penalty, 4-0. A very good win for a struggling side
against title challengers that season, and yet the game only has infamy
because there was no visible penalty spot.

City didn’t have the excuse of a sludgy pitch to account for the lack of
penalty spots for the visit of Sunderland. They also didn’t require any,
as no penalties were given in a decidedly average 1-1 draw between two
sides still licking their wounds and rediscovering themselves after
their mutual awfulness of the previous season.

But, you know, no penalty spots. Who’s responsible? Well, we could ask
why the referee, the underwhelming and diffident Darren England, didn’t
notice their absence during his warm-up or, indeed, any time during the
match.

Just to check this, we asked Keith Hackett.

“It’s the responsibility of the officials to check field markings.
Penalty mark is part of that. Amazing if no one noticed. Had they done
so they wouldn’t have allowed the game to proceed without the mark
(correct term in law). Potentially the referee could face a suspension
for failing to apply the laws.”

(We really did ask Keith Hackett).

So, the ref could be carpeted for this, but he’s not the painter, just
the foreman.

Now, far be it from me to suggest that the recent unjust sacking of some
loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this, but I think it’s
possible that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at
the Circle is related to this.

Either their replacements are incompetent, or they are supporting their
predecessors by not doing their own job properly. Like a protest. See if
anyone notices. And if they do, Ehab Allam can be blamed. Because like
it or not, be it incompetence or solidarity, even something as trifling
as the absence of penalty spots can be pinned on the hierarchy being
utterly unable to look after staff, recruit properly and generally act
with competence and care.

Law 1 includes the line “within each penalty area, a penalty mark is
made 11m (12 yards) from the midpoint between the goalposts.” City broke
the law.

Wonder if Ehab can sew mailbags?

Meanwhile, there was a match, and not a very good one, really. Law 3 is
about the players; maybe there’s a sub-head in there, covered in Tippex,
that says “no manager of Hull City is allowed to play Jackson Irvine or
David Meyler from the start of the game”. It could be the only reason
why neither were in the team. Markus Henriksen, devoid of confidence.
Sebastian Larsson, devoid of interest. A Scandinavian axis of ghastliness.

Sunderland, meanwhile, brought their usual noisy lot to fill up E1 while
we continued to pretend nigh on 17,000 were in attendance, with a
straight face. West Upper shut, west lower half empty, pockets of space
everywhere else. And no Jackson Irvine nor David Meyler. And no penalty
spots. We embarrass ourselves on a daily basis.

Booking their 5.15pm taxis to get to the ballet on time were…

McGregor
Tomori Dawson Hector
Aina Henriksen Larsson Bowen Kingsley
Dicko Grosicki

… ish. I’ve no idea, really. 3-5-2 at times, 3-4-3 at other times,
5-3-2 when we were defending, which was often. It was disorganised and
shambolic in the first half. Dicko was far too isolated up front and the
central midfield was in a very sorry state. Nobody really had much of an
idea what was going on.

Henriksen made just the one tangible contribution to the half, when a
smart move within the inside right channel allowed him to deliver a
venomous cross shot that Ruiter managed to parry away as Dicko closed
in. What further attacking there was seemed to happen spontaneously,
with few of the City players knowing where to go irrespective of whether
the ball was theirs or not.

Sunderland, with the acidic Lee Cattermole still in their midfield (it
genuinely shocked me when I saw the teams that Lee Cattermole is still a
thing), were quite tidy in the first half. They had passers, runners and
creators, they were putting the challenges in, they seemed quite well
drilled and positive. Any number of things could have gone wrong to make
them as despondent as City in these early weeks, but it could just be
that they are bruised and cautious following their travails last season.

And they scored early. Shocking goal from City’s point of view.
Possession coughed up, cross from the right, James Vaughan heading in.
Sunderland fans reacted like any self-respecting fans who’ve known
nothing but hardship for the last few years would; they hollered and
capered and gestured as if they knew they might never score again.

Vaughan, the dolt, kicked the corner flag clean out of the ground in the
south east corner in celebration; referee Mr England told him like a
naughty schoolboy to go and put it back again or, presumably, risk a
booking for sabotaging the pitch apparatus.

“You made the mess Vaughan, you can clear it up. And look at me when I’m
talking to you.”

Still, good of the official to notice on this occasion that the pitch
wasn’t fit for purpose.

City tried to get back into the game, but the planned use of Grosicki’s
talent on the left wing was constantly foiled by Sunderland’s ploy,
crafty as it was, to stick two men on Grosicki and boot him in the air a
lot. In the absence of any other method of attack, this became a
depressingly frequent occurrence, and Grosicki cut a thoroughly
exasperated figure by the time the whistle went at half time.

The interval began with boos and ended with cheers, thanks to the
introduction of the People’s David who has always, frankly, been a good
footballer, despite what that gruesome chant says. Meyler replaced
Henriksen, who is probably still refusing to come out of a toilet
cubicle at the Circle even now. Hector also went off as Slutsky
simplified the formation and brought on Toral. In between, someone in
each stand won a season’s worth of pies in the half-time draw. Classy
outfit, us.

We didn’t really showcase any class on the pitch in the second half, but
it did seem that boots had been forcibly applied to fundaments and City
were at least a good measure more urgent. Sunderland dropped, soaked up
the collective pressing and relied on the break to pursue a second and,
likely, clinching goal.

They nearly got it when McManaman hit a shot that McGregor did very well
to palm away, with Vaughan’s rebound well blocked by the buttocks of
Kingsley. Escape complete, although Meyler’s prompting and general
positivity was nearly ruined when he was robbed in his own half, only
for Tomori to get across and swipe the ball and accept the thankful
apology of the Irishman as he cleared the danger.

Sub number three was Fraizer Campbell, on with 20 to go for Dicko,
meaning three ex-Sunderland players were now on the pitch. Campbell
immediately did a bit of heel toe conjuring round the edge of the box
before lifting his left foot shot a tad too high, but his instant
willingness to go for a goal seemed to up everyone’s game, including the
City fans. From this moment on, it was all in the Sunderland half.

Often, when you go a goal down at home, you can tell quite quickly
afterwards whether a game is going to finish with that scoreline. This
felt like a 1-0 defeat from the moment the ball went in up to about the
80th minute here, then the hope – that dreaded, toxic, malign thing
called hope – took over. It felt possible.

Grosicki shot wide, Bowen headed one which the keeper palmed away
acrobatically. Chances. Not necessarily getting nearer to scoring, but
the ratio was growing. Sunderland looked panicky and tired. If they held
on it was as much to be despite themselves as anything.

Then, on 82, the leveller. And it was a combo of subs that did it.
Campbell played an inside ball to Meyler who stabbed it goalwards,
aiming at the near post. Did it get a flick off a Sunderland player?
Possibly. Not that any hoots were given. It was in. 1-1, eight to go.

And a player we really wanted to do well had, well, done well. Well done.

Meyler had another effort well saved and in injury time, both Meyler and
Dawson had chances blocked from corners. Though a winner couldn’t be
found, City were chasing it right to the last second and that bodes well
for future encounters. We acknowledged the plan hadn’t worked, we
restructured, we fought back, we didn’t lose.

Slutsky has had a raw deal but he seems to be the only one who doesn’t
see why Meyler should be in the starting XI. The team is inexperienced,
both in aggregate games played and with one another. By having Meyler
ahead of Dawson and McGregor, we have club stalwarts who can organise.
And Meyler looks like he’s playing properly, too. Unappreciated he may
have been for too long, but currently we are a better club for his
presence, and that’s not something we can say about everyone in the
employ of Hull City.

Reading (a) next, then consecutive home games against Preston and
Birmingham. Hopefully by then we will have Jackson Irvine and David
Meyler in partnership in the middle of the team, and penalty spots in
chiffon white near the middle of each 18 yard box.

Matthew Rudd