Hull City 0 York City 0

A drab affair as early promise melts away to be replaced by hoofery and a crisis of lady luck – all played out in front of a remarkable 18,400 spectators.  Mike Scott sees Terry Dolan drag us down to his level.
Even for a “cup half full” sort of person like me, it’s difficult to take much positive from the latest attempt by Hull City to set a world record for “biggest gap between performance deserved by huge attendance, and actual performance served up”. When a baby is sick down my shoulder I take solace in the fact that the malaise must be on the mend, or the painful wind relieved. When a plane crashes in the Peruvian desert I assume that to offset the death toll aircraft engineers will pore over the evidence, perhaps reconstructing the entire aircraft fragment by fragment in a large hanger, and the lessons learnt will be enacted for the next time I nervously set foot on a shuttle to Heathrow. But in front of 18,400 odd supporters the Tigers did little to cheer me or anyone else up – least of all Peter Taylor if his post-match comments are taken at face value. Too much hoofing, not enough passing, bereft of passion and hard work – how ironic that Terry Dolan was in the KC yesterday to witness a performance “worthy” of his darkest days at the Tigers helm. The advent of a countdown clock on the reprogrammed scoreboard would have pleased countless thousands no doubt, but as the board rattled through the teamsheet there was clear evidence of more Taylor tinkering. Regan returned to right back, Delaney moved up to centre midfield, Williams came in on the left. Melton and Webb were benched, while Forrester debuted in place of the totally excluded, and perhaps never to be seen in black and amber again, Alexander. We lined up:

Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Holt Green Ashbee Delaney Williams Forrester Elliott

Doubtful tactics. We were in for an inevitable battle against the potless York, their belly fire enhanced further by the poaching of Fettis in the week (who wisely stayed benched in order to avoid yet further impetus for York’s strikers to ripple the ropework). Yet we lacked a strong presence up front, we had insufficient tough tackling in midfield and we had wide players prone to too much roaming – all these points were made before the kick-off and were only confirmed with the benefit of hindsight. Despite these failings City came out of the traps well once Reddy had alarmed the dozing City back four in the first minute and tested Mussy’s edge-of-box reactions with a slightly overhit first touch. Green was set free through the inside left channel and York’s loan keeper Ingham – making his third appearance against City in 6 weeks after playing for Darlo and Sunderland in December – smothered Green’s shot and sustained an injury. York were giving the ball away too cheaply, none more so than Ingham whose habit was to punt the ball wide left for a Tigers throw-in – I counted five instances of this, there may have been more. From one of these Forrester received the ball on the right in front of the East Stand, tricked York’s unpolished centre back Brass and set away Green whose cross was cleared amid some panic. From the resultant throw Williams was set up with a 20 yard shot that was well struck but deflected wide. On 10 minutes a foul throw ceded possession to the Tigers deep in York territory, Ashbee and Holt combining well on the left for the latter to cross to Delaney, whose hooked shot was blocked. Another City throw near York’s goalline saw the sorely missed Holtizer launched into the six yard box where Delaney flicked on and Anderson had the ball whipped off his toe end by Brass as the goal gaped. Finally, Elliott fed Green with a throw and the Cumbrian’s advance culminated in a lashed low shot from 18 yards that had Ingham scrambling low to save by his near post. All of these events happened in the first quarter of the game and the creaking York defence, while performing manfully, were looking ready for a breach. And then it all stopped. After 25 Ashbee gave away possession cheaply in centre midfield and Nogan and Potter combined well to set up Duffield with a regulation finish that he skied horribly with no defenders in attendance and Mussy scrambling across him to make some sort of improvised barrier. This alarm seemed to stop the Tigers in their tracks – and where confidence and swagger were evident, fear and meekness emerged. York’s hardwork across the pitch started to pay off, Nogan’s presence behind the front two causing Ashbee and Delaney particular problems, and City retreated into the two banks of four hoofery that has too often infected Taylor’s term in charge. This period of York pressure reached a crescendo three minutes before half time when a corner was defended dreadfully by a collection of flailing Tigers, and Duffield fired home from 4 yards, only to see his effort expunged by the referee who saw Ebor skull-duggery in the preceding melee. A lifeline. Not accepted. At half time the odd boo accompanied the trudge off the KC sward, which was a little harsh as we had been the dominant force for half of the half and went in to the break with a narrow points lead. But more tinkering at half time saw some very strange decisions. Delaney, who had performed gamely but poorly in central midfield for the first half (it simply isn’t a position that he is yet capable of playing), was spared the rod and Holt, who had done OK at left back, was switched for Melton, Delaney dropping to left back. Damien had a decent second half, but did Holt deserve to be the sacrificial lamb? Managers shouldn’t have obvious favourites. In addition Anderson, who had struggled with Reddy’s pace once or twice, was swapped for Whittle. New faces, but same old shite. Melton played as he has always played since he came to Hull. He linked up play well with little ten yard passes in our own half and he made pleasing looking five yard runs on halfway before laying the ball off to a defender, but his tackles were few, his successful tackles were fewer and his forward probings were almost non-existent. Taylor insisted post-match that there is a Steve Melton we have yet to see, a driving goalscoring attacking midfielder who can dominate the opposition. Fine, if that’s what he can do then he’s an asset – but when he isn’t doing it (and to date he hasn’t, other than the Sunderland kickabout) he is not worthy of selection. The second half? Poor. We got a few chances from free kicks to float the ball into York’s box, Whittle won one but no-one reacted, the rest floated over the frustrated Justin for goal kicks. The defending went off the boil and York were gifted chances. Cooper skied after a poor header from Joseph was followed by the ex-Poshman watching interestedly when a tackle might have been nice. Bullock glanced an unchallenged header wide after Whittle was harshly adjudged to have fouled 25 yards out on the left. York came forward cautiously but with good organsiation, and often our gutless tackling gave them more possession than they deserved. City carved out chances sporadically. The best fell to Forrester on 50 who accepted an early Elliott cross after a fine Delaney pass, then fired sweetly goalwards only to see the flapping Ingham get a limb of some description on the ball and execute a fine Schmeichelesque block. City were denied a clear penalty when a Forrester cross was batted off for a corner by a basketballing York defender. Elliott tried an overhead kick that went over the crossbar. Green headed wide after a deep Delaney cross. In the last 5 minutes Ashbee had a shot blocked, then screwed the rebound wide. But overall this was a poor second half performance that City deserved no reward from. Even players who have performed admirably to date this season showed signs of disinterest. Ashbee was poor in the second half, none more so than when he missed and easy header in midfield that let Reddy through on goal, only for the Irishman to slide his finish just wide. Green had an absolute stinker, all his passes were either short or overhit and his effort was minimal. Forrester faded badly after a lively start and didn’t look fit. Webb came on for the last quarter of an hour but by then even City’s hoofing wasn’t working, as clearance after clearance landed in the stands while a willing but bemused Webb looked on. The game ended with a moment of bizarre refereeing. Joseph came across to the left to tackle Nogan, and his challenge was untidy but not particularly felonious. The referee waved play-on and all was well. Then the linesman waved his flag vigorously, and not only did the stupid ref give a free-kick, he booked Joseph for a tackle that he himself had adjudged fair (and he was many yards closer to the incident than the lino). His adjudication on that booking should make interesting reading – “I booked number 39 Joseph for a fair tackle on the touchline”. Another match passes and another poor performance. Taylor has indentified Alexander and Dudfield as part of the problem, and circulated their names for transfer. But the problem runs deeper. The team is willing and able to play good football, but one setback can rock them on their heels and they stop playing, stop passing and – in some cases – appear to stop trying. It’s a major job needed to rectify this, a job that is unlikely to see us challenge for play-offs this season. And yet … only a three point gap between City and 7th (albeit with teams around us having many games in hand). And a fluke goal, a first 20 minutes that yields three goals rather than three close things, the emergence of a player from the wings who galvanises the squad … all is not lost, it’s just that I’m buggered if I can find it just now.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Holt, Green, Ashbee, Delaney, Williams, Elliott, Forrester.  Subs: Melton (for Holt, 45), Whittle (for Anderson, 45), Webb (for Williams, 76), Jevons, Fettis. Goals: None Booked: Joseph Sent Off: None   YORK CITY: Ingham, Cooper, Parkin, Brass, Jones, Cowan, Bullock, Potter, Nogan, Duffield, Reddy.  Subs: Yalcin (for Duffield, 63), Wood, Fox, Collinson, Wise. Goals: None Booked: Cooper, Cowan, Reddy Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 18,437

Bournemouth 0 Hull City 0

Taylor’s Tigers grind out another away point, but it’s six games since a goal that wasn’t a deflection or fluke.  Ian Thomson reports on the latest clean sheet.
Picture this. The team currently twelfth in the League table travels almost 300 miles on the Saturday before Christmas (known as “Black Saturday” according to Radio 5 last night, presumably in much the same way as Sunderland have always been known as the Black Cats or Charlton the Addicks) to take on the team occupying third spot, itself enjoying a run of ten consecutive home wins, one short of a Club record. A hard fought game is played out in foul climatic conditions, and ends with the home side, despite playing with confidence and claiming the lion’s share of the football throughout, scarcely able to force the visiting keeper into a single proper save, let alone breach the defences of the visitors, who despite the clean sheet, the away draw in a challenging fixture, the denial to the home side of its coveted record, and having considerably more copious goal scoring opportunity and the better chances to win the game, is booed off the field at the end by a sizeable proportion of its travelling support, while the applause offered by the remainder gave every appearance as being tendered more out of habit than appreciation at their side’s efforts. Not, TigChatters, a scenario occurring in one of your reporter’s dreams during another half-night of fitful sleep following another night of heavy consumption of the grape and the grain as the festive season reaches its zenith, but a scenario played out for real in the Subbuteo surroundings of the First Fitness Stadium yesterday afternoon. Those of you who were not there might well wonder at whether, even for a support high on expectations and not slow to criticise when they are not fulfilled, this was not more than a little beyond the pale, or whether perhaps, fuelled by similar festive consumption, were unable to recognise their own side, which after all was playing in its second strip. So let me try to explain, if not condone, this apparent dissatisfaction, and summarise the game in another equally applicable and in some ways more pertinent way. The aforementioned home side takes to the field with a rookie juvenile goalkeeper, due to the first-choice guy being injured. The former is himself stretchered off after less than a quarter of an hour of play, and, there being no other keeper on the bench, one of the outfield players dons the goalie’s jersey. The aforementioned visiting side fail to take advantage of this over the next seventy-six or so minutes of play, attacking the home goal only sporadically and not getting forward in the sort of numbers which would put the home defence under real pressure anything like frequently enough, not assisted by the fact that, despite having the more skilful players on show and several players running their socks off, far too many individual performances fell way short of the required mark. As a result, the away side fail to score for the third League game in succession and only scoop one of the three points which were there for the taking, making it a haul of two wins in the last eight League games and causing more ground to be lost on the Divisional front runners, and the crucial seventh spot in particular. The preceding paragraph is, of the two alternative scenarios, pretty much how yesterday’s encounter in the mouth of the Bourne (if you want to know what a Bourne is, don’t ask Mike Scott) will come to be remembered. Although the respective League positions of the teams involved were similar and the result the same, this was as unsatisfactory a goalless away draw as the Wrecsam one of three weeks ago was creditable. More worryingly, a trend seems to have started of performances being on the wane compared with a few weeks ago, with the players brought in by Taylor not appearing to add anything to, and in some respects detracting from, what we previously had. Don’t assume that these two were the only culprits, but I can’t remember a single thing of positive note that Melton did yesterday (for the second League game running), while Delaney had a nightmare, frequently slipping on the wet turf, being repeatedly skinned by the guy he was supposed to be marking, more often than not displaying poor ball control, and squandering possession time and again. Also, we yet again had to endure a first-half performance lacking in motivation followed by a more spirited offering in the second half courtesy, no doubt of some angry half-time invective from Taylor. Why can these players not be motivated from the start instead of wasting half the game? Overall, any Tiger fan watching the last three games would, it pains me to say, know deep down that it would be unwise to expect too much from the rest of the season. City, backed by a commendable following of probably close to 500 fans, lined up as follows:-

Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Melton Keates Jevons Elliott

Sub: Alexander (for Jevons, 64 minutes) This was of course, City’s first visit to the First Fitness Stadium. For those of you wondering, , Bournemouth haven’t moved as such; the ground is on the site of the old Dean Court ground, albeit that the pitch has been rotated through ninety degrees and now runs east-west as opposed to north-south. It’s a typical Airfix-type structure, three-sided as at Oxford but smaller (think Northampton), as anonymous and humdrum as the Circle is original and magnificent, and bedevilled by a completely vexatious and (for an away following of 500) unnecessary ticketing system whereby the away fan has to walk to the away turnstiles, situated as ever at the furthest point from the town centre and the parking facilities, is told by the stewards on the gate that you need to buy a ticket to enter the ground, and that these can only be bought from the ticket office situated yes, you’ve guessed, on the far side of the ground round the back of the main stand, in the direction you’ve just trudged from, so then has to walk all the way to the ticketatorium, purchase a ticket and walk back before he or she can finally get into the ground. This is a system that achieves nothing except inconvenience, impatience and frayed tempers; Bournemouth should in my view be told that unless and until it is scrapped, and either tickets are issued at the turnstiles or the need to have them is dispensed with altogether, they must surrender home advantage, and the attendant revenue, for every home fixture. After that irritation, we finally saw some football. City survived an early corner, and then a fine sweeping move on 4 saw Green cross low from the right towards the inrushing Jevons, who reached the ball just as the hesitant rookie keeper, looking uncertain and badly positioned and a Bournemouth defender did likewise. The keeper came off worst as the ball was deflected to safety, laying motionless in a crumpled heap on the edge of the goal area and requiring lengthy treatment before being able to continue. The game duly restarted, but after a further ten minutes during which little happened but Bournemouth looked as though they might be a handful with their big, bustling front pair and their nippy, energetic midfield, the keeper, still apparently suffering from the earlier injury, collapsed after punting the ball upfield. He was duly carried off on a stretcher with sufficient haste and lack of attempt to patch him up to suggest that the injury was serious, a view compounded by the sight of an ambulance leaving the ground with blue lights flashing some ten minutes later. The game continued with the Bourmenouth number 4 between the posts, thereby demonstrating the folly of not having some sort of recognised keeper on your bench, not of course that it did Bourmenouth much harm yesterday as the half settled into a pattern of Bournemouth pressing forward largely by virtue of being allowed to do so by City’s weak tackling, aimless passing and desire to play to deep to put Bournemouth under any form of pressure, but with few if any proper attempts on goal by the home side. Around the half-hour mark, though, we started to show a bit, and Elliot headed wide on 29 after Keates had crossed in following an inch-perfect crossfield ball from Regan. Two minutes after that Browning in the Bourmenouth goal raced out to stop Jevons getting his cross in after an intelligent advantage from referee Wolstenholme, who had a good game, following a foul on Delaney had caught the home rearguard out. We then finally decided to test the stand-in keeper, with Jevons intelligently attempting a lob from 35 yards out to test Browning’s positional sense, which turned out to be non-existent although the ball skidded off the roof of the net with the keeper stranded. Five minutes after that Green curled one just wide from twenty yards which the goalie wouldn’t have reached had it been on target. It was starting to look promising now, but City predictably reverted to arrant stupidity on 42 when we were awarded a free on the edge of the box. Every other side in the land simply attempts a shot on goal either over, round or through the wall, and makes no attempt to conceal its intentions, but not City, oh no, we know better; we still mess around with silly bloody decoy runs over the ball and short passes to a man who finally attempts to hit the ball goalwards when the wall has by this time advanced five yards, the sort of stupid nonsense that you see in school playground kickabouts. And so it was here as Green eventually blazed over the bar, when if one of them had had the sense to realise that any ball which avoided the wall and found the target would be almost certain similarly to avoid an inexperienced keeper as well. So half time arrived after a curiously-short three-minutes’ injury time. The second period started promisingly, with an attack down the right in the very first minute which ended with Elliott laying off for Keates to strike the ball hard but straight at the goalie – better! Four minutes later Green steered wide when the lay-off to two men outside him might have been a better option, but it all looked promising now and we started, naif fools that we are, to anticipate victory. Almost immediately, we started to fade as the home side rallied as they perhaps realised that they didn’t have to drop so deep to protect Browning, helped by City giving possession away too readily and backed by a constant chant of “Barmy Army” from behind the Muss’s goal – a little incongruous for a town in which failure to wear rubber gloves for foreplay is, one suspects, most peoples’ idea of decadence. City next showed on 63 when we forced a couple of corners, Bournemouth defending superbly to block an Elliott drive which looked inexorably goalbound, leading to the second corner which Joseph glanced just wide. Jevons was then replaced by Alexander, the reasons for which were not immediately apparent unless it was simply to try something new. Well it didn’t work; Alexander clearly had no desire whatsoever to participate in this match. What the hell is wrong with him I have no idea, but he’s an expensive liability at the moment, especially at one point when, even though he looked to have the beating of his marker which would have left him clear on goal, he decided to dive and the chance was lost. Melton, making a rare foray into the action, headed just wide on 67 from a Regan cross, and then nine minutes later Green slipped just as an Elliott shot was parried into his path by Browning. Although performing indifferently for spells, it’s fair to say we weren’t exactly having our fair share of the luck either, although fortune intervened to deny Bourmenouth a victory which they too would not in fairness have deserved on 84 when a slick move down the right ended with sub Feeney backheeling the ball across the face of the goal from in front of the near post, but some stout defending ensured that the resultant attempt to force the ball in was blocked. In truth, that was the first real scare the City goal had had, and we continued to make what running there was in the final stages, as Elliott, a tireless worker and our star man yesterday, headed a looping Regan cross just wide. and Keates wastefully putting his cross too near the keeper when he ought to have picked out one of the two supporting Tigermen a couple of minutes before the ref blew his whistle for the last time and the exuberance of the Bournemouth PA announcer at the end told us what we knew as well as they – that the Cherries had got out of gaol. Until before the Darlo game, Taylor had an average of two points per game. To get back up to that now, we need three straight wins from three teams above us in the table. Come on City, prove us cynics wrong for once.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Elliott, Jevons.  Subs: Alexander (for Jevons, 65), Whittle, Webb, Smith, Deeney. Goals: None Booked: Ashbee, Melton Sent Off: None   BOURNEMOUTH: Tardiff, Young, Purches, C Fletcher, Broadhurst, Elliott, Browning, O’Connor, Thomas, S Fletcher, Hayter.  Subs: Tindall (for Tardiff, 16), Feeney (for Elliott, 73), Narada (for Young, 87), Holmes, Stock. Goals: None Booked: Tindall Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 6,098

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

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