Doncaster 2 Hull City 0

Any walker will tell you that even the wintriest and most fleeting shaft of sunshine can briefly illuminate the bleakest of landscapes. It needn’t last long, and it may change very little; but you savour it nonetheless.

Savour this League Cup defeat at Doncaster, my friends. Marvel at our 2-0 loss to a side we were three divisions above last season. Because we are Hull City AFC, beset by malice, and there’s really nothing else we can do.

The ever-churning social media informs us of the team an hour before kick-off. With the exception of the redoubtable Rick Skelton and his hardy band of U23 regulars, who can truthfully say they’d heard of more than half of them? My wife notes that she taught one. None of them will remember the Smiths, Pulp, Cool Britannia, Boothferry Park or trebles for singles in Sharkeys. It transpires that the average age of the side is 19 years and 11 months. You don’t need to be particularly old to suddenly feel it.

They were, for the record:

Mannion; Lenihan (c), Clackstone, McKenzie, Fleming, Annan, Weir, Batty, Hamilton, Olley, Luer.

Seven City debuts, and a side captained by 23 year old Brian Lenihan, now a veteran of four first team games in England. Robbie McKenzie, wearing the famous #37 shirt, was a nice lad at school, incidentally.

We began with the City youths kicking away from the 2,000+ away fans, and they started terrifically. Composed in possession and fighting nerves and a much weightier Doncaster side in a way that made you feel a gulping pride, they stuck it out then started to play. And they could play as well, with lots of neat interplay, assured touches and smart one-twos.

The City fans roared their encouragement, breaking off only to pour torrents of scorn on the Allam family. “Where’s the money gone” was a familiar entreaty. Well, when Andy Medcalf publishes the next set of accounts we may find some interesting answers, though forensic accountancy skills aren’t required to observe the difference between income and expenditure on football players. In the meantime, an invitation to stand up if you hate Allam found very few willing to remain seated. The vitriol was universal, by a distance the greatest at any match thus far.

Doncaster pressed their way back into the game, and began to create opportunities of their own. They were unlucky to not score shortly before the break when some defensive uncertainty led to a shot smacking the inside of Mannion’s right hand post; luckily it bounced to safety.

Still, the kids stuck it out and made it half-time, an achievement rapturously received by the Tiger Nation. We began to wonder if a shock victory against Doncaster Rovers was even possible.

It was not. The home side scored early in the second half, and then shortly after, and dreams of a famous win in South Yorkshire were replaced by the gloomy possibility of these willing but cruelly exposed young lads taking a wholly undeserved shoeing.

Leonid Slutsky must have wondered the same. Asked to wave a few times by the supporters who are pained at the colossal betrayal he is experiencing, there was nothing he could do. His bench was nothing but even younger youngsters; no gnarled old pros on there to offer a bit of guidance. On we went.

And on the youth went, too. Heads briefly sagged but didn’t reach critical drooping status. Mannion kept things respectable when they threatened to not be, making two fine saves that, from our distant vantage, appeared to also strike the frame of the goal. And the boys rallied, and reapplied themselves, and kept going. By now, tiredness was clearly an issue and some of the neat football of earlier had been replaced by slightly hopeful long balls that were all too easy for actual grown ups to deal with, but not one of them gave up.

I wonder if the targets of David Meyler’s ire for non-trying were watching?

City made a couple of changes and towards the end Greg Luer slashed a shot wide when an appealing City move cut open the Doncaster defence – a shame, as even though the result was a fair one, a goal would have been just reward. But it wasn’t to be. City went down 2-0, but the boys were cheered off at the end anyway.

It’s funny to take pride in such an evening, but it shows that all isn’t lost. No matter what, there’ll always be young players itching to make a professional debut; their collective sense of pride in finally making a Hull City AFC debut was demonstrated in gushingly enthusiastic social media utterances that brought a smile on the way home. You were a credit to yourselves and your families, young men.

And the City fans were ace too. There’ve been times in the past when we’ve been just about all the club has left, and if the Allam family has its way we’ll be there again soon. But an angry, defiant, and passionate night’s work acted as a reminder that as long as we give a toss, there’ll always be a Hull City. And if it doesn’t look much like the one that realised our dreams between 2004 and 2014, then never mind. It’s ours, not theirs, and however hard they try, they’ll never destroy us.

Andy

Manchester City 2 Hull City 0

On our way up to Manchester we passed a minibus full of Manchester City supporters on the A1.  Her ladyship doesn’t know much about football but a dozen or so men in replica kits is something of a giveaway.   She asked who they supported and I told her it was that day’s opposition.  She cogitated for a while and then opined: “power blue isn’t a good colour for men unless they are hairdressers”.  Later she came up with the theory that it might be a good shade for a Manchester team, “to remind the supporters what the sky looks like in the rest of the country”.   Not surprisingly she spent the afternoon shopping, while we watched the football.   It’s not often you come away feeling optimistic after a 0-2 setback but this was one of those times.  If we play like this regularly there will be more happy Mondays in our future than blue ones.   Lining up against The Champions’ noisy neighbours at The Etihad there was just the one enforced change from the team that started against Norwich.  Sagbo was serving the 2nd game of a 3 match ban (see, there is value in League Cup ties) and Danny Graham took his place in front of a now familiar looking formation. We kicked off playing away from the visiting supporters in the South Stand under blue skies with scudding clouds.  The first twenty minutes must have been exactly what BT were hoping for when they coughed up the money to televise live games.  Fluid movement, sharp passing, and penetrative attacks: just what you would expect in match featuring Manchester City only it was the team in Black and Amber that was looking like the ones expected to be challenging for the title.  First a through ball to Koren that is dragged back and taken off the toe of a marauding Graham for corner.  Then Aluko breaks free of a sluggish Lescott, advances on the exposed Hart and drags a shot agonisingly wide of the upright.   It’s not all one way though.   Figeuroa dallied on the ball giving Manchester a corner.  The resulting near post flick is smartly turned around the post by McGregor. In a flash we are heading up to the other end.  A flowing move involving Koren, Elmohamady, Graham and Aluko ends up with Brady whose cross is neatly turned in by Graham.  He looked suspiciously offside and sure enough there was the linesman with flag raised.   Subsequent views on television showed the decision to be the right one although Graham’s slick movement meant that it was closer than it had seemed live.   It was breathless stuff and the next action look place in front of us.  I had wondered at why the grass around the area had been cut the way it was.  Perhaps it was to show less than honest players where to go ground, I mused?  The ball was hoisted into the City area, and played out via a very obvious powder blue clad arm to Aguero on the edge of the box who took a very theatrical – and unwarranted – tumble: two bad decisions in two seconds.  From the resulting free kick the ball was eventually headed towards the net only to be tipped over by the alert McGregor.   We still weren’t twenty minutes in when Brady was taken out clumsily.  Thudd’s free kick was cleared but only to Koren whose shot was lashed just wide.   The game settled down a bit now.  We continued playing some excellent passing football and for large swathes of the game it would have been impossible for an impartial observer to differentiate between the team assembled for billions and the one put together – in Premier League terms – on a shoestring.  I can’t recall ever seeing a City team so comfortable with the ball from front to back.  Much of this good play came through Huddlestone: an Oasis of calm.  Livermore who was seemingly everywhere, no more so than when Davies rampaged forward.   Chances were coming less frequently now, and on about 35 minutes there was a huge exodus of blue to the concourses.  Through amber coloured spectacles (seriously, they are the ones I wear for cycling) it seemed that the referee had decided that Manchester needed a hand.  He overruled the linesman more than once, gave free kicks for shoulder to shoulder challenges and for what looked like yet another Aguero dive.  At the same time the manhandling of Aluko was ignored.  After his early break he was being given no opportunity to turn, either by fair means or foul.   Half time was reached with no goals.  Would we regret the early chances squandered?  Popular opinion was that we probably would.   The 2nd half saw the introduction of one time City target, Alvaro Negredo for the ineffectual Dzeko.  The latter had been consummately shackled by Davies and Chester, the former showing why he was (and will be again) so highly regarded, the latter growing into life with the big boys.  Manchester start the period on the front foot and City’s bright spells of possession are becoming less frequent although still in evidence.  Aluko continues to be the subject of physical assaults each tome he gets the ball and eventually Nastasic is booked for a tackle that would be more appropriate against Hull FC.   A great spell of City play involving Graham and Koren comes to naught before our skipper accompanies Figueora into the book for a foul on Kolarov.  The resulting free kick is cleared but the pendulum is swinging towards the home team now.   Negredo had already got one errant header before he pulled away from Elmohamady in the box to get on the end of a fine cross from Zabaleta.  The header was close to McGregor but powerful and angled down so our keeper was well beaten.  1-0 to the Powder Blues and our first half profligacy was coming back to haunt us as the wizened sages around me had predictions.   Shortly thereafter, Aluko was fouled once too often and withdrawn to give Steven Quinn his first taste of Premier League action.  And all action he was, winning a header and getting clattered for his pains before buzzing around the left flank and causing many worrying moments to the home defence.  Koren had given way for George Boyd and the latter got off a wayward shot before Quinn threatened again.  Quinn’s initial shot hit a Manc arm in the area (“bet they don’t show that again on the big screen” opined my neighbour, and sure enough, they didn’t) and his follow up was safely pouched by Joe Hart.   A flowing City move sees the ball switched from left to right, through several passes.  Brady’s cross is agonisingly ahead of Graham’s slide: if only he had been wearing the longer studs.  It’s worth a few words about Graham at this point.  He has put in a shift as they say, nothing like the feckless showing at Chelsea.  Leading the line, getting shots in (it was a great finish in the first half, despite the offside) and generally looking a threat.  He gets in one final header that is comfortable for Hart.   We have been in the ascendancy for the last few minutes and looking the more likely to grab a goal so it is no surprise when we don’t and they do.   Nasri had been introduced after the first goal.  He has previous against City in a red shirts when the main attributes he showed were niggling little fouls and petulance.  Nothing changes and on this occasion he did his very best Olga Korbut impression when Chester failed to make contact in injury time.  Two rolls, a pike and a flip later the referee succumbed and gave the free kick.  Ya Ya Toure, who had played like a poor man’s Carlton Palmer throughout, slammed in the dead ball off the underside of the crossbar.   And that was that.  In many ways it was similar to Chelsea.  Two goals conceded, one classy, one thunderbolt from a dubious (and I being generous there) free kick.  The difference in how we approached the game showed how much we had come on in those two weeks.  For most of the game we matched one of the pre-season favourites.  At times we outplayed them.  In the end out shortcomings in front of goal meant that we were always likely to come away unrewarded.   We won’t be playing the top teams every week and we now have a run of fixtures against teams that we will competing with in the lower reaches (i.e., everywhere below 7th or 8th) in the league.  Play against them like we did on Saturday and we will get results. The New Order at Hull City will bring Joy in this Division.

Hartlepool United 2 Hull City 0

Crikey, this is getting serious.  Mike Scott reports on another capitulation on the Durham Coast.
Ugly. An apt word for the town of Hartlepool. And an apt word for performances of the current Hull City squad. Once more eleven ill-equipped sportsmen entered the field of play against more organised and willing opposition. The Hull City eleven, although seemingly superior on paper, lost badly. It was two-nil. It could’ve been ten-nil. I’ll give my account of the game, then I’ll give my opinion on what’s gone wrong. Both will be ugly.The current fashion to shuffle the City pack continued at full strength as City lined up thus:

Glennon Petty Anderson Whittle Regan Green Ashbee Keates Johnson Alexander Dudfield

Smith dropped, that was the good news. Regan was switched to the left (has Edwards perhaps lost a limb in a freak Hessle harvesting accident?) and Petty took his best role at right back. Ashbee came back from suspension, the diminutive (in so many ways) Keates made his debut and three up front were restored with Dudfield’s recovery from a gippy tummy. Morrison and Greaves were benched (along with Bradshaw, Williams and Musselwhite) while Price and Smith were not asked to make the trip north. A bold managerial masterstroke? Err, no. Hartlepool carded a team very similar to the one that thumped City 4-0 last season. They have had barely any incomings nor outgoings over the summer, and have a settled squad that know their roles. City do not. The difference was apparent as early as the third minute when the admirable Gordon Watson raced down the right channel, held the ball up on the City goalline and drew three (count ’em, three!) City defenders towards him. Not one of the three attempted a tackle, instead trying to corral the ex-Owl in the manner of a wild west buffalo. Amazed at this generosity, Watson waited a full five seconds while the right midfielder Clarke scuttled up behind him. He then gently rolled the ball to the unattended Clarke who whipped in a cross to the distinguished looking Tinkler who, alarmed by his lack of marker at such an early stage, fluffed his shot wide. And so a pattern began to emerge. In the first minute Gary Alexander had neatly freed Johnson down the right, but the Leeds man’s cross found only the keeper Williams’ (Anthony) midriff. This early Alexander promise was a false dawn, as he went on to turn in a poor performance, not helped by the senseless booing of the City support that began after 15 or so minutes and reached a grizzly crescendo in the second half. The same crescendo that reduced the nervy looking Petty into a pile of footballing rubble in the first half. It was clear that this was a rather strange day for supporting City away when a small child was berated after seven minutes as being a “fookin nobhead” for returning the ball to the pitch after a wayward Pools shot. The baying for blood that ensued for the rest of game was totally destructive, but perhaps not entirely impossible to understand – although the bloke in front of me who exhorted Pearson to “fook off and tek yer money wiv yer” really did beggar belief. An ugly mood for the crowd, an ugly clash between hope, expectancy and despair. Within ten minutes Hartlepool had amassed four corners, all of which were wasted. The fifth saw Tinkler convert a header at the back post but the referee – probably rightly – disallowed the goal, adjudging that the greying Poolster had used an opponent’s shoulders to gain upthrust. The home side was entirely dominant and pummelled City incessantly. Whittle and Anderson defended manfully and both full backs looked reasonable for the first 20 minutes or so, but the midfield, as against Bury, afforded them no protection whatsoever and the waves of attacks continued. On 21 a low right wing Pools cross saw Petty airshot horribly at the back post, and the startled Williams sliced a hurried shot well wide. This was the first mistake of the day by Petty, but the hordes descended upon him with a flurry of wrath and fury that was not entirely deserved. He played like a complete arse for the rest of the half. But now what is this? Amid the ugliness emerges beauty. The Tigers realise that Dudfield on our left has the measure of the sloth-like Barron at right back, and start to switch the ball to him as often as possible. From this the Tigers gleaned confidence and started to play some pleasing possession football. In this spell Dudfield raided the Pools penalty box with no end product once or twice, and Ashbee thumped a swerving 25 yarder just wide after being teed up by Green. Crikey thought the City fans, are we about to play OK and win the League after all? No way. Just as City took the upper hand so Hartlepool released Watson down their left wing, and after a inconsequential half challenge by Petty was evaded the once-crocked forward slid a nice ball across the face of the six yard box where the gleeful Williams (Eifion) slid a shot goalwards. Alas it was also Glennon-wards and the big keeper blocked, only to see the rebound fall to the feet of the now seated Williams, who prodded into an unguarded net. A modicum of Tigery promise, and 1-0 down. The slight breeze that billowed the City sails died, and eleven heads dropped collectively. Pools were now rampant, City quite appalling, and the home should have gone nap before half time. The game was played in the City box with only Whittle standing out as someone who could keep his composure while all others flapped and fannied about. For three successive corners Watson stood totally unmarked at the back post while Green guarded unoccupied territory at the front post. While the City fans screamed for someone to mark up, the City team looked blankly at Watson and let him be. Thank God Pools can’t take a decent back post corner, or Watson could’ve tapped it in with his knob. Pools’ Smith saw a free header swing just wide after one particularly negligent piece of collective non-defending by the away side, while Keates twice sliced clearances appallingly, the second time straight to the feet of Williams (Eifion) on the edge of the box, only for the umpteenth last ditch Whittle tackle to block a routine shot on goal. As the half time whistle tooted, a battered and bloodied City XI retreated for what was no doubt a prolonged session of teacup throwing and Scousease cat-calling. Emerging unchanged for the second half, City made the first chance within two minutes when Dudfield got free down the left and pulled a cross back to Alexander whose fatal hesitation resulted in him being closed down and screwing an impossible shot well wide. This was enough for some of the City, err, “support” to now get on Alexander’s back with a tirade of heckling and name-calling rarely witnessed since, well, since Saturday. Gary’s head dropped. If it had’ve dropped any further, it would’ve dropped off. After 53 minutes Bradshaw was stripped and ready for action – surely Molby would spare Alexander the torture of playing towards the City fans that were baying for his blood and calling him a “fat bastard”. No, the Dane – cocooned in his soundproof dugout for the full 90 minutes – withdrew the nippy Johnson and left poor Alexander to plough an increasingly morose furrow at the spearhead of the City attack. Bradshaw on, surely the message to be relayed was to play the ball on the deck. Nope. Clearance after clearance was hoofed up to the little striker, who battled vainly to win headers while giving away ten inches to centre back Lee. This dumb tactic persisted even after Alexander was later withdrawn and the similarly squat Williams (Ryan) was introduced. Cretinous? Yes. Whose fault? I’ll come to that. On 62 minutes a left wing Pools corner (their 117th of the game, or so it seemed) was cleared back to the taker, and as he whipped in a second cross the City defence appeared to consider their work already complete and the grateful Watson stole in at the back post to convert a routine header. Once again the attempt was blocked by Glennon, and once again it fell unfortunately at the feet of the striker who tapped home from eighteen inches or so. Double bad luck for Glennon, who played OK in this match. Within four minutes Watson had again carved out a gilt-edged opening, charging down a clearance that fell to Smith, whose shot was skied horribly. By now Pools knew they had the points in the bag and eased up, while City realised they were chuffing awful, and also eased up. In one moment of passion Ashbee dished out retribution in a manner that contravened the laws of the game for a late tackle perpetrated on him seconds earlier, and the competent referee made a note of his particulars. One bright moment saw Keates play a decent through ball (a collector’s item from the stumpy ex-Saddler) to Dudfield whose left wing cross was arced towards Bradshaw, but the Pools defender just got a toe in first as Gary shaped to clip his shot goalwards. With ten minutes to go the game had fizzled out completely. Many City fans went home, and the Pools fans inquired as to whether this could become a more regular weekly fixture rather than the current twice a season. I could see their point. Watson finished the game’s action in the 89th minute with a lovely lob from 20 yards that landed on the roof of the net. The ref blew his whistle two and a bit minutes into the four minutes of added time indicated – an act of mercy, methinks. It is clear that individuals are not performing to expectation. Ashbee was poor today, Green was worse apart from the ten minute purple patch in the first half, just prior to Pools’ goal. Petty played like a man scared of his own supporters in the first half and perked up in the second, but it is questionable as to whether he is really any good, although it is hard to fault his willingness to run around. Regan was OK. Keates made his debut today, and I don’t think it unfair to confide that I sincerely hope his first City match is also his last. He couldn’t pass, couldn’t defend and couldn’t mark. He’s five foot five so he doesn’t possess an aerial threat. I can’t understand what he’s FOR – he is a shorter Craig Lawford. But, sweet reader, I lay the real blame at the feet of our manager. I honestly don’t think he has a clue what he trying to achieve at the moment. He has it in his mind that an attacking 4-3-3 formation is a good thing, yet he is incapable of instilling into his players (and they are HIS players in the main) the necessary mobility and flexibility to make it work. He is trying to make the players fit the system, rather than choosing a system that suits the players. Thus we play with three static forwards that fail to interchange, three static midfielders who take as little responsibility as possible and four defenders who struggle manfully to plug the breaches that occur. We seem to be playing Subbuteo tactics with real life players, in stark contrast to the mobile interchanging style of play that Hartlepool employed today to devastating effect. No one wants to take charge, no one wants to organise, no one wants to succeed above all else. Five games in we have a squad of players that appears almost to a man demoralised, and a manager who changes formations and teams with alarming regularity. Molby is incapable of motivating his players to perform to the required standard for the third division. Games in hand and points deductions aside, we are bottom of the league. My view is that Molby continues to be an abject failure, and could be no more than three games away from the sack. I don’t say “Molby out” because I want him to succeed, but the state of affairs can’t be allowed to persist and the manager must take the ultimate blame if this slump continues much longer. And judging by Adam Pearson’s head-in-hands display as he left the Victoria Park directors’ box today, I think our chairman might be of like mind to me.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Petty, Whittle, Anderson, Regan, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Dudfield, Alexander, Johnson.  Subs: Bradshaw (for Johnson, 54), Williams (for Alexander, 69), Musselwhite, Greaves, MorrisonGoals: noneBooked: Ashbee, PettySent Off: None   HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Williams A, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Robinson, Clarke, Tinkler, Humphreys, Smith, Watson, Williams E.  Subs: Arnison (for Barron, 58), Widdrington (for Smith, 79), Boyd (for Williams E, 82), Provett, Henderson Goals: Williams E 32, Watson 63 Booked: Williams E Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 4,236

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