Preston North End 3 Hull City 0

The first genuine capitulation of the season as the Tigers are steamrollered by a decent, albeit initially anxious, Preston side.

Depressing scoreline. Depressing performance.

Grotesquely toothless up front, second best in midfield and eventually torn asunder at the back, at Deepdale last night City offered up as miserably off-the-pace display as has been seen under the – largely rampantly successful – management of Mr Taylor. No fun to watch, even less to write about, less still to read about. I shall not detain you long this morning. I’ve got better things to do, like pick my nose or clean the grouting on the shower, and I expect you do too.

Looking disturbingly unlike a side that is solid-midtable-in-waiting was:

Myhill
Lynch Cort Joseph Delaney
France Welsh Cap’n Curtis Elliott
Brown Fagan

And before the howls reach me, let me say that I know the statistics – we always lose, on average by at least eight goals, whenever Joseph is in the team – but it really wasn’t his fault last night. Well, not only his fault – he drifted out of the game tamely in the second half but wasn’t alone in that crime, and in the first half he was one of our tidier players.

Yes, it was that bad.

We had reached half-time at 0-0. And what a drab, colourless, unadventurous first half it was too. Not just by us – the home side, winless at Deepdale all season, provided ample evidence of just why they (too) are plunged into lower midtable mediocrity and none at all of how they sneaked their way through to the Final of the PlayOffs last season. Still, there were glimpses of the carnage to come, for Preston had the better of the very few efforts on goal during this first period. Most notably, on 28, a header flicked goalwards by sprightly advanced midfielder Jones, unmarked in our box, was superbly tipped away by the flying Myhill. And then a couple of minutes later Jemal Johnson, on loan from Blackburn, tortured Cort down our right before shooting low across and under Boaz, and against the far post … the ball bounced on to Sedgwick who fired in a searing drive along the turf, only to be foiled by a brilliantly alert and committed block from Delaney, right on the whitewash of the goal-line.

But, dear oh dear, it was an insipid first 45 minutes football. For the home side, Agyemang up front and Davis at the back were simply huge, Johnson was tricky and pacy, corners taken from their right were threatening, the midfield was well-organised, and overall they still weren’t very good. Just better than us. It was a blustery night, as our glorious Indian summer eventually seems to have subsided, but this was no excuse for the poverty of imagination on show. It certainly didn’t help to explain why we hoofed the ball in the air so much, so aimlessly. If you want an excuse of sorts for our poor display it may lie in a heavy knock taken early on by Curtis, and condoned by a ref who was more lenient than any we’ve had so far this season. I’m not sure Curtis was ever quite running freely after this bash, and that clearly undermined our chances. Maybe that lack of service from midfield would be the excuse tendered by Fagan and Brown for being useless. Try it, lads. But useless you were. Fagan was useless for the second match running (though I still like him and expect him to improve), and Brown was useless as in most of his games, and I really don’t like him at all – infuriatingly effete, whiny, predictable, a disgrace to the centre-forward’s art. This man is wearing the shirt owned by Billy Whitehurst, by Chris Chilton, by Norman Moore? Pah. The highlight of the half was the constant stream of requests to people to go and move their cars. They seem to be quite poor at parking down in Preston. They like a quick getaway afterwards, mind you, with cars and vans careering through the pedestrian fans at absurdly reckless speeds in the dark, an even more scandalous example of the arrogance of the car driver than is on show every game at the Circle.

Second half. More happened than in the first half. Almost all of it really bad for the Tiger cause.

A brief bright start by our team flattered to deceive and the game settled into the humdrum pattern of the first half. On 55 Jones sent a free-kick awarded just outside our box sailing a foot or so over the bar, and the smart money seemed to be on a dull and wholly forgettable 0-0. But moments of attacking inspiration are more common in this Division than in the ones we’ve lately left, and this season they’ve mostly cost us rather than benefited us. So it was on 58. A fine through ball down their right allowed Johnson to speed into space, turn deftly inside our retreating defence and strike a left-foot shot deliberately high to elude Myhill’s attempted block and into the roof of the net.

A fine goal, and out of place in this game.

‘Can’t see us getting anything here’ I muttered gloomily. ‘Nope’ came the prompt reply from the Italianate gentleman on my left and even though I know of old that his natural tendency is predict an inevitable relegation as soon as we concede our first throw-in of the season in early August, nonetheless innate pessimism seemed justified. This is a resilient City side, but it finds goalscoring difficult – increasingly so, worryingly so – and last night was empty of attacking ideas.

Substitutions came and went, and didn’t help. Green and Barmby on, Curtis and Lynch off, France to right-back. For Preston the huge Jamaican Claude Davis departed on 64, the first time I’ve ever seen anyone substituted after pleading with the bench that he is a bit cold.

Nugent, last season’s ace goalscorer lately injured, arrived to the delight of the home fans, whose rapture was almost audible, but the game was put beyond our reach by two thumping long-range shots out of midfield. Jones, owner of an appealing left foot, struck a firm low shot from 22 yards or so that was perfectly placed to beat the diving Myhill, and cannoned into our net off the inside of the post. 2-0. Then the diminutive but powerful McKenna burst inside and crashed a huge looping 25 yarder that sailed over Boaz and fizzed into our net just beneath the crossbar. 3-0.

Two excellent strikes. Two shoddy pieces of defending. Where was the covering midfield? Where was the defence?

Burgess came on for Elliott, who had played only fitfully. Brown hit the outside of a post when he should have at least got his effort on target, and then a few minutes later showed cowardice and total ineptitude when failing to make any serious effort to get his head over an inviting chance and blast the ball goalwards. He instead leaned back, eyed the nearest defender nervously and poked the ball dismally high over the crossbar. Absolutely disgraceful.

Did anyone play even close to par? Not really, though Green was perky during his brief appearance. Preston could have scored a fourth with a firm header planted into our net at the back post but we were saved by an offside flag. That aside, they had a drum and played music after they scored and they are therefore enemies of football. We’d need to be playing even now to have any hope of hearing any goalscoring music of our own.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Joseph, Delaney; France, Welsh, Woodhouse, Elliott; Brown, Fagan. Subs: Barmby (for Lynch, 64), Green (for Woodhouse, 64), Burgess (for Elliott, 77), Ellison, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

PRESTON NORTH END: Nash, Alexander, Lucketti, Davis, Hill, Sedgwick, McKenna, Jones, Davidson, Agyemang, Johnson. Subs: Mawene (for Davis, 65), Nugent (for Agyemang, 70), Hibbert (for Johnson, 78), Etuhu, Mears.

Goals: Johnson 59; Jones 73; McKenna 76

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: N Miller

ATTENDANCE: 13,536

Southend United 3 Hull City 0

Yet another horror story on the Essex Riviera, as a feeble midfield capitulates to a solid but unspectacular Southend.  Steve Weatherill watches the vicious circle drag City down yet further.
Sarcasm? Anger? Weariness? In what form should I serve up my addled prose directed at informing you just how gutlessly, witlessly pathetic we were in this latest Taylor-era calamity? I know not. I’ll try to be patient, I’ll try to tell you how it was. It was dreadful. Disgraceful. I mean, we knew beforehand. Sitting in the pub we peered gloomily into our beer. “He’s going to play Green, Delaney, Melton and Williams across the midfield and we’re going to get outmuscled.” He did. We were. Let me avoid an unkindness to Southend. They outmuscled us, but they also outran, outpassed, outthought, and, fundamentally, outplayed us. The only “out” we can claim is that we outnumbered them. We had eleven against their ten for most of the match. And still we suffered a wholly deserved tonking. OK. From the top. We carded:

Fettis Regan Whittle Joseph Holt Green Delaney Melton Williams Forrester Elliott

Of whom, were our squad’s pay to be performance-related, only Fettis, Joseph, Whittle and perhaps Elliott would be seeing even a glint of coinage of the realm this week. Powerful Southend striker Rawle was first into the fray, halted near the by-line by Justin as both players tumbled into the mounds of snow brushed off the pitch and heaped around the edges. But as the game settled down, we began to play moderately sensibly. The ball was being moved around fluently and although there was no real Tiger menace in the opposition penalty area, the balance of play was marginally in our favour. Green struck a long crossfield ball which was controlled by Williams who cut inside and unleashed a shot that was blocked by a defensive leg. A Williams cross eluded Elliott, arriving at the near post, but only by a couple of inches. Melton and Delaney exchanged passes in midfield and a neat move allowed Elliott to tee up Green for a shot which was blocked by an alert defender. In the early stages Southend looked energetic and pacy but lacking in guile, and it was possible to harbour confidence about our prospects on a bright winter’s day. Whereupon the home side scored, and we crumpled. It was a superb shot that gave Southend the lead, thundered into the corner of the net from fully 25 yards by Jay Smith. Fettis had no chance of reaching a shot struck with timing as sweet as a David Gower cover drive, but someone – Delaney, I think – should have been much closer to Smith to reduce the time he had to weigh up his options. 1-0, and we were doomed. Heads dropped. No one fancied it. Holt was increasingly tormented down the left, though he hardly helped his cause by repeatedly drifting too far infield. Southend must have been puzzled about why they were being granted so much space to play in. But they cheerfully took advantage, and relaxed into comfortable domination of the game. The ref took a tumble and hobbled off, to be replaced by one of the linesman, while a call went out over the tannoy for a qualified referee able to act as fourth official. Personally I was expecting tiger-chat renaissance man Julian Daniel to step in – and perhaps he did. But the interruption didn’t help us. Regan dithered catastrophically deep inside his own box and Rawle gleefully slid in a toe-end to divert the ball past Fettis. Our visibly shocked and angry keeper was blameless. Our right-back most definitely was not. Regan lay sprawled on the turf, head in horrified hands. Justin offered him an encouraging word. The rest of the team plodded back into position for the kick-off, heads sunk a little lower, morose and sullen. There isn’t a problem of team spirit in our club. There simply isn’t any team spirit. The horror show continued. Delaney kindly presented the ball to one of theirs just outside our box and we were in debt to the Fett as he hurled himself to his left to tip a curving shot just past the post. But the third goal wasn’t long in coming. Still, it was a rum do when it did. Holt feebly allowed one of theirs to skate past him down the wing just inside the box. Equally feebly he tried to tug his shirt. The Shrimp collapsed to the turf as if his skull had been split by a claymore. And the ref awarded a penalty. At one level it was a harsh decision – well, more than that, it wasn’t a penalty, contact was minimal. But Holt had been criminally stupid even to make that contact. The Southend attacker did what attackers are trained to do when defenders show such colossal thoughtlessness, and he won his penalty. The stupidity wasn’t at an end, because as the players lined up on the edge of the box while Smith placed the ball on the spot Bramble, the beefy Southend Number 9, jostled Joseph and, to general surprise, got himself red carded. So they were down to ten. And they were also up to three, as Smith, showing admirable composure, eventually got to take his penalty and sent the dismayed Fettis diving the wrong way. Half-time, 3-0. Delaney and Melton had offered nothing since Southend had opened the scoring, so central midfield was completely in the grip of the home side. Other players too had made reasonably bright starts only to vanish once the going got tough – Forrester, Williams and Green spring to mind. While both Regan and Holt had made bad errors to gift goals to the rampant home side. Generally I enjoy writing these match reports. I’m finding this one a bit of a trial. Our manager pulled off Green, Elliott and Holt at half-time in favour of Webb, Anderson and Burton. Regan took over from Green as our right-side midfielder; Joseph to right-back. Mr Taylor likes that tactical switch. It never works, but he likes it. I expect they do that sort of thing in Italy. Like they pull everyone back to defend corners over there. (They don’t actually, whatever Mr Taylor might say: but hey, he’s managed England, so he must know stuff). I suppose both Elliott and Green must have been suffering from injuries. If they weren’t, and if he preferred Delaney and Melton over our two youthful diamonds, then I am now in the “Taylor Out” brigade. Maybe I am anyway. The second half was, in many ways, worse than the first. I mean, sure, we “drew” the second half 0-0, having taken a 3-0 cuffing before the break. But the poverty of imagination we displayed while playing against ten men was truly wretched. And in some cases there was an absence of basic footballing ability. Wasn’t there, Mr Delaney? A late tackle earned Webb a yellow card very early in the piece. Shortly afterwards a foolishly aggressive verbal assault on a Southend player by Webb had the ref reaching for his pocket once again; our man was spared only by customary officiating cowardice as the ref backed down as soon as he spotted that the yellow would have triggered a red. A minute later Webb sent a header drifting harmlessly over the bar, and he proceeded to run around energetically for the rest of the half while always looking much more likely to be sent off than to score. A remarkable turn-out of at least 500 had braved the nation’s untrustworthy road and rail maze to follow the rudderless amber and black craft to Southend, but it wasn’t long before the strains of “You don’t know what you’re doing” were lofted in to the chilly air by the City faithful. I don’t choose to join in with such barracking. The pub, not the terraces, is where I flay our club. But I don’t know what he was doing. Mr Taylor, that is. Did he tell the team at half-time “get out there, and try to slow the game down, don’t pass forwards if there’s a square ball on, and don’t lay it square if you can go backwards, and if you ever do play it forward make sure it’s high in the air and straight on to the forehead of that big centre back Cort who’s a foot taller than Jamie Forrester”? Well, if those were his instructions, then they were carried out to the letter. Melton, needless to say, was invisible. As for Delaney, well, in one comedy sequence, he let a pass bounce over his foot as he looked as capable of trapping a ball as George Bush is of commenting on the nature of nations that don’t possess oil, a minute later he sent a woefully-overhit pass shooting into touch, deftly splitting the waiting Burton and Williams, and a minute after that earned a booking. All the available evidence says he is not good enough. A Taylor signing. But I am going to reserve a special place in hell for my own nomination as Not-Man-of-the-Match. That coveted award goes to Ryan Williams. The man who can single-handedly rob any attacking move of momentum. The man who runs sideways and passes sideways. The man who will not take on a defender, the man who cannot cross. The winger who will not take on a defender, the winger who cannot cross. His second-half display at Roots Hall was utterly appalling. Never, outside the US space programme, has so much energy been used in pursuit of so little gain. His unblemished lack of penetration is the principal – though certainly not the sole – reason why we could have played on until Shrove Tuesday and not scored. We had a shot. And we all cheered. Well, we mocked. It was that dismal. In fact, it was a decent move and it culminated in Forrester whisking a bright left-foot shot low to Flahavan’s right. But the Southend keeper got down to smother it with little difficulty. We had two more efforts on goal saved by Flahavan before we were allowed to troop off mournfully into the Essex dusk, one an unthreatening header, the other a low Delaney shot comfortably pouched by the netman after Webb had won the ball in the air courtesy of an outrageously blatant yet unpenalised climb on a defender’s shoulders. And Regan had a shot blocked by a defender at the expense of a corner, which led to another shot by Williams, which was again blocked. And Joseph had a header blocked, followed by a shot from Delaney which was charged down with a mild suspicion of handball. And that was the sum total of our attacking endeavour in a half in which we had an extra man and a game to chase. We were catastrophically bitty. Our play never flowed, it certainly lacked passion, and Southend kept us at bay with astonished ease. Even the constant din of the popular side’s drum couldn’t drown out the chortling at our plight emanating from the home fans. Sure, the home side’s time-wasting was scandalous – they quickly sussed the lack of authority of the replacement referee and took full advantage. But it would be monumentally daft to make a big deal of such “unsporting” tactics. The bottom line at Roots Hall is that we were rubbish. Rubbish defending in the first half, and then rubbish going forward despite having possession from start to finish in the second half. Rubbish.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Regan, Joseph, Whittle, Holt, Green, Melton, Delaney, Williams, Elliott, Forrester.  Subs: Anderson (for Green, 45), Burton (for Holt, 45), Webb (for Elliott, 45), Dudfield, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Anderson, Delaney, Holt, Regan, Webb Sent Off: None   SOUTHEND UNITED: Flahavan, Sutch, Cort, Kelly, Searle, Marney, Maher, Smith, Clark, Bramble, Rawle.  Subs: Belgrave (for Rawle, 68), Thurgood (for Clark, 89), Gay, Salter, Jordan. Goals: Smith 22, 45 (pen); Rawle, 41 Booked: Maher Sent Off: Bramble   ATTENDANCE: 4,534