Hull City 1 Sunderland 0

There was always likely to be an extra frisson of rivalry on the KC turf this afternoon. Not being a betting man, I didn’t check the odds on 22 players remaining on the pitch at the game’s end, but they’ll no doubt have been shorter than usual. As we kicked off under the already darkening sky  of our first Greenwich Mean Time home game of this winter’s stirring schedule, Listmeister Andy leaned forward and offered me his long-acquired wisdom. A thing to be treasured of course, but when he suggested that Meyler would be heading for the proverbial early bath first, I reminded him that Lee Cattermole was lining up in the oppo’s red and white stripes. Cattermole thinks yellow is for wusses.   Bringing City’s game time to over 300 minutes in less than a week were:                                               Harper Rosenior              Davies   McShane             Figueroa Elmohamady      Meyler   Huddlestone     Livermore       Boyd                                                  Sagbo     Sone Aluko’s injury-disrupted Tigers’ career suffered yet another reverse in the warm-up. He was on the teamsheet at 2 p.m. only to be replaced by Meyler by the time the teams came out. Hardly like-for-like. Steve Bruce seems to be a manager who picks the player over the pattern, and Meyler’s inclusion meant that we carded three ex-Black Cats – a fact that was to prove not without significance in the match’s progress.   As ever, Sunderland fans packed out the away section in what seemed a near capacity crowd at the KC. It was a raucous but largely formless opening quarter. City looked like a team trying to find its shape. On Meyler watch, I tried to pin down his position, as he spent the first few minutes almost as an inside forward, before going back into midfield, and allowing the excellent Livermore to roam higher up the field. Sunderland looked disorganised. Ex-Tiger Altidore as guileless and lacking in touch as I remember from a few seasons back, but lacking the naïve enthusiasm of his spell in Hull. Altidore scored goals for fun in the Dutch league last season, and spent the summer smashing various US national team records – scoring 7 goals in all over 5 consecutive games including one against Germany. May be the Premier League just doesn’t suit. Or may be the chaos that has been Sunderland AFC of late has robbed him and his teammates of the necessary ease and endeavour.   As the game moved through its first half hour, City – attacking the north stand end – were getting the better of the exchanges and half-chances. Tom Huddlestone whipped in a dangerous free kick from our left which almost found McShane towards the far post, but the lunging Irishman couldn’t quite connect.   Shortly afterwards, Jake Livermore dispossed the unwary Altidore with apparent ease. We’re just about on top, but lacking in bite. Sagbo is a presence, as ever, but the supply line hasn’t been established. For Sunderland, Cattermole is getting tetchy. Though perhaps ‘getting’ is superfluous.   Then we score. A Huddlestone freekick from the half-way line, just in front of the benches, finds its way to the edge of the penalty area on our right, and eventually to Rosenior who dinks a dangerous ball towards the near post. Sagbo and a defender go for it together, and Sagbo appears to flick it across the goal and inside the far post, past the flailing Westwood.   1-0   The scoreboard later records it as a Cuellar own goal, so presumably someone saw a replay and deemed that it came off the Sunderland man last. Who cares. Well, may be Yannick Sagbo does, as it was his presence and attempt on goal that did the damage.   It’s the sort of forward play that Sunderland loanee Danny Graham has been unable to provide so far this season.   After we take the lead, the rest of this half is all City. Rosenior and Elmohamady work well as a combination down our right. Our five man midfield begins to large it with pass after pass after pass, each greeted with cheers from the home crowd.   Meyler, to Livermore, to Huddlestone, back to Livermore, to Boyd, to Figueroa, neat triangles leave an increasingly frustrated Sunderland flailing and chasing. 104 passes in total before finally the ball is given to Harper who clears it up to Huddlestone.   Obviously it might not have been 104. Just let that number stand for ‘a lot’. It was great to watch a City team playing this way. Sunderland’s frustration became more evident.   Just before half-time that frustration increased still further, when keeper Westwood and ex-Black Cat McShane collided going for a ball whipped in by Boyd. Westwood lies prone for a good few minutes, carries on playing for a couple more, but is then replaced by ex-Tiger Vito Mannone, who gets  warm applause from the City fans as he joins the fray.   It’s not all warmth and bonhomie on the pitch though. As the first half ticks over into 5 minutes added time, Lee Cattermole, in the middle of the pitch, right in front of the referee, launches himself into a two-footed tackle on his former teammate, Ahmed Elmohamady. With scarcely a pause to check the red of referee Marriner’s card, Cattermole walks off the pitch and down the tunnel. Whether he took a bath or not, I can’t tell you.   It’s all done with the insouciance of a professional mafia hitman, and immediately makes me wonder whether there’s some grudge held over from the days – only last season – when Elmohamady and Cattermole were playing and training colleagues.   That would be some end to the half in itself, but we’re not even half done with added time. Play briefly resumes before the fourth official alerts Marriner to something that Sunderland’s new don – sorry, manager – Poyet has said or done. Marriner ticks off Poyet, who stares down at the official silently. He doesn’t look happy.   Let’s try again, there’s still time on the clock. No sooner does play restart than Sunderland are down to 9 men. This time it’s one of Paulo Di Canio’s signings, Italian internationalist Dossena, who takes the two footed approach, scything down Meyler with a vicious challenge in front of the East Stand. Once more it’s a recent Sunderland player who is the victim. But Meyler never played alongside Dossena so it’s less likely to be personal. Still, if I was McShane at this point, I might be watching my back in case the capo and his crew are out to whack me too.   So at half-time it’s all looking rosy for City. One goal up, Sunderland down to 9 men, Meyler and Elmohamady emerged amazingly unscathed from two dangerous tackles, and the only player forced off by injury being the opposition keeper. If there were any vendettas being played out, our mob has got the upper hand.   John Hawley – one of many players to have turned out for both clubs in recent decades – makes the half-time draw. Micky Horswill, Roy Greenwood, Tony Norman, Billy Whitehurst, Steve Doyle, Kevin Kilbane, Michael Turner. They all would have done a decent job of pulling out the numbered ticket. Chris Brown wouldn’t. Iain Hesford would have got his hand stuck. John Moore would have made a late lunge and missed.     As the teams came out for the second half, there was a feeling that the match was won and now we would put Sunderland to the sword. After all – it’s 11 versus 9. Poyet takes off Altidore and Borini and replaces them with Adam Johnson and Wes Brown, two players with plenty of England caps between them. I’ve long admired Johnson. He’s a fine player and would seem to be well suited to playing on the break, which is Sunderland’s only hope now.   The more the second half goes on though, the more the problems of playing against 9 men become apparent. Sunderland really have no other option but to defend en masse and – very occasionally – to try and nick an equaliser on the break.   It reminds me of those internationals where a decent team comes up against San Marino, and San Marino just pack the defence and concede possession. There’s so many players in the final third that it’s really hard to break through. There’s so much time on the ball for the attacking team in midfield that their normal pattern of play breaks down. The crowd gets frustrated because they see their team with all the possession but unable to do much with it.   That’s basically how the half shakes down. George Boyd in particular sees more of the ball and has more time than he’s ever likely to again at this level. Repeatedly he passes back and forth with Figueroa down the left, getting into the Sunderland box and then either shooting or crossing to no one in particular. Likewise Elmohamady down the right crosses several times, but with no real effect.   No one seems very sure what to do. A little experience and guile is needed. Perhaps this is Bruce’s thinking when he brings on Robert Koren for Meyler after 10 minutes of the second half. Koren does nothing wrong, but not much changes.   The real guile and skill comes from our Tottenham loanee, the excellent Jake Livermore, who comes nearest to extending our lead with a couple of long-range shots. One forces a fine save from Mannone, another – towards the end of the match – smashes against the post and rebounds to Proschwitz, on for Rosenior, who can’t control it in front of the open goal.   Of course, just packing the defence and keeping us out won’t get the Mackems any points, and so as the half progresses they increasingly try to hit us on the break. With quarter an hour to go one such break leads to Boyd fouling Bardsley about 25 yards out, just to our left. A perfect position for Johnson to hit one. Happily Larson takes it. Badly. The ball trickles wide of Harper’s left hand post.   Boyd may have played well in recent games, but he’s no left winger and he’s not having much impact today. With 15 minutes to go he’s replaced by Robbie Brady – in theory a far more natural winger, but in practice today he doesn’t play down the left much at all and looks as bemused as his teammates when it comes to finding a way through the Black Cats’ rearguard.   The nearer we get to the end of the match, the more likely it seems that Sunderland will snatch a goal. Never more likely than when a clearance upfield beats McShane, bounces over the impeccable Davies, and puts Adam Johnson one-on-one with Steve Harper.   Johnson’s a fine player and well suited to playing on the break. Hah! Harper rushes out to meet him, denying the forward both time and a space to shoot into. Johnson’s shot sees the ball hit Harper and rebound to safety. Not that spectacular, but a fantastic points-clinching save all the same.   City’s worries aren’t completely over as Sunderland have two more freekicks from around the halfway line either side of the 90 minute mark. Mannone takes the first and every other player on the pitch is in our penalty area. It’s cleared to Bardsley who shoots poorly wide. Then in added time Larsen takes a similar kick, with Mannone going up for it to no great effect.   And that’s it. The ref blows for full-time and we’ve got another 3 Premier League points and remain unbeaten at home.   We’re a quarter of the way through the season now – 10 games gone, 10thplace in the Premier League. May be it’s because we’ve been in the top division before. May be it’s because we’ve got a manager of immense top flight experience. May be it’s because of the way the team’s playing. Whatever combination of these it is, there’s no doubt that we’re being patronised a little less than last time round. That all makes me happy.   Most of all though, it’s the 3 points that makes me happy tonight. For all the plaudits, we had just lost 3 in a row before today’s game. We needed to win, and we did so. And given that 3 of our next 4 games are against clubs in the top 5, wins like this are likely to seem all the more important as we head into the winter months.

Hull City 1 West Ham United 0

I’ve seen better performances before. I’ve seen us sneak a few wins with a smidgen of luck before. I’ve seen plenty of scrappy games which have left us calling for the final whistle before.   But in 3 decades of regular City watching, I’ve never before known such a match take us 7th in the top division, level with Liverpool and Man City, 3 points and 5 places above the other Manchester club. So far so very good in our Premier League return season – it might lack those feelings of starry-eyed glamour and incredulous novelty that we experienced in season 2008-09’s first few months, but it all feels a lot more solid and well constructed this time round.   Grabbing 3 precious Premier League points, stuffing them in the bag, and zipping it up quickly before anyone could take them back, were:                            McGregor         Rosenior Davies  Faye   Figueroa   Elmohamady  Huddlestone  Livermore   Brady                      Graham      Aluko    The big call in that line-up was Abdoulaye Faye replacing the injured Chester. Faye was the right choice, and he was given a warm welcome by City fans and the impressive turn-out of West Ham fans alike, having been a key player in the Hammers’ promotion season in 2011-12.   It’s not really possible to dislike Abdoulaye Faye. The same can’t be said of chicken-dancing, referee-baiting, fading force at this level, Kevin Nolan, who introduces himself to a sun-drenched East Stand early doors by launching a dreadful tackle on Liam Rosenior.   Rosenior writhes. The ref brandishes a yellow card. Nolan has shot his tetchy bolt too soon and is a subdued bit-part player for much of the rest of the afternoon.   If there is any strutting around to be done in the early exchanges, then it’s City doing it. Sone Aluko in particular seems to be walking tall, boosted by last week’s tremendous 3-point-grabbing, side-foot-volleyed winner at St James Park. Aluko demands the ball tirelessly, and today he is the central element of most City attacks, keeping the ball under close control, at speed, turning this way and that. Aluko is class – and this week’s news that he’s confident of signing a new contract soon is reassuring.   For all Aluko’s star is shining at the moment, it’s our other speedy and skilful young forward – Robbie Brady – who ensures that City take an early, and ultimately decisive, lead. On 11 minutes, Elmohamady, released from his usual defensive duties today by Rosenior being picked at right-back, swings one of his trademark crosses from deep into the box. Brady jumps for it with O’Brien, appears to be pushed from behind during the challenge, and referee Kevin Friend points to the spot. It’s a soft one. Thank you very much, Friend.   Knowing of old how Hammers’ keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen can keep the Tigers at bay, I am not counting any chickens yet. But the bearded Brady is walking as tall as Aluko. A short run-up by Brady, facing the West Ham fans in the north stand, Jaaskelainen dives to his right and watches helplessly as the ball goes hard and low to his left.   1-0 to City.   At this stage of the game, City seem dominant, West Ham lethargic and unable to cope with some of our play. Ex-City loanee and life-long Hammer, Mark Noble, can only try to stop Aluko by fouling him, and is given a lecture by the ref after he’d let play go on to City’s advantage.   For all his qualities – and he seems to be pretty much the fulcrum of West Ham’s team today – Noble’s play looks churlish set against that of the best Londoner on the pitch, Jake Livermore. Livermore plays some really sweet football. Overshadowed a little, literally and figuratively, by the immense Tom Huddlestone, nonetheless Livermore is fast becoming a key figure for City this season.   West Ham’s contribution to the game has so far consisted of obvious fouls, balls hoofed forward for big men, and central defenders trooping upfield for long throws wound up and unleashed by Razvan Rat. Yes, now that things at the Britannia Stadium have been transformed by urbane Mark Hughes replacing old-school Tony Pulis, West Ham United are the Stoke City de nos jours. I don’t know the mood amongst West Ham fans well enough, but it wouldn’t surprise me one iota if distaste for Sam Allardyce’s preferred style of football has only been held back by the relative success of promotion last year. The days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall are decades behind us, but fans brought up on players like Peters, Brooking, and Devonshire must surely mutter discontent at the less cultured stuff served up now.   Incidentally West Ham’s long-throw specialist has ‘R. Rat’ on the back of his shirt. Players usually use their initial to distinguish them from teammates with the same surname. But, help me here, there aren’t any other Rats playing for West Ham are there?   Right, back to the action. Don’t let me get too cocky, and don’t let me give the impression that silky City ran rings around lumbering Hammers all afternoon. There are shades of that for the first 20 minutes or so, but after that West Ham get far more of a grip on the game. The Allardyce method might not be attractive, but it can be effective.   On 21 minutes West Ham get a free-kick, central, 30 yards out. City clear it for a corner, from which one of theirs heads it goalwards, only for Elmohamady to chest it off the line. They get another corner a few minutes later, and then on 30 minutes West Ham build a good move down the left, feeding the ball in to Diame on the edge of our box, who contrives an air-shot.   It’s a let-off for City. A couple of minutes later a more messy West Ham attack sees the ball fall to Noble who shoots low and hard and just wide. We could do with another goal.   City respond to this West Ham pressure by reviving the attacking threat. An Aluko free-kick goes over the wall, dips impressively, but is pouched by Jaaskelainen. Then another Elmohamady cross finds Brady, who heads it back across the box where Davies tries a brave diving header, only to the see the ball bundled over the West Ham bar.   Half-time. City 1-0 up in the Premier League, and if it doesn’t quite feel comfortable in terms of getting the result yet, it seems entirely normal. We’ve got a decent squad with the odd weak link. So far, and it’s emphasised today, the weakest is Danny Graham. He doesn’t look good enough for our team at the moment. Just on half-time Graham has been booked. Rightly so. A chipped pass to him in the right inside forward position saw him look startled as he failed to control the ball, and then hurl the ball at the linesman when he didn’t get the decision he wanted. Petulance, brought on perhaps by frustration at not playing to the level required.    In the second half the West Ham way shapes the game more and more. Scrappy, not pretty. Effective in terms of getting the Hammers more possession and creating the odd chance, but not threatening in the way a quality passing side can be. Until, that is, the introduction of Stuart Downing mid-way through the second half. I’m very glad that Allardyce decided – inexplicably on today’s evidence – not to start with the intelligent and skilful sometime England man.   Even before Downing came on, at the 70 minute mark, West Ham are increasingly forcing City into defensive errors and tactical fouls. Rosenior looks to be suffering a bit from second-game syndrome, having impressed on his return at Newcastle last week, he is less secure today. His potentially strong combination with Elmohamady down City’s right doesn’t really catch fire, though there is the odd spark.   There’s a burst of hectic end-to-end stuff. An Aluko attack down the right is repelled. United stream up our end and get a shot away, well saved by McGregor. They continue to press, and City give away a number of free-kicks around 30-40 yards out. Each one is delivered into the box by Noble, each one is dealt with without too much danger by our defence. Faced with this sort of assault, I’m preferring Faye to Chester.   City get chances too. On 61 Graham meets a cross by volleying it over the bar. On 67 Graham is involved again, entering the area, he checks back instead of pressing on, and lays the ball into the path of Livermore, whose low shot from outside the box beats Jaaskelainen and bounces back off the post.   On 70 United bring on Downing and Vaz Te (another ex-City loanee). Steve Bruce sends Sagbo on in place of Graham. So for the last quarter West Ham are boosted by the pace and skill of their two substitutes – Downing in particular. He’s starting off deep, almost reprising the full-back role he tried out at Liverpool, but repeatedly raids down our left. City are defending deep too, and leaving only Aluko up top so that when we do get the ball there are few options and West Ham regain possession.   On 74 comes the second contentious penalty decision – this one not given, as West Ham players appeal loud and long for a handball. Not one that could be spotted from my East Stand vantage, though the strength of appeals suggest at the time that we are lucky to concede only a corner rather than a spot-kick. Definitely one that could be spotted from the North Stand where the Hammers fans show their anger by getting behind their team still more.   Later on, TV pictures show a clear handball and an unsighted ref. Bad luck West Ham.   Although that’s the last real scare, United continue to have the upper hand for the rest of the match. City are holding on, and – with 4 minutes added time extended still further for treatment to Rosenior after a clash of heads – eventually that’s that.   So, we’re doing well. Back-to-back Premier League wins are not easy to come by. We’ve won 2 out of 3 home games, but both of those wins are by disputed Brady penalties.   Last week’s goal fest aside, it’s fair to say that Bruce has still not solved the forward problem which he tried to address on deadline day. Long sits on the bench at West Brom. There’s a time limit on how long we can say of Danny Graham, ‘he just needs a goal’. Sagbo’s sending-off against Norwich stopped his progress before he had time to get into his not inconsiderable stride. Proschwitz’s reward for scoring mid-week against Huddersfield was to lose his place on the bench today. And I assume that Gedo when fit will be higher in the pecking order than our enigmatic German.   It’ll be interesting to see how we line up next week, when the vagaries of the fixture list mean we do it all again at the KC against a team in claret and blue. In the meantime, if you find yourself having a bad week for whatever reason, take a glance at the league table. It’ll raise a smile.

Hull City 1 Norwich City 0

Curtis Davies reminds me of Carlton Palmer. And this is meant as nought but a compliment. There was a moment in the second half of a compelling and nerve-shattering game against Norwich City when the new centre back, on his home debut, made an interception, played a pass and then just kept on running. He received the final ball and got to edge of the box, ready to have a pop at goal before contenting himself with a corner and a deafening round of applause from the City faithful. That run, that spindly-legged, unconventional, utterly determined, manic run. That was the kind of thing Palmer did at his peak in the early 90s as a marauding, awkward sod of a midfielder and sometime centre back in one of Sheffield Wednesday’s best sides. It got him the 18 England caps that to this day tiresome people say he didn’t deserve, despite being in the form of his life. Davies probably doesn’t walk like Rihanna, though he may do press-ups like Sinitta, eat cakes like Tracey Ullman and vacuum clean like Susan Cadogan. But he runs like Carlton Palmer. And it was gripping to see. His performance at the back and as a general behemoth encapsulated a totally absorbing return to the Circle of Premier League football. That City won the game was slightly fortuitous thanks to Norwich, sporadically threatening but generally a disappointment, not creating anywhere enough chances for a team that had a man advantage for two thirds and more of the match. The determination, the endeavour, the enterprise, the self-made luck; all were clustered together by a resolute Tigers ten after a temerarious sending off for Yannick Sagbo left a bewitched 23,682 crowd biting approximately 216,820 nails. And nails is homonymically appropriate, as that’s what the Tigers were. Determined to put all references to Iain Dowie to bed once and for all were:

McGregor
Elmohamady
Chester
Davies
Figueroa
Livermore
Sagbo
Koren
Huddlestone
Brady
Aluko

… ish. All of our sides and formations express fluidity these days. With Danny “Jimmy” Graham, faultlessly isolated but culpably unenamoured at Chelsea last week, demoted to the bench and the exposed David Meyler also in a bib, the team looked somewhat more ravenous for the ball, with Robert Koren aiming to support Sone Aluko as much as possible. Norwich, elegant in a basic white with black change kit, had City’s great defender of the modern era, Michael Turner, among their ranks. The Canaries made the first chance when the gangly Leroy Fer, whose surname looks like the registrar’s pen ran out while completing the birth certificate, headed a Steven Whittaker cross just wide of Allan “Rioch” McGregor’s right hand post. Handy chance, gratifyingly not taken. For all the joy and excitement and summery eagerness that goes with a first home game of a top tier season, there was still the nagging fear that City might not yet be up to the job. And surrendering an early goal wouldn’t have helped. The visitors had another try through Nathan Redmond’s shot from distance that McGregor tipped away well, and James Chester needed to make a timely interception after Fer and Redmond combined fluently down the right before the latter issued a low tempter to the six yard box. City settled down, with the resourceful Jake “David” Livermore banging one shot over the bar after divine interplay with Aluko that included a backheel for the Spurs loanee to chase down on the edge of the area. It otherwise became a smart and open but largely closed game for ten minutes until Ahmed Elmohamady swung in a cross and Turner got forearms all over Sagbo, forcing the Ivorian to the ground. Turner wasn’t happy but the penalty decision was instant and pretty obvious, and despite a bit of needless gamesmanship involving Fer and the position of the ball, Robbie Brady was as cool as required in sidefooting it in, with John Ruddy diving the other way. Steve Bruce chose to walk down the track towards the south west corner while all this was going on. Strange superstition of his; firstly because he was for a while a useful penalty taker himself for Manchester United; secondly because the last time he refused to watch when City had a spot kick, it was missed. Be that as it may, this was a first goal in the Premier League this season. The first, in fact, since … hang on … ah yes, Mark Cullen’s close range header at Wigan in May 2010. And a first at the Circle since … back in a jiffy … blimey, Kevin Kilbane’s opener against Burnley early on in what was ultimately as wretched as countless other games that season, irrespective of the many there are to choose from. The maths aren’t pleasant; City’s first Premier League goal on home turf in 357 minutes of normal time. Brady’s penalty looked simple, but the churl in me hates the low, sidefooted, stroked spot kick because unless there’s proper power in it there’s a real chance a keeper shall get it, sometimes even with comfort, if he guesses the right way. Ruddy didn’t and so Brady looked like a phlegmatic genius in dispatching it. But it may not always be thus, as a certain German reserve team target man – and his ritualistic manager – may attest. Buoyed by the gift, City took control and with the wonderful Tom Huddlestone to the fore, exhibited some delightful touches and put on a bit of a show with pass-and-move football that suggested the rest of the team had learned quickly how to rise to the level of their division and the standards of their newest playmaker. Huddlestone really is a treat to observe; that adage of having the first yard in his head rings truer than most with him, as does this notion that some players instinctively know where to put the ball in the very split-second they know they are going to receive it. Assuming he stays motivated, he will be gigantic in a black and amber shirt this season and players like Brady can only benefit from his presence. But then, a setback. A big one too. It seemed that it had been averted when Davies, winning everything in the air thus far, seemed to take hold of Turner in as similar a way as the former City defender had done at ‘yon end but was bizarrely not penalised. In the box too, meaning some vigorous protests from the Norwich players and some evident wiping of brows in the home ends. A corner was given, and as it swung in and out again, Sagbo aimed a headbutt at Russell Martin and while only referee Mike Jones appeared to see it as live, he nonetheless was entirely justified in showing an instant red card. Foolish boy. He will now essentially have a month off, and it was notable that none of the coaching staff spoke to him as he trundled down the tunnel, having initially been persuaded not to confront the referee or the opponent any further by Koren and Elmohamady’s intervention. One nil up is good; one nil up to a decent Premier League team in hot conditions with more than an hour to play and shorn of a body is less good. At least as it was an attacker who had gone, there was little need to make any emergency changes. The defence remained stoic, Livermore dropped back a tad further, Aluko went wider and Koren did less of the support striker malarkey that had been such an integral part of Bruce’s game plan. This was no more evident than when Huddlestone found the Slovene square from 40 yards out and, striding purposefully, he realised there was nobody ahead of him and so tried a shot with the outside of the boot from 30 yards which Ruddy saw go wide. Livermore then worked very hard to get down the flank and find Aluko who did an exquisite turn to get to his favoured left side and curled a shot a yard or so wide and City, aided by Norwich’s bewildering lack of positivity despite the man advantage, continued with the same tone until first half injury time, including one bit of one-touch showmanship across the field involving six players that finally ended in a right-foot shot from Brady flying over. Norwich won a free kick in the last seconds which Redmond aimed for McGregor’s right hand post but the Scottish stopper flung himself across well to divert it out. The referee gave the corner but then blew for the interval instantly, and City left the pitch and the supporters left their seats with a strange feeling of satisfaction mixed with edginess. After all, ten man teams like ours don’t hold on to leads forever. Do they? A pause here to mention Michael Turner. At one point, this author heard a boo as Turner took possession in defence. It was a single boo, not long, not reciprocated but also not shouted down. Who on earth boos Michael Turner? Who is that dense, that pig-headed, that one-eyed? I know we have extremities among our support, but even so I did allow the sector of fans whose brains resemble their own feet some semblance of intelligence when it came to appreciating our former players. However, there is a school of thought among supporters of all teams that any player who leaves their club, whatever the circumstances, should not be anything but scorned upon their return with another team. And Turner is just that. That he didn’t engineer the move to Sunderland, that he didn’t set the fee, that he didn’t run up the debt that made his move urgent to begin with, that he didn’t take the rise out of the City fans right in front of him when he promptly scored on his debut for his new club against his old one, and that the first three months aside, he gave unflinching, massively consistent and occasionally life-affirming service to the club, putting his gonads on the line (literally) right up to the last seconds of his City career, seems to have passed these unswayable individuals by. They should take a look every day at that moment when his thigh stopped Lee Trundle banging in an obvious equaliser at Wembley. And then shut up. Turner still looks effortlessly good, an interesting and skilled disposition to adopt given that effort is something he possesses and shows all the time. Norwich, aware that their formation was now unduly negative with their hosts down to ten, sent on portly ex-Leeds gabber and creator Robert Snodgrass at the break. Good player, Snodgrass. Also very cynical and very belligerent. Maybe this was why he got all the anti-Leeds invective from Es 1 to 5 in the second half when Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson, just as stained by previous WS connections, were on the pitch and got off lightly. Or maybe it’s because he has a familiar and amusing surname. He was quite influential on the second half and City had to graft. Alexander Tettey had a shot deflected wide by Livermore, then a scramble in the box resulted in Davies heroically dealing with it prior to having elongated treatment for a cut head, eventually regaining his feet with a headband wrapped round the abrasion. What was interesting, and gladdening, about City’s performance was that they seemed agile and fit enough to counter attack in numbers when the inevitable pressure caused by Norwich’s extra body and desire to gain parity had cooled. Koren and Aluko combined sweetly in one such instance to cover 50 yards between them before Turner slid in to take the ball away from Aluko, as cleanly as normal. Howson had a swerving effort tipped away with some difficulty by McGregor, then the same two duelled again with a drive that seemed to rise at the last moment, allowing the City custodian to let it be. Norwich maintained the pressure; Javier Garrido chipped in from the wing and Ricky van Wolfswinkel chested down for Fer to slice high and wide. The Tigers rearguard fell short of proper concentration after this, conceding possession cheaply and van Wolfswinkel, quiet thus far, headed a pearler for goal from Garrido’s cross but McGregor was able to stretch up, tip over and land on his backside to roars of appreciation for what was his finest save to date. Apropos of this, Ricky van Wolfswinkel is a superb name. We should have re-signed Jan Vennegoor of Hesslink just for this game and hoped they went up in Dutch combat for a header together when one came back to defend a corner. The commentators on duty would have swallowed their tongues. Tackles flew in as Norwich kept a tight hold of the game, but still their breakthrough wouldn’t come. Assuming you were realistic enough to believe a ten-man City couldn’t hold on for an hour, it’s at around the 70th minute mark you start cursing yourself for hoping they might, thereby setting you up for a bigger fall and a bigger bruise when the predictable equaliser finally comes. Then when Davies, bandaged, drunk on the atmosphere, showing his desire, went on a pitch-length run, some of it with the ball, some without, his legs all telescopic, his athleticism incontrovertible, his directive wonderfully spontaneous, the mood changed. He didn’t get a shot in when Aluko played the final return, despite it being essentially two on two, as Turner was doing his usual shtick of unflustered defensive excellence, taking the ball off his fellow defender’s toes and dousing the flames. But in being so proactive he seemed to trigger a second wind among the other nine players, not to mention the crowd. Nails remained at risk, but suddenly it felt like City would hang on. With good reason. Bruce aided the situation by bringing on Graham as an effetive sponge up front, withdrawing Aluko, then later introducing George Boyd (was I alone in thinking he looked rather good in his brief cameo at Stamford Bridge?) for the immense Brady. Graham and Koren, whose continuing presence on the pitch was brilliant and puzzling at the same time, combined arrestingly on the right side of the box, with the Slovene’s final ball just too far ahead of the slithering Boyd. Maynor Figueroa, whose experience at the back (especially when making opponents angry) was invaluable throughout all this, took on Davies at his own game and traversed at pace down the left flank before delivering a final ball that again just evaded the willing Boyd. Bruce finally took Koren off to massive applause – when he’s like this, he’s still a master of his game – and moved Elmohamady forward while slinging on Liam Rosenior. Boyd turned numerous circles on the edge of the box to make room for a clipped cross slightly too high for Graham just as the board for six – six – injury time minutes went up. Ulp. Six minutes is a long time when you haven’t got the football. And yet Norwich seemed bereft of ideas. In the final seconds Snodgrass wanged in a desperate cross to the six yard area that Howson just failed to flick; any deviation in the ball would have left McGregor in trouble but instead he pouched it safely. The ball went to the other end, and as Ruddy belted it upfield there was a false start – or false end, if you prefer – when the whistle assumed to be the one ending the game actually turned out to be for a retake of the goal kick as the ball was moving. Back it went, down it went, up it went – and off it went. Three magnificent points. The opposition weren’t as good as they should have been. City were better than could actually have been expected of them, however. That really does bode well. Sagbo was a fool and no excuses were offered for his behaviour, but Bruce can now give the majority the rest they need and have earned. Davies was magnificent, Livermore out on his feet, Koren industrious as well as immaculate, Huddlestone dominant, Brady relieved of every ounce of energy in him, the rest all worthy of the praise aimed their way. Meanwhile, esteemed Messrs McShane, Fryatt, Proschwitz and so on can engineer our depressingly inescapable struggle through the League Cup at Leyton Orient in midweek. Then it’s Manchester City. Someone ought to persuade Bruce to try to win there. It can be done.  

Matthew Rudd

Hull City 1 Boston United 0

The Tigers return to winning ways against plucky non-Leaguers made-good Boston.  Not a vintage performance, but a triumph of skill over aggression.  Mark Gretton, like City, gets the job done.
Stacks of goal mouth action, end-to-end excitement, incisive yet flowing football and a passionate crowd roaring as their favourites strive to crush the opposition – this match had none of it. That would be the Lincoln game and a treat it was too. But this one also differed from that one in the important respect that this one we won whilst that one, though we dominated with a ruthlessness that would have impressed Cynthia Payne, we didn’t. For those with other things to do, that’s as much as you really need to know. There isn’t a lot of football to tell you about, indeed, as those stood nearby realised that your correspondent was charged with reporting on the proceedings they laughed heartily at his increasing desperation as he waited for something, anything, that might be entered into the match reporters Blue whale embryo-hide bound notebook. It never really did happen, but we won anyway and for that much thanks.Doing just about enough were:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Melton Keates Branch Alexander

So no start for Marc Joseph but Steve Melton got a go in a midfield that was more fluid than stated on the screen, with only Ashbee in a genuine holding role with Green, Melton and Keates willing to interchange. Ah, Boston. They are as limited a side as I’ve seen for some time, which says an awful lot and none of it good. Think Hednesford and Hayes and you’ll get a pretty good idea. Bostonians must look north west to Sincil Bank with more than a feeling of inferiority – compared to this lot their Lincoln neighbours are football purists. They included ex-tiger pretty boy Matty Hocking in their defence, a player who was always marked out by his poise rather than his brute force. At the final whistle Hocking applauded his fans and then came over and similarly clapped the Kempton. Nice, polite lad, Matty.  He must wonder what the hell he’s doing at Boston. And we got wind of their chosen approach in the first couple of minutes, as one of theirs thundered through the back of Carl Regan, fortunately causing no apparent damage and fortunate to not even concede a free kick. It was immediately clear that we were the stronger in terms of ability and class, but they had a muscular desire to knock us out of our stride that we struggled with all afternoon. This meant a poor first 20 minutes when, frankly, nothing happened other than a rare Bost foray producing a whipped in cross that was headed over. I longed for it to rise to the heights of being largely formless. Still, Branch and Alexander were working hard though seeing little of the ball and our cleverest midfielders Green and Melton did combine well to provide what should have been a shooting opportunity but wasn’t as possession was lost on the edge of the area. A few speculative crosses from Regan were well-claimed by their keeper Bastock in front of the North Stand visitors and that was as much as we got before half-time. Boston had created even less, but had spoiled effectively by standing firm at the back and kicking stoutly at ball or player as either came within range, a steady stream of yellow cards punctuating this endeavour. Half-time couldn’t come soon enough and it didn’t. Second half and Boston showed commendable enterprise as they got within 40 yards of our goal, clueless number 18 Elding found the ball dropping neatly on to his right boot and he essayed a volley that went for a throw in. Cue much Kemptonian mirth, the Boston fans looking on silently from under foreheads so low they ought to have featured warning signs. We perhaps should have stayed in the pub. We’d been enjoying one of those philosophical debates over a pint as to what you would do if you were waiting in one evening knowing that Denise Lewis, Ashia Hansen and Jade Johnson were due to visit to seek your guidance on their various jump techniques when you get a knock on the door and who should have turned up unexpectedly but Gail Devers, coyly requesting you help her get her leading leg over more efficiently. We never got to conclude this one as a most surprising thing had happened on the TV, a Newcastle player had sent over a simple cross from wide on the left and Fabien Barthez, deputising for former Hull City star Roy Carroll, decide to execute a piece of French mime. Now French mime is widely and correctly derided as the most risible, tedious and pointless ‘art form’ in the world, but it was curiously welcome here as Barthez chose to depict ‘Man waving goodbye to his wife as she departs on an aeroplane to a better life without me, I am so sad, boo-hoo-hoo’ rather than catching the ball as a less experienced keeper might have been tempted to do. Consequently the miss hit ball directed far too close to him scudded over his shiny bonce and nestled into the top corner as he waved his arms and bent his body mystifyingly. ‘We’ll not see that again in a hurry’ we thought and we were right, it was getting towards four hours later that Delaney picked up the ball after yet another City move had broken down, misdirected the cross and let Bastock screw it up from there as he waved it into his top corner. Truly it is a funny game. The referee could have stopped it then as it was obvious that Boston had nothing that was going to pull the game back. It would have been nice had we cuffed them after this, but, a Branch cross that Green headed over apart, we suffered still from a lack of width causing us to founder on the grim Bost defence. But there was more excitement, of a sort. McCarthy was late on Branch, Branch kicked McCarthy, McCarthy punched Branch, the referee booked Branch and then sent off McCarthy. I think McCarthy may have already had a card, most of them had, but it probably merited a straight red anyway. They say it’s easier to play with 10 than 11, making you wonder why teams don’t try and steal a march by starting with 10 and then going down to 9 or 8 to really ram home their advantage. It would be stretching it to say the game came alive, but at least some of the torpor was shed as Boston tried to open it up a tad. As they ground their way forward we got a bit more space and Green lashed an excellent shot goalwards that was well saved from a corner, Regan spooned one over from a decent move and Green again crossed dangerously but wide. Another fairly desultory passing move, of the kind we had been producing all afternoon suddenly then caught fire as Green found Elliott (on for Branch) and the substitute’s shot was again well saved. The unthinkable almost happened after an hour as the visitors chugged forwards, we stood off politely and they got in a rather good shot that Musselwhite, in the spirit that goal keepers were exhibiting all afternoon, let go as it caromed against a combination of upright and bar and out again to a more tame follow up which the Muss this time claimed. It was as good as it got for the small time small towners on their day out in the big city. Alexander was replaced by Jevons and we finished in the ascendancy, Green becoming more influential as he crossed for Ashbee to shoot over before both players were then involved in our only really good move of the match. Passes strung together effectively got the ball forward rapidly to Jevons who finished clinically only to see the linesman flag tardily. A pity. And that was that. As I said, we needed the win and we got it. Hard to say a lot more than that. Melton gave the sort of vaguely encouraging performance that gets nice things said about you if it is during the first couple of games but gets you moaned at for not going after the ball more if you are still doing it after half a dozen games. He looks a ball player, rather than a ball winner which I understood to be what Taylor thought we needed, but of course it’s too early to judge fairly. A poor game and desperate opposition, completely devoid of class. In terms of energy and effort and brutality, though, they were as tough as you’d want to meet and, consulting the league table, they would appear to have been too strong for five teams already this season. Beating then is not a negligible accomplishment and if the manager is able to produce a team of fancy dans who can do the hard yards when needed, then he will have done much.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Alexander, Branch.  Subs: Elliott (for Branch, 58), Jevons (for Alexander, 71), Burton, Joseph, Deeney.Goals: Delaney 49 Booked: Branch, Elliott, Whittle Sent Off: None   BOSTON UNITED: Bastock, Hocking, McCarthy, Warburton, Chapman, Thompson, Costello, Higgins, Angel, Battersby, Elding.  Subs: Douglas (for Elding, 67), Cook (for Battersby, 85), Conroy, Redfearn, Weatherstone. Goals: None Booked: Chapman, Elding, Thompson, McCarthy Sent Off: McCarthy   ATTENDANCE: 9,460