Boston United 0 Hull City 1

Hull City’s first – and on this performance, last – visit to the quaint old York Street ground saw the promotion pressure lifted, the great away support return and a rousing victory for the Tigers after a torrid opening spell.  Ian Thomson is far from stumped for something to say on the matter.
The one predictable thing about City is the unpredictable. Whatever all the signs tell you to expect never seems to come to pass. But we don’t ever learn from that, do we? And so, as Central Trains conveyed me yesterday morning at a leisurely pace across the northern edge of the Fens, magnificently brooding as ever despite the glorious sunshine, my mind wandered to the subject of what I should write for you about the forthcoming fixture. Soon it was all worked out; I would start off with a short paragraph masquerading as a disinterested, half-hearted, incomplete report of the game, as a reaction to what would surely be a disinterested, half-hearted, incomplete City offering if last week’s second-half stroll at the Circle was to be anything to go by, on the basis that if the team couldn’t be bothered to put the effort in because the end of the season had yet again been reached fruitlessly and prematurely, then neither could I. Course, what then happened at York Street wasn’t like that at all. Whilst it was far from being a classic Tiger performance, in terms of either skill or endeavour, in a game lacking in real incident, it at least provided a welcome surprise. For we actually mustered sufficient self-respect and enthusiasm for the task not only to stifle most effectively (and, literally a couple of instances apart, comfortably) a home side who, although limited in quality, had a great deal at stake and scrapped hard to try to preserve it, but to press forward in search of the full share of the spoils for ourselves in a manner which ultimately brought its just reward. We’ll park the question of why we didn’t get the same at Bootham Crescent, Roots Hall or Glanford Park to name but three since Christmas. Sporting our current change strip on what will probably be its final outing were the following:-

Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Smith Regan Keates Delaney Elliott Walters Burgess

This may well, of course, prove to be City’s only ever visit to York Street in the League (although Exeter and Shrewsbury in particular look to have other ideas at the moment), and I have to say that would be a pity. Lincolnshire east of the A 46 really is the land that time forgot, and the town of Boston itself is a particular delight. Strolling from station to pub and pub to ground through streets lined with traditional-looking pubs, small, independently-owned shops and only a very few familiar names on store fronts, you felt as though you had somehow wandered on to the set of some early 1960s British film, and would surely bump into Albert Finney or Ian Carmichael (or better still, Julie Christie, armed with a wicker shopping basket), round the next corner. However, modern-day reality soon manifested itself, on the approaches to the ground, in the guise of an absurdly heavy and intrusive police presence, given the presence of no more than a dozen or two fake Burberry-becapped scrotes. Having negotiated the lines of police in front of the turnstiles, and even more inside, the ground itself wasn’t half bad, with proper floodlight pylons and some sort of reasonably substantial structure on each side, certainly better than either Cheltenham’s or Macclesfield when they first came into the League and with definitely more of a League than non-League feel to it. The pitch, however, was not quite so impressive, a bare, uneven tract of land giving every appearance of being used between games for the grazing of an especially voracious species of sheep, curling up in the corners like the top slice of the loaf once you’ve opened it, and playing in a manner entirely consistent with its appearance. The game kicked off in the same radiant sunshine with Boston, ex-Tigers Mark Greaves and Matt Hocking in their ranks, playing towards the 1 300 or so City fans who had made the trip – an amazing turnout for a game with nothing at stake for the Tigers, given that many must have shared the same forebodings about it all as I did and they can’t all, like me, have been ground-tick anoraks. Neither side stamped its authority on the early stages, although City, the unconvincing-looking line-up notwithstanding, were the first to show on 7 mins when Burgess at full stretch narrowly failed to connect with a Walters cross from the right. A succession of Tiger corners followed, all coming to nought. The hosts themselves gave no indication of having much to offer, although this was due in some measure to an organised display by the Tigers rearguard, with the impeccable Justin Whittle prominent as ever. Even in these early stages it looked as though one strike would be enough to settle the issue, the more so because after about 20 minutes the game entered its most unsatisfactory spell, with City easily containing a Boston attack which didn’t get near the City goal until quarter time when the Fett had to dive low to smother a cross from the right, but at the same time, whether frustrated by the uneven pitch or overcome by end-of season inertia, seemingly unwilling to take the game to Boston in any meaningful way. Thankfully, some kind of watershed was reached after about 35 minutes, after Fettis had dived to palm away for a corner a fierce low effort from the ex-Yorkie Duffield and I had written down “Burgess shite- no effort” on my piece of paper. The maligned Burgess then almost immediately won a corner after his determined run was stopped by a Boston defender, and the menacing-looking (facially, that is to say) Boston netminder Bastock fubled the resultant corner, the loose ball being turned back to Delaney who eagerly skied it fully twenty feet over. Ah, Delaney. Dear Delaney. So reminiscent of the member of each British team that ever competed in Jeux Sans Frontieres, usually balding and approaching middle age (some will be thinking “pot, kettle, black” at this point) who had boundless energy and enthusiasm but always spilt his bucket of water or fell over just at the vital moment of the game. But, to prove me wrong again, a minute later he viciously volleyed a bouncing ball just over the bar from the corner of the box. We now actually look much more like scoring than Boston, a Fettis save from Angel on 43 notwithstanding, as the half draws to a close, and two Keates screamers in as many minutes which go just over, the second scraping the top of the bar and a surefire entrant for Netbusters if it had gone in, take the Tigers close to opening their account. Into first-half stoppage time and we scorn probably our best chance of the half, as a Boston defender takes a fresh air shot at a cross from the left and the unmarked Walters, perhaps taken by surprise, doesn’t lash the leather as cleanly as he might, allowing Bastock to make a diving save from his looping effort. So half-time, and the players troop off towards the tunnel situated in the stand at the far end, allowing the City support to appraise for the last time the Fett’s bald patch and his increasingly unavailing efforts to conceal it, and a select few Tiger Chatters to enjoy not only coffee but lollipops, no less, fresh from the holdall borne by that most staunch of City fans, T Holmes, Esq. Nice one, Trev and Jan, and much appreciated. So, expectancy mounts as the second-half begins, only to be quashed as virtually nothing happens for ten minutes apart from a succession of injuries to Boston players, until finally a dangerous-looking Regan cross is pouched by the scary Bastock. A minute later Burgess again just fails to connect with a cross, this time from Elliott, who has been drifting in and out of the game but in fairness not getting a lot in the way of service, and shortly afterwards Walters gets pulled up, unfairly it seems, for handball after having seemed to have beaten Bastock fair and square to a through ball, but it was all pretty uninspiring stuff, to the extent that I noted down “goalless draw inevitable” at this point. But this is City, and just as the away support settled down to take the locals to task on the subject of interbreeding (a bit rich, this, I always think), we started to assert ourselves again. Penalty appeals are turned down on 64 as Burgess is (fairly, it seemed) floored, and a minute later a Delaney effort is saved at the near post. Another minute on and the Fett is called into rare action to make a fine save from the Boston number 7, but this is an isolated break from the pattern of play as Greaves is booked after Elliott is felled and, predictably, makes the most of it, but, when, as happened later in the game, he attempts to keep his feet after being tripped and gets nothing as a result (admittedly, a rare aberration from the referee who had a generally sound game) who can blame him?) Bastock saved the resultant Keates free kick. But the force was now undeniably with City and, after Walters had made way for young Donaldson, a deserved win was secured on 73 minutes. Keates curled in a free kick from the right and Elliott rose like a salmon to glance a superb header just inside the far post with Bastock rooted to the spot, to the delight of the City hordes. A fine strike, and a carbon copy of his winner at Macclesfield last month. The home side, seemingly conscious of their grip on League status being prised away, tried hard to raise the tempo after that, but City were in no mood to be denied, and indeed remained the more threatening of the two sides for the remaining seventeen minutes and the five minutes’ stoppage time brought about by a succession of players requiring treatment. That said, the only real incident of note after the goal came on 94 minutes when Bastock, who sportingly acknowledged the Tiger fans at the end, came charging out of his goal to execute a text-book sliding tackle on Donaldson down by the right-hand corner flag. So, a merited win, all told, but all the more poignant for having been achieved when it’s all too late to have any sort of import, and too surrounded by inconsistency to serve as any form of indication as to how we shall fare next season. If Boston do retain their League status and City replicate yesterday on a blustery and wet November afternoon back at York Street, now that would have considerably more significance.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Anderson, Whittle, Smith, Regan, Delaney, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Burgess.  Subs: Donaldson (for Walters, 69), Williams, Jevons, Burton, Musselwhite. Goals: Elliott 73 Booked: Delaney, Joseph, Keates Sent Off: None   BOSTON UNITED: Bastock, Greaves, Balmer, Hocking, Chapman, Redfearn, Bennett, Ellender, Angel, Duffield, Logan.  Subs: Gould (for Angel, 53), Weatherstone (for Logan, 69), Rusk (for Hocking, 77), Rpice, Town. Goals: None Booked: Greaves Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 3,782

Macclesfield Town 0 Hull City 1

Two wins in a row?  Blimey, things are looking up now the play-offs are out of reach.  Keith Dean peeks over his horn rimmed spectacles, implores us to “shush” and tells the tale of another victory.
Hey stop it. Stop that right now. Never mind looking down the table at those teams in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th places deciding how many of them you think we might catch. And you can put your calculators away too because, no matter how optimistically you predict the results of the remaining games, we aren’t going to make the play-offs. We aren’t. We’ve left it too late. Still that doesn’t stop us enjoying evening’s like last night when we put in a thoroughly competent performance, kept a clean sheet for the first time in eons, and pouched another three points from our travels. We lined up with just one change from Sat’day: Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Smith Appleby Ashbee Keates Elliott Walters Forrester. So no Melton and no Delaney then. That was a pleasant surprise. Rather more predictably though, the game kicked off in wet and blowy conditions as is customary for our trips to the open terrace of the Moss Rose. The Silkmen, in their fetching dark blue, er, polyester, began with the wind at their backs but struggled to make any significant headway against the solid and dependable partnership of Whittle and Anderson. Energetic and harrassing play from our front six gave the Silks little time on the ball and time and time again a homester was forced into a hopeful hoof upfield. Most were overhit and carried harmlessly through to Fetts whilst the rest were rendered useless by an immobile and uninterested display from Kyle Lightbourne. True, we weren’t exactly ripping them to shreds at the other end either but we saw by far the greater share of possession and spent most of the half in control. Our passing was more accurate and the intelligent running of Forrester and Walters created enough of a threat to to keep the Silks from committing too many men forward. Elliott again looked happy pushing up from a wide midfield role. One surging run infield provided Appleby with a shooting chance that he hit only a foot or so over. We went close again after a drive from Smith, from the right hand edge of the box, was blocked inside the goal area and was eventually cleared with Walters and Elliott ready to pounce. Just a couple of anxious moments at the back. Firstly Whittle and Joseph got a bit hesitant when another high aimless ball was hit over their heads and they let it bounce, not once, but twice. Joseph was in the better position to clear but, instead, he chose to wait for Fettis to come to claim it. An alert Silkster nipped in and ran in on our keeper but Fettis’s dive got enough of a touch on the ball, and nothing on the player, to force the striker sufficiently wide and to the byeline to make his cross completely harmless. And secondly, during a brief period of Silk pressure, a corner from the left was won far too easily at the far post. The header landed only a few yards from the goal line and was only partially cleared to the edge of the box and right to the feet of one of theirs. The well-hit shot looked on target and destined for the net until Appleby threw himself into it’s path and was able to send it swirling high over the bar. Aside from these few incidents it was a 45 that lacked any noteworthy goalmouth action. But it was never dull fayre. We were battling away tenaciously against reasonable opposition and awful conditions so going into the break at nil all was going to be a pleasing reward for all those efforts. I’ll tell you what was dull though. The bloke in front of me (a tall, greying old sod) who spent most of the evening wittering on about some new job he’d got in a Library somewhere. Yawn. I have to give credit to him though, he can read a game. Deep into added-on time, a routine attack down our right flank was broken up by a Silk’s hoof into the crowd. The throw in was taken quickly. “Ey up, we might just nick one here” said the shelf stacker. His sentence started at exactly the same moment as when Richie Appleby drew back his right foot to thump over one helluva cross, and ended as Elliott’s header (from around the penalty spot, glanced perfectly to Willo’s right leaving him stranded on his line) bounced just inside the far post. Excellent stuff Tigers ! It was quick thinking and great awareness from all involved and Elliott showed again how dangerous he can be in the air. Two touches from the restart and the ref blew. Marvellous. Thankfully the conditions eased for the second half so the Tigers’ play was able to continue in a similar vein. Nothing too extravagant, nothing too risky, just steady and controlled. We were sitting back a bit without looking in any great danger and, as you might expect from a team scrapping for their existence in the Football League, the homesters did buck up their ideas a tad in the early stages. A lot of their better moments stemmed from the boy, Adams, on the left flank. We gave him a lot of space and he started whipping in some decent crosses. The heads of our central defensive duo got onto the end of most and Fettis was left to deal with only speculative shots from outside the area. The nearest they came to an equaliser was when Adams chose to hit in a lower ball that got behind the defence. Anderson turned to clear it as Fettis dived out at his feet and the loose ball almost fell to a Silk foot but was thankfully hacked behind for a corner. Up front, young Walters was having another storming game. Perhaps even equally as impressive as he’d been against Carlisle if less prominent. He takes up excellent positions wide out on both flanks, holds up the ball very well and invariably retains possession with a simple, sensible pass or forces the defenders around him to give away a corner or throw in. He has some good close control and looks bloody hard to knock of the ball. Importantly too, he looks to be forming a good understanding with Forrester. And he’s prepared to take on the oppo as he showed midway through the half. He chased down a ball out to the right touchline, held off the fullback and flicked it inside to Appleby. A neat return pass got the young ‘un clear on the edge of the box and he hit a clean shot towards the top corner that Willo had to be sharp to cover. And it was he who almost doubled our advantage soon after. Forrester won a tackle midway in their half in the inside right position. Ashbee took over and hit a wonderous pass between two Silks to the left edge of the box. Walters, with instant control, cut inside and was again thwarted only by Willo’s quick advancement from his line. With about twenty to go the tiring Appleby was replaced by Regan. We didn’t really create anything from then on but never looked in any danger of throwing away the spoils. In fact the star man of the last fifteen mins was the irrepressible Justin Whittle. Up for a corner that was met by a Silk head and that ballooned the clearance vertically upwards, Justin found himself in the D with the ball dropping invitingly to him. Much to the amazement of many, he showed us that he’s not just the rugged unflappable stopper that we all so love. He make a good strike on the volley and it looked on target but he was unlucky to see it fly off a defender’s shoulder before it could test Willo’s agility again. Then in the dying minutes, right by his own corner flag, he executed the most authoritative shoulder charge you will ever wish to see. The poor Macc ended up way over the advertising hoardings and into row L. To a great cheer, he then lumped the ball a good eighty yards or so deep, deep into the oppo’s territory to pin then back by their own byeline and use up a few more seconds of what time remained. Awesome stuff. And so the evening’s entertainment came to an end. It may seem strange, but I found it all just as enjoyable as the goal-fest at the weekend. It was great to see so much effort and commitment from a side and for it to be justly rewarded. It was a case of, in many ways, witnessing the simple things and seeing them pay off. I’m thinking of how the midfielders and strikers never stopped hassling their counterparts whenever they were in possession; of how the defence stood firm and unruffled, and of how we had so much movement that we hardly ever hit long hopeful punts to no-one in particular just to clear our lines. And, all of a sudden, when a loose ball drops on the fringes from a half-cleared corner or cross, we have people there looking to capitalise. It’s not rocket science, I know, but it is starting to look like the team knows what it’s doing for the first time since we saw off the Poolsters on Boxing Day. The play-offs ? Well, you never………………… NO. Stop it, stop that now.
HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Appleby, Ashbee, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Regan (for Appleby, 70), Melton, Webb, Dudfield, Musselwhite. Goals: Elliott 45 Booked: None Sent Off: None   MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Welch, Tinson, Macauley, Hitchen, Smith, Dunning, Whittaker, Adams, Eaton, Lightbourne.  Subs: tipton (for Smith, 60), Martin, Ross, Abbey, Nash. Goals: None Booked: Lightbourne Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 2,229

Hull City 1 Bristol Rovers 0

A few scares, but Fortress KC remains intact as the Tigers bag another three points and surge up to 10th in the table.  Steve Weatherill gets a nose bleed at such dizzy heights.
Ah! Our beautiful new stadium! You really do need to approach it on foot. Up Londesborough Street and over the footbridge … it is to escape the narrow streets of the Borgo and have St Peter’s suddenly burst on your astonished gaze, it is to feel the thrilling vigour of turning away from forbidding grey concrete tower blocks in favour of the lavish decadence of St Basil’s … Yesterday, as a snowstorm draped the giant orb in ghostly white in the hour before kick-off, it was to approach a new and bravely honest world. Don’t miss this injection of emotional thrall to your football club. Walk. Way to go. The stadium was the star yesterday for this was an oddly disjointed game. The League table demonstrates that Bristol Rrovers are a pretty poor side, and plenty of evidence in support of this diagnosis was on show at the Circle yesterday. Nevertheless, though some of our attacking was attractive, we never dominated the play and, in fact, we had good cause to be grateful to the Muss for more than one last-ditch save after the visitors had sliced through our defence with alarming ease. So there wasn’t much basis for enthusiasm about our own long-term prospects based on yesterday’s encounter. Except that … except that we won, except that we added to the mystique of the Circle as a place we never let slip a goal, much less a point, except that grinding victories like this one will, if continued soberly and sensibly for a couple of months, contribute to a serious promotion challenge. Frost warmed by the under-soil heating had melted, and was overlain by the painfully beautiful snow shower. So it was a glitteringly wet pitch that greeted this line-up:

Musselwhite Regan Anderson Joseph Delaney Green Melton Ashbee Elliott Dudfield Alexander

As ever, a “sort of” must be appended to the midfield quartet. Ashbee played deep, Melton played central, Green roamed where his muse took him and Elliott was commonly well advanced down the left. Whatever misgivings we might have about that set-up were put on hold as we made a roasting beginning. A Green corner was flicked on by Alexander to Elliott at the back post: his meaty shot was turned away by a stretching Howie in the Rrovers goal, only for Dudfield to seize on the rebound and smash a shot from a tight angle into the side netting. Ooo! A slick start, but the visitors hit straight back, and a neat backheel in our box prepared a dangerous shooting opportunity which was snuffed out by a crunching Anderson tackle. This opening exchange of parries set the tone for a match that was not fluent enough to be labelled “end to end”, but in which nonetheless both sides seemed able to take turns in puncturing dodgy defences. A free-kick towards the by-line was awarded for a challenge on Dudfield that looked perfectly fair to me, yet earned the tackler a bizarre yellow card; Green’s floated kick into the six-yard box was cleared. Then a long cross from the right eludes Anderson and falls enticingly on to an attacker’s nut just behind the big Scotsman, but the Bris has lost sight of the ball’s trajectory and, taken by surprise, he heads tamely wide of the target. It gets more alarming still as the Muss stops a close-range header and then reacts with honed instinct to block a fiercely-struck follow-up shot. This was a marvellous double save, well worthy of the laconically murmured “Jim Montgomery!” from Ed Bacon to my right, but it was also slack marking at the heart of our defence. Shortly after Regan was culpable in missing a long cross, and was almost punished by ex-Tiger Tait, who chested the ball down and forced a corner which, happily, came to naught. The game was moderately lively, though of a pretty poor quality that could not be attributed solely to the sodden surface. There were occasional glimpses of skilful touch play, most noticeably when Messrs Dudfield, Green and Elliot were adjacent to the ball, and so far Melton was more heavily involved in this game than in any other since his arrival, but there wasn’t much evidence that the opposition were bottom-of the table fodder for our ravenous table. So then we scored. A corner, an Ashbee header – blocked, a Melton side-foot shot – blocked, a grand stramash, and after a wild flailing of limbs another corner. This one is met by a towering Anderson leap and a thumping downward header; Howie blocks it, fubles, and Alexander sweeps the loose ball into the net from close range. A predatory strike, a vital goal. Suddenly we are at the races. Stuart Green delves elegantly into his bag of tricks and tortures Bristol. He feeds Ashbee, who slips a clever pass forward to Melton. He transfers the ball to Dudfield who scampers to the by-line and when his low cross is half-cleared the ball reaches Elliott and a crashing left-foot shot is blocked close to the visitors’ goal-line. We unleash some lovely passing as the snowfall becomes thicker, but a second goal eludes us. Now the game tip-toes towards half-time in tamer mood. It’s been an odd half. Our defence looks draughty, our attack ambitious – it’s not at all like it’s been most of the time of late. It’s less controlled, and I prefer it that way. On 45 a ball is slipped across the face of our goal from their left, but no Rrovers toe makes contact, and we are allowed to make it to the break with our solitary goal advantage. Into the second half, and more flashes of lively entertainment. Alexander muscles his way through the defence like the fondly remembered terrorist frontman of Autumn 2001 and sets up Dudfield inside the box. He slips the ball past the keeper but is foiled by a fingertip save that diverts the shot an inch the wrong side of the post. The ref incorrectly awards a goal kick. Then Dudfield skips down the right and sends a cross sailing towards Elliott, unmarked beyond the back post, but he cannot control a difficult spinning ball and loses possession in a sprawling jumble of limbs. And now the game slips gradually into a shapeless phase. Bristol have slightly the better of it, though they do not help their cause by substituting Grazioli for the canny Allen up front, opting to leave the gratifyingly unimpressive Tait on the pitch. Melton is now rarely involved, Green has slipped temporarily from the radar and though, with Elliott pushed forward, we are now playing a 4-3-3, the Tiger attacks are only sporadic and marred by some consistently aimless punted crosses. The Muss makes an excellent save from a powerful 12-yard shot and then, a couple of minutes later, our offside trap is sprung with ridiculous ease and a Rrover wastes a golden opportunity by sliding a shot past the post with only the Muss barring the route to the equaliser. “Only the Muss” – ha! Our goalkeeper is in commanding form but at this stage only he and the determined Ashbee are on their game. Time for a change. Smith. Hmm. Wouldn’t’ve been my choice. But on comes our man with a (half) season of modest fruitfulness behind him. He takes over at left-back, Delaney steps forward into left-side midfield, while Elliott partners Alexander up front. It is a tiring Dudfield that is taken off. Bristol promptly carve us open once again and only a superbly-judged Muss block prevents them converting a one-on-one into a 1-1. None of our defending in this match made a case for the exclusion of Justin once he is fit. And, though it gives me no pleasure to report it once again, Mr Taylor’s two midfield acquisitions revealed nothing of the reasons for their continued presence in the side. Melton’s vaguely encouraging first-half display has now given way to a disappointing second-half. While Delaney, pushed into midfield, was a gruesome sight. His lack of confidence with the ball at his feet is painful. He advances with all the grace of a giraffe riding a unicycle and he created no beginning of problems for the right side of the visiting defence. Jevons replaces Alexander and we are homing in on a testy 1-0. Ashbee passes to Elliott whose superb ball inside the defence sets Green free, but his cross is blocked. A brief moment of excitement extinguished – too much of yesterday’s match fizzled out after showing brief indications of promise. A fussy ref didn’t help, but the bottom line is that we didn’t ever look like punishing the Bristol basement outfit that provided the opposition. A big thumbs up for the Muss and Ian Ashbee; adequate performances from the hard-working Elliott, Alexander and Anderson; and glimpses of excellence from the Dude and Stuart Green. The rest were, at best, in the “could do better” bracket (except Melton, who all evidence indicates can’t). Overall, a patchy afternoon for the team. But no matter. A nervy 3 minutes are added, Elliott is off, Webb on, and it’s over and we have the points. And the stadium is the star.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Anderson, Joseph, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Melton, Elliott, Dudfield, Alexander.  Subs: Smith (for Dudfield, 82), Jevons (for Alexander, 87), Webb (for Elliott, 89), Holt, Deeney. Goals: Alexander 25 Booked: Green Sent Off: None   BRISTOL ROVERS: Howie, Boxall, Austin, Barrett, Rose, Carlisle, Quinn, Astafjevs, Street, Tait, Allen.  Subs: Grazioli (for Allen, 67), Gall (for Rose, 79), Uddin (for Boxall, 79), Clarke, Bryant. Goals: None Booked: Rose Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 14,913