|A muddy quagmire, ten man opposition for half an hour but only a point to show. Mike Scott attempts to explain why omitting Stuart Green may not be the best way to win football matches.|
|Manchester has, according to the knowledgeable Stephen Morrissey, so much to answer for. Well if that’s true (and I for one regard the musings of the former Smiths’ leader as gospel) then York can’t be far behind. What a strange world York City supporters live in. During half time we were berated with a common theme to emerge from their current financial plight, one that has reared its head on City message boards amongst other places – it goes along the lines of “if you were a proper football fan you would put your hand in your pocket and bail us out”. The manner in which the sneering announcer attempted to put down Hull City fans daring to sing a football song while he begged the “3,000 diehard regular supporters” to play a lottery game based on the Daily Telegraph’s weather forecasts (I’m not making this up, honest!) was just about the most bizarre and introspectively stupid thing I’ve ever heard in a football ground. I feel genuine sorrow for York, they have clearly been rudely shafted from behind by Douglas Craig, who preferred the shilling of Persimmon Homes to the challenge of keeping a football club afloat and sold his soul – and more crucially, Bootham Crescent – to the house building devil. The programme trolleys on about how the ground may be worthless to Persimmon anyway as they have no planning permission (which is arrant nonsense, the ground is surrounded by residential streets and housing developers are not renowned for betting on races with more than one horse) and begs for all of football to back up their cause. But I would, if involved in the Minstermen’s campaign, stop myself and ask why a city of 100,000 population can’t muster support from within for its ailing team. The truth is that York City has for decades had a small club mentality that has dragged it down, even when Keith Walwyn fired them up the divisions in the 80s, and which is now coming home to roost. Noone likes a clique. Whatever. On the field we were rudely awakened to Peter Taylor’s lack of ambition away from home. It’s a common maxim that has been rattling around football for decades for the simple reason that it is true – always play your best players. Taylor can be excused for leaving Lawrie Dudfield on the bench as the Dude makes his way back from injury. But quite how our management team can concoct a scenario in which leaving Stuart Green on the subs bench is a sound and sensible course of action is, I’m afraid, beyond my footballing ken. Events in the second half strongly suggested that Taylor et al dropped a major bollock on this occasion, and we can file this alongside “dropping Whittle” and “Keates on the left wing” in the lengthening list of crazy managerial decisions in recent weeks. Football managers can be far too clever for their own good sometimes. We all know what our best eleven is Mr Taylor – so bloody well pick ’em all. So with Green dropped we carded a side more cautious than a shy badger in an ill-fitting 1970s style wide lapel velvet jacket:
Musselwhite Joseph Whittle Anderson Delaney Regan Ashbee Keates Melton Alexander Jevons
So a continuation up front for Alexander – who played OK – and a return for Jevons – who didn’t. More of that later. At times Regan dropped back to make a five man defence as York carded a progressive formation that featured three strikers, the ten goal Duffield up the middle, the useless Lee Nogoals on the left and the former Tiger loanee Michael Reddy down the right. Reddy’s loan at City was characterised by swanning around with minimal effort and scoring lots of goals from about six inches out after others had done all the hard work. But today he played with pace, hunger and skill and, not for the first time in the last week or two, Delaney was royally shredded into bite sized morsels as Melton looked on. York pushed forward from the off and played the first five or so minutes well into our half. Our first sojourn upfield towards the David Longhirst Stand – Longhirst was a player who tragically died on the field while playing for York in September 1990 – saw us win a free kick that Keates whisked goalwards and drew the first of many adept saves from our former netminder and free-scoring forward Alan Fettis. Reddy was alreddy making heddway down our right at Delaney’s expense, and on nine minutes he crumpled theatrically as Ashbee came across the help the lanky left sided Irishman out in his duties. Ashbee saw yellow for that, although in truth the name-taking may have been inspired more by the face-to-face “stop diving” rant of our midfielder rather than the preceding tackle. The resultant free kick came to nothing, as did many of York’s expeditions into our box, foundering on the rocky outcrop of the Anderson-Whittle Islands and ending in a nasty shipwreck. That York were able to get the ball near our stony defence with undue ease was a testament to their ability to open us up down both flanks. Melton briefly came alive on the quarter hour, sending Fettis scurrying to his left to palm away a low skimming shot after a Joseph throw had caused panic. (I’d say “Joseph long throw”, except Joseph can’t throw it very far – time and again City’s strikers lined up for a 30 yard chuck only for Marc to cob it 20 at best). Melton chased down a lost cause and won a corner in the far left corner from the City throng of 3,500, but the flagkick failed to deliver a goalscoring opportunity. As those with weak bladders contemplated the dubious pleasure of locking horns with Bootham Resevoir, otherwise known as the away end gents’ urinals, York assumed the ascendancy. City’s lack of passing and dribbling skill in midfield was starting to show and York pushed us far too deep for this correspondent’s liking. Tiring of skinning Delaney alive, Reddy cantered in-field and after riding 2-3 challenges he wastefully scuffed a good scoring opportunity wide. The on half an hour Alexander was penalised for a combination of a high kick and something else – the identity of the something else will remain shrouded in mystery, but it drew yellow from the ref. From this free kick York worked possession down their left before swinging a deep cross to Hull-born Edmondson, who cut inside the frozen form of Delaney and floated an arcing shot from the corner of the penalty box over the blameless Mussy and into the far side netting. A decent goal that was deserved, given the way that Taylor’s mingey tactics ceded the momentum to the home team. The Tigers continued to creak more than roar. Potter evaded the stationery Delaney and delivered a right wing cross that fell to Nogan, who shot straight at Musselwhite when a precise rolled finished would’ve been ample to double the lead. Alexander and Jevons were starved of possession as City’s “up-and-over” hoofing tactics fell directly into the trap set by Dolan’s typically statuesque and well organised back four. Towards the end of the half Keates drove a shot at Fettis after a corner had caused some agricultural flailing in the York six yard box, but one couldn’t help but think that a 1-0 lead for the home side was a damage limitation scoreline for the Tigers, such was the imbalance in the play in favour of York. Changes were needed – to the manager’s credit changes were made. Stuart Green came on for the unfortunate Whittle, who had failed to put a foot wrong in the first half and would surely have done a better job at left back than Taylor’s dummy Delaney, who made several passable impersonations of Madame Tussauds finest as Reddy readied himself for yet another probing run. And the resurgent Lawrie Dudfield emerged, inexplicably at the expense of the willing Alexander and not the half-hearted Jevons. Jevons’ descent to half baked, effort lacking layabout has been swift and sad to report. Perhaps he feels he should have secured a permanent City contract by now – well not on this kind of evidence mate. I imagine that he is heading straight back to Grimsby once Dudfield is returned to full fighting fitness. So we lined up more attackingly in the second half:
Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Delaney Melton Ashbee Keates Green Jevons Dudfield
And the results were almost instant. Within seconds of the restart Mussy was flopping onto a loose ball after a York corner caused much flapping and panic. But with our full range of attacking options reinstalled, and with Dudfield looking lean and ready to run until he dropped, we started to exert the upper hand. A couple of openings had been squandered before Green was fed the ball on the right. His slide rule pass fed the mathematically minded Dudfield, Lawrie sent over a delicious cross whose parabolic progress picked out the pouncing Keates, and the ball was rammed past Fettis from six yards. Two in two for the wee man, and the equaliser that our improved formation deserved came early. We continued to press and York decided, bizarrely, to mirror our first half performance and leave their left back area mostly attended. Mussy cleverly exploited this 2-3 times, and on 57 sent Regan free to run 60 unimpeded yards to the edge of the York box. Carl slid a pass to Jevons whose smart reverse layoff fell back into Regan’s path, and the right back lashed a powerful shot that drew a superb diving save by Fettis to his right. Just past the hour York midfielder Smith aimed an ill-advised swipe in the general direction of Ashbee’s standing leg and the area where the ball had been 3 seconds earlier. Ashbee was felled and by virtue of a previous trip on Dudfield by the same player five minutes previously, the yellow that was brandished was doubled to a red and first use of the soap. City now had the momentum of play and a numerical advantage and continued to exert pressure, but without making many genuine scoring openings. Just after the sending off Jevons slotted a through ball to the galloping Green who advanced towards Fettis with no defenders in attendance. Alas he refused his shooting chance 25 yards out and instead took a too-heavy touch that allowed Fettis to smother Green’s shot from 15 yards when it came. Uncharacteristic lack of cool by the Cumbrian colossus. Melton drew another fine diving save from Fettis after he cleverly swivelled away from his defender on the edge of the box and executed a low drive that had plenty of accuracy but lacked power. On 71 Keates was felled on the halfway and after lengthy treatment and a 60 second attempt to run it off Deano was replaced by the slimline Andy Holt. Holt went to left back and Delaney advanced to midfield. Between the injury and the substitution Reddy crafted space for himself on the right and swung a dangerous cross into, and out of, the City box, just eluding the attention of strikers in the middle. Holt looked ready for action and combined well to set Dudfield away down the left wing. His fizzing cross evaded Green and Jevons in the centre and fell to the advanced Regan beyond the far post who clobbered a tremendous shot just wide of Fettis’s right hand post. As the game drew to a close petulance set in, Jevons and Joseph seeing yellow along with York’s Cowan. Nogan galloped clear and advanced on Mussy only for Anderson to improvise a last ditch clearance. In the closing seconds Jevons curled a shot just high and wide and in injury time Melton was gifted a glorious opening from 18 yards after dodgy York defending, only for the ex-Brighton midfielder to melt on sight of the ball and sky a left foot swish high, wide and not-at-all-handsome. Despite the first half ascendancy for the home side, one can’t help but conclude that our second half domination and numerical advantage should have seen us kill off the Minstermen and claim all three points. I am a great advocate of the “win yer home games, draw yer away games” path to promotion, but surely this was an occasion when our dominance should’ve been converted into more than one point. With Green on and an attacking mentality from the off, one can’t help but feel that a win was there for the taking. As we enter a new calendar year in this Hull City odyssey, let’s review our squad so far. Anderson is a quality acquisition who is now first on the teamsheet, while Whittle has let no-one down despite his recent rough-handed treatment. Joseph looks a decent larker, but doesn’t rate in the “pulling up trees” category. Regan is an OK defender and an excellent overlapping full-back. Delaney has slid rapidly during December after a decent first five games and is now scarcely worth his place. Holt impressed for 20 minutes today, perhaps he deserves another try, while the hugely promising Burton is correctly being eased through his opening football league footsteps after a wonderful debut against Rochdale. Shaun Smith is a disgrace who should leave the club. Edwards and Strong are returning from injury and must wait their turn to get first team action. In midfield we have seen consistency, strength in the tackle and adept passing from Ashbee and Keates, in the latter’s case after a hugely unimpressive start away at Hartlepool. Ashbee is perhaps our runner-up player of the season so far, alongside Anderson. Williams has done OK with his chances before getting cropped, while Melton has shown flashes of skill alongside flashes of total arse-lacking-ness and long periods of absence. The jury is still out on Melton, but the signs are Lawfordesque so far. Appleby has presumably, in the style of Elvis, left the building – perhaps with sixteen cheeseburgers in his guts. Up front is where the problems lie. Alexander’s form has yo-yoed this season and it is difficult to see him sustaining a run of form that lifts him above average. He needs to get his head down, put his pet lip in, stop living when challenged and work through this bad spell – he’ll be a great player again when he comes through the other side. Elliott is now showing signs of his pre-season (and pre-injury) form and is set to be one of division’s dominant forces in the new year. Jevons started OK and got much worse, and now barely merits keeping on loan. Dudfield is recovering from surgery and, based on the 50 minutes of play we have seen this week, looks hungry and strong as well as supremely skilled. Branch was treemendous until Wolves twigged, and he boughed out. Bradshaw has gone backwards in career terms. But I’ve saved the best until last. Stuart Green. A rather plain name, but what an inspirational player. As one who is associated with City fans who extolled the virtues of Theo Whitmore long after the Jamaican did anything to deserve the praise, I am wary of talking up another flair player. But Stuart is a true gem, a hard working attacking midfielder, barely tacklable with the ball at his feet and with a killer eye for goal. My only criticism is his occasional tendency to pass to teammates. Fuck that Stuart, just keep dribbling until you reach the goalie, then shoot and score. We’ll win 10-6 every week!
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Joseph, Anderson, Whittle, Delaney, Regan, Ashbee, Keates, Melton, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Green (for Whittle, 45), Dudfield (for Alexander, 45), Holt (for Keates, 72), Webb, Deeney. Goals: Keates 51 Booked: Alexander, Ashbee, Jevons, Joseph. Sent Off: None YORK CITY: Fettis, Cowan, Smith, Hobson, Edmondson, Potter, Bullock, Fox, Reddy, Nogan, Duffield. Subs: Wood (for Duffield, 82), Wilding (for Nogan, 89), Cooper, Collinson, Jones. Goals: Edmondson 33 Booked: Cowan, Smith Sent Off: Smith ATTENDANCE: 7,856|
|City play excellently once more but fail to chase off a dogged and ugly ten man Lincoln. Steve Weatherill reports on how hoof and flair finished even at Sincil Bank.|
|We are fantastic. I mean, our team – this team – is fantastic. Get along and see it for yourself, if you haven’t taken the opportunity already. The brand of football currently being played is as good as anything we’ve seen in a tiger generation and I doubt the bottom Division has ever witnessed such thrillingly fast-paced and imaginative attacking. It might all go wrong – we’re Hull City fans and it would be to defy our history to suppose a crash and crumple isn’t just around the corner. Perhaps we will lose the astounding Green to a (temporarily) higher-placed club. Perhaps our rich collection of bookings will damage us as suspensions crowd in. Perhaps all we are seeing right now is a brief upward blip caused by the players’ joy of liberation from the oppressive Molby yoke. But these last six games – three clear wins and three draws in which we were unarguably the superior side – have been hugely encouraging, and the final brace in particular, at home to Scunthorpe and now away at Lincoln, has revealed a wonderful quality of wit, flair and invention. Now, you might think – hang on, is this sarcasm? I’ve got a bit of a track record, I admit. And – 1-1 at Lincoln: is that so great? We’re in the bottom half of Division 4! And when I tell you Lincoln only had ten men for the majority of this match, you will be tempted to think these Tigers are going to have to produce an awful lot more to deserve this level of exultation. But I intend no sarcasm. Sure, this is a game we should have won. The gulf between these sides was easily three or four goals wide. But only wretched luck and obstinate woodwork kept us at bay. Lincoln City were vaporized by our power and energy, and someone soon is going to get an almighty trashing courtesy of our claws. More than that – football at this standard is going to get us promoted by Easter. With Delaney stepping into midfield to plug the gap created by Ashbee’s suspension, we carded:
Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Burton Green Keates Delaney Branch Alexander Williams
And it all began horribly badly. In the first minute Keates sent an inviting free-kick sailing wastefully high over the bar. And then, in the fifth, Lincoln scored. And it was a bizarrely ugly goal for us to concede. The Muss watched transfixed as a header looped over him. John Anderson scrambled back to clear but the loose ball fell to the beanpole Futcher, whose toe-ended shot wobbled nervily back towards our goal, which was gruesomely unprotected. The ball sighed into the netting. Everything stood still – there was an air of unreality, as if everyone was expecting a linesman’s flag or the referee’s whistle. But the goal stood. Perhaps our players were so mesmerised by pre-match hype about Lincoln’s set-pieces that we expected something a bit more subtle than this lame and hopeful hoofery. But we had defended the situation appallingly badly, and had paid the ultimate price. I mean, not actually the ultimate price. We’d gone one down away to Lincoln. That’s not really the ultimate price, I don’t think. No one was taken away to play in that game show like on “The Running Man”, and no one got a stake up their bum, like Vlad the Impaler used to do. Or even found themselves in the pub beforehand discussing the relative merits of William Hague and Ian Duncan Smith, a development which took me by surprise, I must admit. Also, guessing crisp flavours. But anyway. Yes. 1-0 Lincoln. It was time to get to grips with the dismal Imps. But we were confronted by a sturdy adversary. The crossbar. No one could quarrel with the award of the Man of the Match to the Lincoln woodwork, which was in defiant mood all afternoon. Williams zipped down the left wing and crossed at pace, only for a defender to flick the ball powerfully over his own keeper and hard against the bar. Our midfield is taking control, and Lincoln’s lead is set to be short-lived. Branch bursts through the middle on to a through ball from Green, only for the last Lincoln defender to tug despairingly at his shirt. Branch crumples to the ground and the ref duly brandishes red. It was harsh. Branch fell with practised ease under a feeble assault. Then again, cry no tears for Lincoln. We had outwitted them with a slick move, Branch’s run was targeted directly on goal and the Imps have a track record of twenty years of on-pitch thuggery against us for which to atone. Green belted the free-kick into the wall, but an equaliser was imminent. Regan, a capable attacker albeit an occasional defensive ditherer, sprints hard down the right and crosses to Delaney, who glances a header towards the back of the six-yard box, where Alexander intervenes with a meaty header into the corner of the net. A pacy move, an alert piece of finishing, and the ten men of Lincoln are in for a chasing. And a chasing they got. We just couldn’t stick the ball in their net. Delaney won the ball with a firm tackle and released Williams down the left. His cross was batted away desperately, but Green returned the ball into the middle with a deft outside-of-the-boot chip, only for hasty defence again to repel the threat. Then Green transferred the ball from right to left, Williams headed the ball first-time on to Burton, whose cross reached Alexander’s forehead, and his flick-on was well saved. Delaney again won possession with a well-judged tackle and passed to Williams, who slid a superb pass down the inside right channel for Green to chase and, with the home defence opened up like a sardine can, the shot carried not quite enough power to trouble Marriott (if it was Marriott. I’m not good on opposition goalkeepers). Then Keates, with the ball at his feet twenty-five yards out, spotted Branch’s clever run and slipped a magnificent pass through the narrowest of gaps into Branch’s stride just inside the box and behind the defence. Branch evaded the goalkeeper and turned his shot goalwards but a startlingly able piece of long-stop retreating defending by one of their lumps diverted the ball up and over the ball. Then Alexander, to Keates, to Branch – just offside, but a thrilling move. This is glorious football, it really is. I’m not even doing full justice to the flowing elegance of our play. I’m just giving you the concluding highlights of most of these moves – I’d be here all day if I spelled out the seven or eight passes that methodically constructed our persistent attacks. Normally in this Division there’s a litter of broken play in midfield, out of which hopeful attacks involving two or three passes might occasionally emerge. Not yesterday, at Sincil Bank. We were passing and moving with grace and confidence from back to front, and it was magnificent to watch. Admittedly, Justin Whittle hasn’t turned into Franz Beckenbauer just yet, but young Burton is comfortable with the ball at his feet, and Regan carries possession forward confidently enough. Delaney’s physical presence in midfield was a welcome surprise, after the poor impression he’d made when asked to step into this role in the later stages at Shrewsbury, and he was a major factor in preventing Lincoln getting a sniff of control in midfield. So too Keates, whose running was relentless and who also showed flashes of real skill on the ball. This was his best game for the club. I’d say the same of the intelligent Branch, and Williams too had a perfectly satisfactory game. And Stuart Green? Genius. On the few occasions Lincoln got the ball they generally just hoofed it into touch and checked their watches anxiously. Their sole tactic was to hurl long throws into our box and hope something ugly might happen. Next time you hear someone from Lincoln City FC moaning about the precarious finances of lower League football, ask them just why anyone should waste their hard-earned cash coming to witness this poverty-stricken, leaden apology for the beautiful game. It is our task to ride the shiny white charger brought to mind by Stuart Green’s dazzling football boots and take the broadsword of truth and justice to these peasants. We were utterly dominant and even in first-half add-on time we had two more near misses. Burton slipped the ball into space for Delaney to surge down to the by-line. His cross reached Anderson, ambitiously venturing into the opposition penalty area, but the shot was hasty and high. Then Delaney again won the ball in midfield and released Williams, but his cross was taken under pressure by the keeper. 1-1 at the break; it could have been 4-1. It took us just twenty seconds of the second half to resume our fluent and hugely appetising display. A first-time touch by Williams gave Branch space to play Keates in for a shot, which was blocked at the expense of a corner. Then, peculiarly, Lincoln enjoyed a spirited few minutes. They even had a glimpse of a chance, when a flicked header from a cross flew wide of the Muss’s left-hand post. But we were just resting. Regan and Anderson combined effectively down the right and crossed deep into the box where Justin contrived to head the ball back square across the face of the goalmouth, where it was hoofed clear, instead of aiming for goal. Green struck an astonishing 60-yard pass on to the Branch toe, and Lincoln, stretched almost to breaking-point, conceded a corner with relief. Keates provided Green with a shooting chance but the ball slipped just wide of the far post. We weren’t rolling forward quite as irresistibly as during the first half, perhaps because an awful midden of a pitch was draining strength from legs (especially those belonging to Delaney and Williams), but the tiger pressure was mounting. If there was an anxiety, it was that a fussy referee might even things up and conjure up a red card for one of ours. Alexander, close to his bustling muscular best if a shade sharp-elbowed on occasion, sailed close to the wind but stuck at yellow. Burton too picked up a yellow for jostling a Linc to the turf, and though the meagre home support, all of whom look like Ploppy or Mistress Ploppy off the Blackadder episode where they execute the wrong man (ultimate price!), howled for a red, they were not entitled, for although there wasn’t much cover behind Burton, the breaking player was heading away from goal. Elliott now came on for Branch, and we hit sparkling heights once again. Green and Elliott are wonderful together, fast and imaginative, and with Keates in particularly vigorous form anchoring midfield and Regan operating as a supplementary right-winger, the winning goal looked inevitable. Green passed, Alexander stepped over the ball on the edge of the box, Elliott took it on and, from close to the penalty spot, blasted a ferocious shot past a bemused Marriott, and, thump, against the crossbar. Alexander wrestled his way eagerly to the rebound and nodded that too against the quivering woodwork, before a third chance fell to Green who headed over the top. It was an agonising moment, and it cost us two points. But it was fabulous attacking football. Enough. Lincoln slowed the game down as desperately as they possibly could, and they eventually got an ill-deserved point out of the afternoon’s proceedings. But we were great, just great. A grand day out. Feel flush. Bracket us with the best. We’re going up.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Delaney, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Branch. Subs: Elliott (for Branch, 68), Jevons (for Green, 89), Holt, Peat, Deeney. Goals: Alexander 22 Booked: Alexander, Burton, Delaney Sent Off: None LINCOLN CITY: Marriott, Weaver, Morgan, Futcher, Bailey, Willis, Sedgemore, Gain, Bimson, Cropper, Yeo. Subs: Mike (for Cropper, 69), Smith (for Yeo, 78), Camm (for Willis, 85), Pettinger, Ward. Goals: Futcher 7 Booked: Willis Sent Off: Morgan ATTENDANCE: 6,271|
|A fine Tigers performance spoilt by an inconvenient last minute Shrews equaliser. Steve Weatherill reports on another good day at the office.|
|On 87, a slick Shrewsbury move provided one of theirs with a clear shooting opportunity from the edge of the penalty area. A blasted drive was brilliantly tipped away by the Muss, diving gallantly to his right, and we celebrated jubilantly, confident that inspired netminding from our returning hero had bagged us the points on a damp and misty evening by the Severn. But three minutes later, bang on the 90, Shrewsbury were awarded a free-kick on their right, close to the edge of the box. The referee blithered and dithered, he even allowed them two bites at the cherry, but amid total bemusement the ball was eventually poked into our net for an ill-deserved home equaliser. The match had something in common with Saturday’s draw against Rushden, in the sense that we had been indisputably the superior force, especially during the second half, and yet had been forced to concede a share to dogged opponents. But that’s where the similarities end. Shrewsbury played with resolution but they aren’t half the team that Rushden are, and we should have had them trussed up like the Christmas turkeys that will soon join the Christmas decorations, toys and traditional Harry Potter manger scenes in the shops long before that inelegant climax. Even though I’m pleased to report that City, and Green and Ashbee in particular, played pretty well again last night, it was still two points dropped rather than one gained, and frustrating with it. We kicked off in a 4-4-2: Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Keates Ashbee Williams Alexander Elliott Is that really Green’s best position? And Elliott’s? And is Williams really worth his place? A trio of “No!”s answer those questions on last night’s (and other supporting) evidence, but in the meantime the game began in furious fashion but with relatively little poise anywhere near either goalmouth. The Muss pouched a tricky low shot to his right, then an easier lofted effort to his left, while, at the other end, Alexander crumpled to the turf in a comedy bid to win a penalty and was fortunate not to receive a booking. Anderson then did succeed in attracting the penmanship of another eccentric referee, but redeemed himself by hooking clear when, following a looping back-post cross which the Muss watched with mild interest instead of claiming, a savagely dangerous cross was whipped back across the face of our box. A frantic opening. This was our fifth last-ever visit to Gay Meadow, and the surroundings were as delightful as ever. Tall trees by the swollen brown river, soft autumnal textures, a cascade of jumbo kit-kats. The pitch, expected to be sodden, played firmly enough for confident football. Why would Shrewsbury ever wish to leave their tranquil dell? Could the reason be that dread word, professionalism? But what’s this? Along the small terrace, backing on to the Severn, is infiltrated a mean-throated band of local youths, who are singing aggressive songs with sweary words in them! At Shrewsbury! I’ve never heard the like. It didn’t sound ugly, and it certainly didn’t threaten, it merely sounded wholly incongruous. What could be more out of place at Gay Meadow than such absurdly obnoxious posturing? It’s as if your dimple-cheeked, cherubic 9-year old niece were to look at you sweetly, and observe “Uncle, you’re a bit of a fuckwit, aren’t you”. I was surprised, I have to admit. Back to the game, and an extraordinary moment. You know that goal Ashbee scored at Torquay? The one that some foolish observers suggested was best enjoyed as a freak because, believe you me, this bloke isn’t ever going to do anything similar again, not if he plays until he’s 90? Well, if I may quote my own match report from that euphoric afternoon at Plainmoor: “I expect talented ballplaying midfielder Ian Ashbee to do this sort of thing every ten days or so from now until 2014”. And last night the ball dropped gracefully on to the Ashbee boot twenty-five yards from goal and he smashed in another of his astonishing volleys, this time only to see it crash against the outside of the post and bounce clear. It was a magnificent strike and keeper Dunsavin was immobile in shock. Keates now secured another yellow card for a challenge that was merely clumsy but not malicious, and we entered a disturbingly sloppy phase in which Shrewsbury shuttled the ball around quite happily and we depended on Justin Whittle to intervene and boot it clear when necessary. This, of course, is Justin’s long suit and he did his job as reliably as ever. But it wasn’t pretty to watch. The diminutive Williams and the rangy Delaney are physically a mis-matched pair, and unfortunately they look mis-matched in all other respects too, and so our left side looked uncertain both going forward and defensively. Green, playing on the right, flickered briefly, while Elliott, though lively and mobile, is just not a natural as half of a striking duo. Alexander headed over from a corner late on in the half, but generally was again guilty of a bit too much aimless mooching around. All in all, we were content to reach the break on level terms. Parity was what we deserved, but, Ashbee’s volley aside, we had offered a performance well below the standard enjoyed so far under the Taylor regime. Into the second-half and more high-velocity but medium-grade-skill football. The Earl appeared to up-end his man in the box, but the referee, close to the scene of Delaney’s alleged crime, awarded nothing and, since it occurred at the far end, I have neither basis nor motive to disagree. Then a cute Alexander dummy allowed the ball to run free to Williams just outside the box, but the infuriating wee man’s first touch was dismal and the space quickly vanished under a mere of converging Shrews. Up the other end: the lively Rogers darts clear at pace but his cross is flicked comfortably over our bar by a wasteful Shrew. And then, as on Saturday, we took a firm grip on the game and demonstrated that once we hit our stride we have the players to win this Division. Doesn’t mean we will win it. But we’re capable of it. Alexander, suddenly summoning memories of the muscular front man who regularly rampaged through opposition defences this time last year, grabbed possession and forced his way into a shooting position just outside the box and hammered a low shot just wide of the keeper’s far post. Then a wonderful flowing move involving five or six Tigers, including the increasingly prominent Green, resulted in a glorious low cross from the left and, with Dunsavin stranded, only a superb defensive header, in the manner of Olarticoxea (sp?) from Lineker in the dying minutes of the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final, protected the home side from going into deficit. But that wasn’t to be long delayed. We attack again at pace, Green releases a brilliantly judged pass beyond the lumbering defence and Elliott, timing and directing his run perfectly, connects to slide the ball under Dunsavin and put us into the lead. 500 City fans? More maybe? A degree of total tiger mayhem, the lead is ours and the amber-and-black football is increasingly imperious. Shrewsbury need to defend, and they have only unsophisticated tools to do the job. As anyone who drives the high roads of this nation is aware, the problem of abandoned cars is growing. Rusting, incinerated hulks, the victims of wanton joyriders and insurance fraudsters. The police are overwhelmed. On my own personal favourite stretch of motorway, a vehicle that first appeared a while ago half way up the grassy bank looking almost serviceable has steadily deteriorated, mirrors cracking, wheels disappearing, bonnet ruptured and chassis corrupted. Such is the career of Matt Redmile. A big brute of a central defender when we first encountered him at Notts County, he was already visibly coming apart at the seams as his displays at Meadow Lane spluttered to a halt and now, well into his 28th season with Shrewsbury, you wouldn’t even risk a trip down the shops with him. Redmile got booked, he could have had ten yellow cards last night and deserved the lot of them, and he was powerless to quell our nimble attacks. Keates came off for Burton, who went to left-back and Delaney stepped forward into central midfield. This didn’t really work. Delaney, for sure, belongs in midfield, but on the left side of it. That berth was filled by Ryan Williams. Who was rubbish last night. Never once did he pose a threat to Shrewsbury. Ashbee, however, was playing well, heavily involved in the midfield scrummages, while Green was soaring resplendent on the glittering floodlit turf. This young man’s sheer talent on the ball is enormous. He moves confidently, on and off the ball, he passes quickly and thoughtfully, and he likes to keep play moving at pace. A dapper run took him past two feeble challenges and he shot straight at Dunsavin from 15 yards with Jevons, now on for Elliott, howling for a pass in space to Green’s right. Jevons had a point, but so did Green – in this sparkling mood, I’m happy to let Stuart Green make his choices and try his luck. Ah well. At 1-0 you’re never safe, but we really did seem to have Shrewsbury’s measure. Time ticked by, the points looked ours. And then the Muss saved, Shrewsbury scored, and a pot-pourri of harum-scarum at both ends accompanied us through the three added minutes to an unsatisfying single point. But there was plenty last night, especially in the second half, to buttress the growing optimism about season 2002/03. Bring on Saturday and a match which I understand you young people regard as a “derby”.|
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Elliott. Subs: Burton (for Keates, 69), Jevons (for Elliott, 76), Philpott, Peat, Deeney. Goals: Elliott 59 Booked: Anderson, Keates Sent Off: None SHREWSBURY TOWN: Dunbavin, Moss, Redmile, Artell, Drysdale, Lowe, Wilding, Atkins, Woan, Rodgers, Jemson. Subs: Tolley (for Wilding, 63), Stevens (for Jemson, 76), Kendall, Murray, Murphy. Goals: Stevens 89 Booked: Redmile Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 3,086|
|A goal in seconds promised another rout, but this time Taylor’s Tigers fought for a well-deserved point against quality Northamptonshire opposition. Steve Weatherill tells the tale.|
|It’s tempting to feel frustration about this one. We took the lead inside the opening minute, but still couldn’t win, and so saw our winning run under Mr Taylor terminated. But restrain yourself. This was a lively match against powerful opposition, and we were palpably the better side, especially in the second half, so take from this encounter just one point but further confirmation that our team is marching steadily up this Division. We kicked off attacking North Stand, with the same line-up that began the demolition of Torquay, excepting only that Alexander took over as central striker from Jevons, who in turn slotted in on the right to replace the broken Branch. So:
Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Keates Ashbee Green Jevons Alexander Elliott
And the game started, and we went 1-0 up. Really, no messing. 30 seconds? No more. Green made a run from deep, bursting through the centre to receive the ball with the Rushden midfield on its collective heels and their defence astonished at our attacking presumption. Inside the box, Green shoots, Sollitt saves, but the ball runs loose and Green capers to his right and gleefully slides it into the corner of the net. It was a tremendous beginning, putting City in control before we’d had any opportunity to size up the relative merits of the two sides. But once the game settled down it became plain that Rushden were no dummies. Anderson headed over the bar from a corner that was deftly flicked on at the near post, but then, in front of Bunkers, our defence was horribly exposed by a dangerous left-to-right ball and the diminutive Jamaican international Hall stretched but put the chance over the bar when he could and should have scored. Then Rushden’s other, more effective Jamaican, the giant Onandi Lowe, slid a sweet pass into space for Duane Darby – for it is he! – to chase, and we were relieved he didn’t have his Whitby head on as the low skidding shot flashed across the Muss and wastefully wide of the far post. Rushden looked the better side for a spell, but our midfield trio worked hard to maintain a balance. However, Keates and Ashbee have a worrying tendency to make themselves a target for referees. Keates was lucky to avoid a red card last Saturday, but was, by contrast, sorely unfortunate to get booked yesterday. An innocuous challenge left his immediate opponent sitting on his backside on the turf, entirely unhurt, but as the referee approached, his fingers rightly making no move towards his pocket, the non-leaguer threw himself into a spasm of writhing and groaning, and the ref, duped ridiculously easily, waved a yellow at a fed-up Keates. Another Estelle Morris of a match official, but even Cabinet Ministers seem readier to own up to basic inadequacies than football referees. Our turn for a dose of superiority, and an Elliott free-kick was headed in a loop up over the crossbar and on to the roof of the net by Anderson, under pressure from the visiting defence. Then Jevons crossed from the right and Elliott and Keates contrived to get in each other’s way and the glimpse of a shooting opportunity was lost. We had a few corners too and, in a radical departure from hallowed Hull City tradition, they were whipped in at pace and looked genuinely dangerous. An early imprint of the Taylor method? If the new manager not only abandons our woeful incompetence at corners but also gets players to show a bit of movement when we’re trying to take a throw-in, then we truly will be witnessing the rise of a New Hull City. But Rushden took a turn at pressing, and this time they equalised. Regan was harassed by Darby and surrendered possession feebly, only for Ashbee to intervene with a well-judged saving tackle just as Duane was readying himself for a shot. Then, from a corner, a ball to the back post was headed back across the face of our goal and thumped home on the half-volley from about eight yards out. We didn’t defend this set-piece particularly sturdily, but Rushden were value for their goal. On 45, Green dribbled through a couple of tackles and drifted a shot just wide of the post, and then it was half-time. 1-1: a decent game between two decent sides. Rushden started the second period on top. A surge through the centre was halted by resolute City defence, but Lowe, hopping from foot to foot in agitated manner, was right to be irate – he had been left in complete freedom and a pass to him, out on the left, would have left the Muss exposed. Lowe had the beating of Regan and looks a fine player for this Division, while we could be grateful that Duane, his partner, was being criminally under-used. Darby is a master at controlling the ball and shielding it from attentive defenders, but few such passes were being guided his way by his team-mates. Mr Taylor opted for a change. Williams replaced Elliott, and we switched to a more orthodox form of 4-4-2, with Green playing wide on the right side of midfield. The team gradually re-discovered its poise and took control. Alexander sent a venomous left-foot shot five yards wide. Green received the ball from Williams near the dead-ball line and, in a twinkling shimmy of white boots, he skated round his marker, only for Rushden to shovel the ball out desperately for a fruitless corner. Alexander and Williams combined well out on the left, only for the promising move to fall apart on the edge of the box as both left the ball to the other. Jevons and Delaney exchanged delightful passes, setting up Alexander for an effort that was held by Sollitt. Then Keates delivered a free-kick long to the back post, where Whittle headed back across the goalmouth and Sollitt again stretched to clutch the ball. This was impressive stuff from City. We were playing with appealing fluency and genuine conviction, and in this spell we were definitely worth a second goal. Delaney looks to me more like a midfielder than a left-back, which is to say he’s going to be vulnerable to exploitation defensively, but, with Elliott off, he was getting forward with panache and showing an eagerness to receive long passes. Jevons plays with his head up, but isn’t a natural goalscorer; Alexander is a natural goalscorer (which is something his growing collection of boo-boys, the same lamebrains who two years ago were whining on about the need to sign a 20-goal-a-season man, might wish to recall), but currently lacks confidence. Green is adding a bit more consistency to his performances with each game and, as beleaguered Rushden tried to waste time at every throw-in and every goal-kick, Green, now abandoning the right-side for the centre, was the man most likely to rip them apart. It was high-quality football from our team, but not quite incisive enough. Rushden still possessed menace – or, more specifically, Onandi Lowe did. A thumping header from Lowe was held by the Muss. Then Lowe skipped round Anderson with alarming ease before advancing to hit a left-foot shot wide of our goal. Time for another change, and Mr Taylor sent on Bradshaw for Jevons, and then Burton for Keates, playing the willowy and hugely promising youngster at left back, with Delaney stepping forward into midfield. The game is drawing to a close, but we’re still pressing, and Rushden are still hanging on nervously, selecting time-wasting as their main tactic. A Regan cross – Williams is foiled at the back post by alert defence. Another fine ball played in from right to left – Burton, gliding forward into space intelligently, just fails to get his forehead on the ball. It’s over, it’s 1-1. We were the better side, and Rushden were quite possibly the best-organised opponents we’ve faced this season. If, as seems logical from last season’s placings and this season’s results so far, Rushden are a good bet for promotion, then so are we.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Jevons, Alexander, Elliott. Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 55), Bradshaw (for Jevons, 80), Burton (for Keates, 80), Peat, Deeney. Goals: Green 1 Booked: Ashbee, Keates Sent Off: None RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS: Sollitt, Bignot, Peters, Tillson, Setchell, Hall, Gray, Mills, Bell, Darby, Lowe. Subs: Wardley (for Bell, 73), Mustafa, Turley, Duffy, Dempster.. Goals: Gray 38 Booked: Bignot Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 10,659|
|Steve Weatherill reports as the Tigers continue their unwanted habit of tossing away a lead against limited opposition.|
|Another bad one, I’m afraid. We weren’t too shabby in the first half and took a deserved lead; we were pretty ragged in the second and found ourselves deservedly pegged back by the visitors. Bury were a hard-working side and no more, but that is quite sufficient at present to rein in Molby’s men. Again, you would have to be a profound optimist to consider that things are shaping up nicely for version 2002/03 of the Tigers, or even shaping up at all. So perhaps we can be sensibly encouraged to stick to being mere realists and accept that that it’s only August yet. And – bright side seekers – we finished with a full complement of eleven men yesterday. Justin Whittle was mercifully back in the starting line-up, though Dudfield was excluded from it, and, with Elliott injured, Morison, our loanee from Sheffield Wednesday, stepped into the left side role. But expectations that Mr Molby would persevere with his favoured 4-3-3(-ish) proved ill-founded. We carded a no-nonsense 4-4-2:
Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Petty Green Greaves Morison Johnson Alexander
However, it wasn’t quite time for the football, and – wonder of wonders, I kid you not – out trotted the Reverend Allen Bagshawe, for some characteristically witless words, and then the ground fell silent. And so the preening self-importance of football took another loathsome lurch into infamy as it arrogantly paraded the bathetic triviality of a few seconds of silence before an insignificant sports event as a tribute to poor children “the nation” never even knew existed before their death. It is a wicked war of exploitation in which I cannot grasp why football would choose so callously to ally itself to the media’s glutinous confectionery of commercialised grief over deaths they deem to lie at the summit of newsworthiness in pursuit of nothing other than extra profit (“we care! Buy our paper! More about their favourite toys! Buy our paper! WE CARE!! OUR REWARD IS BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER, GRIEVE WITH US AND WIN PRIZES!!!”). Time for some football, I think, but not until Johnson had been yellow-carded for a two-footed tackle of the type that seems inevitably to be punished these days even though the challenge was well-timed, won the ball and did not inflict even a scratch on the Bur. Johnson was back in action shortly afterwards, craftily going to ground all too easily on the edge of the box and winning an undeserved free kick from the clean-shaven referee. The ill-gotten free kick was wastefully scooped high over the bar by Stuart Green. Smith, signed for his dead ball skills, looked on disconsolately, hands on hips. It was modestly lively fare, though neither side offered much in the final third. The incidents that did involve interest in the goalmouths were largely at the North Stand end attacked by City. Mid-way through the half Alexander set up Johnson for a shot that was blocked and then, a minute later, “Jack” Regan strode forward and smashed a viciously swerving 25-yard shot just over the bar. At this stage Regan’s willingness to bring the ball forward was pleasing, though he was hindered by playing just behind Petty, who was generally loitering far too deep and simply looked positionally ill-suited to the right-side role in midfield. Elsewhere, Morison, though demonstrably no Elliott, looked deft on the ball but lightweight and, perhaps, less than fully match-fit, while Green was enjoying a confident spell of intelligent passing and moving. The muscular Johnson was a more likely scorer than his out-of-sorts partner Gary Alexander and, round about the half hour, the Leeds loanee put us ahead. And a strange sort of goal it was. Johnson seemed likely to be beaten to a hopeful through ball by Bury keeper Garner, but he slid into a challenge on his knees, as if intent on setting up a rolling maul of the type feared by quivering visitors to the High Veldt charged with the lonely task of taking on the Springboks, but he emerged to regain his feet and find the ball becalmed at his feet, with Garner rucked aside. Johnson composed himself and raked a shot into the open goal from a narrow angle before any defenders could rush back to cover, and, perhaps to his surprise, glanced at the referee to discover that the goal had been given. Bury, it should be said, had little heart for a protest, so perhaps the goal looked more dubious than it really was when observed from my distant eyrie in Kempton. Green now got himself booked, albeit a shade harshly, as Bury, deprived of Plan A, the “Defend for a 0-0” option, roused themselves and kicked on into Plan B, “Exploit their left-back”. Smith duly lost the ball carelessly and a pacy attack was halted only by a perfectly timed challenge on the edge of the box from Justin Whittle, in front of an appreciative Bunkers. Shortly afterwards it was Regan’s turn to squander possession and on this occasion it was a delicate defensive header by Anderson that protected us from a dangerous cross. Both centre-backs looked the part, and they shepherded us through to the sanctuary of half-time and a 1-0 lead. It was thus far an adequate display, no more, but it was the best we were going to get. Bury bossed it once the game re-started. For ten or so minutes we were chasing possession in vain as the visitors passed the ball around with disconcerting comfort. The sum total of serious efforts of goal was zero, and Glennon pouched a patter of feeble crosses calmly enough, but the impression was that our team had, yet again, let its collective mind drift away from the job at hand. On this occasion, Mr Molby wasn’t slow to act. Morison had just enjoyed his best moment of the match, a decent little jinking run and swerving shot that was well held by Garner, but he now came off for Price. I’d guess Morison had been told he’d get an hour, no more, until his fitness is topped-up. Johnson, who had faded in the second period but had still easily out-performed Alexander, was replaced by Dudfield, and our display briefly perked up. A penalty box melee in front of Bunkers; Dudfield chips the ball up for Alexander’s craning forehead; just wide … corner claimed, duly refused. A lung-bursting run by Green; a back-pass, a hoof clear by Garner. Just as we seemed to have grappled control of the pattern of play back from Bury, they equalised. It is, perhaps, the iron rule of lower Division football – you score most readily when you’re under pressure at the other end. Something to do with defensive dis-organisation? It was a messy goal, with a deflection or two involved, perhaps a wretchedly unpredictable squirt off a surface now moistened by rain that had begun to fall just after 4 o’clock, but the end result was that one of theirs was able to scramble it over the line from about 8 yards out, as Glennon threw his considerable bulk at his adversary in vain. So, 1-1, and it got worse horribly rapidly. Glennon spilled a low shot directly into the path of one of theirs about ten yards out and our portly keeper was doubtless hugely relieved to see the chance wastefully booted high over the bar. Then Glennon let another cross elude his nervous grasp and although on this occasion no damage was done, his confidence was visibly shredded. Throw abysmal distribution on to the charge sheet and our netman was an all-too-ready target for the witless Kempton boo-boys, now well into their stride just four games into the new season. People who tell you “This is gunna be our season” before a ball has been kicked should be cuffed smartly around the ear, for it such inflated expectation that fuels the stupidity of fans getting on player’s backs long before the clocks have gone back, a fault to which the Hull City support is woefully and perennially self-defeatingly susceptible. But Glennon could usefully lose some weight and start keeping goal properly. Names such as Forrest, Dunfield and Newby do not trip off the keyboard, but all the same these scions of Lancashire lower-Division football were now busily taking us apart. Bury passed and moved, over-ran us in midfield and looked entirely capable of seizing all three points. Green was having a quiet spell; Greaves had been having a quiet spell since kick-off. The tireless running and focused energy which made Mark Greaves one of our most valuable players eighteen months or so ago appear wholly exhausted. Petty was ordinary, Price anonymous. We have no possession of the football at all and only the supreme professional Justin Whittle, ably supported by the improving Anderson (know your history: a Hull City side will always be the better for the addition of a Scotsman), protected us now. Greaves surprised us all by winning a header from a rare Tiger corner, but its gentle goalward loop never suggested success and it was headed easily clear, and the Bury deluge resumed. Bradshaw replaced Petty, an attacking move that was predictably foiled by our midfield’s inability to supply quality passes up to the attacking trio, though the snappy Bradshaw managed to irritate a couple of defenders close to a foot taller than him with his perkiness. I think he is part terrier. And so we hung on. There were three minutes of “added” and by now Bury had acquiesced in a share of the points. The final moment of note arrives on 92 when the arithmetically-minded Smith belts a 30-yard shot twelve yards too high and eighteen wide, but you didn’t have to be much good at sums to know that this was another disappointing afternoon’s football. I don’t do “Man of the Match” nominations – it’s a team game. But we are very lucky to have a man like Justin Whittle in amber and black.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Petty, Green, Greaves, Morrison, Alexander, Johnson. Subs: Price (for Morrison, 56), Dudfield (for Johnson, 60), Bradshaw (for Petty, 84), Musselwhite, Keates Goals: Johnson 36 Booked: Green, Johnson Sent Off: None BURY: Garner, Swailes, Redmond, Unsworth, Barrass, Dunfield, Forrest, Clegg, Stuart, Abbott, Newby. Subs: Woodthorpe (for Barrass, 45), Billy (for Clegg, 78), Preece, Nelson, George Goals: Abbott 64 Booked: Barrass, Redmond, Swailes Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 8,804|
|Bristol Rovers (1) 1 Hull City (0) 1 A game of two halves. Steve Weatherill reports on the Jekyll and Hyde tendencies of the new Tiger breed.|
|Two games, two points, two red cards. A rum do in the rugby citadel of upland Bristol, as City were woeful throughout the first half, trailing deservedly 1-0 at the break, and then, by contrast, vigorous and effective but goalless in the second half up until the moment deep inside the last 10 minutes when Strong was sent off, whereupon sheer spirit surged to the surface, and substitute debutant Johnson thumped home an equaliser to seal a welcome and well-merited point. All in all, a decent game with no particular pattern, save that – for no obvious weather-related rationale – the whip hand was clothed in blue up until half time and amber thereafter, but nonetheless many of the impressions gathered on the opening day of the season inched closer to being confirmed: our attack is potent and though neither Dudfield nor Green looked as menacingly on-message as they had three days earlier, Bradshaw’s display outshone the limp offerings provided last Saturday by Williams, while Elliott is simply magnificent. Meanwhile, midfield is patchy. Ashbee again came and went as the game progressed. And we remain a defensive shambles. We began with the same ersatz diamante 4-3-3-ish formation as we had deployed against Southend, although a small personnel adjustment saw Williams left out and Bradshaw included. Dudfield took over the right-side attacking role and wee Bradshaw stepped in as cutting-edge. So:
Glennon Edwards Anderson Strong Smith Ashbee Greaves Green Dudfield Elliott Bradshaw
A scrappy opening ten minutes gradually gave way to obvious Rovers superiority. They looked fit and lively, as you would expect of a Ray Graydon side, and, though their lower Division hackers will never aspire to the pacy trickery of their manager in his gifted playing days, they pushed urgently down the flanks and found us defensively wanting. Our principal tactic appeared to consist of the obtuse one of allowing the thrower to go wholly unmarked, so each time the home side won a shy their man threw it in, received it back and trundled happily off into space down the wing. Perhaps someone can confirm just how many throw-ins Bristol enjoyed during the first-half last night? Too frustratingly often we were defending hopefully as crosses looped in, instead of cutting off delivery at source, and it was this malfunction that led to the first major scare. Challis, limited but eager shaven-haired left back, was permitted time to hoik a long cross towards the back of the box where more poor marking allowed another of theirs time to bring the ball down and smash a low shot beyond Glennon, only for Anderson to rescue City with a clearance from bang on the whitewash of the goal-line. I will confess I have some difficulty telling our pair of centre-backs apart. Though facially dissimilar, Strong and Anderson’s build is comparable and so is their hair colour and shape, so from a distance a case of mistaken identity is all too possible. I find myself imagining we have a composite central defence comprising two men both called Armstrong, so bear with me if such imprecision slips into these reports, but on this occasion credit for salvation definitely goes to Anderson. More woe as Rovers dominate. Edwards and Dudfield got hopelessly confused down the right, allowing one of theirs ample time to loft in another looping cross. Tait, briefly clueless for City last season, got ahead of Armstrong and nudged the ball over Glennon and on to the top of the bar. It was a good position and he should have scored. But he’s rubbish. Then Strong lost his man; the shot was soft, and Glennon made a diving meal of a fairly simple save. Oo, it was rotten. The sun-kissed undulations of urban Bristol away to our left made happier viewing than the ragged Tigers. Bristol were playing orthodox 4-4-2 and dominating midfield. Green was isolated in the advanced sections of the middle and was able to exert negligible influence on the pattern of play. The ball kept rolling Glennon-wards. Smith was regularly out of position down the left and when he wasn’t, he was easily outpaced by an opponent. On the other side poor old Mike Edwards was having a 24-carat nightmare, frequently uncertain in choice of position and hesitant in the tackle. And I’m afraid he didn’t strike a pass cleanly all night long. Tait was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon made a sharp stop. Then, a short thirty seconds later, the other home striker, Grazioli, was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon was beaten to his right by a crisp finish that rolled into our net just inside the post. I call it as I see it and I thought it offside. Reliable witnesses around me assert Grazioli had run from deep and that he was onside. Whatever. We deserved to be losing and now we were. It’s not even half-time yet, and it could have got worse soon after as Smith backed off like a chipmunk faced by a cougar as one of theirs raced at him. The cross was duly delivered without the pressure of any challenge, and Grazioli, allowed plenty of room by Armstrong, whirled into an overhead kick which Glennon managed to cling on to. On 43, Elliott darted from left to right and, bringing his right boot into serious competitive action for the first time, he hammered in a fierce shot that was tipped over the bar. Aside from an earlier Dudfield cross which Green had headed disappointingly high it was our only attacking flash of a first half which now, mercifully, was called to a close by prancing Premiership whistler, nervy eleven-year-old and keen Airfix modeller Andy D’Urso. I had expected Mr Molby to change our formation at the break and to stiffen midfield. But he didn’t. Instead the Dane changed our players’ attitude. And some. Perhaps Ashbee and Greaves had been encouraged to play a little closer to Green, but most of all, all three had been instructed to up their work-rate. And they did, and so was midfield wrested back into our grip. A Molby plea to “Get it out wide to Elliott, that lad can PLAY!” had also evidently been issued, and was acted on. And he can play, and he did. It was a gradual improvement. Initially too much was lumped in the air at Bradshaw who, though as tenacious as a vole, cannot seriously compete aerially with standard-sized centre-backs. Bristol even threatened briefly as Tait found space. But he mangled his chip and Glennon held it without a tremble. Time for the Tiger. Green slipped a cute pass to Elliott, racing in from the left wing. He took it in his stride, near the edge of the box, and fired in a vicious meaty drive which the keeper was mightily relieved to see nestle in the side-netting, just wide. Then a slick move out of midfield presented Bradshaw and Dudfield with a gleeful 2 on 1, only for idiot referee D’Urso to haul play back all the way to half way for a useless free-kick in our favour. Never mind – all City now. Bradshaw’s darting run and flick header – saved at a stretch. Elliott strains down the left and slides an inviting ball across the face of the goal – Dudfield mysteriously hesitates and stands watching as the ball screams “hit me!!” as it travels across the goalmouth just three yards in front of the transfixed Dude. Our lack-lustre Bergkamp-lookalike pays for this moment of indecision and is hauled off in favour of Johnson, the Leeds loanster, who takes up the same right-sided berth. This lad is exciting. He is very powerfully built, in the way that so many Premiership players who regularly visit their pharmacist seem to be, and is also obviously schooled to get himself and the football forward at pace whenever the chance presents itself. Molby also made another like-for-like exchange as he brought off Greaves and introduced Price. Plenty of time for an equaliser yet. Green shot from 25 yards – just wide. Then an outrageous Bradshaw flick had the entire Rovers defence gasping in admiring bemusement as Green accepted the gift and motored forward into space, but his shot was soft and easily stopped. As yet Green’s play is a shade over-ambitious and his choice of options was certainly less well-judged last night than on Saturday, but he is a rare talent and I don’t expect Mr Molby to curtail his invention. All the more so in the case of Elliott. His commitment as a Christian is his business; his commitment as a footballer is ours. And he never gives up. He’s a genuine hard-worker, which, combined with flair, pace and shimmering self-confidence, makes him a hugely exciting prospect. We’re lucky to have him. Positive thinking all round, but we’re into the last ten minutes now and we’re still one down a long way from home. Glennon has possession and the players are trotting upfield when Strong seizes the moment and kicks one of theirs to the floor. O, yes, smart move. The linesman sees it – he can’t miss it – and once the tale is told Mr D’Urso has no option but to reduce us to ten men. I suppose that will be a three game ban for Strong and I hope that will bring us Justin back permanently. He was back temporarily last night, as we re-organised the defiant ten by bringing off Smith for the reliable Whittle. Well, I didn’t think we’d get anything from the game now, even though the efforts since the half-time break had made us worthy of a point’s reward, but team spirit was now allied to footballing power and elegance and we sneaked it. Green stroked a delightful pass down the left wing for Elliott to race on to. He picked his spot for the cross delivered from the by-line and rolled the ball into the path of Johnson, who had spotted the possibilities as soon as Green had lofted the ball forward. His 40-yard lung-bursting run was rewarded by the opportunity to ram the ball home from near the penalty spot. 1-1, about right, and, in contrast to Saturday, we duly survived an ominous repeat of the “3 added minutes” board.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Greaves, Bradshaw, Dudfield, Elliott. Subs: Price (for Greaves, 61), Johnson (for Dudfield, 61), Whittle (for Smith, 81), Musselwhite, Williams Goals: Johnson 85 Booked: Anderson, Elliott, Johnson Sent Off: Strong BRISTOL ROVERS: Howie, Boxall, Uddin, Barrett, Challis, Carlisle, Quinn, Bryant, McKeever, Tait, Grazioli. Subs: Astafjevs (for McKeever, 78), Gilroy (for Grazioli, 84), Clarke, Hogg, Gall Goals: Grazioli 30 Booked: none Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 7,501|