Norwich City 2 Hull City 1

Faltering Norwich spring into life and closely resemble a Premiership side once more. It’s all too much for the Tigers despite an early score.

Ach, disappointing. We were completely outplayed last night. The scoreline doesn’t tell the half of it. Flowing attacking football on view, an almost full and frequently noisy ground on a mild evening in Norfolk – yes, it was overall a better experience than trudging across to Rochdale and Macclesfield. But by the time we finally escaped Norwich’s gruesome town centre traffic “system” (are there City fans trapped in there still?) I felt pretty gloomy. I don’t expect to get pulverised by a team in the same Division as us. But we really were thrashed by Norwich.

Not coping:

Myhill
Wiseman Cort Delaney Edge
France Curtis Welsh Elliott
Brown Fagan

Barmby, presumably resting, was not even on the bench. Marc Joseph was, but had been squeezed out of the right-back position by the rangy Wiseman.

Norwich had a shot inside the first minute, as Boaz was lured from his area by a fast attack, but it flew well wide. And then we went ahead in the second minute. Curtis lobbed in a free-kick towards the back of the box where Cort rose majestically to send a header soaring gracefully over Green into the far corner of the net. Superb power and judgement – it seemed that we might have the beating of the home side in the air from dead balls. In fact it was near enough the last time we could even think that.

An impressive City turn-out of 800 or so generated delighted racket after that early score, enjoying the confines of a reasonably tight, albeit largely newly constructed stadium. The Norwich fans were louder than expected too, and at this stage of the game we looked set for an exciting contest. All the more so because of the quality of the Norwich attacking that was becoming increasingly visible. Worryingly so.

Darren Huckerby is asking for trouble by wearing white boots. And you might have thought his patchy career so far would have induced a dose of humility. Not a bit of it, and on his first-half showing last night he’s got every right to play the peacock. It was a forceful, periodically irresistible display, studded with surging runs, clever flicks, whipped crosses and underpinned by the most vital of all ingredients, savage pace. As he flew down the left flank with the agility of a gazelle, the pace of a cheetah and the furious power of a panther, Huckerby, in fact, reminded me of myself in my own footballing pomp. He, however, was supported by quality passing of a type that I could only have dreamed of from some of the clots I used to line up with.

Wiseman was Huckerby’s immediate opponent, and he struggled manfully to cope, but the problem was that man-for-man we were second best in most positions. Still, when the equaliser arrived, on 15, it was one that we should have dealt with. A corner was played back to Safri, twenty or so yards out, and he was under no pressure at all as he lined up a firm low shot that flew through a crowded penalty area and bulged Boaz’s net before he could react. The scorer, Safri, was excellent last night but he should not have been allowed so much time to choose his option.

On 22 Huckerby fizzed through our defence, and fell with studied professional guile over a proffered Delaney limb just outside the box. Marney’s floated free-kick sailed just wide of the post, with Boaz beaten. Our 4-4-2 is well-organised, but we’re under pressure all over the pitch from the quality and pace of the opposition. We enjoy a decent spell after the half-hour mark, and Elliott hoists a right-foot shot well over the bar, followed by a tame Welsh effort hit straight at Green. But on 38 the game is won and lost.

It’s a rare foray down our left, but a cross is eased into our box with little difficulty and Doherty, trotting forward from centre-back to join the attack, has even less difficulty in letting the ball bounce off his forehead into the net. Quality cross, and an ambitious advance by the defender. But he scarcely needed to leap off the turf to convert the chance. Shoddy defending.

Two minutes are added, and in the first of them Huckerby orchestrates a slick one-two that opens us up cruelly down their left. The cross is vicious but Edge does well to insert a clearing boot. That’s half-time, Norwich lead, and even One-Eye Turgoose of Dairycoates, City fan since 1905 and convinced to this day that with a better referee we’d have beaten Wolves in that famous game in 1911 which we lost 0-8, is heard to admit that we deserve to be behind.

And Mr Taylor decides on radical surgery. Off come Edge and Brown, on go Price and Green. The idea – switch to 4-5-1. France drops back to right-back, Wiseman moves over to the left. The midfield reads, from right to left, Price – Green – Curtis – Welsh – Elliott. That leaves Fagan all alone up front. If the alterations were a shade tough on Edge, they should also not be read as a slur on Curtis and Welsh, who worked hard in midfield, but hadn’t quite been able to arrest Norwich’s flow, built around the industrious Hughes and the elegant Safri. We’d been outplayed but we’d been outmuscled too, not for the first time this season, and Mr Taylor had evidently decided he needed more bodies across midfield to make it harder for Norwich to manufacture the bombs which Huckerby in particular was detonating among our defence.

It worked, after a fashion. We did spoil Norwich’s rhythm. The second half was much more even and Huckerby faded from view.

And, following a most excellent ten minutes of “Peter Taylor’s black and amber army” which was as sustained as any in which I’ve participated since the grand old days of the Moys End at Peterborough, we even had a shot on goal, a 25-yarder from Elliott which Green fubled unconvincingly round the post for a corner (English goalkeepers eh! Rich comedy nowadays).

That, however, was as good at it would get. A shot. A single shot. No more. The overwhelming problem with the second half’s 4-5-1 was that, though it blunted Norwich, it did the same to us. Fagan was tireless, but operating solo against a strong and confident centre-back pairing of the quality of Doherty and Davenport was hopeless. Did Mr Taylor get it wrong by choosing a less adventurous set-up for the 2nd half, and condemning us to largely chance-free stalemate? Well, maybe. On the evidence of the first half though, I would have been happy to back Norwich to get 7 (seven) had we not done something to plug the gaps in midfield.

It’s no use moaning for Ashbee. He’s gone for a while. But how we could have used him last night. Ellison’s arrival, to replace Curtis, just didn’t cut it. I’m telling you nothing you don’t already know when I report that Ellison looked lost, like a small child in woods full of wild animals, marooned a couple of Divisions higher than his talents deserve.

We were competing with the home side much more gamely in the second half than we had in the first, but even so the goalscoring chances mainly fell to Norwich. On 64 one of theirs steps round France and belts the ball into the side-netting. It signals the end of our decent 15-minute spell and we’re forced on to the back foot once again. On 71 a divine one-two in the box is blocked by a desperate saving tackle (up the far end, don’t know who deserves praise). On 80 a break down the right, a powerful cross-shot, a fine block by Myhill. Norwich aren’t as terrifyingly razor-sharp as they had been for much of the first period but football like this is too good for us.

Elliott, pushed up front in the later stages as we reverted to 4-4-2 after Ellison’s arrival, had another worrying game where he wandered about ineffectively, gradually dropping deeper to positions where he could not conceivably hurt the opposition. He is a surprising addition to the list of players who simply may not be quite good enough for this Division, and though his excellence last season justifies continued faith in his selection, at present he needs to find a bit extra to disturb the meaty defences most opponents offer up. France is another one looking a shade lightweight at present, while three players last night who could confidently be filed under “move on to the lower leagues” were the three substitutes, the eager but limited Ellison, the wearyingly ineffective Green and the half-paced Price.

I suppose that the obvious criticism that could be aimed at Norwich last night was that for all their possession and for all the devastation they inflicted with their fast pass-and-give style, they scored only twice, and on both occasions as a result of disappointingly feeble marking by us. But they had us beaten now. Cloughie famously observed that it only takes a second to score a goal. True enough, but you’ve got to get the ball somewhere near the opposition goal in the seconds that precede that crucial second. As the game limped to its inevitable conclusion we simply couldn’t achieve that.

So. Sturdily efficient defence, a mix of grace and aggression in midfield and a pacy muscular attack. What’s to halt this Norwich side in this Division? Do they have any weaknesses? Well, a few years ago Michael Chang, after taking a fearful beating from the then top dog Pistol Pete Sampras, was interrogated about whether his conqueror had any weaknesses. Chang frowned, thought for a moment and then brightly remarked “well, he can’t cook!” Norwich too. Shame on you Delia. Your special match day pies were bland, dry and entirely lacking in imagination. The cooking needs attention down Carrow Road. Their football is plenty good enough. Unless Norwich are to be this season’s Bristol City – tearing us apart in hugely impressive style but doing the same to absolutely no one else – then investing in them at attractive each-way odds to win this Division this year will not be the worst decision you make this week.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Welsh, Woodhouse, Elliott; Brown, Fagan. Subs: Price (for Edge, 45), Green (for Brown, 45), Ellison (for Woodhouse, 72), Joseph, Duke.

Goals: Cort 2

Booked: Delaney, France, Woodhouse

Sent Off: None

 

NORWICH CITY: Green, Colin, Drury, Doherty, Davenport, Marney, Safri, Hughes, Huckerby, Ashton, McVeigh. Subs: Lisbie (for Ashton, 45), Brennan (for Marney, 78), Ward, Fleming, Henderson.

Goals: Safri 15, Doherty 39

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: B Curson

ATTENDANCE: 27,470

Rochdale 2 Hull City 1

City threw away the points before half-time as boss Taylor languished in a M62 traffic jam.  Some minor improvement in the second half but still another meek defeat.  Mark Gretton summarises.
Cautious pessimism will remain the order of the day for me after last night. If Peter Taylor did miss the first half, then he was damn lucky. We got ripped up by a team that hadn’t won since the Gracie Fields was wowing the troops, defended appallingly and were decidely lucky only to concede two, a fine finish on the drop (under no defensive pressure at al) from their excellent Lee McEvilly and then an horrendous Anderson blunder letting the ball squirt to another of theirs who finished easily. In addition they missed two one on ones and Fets made some fine saves. We never got the ball and Fatty Flitcroft completely bossed the midfield. Second half we were better, we could hardly have been worse, and we really got going once Melton went off, Elliott joined Walters and Burgess upfront, Delaney came into midfield with Burton at left back and we eventually scored with a Burgess header. We huffed and puffed thereafter but didn’t often threaten to bring home the bacon. On balance we probably deserved to lose as they created the best chances over the game, although in terms of domination it was their first half and our second. Melton is a disgrace, Regan and Otsemobor both contribute going forwards but don’t make a defensive right back between them and we frequently gave them the whole of our right flank to play in, Burgess did well all night as did Fettis who kept us in it, Justin did a number of last ditch block and tackles, Delaney was tidy, no-one else really deserves much of a mention. All in all a great example of how far the team has got to go before it can be trusted to beat teams that it should. Infuriatingly inconsistent we remain, despite out undoubted ability, as we have been over the last two seasons, which is why we have had two consecutive mid-table finishes.
HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Anderson, Whittle, Delaney, Regan, Melton, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Burgess.  Subs: Reeves (for Regan, 55), Burton (for Melton, 59), Webb (for Burgess, 84), Peat, Musselwhite. Goals: Burgess 65 Booked: Melton, Reeves Sent Off: None   ROCHDALE: Gilks, Evans, Griffiths, Grand, Hockenhull, Flitcroft, Beech, Hill, Platt, McEvilly, Connor.  Subs: Patterson (for Platt, 61), Melaugh (for Beech, 82), Doughty, Jobson, Bennett. Goals: McEvilly 6, Hockenhull 18 Booked: Evans, Griffiths, Hockenhull Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 2,225

Hull City 1 Wrexham 2

Another performance of promise but in the end the promotion chasing visitors just wanted it a bit more, and had a quality striker in Morrell who helped them prove it.  Steve Weatherill casts an eye over another Anglo-Welsh clash.
Wrexham scrapped, City were scrappy. That’s a shade harsh, because overall we didn’t really deserve to lose this game. But the visitors are playing for promotion, the home side are playing for nothing, and those essential ingredients of bite and spirit were just a bit more in evidence among the Wrexham team than among our own. The Welsh passed the ball around nicely at times too, and I don’t entertain any particular sense of injustice about the result this morning. It was, however, a largely formless game, and although in years to come the (again, astonishing) crowd of 15,002 may look back with fondness at having witnessed the promising debut of Big Ben Burgess, right now “Wrexham, home, lost” simply brings us 90 minutes closer to calling time on this wretched season of faded hopes and sloppy football. On duty:

Fettis Otsemobor Joseph Anderson Delaney Reeves Keates Melton Elliott Burgess Walters

With Ashbee absent injured and Whittle suspended, we were likely to look lightweight. And we did. But this cannot apply to Big Ben Burgess. He is Big. And also called Ben. Can I make it any more obvious? Anyway, our hoped-for new cult hero soon skated into the action, mis-controlling an astute pass from Elliott not once, but twice, before the ball squirted free to Walters, who shot wide. It was a dopey entrance by Burgess and soon after the whole team was shaken up by the early (but not premature) departure of Steve “Big Hits” Melton, who wandered off the pitch as if no one would notice, whereupon eagle-eyed Peter Taylor (a former England manager, remember) pounced and immediately decided to employ a substitute. Not much gets past our guv’nor, and no mistake. Steve Burton came on, and took over at left-back, while the ever-enthusiastic Damien Delaney stepped forward into central midfield. It strikes me that it is peculiar just how many footballing chums of Mr Taylor select his impressions of Norman Wisdom as his primary achievement in life. It was the doughty Geoff Barker, profiled in yesterday’s programme, who, in glancing back over highlights of his stalwart career, set aside recollection of an ex-Tigers vs Southern Supporters match from the mid-1980s when he was tormented by a tricky wingman with a turn of pace and an eye for goal name of Steve Weatherill, and instead waxed lyrical (how else can you wax?) about the teenager Taylor’s regular chorus of “Mr Grimsdale” Should Mr Taylor ever become widely popular among us Tigers fans, there is one day potential for some communal awry-flat-capped-related humour on a distant away terrace. But let us await that surge up the League before we dust off the (waxed) lyrics of “Don’t Laugh at Me Cause I’m a Fool”. Umm. Unfortunate title, I suppose. Maybe Mr Taylor could try and do Sid James instead, and we’ll just join in on the laugh. Back to the football! Ah yes! Not a moment too soon, for Walters may score. But he scuffs his shot badly and the keeper saves. Then Burgess, improving, wins the ball and shoots: straight into the keeper’s gut. Back in November Wrexham looked better than most teams we’ve faced this season, and they were once again proving tough opposition. Big and uncompromising in defence – Lawrence must be all of 6 foot 5, though his location at left-back rather than centre-back suggests he’s not much use in the air. And if you want an experienced netman, look no further than Andy Dibble. “No!” you cry, from Hong Kong to Cape Town via Jakarta and Perth, “the Officer? Surely he is retired, and has been for years?”. Nope. He’s in goals for Wrexham. And perfectly competent. In midfield Wrexham are occasionally slick and generally steady, with the mobile Jim Whitley, a lookalike for Sanath Jayasuriya (a man sadly without a catchphrase), the pick of the bunch, while in attack they sport the very good Lee Trundle and the excellent Andy Morrell. This pair are quick, thoughtful and too good for this Division. So the visitors had a good spell. We survived it and, as is ever the way in this Division, then proceeded to enjoy our own little glimpse of superiority. And it won us a penalty. Big Ben controlled the ball with great skill, turned confidently – a less burly chap might have been thought to have pirouetted, but let me tell you, Big Ben doesn’t do pirouetting, in fact I doubt he does French stuff at all – and swept a delightful ball out wide to Elliott. He sprinted into the box where he was crudely tumbled to the turf, and a penalty was correctly awarded. Which we missed. Groan. Keates had buried one against Shrewsbury last time out, but this time a similarly low shot was too close to Dibble and he blocked it all too easily. Groan. We adjusted the shape of the team now, with Burgess operating as battering-ram, supported right-side by Walters and left-side by Elliott, with Reeves asked to do a lot of extra running in midfield. It sort-of worked, sort-of didn’t – the game deteriorated into the sort of stuffy midfield stalemate that is the worst feature of lower Division football. Neither team was able to provide any quality of service to players located near the opposition danger area. But in the footballing basement you take your pleasures where you can, and yesterday offered rich comedy in the guise of a fight among the stewards policing the pocket of Wrexham fans. At first it seemed as if they were intent on hauling out a visiting Welshman or two, but after a brief and inconsequential struggle, the mood of the stewards appeared to become more introspective. An orange-coated one biffed a yellow-coated one, who fell down the steps. Great stuff! What was going on? Such stewarding energy would have been welcome at Sunderland last Wednesday, but, hey, burberry-capped-freaks, if you want a closed-doors international, that’s just the dandiest way to go about getting one. In the added time at the end of the first half Fettis made an excellent diving save from a header, as our defence was carved open, but half time was reached and it was a bit shapeless and a lot scoreless. The second-half offered more goal-bound purpose- thankfully so. Walters slipped the ball to Burgess, but he mis-hit his shot and it trickled harmlessly through to the Officer. We were beginning to trouble the Wrexham defence through a combination of an energetic midfield and increasing success in using Burgess as a target-man. And we scored. A corner was flicked on by Burgess, headed against the bar by Walters and then rammed in from close range by the marauding Otsemobor, whose ability to slip forward unnoticed from right-back and score is currently on a par with the very early City days of Richard Jobson. The game had been just about lively enough for the fans to believe it unlikely to remain goalless, though it had been far from clear which of the two teams would break the deadlock, but now, a goal to the good, could we protect, even extend, our lead? Err, no. Shortly before our strike, a ghastly error by Burton, who simply fell over on receipt of a throw from Fettis, had almost handed the visitors the lead, only for Edwards to screw a shot badly wide, and then, at 1-0, Joseph fell over and allowed Trundle a free shot, which he belted too high. Messy, error-ridden stuff, but it was not a amber-and-black mistake that finally brought the equaliser. Anderson’s challenge in the box was admittedly less than perfectly judged, but the Wrexham tumble was deeply unconvincing. It was the softest of penalties, but it was given, and it was scored, and the game was level. Now the play was open and lively, the points up for grabs. We were sticking with our 4-3-3-ish, even though pushing Walters wide on the right doesn’t strike me as making the best use of his talents, and much depended on the reliable industry of Keates. Of his midfield chums, Reeves was tiring, while Delaney was, as ever, joyously puppy-like, never pausing for breath but equally never pausing to think. Elliott wasted possession twice, passing straight to an opponent, as we began to look a bit ragged. Time for a change. Elliott and Reeves off, and two men we might have thought we’d seen the back of, Williams and Jevons, came on. The formation was altered too, with Williams taking over left side and Walters right side, sandwiching Keates and Delaney in a four-man midfield, while the 2 bit of the 4-4-2 was populated by Jevons and Big Ben. But by now we were looking a bit sloppy, a bit half-hearted, and a lot hoofy (mainly directed – vaguely – at the willing Burgess). I suspect the several changes of formation introduced periodically through the afternoon by the manager didn’t help cohesion much, though I don’t complain – he’s experimenting, the season’s dead, we judge in the Autumn, I know, I know. Wrexham now took the points. A deft ball straight through the middle of our defence, one touch from Morrell to assert immediate and perfect control, and a second touch to slip the ball beyond the Fett’s reach and into the corner of the net. 2-1, they win. Our defending was flabby, but both the move and the finish were first-class, and the only flash of real footballing quality in the whole match. And so – given the fact that our season is already irretrievably entombed in sub-mid-table mediocrity – I don’t begrudge Wrexham their win. Still, they might not have held it tight had we enjoyed a shade more fortune in the few minutes that remained. Dibble saved well from Jevons, and then a silly but clear hand ball inside the box by a Wrexham defender went unaccountably unpunished. Had it mattered more, we’d’ve been cross. As it is… six games to go, all of them meaningless. Excepting only that tastiest of morsels – relegating Swansea (but not Boston).

HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Melton, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Burgess.  Subs: Burton (for Melton, 9), Williams (for Reeves, 79), Jevons (for Elliott, 79), Donaldson, Musselwhite. Goals: Otsemobor 55 Booked: Delaney, Joseph Sent Off: None   WREXHAM: Dibble, C Edwards, Roberts, Carey, Lawrence, P Edwards, Whitley, Ferguson, Green, Trundle, Morrell.  Subs: Morgan (for Carey, 45), Holmes (for P Edwards, 49), Jones (for Trundle, 89), Rogers, Barrett. Goals: Morrell 67 (pen), 80 Booked: Whitley Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 15,002

Cardiff City 2 Hull City 1

I started my away-match travelling for this season on a murky
evening in a foreign country amid a tiny band of Tigers fans, and
I repeated the dose yesterday. But Cardiff had little in common
with the joyous optimism of that win at Partick Thistle back in
late July. Indeed, the omens could hardly have been worse.
Cardiff haven’t started the season very well, but they’re still
doing better than us; our away form has been mainly poor; we seem
able to defend in the Cups but not in the League; and the sour
taste of Saturday’s rank injustice lingers deeply. And this was,
after all, Cardiff, League football’s 91st most inviting venue
and a long, long way from home.

Well, we lost. The game could be taken as a summary of our whole
season so far. Occasional bright moments, providing sources of
optimism. But individual errors and an overall lack of positional
coherence, with a bit of bad luck thrown in, denied us any
reward.

We brought back Rocastle and Bettney, the two loan players
ineligible for Saturday’s Cup tie, and, with Hodges and Mann
dropping out of the starting line-up, we played:

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Greaves Wright Hocking
Joyce Rocastle Peacock
Bettney Darby

But we fell gloomily behind after only two minutes. A ball was
knocked forward into our box, their man had time and space to lay
it off to Andy Saville, who in turn had time and space to get his
head over the ball and shoot into the corner of the net from 15
yards. It was at the distant Canton end, so the City support of
100 or so were denied the opportunity to offer our former striker
a sporting round of applause on his goalscoring success.

The game settled into an even pattern, with minimal penalty area
activity, but after about 20 minutes, they made it 2-0. A free-
kick on the edge of our box was laid square into the path of one
of their midfielders, who was not closed down and he fired hard
and low past Willo’s left hand into the goal. Slack defending.

We now had fears that a dispirited Tigers team might be buried
by an avalanche of goals, but the team put some fight into it,
greatly assisted, it must be admitted, by the inadequacies of the
home side. And the balance of play began to switch our way,
albeit against the background that the overall standard was
pretty poor. By the last 15 minutes of the half, we were on top.
Darby got a toe-end to a Peacock cross and the ball looped
crazily up in the air and against the bar, with the keeper
confounded by the ball’s peculiar wobbling. Then Duane found
space for a header from only 6 yards out, only to see his effort
blocked by a desperate goalkeeper. Brave save; Duane should’ve
buried it. Then Greaves laid a fine ball into Tricky’s path, but
Peacock, advancing into the box free of defensive attention,
slipped his shot across the keeper and agonisingly just wide of
the post. Cardiff were at bay, but it felt like we needed a score
before half-time. And we didn’t get one.

If the first half had been largely listless, the first 20 minutes
of the second half were plain awful. We watched, numb with
despair. Nothing happened. Hodges had replaced Bettney (who spent
far too much time in the first 45 minutes marooned out wide) and
Fewings came on for Greaves, with Rioch moving to midfield to
free up left back for Fewings. So we had adjusted to a 4-4-2-ish
sort of a formation, though Rocastle consistently dropped very
deep (and was later still swapped for Lowthorpe). But the
football was dire, until, suddenly, we scored, totally out of the
amber. A long ball from our left found Peacock (I think!) on the
edge of the box, who cleverly laid the ball into Darby’s path and
our returning hero thumped his shot home for 2-1. Shortly
afterwards, Peacock tore inside on a dynamic run in from the
right, and struck a fine shot against the top of the bar. Rioch
was trying to pump fuel into our performance, though, as ever,
Gregor mixed frenetic energy and laudable attempts to provide
leadership with misplaced passes and occasional positional
howlers. He has the makings of a fine player, but is flawed yet.

The home side was not lifeless, and Willo pulled off an excellent
sprawling close range block with his legs, but City had the upper
hand. However, time was running out and, with the game slipping
away from us, it needed something remarkable to save us. It came
courtesy of the Cardiff defence, which in the very last minute
of the match parted handsomely to usher Duane straight through
the middle with an inviting one-on-one on the keeper. Duane
stroked his shot wide of the keeper’s left hand … and the ball
slid gently beyond the post as well. If Duane had been a week
closer to full match fitness after his long lay-off, who knows
….

We deserved the point we didn’t get, though neither side played
at all well.

Beaten, we retreated. A long slog back into England and on up
North was lit up at the end by a Nottingham taxi driver who took
one look at our scarves and said “Hull City? By heck, you should
have had a penalty on Saturday, shouldn’t you?” Yes, mate. Missed
opportunities, denied opportunities … we’ve had more than our
fair share so far this season. I think it would be useful for us
to defeat Doncaster in ten days time.

steve weatherill