Hull City 2 Shrewsbury Town 0

A low key performance ended in a City double strike and three points.  Steve Weatherill describes how we rekindled those play-off hopes for one more week.
Winning’s everything – perhaps. Winning was the full extent of what we took from this thoroughly drab game, in which entertainment was meagre as an unmistakable end-of-season feel came early to the Circle. Shrewsbury, for whom the end of the season might yet deliver a grisly downfall, deserved to get beaten, for they played with a poverty of ambition during the second half that made no sense and earned them righteous defeat. We were worth a win secured by two strikes in the game’s concluding ten minutes. But whereas the last time we won 2-0 at home against a side that had held on grimly to a point until capitulating late on was one of the most satisfying games of recent seasons – I refer to the demolition of the Scunts back in November – this victory was pale and forgettable. Just doing enough on a gloriously sunny Spring afternoon were a 4-4-2:

Fettis Otsemobor Joseph Anderson Delaney Reeves Keates Melton Elliott Walters Forrester

If it had been a Formula One race the green light would have flicked on and the drivers would have calmly inspected their fingernails and checked the smoothness of their shave in the mirror before switching on their ignition. Had it been a horse race, the stalls would have been flung dramatically wide open, and the nags would have peered out and delivered a gallic equine shrug, as if they really did have better things to do than pound up hill and down dale with some skinny runt on their back, arse in the air and whip in hand. The early stages of this match were not formless. They were static. But it really was a beautiful afternoon. After a few minutes had drifted gently by, some football type things started to happen. Walters chipped the ball over the bar – a deft touch, but there was no serious danger for the visitors. Then Steve Melton was presented with possession just outside the box. A left-foot shot was inviting, but instead the twinkle-toed magician skipped to his left, away from the danger area, and executed a sublime pass straight on to the toe-end of a defender, who Kicked It Very Hard Into The Stand. Teams need players who can do this. The mighty Shrews built their defence around the giant Matt Redmile, who cannot be less than 25 stone nowadays and is able to win possession simply by allowing his immense gravitational force to draw the football towards him. This skill helpfully compensates for his own inability to move his bulking hulk anywhere other than at a snail’s pace. A big snail, mind. A really big snail. Jason van Blerk plays for them too. He looked much as he did when he wore amber and black. Sort of OK. Not too bad. Alright really. I’d forgotten about his existence totally, to be honest. Anyway, Shrewsbury had us tamed, and they nearly took the lead when a powerful low shot tested the Fett to his left. Our number one netman dived full-length and made an excellent save. We had a bit of fun claiming that their keeper had handled the ball outside his box, but he hadn’t done actually, and we were only teasing! The linesman and referee enjoyed the jape and waved play on. Soon it will be summer and we can enjoy watching some cricket. Our main tactic was to lump it long, from right to left, in the hope that the sprightly Elliott might leap and win some headers. Shrewsbury’s main tactic was to put a tall defender near Elliott and win the header whenever we crossed in Elliott’s general direction. Ooo, cut and thrust! it was like a chess match out there. One in which the players didn’t really know many moves. A cute free-kick by Keates seemed to have released Forrester inside the box. But he fell over. Then he was substituted for Jevons. And Reeves came off for Burton. And by now it was really, really quiet inside the ground. Half-time couldn’t come too soon, as I was eager to take in a televised concourse view of the whey-faced Englishmen, terrified and gaunt in their preparation for a wicked tawsing courtesy of Roy Laidlaw, John Rutherford and Roger Baird, but before you could say “Finlay Calder’s offside!” those tricky Shrews had created a shooting chance. And Fettis was alert to tip the effort over the bar. The dying moments of the half offered the best tiger moments so far, as a Delaney free-kick was met by Anderson and a looping header escaped only inches beyond the far post. Then Otsemobor charged forward eagerly before lamely punting a shot wide. And it was time to pause. We switched to 4-3-3 for the second half. Burton dropped back to left-back, while Delaney-Keates-Melton ranged across midfield. Elliott took up an advanced role as a left-sided attacker, supporting Jevons and Walters. The visitors won two corners early on, but gradually retreated, while we began to play the game more often in their half than our own. It was poor fare. It was dull. But we did now have more of the possession. Walters sliced a hasty shot wide of the near post, and then Delaney blasted a left-foot shot well over the top. It was Walters again as we pushed down the right, but his final shot slipped weakly past the keeper’s left hand and wide of the near post. We now look the better side, and there was gratifying determination from the midfield trio. Keates played as the deepest-lying of the three, and got through plenty of scampering about designed to hold our ambitious formation together. Delaney, of course, was brimming with enthusiasm and effort, though his passing is, to be charitable, no more than modestly proficient in its accuracy. As for Melton, well he drifts out of the game more than he drifts in, but he was just about worth his place yesterday. However, the game was going nowhere in the sunshine, and if, like me, you had invested a score in a scoreless draw at 8/1, you were by now feeling perfectly serene. So City spoiled it, as they always do. A ball whisks in from the right, and Jevons clambers among defenders to shove a shot goalwards – it cannons into the crossbar and rebounds to a defender, who nods it back into the clutches of a relieved keeper. The impression that we are now seriously intent on breaking the dull deadlock is temporarily put on hold, first as a bashful streaker is allowed far too much room to play by standoffish stewards and then as Melton bursts into the box only to be firmly tackled by a stray plastic bag which does enough to propel the shot wide. “Well in son!” remarks Redmile, encouraging his youthful but promising partner. Melton picks himself up sorrowfully, and vows to work in training on improving his one-on-ones when confronted with this upcoming new breed of defensive fruit-and-veg carriers. Now we score. Keates pops a corner from the left on to Otsemobor’s forehead and the young full-back, criminally unmarked, gleefully thumps the ball into the net. So, so easy – all of a sudden. Shrewsbury look deflated, but have only themselves to blame for a craven second half display. They have a superb attacker in Rogers and a canny one in Jemson, and neither has received a shred of decent service since the opening seconds of the second period. Ha! Right on 90, we got another one. Walters had infuriated the Shrews with a splendid display of stubborn ball retention and, off the back of his strength, we constructed a neat move which culminated in Jevons taking a tumble inside the box. It didn’t look like a penalty to me. But it was awarded. And, after a tetchy dispute about who should take it, Keates stepped up to send a low left-foot shot under the keeper and into the back of the net. There was still time enough for us to squander the best opportunity of the game. Elliott surged forwards, lost the ball, won it back, passed wide to Jevons and when his cross flew unerringly on to the forehead of Keates, completely unmarked in front of goal, the absurdity of winning a poor game by all of 3-0 loomed large. But Keates doesn’t do a lot of heading and he directed his effort wastefully wide. Still, he had a decent game. So did Walters, and Elliott was handy from time to time too. Jevons was first-rate after he came on. He’s playing for a contract though. I suggest we don’t give him one. Too many limp displays earlier on this season. Oh, and a word for the manager. I’d say he got the half-time rearrangement just about right. Regan for Walters, two goals for us and none for them, game over, and we look nailed on for that all-important 13th place. Shrewsbury? I’d be sorry to lose them, for Gay Meadow is high on my list of “places I’d like to take those lovely sugarbabe girls to for a hot threesome (but not the brassy scouser)”, but on this evidence they are heading for relegation.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Melton, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Jevons (for Forrester, 29), Burton (for Reeves, 41), Regan (for Walters, 89), Donaldson, Musselwhite. Goals: Otsemobor 81, Keates 90 (pen) Booked: None Sent Off: None   SHREWSBURY TOWN: Cartwright, Redmile, Artell, Atkins, Moss, Murray, Jagielka, Woan, van Blerk, Rodgers, Jemson.  Subs: Aiston (for Woan, 86), Drysdale (for van Blerk, 87), Lowe, Dunbavin, Packer. Goals: None Booked: Murray Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 13,253

Hull City 2 Hartlepool United 0

The first game at the Kingston Communications Stadium and – miracle of miracle for the weather-beaten Hull City fan – the Tigers win a momentous match!  Steve Weatherill gasps his way through a fine performance.
Now, hold on, what’s the catch? I don’t fool easily, I’ve been doing this Hull City supporting thing a whole lot longer than I care to remember, and I yield to no one in my ability to identify aroma of rat. I mean, as traps big enough to snare an elephant go, this one isn’t exactly subtle. A 2-0 duffing-up of opponents that came into the game top of the Division: a win that is richly deserved and founded on two exquisitely crafted goals adorning a canvas painted by a batch of splendid individual performances; and all this in the breathtaking setting of our beautiful new ground, a palace of inspiring football packed with 22,319 people, the vast majority noisy, jubilant and from Hull. What – I ask again – is the catch? Not finding one in yesterday’s casual demolition of the – slap your thigh! – “league leaders” were:

Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Keates Melton Alexander Elliott

Sort of – as ever, Ashbee played as the holding midfielder, just in front of the back four, while the gorgeous Greenmeister had licence to roam. And on two minutes our playmaker duly and greenly strolled at will through the plucky Poolsters’ midfield, slipped the ball to Elliott wide on the left, watched in admiration as his talented chum dribbled past a hapless full-back and placed a well-judged cross on to Melton’s toe-end in space on the edge of the box and then gasped in horror as Melton took one unconvincing touch and then followed that up with a second and worse one to blooter the ball horribly wide. I am at a loss to understand why we signed Melton. This was shocking wastefulness. Green and Elliott combined again, only to be hauled back by a tight but correct offside decision against the latter, haring in pursuit of the former’s through ball, while the visitors earned a fruitless corner after a hasty shot was deflected past a post with the Muss wrong-footed. It was an open, lively game, well received by the boisterous crowd – our largest home gate for a competitive first team game in how long? 25 years?. We had an important edge in midfield; Green was very up for it; and Alexander was displaying much more vigour as a target man than he has served up of late. And Alexander created our opening goal. He chased a ball hit too long for him and, reaching it with his back to goal with no obvious route to the danger area, he might have been expected to have given up on the cause, so feeble has been his commitment all too frequently over the last twelve or so months. But no – a glimpse of the bustling frontman of yore. He grimly wrestled his way past a determined opponent and slid a clever low pass into the feet of Dean Keates, just inside the box. He too had his back to goal, and though a deft backheel and pirouette swiftly changed that, even then he seemed entirely closed down by a burly tight-marking defender standing guard. Whereupon Keates leaned back and stroked a mesmerising slow looping chip up and over the keeper and just beneath the crossbar. It was audacious skill, shimmering brilliance – the sense of exultation deepened by simple disbelief that this dogged but limited midfielder could even dream of such inspiration, let alone execute it to perfection. The Circle’s first ever League goal – and a gem. City lead, City push on. Elliott sets up Keates for another shot, which takes a deflection and is held with relief by keeper Williams. Then a slick move down the left is ruined when Melton obtusely tumbles to the turf under a firm but fair challenge inside the box. Melton wanted a penalty but deserved a yellow card. Then Alexander sails away from the defence, clearly onside and in space, but his touch is too brutal and the ball bounces away beyond the dead-ball line. More! Melton feints inside an ill-judged challenge and strokes a very fine pass towards Alexander, who has managed to elude his marker and fires a crisp shot goalwards, only to be thwarted by an alert tip-over by Williams. Then an Alexander through ball puts Elliott clear, but the chance is smothered at his feet by another brave save. The Pools had their moments, poking around in increasingly lively fashion as the half-time whistle approached, but City had dominated the first-half possession and had basted the roast with a series of crisply-created chances. The ground? It needs to be seen. It is simply wonderful. We are so lucky. It is scarcely credible that the capacity is “only” 25,000: it feels so much grander. The West Stand, with its graceful arc of a roof, seems impossible huge, two tiers towering skywards; all four corners are filled with seats, avoiding the soulless feel of grounds that are really only four separate stands. (Anfield, I sneer at you). And the mauve lighting is elegant and stylish, the concourses are wide and civilised. Boothferry Park is already another age, and, as long as we can sustain the decibel levels achieved yesterday, I will not pine for it. Yesterday, as the sun slipped slowly towards the western horizon, its light provided an ethereally beautiful backdrop for the translucent fabric of the giant West Stand, and I shivered with glee and pride. “Moody salmon, that sky” observed the bloke sat behind me, as I shivered again, realising with a cold chill that in all-seater stadia you really are stuck with the people allocated to you by fate, and the ticket office. “Bet you don’t even know the plural of salmon, Adrian” he continued, and it struck me that it’s a long time until May. The game should have moved into the realms of “How many are we going to stick past this shower?” very early on in the second period. A weak clearance by keeper Williams fell kindly for Alexander and though his shot was blocked by the exposed netman, the loose ball fell delightfully for Elliott on the right who had the gentlest of tasks to roll the ball square, back to Alexander, to set up an open goal opportunity for our striker. Elliott instead blasted a low shot from a difficult angle hard against the post and the visitors’ goal was spared. Green against Darlo – similarly, Elliott yesterday. Occasional selfishness. But these boys can really play. I cut them some slack. A moment later Elliott went past his man on the outside but fell all too easily, and was refused a free-kick. Rightly so. Stay on your feet, Stuart, and tear these defences to ribbons. You know you can. The Poolsters were looking zippier now and they began to get the ball into our box with greater regularity than they’d managed in the opening 45. In fact they began to look quite menacing, especially when a low ball skidded across the face of our goal, thankfully without anyone getting a decisive touch. Defensively we were coping – no more. I don’t know why Justin Whittle wasn’t playing. Joseph is a shade quicker than Whittle, but his distribution is equally woeful, and, though Joseph’s perfectly competent, Justin is Justin (he really is) and I’d always, always pick him. Unless I was manager of Real Madrid, maybe. This was mainly their spell (Hartlepool’s, I mean, not Real Madrid’s) but we were damaging them too. Elliott slipped a pass through to Melton, who stumbled past his man into the penalty area before his run was curtailed by a thumping challenge. Good game, this. Alexander had had a positive first half but had now slipped from view and was replaced by Jevons. He was quickly into the action when Elliott flicked a header into his path, but Jevons was foiled by a well-timed tackle perpetrated by the final defender. This incident helped to reveal a design flaw in the new stadium. Said defender went hurtling off the pitch and tumbled over a boundary board. At the Ark the feeble balsa-wood structure would simply have collapsed under his weight. But things are larger and sturdier at the Circle. The Poolster simply came to rest, stranded on top of the hoarding, arms flailing in front, legs kicking astern. He was trapped. Jevons sized him up, stroking his chin like a Victorian gentleman strolling through the smog and gaslight in search of a companion for the evening, but he didn’t fancy him and hauled his erstwhile adversary back to his feet. This problem will have to be sorted out before FC play here. If footballers – athletes, after all – can suffer such indignity, it is probable that the lardarses that pick up their twenty quid a week for chucking an egg around are going to be stuck fast in this pose until a crane can be acquired to winch them free. Still, Stevo and Eddie and the 1,245 people who tune in weekly might find such devilry richer entertainment than their normal “T-R-Y Time” minority fare. By now we had surrendered control of the midfield and were generally dropping too deep, allowing Hartlepool plenty of room to play. Brave New Hull City World? Hmph. Sitting back on a one-goal advantage at home is the oldest of tiger tricks. Not good. But what’s this? It’s a dawn, my son, a dawn of golden promise, unleashed just as the dusk settled over East Yorkshire. One moment we’re groaning at the onset of passivity, the next Green has skipped into space in an advanced position, Keates has found him with a delightfully precise pass and the maestro Stuart Green has whisked the ball confidently past the exposed Williams into the back of the net, and we’re 2-0 up. There is a rich vein of attacking flair in this side, which makes our goalscoring failings in recent weeks all the more incomprehensible. But this was a superbly crafted goal, belonging in a much higher environment. Elliott went off to acclaim now, to be replaced (to further acclaim) by Whittle: Justin to centre back, Joseph to right-back, Regan forward to right-side midfield and Green was released to cavort destructively up front. The nimble playmaker immediately played in Jevons, who shot straight against the keeper’s legs. Jevons is a poor finisher. Most of the Hartlepool fans were by now on their way back to the land of monkey-swinging, gazing in retreating awe at our majestic stadium and sobbing bitterly that life had dealt them a hand not including a “Support Hull City!” card. Their team finished the stronger, belting one shot high over the bar and then striking the outside of the Muss’s right-hand post with another, but they were getting no points and no goals from this festive occasion. On 90 Green exited to deserved delirium and Lawrie Dudfield re-appeared, running harder in the four minutes of added time than he has in his combined total of displays across the whole of a personally dismal 2002. And then it was over and we had won. A truly strange unshaven man in my vicinity, his eyes revolving and his hair eccentric, asked early on in this game “Which football club in history has had the biggest gap between the quality of its stadium and the quality of its team?” He was one of those oddballs you smile weakly at, and carefully avoid engaging in conversation, but had I felt more mellow I might have suggested Queen’s Park or perhaps the atrocious PSG side of much of the 1970s and 1980s … Yokohama Flugels or the Columbus Crew, even? Enough already. We’ve got the stadium and the team is on the right road. Soon enough Hull City is not going to be a remotely credible answer to this poser.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Melton, Elliott, Alexander.  Subs: Jevons (for Alexander, 69), Whittle (for Elliott, 76), Dudfield (for Green, 89), Webb, Deeney. Goals: Keates 21, Green 75 Booked: Keates Sent Off: None   HARTLEPOOL UNITED: A Williams, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Barry-Murphy, Clarke, Tinkler, Humphries, Smith, Henderson, E Williams.  Subs: Widdrington (for Smith, 45), Richardson (for Henderson, 76), Istead (for Clarke, 79), Provett, Arnison. Goals: None Booked: Lee Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 22,319