Crewe Alexandra 2 Hull City 2

A roller coaster ride in Cheshire ends with honours even between a patchy City side and struggling but neat-passing Crewe.

Tonight, as I reflect on this game while leaning back into the voluptuous leather folds of my baboon-hair armchair (available from IKEA’s Raj range), relaxing my purple jowls and generous canteen of stomachs with the companiable assistance of a whisky-and-blackcurrant and a Capstan full-strength Lite brought to me by my charming Uruguayan maid Felicia who has been staying with me on most generous terms these past three years while I seek to resolve her work permit difficulties, I am, I feel, willing to give best only to Sir Nicholas Soames himself as the very image of the stylish gent who made this country what it is today, or at least was sixty or so years ago. And so, after inhaling a draught of Prussian snuff, allow me to regard you over the rim of my monocle and advise you on the matter of Turning Points in Football Matches.

Ah yes, I can spy ‘em like a charging rhino in the sights of a high-velocity rifle. After 80 minutes of this match in Crewe we’re 2-1 down. It’s a devastating season-damaging scoreline. A homester sprints into clear space past a labouring Andy Dawson and draws back his boot to smash a shot beyond the horribly exposed Boaz Myhill. 3-1? No! Our brilliant goalkeeper sticks out a sturdy right hand and pushes the shot aside. Turning point! The ball spins into the penalty box maelstrom and is promptly shoved back into our net. 3-1? No! A linesman has raised his flag. Offside. Turning point! The ball is put on the spot for the free-kick, hustled forward and only a few seconds after our own penalty-box trauma Billy Paynter is belting a hopeful looping 25-yard shot goalwards. It sails over Turnbull in the home goal, dips gracefully and smashes against the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line. 2-2? Oh yes! Turning point!

Imagine, had we lost this game …. BUT WE DIDN’T! A game-altering change in fortune, a season–altering change in fortune, a turning-point that confirms that the progressive Hull City era of Pearson/Taylor is not stuck in the mud, is not about to be reeled back into the darkness of the lower Divisions whence it came with alacrity and verve.

Ah yes, the last time I felt as confident about a turning point was when Steve Doyle put us 3-2 up with a stupendous long-distance shot at Elland Road back in the winter of 1990. “They’ll not come back from that” I cackled, “we win this game, and that, my friends, is a turning point. With Richard Chetham in shrewd control of our club, advised by wily local numbers man Martin Fish and Stan Ternent in the manager’s hot seat, we can only dream of where Hull City will be once the decade of the 90s is done with.”

Felicia, fetch me a pewter tankard of tawny port and my shiniest riding crop, and look sharp about it you pert young filly.

A chilly grey afternoon in Cheshire, with a hint of drizzle, saw us lined-up as follows:

Myhill
France Cort Collins Dawson
Andrews
Price Green Delaney Ellison
Fagan

Is that about right? Certainly Andrews played as the deepest-lying of the three central midfielders, though he showed an alarming readiness to vanish just when a spoiler amid Crewe’s attacking ambition was most wanted. Price and Ellison, out wide, were best placed to support lonely but tenacious frontrunner Craig Fagan but in the early stages of the match they did no such thing, preferring instead to hang back as reticent auxiliary defending midfielders. The line-up screamed out Mr Taylor’s overwhelming concern not to lose this game, with potential victory a secondary matter. And, given the state of the League table, I don’t criticise that.

And yet for all the apparent tiger anxiety to keep this affair stuffy, the opening exchanges were as breathlessly manic as any we’ve witnessed all season.

Andrews loses the ball feebly, but a Crewman hits a weak shot, easily pouched by Myhill … we enjoy a decent but fruitless shout for a penalty as Price surges into the box … a powerful shot by France is well held by Turnbull … Collins slips, a twelve-yard shot seems sure to bulge our net, but Boaz blocks it superbly, and the follow-up effort is stopped too … Fagan surges forward on a glorious run in from the right, crosses powerfully to the back post where Big Bad Kev Ellison nods the ball goalwards only to be foiled by a stop hard on the whitewash – the ball loops out for the advancing Green to head it home but a desperate header saves Crewe’s day at the expense of a corner.

Zippy stuff. And that’s just the first eight minutes.

It then goes quiet for ten.

And then they score.

And it’s a rubbish goal. Cort and France get in each other’s way messily, the ball drops to burly big-eared frontman Eddie Johnson and he bludgeons a low shot past Boaz’s sprawling right hand.

That’s poor. But we pick up. Price has made an occasionally lively start on the right, but now he has licence to roam, and he gets more involved with the attack. Ellison helps out too, and Fagan is full of aggressive intent. Crewe are – of course – a decent passing side, but they look defensively frail, and we can win this if we play in their half.

As we do. On 31 Andrews plays the ball wide to Ellison, who sends a fine long ball across to Delaney on the far side of the box. He sensibly knocks the ball towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Fagan pounces to thump the ball home.

At 1-1 the score is a fair reflection of the balance of play but I’m still convinced we look much the stronger side if we attack with relish.

As we don’t. It’s Cheshire’s finest (apart from Chester and Macclesfield and Stalybridge) who seize the initiative. Cort blocks a dangerous low shot from the edge of the box. Collins, not at his most commanding, fouls just outside the box and watches in relief as Lunt’s free-kick offers easy pickings for Myhill. But we survive and look forward to some choice words and substitutions at half-time, until, on 42, we surrender parity again. France is left gasping by a pacy run from the impressive Vaughan and his low cross is turned in from close-range by Roberts. It’s a good typical Crewe goal – skill on the ball, fast movement, passing – but it sharpens the sense of fear about how this season might develop if we lose this one on top of the ill-deserved reverse last week in Brighton.

Half-time, 1-2. A very lively, if largely low-quality, game of football.

Second half. Pretty rotten.

On 47 a mishit cross by full-back Moss forces Boaz to back-pedal in alarm to tip the dipping ball over the crossbar. On 58 Leon Cort is left in space at the back-post after a cutely taken free-kick by Andrews (I think) but his first touch is woeful and a golden chance is lost. Cort’s ace though. I don’t moan.

But once we’re past the hour mark, I do feel a change is needed. Three perhaps.

And so, on 62, off go Fagan (tired, lots of running, often unsupported), Price (faded as the game went on) and Andrews (no call for a deep-lying midfielder when we’re a goal down). The brutish boo-boys jeered the retention of Ellison – they are idiots, an eccentric impact player such as The Rattlesnake is precisely what we needed at this stage, as So’ton (and Sir Clive Woodward) could confirm – while Stuart Green might have been a little surprised to learn that his patchy display had been rewarded by a chance to play the full 90. He was now joined by a trio of subs, Barmby, Paynter and Elliott. So we now went 4 in midfield – from left to right, Elliott, The Lion of Cork, Green, Ellison – and two up front, Paynter and Barmby.

But the game stayed horrible.

Scrappy. Stretched, so sporadically exciting. But our hopes of a point receded as the service to Barmby and Paynter crumbled to dust. Ellison had the boo-boys howling again on 74 as a crisp pass was directed straight to the feet of a Crew, whose ball forward allowed them a 2-on-1. They wasted it, to our relief. That was a bit of a turning-point.

A bit of a turning-point! Ah yes, a bit of one, but a much bigger one was looming. We played six more pallid minutes before – BOOM! – the afternoon blew up in Crewe’s faces. Myhill saves, linesman flags, ball’s whipped upfield and Paynter scores.

Two apiece, and we unleash the “3-2, we’re gonna win 3-2” song which really means we’re delighted to nick a point. Except we really do nearly win 3-2. On 89, a good Barmby effort is parried. There are three added and on 91 Delaney, a modern-day Ferenc Puskas, strokes an imperious pass out to the right-wing, allowing Ellison to whip the ball unerringly onto the Paynter forehead, from where it flies gloriously goalwards, defied only by a spectacular diving save from the capable Turnbull.

There’s more. On 93 France slides a gorgeous pass across the face of the goal. Elliott’s six yards out. Unmarked. Unchallenged. Like Mike Hendrick trying to get bat on Joel Garner Elliott flails at the ball and misses grotesquely. Two points and a barnful of self-confidence go missing.

Absorbing, frustrating, messy, fun-now-it’s-over-and-we’ve-not-lost. That sort of a game.

HULL CITY (4-1-4-1): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Andrews; Price, Delaney, Green, Ellison; Fagan. Subs: Barmby (for Price, 60), Paynter (for Andrews, 60), Elliott (for Fagan, 60), Duke, Lynch.

Goals: Fagan 33; Paynter 80

Booked: Dawson, Ellison

Sent Off: None

 

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Turnbull, Moss, McCready, Foster, Tonkin, Lunt, B Jones, Roberts, Vaughan, S Jones, Johnson. Subs: Varney (for Johnson, 71), Moses (for B Jones, 90), Tomlinson, Rix, Rodgers.

Goals: Johnson 19; Roberts 41

Booked: Moss

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: E Ilderton

ATTENDANCE: 7,942

Queens Park Rangers 2 Hull City 2

City take a two goal lead in the squad before squandering the advantage and losing keeper Myhill to a dubious handball decision. Decent point off QPR though.

At around 5.45 p.m. yesterday, I alighted from the Central Line train that had borne me away from Loftus Road yesterday onto the platform at Kings Cross to find myself suddenly and unexpectedly in the company of the leading luminaries of two of our celebrated fanzines. I opined to one of them that we would have settled for that result at 3 p.m., to which the other replied “Yeah, but would you have settled for it at quarter past four?

And that sums it up more succinctly than I ever could.

Yesterday started off with all the trappings of Groundhog Day. A damp, chilly November day and a trainful of loud, John Smiths-swilling, socially-dysfunctional buffoons off to watch the raggah at Twickaahsh irritating everyone with their gauche attempts at bonhomie, coupled with City’s recent form and the prospect of another tricky (but, really, aren’t they all in this League?) fixture, all combined to put me back where I had been seven days earlier, with every prospect of a similar mood to the previous week on the train home as well. And that’s before we get onto the predictable gaggle of shit-kickers shuffling up to their grubby keyboards to type out an orthographically-and grammatically deficient assertion that the manager has “lost the plot”, which seems to have replaced “speculate to accumulate” as the sound bite of choice among such people.

But as we all know, City always manage to wrong-foot you when you least expect it, and whilst by all accounts it was an undistinguished showing against the Saints on Tuesday, something, whether it be bringing an end to the losing streak or managing to deny victory in both games to a side playing Premiership football last season, seemed to have had a positive effect on the players’ spirit. The result was that, whilst it was not exactly a showing to have Steve Coppell wondering if he’s got a sufficient cushion over us, and whilst certain players still fail to convince the faithful that they are safe to be let on the pitch in a City shirt at this level, the Tigers played with some real purpose yesterday against a team whose recent form has been as bad as ours (normally a chillingly-ominous sign, usually, as those who went to Deepdale will testify) to the point where we led 2-0 a few minutes into the second half and had the oppo in a state of no little disarray. Sadly, we reverted to type and duly handed the Hoops their get out of gaol card with some woefully slack marking at a corner (again), and whilst the increasingly inevitable-looking equaliser had a large slice of good fortune about it, we have to remember that the Queens did clip the outside of the woodwork twice. That said, whilst many City sides would have collapsed at that juncture, we actually did the right thing and responded with spirit, with not even the unfortunate dismissal of Boaz thirteen minutes from the end causing us to crack, and whilst our hosts had more the ball we had our chances too and more than contribute to what was an absorbing contest.

In short, a display with a good few positives, but in which we yet again paid the price for not shutting up shop as effectively as we can. We won’t go down playing like that, but it will be a hairy ride unless we tighten up.

Carrying the Tiger standard onto the Loftus Road sward were the following:

Myhill
Lynch Cort Collins Delaney
France Welsh Woodhouse Barmby
Paynter Fagan

After the trudge through the massed riot-attired ranks of the Met (presumably to some extent as a safeguard against the animosity which certain organs of the media were apparently doing their best to whip up yesterday morning following the shenanigans at the Circle on the opening day of the season) had been negotiated without incident, the inevitable tribute to George Best, and full marks to whoever decided to follow the lead trumpeted by Celtic and eschew the usual minute’s silence in favour of a much more dignified minute’s applause in remembrance of the gifted but feckless Ulsterman, in which everyone seemed to participate enthusiastically.

After that the game started with the temperature palpably dropping and City playing away from the 1 000 plus (I would guess) faithful shoehorned into the upper tier of the School End. It was pretty formless stuff in the early stages, although Furlong tested Myhill three minutes in, and Paynter might have done better on 7 when a clever back-heel (not sure from whom) set up the ex-Valiant, whose left foot effort ought to have troubled Royce in the QPR goal more than it did. The next City chance came on 23 and again fell to our newest recruit, who this time was in a somewhat wider position on the right but again forced Royce into the save. A bit of a scramble ensued, followed by a corner form which Cort headed just wide.

There wasn’t a great deal to report for a while after that, with both sides working hard canceling each other out pretty effectively. We did, sadly, see more of the rough stuff which Rangers had dished out on the opening day, less of which should have gone unpunished than actually did (one of the things to come out of yesterday was that we did not to my mind get a totally fair deal from the officials) the booking of the Rangers No 20 on the quarter hour notwithstanding. The home side had their generally not-very-threatening moments, not least when Lynch made a fine block just after the half hour to deny one of theirs, but it’s probably fair to say that both sides were a bit wanting in the penetration stakes.

Either side could have broken the deadlock (not that that looked hugely likely) but when it was broken it was us. We had forced a corner on 41 which came to nought, but seconds later the ball was worked out to Fagan wide out on the left, who delivered a deep cross towards the far post, which France, timing his run to perfection, ghosted onto with not a hooped marker in sight and headed powerfully just inside the far post. Precisely the sort of goal which, from the other wing, our Stu might have scored in the days when he did such things, and a goal pretty much out of character with the way in which both sides had denied each other much in the way of scoring chances. But we celebrated it nonetheless, and how.

The remainder of the half was safely negotiated, and the start of the next delayed because, according to the PA man, one of the linesmen had “put his back out”. At least I think that’s what he said, which seems a bit too much information if it was; clearly any constipated referee or visiting manager desirous of applying Dettol to his chalfonts at half time had better beware at Loftus Road.

Barely had the second period begun its belated course than, almost incredibly, we doubled our lead. This time Lynch was the provider. As the raking cross soared away from the City right-back’s boot in the general direction of the City support it was one of those almost-sensual moments that make you just want to hug yourself with unbridled delight; oh yes, the unmistakable sight of an imminent net-rustling, this time as Paynter, again with more room than he ought to have had, ghosted away from the cover and, with the Tiger nation on its feet in glorious anticipation, guided his header past the diving Royce’s left hand and open his City account in the process. Deep joy, as Professor Stanley Unwin might well have said.

And that looked for a while as though it would be it. Rangers tore straight down to the other end, but there seemed a raggedness, a desperation, a disarray even about it all. Surely if we could keep them out for twenty minutes an unexpected but deserved victory would be ours? No doubt, but within five minutes of going two up the Hoops had one back in a fashion which has cost us before this season, as Ainsworth, who incidentally plays in a band, the programme told us (which immediately made me ponder over which City players might have a musical bent – Leapy Leeon Cort, anyone, or how about Fagan doing a rendition of “You’ve got to pick a pocket or two” ? OK, I’ll get me coat) rose totally unchallenged to meet a corner, in every bit as irritating a manner as Watford had managed at the Circle.

To be fair, there were no more howlers of that nature, but the damage had been done and the seeds of denial of victory had been well and truly sown. However, this was put to the back of Tiger minds when France embarked on a glorious diagonal run on 57 and, when he got into space, chipped the advancing Royce exquisitely, only for a covering defender to head the ball clear of the gaping onion bag.

It still looked as though it could be our game, though, as we pleasingly continued to plug away with purpose, but the seeds we had sown ten minutes earlier were well and truly reaped, as Ainsworth again struck, his speculative shot from 20 yards seeming to take a wicked deflection before it looped over the unfortunate but blameless Myhill.

On occasions in the past for too numerous to mention, the summary loss of a two-goal lead away from home would have resulted in capitulation so stark as to appear deliberate, but on this occasion it was not to be; whether this was due to a change in the manager’s normal instructions, or the players for once following the same instructions he issues every week, is a matter for conjecture, but our heroes clearly still had the whiff of blue-and-white hooped blood in their nostrils and still seemed very much up for it. It’s fair to say, though, that so were the home side, as first Delaney cleared a Myhill fuble on 70 and then three minutes later the City keeper was beaten as some neat interplay from QPR resulted in a shot clipping the outside of the post. A minute on, though, and Cort headed just wide from a corner; it really was wonderfully absorbing stuff at this stage.

But then came what would surely be the hammer blow. Myhill came to the edge of the box to gather a through ball and clearly misjudged things, turning as he caught the ball so as to be sure go to ground on the correct side of the line. But the West London faithful howled in protest, and the linesman’s flag was duly held aloft. An agonising wait then ensued as first there was an unseemly mêlée as the Rangers players tried to wrestle the ball from Boaz in order to take a quick free kick, and then the ref held a lengthy conflab with the linesman, which culminated in the red card being brandished. Correct decision? From our vantage point at the other end it was hard to tell, but if, and only if, Boaz did indeed handle the leather outside the box then – even if was a case of simple misjudgement as opposed to an attempt at foul play – then he had to go: simple as that.

Tiger mouths were dry as the hitherto-unconvincing Matt Duke strode confidently into the fray and Paynter – who at least looks as though he knows how to get into scoring positions, although apparently needs time to adapt to this level, was pulled off in his stead. Ten men, two-goal lead blown, dodgy keeper, we’re going to lose, aren’t we? Er, actually, not a bit of it. And not only that, the ex-Brewer (rated, incidentally by Burton fans I have spoken to about him) acquitted himself quite acceptably. OK, so his first touch of the ball was nearly to retrieve it from the poke as the free-kick resulting from Myhill’s handball clipped the outside of the right-hand post, and OK so his kicking technique is a bit unconvincing (rather like David Mellor in that cringeworthy Football Task Force photo-shoot with Tony Banks, he punts the ball in a manner of someone who has not only played the game before but also has never actually watched anybody else doing it), but for my money he did little to cause me to reach for the Valium in contemplation of Boaz’s suspension, coming in to a finely-balanced game at a tense moment, dealing confidently with crosses and diving low to make one vital save as the clock ticked round to 90 mins. The three minutes’ injury time passed without incident, the corner we managed to force at the death coming to nought. And still the constabulary were outside in huge numbers in their riot gear.

So, definitely a good game for the neutrals, as a game that spent the first 40 minutes of its life screaming nil-nil at the top of its voice coming to life in with plenty of incident in an entertaining second period. Sure, the end result was desperately disappointing given the commanding position were were in early in the second half, and the continued leaking of silly goals is worrying, but we did play with genuine character (which we have not generally been doing consistently for a few games now) and for me that was the most encouraging part of the day, especially with a December coming up which really needs to see us garner an eminently-achievable seven or eight points at least if we are to pull towards the top of that gaggle of clubs around the twenty-point mark and give ourselves a bit of breathing space.

One final thing. Did anyone notice that Taylor has been sacked and gone to Stoke? If you don’t believe me, check out the preview in the programme of the QPR-Stoke game. Looks also as if Stoke have had points deducted, no doubt for having moronic directors.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Delaney; France, Welsh, Woodhouse, Barmby; Paynter, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Barmby, 62), Duke (for Paynter, 77), Green, Stockdale, Fry.

Goals: France 40; Paynter 50

Booked: None

Sent Off: Myhill

 

QUEENS PARK RANGERS: Royce, Bignot, Evatt, Santos, Milanese, Ainsworth, Rowlands, Langley, Dyer, Gallen, Furlong. Subs: Cook (for Santos, 45), Moore (for Gallen, 48), Cole, Bean, Baidoo.

Goals: Ainsworth 56, 66

Booked: Dyer, Furlong

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: P Crossley

ATTENDANCE: 13,185