Hull City 2 Wolves 3

Good news: I think we saw the best team in the league tonight. Bad news: it wasn’t us.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Wolves at the start of the season. They spent a lot of money last summer on continental players and it never really worked out for them. But this time they look the real deal. It’s not just the excellent players they’ve brought in but they have a top manager in Nuno and he’s got them set up incredibly well. They’re playing a style of football that, particularly away from home in the Championship, is very brave. They played three at the back stretched out almost the width of the pitch while the two wing backs hugged the touchline high up the pitch and stretched City every time the ball went forward. In the middle exploiting the space this leaves they have clever players who can move the ball about well and, as we saw devastatingly for the opening goal, shoot from distance.

City had started well until Neves smashed one past McGregor from 25 yards after six minutes [0-1] but it was already clear that Wolves wing backs were going to be a crucial part of the game and we were already struggling to cope with them. Not for the first time this season our naive young full backs were exposed – in part by the opposition and partly by our failure to protect them up the field. That situation isn’t helped by us only playing one central midfielder. I’m not counting Markus Henriksen. He’s not a central midfielder – he has no effect on games, he doesn’t make a tackle or a forward pass.

I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the manager for our failure to match them tactically. He just doesn’t have any other fit players to work with. Sure, 4-4-2 is no counter for what is almost a 3-2-5 formation but replacing any of the first eleven with those from the bench is far worse a proposition.

We weren’t just second d best on the ball, with Neves dominating for them like Tom Huddlestone as his very best, but we didn’t have their knack of drawing fouls or killing time, with Neves dominating for them like the love child of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rudi Voller.

After Miranda spurned the chance to double their lead after a corner was flicked on to him at the near post, we equalised pretty much from nowhere. Hector met a Donald Trump corner along with a defender and the ball was shuffled away from the far post. We took the resulting corner short, a cross was whipped past Ruddy, headed off the line and Dawson headed it back in [1-1].

That could have been the catalyst for City to push on before half time but instead, we were sloppy in possession, gave them gifts in our half and looked susceptible to a ball over the top to either wing-back. In the end, it was the little winger Enobakhare who picked up the ball on the right touchline, breezed past Hector and laid the ball on a plate for Jota to score [1-2].

Half time: Hull City 1 Wolves 2

Our flaws were there for all to see but fixing them was going to be difficult. We had nothing on the bench to change the game. In similar fashion to the Villa game on the opening day though, the eleven sent back out changed it themselves by getting on the ball, keeping possession and forcing Wolves to worry about us. And they looked nowhere near as effective.

McGregor made a decent, but simple, save from Bonatini’s far post header in what was suddenly a rare Wolves attack. City struggled to find a final ball after getting into key areas until just after the hour a neat move worked the ball to the edge of the area where Campbell exploded into the box, beautifully beat the last man with a neat trick and was denied by a good save from John Ruddy’s out-stretched right arm. If that was close then Hernandez’s thumping header from Clucas’s corner smashing the post five minutes later was tantalising.

We had momentum. Even Henriksen won two excellent challenges in midfield. Then Campbell was subbed off for Diomande and the game went. Again, it’s hard to blame the manager when Campbell is clearly not yet at peak fitness but there is just nothing outside the first eleven and losing Campbell’s effervescence for Diomande’s clunky and clumsy wandering was the sign that this game was over. Worse was still to come when Hernandez jumped to challenge for a good Grosicki cross (not many of them to the pound) and landed awkwardly. He immediately called for the physio who called for a stretcher and Abel went off with a serious looking achilles injury. Shiiiit.

With the referee just about to announce NINE minutes of stoppage time, we made it irrelevant. Typical. Aina was caught in possession in their half and sub Nouha Dicko raced onto a ball into space to finish under McGregor [1-3]. We were awarded a seriously soft penalty eight minutes into the nine added for a foul on Diomande which David Meyler buried into the bottom left hand corner [2-3] but the game was up.

Full time: Hull City 2 Wolves 3

This felt like a game that would let us know how good we are after a comfortable win on Saturday. In the end though, it’s probably not told us anything we didn’t already know. We’re a decent outfit with 7 or 8 quality players. Michael Hector is a classy defender. We’re at least five players short of having a squad anywhere near Wolves’s (they had actual grown-ups on the bench and the manager didn’t pick who came on by playing Ip, Dip, dog shit). We desperately need a left back. Markus Henriksen isn’t a central midfielder. Kamil Grosicki will have games where you wonder if he gives a toss.

And one new one, we desperately need Abel Hernandez to not be injured for six months. Or even six weeks.

Sheffield United 3 Hull City 2

A rip snorter. Goals aplenty, a splendid comeback, freak weather, an obvious penalty denied, neck-hair-raising atmosphere. A real derby is played out at Bramall Lane, the home side claiming all 3 points deep into injury time.

There are probably three levels at which to reflect on yesterday’s game. On one level, it was very much a case of “same old, same old” where our Blunt friends are concerned, in that having clawed our way back onto level terms from a 0-2 deficit with twenty minutes to go, and survived the inevitable farrago of dodgy decisions (of the ten genuinely bad ones I counted, only one was in City’s favour) which have characterised our every fixture against the Blunts since time immemorial, we eventually were cruelly stripped, deep into injury time, of the hard-earned point which had looked to be ours. On another level, it was case of the Tiger coming back down to earth, in that, despite some very pleasing football at times and a generally spirited response to the riotous second-half backing from the 3 000-plus Tiger Nation delegation, our unbeaten run came to an end and, mathematically at any rate, our status for next season is still not guaranteed. And on a third, and final level, but perhaps most memorably, this was an absolutely rip-roaringly barnstorming good old-fashioned Div 2 Yorkshire Derby, with both teams slugging it out on a proper football ground, in an often-seething atmosphere (although this was confined to the way end except when the Sheff goals went in) with the weather fluctuating from one extreme to the other seemingly in keeping with the oscillations of the pendulum of the game, in some respects even overshadowing the WS game. As my companions and I sat post-match in our pre-match hostelry and reflected over a further couple of pints on the day’s events, the general view was that it was some years since we had seen one of those, and, as we gravely informed the youngsters among us in what we fondly imagined to be sage tones, it might be a while before we saw its like again.

Sure, it was a pity that we lost, as a point would have pretty much made us mathematically safe, but to be honest we ought to have to come to expect that, aside from the odd occasion (about every 15 years or so) when we take the Blunts apart on a grand scale, it generally doesn’t happen for us against that lot. Personally, I knew our fate was sealed when my new (4 games old) lucky pre-match routine, the 107th of my City-supporting career, went wrong; this consists of bashing out on the keyboard on the morning of the game a certain tune which would have been familiar among City-goers of the late 60s, and it took me four goes to get it right, having hit a bum note on the first three attempts.

On the plus side, the comparison between yesterday’s game and the first encounter at the Circle gave an encouraging indication of how far we have come in the last three months. It may fairly be said that the Blunts have had a touch of the promotion jitters of late and this was reflected in their performance at times yesterday, but that should in no measure hide the fact that, despite some below-par individual performances, City looked a deal more comfortable in this fixture and with their Championship status than they had done back in January. Taylor was not wrong with his post-match quote to the BBC that we have shown we can now play in the Championship. Granted, there were times when the old respect thing reared its ugly head yesterday, but it’s gradually becoming less of a problem.

On duty yesterday were the following:

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Dawson
Paynter Green Andrews Ellison
Parkin Fagan

Yes, it really was like rolling back the years yesterday, A Derby game kicking off at 3.00 (Humberside Police please note; it isn’t rocket science, you know), jostling through the hordes shoe-horned into the labyrinthine staircases and concourses of the Bramall Lane end to get to ones seat, being allowed to smoke in the stand, and a raucously-vocal City contingent all served to heighten the mood of anticipation. As, following an infinitesimal but impeccably-observed moment of silence in memory of recently-departed American songster Gene Pitney, the black-shirted Tigers kicked off towards the Shoreham (as it used to be called) the rain which had lashed the dye out of our trousers on the walk from the pub subsided – temporarily – in favour of bright sunshine and the scene was set.

And in the early stages, it was the Tigers who made the running. On 6 Fagan returned a poor clearance first time inches past Kenny’s right hand post, and the Beast, who it must be said generally met his match in Short throughout the afternoon and had his least effective game in a City shirt to date as result (but don’t worry folks, that won’t happen every week), took down a long ball and steered it inches wide of the other post. Sheffield were absolutely at sixes and sevens during these early stages, the biggest threat to City at this stage coming from referee Crossley who, as Mike Scott pointed out to me so many times yesterday that I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t mention it, never plucked up the courage once during the afternoon to make a difficult decision. After the quarter hour mark, at which point the rain started to teem down again, the Blunts started to crank a little bit of steam out of themselves, but we remained composed, and went close again on 23 when Andrews squared to Ellison, for whom a gap suddenly opened up for the ex-Chest to thump a low drive which seemed destined for the bottom corner only for Kenny to get down and save well.

It could so easily have been 3-0 to us at this stage, but instead on 27 we very nearly went a goal down in what was our first real scare of the afternoon. A poor clearance from Cort (who curiously lacked his customary levels of authority and effectiveness yesterday) was turned back in and Jagielka hit a low effort which Boaz, moving in the wrong direction, managed to block with his legs and then gather the ball as it stopped dead in front of him.

This scare seemed really to get to City. From being generally positive and spunky we suddenly became hesitant and withdrawn, and the Blunts, sensing their chance, and no doubt apprehensive of the welcome their performance so far would elicit from Warnock (and how relieved I was to discover that I was not the only one among my friends not to have known for the last three years that Neil Warnock is an anagram of Colin Wanker) were not slow to capitalise on this and gain the ascendancy as a result. At first they seemed to lack the penetration to exploit this but then on 37 produced a goal out of almost nothing. There didn’t seem a lot of danger when Tonge whipped in his cross from the right but Shipperley, showing remarkable agility for a man of his girth, beat the cover and toe-ended the leather inside Myhill’s right hand post.

At this point we were dealt a stark reminder of just how the fetid tide of footyism has flooded our beloved game. For as Shipperley turned away in triumph to receive the plaudits of the City contingent in front of him, out of the tannoy blasted the ubiquitous “Tom Hark”. In Sheffield. At what I thought was a proper football ground whose regulars would give short shrift to such embarrassing behaviour. I’m sorry, but this is dashed bad form.

This heralded probably the quietest period of the game, the only real incident of note in what remained of the half coming again at the City end a couple of minutes from the break when Cort stood off Webber, whose drive was tipped over by Boaz.

More cringe-making stuff from the Bramall Lane PA man at the start of the second half, with his exhortation to the “Red and White Wizards”, followed by the first line of Annie’s Song as a prompt to the Blunts to sing that song of theirs – called the Greasy Chip Butty song or something similar – which actually sounds quite impressive until you cotton on to the lyrics and wince at the sheer banality of them.

Any hopes that City would reprise the ascendancy they had shown in the game’s first quarter were soon dashed as Sheffield – clearly having had a bollocking from Colin anyway – got and stayed on top from the off. City were all over the place at this stage and it was not surprise when on 52 Ifill beat the City defence to a Webber cross and headed in from the near corner of the six-yard box.

Oh bugger. We looked in for a real towsing now. But City never lose their capacity to conjure up the unexpected (even if it is normally to an adverse effect), and, with the support of the City faithful now rising to thunderous levels – nice to see and hear when so often the fans go quiet in adversity – and the double substitution on 56 things turned round in a manner and with a speed that nobody in the City end could seriously have been expecting. The team, given new impetus by the roaring-on they were getting, started to press forward and suddenly the Blades were looking anything but sharp. After one of theirs had been beaten fairly to the ball by Ellison in the box and won a free kick by falling over (dodgy decision number 6), we came scorching down the right wing and a raking cross from Alton, who generally had a decent game, evaded everybody except Elliott, who had time to control the ball, pick his spot and smash the ball past Kenny’s right hand.

Was it my imagination, or did Stu’s team mates seem reluctant to congratulate the Ulsterman as he did his celebratory somersault? No matter: this was game on big style, now. The game had swung our way, although it looked to have swung back against us a mere minute after the goal when, after Cort had done well to block a Jagielka effort, a long ball found Duffy who hared into the box and beat the advancing Kenny to the ball. the leather ran loose, and as Greeny, who turned in a pleasingly spry performance on the whole, headed towards it and the unguarded onion bag beyond he was upended by Kenny in a manner which would have had Eddie Waring waxing lyrical. Mr Crossley however opted to do a Wenger (presumably, at least; if he had seen it it’s hard to see how he could have done anything but point to the spot). The sheer fury emanating from the Bramall Lane End was literally enough to make your eyes water, as this raised the standards of injustice with which we have to put up when we play that shower to unimaginable levels, and Taylor didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it either.

So, dodgy decision number 8, and with it the chance of doing what had seemed impossible three minutes previously and securing a point now surely whipped heartlessly away from us. Oh, ye of little faith! With the only noise in the ground coming from the City end (but enough noise being made from there to make up for the lack of it elsewhere) and with Kenny clearly struggling with an injury sustained whilst committing his foul on Greeny, we press forward again on 70. This time a lofted ball comes though to Green, who crosses to the near post and Duffy, arriving at the point of contact a nanosecond before the ailing Kenny, pokes it over the line.

Total ear-splitting, stand-shaking, breathtaking pandemonium. Easily the equal of the hysteria which greeted the Beast’s winner against the WS.

We might even have gone in front on 74 when Elliott’s header from outside the box was misdirected with the still-struggling Kenny out of his goal. But surely the energy created by the City fans in that event would have caused the universe to implode, and rather than provoke any cosmic adventures of that nature City opted to settle back for a point which – if you were going to be fair (some chuffing hope!) – you might say was a tad hard on Sheffield. Inevitably, and with the home crowd finding their voices but only for the purpose of getting impatient with their own team, there were a couple of scares in normal time, with one of theirs putting a free header wide from two yards out on 84, and then Nsworthu hit the outside of the post with a low drive.

But injury time – swelled to a lengthy five minutes due mainly to the injury to Kenny – came, and when after a couple of minutes of it Jagielka was through on Boaz in a one-on -one, only to see his effort blocked by the City netman, we thought we might be home and dry. But this is City and, well, you know the rest. The City defence jabbed and feinted at the resulting corner, and when a point-blank stop from Boaz came out again Nsworthu smacked home the rebound. Needless to say, Mr Crossley, taking no chances, then brought an end to the proceedings before the end of the allocated five minutes.

The Blunts celebrated like reprieved killers, as well they might as, frankly, on this showing, they won’t get too many chances to do so next season. Oh yes, Colin the former chiropodist will soon be reminded how callous the Premiership can be for the ill-equipped (sorry, that was a bit corny….er, I’ll get me coat). I was going to say that when we next meet them in the League in 07/08 they’ll find us a very different proposition, but, even if they do, will it be enough to defeat the Sheffield hex?

Anyway, hopefully our Championship status will be put beyond any doubt next Saturday when we entertain Burnley, along with their strange supporters who, if you watch them, all walk in oddly short, shuffling steps with their shoulders hunched.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Dawson; Paynter, Andrews, Green, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Paynter, 56), Duffy (for Fagan, 56), France, Wiseman, Duke.

Goals: Elliott 65; Duffy 70

Booked: Myhill

Sent Off: None

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Kenny, Short, Morgan, Kozluk, Unsworth, Jagielka, Ifill, Tonge, Armstrong, Shipperley, Webber. Subs: Kabba (for Ifill, 87), Akinbiyi, Montgomery, Gillespie, Lucketti.

Goals: Shipperley 36; Ifill 52; Unsworth 90

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: P Crossley

ATTENDANCE: 26,324

Leicester City 3 Hull City 2

Chaos at the turnstiles and things weren’t much better on the pitch as a disheveled City performance saw a second 2-3 reverse against very limited opposition in our first ever visit to Leicester’s Walkers Bowl.

I hated this game more than any game since Terry Dolan was in charge of our team.

Horrible. We were treated like vermin by Leicester City Football Club. I don’t have much desire to be treated like a ‘customer’ at football, still less to be integrated into happy-clappy family entertainment footie fun, but I do like to be allowed to pay into the ground to see the match. The home club were a disgrace, as were the local police, as vile and aggressive a bunch as anything that the late 1980s could have thrown up. And then we were treated like fools by our team, who set aside several weeks of promising performances that have been ill rewarded by poor results and instead served up a foppish self-indulgent ill-disciplined woeful display that got all the points that it deserved. None.

Parkin was wonderful.

No one else was worth their wages. It really is the Dolan era that I last found myself issuing such condemnation. But we played like a relegation team yesterday. Dismal. Inept.

I’m being a bit harsh, I suppose (on the lovely Leon Cort most of all, perhaps). But I’m not happy about yesterday. As you may have noticed.

I reached the ground at about quarter to 3, a bit earlier maybe. I saw that round thing that we call a football for the first time at quarter past 3, a bit later maybe. One turnstile – one! – was open to City fans wanting to pay. Two turnstiles were open for those with tickets, and they were almost completely unused, since we’d been advised we didn’t need to buy tix in advance, since this is a new stadium with copious capacity allied to all modern facilities. Ha! Prattish stewards wandered around asking if we had tickets, waving towards the unused pair of turnstiles. No, we said, politely at first, as the minutes ticked by and kick-off came and went, and our queue got longer.

There were plenty of employees of Leicester City around – none thought to re-designate the ticket turnstiles as pay turnstiles, none thought – imaginez! – to open another turnstile. They did however laugh in most jolly fashion when asked if kick-off might be delayed.

If this was a proper country like Romania or Syria, the officials in charge would have been hung until dead from lampposts, suspended by the gold braid on their epaulettes, while their children would have been slaughtered with piano wire. This being England, we inspected our fingernails and muttered to anyone willing to make eye contact that ‘it is all a bit unfortunate really, all things considered’.

But even the stiff upper lip trembles when jolted with sufficient force. Irritation mounted. All the while sneering police loitered, itching for a fight, treating our increasing protests as a public order issue rather then legitimate frustration at our treatment. Eventually, well after the game had kicked off, one more turnstile was opened. One! And eventually I got in. I expect other City fans are queuing still.

And then we lost.

And, unlike recent reverses, this one we deserved.

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
France Green Andrews Noble Elliott
Parkin.

Sort of like that, anyway. We were sloppy, lacking leadership and threw away an importance chance to keep – very ordinary – opposition beneath us in the table. Our goals – both equalisers – were Parkin products. Theirs were horror shows, from our perspective. The second was a freak punt from near the halfway line, but the other two arrived after flowing moves which sped around, past and beyond our stranded midfielders and defence. We looked gruesomely vulnerable.

Four flaws? One, Delaney at centre-back. This utterly admirable young man doesn’t seem quite sharp enough to cope with quick-witted and nimble-footed strikers in this Division. I think this too is Mr Taylor’s view – well, that’s what Andy Dalton told me – but injuries currently force his hand. Two, Andrews is not a bad holding midfielder player. We could do with a better – more engaged, more consistent, more authoritative – holding midfielder. Three, Mark Noble. A talented ballplayer whose ability to find space by roaming across the full width of the pitch could be the source of goalmaking creativity. But when we’re level away from home in a don’t-lose scrap I like to see sundry opponents getting booted up in the air from time to time, and I don’t think young Noble sees getting bloodied or carded in the Hull City cause as the best way to win the heart of Alan Pardew as the chirpy West Ham boss plans for next season. Four, lack of a leader. You can best grasp why Mr Taylor bought Sam Collins when we take to the pitch without him. Collins is a shouter, an organiser, a natural captain, and it’s a role that no one else in the squad can fill. We’re vocally lightweight and I suspect opposing teams draws strength from the impression that we just don’t much fancy getting stuck into it and them.

A summer of post-injury re-birth for Collins, Coles, Dawson, Ashbee (though I doubt he’ll ever be back) and McPhee will help us solve these problems, but I need not remind you that no one has ever been spared relegation on the basis that they’ve had a few men out hurt.

Meanwhile, abuse rained down on Mr Taylor like snow in July. Yes, they’re a fierce bunch these Leicester fans. My, I almost heard them once. I could have been mistaken. The Walker’s Bowl is a functional and unimaginative arena, of a type with So’ton and Reading though probably overall poorer than both, and it is home to a dour, dull and somnolent set of supporters.

By the way, I agree with everything Richard Herman has contributed to this list lately. I understand perfectly well that offering a price in April for next season’s pass, when we don’t know which division we’ll be playing in, gives the punter a chance to gamble. Buy early, buy cheap – and maybe buy Boston not Birmingham. That’s fine, it’s your free choice. But stipulating – as our club currently does – that unless you buy at the earliest date, and no later, you lose you chosen seat at the Circle, is completely unfair, a new departure and simply an attack on the flexibility of the hardest core fans. By all means tell passholders they can buy in April at price x while if they wait until June it will be x plus y. But let them keep their seat in either case.

I’m off topic. ‘Cos I’m fed up. Parkin. Let me lighten the mood. He is fantastic. It was his beautifully crafted crossfield ball that allowed Elliott, arriving at the back post much as he had done – but fruitlessly – in stoppage time at Cardiff, to plant a meaty header past Henderson to provide our first equaliser. His astonishingly deft touch set up Green for a firmly rifled shot from just outside the box to bring us back to 2-2. This man Parkin is a genius. You know, I like him better than Aaron Wilbraham, I really do.

Actually, I like him as much as Colin Stein and Derek Johnstone, and now we really are getting serious. And – seriously – will we keep him? He’s scoring goals, even when (as at Cardiff) the linesman fails to spot it, he’s forcing heroics from goalkeepers (Henderson produced one astonishing save from a point-blank effort during yesterday’s second half), he’s leading the line, he’s winning penalties, he’s making goals for others, he’s turning decent defenders into gibbering wrecks (will Lescott ever recover from his beasting last week?). Parkin is a very seriously gifted footballer and when you look at the silly money thrown in recent years after folk like Adi Akimbiyi, James Scowcroft, Blakes Robbie and Nathan, and assorted feckless Poles and Croats you find yourself wondering what size of cheque may be brandished in front of Mr Pearson over the summer (and not only by whoever is misguided enough to employ Harry Redknapp).

Well, with ten or so minutes to go, I was happy with a point, though not much enamoured of my afternoon’s fun. Then Leicester broke clear down their left, the ball was transferred across the field with the minimum of fuss and an alarming absence of intervention from any of our players, and Gudjonsson, twenty yards out, got his head over the ball to clout a firm low shot into the net via the fingertips of the sprawling Boaz. 3-2. Paynter promptly arrived to bustle, Duffy had been doing the same since his arrival on the hour (and the Scot looked perkier this week than last), but the task was beyond us. In stoppage time the best scoring opportunity fell to Leicester when Boaz found himself marooned upfield in support of a fading attack, and a sliced hoof simply left their sub Welsh in space, homing in on an empty net. He slapped his shot wastefully high over the bar as our defence scurried back, to the dismay of team-mates advancing in support both to his right and his left. But, for us, the game was lost, and the fell murmur ‘Millwall have won’ spread among the City support.

Commendably astute pub selection by a reliable china o’mine ensured this was a splendid day up until about quarter to three. After that, it was vile. I don’t think I’ll be bothering with the away game at Leicester next season. Assuming there is one.

HULL CITY (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Andrews, Noble; France, Green, Elliott; Parkin. Subs: Welsh (for Noble, 60), Duffy (for Thelwell, 65), Paynter (for Andrews, 87), Ellison, Duke.

Goals: Elliott 35; Green 73

Booked: Elliott

Sent Off: None

 

LEICESTER CITY: Henderson, Stearman, Gerrbrand, Kisnorbo, Johansson, Maybury, Gudjonsson, Williams, Hughes, Hume, Fryatt. Subs: Welsh (for Hughes, 71), Brevett (for Fryatt, 88), Logan, O’Grady, Hammond.

Goals: Hume 30; Gudjonsson 64, 84

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: N Miller

ATTENDANCE: 22,835