Hull City 3 Rochdale 0

Molby out, Taylor in, Russell picks the team, Boothferry roars, Rochdale are mauled.  Mike Scott sums up an incredible week in the Hull City soap opera.
The players had no respect for him, he had alienated many City supporters, the results were dreadful, performances mixed and the chairman was conspicuous in not giving him public support in the last week or so. When you say it like that it’s no wonder that Jan Molby had to go, whether he’d been in the job for five months, five years or five minutes. And this Rochdale game put the final icing on the cake, because yesterday we learnt that the true legacy of the brief Molby era was a squad of players of genuine quality, skill and commitment. It’s just that the big Dane couldn’t bring it out of them. The sacking was a footballing necessity and a financial necessity. With things slipping average gates under Molby were touching 7,000 – which may transform to 10,000 in the new stadium. With a new manager and a lift in fortunes the gates should return to 9,000 – 15,000 in the new stadium is quite possible. Add up how many extra fourteen quids that is in the 19 home games between now and May and you’ll see that Molby’s contract pay-off was an investment, not an expense. Call it the dawn of a great new era full of pride and passion, or call it eleven players with mortgages to pay trying to impress their new gaffer. The optimists and the pessimists can debate it as much as they like, the fact remains that this was a powerhouse performance by City that is likely to remain without parallel in this division all season. We took a very reasonable Rochdale side and trampled all over them, by the last ten minutes the Lancastrians were disjointed and dispirited road-kill. The hard work of lifting a depressed squad of players starts now Mr Simpson – don’t call Big Jan for advice. The mood was set before the game as Peter Taylor was introduced to a rapturous Boothferry Park. Not for him a quick waft of the hand in the general direction of Immingham, Taylor strode on to the green sward in a purposeful manner and, surrounded by a gaggle of six frantic photographers to heighten the drama (I would wager at least four of them had no film in their cameras), he proceeded to command the centre circle with a clenched fist waved at the City masses. It was just the sort of outward demonstration of passion and “yes-I-can-be-arsed-actually”-ness that we have craved for many moons. Taylor mounted his white charger and galloped back to his West Stand seat alongside Adam Pearson as Kempton belted out “Peter Taylor’s Black and Amber Army” and grown men whispered “Jan who?” to each other. Out with the old and broken, in with the new and gleaming. Except the future and the past were apparently the same. City carded but one change in the starting eleven from last week’s Kiddie kapitulation (debutant Burton in at left back for the crocked Edwards and Smith), while we also saw the return of big money signings Alexander and Holt to the bench. The line-up was apparently 4-3-3, thus:

Musselwhite Regan Anderson Whittle Burton Green Keates Ashbee Branch Jevons Elliott

Except this wasn’t 4-3-3 as we have known it in recent times. This was 4-2-4, 4-5-1, 2-2-6 and 7-3-0 all rolled into one fluid, shimmering and energetic formation that defended in numbers when it had to, flooded the midfield in moments when Simpson and Flitcroft started to get some good possession, then transformed into a potent attacking swarm when we had the ball on the ground and passed elegantly to feet. It was probably the kind of thing that Molby had in mind when he said that his preferred system was a fast-moving 4-3-3 shape. It was the kind of thing that he could never bring out of his signings. Billy Russell for Scotland manager? It started cagily. City, as ever, had the earn the right to play against a potent looking Rochdale side. They had the giant yet mobile Griffiths at the back alongside the still-imperious ex-Tiger Richard Jobson, they had the scurrying Simpson in midfield alongside the combative Flitcroft and the languid yet visionary Bishop, while up front they had the capable Connor (middle name Tom’o) and Clive Platt, perhaps the best pound-for-pound striker in this division and, I dare say, the one above it as well. Quite why a Sheffield Wednesday or a Coventry City hasn’t stepped in secure Platt’s talents yet I don’t know – perhaps he’s waiting for his KC Stadium call-up? Hilariously, as we would later discover, they had the diminutive Edwards in goal. Make no mistake, Rochdale are a good team and the early exchanges saw both teams carve out half chances, Platt firing over the bar and Jevons cutting in the from the left and finding the near-post side-netting. On 6 Simpson picked up a City clearance and whipped an inviting cross onto the bonce of Griffiths on the near post, which the big man steered inches over Musselwhite’s crossbar. Then on 14 Simpson gratefully received a sliced Anderson clearance and fired goalwards only see his carefully guided effort clawed away by Musselwhite. City had heard their footballing reveille (a special military reference for our Omagh readers!) and duly scratched their balls, got out of bed, pulled on their socks and started drill. Burton, who tiptoed through the warm-up with a demeanour that suggested an uncomfortable warm feeling at the back of his pants, was dumped unceremoniously by Flitcroft who, when he repeated the trick two minutes later, saw yellow. This rough treatment seemed to galvanise the young defender and he went on to give as assured a debut by a Junior that Boothferry Park has witnessed in many seasons – he’ll give Edwards a run for his money on this showing, and Smith an extended run in the reserves. The Tigers started to get the ball down and play it simple, quick and incisive and the game swung heavily in the home side’s favour. It began when penetration down the right saw Ashbee accept possession and sweep a tasty ball from right to left. This culminated in the onrushing Burton finding himself in the box with only the goalie to shoot past, but his delayed strike was charged down for a corner. Then Branch was released through the heart of the Rochdale defence and his arced run ended in a right foot shot that was parried with Jevons lurking unmarked on the far post. Green picked up the rebound and swung in a cross that was cleared for a corner. The first flag-kick was cleared behind the goal by Jobson, but the second found Elliott eight yards who headed goalwards, his effort diverted away from the keeper’s dive and into the roof of the net by Jevons two yards out. 1-0. Total Tiger Mayhem. We started to play without fear. We started to play sweet passing football. As Rochdale wilted, City cut swathes through their midfield and defence and only a series of last ditch tackles by Jobson and Griffiths prevented further score. A sweet passing interchange between Green, Keates and Elliott resulted in Jevons being freed down the inside left channel, and his shot was charged down for a corner. A minute later a repeat opportunity for Jevons and a repeat desperate lunge. As those around me with rather too much ale on board confused Regan and Whittle and used cigars to inadvertently set fire to hiking garments, the waves of attacks continued. Jevons was a constant thorn in Rochdale’s side and Jobbo saw yellow after clattering him when another gaping defensive hole was opening up. Branch hit the resultant free kick just about as high, wide and away from the goal as I have ever seen from 25 yards – I suspect he won’t be invited to set piece practice this week. Jevons again freed himself from Jobson’s clutches after accepting a sumptuous Green through ball, only for the wily ex-Latic to oldham at bay with a last gasp tackle on the edge of the box. Could the Dale rearguard hold out after such a sustained onslaught? As we entered the 45th minute we got our answer. Keates (I think) had the ball in his own box and swung a clearance to Jevons with space to run into on the left hand side. With Griffiths inexplicably backing off at least ten yards (as in Ayala vs Owen, 1998) Jevons slid a pass to the onrushing Elliott whose lung-busting run was rewarded only with a fine parried save by Edwards. But what’s this looming up towards the ball? Yes! It’s the similarly lung-busted Branch who picks up the scraps and sweeps the loose ball home from 14 yards. 2-0 and caps, bowler hats, transistor radios and small boys are thrown in the Kempton air in unrestrained jubilation. The players leave the pitch at half-time with a back-of-neck-hair-bristling roar resounding around the old place where there are, the modified scoreboard assures us, only five more matches to go before it is handed over to 5-a-side corporate footertainment. At half-time I mused on the performance of Ian Bishop in the Rochdale midfield. A talented and skillful midfielder at the highest level for Manchester City and West Ham, his descent from the “show” to Spotland has been rapid. And as City assumed the ascendancy in midfield Bishop, now 37, saw fit to go totally absent. He was often seen skulking out wide as Keates and Ashbee powered through the middle, and at least twice accepted possession behind his centre backs, so far back was he pushed to find space. His passing remains pleasing but he was happy to hoof anytime Keates came a-tacklin’. Good players like him should just retire, not jib out of any effort in the third division. And so the second half. It didn’t quite live up the super-charged first period but it did see the Tigers continue to press forward and deny Rochdale attacking options for much of the 45. Within seconds of the restart Bishop had lazily conceded possession to Jevons inside his own half and the rampant Scouser, who with his shorn barnet had the look of a pacier Duane Darby about him today, floated an effort just wide with the outside of his right boot. The second period was notable for the regular and effective incursions down the left by the now swaggering Burton. The tiring Elliott was grateful that young legs were getting beyond him and penetrating the danger area, and Dale right-back Evans’ ears stuck out further and further as his afternoon worsened. Burton’s best moment was, in the time-honoured way of football flair and fluke, a deep cross that drifted goalwards and failed by only a matter of inches to drop in off the back post. Rochdale were not without their moments either. Platt, who was very quiet in the first period, found some good possession down the City left flank but the motoring Keates was willing to help out Burton when the need was there. Bishop rolled back the years just once on the hour, pinging a mouth-watering through ball to Connor whose left foot shot was adeptly tipped over by the Muss. Musselwhite made a couple of other good saves, caught everything fired into his box aerially and generally adopted the “none-shall-pass” that made him such a hero in his early months at the club. Glennon looked on in envy from the subs bench, munching casually on a pie. Green picked up a clearance from a corner he had taken and fired a curling shot that was tipped away by Edwards, and as the ball rolled towards the South West corner flag a coming-together between left back Doughty and Branch saw the ex-Evertonian and Griffiths, whose intervention and shove was deemed too feisty by the competent ref, receive a yellow card. With 25 left Regan rampaged royally down the wing and swung a swooping cross onto the head of Elliott, whose last touch of the day was gratefully accepted by Edwards’ midriff. Williams entered the fray after Elliott received a standing ovation and the shape reverted to an ambitious 4-4-2. By now Rochdale had brought on the youthful Townson (another ex-Evertonian to add to the four in City’s line-up, as the programme noted annoyingly, stealing my thunder) but the young pace-man had little chance to impress. Only once did he get any change out of Whittle and Anderson when he won a free-kick that Bishop whipped goalwards dangerously only for the excellent Muss to tip over. Rochdale also threw on the stumpy Hodges, whose antics for Scunny at BP last season ensured that he got a hostile reception, much to the amusement of Stuart Green who was detailed to police him. The cockney craphouse might as well have stayed on the bench and let the 10 men get on with it, such was the lack of any impact made by his introduction. Platt had one further chance, a shot wide after strong running by Flitcroft, while his partner Connor also had one more opening but his shot was pouched comfortably. But despite these minor aberrations the balance of play was still with the home side – and as the visitors tired and lost interest in the last ten so more City chances came. A deep cross from the right by Branch found Williams beyond the far post, who rolled a tempting ball into Green’s path, only for the Cumbrian colossus to shoot narrowly over. Then a moment of true comedy. Rochdale attempted to pass their way out of trouble at the back as Branch, still willing to chase and harry in the 85th minute, er, chased and harried. The ball found its way to Edwards but the pass was fractionally short and as striker and keeper converged, the ball squirmed out at the striker’s feet and he gratefully accepted an open-goal roll-in from within the six yard box. Icing on the icing on the cake. Yum. All that was left was for more ovations as Branch and Jevons left the field, while Alexander and Johnson entered it. I do hope that the club can sort out Alexander’s problems, which are widely believed to be more to do with bedroom antics rather than footballing reasons, and rehabilitate him into our front line. But if that doesn’t happen then in Elliott, Branch, Jevons and the freshly operated-on Dudfield we have attacking options to see even the hardiest 3rd division defence quail. As the final whistle blew the roar of the home fans was matched by the silence of the away support, which had numbered 800 or so at the start but has dissolved away in the last quarter of the game. As goalie Edwards trotted from his Bunkers goal to the away support he applauded an empty stand, as the remaining 100 or so stragglers had immediately upped sticks and shuffled back to their Lancashire-bound motor cars and buses. A really superb performance then, a real team effort. I have already singled out Burton and Jevons for special praise, they both deserve it. So did everyone really. But my man of the match was without a shadow of a doubt Stuart Green. As recently as 3 weeks ago I wrote that he was a luxury that City could ill-afford, but I am now happy to eat my words. If this boy can be motivated to play the full ninety minutes (not just the 2-3 fifteen minute bursts that he gave Molby) to the best of his abilities then he will, along with a fully fit Elliott, be the reason why we can still piss this division, because he showed against Rochdale that he is a genuine Premiership class player. No wonder Sir Bobby wants him back when we’ve finished with him. Well played Stuart Green. Well played Hull City. Onwards and upwards, with Taylor and Burton on board we are clearly suited to achieve greater things.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott.  Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 67), Johnson (for Branch, 85), Alexander (for Jevons, 85), Glennon, Holt Goals: Jevons 28, Branch 45, Branch 84 Booked: Branch, Whittle Sent Off: None   ROCHDALE: Edwards, Evans, Griffiths, Jobson, Doughty, Oliver, Flitcroft, Bishop, Simpson, Platt, Connor.  Subs: Townson (for Simpson, 64), Hodges (for Doughty, 79), Gilks, MacAuley, Patterson. Goals: None Booked: Flitcroft, Griffiths, Jobson Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 9,057