Aston Villa 1 Hull City 1

Steve Bruce’s Aston Villa 1 Hull City 1

Let us go back in time, thirty-five years ago. A young boy takes a walk across the rolling slopes of the Ural Mountains, lost in thought, deep in his dreams. He is sports-mad, and it is football that most of all grabs his youthful enthusiasm, but not for him the stars of the very fine Soviet Union side of the time. Shengelia, Blokhin, Bal, Dasaev – superb footballers, but the young Leonid Slutsky – for it is he – turns his eyes fondly to the west. As the ancient folk tales of his village tell, there is no higher land between the Urals and the lofty fortresses of the Yorkshire Wolds. ‘How I wish’, thinks the hopeful lad, sniffing the bracing breeze that has crossed the plains of Northern Europe, ‘how I wish I could one day see the trees spilling down over Welton Dale, feed the ducks on the pond at Bishop Burton, and, joy of joys, watch Comrade Nick Deacy play football’.

Dreams. Sometimes they become reality. And so it is today, as Leonid Slutsky has landed the job he has craved for so long. The manager of Hull City.

Sure, back in the days when he was tramping the steppes with his faithful dog Spassky, I don’t suppose Mr Slutsky imagined he’d end up in in the employ of the ghastly Allams, but I also don’t suppose in the troubled days leading up to this opening fixture of a season wracked, for the second year in a row, by atrocious off-field negligent summertime planning by our owners, he imagined he’d able to field a side that showed such a high level of defiance, commitment and ability.

We got a point at Villa Park, and, while it might not have been expected, it was certainly well earned. Early days, but even if we are a traincrash of a club off the pitch, there are hints of a decent team waiting to emerge on it.

This, then, was an unexpectedly enjoyable game of football.

Off we go, on a breezy but sunny late afternoon, the pitch slick from a heavy lunchtime rainstorm, and we card an orthodox 4-4-2:

Campbell Hernandez

Grosicki Clucas Henriksen Bowen

Clark Hector Dawson Aina

McGregor

First thoughts on seeing that set-up were that the midfield looks lightweight – and the midfield did indeed look lightweight – and that young Max Clark at left back is going to need help from Grosicki to repel Villa’s preference to attack down the flanks. And indeed he did need that help. But rarely got it.

Henri ‘Fop’ Lansbury breaks clear on to a through ball within the first two minutes, but his shot slithers across the face of McGregor’s goal and beyond the far post. On 5 Agbonlahor, serial lazybones and squandered talent, sprints clear of Aina down their left, shredding a fragile offside trap, but McGregor smothers his shot. No such respite a minute later, as Grosicki dithers, leaving young Clark exposed to a 2 on 1 attack down their right. The ball is shovelled across the face of our goal, and Agbonlahor, wholly unmarked at the back post, is left free to swipe the ball into the net.

This could get messy. Aina, pulled inside and consequently completely AWOL from the right-back position when the goal was scored, is obviously having trouble adjusting to the intensity of first team football, Clucas is allowed little time on the ball in midfield and gets minimal help from Henriksen, another who is presumably feeling his way tentatively back into competitive action, while Michael Hector, an impressive physical specimen, looks far too easily pulled out of position by Villa’s pace and movement. Hector is also damaged early on by a horrible illegal tackle by Henri Lansbury. Yellow for the Villa midfielder, and a great big old sore Hector.

After twenty minutes or so we finally begin to get to grips with a game that could already be beyond us. Referee Andy Madley aims to keep the game flowing, which leads to a wild spell with several bodies sprawled over the pitch after heavy challenges, culminating in a Grosicki shot that is held by netman Sam Johnstone. We are second best in midfield but showing signs of life, though on 26 Michael Dawson is indebted to Alan McGregor’s feet for blocking a chance created by Dawson’s own clumsy surrender of possession.

Villa’s most impressive player is, no surprise, one Ahmed Elmohamady. Playing in his favoured right midfield role with Alan Hutton backing him up at full back, Elmo is able to dart forward at will without worrying about the defensive side of his game which is so notoriously frail, and he makes life tough for Max Clark throughout. As mentioned, Grosicki is way off the pace through the first half and looks barely interested: a vision of Nikica Jelavić after relegation last time, keener to get on the ‘phone to his agent than to put in a shift for Hull City. Meanwhile, Villa’s central defence consists of a Saint and Satan. James Chester, halo worn nonchalantly, is paired with the genuinely evil John Terry. Neither is at all stretched during the opening 45 minutes of the season as the ball rarely comes anywhere near our forward pairing of Hernandez, anonymous, and Campbell, mobile but hoping in vain for service.

But we finish the half with flickers of hope. On 42 Hernandez swivels, whips a smart shot wide of Johnstone’s right hand post. On 43 a fast break yields us our best moment of the half, as Grosicki feeds Campbell whose shot is saved, and the ball rebounds to the Pole whose shot is also saved. That drags us through to half time, indisputably second best but only a goal adrift.

There are plenty of gaps among the travelling support. Better things to do than slog down the holiday motorways, sneered at by television’s capricious kick-off whims? One can well understand the sense of alienation from our club, and from the ravenous beast that is modern football in general. And there are no tourists scattered among our support. We are not Premier League anymore.

Into the second period, and we begin with refreshing vigour. Sights on goal are however few, though a speculative 30-yarder from Hernandez flies closer to the target than Johnstone was initially expecting. On 61 there arrives reward for a brisk fifteen minutes from our boys, and a strangely indolent spell since the break by the home side. Campbell drives forward with pace and menace, a short spell of broken play in front of the Villa box, Grosicki is fed the ball down the right, and his gently lofted cross sweeps across the face of the goal to Bowen at the back post who cudgels a nonchalant left-foot volley into the net. The ease with which Bowen converts the chance shouldn’t disguise how well he did. He is, on this evidence, what Ruud Gullit would call ‘a good technical player’.

That is a deserved leveller, and we persist in pleasingly positive vein. Grosicki, now playing directly in front of the City fans and visibly concerned to impress us with his rediscovered commitment, is looking for the ball and making things happen. Villa look short of leadership from midfield, and at the back Terry is exposed as hopelessly slow, even if he also has a quick awareness of positioning that will allow him to get away with lack of pace most weeks even against much fleeter of foot Championship attackers. Useful for finding those elusive disabled parking spaces too.

The subs bench is raided by both managers as we move into the final twenty minutes of the match. For us David Meyler replaces Campbell, who has put in a decent shift and is, I suppose, not yet fully match ready. It is a switch that suggest a certain lack of ambition, and so it proves. We are not now pushing to win this game, Mr Slutsky is happy with a point. Villa aren’t, but they are not willing to take big risks in search of the win either. McGregor makes a complete mess of a free kick on 79, clutching at air as the ball soars beyond him, but we survive, and we settle down to a spell of sustained Villa possession to complete the match. Onomah, the Aston sub, can’t stretch to convert a presentable chance on 86 but, that apart, they create little, and the poverty of their attacking imagination is emphasised by the torrent of noise pouring down from the Holte End which they are attacking. There is no torrent. There is no noise.

Villa’s empty cupboard of attackers prompts Mr Bruce to bring on dear old Chris Bamba right at the end, forty seven years old and the same number of stones in weight. The wily Slutsky, having already swapped Weir for Grosicki, reacts to the arrival up front of the vast but ponderous Bamba by withdrawing Henriksen in favour of the sturdy Mazuch, and that is quite enough to get us safely over the line. A point, a precious point! Only the fourth we’ve gathered away from home since the end of last August, remember.

At the end the players offer warm applause, and receive it in return. That performance and that result are about as good as we could reasonably have expected, after yet another summer of gross mismanagement at our club. Campbell, all smiles through most of the match, hands his shirt to a kid, and finally Mr Slutsky himself, boyhood ambition fulfilled, walks over, wreathed in smiles, to take the plaudits.

There are tougher tests to come … No, hang on, there aren’t really, at least not if the bookies are to be believed. That is one of the hardest fixtures we’ll face all season out of the way already, and safely negotiated. The real tough test is prising the money out of the Allams to acquire the players we need to create a squad that can be viable in this brutal slog of a Division. We will see, but yesterday was a far more encouraging display that anyone can seriously have foreseen.

steve weatherill

Hull City 0 Aston Villa 0

I rather like Paul Lambert. I like the way his teams  perform, the fact that he uses young up & coming talent, doesn’t lambast  them in public, just quietly and calmly gets on with the job, without too much  distraction from his chairman which must help also.   I like the style of football he tries to play,  attractive, pacey, on the deck, as football in the modern era should be  played.   Contrast that then with last weeks opposing manager,  Dudley’s worst footballing export, the odious perpetually winging Sam Allerdyce.  God I loath that man, still smarting & seething from not getting the England  job (thank God) had he done so I would have cheerfully stabbed the fad sweaty  Brummie . Yes I know a Dudley-ite  isn’t a Brummie, but as they term it, a Yam-Yam, not to be mixed up with  a sugar glazed doughnut stick, a Yum-Yum, because sugar coated he aint. But if  ever you DO want to wind them up, call them Brummies, it annoys them immensely,  as I do regularly. And boy can they winge! Winge, winge winge. Just like big fat  Sam. One minute he’s saying “if someone feels a touch in the penalty area he has  every right to go down”, the next its “He’s a diver, a cheat”. These two  scenarios can of course be differentiated dependant upon whether its his team  gaining or conceding the penalty.   Fat oaf.   However, Paul Lambert nice chap,  nice team. And taking aside the dourness  of the fans, also quite nice. And helpful as we found out on Sat pre match as we  set too handing out leaflets & badges on behalf of the  #notohulltigers movement. Villa fans not  only taking the leaflets but helping to hand them out as well.   I Do say movement, as that’s what it has now, real  movement. Prior to my holiday, ( yes it was lovely, thanks) I had joined in with  the two protest marches, about 100 at the 1st, about 50-60 on the  2nd. Upon my return, support has now swelled in a very short  space of time to thousands, and the number of voices against can literally be  counted on one hand. I had three on Saturday. Voices against that is, not hands.  A huge well done to those involved, and anyone who can get involved, should, as  I intend to.   So, on with the match, as I ran out of leaflets with only  a few minutes to kick off, all 80 odd mins of it. Yes a this match report may be  a little incomplete as I found myself locked out as I got to the doorway &  had to hammer at it for a few mins before someone let me in!   Rudely kicking off before I got to my seat  were:   McGregor Rosenior Faye Davies Figuero Quinn Huddlestone Livermore Elmo Aluko Graham     My entrance to the game saw City on the defensive, a  quick chat to those around me  suggested that’s what it had been in the few mins I had missed, with  Delph marauding time and again towards the City goal, skipping past Huddlestone  with ease on at least one occasion. This was not going to be easy.   Kozack fired in from long range which was blocked by  Figuero, as City struggled to get a grip of the game, never mind get out of  their half.   A neat move from Aluko after it looked like he had lost  possession gained a corner, but alas it came to nought.   A move down the right saw Elmo put in a rare good cross,  I say rare as he had an off day by his high standards, which Danny Graham should  have at least ‘worked the keeper’ but Guzan collected with ease, a sign of a  striker desperately lacking in confidence, and maybe its time for Sagbo to have  a go from the start.   The game more even now as City clawed their way into it,  edged towards 19 mins and 4 seconds time for the demo! With leaflets held high  and a somewhat disjointed “City til I die” We made our feelings known. This is  not a protest against the Owner, something we stressed to people we handed the  leaflets to, merely a protest against a misguided decision. However, from my  South Stand vantage point, black leaflets on a sea of black and Amber didn’t  look great. Amber reverse side of the leaflet on a sea of Black & Amber  would have looked much better. Maybe a bright red leaflet with “Stop this  nonsense” would have been easier to spot, although with a slightly less Dr  Martin message. Maybe.   City once again gave away possession to see Agbonlahor  force a good save from the impressive McGregor, and shortly afterwards Villa  maybe should have done better through Kozack as we clung on a bit.   This was certainly a good, fast counter attacking side  we  were facing as ‘Gabby’ had  another good chance but ‘Rossy’ saw off the danger, albeit by scything him down  just outside the box, and seeing yellow to boot from referee Clattenburg, who  did as he always does, and tried to let the game flow.   A purely accidental crunching a bit later as a City  defender landed on Agbonlahor, saw him somewhat subdued for the rest of the  game, but one of theirs, later to be identified as Westwood should really have  seen red as an elbow clattered into Huddlestone’s face.   A neat move a bit later saw Hudds hit a good long rage  shot which didn’t trouble Guzan to much as it was straight into his  midriff.   Mistakes & misplaced passes by both sides were the  order of the day as half time approached.   The second half carried on in much the same vein, with  rare pickings from either side for MOTD cameras and it came as no surprise to  find out we were last, in fact such lacking in goal scoring opportunities, we  nearly made it straight onto MOTD2.   Villa did have one very good move involving a break away  with Bacuna & Wiemann feeding the off the boil Agbonlahor who just fired  wide, thankfully.   Our attacking options were also limited, mainly due a  very poor 2nd half display by Elmo, who’s crossing suddenly became  erratic at best and it was no surprise to find him later subbed.   City came back with three corners in a row, all taken by  Aluko, all failing to find a striped shirt. Wasted opportunity. Dead ball  situations looked our best bet but we wasted all of them.   Villa came close again through El Ahmedi twice, and it  was time for a change.   Off went Aluko, who to be fair had been well marked  throughout and the quiet Quinn, replaced by Sagbo and Boyd.   Sagbo had a chance soon after coming on but was bundled  to the floor as he began to look lively, astonishingly not seen as a foul by the  ref. . Hopefully he’s learnt from his first game, as he didn’t protest too much.   Into the final 15 and we looked the better side as Villa  looked to have settled for a point, and with 5 mins left, we too shored up,  replacing Elmo with Mayler, who promptly sliced his first clearance into West  stand.   It sort of fizzled out after that, and ended a very  respectable 0-0 against a side I think will do well this year.   My Villa supporting work colleagues were subdued today,  as I think they thought they would give us a thumping, but as teams are finding  out, our defensive work is proving to be a match, if we can find the net, a good  season awaits.   One of our Manchester United season pass holding ( I’ll  give him his due, he IS from Manchester) senior Managers passed my desk this  afternoon, and commented “Good result for you guys at the weekend, you’re doing  well, you were even above United earlier this season”   To which I had great pleasure in replying, “ We still  are, Dave, we still are…”

Hull City 0 Aston Villa 1

An interesting but ultimately fruitless televised cup-tie sees Premiership big boys Aston Villa ease past the Tigers with a solitary goal.

Splendid cup tie at the KC today. It may have been one of those rubbishy lunchtime kick-offs that can sterilise both the game on the pitch and the atmosphere off it, but thankfully both sets of players and supporters created an entertaining spectacle and a great noise. Villa seemed content to contain the Tigers rather than dominate, and this allowed us to have a decent go at them without really creating many chances. I think if we had have scored then they had a few gears they could have moved through to raise their game – as it was, they took advantage of the current deflect-o-thon afflicting shots on Hull City’s goal to bag the only goal of the game and ease into the Fourth Round. Which is nice, because the last thing City need just now is a Cup run to distract the players from their fight for league points and safety.

A raucous 2,000 or so Villa fans awaited the Tigers support as the game kicked off and fairly soon the pattern of the game was clear. City had carded all the fit attacking players they had (with the exception of Elliott) and played the ball forward early on the basis that Villa’s strikers were far too good to have near the ball very often. And to a limited extent it worked, except that the absence of the injured Barmby denied us the creative spark that we needed to unlock their stout defence. So we started:

Myhill
France Cort Collins Dawson
Price Andrews Delaney Ellison
Fagan Paynter

The inclusion of Ellison was the one surprise, presumably because his stronger defending skills were more highly prized than Elliott’s forward penetration skills (skills which frankly haven’t looked likely to penetrate a wet paper bag in recent weeks anyway). And Super Kev proceeded to put in a thoroughly adequate 45 minutes play, tracking back well, running the wing powerfully and delivering a couple of decent crosses. It was therefore some surprise when he was hauled off at half time for Elliott, who had a reasonable second half but in truth offered nothing extra to what Ellison had done before.

The early exchanges were modest as City tried to get the ball forward quickly, Villa repelled it and occasionally looked very fast and dangerous when they attacked, a bit too good for our defence if truth be known. That said Cort played well and Collins was more than adequate after looking quite a bit less than adequate for the last 3-4 games. City won an early free kick and it was cleared to the man that can do no wrong, Jason Price, on the edge of the box. Jason slammed it high into the Villa crowd behind the goal, an early signal of a Price performance that didn’t lack effort and running, but did lack any sort of threat on Villa’s goal.

After 8 minutes the first sign of danger, and it shook City to their boots. Three slick one touch passes into the feet of sprinting attackers saw the ball flit from their back line to the edge of City’s box where Hendrie hit his shot high. A further long range shot by Milner went wide in similarly scary circumstances, then before 15 minutes were up Angel was the recipient of possession deep in the City box after more slick passing and he thumped the ball into the net only to have the goal chalked off for offside. I understand TV replays were less than supportive of the assistant referee’s decision to raise his flag.

Villa were far more professional than City. I mean that is a nasty way. They tested the referee’s limits and exploited them mercilessly (the time wasting late in the game being a good example alongside several robust but unchallenged tackles). They brought down our players when they looked to sprinting free, accepting the foul and even a yellow card in Barry’s case when he chopped Price down as he raced onto a sumptuous ball over the top of Villa’s defence. They demonstrated a lot more footballing nous than City did, revealing perhaps that our young squad is good for the future but has its limitations just now. Last season and this season we have received very few bookings. Does that mean we are footballing purists, or push-overs?

Whatever. As the half continued Keith Andrews began to assert himself and he looked the pick of the four central midfielders on show for a while as he dinked, feinted and passed his way around the centre of the park to considerable good effect. Andrews combined with Paynter to release Ellison down the left into space and Kev struck a powerful low shot just outside Sorensen’s near post – it was our first real chance, after 18 minutes. Our next noteworthy penetrative moment didn’t come for another 18 minutes when France intercepted a pass on halfway and surged intelligently deep into the heart of Villa’s retreating defence before releasing Price wide, who duly sponged the ball off for a goal kick. Basically, City huffed and puffed a bit, but didn’t so much blow Villa’s house down as barely blow open an ajar window. In the meantime the away side made more good chances, Hendrie drawing a fine low save from Myhill and Davis seeing his drive tipped over by our ex-Villian netminder. By this time Dawson had limped off – succumbing to what is a possible broken foot and leaving us desperately short in the left back department. Lynch came on and did OK, but I suspect he’s not a long term solution if Dawson is out for several weeks and a loan signing may be needed, unless Edge’s departure was a signal that a new leftie had already been lined up by Taylor.

I am told that there was a strong case for a City penalty after Barry fouled Price – I confess that I read this on the OWS, I don’t recall the occasion and wrote nothing down, so I suspect my judgment at the time was that the referee was correct to wave play on. What I definitely do recall is that as the first half approached its conclusion we won a corner that was cleared to Andrews who lifted a clever ball towards Cort, who had stayed up after the set piece, and big Leon steered a header deep into the Villa six yard box towards Fagan who had a brief sight of goal before Sorensen smothered the Brummie Tiger’s shot.

Perhaps buoyed by the 0-0 scoreline and the creation of a decent chance just before half time, City emerged enervated and ready for forward action from the off. For a ten minute spell the players and supporters fed off each other and attacking endeavour was accompanied by a roaring crowd. An interchange between Elliott and Lynch saw a cross eventually fall to Price in space beyond the far post, and the Welshman gathered himself before clopping a low shot that was far too close to Sorensen considering the time he had, and the chance went away. Seconds later Leon Cort’s bonce met a corner firmly and the ball was cleared off the line by a post-hugging full back. Hendrie continued to carry a threat and had two chances snuffed out by leaping last ditch City tackling in the six yard box, but seconds later the decisive goal came.

City had been on the attack but a quick Villa clearance had seen Angel and Hendrie combine to threaten City’s box. While this threat was cleared to halfway, it did leave our defence at midfield well retreated and we didn’t push up very quickly, if at all. This allowed Gareth Barry to trap the ball on half way, advance 30 yards, duck a couple of tackles and find himself with the ball on his right foot 25 yards out. Barry is a very left footed left sided left back, but nevertheless he drew back his right foot and took a swipe at the ball, which was erratically struck and appeared to be heading well wide of the far post. At which point it deflected off Cort (probably) and lolloped into Boaz’s goal as he watched, helpless and wrong-footed. Barry cavorted merrily at the importance of this lucky strike for he perhaps knew that this was a game in which just the one goal would decide matters. He was right.

Not much else to report really. City’s only other chance came when Andrews and France combined and Ryan hit a fizzing cross to the nearpost that Elliott nodded inches wide. Villa had a few other half hearted chances but didn’t seem overly bothered at not scoring them, City brought on Green for Paynter and Green achieved precisely nothing apart from dropping so deep to receive the ball that he was playing passes that Collins or even Myhill could have just as easily performed. A pointless performance from Greenie, and another illustration of just how far out of his depth he is these days. The boy needs a transfer and a new challenge. We need to stop seeing him as a game-turner. Greenie did have one chance as he found space in the inside left channel but he characteristically struck it feebly and wide. Oh dear.

So another Cup run ends – in this case before it began. We have seen in recent games against Sheffield United and – to a lesser extent – Leeds what we must achieve to get to the summit of the Championship. And despite some excellent spells of play in both games, we showed ultimately that we still have some way to go. I don’t think we saw a true reflection of how far we are short of Premiership standard today, because Villa played largely within themselves and only attacked in fits and starts. All three games did, however, show that Taylor is beginning to craft a team that is capable of living with very decent football sides for shortish periods of time. The addition of better players in certain positions over the next 6-12 months will see the Tigers improve further and allow us to expand on these flashes of good form. The current squad is not good enough to do much more than survive in this league at the moment, we all know that and I suspect Taylor would admit that himself if his life depended on it. But we have seen again today that we are going in the right direction, long may that continue.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Price, Andrews, Delaney, Ellison; Paynter, Fagan. Subs: Lynch (for Dawson, 28), Elliott (for Ellison, 45), Green (for Paynter, 69), Welsh, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

ASTON VILLA: Sorensen, Delaney, Mellberg, Hughes, Barry, Milner, McCann, Davis, Hendrie, Angel, Moore. Subs: Samuel, Taylor, Whittingham, Ridgewell, Gardner.

Goals: Barry 61

Booked: Barry, Milner

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: C Foy

ATTENDANCE: 17,051