Brighton & Hove Albion 2 Hull City 1

In faraway Sussex Brighton extend their unbeaten home run against City to 40 years with a rather fortunate win, the Tigers having the lion’s share of possession and chances.

City went to Brighton. City played pretty well. City lost. It’s a familiar scene against a club that the Tigers have not beaten on any of their various grounds since the promotion season of 1965-66, our third visit to the Goldstone Ground. Since then it has been four draws and 13 defeats in 40 years – make that 14 defeats after this match.

To be fair City haven’t always delivered the “played pretty well” element of my opening comment, at times over the years we have saved some of our most rotten performances for the Seagulls, home and away. By the same token, Brighton haven’t often been as woeful as this, they looked a poor side ready for the relegation trap door to open up and consign them to the lower leagues, a destination that their genuinely awful stadium – and long term home for many years to come despite recent empty protestations by the Deputy Prime Minister – deserves. Rarely can league football have been played in such bizarre circumstances as a mish-mash of temporary structures house supporters in blocks of a few hundred at intermittent locations around a running track. Only on one side, the southern flank, does a a single stand extend for a decent distance – and even then the nearest supporter is perhaps 30 yards from the nearest touchline. A dreadful place and one that merits only a single visit for ground tick purposes.

The Deputy Prime Minister was there, ludicrously bedecked in a Black and Amber scarf and introduced to the home crowd before the game as some kind of saviour after his decision to approve planning permission for a new stadium at Falmer. Which just leaves two thorny little issues – the planning authority of Lewes, within which part of the new stadium site is located (a fact that Prescott appears unaware of in his recent decision notice) doesn’t want it, believes other better sites exist in the town and is minded to test Prescott’s decision in all of the courts it can find – and the fact that Brighton haven’t got money to build a tennis court, let alone a 20,000 seater stadium. So the Withdean will stay home for some time for the rather down-at-heel and badly treated Brighton fans. They’d probably engender more sympathy if they didn’t spend all their time instructing other clubs’ supporters just how down-at-heel and badly treated they are.

To the match. City carded a line-up that rewarded Jason Price for his good second half showing against Cardiff, but balanced this with the return of the one striker plus Barmby formation that did much to signal City recently arrested decline in form.

Myhill
France Collins Cort Dawson
Price Welsh Delaney Elliott
Barmby Fagan

As was often the case last season the first 15 minutes saw Elliott up front and Barmby on the left, but they soon swapped. Not before City took the lead. On 4 minutes a corner was won on City’s left and Dawson swung a deep cross beyond the back post to Leon Cort. His climb was superior to that of the dozing defence and he nodded the ball into the six yard box where Elliott thumped a close range shot into the roof of the net.

City then continued to dominate a weak looking Brighton side for whom the talismanic Leon Knight had again been dropped (apparently due to lack of effort in training) and a nippy lookalike called Sebastien Carole had been selected wide right in his place. After 16 a Dawson crash tackle appeared to quell any threat from a tentative Brighton raid down our left, but the marking was slack from the resulting throw-in and Carole was afforded time and space to curl a sumptuous 25 yard shot over defence and goalkeeper that nestled in the far side netting. An equaliser of unexpected quality from Brighton’s first shot of the game, and a strong contender for their goal of the season.

City reacted positively and soon a fierce cross from the right flank by (I think) Price allowed Barmby to glance a splendid header goalwards, only for loan goalie Blayney to hurl himself right and claw away the ball for a corner – goal of the season contender followed by save of the season contender, such is the luck we experience in Brighton. City continued to look the better of two average teams, our defence dealing with their attack with little sweat, Sam Collins in particular looking strong again as he dominated the limited Colin Kazim-Richards. Richards’ persistent fouling didn’t earn him a yellow card until the second half, he had been booked and withdrawn by half time in the KC clash in August, but he continued to look a very limited performer, in a very limited team.

Even a limited team can make chances though. A quick break from a City corner saw Carole rampage down the right wing before squaring to Frutos, who chose lemon over peach as he blazed a shot way over Myhill’s exposed goal. Good passing on our right flank found Price in space and he fed Delaney on the edge of the box, but the Irishman followed Frutos’s lead and hit a banana shot well wide. Cox.

A Dawson free kick was swung into the Brighton box low, evading all touches, and it looked to be sneaking inside the far post before Blayney intervened with another fine save. But the final word of the half was Brighton’s as they again attacked down the right through Carole, who skillfully drew in defenders before finding the unmarked Charlie Oatway 25 yards out and central. The experienced midfielder, who is named after all 11 of the 1972 QPR first team (none of which, strangely, were called Charlie), gratefully lumped a well struck shot above Myhill’s despairing dive and the his team went in at half time 2-1 up.

The second half signalled changes, and rightly so because City’s dominant first half spells had been overtaken by Brighton’s willingness to press the ball all over the park and attack in numbers down the wings, inspired in particular by Carole’s ability and poise. So City decided to have a good go. Stuart Green was introduced for the anonymous Welsh and Paynter came on for the fading Barmby. Proper 4-4-2 was immediately shown to be the way to go as we pressed forward. Carole was detained defending in his own half rather than threatening our goal and several chances came City’s way. Fagan crossed after a clearance had been halted by the corner flag stick and Price’s bundled shot was again clawed away by Blayney. Then a clever free kick that started with France pretending to blast a shot and ended with Green chipping a cross to the far post found Price in space but offside as he shot goalwards. Another free kick was delivered directly and a looping Paynter header beat the goalkeeper but not a defender on the line. Then finally, and most closely, Dawson shuddered the crossbar with a powerful shot after an equally powerful dribble from the halfway line. Andrews came on for Price (Green moving wide right) and looked the kind of composed ball player we need in the centre of midfield – just not in the last 10 minutes of a blood and thunder bottom of the table six pointer. The last chance fell to Brighton’s Carole as he crashed a 30 yard shot just over in the dying seconds of the game, but in truth City had made and squandered all the decent chances in the second half and Brighton had hung on grimly, young centre back El-Abd being the pick of their back line as he used strong heading and good positioning to repel the many crosses we put into the Brighton box.

So the best team lost, I think it would be hard to deny that. But the return of the 1+1 caution up front was not welcomed, especially as Barmby has failed to significantly influence games for some weeks now. And when we did get our best strikers on we lacked the luck to breach a massed Brighton defence. A poor result but a decent performance. That’ll often be the way between now and April, but it will be enough to see us finish comfortably above rubbish teams like Brighton. Let’s now see if we can bracket Crewe similarly.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Price, Welsh, Delaney, Elliott; Barmby, Fagan. Subs: Green (for Welsh, 45), Paynter (for Barmby, 45), Andrews (for Price, 78), Duke, Lynch.

Goals: Elliott 4

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Blayney, Reid, El-Abd, Butters, Mayo, Carole, Oatway, Hammond, Frutos, Kazim-Richards, Hart. Subs: McCammon (for Frutos, 67), Robinson (for McCammon, 89), Nicolas, Elphick, Chaigneau.

Goals: Carole 16, Oatway 45

Booked: El-Abd, Kazim-Richards

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: K Stroud

ATTENDANCE: 6,929

Hull City 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 0

Despite the weakness of Brighton’s challenge, City’s first league win of the season is nevertheless welcomed as goals from Ryan France and Ben Burgess – the latter his first since his long injury lay-off – help the Tigers ease to victory.

Saturday May 11th 1991, shortly before five o’clock in the afternoon. Do you remember where you were? I do. Last match of a rotten season. I was in the corner of St James’s Park that at the time served as the away section of Newcastle United’s ground, and I was watching with mounting apprehension as waves of home fans entered the pitch, some intent on celebrating the end of the season but others displaying a vigorous and purposeful interest in hand-to-hand combat with the small ban of Hull City fans who had just witnessed a surprising 2-1 victory achieved by their tattered team that had spent most of the season capitulating woefully en route to a dismal relegation that had been confirmed several weeks earlier. I am, of course, as hard as nails but I feared for the safety of some of my less physically imposing tiger chums. Happily the fence stayed sturdy, the stewards were not overwhelmed, and we exited both St James Park and League Division 2 with a degree of dignity intact.

And why, you may ask, should I be inviting you to reflect on events a decade-and-a-half ago? Not merely because the legendary Dave Walmsley scored for us that day, though he surely did. Not simply because the win is among the rather small number of triumphs recorded by Hull City on grounds that have staged Champions’ League football. But most of all because until yesterday it was the last time we won a League match played at the second level of English football.

So hurray for us. We’re back! Beating Brighton at home does not sounds as glamorous as cuffing the club now so astutely piloted by popular but no longer moustachioed man-manager Graeme Souness on their own midden, but football is about the future more than it is about the past, and this opening win of season 2005/06 is just what we needed to get cracking in this new loftier Division. And it was deserved too. Not by a wide margin. We didn’t play particularly well, and Brighton were generally our superior in the matter of ball retention. But though possession may be nine-tenths of the law (an analysis doubtless concocted by the same imbecile who considers it a breach of human rights to keep away fans in a football ground for a short period after the final whistle) but it doesn’t get you goals, and our display inside the final third comfortably bested Brighton’s. And so we won.

Kicking off on a warm and sunny afternoon:

Myhill
Wiseman Coles Delaney Dawson
France Ashbee Green Elliott
Barmby Fagan

Fagan produced the first strike on goal when, 4 minutes in, he turned deftly inside the box to leave his marker comically flat-footed, and whipped a low shot just the wrong side of the post. Then, on 11, Brighton took their turn as Kazim-Richards slipped blind-side of Delaney and flicked a looping header just over Myhill’s bar. Even at this early stage the pattern of play that was to endure was plain enough – Brighton content to keep possession and maintain a solid, largely defensive shape, City more ambitious but not particularly fluent. No one demonstrated our superior ambition better than Andy Dawson. On 15 Fagan skipped clear down the left and hoisted an inviting cross towards the edge of the six-yard box where, to general bemusement, our left-back had arrived ahead of likelier goalpoachers, needing only a composed downward header to open the scoring. Instead he managed to roll the ball off an ungainly shoulder square across the face of the goal, where it was eventually bundled away for a corner. But Dawson wasn’t daunted, and ten minutes later swept majestically downfield to drive a right-footed shot just wide of Henderson’s left-hand post. Had an opportunity ever fallen to his preferred left foot then maybe the adventurous Dawson would have chalked up his first of the season. But it didn’t.

Guy Butters, built like a Welsh Dresser and no more mobile, was at the heart of the Brighton defence and therefore you had to fancy the pace and verve of Fagan to catch him out. It took a while, though. On 36 a superb run by France was ruined when Fagan thoughtlessly delayed his pass and allowed the offside trap to ensnare France. But two minutes later our Brummie was on the end of a delicious move down the right involving France and Barmby, allowing him a volley from the edge of the area which he struck cleanly but just wide of the post. Two minutes more, and we take the lead. Fagan dribbles powerfully at a nervous defence on the retreat, slips the ball to France and his strike earns a meaty deflection that sends it spiralling beyond the hapless keeper Henderson, who won’t have relished his dose of misfortune. Tough – it’s 1-0, it’s not been much of a half but we’re half way to the first win of the season.

The second half’s opening is delayed by some repair work needed for the North Stand goalnet – Colin Appleton would have fixed it in a jiffy, but Mr Taylor manages England U-21 in his spare time, no handyman he – but disgruntled Brighton begin with not one but two substitutes. The main idea seems to revolve round bringing on a big beefy centre-forward, McCammon, to lead the line. And then playing the ball everywhere except in the air to him. Well, fine.

Still, McCammon is desperately close to equalising on 51. Mike Scott’s testimony is something I trust as if it were to come from my own brother, so when he assured me before the match that Danny Coles “simply doesn’t make mistakes” I naturally assumed that our new centre-back wouldn’t sell Myhill criminally short on a backpass just as we were looking to make the game safe. Well, I don’t have a brother, and Coles could only watch aghast as McCammon homed in on this disastrous error, looking certain to level things up at 1-1. Well done, Boaz. He hurtled off his line and threw himself at the ball bravely, and succeeded in blocking the goal attempt. Coles is certainly a highly promising acquisition, but no more of this nonsense is required.

Brighton spent a large chunk of the second half on top, but in the main they failed miserably to subject Myhill to serious pressure. Periodically crosses flew dangerously into our box; blocks and hoofs were demanded from our defenders. We were never sitting comfortably on our lead and, not for the first time in the last year or two, we were struggling with our shape and ball retention in midfield while Ashbee himself, though not the most natural of possession footballers, could not be faulted for effort or leadership.

But at bottom Brighton lacked the rhythm or imagination needed to damage us. Highly-rated Leon Knight had looked feebly ineffective through the first-half but looked livelier now, and he was their best bet for an equaliser. On 67 he outmuscled Dawson in pursuit of a cross but nudged his header from eight yards wide of Myhill’s right-hand post. Then, on 75, confusion between Delaney and Myhill allowed Knight to insert a toe and divert the ball goalwards, only for the opportunistic effort to trickle just wide. Delaney, by the way, was culpable of failure to give the loose ball the Row Z treatment in this instance.

Did someone mention Justin Whittle?

Meanwhile, after the harrowing scenes a fortnight ago of hundreds of QPR fans walking out in disgust, many in tears, after hearing a few people sing a song at a football match, it was gratifying to see Brighton’s travelling support proving hardy enough to make it through to the final whistle. Still, they were wary, and understandably so. Before the match, one of their number was in front of me in the queue for food at the splendidly appointed trattoria “Viking Fisheries” on Anlaby Road. He had hidden his colours, and he spoke softly to minimise the risk that his accent would be detected. It was all going so well. Until he asked for “cod and chips” …

Ben Burgess arrived for Barmby on the hour, while the summit of a disappointing afternoon for Stuart Green had been to hoof the ball clean out of the ground during the first half. He departed on 76, replaced by Woodhouse Curtis, whose short but lively stint might have catapulted him up the midfield pecking order.

Such ideas as Brighton might have had now seemed to be running out. On 77 a glorious move transferred the ball from Curtis on to Elliott, then Dawson, whose lofted diagonal ball to the far post sailed invitingly on to the Burgess forehead. His forceful downward header looked perfect, but was superbly blocked by the agile Henderson. Now that one he will have relished. But Burgess, looking fit and fluent, was not to be denied. Ten minutes later, with Brighton pressing men forward more in hope than expectation of reward from the afternoon, Elliott was able to release a marvellously well-judged pass behind the defence for Burgess to chase. He homed in on goal and, with two, even three, team-mates in support and wholly unmarked, he elected to do what any proper striker would – he ignored them, put his head down and lashed the ball goalwards. Henderson stuck out a hand and deflected the ball on to the far post, but it bounced back directly into Big Ben’s path and he gleefully rolled it into the back of the unguarded net.

That put us 2-0 up, which was maybe a margin double that which we deserved over the piece, but no matter – game won, points total ticking over steadily enough, four games in.

To finish, here’s another date for you. Tuesday November 10th 1998, in the evening. Where were you then? Me, I was standing in the Kempton watching as limp, witless and gutless a performance as I would ever wish to see from Hull City. Then, as now, it was Brighton who came visiting. They beat us 2-0. They only needed nine men to do it, a brace having received their marching orders from a fussy referee. We were simply awful, it was freezing cold, and a largely deserted Boothferry Park was sinking in funereal gloom. A few weeks later we saw in the New Year several points adrift at the foot of the League, and seemingly on the critical list. Less than 7 years ago! Yesterday’s win over Brighton was nothing spectacular, and plenty of players can do better. But when Messrs Pearson and Taylor talk about how far we’ve come as a club and how quickly we’ve done it, I don’t think they know the half of it. We’re in the middle of Division 2! Where we belong! Some journey since that cold night at home to Brighton in 1998.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Coles, Delaney, Dawson; France, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Fagan, Barmby. Subs: Burgess (for Barmby, 61), Woodhouse (for Green, 77), Ellison, Joseph, Leite.

Goals: France 40; Burgess 87

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Henderson, Dodd, Butters, McShane, Reid, Knight, Oatway, Carpenter, Robinson, Kazim-Richards, Hammond. Subs: McCammon (for Robinson, 45), Nicolas (for Kazim-Richards, 45), Carole, El-Abd, Chaigneau.

Goals: None

Booked: Kazim-Richards, Knight

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: P Joslin

ATTENDANCE: 18,648