Initially cautious but ultimately triumphant after a second stupid away side sending off in consecutive home games, City swat aside an average Cardiff side.
There are some games in which one moment, and just one moment alone, lodges itself in your memory. Yesterday provided such an occasion.
It was the match of ‘Elliott’s pass’.
A 50-yard crossfield caress, as elegant as Colin Cowdrey’s cover drive, as insightful as a Muriel Spark novel, as powerful as Hurricane Run’s spectacular surge to victory in this season’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, as refined as a Frank Muir bon mot and as brutally effective in quelling Cardiff’s ambitions as an insurgent’s roadside bomb flipping another Humvee into oblivion.
Good job too, because there’d been precious little else to admire in the preceding 87 minutes. A grind of a game, but as Fagan put the finishing touches to Elliott’s Pass Of The Century, making the game safe against the ten men of Cardiff, there was joy, then relief, sweeping the stadium. Another 3 points harvested, another firm rebuke to those who would label us relegation-fodder.
On duty on a grey winter’s afternoon:
Lynch Cort Collins Dawson
France Welsh Delaney Barmby
And off we went, with the shrieks of glee from Canada’s spectacular West Coast ringing loud in the ears of the tiger-chat faithful. ‘Delaney’s in midfield!’ Indeed he is, and predictions of cassastrophe proved wide of the mark as the honest, tough-minded Irishman, asked again to play out of position, turned in a fine shift. Before kick-off Welsh internationalist Koumas would have been widely reckoned to be the best player on show in this encounter, but, free-kicks aside, he had little impact on play. Koumas needs to take a good look at himself (whatever that means: it appears to be the footballing cliché de nos jours, and I use it for I wouldn’t want to be thought to be anything other than a la mode) for pairing gloves with a short-sleeved shirt, but the main reason for a subdued display by Koumas was not this fashion faux pas but the sturdy and persistent attentions of doughty Delaney.
Koumas, Mike Scott might well inform you, failed to earn the right to play.
Err, nothing happened during the first-half. That’s why I’m chuntering on a bit. Well, that’s not strictly accurate, because there was plenty of noise from the visiting support. And on one of the few occasions when Koumas slipped his shackles – largely, I think, as a result of a waste of possession by Barmby – Duke was equal to the low shot, pushing it away for a fruitless corner. Overall, however, it was deeply conservative stuff from both sides. There was every suspicion that both managers would be content with a single point from this game – fair enough, I suppose, given the state of the league table – and very nil-nil-ish it looked.
On 39 Purse picked up a yellow card for a heavy challenge on Fagan, though the booking was delayed while referee Taylor intelligently allowed us an advantage, earning himself only derision for his alertness from those among the City fans who don’t know the laws. Most of them. Two added minutes, and deep into them the well-regarded Jerome smeared a horrible shot high and wide, and it was half-time.
There was a game against, I think, Colchester in about 1982 where almost nothing happened, except a bomb scare. So far this game against Cardiff had been like that, except without the bomb scare. A very flat 45 minutes of football.
Never mind. It gets better.
The second period began with a very harsh handball awarded against Collins just outside the box. Koumas struck his shot well, but didn’t target the corner of Duke’s goal and our ‘keeper tipped the ball clear of the crossbar. Duke did what he did well yesterday and will be heartened by his clean sheet, though enormous credit belongs with the mighty protective duo of Cort and Collins, individually excellent and better still as a defensive combination.
The football is livelier now. On 52 a smart Paynter shot is blocked by a defender. On 59 Koumas is granted another free-kick opportunity, but blasts wastefully wide. Then, on 66, Barmby is replaced by Elliott.
Improved though the pattern of play undoubtedly is, the fiercest entertainment is now provided by the North Stand, yesterday housing an impromptu zoo and freak show. As far as I could tell, the Cardiff followers spent most of the second half standing up instead of sitting down (which is good) and attacking stewards and police (which is not). Yet I saw no one at all being removed, not even the one who leapt clear of the cordon and scuttled across no-man’s land towards the City fans before realising he was alone and applying the brakes with a squeal that would have been audible in Tiger Bay. He retreated, yet was able to clamber back into the Cardiff section without having his collar felt. Crazy stuff. Cardiff had maybe 800 fans there yesterday. 100 seemed to be watching the football. The rest were animals, no colours, all dressed the same, no women, no non-white faces. Hull City On Tour is sometimes a pretty unlovely sight, but our proportion of fans to neanderthals is a great deal healthier, I’m happy to say. At the end the Cardiff players trotted across to applaud their thugs. I’m sure that the next time Cardiff are charged with misconduct, they will tell a tale of how they are trying to improve the behaviour of their fans. Pure lies.
There is soon reason for the visiting Welsh to get even crosser. Purse takes Fagan down clumsily and earns his second yellow card. Off he goes, reluctantly. Purse is an old-fashioned effectively intimidating centre-half, but he found Fagan a bit too smart for him yesterday. Deservedly down to ten men, Cardiff have to bring on Neil Cox to plug the defensive gap left by Purse and now, after 69 minutes of playing for a point, they now have another 21 minutes in which to play for a point.
They manage this very well for 1 minute.
Fagan skips brilliantly clear of two defenders down by the by-line, fires in an inviting near-post cross and Paynter stretches to get his toe-end on the ball ahead of the defence and goalkeeper and deflects the ball into the back of the net. Well-crafted by Fagan, and a very smart striker’s goal from Paynter – a hint of the Keith Edwards about his instinctive rush into the correct position at the near-post. Who was the matchreporting prat who said he wasn’t a natural goalscorer a couple of weeks ago? Best of all, Fagan and Paynter, young lively players, are beginning to shape up as a decent combination.
On 76 Koumas bungles another free-kick and then, on 79, we win what I think was our first corner of the whole match. A shame, then, that we hadn’t had the chance to test Alexander in the Cardiff goal any earlier, because he flaps horribly at the looping ball.
Cardiff get away with that and, in fact, play with some energy as they seek to rescue a point. They looked much poorer yesterday than their League position would have suggested, and probably this spell late on, when they abandoned caution and shoved forward with purpose, was a true reflection of their ability. More fool them for playing so anaemically earlier in the game.
On 87 Collins hoiks a ball clear from near our penalty spot. It arrives at Elliott’s boots, wide on the left, deep inside our half.
And he looks up and then hits The Pass.
It is truly exquisite.
It leaves Cardiff gasping in demoralised awe and Fagan, well worth a goal after his best performance of the season, does full justice to the masterly service by rolling the ball past the exposed Alexander. 2-0 to us, three points to us.
There is time for Andrews to confirm he is fit and available after injury as he replaces Paynter for the final couple of minutes, and the game is won.
Perfectly satisfactory stuff. With the centre-backs settled and the front two shaping up well, the seeds of improvement are visible. I didn’t mention either of our full-backs in this report, and that’s good: full-backs should be seen, not heard, and both put in solidly unspectacular afternoons. Players coming back from injuries, Myhill from suspension, midfield admittedly still work-in-progress – a decent haul of points over Christmas and New Year is within our grasp. Yesterday I liked Delaney’s attitude most of all, until, on 87 minutes, the defining moment of the match arrived.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Duke; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Dawson; France, Welsh, Delaney, Barmby; Paynter, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Barmby, 66), Andrews (for Paynter, 89), Green, Price, Leite.
Goals: Paynter 70; Fagan 88
Sent Off: None
CARDIFF CITY: Alexander, Weston, Purse, Loovens, Barker, Parry, Whitley, Koumas, Ledley, Jerome, Ricketts. Subs: Cox (for Parry, 69), Lee (for Barker, 86), Ardley, Boland, Margetson.
Booked: Purse, Ricketts, Weston
Sent Off: Purse
REFEREE: P Taylor