Hull City 1 Crewe Alexandra 0

Solid rather than spectacular, a Stuart Green strike is sufficient to dispatch a lame Crewe Alex side and ease considerably any lingering relegation fears.

Well folks, I can tell you one thing straight-off. This is going to be the shortest match report that I have ever written for Tiger-Chat. Not, I hasten to add, because of any lack of mental or other preparation yesterday for my duties (even though there wasn’t any; it finally dawned on me at about one minute to three that I was in charge of the match reporters’ pen, much to the amusement of my chums), nor because of any high-handed desire to deprive Tigchatters (especially the absent ones) of the withering drivel, errr…lovingly-crafted prose, that you all look forward to with such rabid eagerness, but because I can scarce recall a game where (a) so little actually happened and (b) the fare that was served up was so meagre that there must almost have been an arguable legal case for a refund.

But is anyone complaining? Didn’t seem to be many gloomy countenances among the droves heading in various directions from the Circle at five o’clock yesterday, and why should there have been? The two home games against Plymouth and Crewe were billed as the make or break ones for City in the quest to retain Championship status, and on both occasions the team delivered the points. Oh yes, missus, these were big, big points, and, whilst we shall need to pick up a few more of them before we can finally blow the dust off the route map to Blunderland in total confidence that we are not wasting our puff, we can at least surely all agree that the League table has assumed a much happier appearance than the one it possessed after the Leicester debacle, not only because of the eleven-point cushion we now have in front of our good friends from south-east London, but also because we only have about four points to make up on those above us to have us sitting in a genuinely mid-table position. Course, whether we shall make up that ground is questionable given the run-in we have (and the fact that, if mathematical certainty of avoiding the drop is achieved with games to spare, we shouldn’t rule out the prospect of players going on strike for the remaining games once their job is done as they did last season), and to be honest it doesn’t matter if we do or we don’t, but the real objective for this season, namely staying up, is now so close that we can just about reach out and touch it. And that is what matters.

It is true, though, and some may say slightly frustrating, that we have clawed ourselves back to a position of relative safety by dint of two performances that were far less inspiring than those served up in all bar one of the run of defeats which preceded them, but there we are; I can offer no explanation, having come to the conclusion that my understanding of the beautiful game is about as sketchy as my understanding of the beautiful sex.

But we shouldn’t feel at all guilty about that, for the other palpable conclusion to be drawn from yesterday’s game is that, for all our travails at the wrong end of the table this season, we are clearly a markedly better side than Kru. They came to the Circle after what was for them by the standards of this season a half-decent run of form, it was a game which they had clearly targeted to pick up full points (and their manager had said so publicly), and it was very much the shit-or-bust game for them (which their manager also admitted in the papers I have read today). But for all that, they had nothing to show except honest endeavour, and for all the neat passing certainly no sign of any real flair or cutting edge, and had no idea how to break us down after we scored an early goal; he doesn’t deserve my saying this after the way he laughed at my expense yesterday, but the analogy drawn by Mark Gretton on this list a couple of hours ago between Crewe yesterday and us in the early part of the season is an astute one.

Anyway, I’ve padded this out for long enough. We carded:-

Wiseman Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Andrews Noble Elliott
Fagan Parkin

Kru won the toss and opted to have the Tigers play towards the South Stand in the first half (which was about as inventive as they got all afternoon in their attempts to unsettle us), with a pathetically small Crewe following, frankly, given the importance of the game, at our backs. The visitors, assisted by a number of favourable decisions from referee Mr T Kettle (Honestly! Only Mr T Pott would have been funnier) tried hard to assert themselves in the early stages as we responded with all the vigour of a somnolent, Chum-sunken labrador, and in the first quarter of an hour manage a couple of attempts at goal, one of which did actually cause a minor scare as their unmarked number 18 managed to toe-end a cross high over the bar from about five yards out

But then, on 17 minutes, we lead. An Elliott cross from the left was messily cleared out to the right only as far as the unmarked Green, who had time to pick his spot, to say nothing of his nose had he so desired, so generous were the Crewe defence in the time they allotted him, before rifling the leather high into the far corner of the net.

Would that ignite the game? Not a bit of it. Crewe continued to plug away, but we didn’t have to do very much to neutralise them. Greeny has been (quite rightly) pilloried for much of the season, but, credit where it’s due, he actually got stuck in for a good hour yesterday, which is more than could be said of his midfield colleagues. Elliott was at his botttling-out-can’t-be-arsed-powder-puff-infuriating worst, while Andrews and Noble showed little endeavour in either attack or defence. Passing was generally inaccurate and at times silly free-kicks were conceded. Result of all this was that the Beast and Fagan had to do their best on decidedly meagre rations, though there were a couple of bright spots, firstly on 27 when a Green foray led to the Beast firing one straight at the keeper, and then ten minutes later when Cort (who didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon, although he’d be the first to admit he’s had more torrid days to contend with) had a header cleared off the line after the jittery Crewe defence had failed to clear a corner. Fagan and then the Beast put efforts just over as the half drew to a close, but it was mostly pretty dreich stuff; we were winning almost in spite of ourselves.

Luckily, there was something to lift the gloom on the East Stand concourse as I enjoyed my half-time smoke, namely the spectacle of a child blubbering inconsolably because someone had burst his balloon. I mean, this is a football match for crissake.

General half-time consensus was that an early goal for us would settle is all down and we would play with gay abandon as a result. Some sodding hope. It was as scrappy and error-strewn as ever (almost comically-so at times), and, worryingly, we started to drop deep (which Mr Taylor tells them not to do, you know). The Beast turned and fired over a couple of minutes in, and a promising move involving the Beast and Wiseman (who looked a bit hesitant at times, as I might I suppose if my boss publicly called me a tart) came to nought on 58 when Elliott and Fagan got in each other’s way. The subbing of Fagan with the white-booted Duffy did nothing to help matters, as the erstwhile Bairn decided that he preferred the company of the midfielders (whose line-up had changed after Elliott’s substitution, with Paynter going out right and Greeny coming inside) to that of the Beast, who now cut a decidedly lone figure.

We’re now into the last ten minutes. Kru, by now pressing forward at will, manage to put a couple of timid efforts straight at Boaz (and get a free header even though we had nine in the box at the time), and City show absolutely no interest in adding to their lead, although we nearly do add to it on 86 when a Rogers through ball bobbles its way through to the Beast, who turns and smacks the ball hard against the crossbar.

Three minutes’ injury time, and a scare after two of them have elapsed when a flick on of a long ball looks to have put one of theirs through, only for Damien, who also had a decent game, to ghost in and hook the ball to safety.

And that was it, especially for our visitors who will have to do something really spectacular in order to survive the drop now. As for us, well, let’s just be happy with the fact that we secured the points and rose three places up the table, overtaking in the process Burnley, who might yet be Millwall’s best hope of avoiding the drop.

At least we can now go and enjoy in a relatively-relaxed frame of mind the Annunciation Day tussle at Ipswich as an hors d’oeuvre to the violation of the sacred Circle by the presence of the WS in a fortnight’s time.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Noble, Elliott; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Ellison (for Elliott, 64), Paynter (for Noble, 66), Duffy (for Fagan, 74), Thelwell, Duke.

Goals: Green 16

Booked: Noble

Sent Off: None

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Turnbull, Otsemobor, Foster, Bougherra, B Jones, Bell, Lunt, Grant, S Jones, Rodgers, Taylor. Subs: Vaughan (for Rodgers, 59), Higdon (for Taylor, 66), McCready (for Grant, 82), Tomlinson, Johnson.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None



Crewe Alexandra 2 Hull City 2

A roller coaster ride in Cheshire ends with honours even between a patchy City side and struggling but neat-passing Crewe.

Tonight, as I reflect on this game while leaning back into the voluptuous leather folds of my baboon-hair armchair (available from IKEA’s Raj range), relaxing my purple jowls and generous canteen of stomachs with the companiable assistance of a whisky-and-blackcurrant and a Capstan full-strength Lite brought to me by my charming Uruguayan maid Felicia who has been staying with me on most generous terms these past three years while I seek to resolve her work permit difficulties, I am, I feel, willing to give best only to Sir Nicholas Soames himself as the very image of the stylish gent who made this country what it is today, or at least was sixty or so years ago. And so, after inhaling a draught of Prussian snuff, allow me to regard you over the rim of my monocle and advise you on the matter of Turning Points in Football Matches.

Ah yes, I can spy ‘em like a charging rhino in the sights of a high-velocity rifle. After 80 minutes of this match in Crewe we’re 2-1 down. It’s a devastating season-damaging scoreline. A homester sprints into clear space past a labouring Andy Dawson and draws back his boot to smash a shot beyond the horribly exposed Boaz Myhill. 3-1? No! Our brilliant goalkeeper sticks out a sturdy right hand and pushes the shot aside. Turning point! The ball spins into the penalty box maelstrom and is promptly shoved back into our net. 3-1? No! A linesman has raised his flag. Offside. Turning point! The ball is put on the spot for the free-kick, hustled forward and only a few seconds after our own penalty-box trauma Billy Paynter is belting a hopeful looping 25-yard shot goalwards. It sails over Turnbull in the home goal, dips gracefully and smashes against the underside of the crossbar before bouncing down over the line. 2-2? Oh yes! Turning point!

Imagine, had we lost this game …. BUT WE DIDN’T! A game-altering change in fortune, a season–altering change in fortune, a turning-point that confirms that the progressive Hull City era of Pearson/Taylor is not stuck in the mud, is not about to be reeled back into the darkness of the lower Divisions whence it came with alacrity and verve.

Ah yes, the last time I felt as confident about a turning point was when Steve Doyle put us 3-2 up with a stupendous long-distance shot at Elland Road back in the winter of 1990. “They’ll not come back from that” I cackled, “we win this game, and that, my friends, is a turning point. With Richard Chetham in shrewd control of our club, advised by wily local numbers man Martin Fish and Stan Ternent in the manager’s hot seat, we can only dream of where Hull City will be once the decade of the 90s is done with.”

Felicia, fetch me a pewter tankard of tawny port and my shiniest riding crop, and look sharp about it you pert young filly.

A chilly grey afternoon in Cheshire, with a hint of drizzle, saw us lined-up as follows:

France Cort Collins Dawson
Price Green Delaney Ellison

Is that about right? Certainly Andrews played as the deepest-lying of the three central midfielders, though he showed an alarming readiness to vanish just when a spoiler amid Crewe’s attacking ambition was most wanted. Price and Ellison, out wide, were best placed to support lonely but tenacious frontrunner Craig Fagan but in the early stages of the match they did no such thing, preferring instead to hang back as reticent auxiliary defending midfielders. The line-up screamed out Mr Taylor’s overwhelming concern not to lose this game, with potential victory a secondary matter. And, given the state of the League table, I don’t criticise that.

And yet for all the apparent tiger anxiety to keep this affair stuffy, the opening exchanges were as breathlessly manic as any we’ve witnessed all season.

Andrews loses the ball feebly, but a Crewman hits a weak shot, easily pouched by Myhill … we enjoy a decent but fruitless shout for a penalty as Price surges into the box … a powerful shot by France is well held by Turnbull … Collins slips, a twelve-yard shot seems sure to bulge our net, but Boaz blocks it superbly, and the follow-up effort is stopped too … Fagan surges forward on a glorious run in from the right, crosses powerfully to the back post where Big Bad Kev Ellison nods the ball goalwards only to be foiled by a stop hard on the whitewash – the ball loops out for the advancing Green to head it home but a desperate header saves Crewe’s day at the expense of a corner.

Zippy stuff. And that’s just the first eight minutes.

It then goes quiet for ten.

And then they score.

And it’s a rubbish goal. Cort and France get in each other’s way messily, the ball drops to burly big-eared frontman Eddie Johnson and he bludgeons a low shot past Boaz’s sprawling right hand.

That’s poor. But we pick up. Price has made an occasionally lively start on the right, but now he has licence to roam, and he gets more involved with the attack. Ellison helps out too, and Fagan is full of aggressive intent. Crewe are – of course – a decent passing side, but they look defensively frail, and we can win this if we play in their half.

As we do. On 31 Andrews plays the ball wide to Ellison, who sends a fine long ball across to Delaney on the far side of the box. He sensibly knocks the ball towards the edge of the six-yard box, where Fagan pounces to thump the ball home.

At 1-1 the score is a fair reflection of the balance of play but I’m still convinced we look much the stronger side if we attack with relish.

As we don’t. It’s Cheshire’s finest (apart from Chester and Macclesfield and Stalybridge) who seize the initiative. Cort blocks a dangerous low shot from the edge of the box. Collins, not at his most commanding, fouls just outside the box and watches in relief as Lunt’s free-kick offers easy pickings for Myhill. But we survive and look forward to some choice words and substitutions at half-time, until, on 42, we surrender parity again. France is left gasping by a pacy run from the impressive Vaughan and his low cross is turned in from close-range by Roberts. It’s a good typical Crewe goal – skill on the ball, fast movement, passing – but it sharpens the sense of fear about how this season might develop if we lose this one on top of the ill-deserved reverse last week in Brighton.

Half-time, 1-2. A very lively, if largely low-quality, game of football.

Second half. Pretty rotten.

On 47 a mishit cross by full-back Moss forces Boaz to back-pedal in alarm to tip the dipping ball over the crossbar. On 58 Leon Cort is left in space at the back-post after a cutely taken free-kick by Andrews (I think) but his first touch is woeful and a golden chance is lost. Cort’s ace though. I don’t moan.

But once we’re past the hour mark, I do feel a change is needed. Three perhaps.

And so, on 62, off go Fagan (tired, lots of running, often unsupported), Price (faded as the game went on) and Andrews (no call for a deep-lying midfielder when we’re a goal down). The brutish boo-boys jeered the retention of Ellison – they are idiots, an eccentric impact player such as The Rattlesnake is precisely what we needed at this stage, as So’ton (and Sir Clive Woodward) could confirm – while Stuart Green might have been a little surprised to learn that his patchy display had been rewarded by a chance to play the full 90. He was now joined by a trio of subs, Barmby, Paynter and Elliott. So we now went 4 in midfield – from left to right, Elliott, The Lion of Cork, Green, Ellison – and two up front, Paynter and Barmby.

But the game stayed horrible.

Scrappy. Stretched, so sporadically exciting. But our hopes of a point receded as the service to Barmby and Paynter crumbled to dust. Ellison had the boo-boys howling again on 74 as a crisp pass was directed straight to the feet of a Crew, whose ball forward allowed them a 2-on-1. They wasted it, to our relief. That was a bit of a turning-point.

A bit of a turning-point! Ah yes, a bit of one, but a much bigger one was looming. We played six more pallid minutes before – BOOM! – the afternoon blew up in Crewe’s faces. Myhill saves, linesman flags, ball’s whipped upfield and Paynter scores.

Two apiece, and we unleash the “3-2, we’re gonna win 3-2” song which really means we’re delighted to nick a point. Except we really do nearly win 3-2. On 89, a good Barmby effort is parried. There are three added and on 91 Delaney, a modern-day Ferenc Puskas, strokes an imperious pass out to the right-wing, allowing Ellison to whip the ball unerringly onto the Paynter forehead, from where it flies gloriously goalwards, defied only by a spectacular diving save from the capable Turnbull.

There’s more. On 93 France slides a gorgeous pass across the face of the goal. Elliott’s six yards out. Unmarked. Unchallenged. Like Mike Hendrick trying to get bat on Joel Garner Elliott flails at the ball and misses grotesquely. Two points and a barnful of self-confidence go missing.

Absorbing, frustrating, messy, fun-now-it’s-over-and-we’ve-not-lost. That sort of a game.

HULL CITY (4-1-4-1): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Andrews; Price, Delaney, Green, Ellison; Fagan. Subs: Barmby (for Price, 60), Paynter (for Andrews, 60), Elliott (for Fagan, 60), Duke, Lynch.

Goals: Fagan 33; Paynter 80

Booked: Dawson, Ellison

Sent Off: None


CREWE ALEXANDRA: Turnbull, Moss, McCready, Foster, Tonkin, Lunt, B Jones, Roberts, Vaughan, S Jones, Johnson. Subs: Varney (for Johnson, 71), Moses (for B Jones, 90), Tomlinson, Rix, Rodgers.

Goals: Johnson 19; Roberts 41

Booked: Moss

Sent Off: None


REFEREE: E Ilderton