Crystal Palace 4 Hull City 0

Crystal Palace 4 Hull City (R) 0

Hard to know where to start, really. Today was, of course, not only about an (even by Hull City’s standards) inexplicably supine capitulation against a side whom we could, had we won the match, have placed in genuine peril of relegation. Today was a day on which chickens came home to roost, when we were finally exposed, when the cracks could be papered over no more, when it was finally rammed home to us, like a stake through the heart, that Marco Silva is an honest man who did his very best with the squad of misfits, slackers and great-hearted triers that he inherited but was not a flaming magician.

Generally speaking, it’s lazy to fill column space in match reports by simply quoting others at length, but there was this quote from Dave Burns on Twitter (which I’m not sure was actually a tweet), which sums up the state of things about as succinctly and eloquently as it’s possible to do:-

“Without taking anything away from Palace, Hull City have made it easy for them. If this game was a bank job, [City] would have left the front door wide open. They’ve been absolutely clueless. Marco Silva had the plates spinning but they’ve crashed to the ground. And who on earth would buy this club now? Dear oh dear”.

Some of this will be revisited shortly, but we’ll deal with the match facts first. it’s tempting just to list the scorers and recall that City failed to get a single shot on target during the entirety of a match upon which our very survival depended, but even the elongated, full-form version won’t trouble us much more massively .

On a fine (and, towards the end, knee-blisteringly warm if you were sat near the front) early afternoon, the condemned men lined up kind of as follows:-

Jakupovic

Maguire Dawson Ranocchia Robertson

Elmohamady N’Diaye Evandro Clucas Grosicki

Niasse

Subs: Bowen (for Ranocchia, 45 min), Maloney (for Robertson, 45 min) Davies (for Maguire, 50 min).

A challenging task became well-nigh impossible as early as the third minute, when Ranocchia allowed a simple ball to roll under his foot and Zaha scampered away unchallenged to slide the leather past the exposed Jakupovic. A more abject start to the game could barely have been conceived: maybe, if such witlessness could have been avoided, things might have been different, but it wasn’t and they weren’t. The relief around all bar one corner of Selhurst Park was palpable. The City fans sang on stoically, bellowing “We’ve got Marco Silva” as a counter to “Glad All Over”, the adoption of which as a Palace anthem I have never understood, the DC5 (who recorded it) being from Tottenham, which last time I looked was in North London.

For a bit, we rally and get in behind them. On 7 our patient passing game gives sight of the goal to Clucas, who shoots narrowly wide. Shortly after we attack again and when a deep cross is not cleared and falls to Harry on the right side he wastefully fires high and wide. But even early in this game a pattern is developing. This was a day when we needed to be going out with all guns blazing, but instead we persisted throughout with a laboured, overly-patient approach which never really had Palace on the back foot and with which they coped comfortably on the whole.
They don’t actually threaten much after Tomkins flashes a header across goal from a Puncheon cross, until just after the half-hour, when Benteke rises unchallenged at the near post to head home. Zonal marking, y’see. More importantly it now feels as though we are being picked off at will.

Our top-flight status is now palpably seeping away from us, and the unspoken thought among the City support is that, if there is one final last chance for City, it lies in not conceding again before the break and, just possibly, regrouping. Well, we did indeed avoid falling further behind before the break, and we emerge for the second half with a couple of substitutions which might have been tactical but were more likely intended to prevent further punishment to both Ranocchia and Robertson, who took bad knocks in the first half.

The second period can be summarised even more briefly than the first. We continue in our earnest but predictable and unavailing fashion, and over the half create even less than we had managed in the first period: a match stat of no shots on goal in a game of such monumental importance is a telling testimony to our lack of quality which ultimately brought us crashing in the end, the heroics of the last four months notwithstanding. Grosicki and then Bowen fire wide either side of the hour mark, Clucas had one blocked and Grosicki wastefully tried to go for glory from the corner of the box when he had both Bowen and Clucas square and unmarked, but it was increasingly apparent that there was to be no comeback and that the curtain was about to fall. If anything, you felt that Palace would maybe turn the screw a little more, especially after Benteke fires one across the face of the goal on 79, and so it proved with five minutes to go. Schlupp is given far too much space on our right (this was a constant feature of the second half) and as he bears down on goal Dawson, who I am sorry to say has been a crashing disappointment since his return from injury, clatters him down from behind. As stonewall a penalty as you will see, and no St Mary’s-style heroics from the Jak this time, as Milivojevic strides confidently up and plants the leather into the corner.

And it gets worse when, in injury time, sub Van Aanholt is given far too much room to slide the leather under Jakupovic. We might even concede more as we are totally spent now and Palace are looking up for it. but the whistle of referee Atkinson spares us any further humiliation and, unless you count next week (which you had all better enjoy because it could be quite a spell before we’re back, if indeed we ever are), we are a Championship side once again.

Silva and most of the team come through the L-shaped cordon of stewards to acknowledge the support, and even Elmo, at the back, manages grudgingly to place his hands in contact with each other a couple of times, showing about as much effort as he has done all season, and, after the current fashion, several hundred of the 2,000-strong City support stay put and sing, while the less resilient (or more seasoned) of us melt away into the streets of North Croydon in search of some much-needed sorrow-drowning.

So, a relegation that seemed nailed on before a ball was even kicked is eventually confirmed. That it took as long as until the penultimate game is quite remarkable, and testimony to the fine work undertaken by Silva with a fairly wretched (and that’s not meant as a dig at the players, or at least not most of them) collection of resources and a seemingly irretrievable League position. If there’s any criticism of Silva it’s that he didn’t creak a few out more points on the road, which in the end would have seen us safe (quiz question- which Hull City manager won more away points this season?) but of course that has to be offset against a string of quite remarkable home performances: it was especially gratifying to see West Ham and Liverpool slink out of the Circle with their tails between their legs. Ultimately, it seemed as if the efforts of manager and players since January had finally taken their toll, with the last couple of games creating the very distinct impression that we were simply running out of steam.

So where does it all leave us? Obviously, it would be marvellous if Silva could remain in charge next season, which is probably not as fanciful a notion as some of the national papers seem to assume, with reports abounding that the likes of Watford and Soton are waiting to pounce, for is there any real evidence that Silva will give either outfit more than they currently have in managerial terms? No, if Silva wants to realise his ambition of establishing himself as a Premier League manager, his best launching pad for that might well be to get City back up. It might be the best offer he will get, and the best hope for him as much as us.

But, whipping off the amber-tinted specs for a moment and contemplating the hard light of day, would he really want that himself? The answer is, as Patrick Moore might have said, “We just don’t know”. Silva has been commendably discreet regarding his views on the Allams, with only a hint in the last few days that a frank exchange of views might be forthcoming as he tells the son what is wrong and what needs to be done in order to correct it. Clearly, and even if he gets no offers from elsewhere that he would even consider taking, he is going to want some cast-iron assurances about the extent and the timing of the investment that will be available to him, because it’s clear that the Hull City team that kicks off the 2017/8 season will bear no resemblance to the one which was fielded at Selhurst yesterday. The vultures, cheered on by their media sycophants, are already circling around Maguire and Robertson, it’s eminently foreseeable that the likes of Jakupovic, Clucas and Huddlestone could be snapped up as squad players by bottom-half outfits and there’s a string of loan players who won’t be here. The return of Odubajo and (hopefully) Mason will be a bonus but the whole thing is going to need rebuilding almost from scratch. Are assurances of money going to be forthcoming? and if they are, can Silva trust Ehab to honour them? Breath-holding not advised.

In the end it all comes back to the Allams. For make no mistake: they are going nowhere. The line dutifully trotted out by the media (the generally-excellent Philip Buckingham was at it again yesterday, and the BBC are serial offenders) that the family has been trying to offload the Club for the last three years just does not wash. Whenever a deal looks to be in the offing it falls through for one reason or another, and word of these deals always seems to emerge when the family is under pressure. It’s likely now that that pressure will resurface as, after a truce while Silva sought to rescue the desperate situation created last summer, the Allams’ stewardship of the Club will once again come under scrutiny from supporters and media. That means that there will be talk of deals before too long, as sure as eggs is eggs, and it would be for the better of all concerned if, the next time some random Chinese bloke conveniently happens to be photographed getting off the London train at Brough or some Eastern European-looking cove is filmed on somebody’s phone stepping out of a Bentley and heading into the back of the West Stand, people could please, please, please restrain themselves from hyperventilating and just reflect on the fact that we’ve seen this all before multiple times.

My own prediction is that the Club will not be sold unless and until Ehab runs out of money, which given the family’s wealth is either never going to happen or is likely to be many years in the future. I sincerely hope that’s wrong, but I have yet to see any cast-iron evidence that they are genuinely serious about selling. Of course, confirmation of our relegation has just made a sizeable hole in the aforementioned wealth and it gives Ehab two choices: either make proper investment and do what it takes to keep Silva, because if both of those things happen I for one wouldn’t bet against our stay in the Championship being a brief one, or use the parachute money to pay off the loans and starve the playing side of funds. The former would make the most commercial sense by far and would put £100M back on the value of the Club at a stroke if we were to go straight back up, but that said it’s hard to escape the conclusion, based on past form, that doing what is best for City commercially is the very last thing on Ehab’s mind. So again, breath-holding not advised.

In the meantime, while we wait to see whether it’s bounce-back time or a Blackpoolesque freefall through the Leagues, there are going to be some tasty away fixtures to drool over when the fixtures come out in about five weeks. Be even better if we were in any fit state actually to win some of them.

La Nuvola Nera

Hull City 0 Crystal Palace 1

Tuesday 17th March 1981. We lost 1-0 at home to Colchester. It’s a game I recall whenever I’m asked which was truly the most dismal ghastly Hull City performance I’ve ever witnessed. And given the natural sense of lugubriousness that pervades our city, albeit nowadays in a cultured sense of course, that is a question that doesn’t go long unasked when Tigers fans assemble. We revel in our despair. It’s in our genes. That Colchester game was quite horrible: thoroughly ordinary opposition against which we made scarcely a chance and duly tottered to inexcusably meek capitulation.   Fans of a more recent vintage might choose to go back to December 2002 when, for all the teary-eyed emotion generated by our departure from Boothferry Park, an afternoon of grindingly awful poverty-stricken football was on show. Lost. 1-0. To Darlington. We revel in the gloom. Ornate decoration, pretty promises, gift-wrapped treats – no thank you, that is not the Hull way. The freezing pinched-face wind ripping off the North Sea. That is where we belong, that is what defines us.   Palace at home in November 2013. Add it to the list.   I’m struggling to revel.   This was just dreadful.   Looking nothing remotely like a Premier League side were:  

                           McGregor
Elmohamady  Davies  McShane  Figeuroa
Koren    Huddlestone    Livermore  Boyd   Brady
                          Sagbo

    Or, as ever, something like that. Boyd, Brady and Koren attempted at different times and in different ways to push forward to support Sagbo and to provide the midfielders in behind with extra attacking options. But there was no difference in outcome. All were hopelessly haplessly ineffective as Palace resisted our limp forays with ease. Commendably honest toilers though Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney, the Lion of Cork, certainly are, they are no more than competent mid-table Championship centre backs and should have been given a more searching examination than we managed yesterday. Palace, to be clear, looked what they are – bottom of the table and spent of confidence.   I’m struggling to revel.   By far the most entertaining action during the first half involved the circulation of the ‘City Till [sic] We Die’ banner, which was paraded to general acclaim, in part because the football wasn’t worthy of attention but mainly because of a strong and (I think) increasing sense that our owner’s foolish name-changing stunt needs closing down before our club is seriously undermined from within. Well done to those who have given up time and money and directed their passion at preserving our club’s good name. As far as I could tell, the peaceful protest was brought to an end by some violent and grossly disproportionate interventions by stewards down near the corner between East and North Stands.   Football? Well, both McShane and Chamakh acquired complex bandages after an early clash of heads.   O, that’s not strictly football is it? Well ….   There wasn’t any.   Really. None.   Palace defended deep and stuffily, we lacked energy, vigour, invention, wit, and it was just miserable to watch.   Suddenly the team looks tentative and lacking in confidence. Not-so-suddenly we carry no goal threat.   Sagbo’s game has improved thrillingly as the season has progressed, but yesterday he looked forlorn, starved of service but worryingly incapable of coming even remotely close to upsetting the Palace defence with his undoubted physical power. Boyd too has looked a better player lately than we could ever have expected of a man previously unknown to the top flight, but he was half-paced, frail and ineffective yesterday. I hope Brady wasn’t fully fit, because, unless he has that excuse, he seems to be moving in the wrong direction – a player who looked full of ideas and shining self-belief at the beginning of the season but now hesitant and slow to find space. Koren too: off the pace and not a hint of the moments of bewitching skill that turned games as tight as this one our way last season.   Half time. Graham comes on for Brady.   Graham’s first few games revealed plenty of hard running but no goal threat. The second bit remains evident. The first bit, not so much. There seems to be nothing useful about Graham now at all.   The game’s astonishingly poor. On 51 Boyd manages to set up Sagbo but his effort is blocked and Palace break quickly, leading to a shot which McGregor saves to his left. Two sights on goal within a minute. Riches beyond price. It’s deception. The pattern resumes. Poor, poor, poor. Rotten first touches, worse second ones.   McShane off, Rosenoir on. Figueroa to centre back.   Palace, for whom Jedinak, a busy midfielder, performed as impressively as anyone, look briefly interested in netting three points rather than just the one, and on 67 Cameron Jerome, a talent wasted by lack of guts and application, wanders lazily though our inattentive defence before punting a shot over the bar. But when, on 78, Bolasie lunges clumsily at Livermore and is sent off, the assumption round the ground is that the visitors will tuck in, defend and hang on to the single point. There is, sad to report, no sense at all that Palace going down to ten men will invigorate our team. The sour dour tone is set too deep for that. The game deserves to end scoreless.   But the afternoon does have a winning goal in it and ten men Palace probably surprise themselves by getting it. Push down the left, low ball into our box, lack of urgency in our defending and weasel-impersonating Scottish midfielder Barry Bannan forces the ball home before fleeing in search of celebration with the jubilant knot of 500 or so travelling Palace fans.   Gedo is on for Koren. We’ve got lots of possession. We’ve got no imagination.   I’m not revelling in this.   The four added minutes spur glimpses of the attacking force we’ve failed to summon consistently. Livermore heads goalwards but the ball is scrambled away by a whirling combination of defensive arms and legs. Rosenoir – Rosenoir! – thumps a shot against Speroni’s left-hand post. Too little, too late. FAR too little.   On this evidence, and that which I’ve gathered second-hand over the course of the season, I’d expect Palace to go down. On the evidence of Hull City’s performances so far this season, I don’t expect us to go down. If I confine my assessment to our last two fixtures, though, I can only be deeply fearful. It’s an alarming dip.   I might revel in how outstandingly memorably atrocious this match truly was when I look back at it in twenty years time. Maybe even in May next year, after we’ve secured safety in this Division, I might raise a smile about how we have recovered from the depths plumbed at home to Palace on a cold winter’s day. Right now, I don’t revel. That was a horrible game

Hull City 1 Crystal Palace 2

The introduction of Jon Parkin up front lifted spirits at the KC and the big man reciprocated with a debut goal. But defensive errors saw Palace leave Hull with three points.

In yesterday’s programme Emmerson Boyce of the visitors said ” In the end though, it’s all about getting back into the Premiership and we’ll do that any way we can.” I think they might get back too, they’ve got quality performers throughout their side, an excellent strikeforce and a strong collective will. They are also not afraid to be appallingly cynical, either; having over run us for 20 minutes and sitting two goals to the good they conceded one almost immediately and from that point on they acted like they were playing Barcelona, drawing people behind the ball whenever possible, looking to hit us on the break and slowing the game down with remarkable chutzpah. They got away with it in the first half but the referee woke up to it in the second and added on 5 minutes injury time, as well as booking the aforementioned Boyce who was helping getting his side back into the Premiership any way he could by not so much dwelling over take a throw in as going through the process of taking out a mortgage on it. Boyce looked unhappy to be carded, but looked a bit more miserable still a moment later as he lay in a groaning heap having been put there by Jon Parkin. Yes. my friends, we have a new hero. The big man was, tautologously, immense yesterday. Battering the equally combative Darren Ward, holding up the ball with his back to goal long enough for others to take up position for the layoffs, all this he did, all this you might have guessed. But a supremely efficient finish for a boast worthy 8 goals in 8 games? Flicks for Nicky to run on to? I confess I wasn’t expecting that. If he can keep all that up frankly I’ll be surprised; it’s hard not to think that if he did this every week he’d have left The Moss Rose long ago and have cost a lot more than 150k. But he was great yesterday and I feel confident in saying that this was the best debut for a City player named after a bonfire night-related comestible that I can immediately call to mind.

It was great yesterday. Really. Yes we lost, yes we deserved a point so that’s a pity, but it was thrilling, visceral stuff with the crowd baying constantly at officials and opposing players. We lost really politely at Selhurst Park in September, passed it around nicely, never got near them. It wasn’t like that yesterday and we were all the better for it. It’s been a tough spell recently, but we really are improving and I see more reasons than ever for expecting that we’ll stay up this season and kick on the next. Warming the heart’s cockles were:

Myhill
France Cort Collins Lynch
Price Andrews Delaney Barmby
Fagan Parkin

We also carded the most attack-minded set of subs I can remember, apart from Leite the keeper we had Green, Elliott, Paynter and spiky-haired skinny Scot Darryl Duffy. It didn’t appear that the manager was assuming that we would keep it tight, get a goal up and then close it down by bringing on 3 defenders late on. And the manager was a good judge, as were immediately under the hammer. In the first minute the Glaziers moved purposefully towards the South stand, Johnson ran at the centre of our defence before cleverly passing wide to McAnuff who hit a first time shot that Myhill alertly tipped over. That pretty much set the scene for the opening 20 minutes. Johnson was quick and clever up front and Jobi McAnuff and Wayne Andrews proceeded to demonstrate why neither Ryan France nor Mark Lynch are up to it as full backs at this level. On 7 minutes Lynch brought down Andrews wideish on their right flank, the ball was flicked over and headed down and goalwards. Myhill saved well low to his right, but could only lie there, and his defenders could seemingly only stand there, as Ward strolled up to knock in the rebound. It’s one thing for central defenders to cause mayhem in the air from set plays, it’s another for them to pick up the scraps afterwards and it’s not really good enough. 1-0

The visitors seemed to scent tigerblood at this stage and Johnson roared down the middle scattering defenders in his wake and Myhill was wonderfully brave and skilled to take the ball off his toes. Custodian of the leather! But we were undone a minute later as Johnson opened us again up by running centrally and slipping a beautifully judged ball inside Lynch for Andrews who left the fullback floundering. Andrews put in a low cross and Cort, aware no doubt of Macken breathing down his neck, extended a leg and diverted the ball past Myhill. 2-0, and little consolation that this was the first time Leon had got an effort on target since the opener against Norwich in September.

We’d not been totally idle during this period, Barmby had been close to a Price cross and Parkin had entertained us by an up and under shot from the centre circle. But we hadn’t had the ball enough to really discomfit the Crystal set. Until immediately after their goal. Price got the ball wide right, found the route blocked and turned it back for France to lump over a nothing ball into the middle. The defenders moved up, looked for a flag and didn’t see one. Then they looked at Big Jon, miles free in a ‘Hmm that looks a tad offside’ way and faced only by ridiculously pantalooned keeper Kiraly. Undistracted by his opponents billowing breeks Parkin took one touch to control and another to stick it away. 2-1 and we were back in business on 25 minutes.

The manager celebrated in unorthodox but welcome fashion by immediately withdrawing Lynch for Green and sticking Delaney at left back. This improved us hugely and credit the manager for the guts and wisdom to do it. And debit him for not doing this from the start. Just as it is usually folly to risk starting a player who is already injured for fear of exacerbating this, so it is pointless selecting one who is already shit, and Lynch undoubtedly is, certainly against pacy wide men. At Norwich, even with France to help him, Darren Huckerby gave him an evening that will haunt him, against Watford Anthony McNamee skinned him so often it was embarrassing. He cut a forlorn figure as he trudged off yesterday and, were we not so desperately short of right backs, given that there seems to be a rule that we can’t start with Wiseman, I would be predicting that that might be the last we see of him.

The other factor was that the Glaziers were suddenly glassy eyed and afraid of us, drawing in their horns and letting us come at them. Parkin was having a grand time of it, one minute slamming over a cross from the right, the next winning everything high, the next flicking the ball on to Barmby who found Price who shot over. Everyone was getting it into the fun of it now as Nicky turned despite Ward’s boot up his arse and flicked wide to Fagan who volleyed in a cross to Price who again volleyed and again it was just over. Lovely, lovely football.

Palace hadn’t gone completely silent and trusted themselves to hit us on the break as McAnuff continued to torment France and Johnson switched on the afterburners for another scorching run but this time ballooned the shot. Half time saw us breathless but happy despite the deficit.

The second half suggested we had lost none of our appetite for it. Green and Barmby prompted us intelligently from midfield, Price was having a typically helter-skelter game, a sample move being where he started a run, lost the ball, scrambled it back before crossing for Parkin who belted it over. Jason didn’t see out the game, being withdrawn to give us our first view of Duffy with Fagan going wide on the right and making a typically brave fist of this with a series of crosses, one of which the keeper of Crystal tips over the bar.

We were making the bulk of the running, but the visitors, when they weren’t slowing down the game when they didn’t have the ball, lost none of their ability to pick it up when they did. Andrews lashed in a low shot which Myhill saved well, then Keith Andrews gave it away lazily to Johnson who typically got in a sharp shot that Bo knocked over. Johnson was excellent yesterday, he really was, the constant abuse he received from the East Stand making that point more tellingly than I ever could.

As the game wore on we chucked on Elliott for Barmby and we huffed and puffed as they ambled and slowed, but as the mighty Parkin understandably ran out of steam and young Duffy was clearly finding his feet and his team mates clearly weren’t, we didn’t quite create the chances that we needed and they went off with the points. A pity.

A pity, but a top game, and far more positives than negatives. Duffy is clearly quick and will get better, one clever turn away from his marker before scuffing the shot showed what we can expect. Damien Delaney slotted nervelessly back into defence and had a splendid game. Myhill was typically effective, Barmby was busy and neat, Greeny went some way towards reminding us what we first loved about him, Fagan like Delaney was tireless uncomplaining and effective wherever he played. On the downside Lynch was a train wreck and France wasn’t a lot better and his distribution started poorly and then became cringe-making. I didn’t think Andrews was great either, the standing around and measured passing display looked fine when we had the ball, but there wasn’t enough chasing and closing when we didn’t.

But it was an exhilarating game against a good side whom we worried in both the sheep and the anxiously looking over the shoulder sense. And most of all we had a splendid debut from Big John, long-legged, broad-shouldered, square-jawed. He’s The Parkinator, and he’ll be back.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Lynch; Price, Andrews, Delaney, Barmby; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Green (for Lynch, 26), Duffy (for Price, 59), Elliott (for Barmby, 74), Paynter, Leite.

Goals: Parkin 25

Booked: Barmby, Price

Sent Off: None

 

CRYSTAL PALACE: Kiraly, Boyce, Ward, Hudson, Borrowdale, Andrews, Watson, Hughes, McAnuff, Johnson, Macken. Subs: Freedman (for Andrews, 77), Morrison (for Macken, 84), Riihilahti (for Hughes, 86), Black, Speroni.

Goals: Ward 9; Cort (og) 24

Booked: Boyce

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: C Webster

ATTENDANCE: 18,886

Crystal Palace 2 Hull City 0

Premiership parachute payments and two million pound strikers didn’t faze the Tigers on a wet London Saturday afternoon, but eventually Palace’s quality up front told and the Tigers were defeated unluckily.

This may have ended in defeat – and even Palace fans I spoke to outside the ground offered the view that the 2-0 scoreline flattered the home side – but I reckon this was the Tigers’ best performance of the season so far. City rode out the absence of Ashbee, with Welsh and Woodhouse stepping up and playing excellently (aided by Palace’s three man attack leaving them short-numbered in midfield) and played much of the game in their opponents’ half without creating the number of good scoring chances that such possession levels might demand. For their part Palace were restricted to three or four decent openings over the entire 90 minutes – their superior strikers finished two of them with aplomb, that was perhaps the ultimate difference between the sides. Brown made a lively debut up front and showed strength and skill, how Fitz Hall avoided a booking for persistent fouling over 90 minutes I’ll never know. Barmby was quiet though and despite having our best chance, his other contributions were modest. I wonder if Nick has found his level this season and is maybe set to struggle to hold down a regular starting berth once Fagan and McPhee are available.

With Leon Cort restored to full fitness (although he was stretching quite gingerly by the end) and Sunderland loanee Chris Brown wearing all the 2s up front, City lined up:

Myhill
Coles Cort Delaney Edge
France Woodhouse Welsh Elliott
Barmby Brown

The one weak spot was perhaps at right back – Danny Coles is a splendid centre back but he looks like a centre back playing at right back, rather than a right back, when selected at right back. We need Lynch, a right back, back. Right?

From the off it was apparent that Chris Brown may be young and slight, but he is also tall and powerful and not afraid to push defenders around a bit. Fitz Hall, recently of Oldham and now Palace’s captain, was clearly struggling to cope with this onslaught and twice in the opening quarter Hall yielded petulant free kicks in the 25-yard-from-goal area that Azerbaijani observers might term “Elliott territory”. But the wily Ulsterman was not deputed to take free kicks today and both of Edge’s dangerous crosses were cleared by a Palace defence evidently well drilled in dealing with set pieces. At the other end Palace’s three man strike force with Johnson in behind Macken and Morrison was not working. Johnson was having a “I’m England me, I don’t need to try against Hull” kind of first half, Macken was a clumsy oaf with little apparent capability as a footballer and Morrison, much livelier, had little service thanks to City’s dominance of midfield, Woodhouse in particular turning in the sort of performance that made you remember he was a million pound player three or four years ago.

Kiraly in the Palace goal, wearing his ludicrous trademark pyjama bottoms, cut an uninspiring figure as he lounged around his box and flapped at crosses in a seemingly clueless but strangely effective way. With 10 minutes on the clock Edge and Elliott inter-passed sweetly on the left and Edge ended up with a clean run on goal from the left side of the Palace box. Kiraly rushed off his line, effected a half clearance which ricocheted back to Edge’s feet, whose cross to Brown in an unguarded box was scrambled away by the retreating Boyce. Embarrassed by his obvious error, Kiraly rolled around in fake pain for a minute or two clutching an unscathed trackie bottom that contained an uninjured leg. The daft sod. The resulting corner was cleared by another “Hungarian flap” – a goalkeeping feature in South London, and a pleasant goulash based dish.

The best moment for City came after 23 minutes, before Palace had threatened our goal even once and at a time when the game was being played almost exclusively in the home side’s half. Welsh chipped a ball forward from halfway into Brown and he showed prodigious strength to hold off his defender, dribble the ball forward to the wide left corner of the Palace box and dink a pass across the face to Barmby advancing unmarked 20 yards out. Barmby selected his shot carefully and side-footed into the roof of Kiraly’s net, but the finish was an inch too high and clipped the underside of the cross bar.

The build-up of possession by City, culminating in Barmby’s chance to score, seemed to spur a lethargic Palace on a bit and they emerged from their shell to score against the run of play. A throw midway inside City’s half was received by midfielder Soares (a fine prospect on today’s evidence) and with Elliott’s cover missing he embarked on a slalom run through the City defence of Tombaesque proportions that resulted in him reaching the goalline after four missed tackles. His low cross was drilled into the six yard box where the predatory Morrison arrived in advance of both Cort and Myhill and a simple tap in gave Palace the lead.

Johnson showed brief interest at that point and decided to have a run from halfway, deep at the City defence. Only when he encountered the resilient Edge near the Tigers’ penalty spot was this particular maze-up curtailed. Players dribbling at the heart of our defence is something for City to work on in training this week, methinks. Brown found himself 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper after Elliott fell over but still managed to donkey kick the ball into the striker’s path but an offside flag was (correctly) raised as Brown aimed a shot that the keeper saved anyway. The half finished with Palace only threatening briefly and with City enjoying some superb one touch passing football that nearly found Barmby in the free, but Hall lunged and cleared for a corner.

The away seats at Palace were truly bizarre especially for those of us near the back. The stand is presumably converted terrace and is set at such a shallow angle that the rearmost seats must be a good forty yards back from the touchline. At times it was a bit like watching a football match from the window of a passing train as it crossed a viaduct. That said the atmosphere generated by the City support was truly exemplary and a roaring noise was made throughout most of the game, a fact appreciated by the City players at the final whistle.

The second half started with City continuing to press but as time passed Johnson realised that just lurking around behind the front two and waiting for the ball to be rolled to him was perhaps wasteful of his talent, and he dropped deeper into midfield and began to exert more influence on the game. He fed Macken down the inside left channel but the former Man City striker rolled his shot wide of Myhill’s far post. How this lad was worth five million of anyone’s money, even Kevin Keegan’s, is beyond me. Ryan France was proving very influential on the right and cutting across into the hole behind Brown, which was a good thing because Barmby was utterly anonymous by now. It was therefore a surprise when Ryan was withdrawn at the same time as Barmby, with Price going to the right (and again playing well) and Green slotting into an advanced midfield role. It worked to an extent as we continued to hold sway in the centre of the park but Brown was now very isolated up front and Palace were able to get more possession as a result. Ellison came on to restore our 4-4-2 shape with Elliott up front and Green replacing the departing Woodhouse in the centre. It was a surprise to see Woodhouse come off, but he had fulfilled that great footballing cliche of “covering every blade of grass” and was perhaps being given a respite in advance of Tuesday’s game against Stoke. Ellison rampaged around a bit and actually did OK, but it was Brown on 77 minutes who again did splendidly well to win a free kick right on the edge of the Palace box and give the Tigers their best chance of restoring parity. Alas, the task of converting the chance was entrusted in Stuart Green, who chipped his shot up over the wall … the crossbar, the first tier of seats behind the goal and into Row X. Deflated, the Tigers perhaps conceded defeat at that moment.

Wily Ulster old-timer Michael Hughes had now moved wide left after Morrison’s withdrawal and he was Palace’s main outlet. His best moment came when cutting inside and running across the edge of the penalty box before planting a right foot shot into Myhill’s midriff. As the 90 minutes approaching City pressed forward but Palace defended stoutly, a clearance was poorly dealt with by Welsh on halfway and Johnson was left with a clear run on Myhill’s goal, the nearest defender ten yards behind him. Everyone expected Johnson to score, there is that sort of aura around a goalscorer of his ilk, and he didn’t disappoint slipping the ball beneath Myhill’s despairing sprawl from 18 yards out. Injury time saw Cort head a Green free kick just wide when perhaps a consolation goal was deserved.

In all then, a good showing by City despite the result. The contrast with the Wolves game – another high ranked opponent – was remarkable as City not only resisted any temptation to sit back and watch more illustrious opponents do their stuff, but took the game to the away side with some skill and used a slick passing game to dominate proceedings for much of the game. A combination of Palace’s well organised defence and City’s lack of a second predatory goalscorer up front meant that few chances were carved, but overall the signs are excellent. This is a midtable Tigers team at least. Let the consolidation continue.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Coles, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Woodhouse, Welsh, Elliott; Brown, Barmby. Subs: Price (for France, 62), Green (for Barmby, 62), Ellison (for Woodhouse, 76), Burgess, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

CRYSTAL PALACE: Kiraly, Boyce, Ward, Hall, Borrowdale, Soares, Hughes, Watson, Morrison, Johnson, Macken. Subs: Riihilahti (for Soares, 65), Butterfield (for Morrison, 75), Andrews (for Macken, 89), Popovic, Speroni.

Goals: Morrison 27, Johnson 89

Booked: Johnson, Macken, Watson

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: K Wright

ATTENDANCE: 18,630