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

Hull City 0 Macclesfield Town 3

Whoops!  City slip on another Cheshire banana skin, and fracture their Cup hopes for another season.  Mike Scott pieces together the broken bones.
Oh Hull City. Why do you have to make things so complicated. I’ve seen the way your acting like you somebody else, it gets me frustrated. This was a bolt out of the blue, a weak performance from highly promising beginnings that saw the Tigers crash out of the FA Cup. Pre-match speculative talk was of the chairman offering enhanced players’ bonuses as an enticement to help facilitate a lucrative home 3rd round tie in the new stadium – well if such an offer was made, then clearly it proves that our current squad is not motivated by such base and coarse trinkets as hard cash. Killing us softly with their song were:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Burton Green Ashbee Delaney Williams Alexander Jevons

The suspended Keates was replaced by the returning-from-suspension Ashbee while the Cup-tied loanee Branch was replaced by the Grimsby-don’t-care-if-he’s-cup-tied-or-not Jevons. And it all started much as it left off against Lincoln last week. Within 30 seconds Stuart Green skipped through the left side of the Macc defence and crossed, the clearance falling to Ashbee who lifted a tricky falling effort over the bar. Moments later Green again pulled the attacking strings and a cross found Alexander at the far post who nodded across goal only for Jevons to sky a close range effort, albeit under the close attention of the Macc defence. When Macc were looking to attack they went down their right using Eaton, but Burton was getting the better of the early exchanges. When the wide man finally did get a cross in Lightbourne was unattended and his header drew a fine save out of Musselwhite. This appeared to be a turning point. The crowd was quietened. Burton’s game went to pieces. And from the resulting corner Macclesfield opened the scoring. A melee in the six yard box culminated in Delaney swinging at the ball and it rebounded off another City player to Tipton, who has never knowingly refused an open goal chance from three yards. 0-1. But still there was some life in the City team, even though the home support was largely mute for the remaining 79 minutes. Within seconds Regan had fed Jevons who rode two challenges and swept a shot just past Steve Wilson’s post. But as time went on Macclesfield began to get City’s measure and the attacking threat waned. Macc line up 3-5-2, although with Lightbourne tucking in on the right it was often more like 3-6-1. More than enough defenders, and a flooded midfield aimed at swamping the threat of Green. It worked. I would also praise the excellent Tipton up front. I presume he only turns it on for City, otherwise his career would’ve encompassed Oldham and Man City, not Oldham and Macclesfield. His willing running saw him pop up all over the place – wide right, wide left, in the hole, between the centre backs. He even served tea and pies to hungry North Standers at half-time. Perhaps. Tipton was a thorn in City’s side all day, and I suggest we sign him for the simple reason that he then wouldn’t play against us again. After 15 minutes Tipton crossed for Lightbourne to head just wide. That was twice the big Bermudan headed goalwards with scant attention from Whittle and Anderson, and he was finding his range. His next intervention was less positive however, a crude lunge at Regan that earned him a yellow card. From the resultant free-kick Wilson flapped characteristically and twice Whittle had chances to head goalwards from 12 yards but instead elected to square to no-one in particular. The Macc back line creaked a little for 10 minutes as Williams briefly exerted a greater influence on the game, but the threat from the away side continued to be there. When Anderson ceded possession carelessly on the halfway line and the onrushing Tipton fed Lightbourne, City heaved a sigh of relief as Ashbee motored back to block the shot and concede a corner. So relieved, in fact, that they didn’t defend the resultant cross at all and the well-practiced Lightbourne despatched a routine header under the dive of Mussy for 0-2. City continued to play a passing game, quite right too, but the zest had gone out of our play and the attacks lacked any real threat. Green wriggled through the midfield crowd scene to set up Alexander whose first time shot was blasted high and wide when space for at least two touches and a composed finish was available. Regan was set free by Jevons and the cross found Alexander in the box, but his header went over the crossbar – once more Wilson was left untested. Regan may have got this cross in but much of the rest of his play was poor, as passes went astray or were blocked. A similar story was seen on the left with Burton and Williams – Macc had clearly determined that they should cut off the City supply lines at source, and it was a highly effective tactic. As the half closed two flashes of individual skill saw Burton and Delaney both craft shooting chances, but Burton’s dribbled wide off his shin and Delaney’s was parried adeptly by Willo. As the half time whistle approached Jevons drew a further save out of Wilson, and the feeling on the terraces was that while we had been undone by Macc for the second time this season, some well-crafted changes to the formation could see City get back into the tie. The home draw against Leeds was not yet out of the question. A vigorous half-time workout by Elliott confirmed that the required surgery was to be undertaken, but when the players emerged for the second stanza it was apparent that some strange decisions had been made. Williams had been very ineffectual and did not deserve a minute longer on the pitch, and the same could be said for the invisible Delaney. But instead, it was Jevons and Whittle that were withdrawn for Elliott and Peat, with Delaney switching to centre back, Williams to centre midfield, Peat patrolling the left and Elliott going up front. Lessons learnt. Williams is as short as Keates, but is no centre midfielder – he was shocking. Elliott is far more dangerous armed with a left sided brief than he is through the centre. Delaney is a good passing centre back, but lacks positional nous. Peat is capable of being totally ineffectual, he barely touched the ball for the full 45. It was a tactical switch that failed in almost every sense, and I sincerely hope that Mr Taylor realised this. Macclesfield came out and defended with their 3-6-1 line-up now a permanent feature, and they worked hard to protect their goal – plenty hard enough. Burton’s problems of the first half continued to escalate and he spannered a succession of passes and clearances into touch. He was soon replaced by the restored-to-fitness Shaun Smith, who performed OK in the circumstances, and all the manager’s jokers were played. But still no penetration, and the game died a sorry and dampsquibby death. Only the ex-City stalwart Wilson could be relied upon – he rolled back the years and flapped gruesomely at a corner on the hour, the ball dropped to Delaney who showed the composure of a drug-crazed po-going safety-pin-laden Sparks fanatic as he skied his chance over the bar from two yards out. Peat briefly left the shooting stick that he perched upon while observing the game go past him, and fired a decent shot after cutting inside from his wing, and Wilson showed that his shot stopping skills are still in good order as he pushed wide. But the final throw of the dice went in favour of the away side, as a cleared corner fell to the slap-headed Whittaker who lashed a fizzing drive into the top corner, giving Mussy no chance. The only remaining moment of note was when Williams went down and injured and Stuart Green kicked the off the pitch to allow the trainer on. Not a quick roll over the touchline for young Stuart, oh no, he lashed a full blooded drive that propelled the ball at warp speed into the front row of the West Stand director’s box. I don’t know who sat next to Mrs Pearson yesterday, but whoever it was had a sore head this morning. So a meek capitulation for a second time in six weeks against hard working but limited opponents. David Moss, the Macc manager, clearly has Hull City sussed, I just hope he keeps his masterplan to himself. This next week will be very interesting, this is Peter Taylor’s first real test. Will he get the players back up for the visit of statesiders Boston next Saturday? Will he modify the tactics to freshen up the attacking potency? Will he never ever on any account play Ryan Williams in the middle of midfield again? Just two more matches for Hull City to shine at Boothferry Park. Over to you, Mr Taylor.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Delaney, Ashbee, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Elliott (for Jevons, 45), Peat (for Whittle, 45), Smith (for Burton, 69), Holt, Harvey. Goals: None Booked: Regan, Williams Sent Off: None   MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Tinson, Ridler, Welch, Hitchen, Whitaker, Monroe, Eaton, Adams, Lightbourne, Tipton.  Subs: Abbey (for Eaton, 60), Martin, Hardy, O’Neill, Askey. Goals: Tipton 12, Lightbourne 27, Whitaker 76 Booked: Adams, Lightbourne Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 7,803

Hull City 0 Hednesford Town 2

Imagine this. You are an overweight, middle-aged man. You have
a dead end job, where no one likes you. You dye your hair black
and sport a stupid little toothbrush moustache, but you still
enjoy not the slightest hint of success in your occasional forays
into your town’s bars in search of a pull. Not even your cheap
and nasty aftershave helps you when your chat-up line is “I’ve
got a lovely whistle”. Your own mother forgets your birthday. So
what do you do to try and cover up your deep feelings of anxiety
and inadequacy? You become a football referee, of course. And you
exercise your power-without-responsibility to the aggravation of
players county-wide, and eventually country-wide. The desperate
lack of refereeing competence in England means that one day you
find yourself elevated to take charge of an FA Cup tie between
a highly respected League club, with a tradition going back over
90 years, and a poorly supported bunch of non-League non-
entities, enjoying a brief flirtation with life outside the West
Midlands Sunday League. You know that the game is one of several
at which the Match of the Day cameras will be present, but if the
League side wins, the game will be no more than a footnote to the
programme, and your chance of TV fame will be lost. But if the
non-League team wins … well, it’ll be a featured match and you
will be in the news. Surely you might get some friends then, you
ponder …..

So what do you do? If you have the integrity and fair-mindedness
to put your personal inadequacies behind you, you get on and
referee the game in a sporting, impartial manner. In which case
Hull City would have defeated Hednesford yesterday by 2 or 3
clear goals. If, however, you are the “Mr D Laws” with whom we
were tragically saddled yesterday, you lie, cheat, steal your way
to victory for the visitors and the return home to put your feet
up with a steaming mug of Horlicks, to bask in your infamy.

For that is the story of this FA Cup tie. City were the victims
of rank corruption. We were the better side, by far. We performed
with commitment and skill. No complaints about City. But the
referee (and his linesmen) had written the script of this game
long before 3 o clock.

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Wright Greaves Hocking
Joyce Mann Hodges Peacock
Darby

We were the superior side in a largely lively first half. Our
closest chance came from a well-timed Joyce run down the middle,
thwarted only by a last-ditch tackle, sending the ball spinning
away for a corner. We had plenty of good possession, but couldn’t
quite pin down real goalscoring opportunities. The welcome return
of Mann and Darby already looked a big improvement, even though
both had traces of rustiness about their play. Hednesford were
in the game, and came close when a corner flew through a melee
at the near post, but Hocking, alert at the far post, headed the
ball clear as it seemed to be dipping into the net. Almost
immediately, the referee took a decisive hand. One of theirs
turned just inside the box past Gregor. I don’t think Gregor
touched him, but even if he did, it was the slightest nudge, and
in no way contributed to a ludicrous theatrical dive by their
man. As he fell in a pathetic heap, I was half enraged at the
deceit and half amused by how bad his acting was … and then I
saw the referee was pointing at the penalty spot. The visiting
players made clear their views with huge grins and mobbed
celebrations; they might as well have pulled up their jerseys
Ravanelli/Fowler-style to reveal a t-shirt beneath bearing the
words “Fooled you, ref!”. But maybe this ref planned to be fooled

Willo guessed correctly, diving to his left, but the ball was
cleanly struck high into the roof of the net.

We nearly levelled just before half-time, when Hocking headed
against the bar, which was followed by a desperate scramble. But
we were beginning to get the picture – had it gone in, a mystery
offside would have been produced like a rabbit out a rancid hat.

We came out with re-doubled determination after the break and
took complete control as we attacked Bunkers. Early on, a flick
header from a corner sailed over the line for the equaliser. One
of theirs tried to hack the ball clear, but his front foot was
behind the goal-line, so there could be no doubt that the
football itself had easily crossed the line. It was a goal.
Neither linesman nor referee were interested. O yes, we were
getting the picture all too clearly now. Atrocious bias was mixed
with appalling bad luck. A goal-bound Hocking header struck Darby
… the ball then dropped to Duane who tried a Whitby-style
backheel into the net … just wide. Then a shot took a looping
deflection to land in the side-netting; it looked as if it had
gone in, but it had flown just the wrong side of the post. Then
Duane turned neatly about eight yards out only to lose his
balance and scoop a soft shot into the lucky goalkeeper’s arms.
We were all over them, looking especially dangerous from corners.
But we couldn’t score. There was little to be seen of them –
Willo made a good save from a shot from 15 yards on pretty much
their only moment of possession in our half. But they didn’t need
to score – they had the lead and they had the ref.

Our torment went on. Peacock dribbled coolly and swung over a
long cross to the back post, where Duane, intelligently heading
the ball back across the face of the goal, saw his effort bounce
off the bar. We kept pressing. Fewings came on and pushed forward
energetically. The Duke joined the fray but had an unhappy cameo
appearance, let down by his first touch. Peacock looked most
likely to undo them; Duane, in his first game back, was now
visibly tiring. But the source of what should have been our
equaliser was our captain. Gregor cut inside from the left
touchline with one of his trademark barnstorming runs, scooting
past three of their men, and running thrillingly on into the box,
where he pushed the ball past the last defender, ready to line
up a glorious shooting opportunity. The last man strode into
Gregor’s path and, with a brutality that would have made an ice-
hockey crowd wince, cruelly body-checked him. Surely, we thought,
even this referee can’t ignore that … but he could. Play on.

They scored in injury time on the break.

I don’t doubt that the wicked Mr Laws has covered his back and
that the bare statistics of this match will suggest a fair deal.
We were awarded fouls, sure. But almost always in our own half,
where no damage could done – indeed, on occasion we were awarded
free kicks that denied us a promising advantage. And when we did
get an occasional free kick anywhere near their penalty area,
their wall would retreat 5 yards at most, if we were lucky, and
the ref would smile and direct that we take the kick. A similar
story at throw-ins, where they were getting the throw even when
it was plainly geometrically impossible, given the ball’s
trajectory, for it to have come off anyone other than a
Hednesford player. Above and beyond the fundamental issues of
giving them a non-penalty and denying us a cast-iron one, the
referee made sure all game long that we were at an insuperable
disadvantage.

Hednesford were rubbish. No, that’s not quite fair. They looked
shapeless, short of commitment and generally inferior to us. But
they were mostly old heads, they’ll doubtless have realised the
score with the referee from the start. They knew that all they
needed to do was to play sensibly and wait for gifts to be
showered on them. And so it proved. City too must have spotted
the impossible odds they were up against, but it is to the credit
of our players that they did not give up.

I’m not objective. But if we get beaten and deserve it, I’ll say
so. Not yesterday. I wish ill on Hednesford and piles on Mr Laws.
But ultimately there is a bottom line in Cup football. They are
in the next round, and we are not. Impotent rage and frustration,
which is what I’ve been feeling since shortly after 3 o clock
yesterday, isn’t going to change a thing. I’ve been watching
football for thirty years, from Moscow to Morecambe, Carlisle to
Cadiz, and I have never seen such bias. Bad refereeing, yes, we
see that most weeks. But cheating? I didn’t think it happened
here.

steve weatherill