Fulham in the Autumn. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Paris in the Spring, but it’s as pleasurable an away football experience as you’re likely to get on the face of it. Except Hull City don’t do pleasurable away experiences any more. I’m not that sure we still do pleasure full stop.
So, after a lovely few beers in a lovely pub and a lovely walk through some lovely parkland towards the lovely cottage next to one of the loveliest stands in football (the best-preserved Archibald Leitch building that remains) we braced ourselves for some un-loveliness. And it started with the team announcement. The 5-0 spanking by Derby had seen Slutsky opt for a formation change. 3-4-3 it goes, and looks a bit like this:
Tomori, Dawson, Hector
Aina, Meyler, Larsson, Kingsley
Bowen, Dicko, Grosicki
Frankly, after Friday night I’d have sent Larsson to the Far Side of the training ground and forgotten about him (those of you who spent far too long in Athena in the early 1990s will hopefully get that horrendously crown-barred-in reference). It was good to see Meyler restored to starting duties however. Campbell was back on the bench, alongside Toral and mystery man Jackson Irvine.
We started on the back foot, seemingly hoping that the trickery of Grosicki and Bowen would conjure up something. That isn’t a bad tactic in some respects. Grosicki is better than this level when it comes to skill levels. And Jarrod Bowen is the best thing about the club right now. But we look a bit toothless and formless to be honest. On three minutes, a goal-bound Fulham shot is blocked by Kevin Hector. Ahh, great stuff Big Heck. With defending like that we’ll never concede.
We don’t really do much for the first 10 save for the odd bit of Bowen trickery, aided by Aina – who is terrific going forward – creating more space for our top goalscorer.
Then on 12, Big Heck takes the ball out of defence and absolutely leathers a pass in the vague direction of Kingsley. I mean, he REALLY leathered it. It went nowhere near our left-back and straight out into touch. I’ve no idea what he was thinking. I mean, he REALLY, REALLY leathered it. Sorry, it was unimportant, but Hector is an odd footballer to watch. There’s some brilliant stuff, some horrendous defending, and then just weird stuff like that. He confuses me. And not in a good way.
On with the game. On 15, the tricky Ayité gets a shot in that Meyler does very well to block out for a corner. The corner falls back to Ayité who produces an outstanding save from McGregor. McGregor was outstanding last night. This was the first of four or so magnificent saves.
On 17 Dicko has our first shot of note parried away. Given the lack of imagination largely shown by footballers, I can’t imagine what Dicko’s nickname is, as his surname is already a nickname. Do they go with just ‘Dicko’? Or ‘Dicko-y’? Our even ‘Dicko-o’? Either way, this conundrum posed me more problems than Dicko posed for the Fulham defence all night.
On 26 minutes, I’ve simply written “Larsson is a useless nobhead”. I haven’t elaborated on this sentence any further, and I can’t recollect what drove me to write this out, but on the evidence we have so far, I don’t think that it can be argued with.
Nothing happens for the next 15 minutes so I’ll freestyle:
Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out!
Not so much freestyling really, was it? But I’m sure it’s a sentiment we can all get behind.
On 40 minutes we concede. Ojo breaks down their right, Oh Heck can’t really deal with it and a low cross sees Ayité blast home with ease. There were defenders sort of near him but they weren’t near enough. And even though a Cairney-less Fulham haven’t really got out of second gear, they still sort of deserved the lead.
The half fizzled out. We didn’t do much, save for when the ball went near Bowen. It wasn’t Derby bad, but we’d been a long, long way from good.
In the second half, nothing was changed by Slutsky and little seemed to have changed on the pitch. On 49, Ryan Sessegnon – the subject of numerous bids of the equivalent of the GDPs of several small Caribbean nations combined over the summer – somehow contrived to miss with a header from about eight yards out. Sessegnon looked terrific all night, but you can see why he’s a full-back and not a centre-forward.
For us, Bowen and Aina continue to combine pleasingly down the right, and happily it’s the former who draws parity on 53 minutes. Grosicki flights in a lovely ball over their defence on to a perfectly timed run by young Jarrod. His header is well saved by Button, but Bowen reacts brilliantly to nod home a header from the rebound. I know I’ve already mentioned it but Bowen is such a joy to watch. I look forward to his contract being allowed to run down and then him be sold for bugger all.
On 54 it nearly gets better. Aina makes a terrific run into the box and shoots to the keeper’s right. Sadly Button makes a good save and we can’t get anything on the scramble that ensues. On 56 Grosicki gets a shot in. It’s all us, IT’S ALL US!
Oh bugger, they’ve scored.
Out of nowhere they attack down our left. On the evidence of last night, Hector and Kingsley are to defending what Little and Large were to, well, comedy. They just don’t do it. A cross comes in from the left, Ayité tries and fails to get an overhead kick in, but then the balls falls to the impressive Johansen who volleys an unstoppable shot into the top left-hand corner. Rats.
Not to worry, Slutsky is bringing on Jon Toral for Larsso… what? Wait! That’s not Larsson. No, it’s Meyler. What’s happening? Ahhh… the fourth official has put the wrong number up. Soon this mistake will be rectified and we can all have a good laugh about it. You can stop walking off the pitch now David. Go and tell Seb that he’s being taken off now. No David, stop! STOP! Please, for the love of god stop walking off the pitch! SSSSSSTTTTOOOPPPPPPP!!!!
We took Meyler off. I’m not sure of the wisdom of this decision.
We concede a free-kick that is hit just wide. On 72 we take Dicko off. I’m not sure he was ever really ‘on’. He’s not a lone striker, that’s for sure. Campbell comes on and immediately offers more of a presence up front. Though before he’s had chance to do anything McGregor pulls off a terrific save from point blank. He repeats the trick on 80 when he saves well at the feet of a Fulham attacker. We’re still a bit tepid. We don’t look like a team chasing the game.
On 81, Diomande comes on for Kingsley and we go back to a flat back four. Kingsley can have no complaints. He isn’t helped by having Grosicki in front of him, whose attitude to hard work leaves something to be desired, but it was a poor night for our new left-back. He doesn’t look much like an upgrade on Clark on current evidence. This also meant that Larsson got a full game. How, I don’t know.
Obviously Diomande didn’t do much, but on 85 Grosicki releases Campbell with a terrific pass which sees our returning hero shoot straight at Button. It is perhaps fitting that the closest we came to scoring was when a Sessegnon header went just over the Fulham bar in Manucho time. Owns goals seem to be our most likely way of scoring given our paucity of centre-forward options. Anyway, Mollo hits the bar for Fulham, the ref blows and we head back into the loveliness.
We didn’t deserve to win. The new formation was only really a success in it allowed Aina to do what he appears to love doing the most – getting forward – but other than that it was hard to see what we gained from it. We need to give it time, perhaps. Hector and Kingsley look a worry defensively. But then so did the likes of Delaney, Turner and Ricketts at this stage of their Hull City careers. I’m really not sure how, of our late signings, Jon Toral, Larsson and Dicko are considered ‘Championship ready’ whereas the exciting Irvine isn’t. The substitutions were baffling and as much as I love Slutsky’s interviews and the like, and I sympathise with him over the positions he’s found himself, such decisions don’t really help his cause. But let’s finish on a high. In Jarrod Bowen we’ve got a player who loves playing football, and loves playing for Hull City. He offers a reminder than supporting the club can be enjoyable too. And if we can win against a broken Sunderland, everything will seem less bleak again. If….