Hartlepool United 2 Hull City 0

Crikey, this is getting serious.  Mike Scott reports on another capitulation on the Durham Coast.
Ugly. An apt word for the town of Hartlepool. And an apt word for performances of the current Hull City squad. Once more eleven ill-equipped sportsmen entered the field of play against more organised and willing opposition. The Hull City eleven, although seemingly superior on paper, lost badly. It was two-nil. It could’ve been ten-nil. I’ll give my account of the game, then I’ll give my opinion on what’s gone wrong. Both will be ugly.The current fashion to shuffle the City pack continued at full strength as City lined up thus:

Glennon Petty Anderson Whittle Regan Green Ashbee Keates Johnson Alexander Dudfield

Smith dropped, that was the good news. Regan was switched to the left (has Edwards perhaps lost a limb in a freak Hessle harvesting accident?) and Petty took his best role at right back. Ashbee came back from suspension, the diminutive (in so many ways) Keates made his debut and three up front were restored with Dudfield’s recovery from a gippy tummy. Morrison and Greaves were benched (along with Bradshaw, Williams and Musselwhite) while Price and Smith were not asked to make the trip north. A bold managerial masterstroke? Err, no. Hartlepool carded a team very similar to the one that thumped City 4-0 last season. They have had barely any incomings nor outgoings over the summer, and have a settled squad that know their roles. City do not. The difference was apparent as early as the third minute when the admirable Gordon Watson raced down the right channel, held the ball up on the City goalline and drew three (count ’em, three!) City defenders towards him. Not one of the three attempted a tackle, instead trying to corral the ex-Owl in the manner of a wild west buffalo. Amazed at this generosity, Watson waited a full five seconds while the right midfielder Clarke scuttled up behind him. He then gently rolled the ball to the unattended Clarke who whipped in a cross to the distinguished looking Tinkler who, alarmed by his lack of marker at such an early stage, fluffed his shot wide. And so a pattern began to emerge. In the first minute Gary Alexander had neatly freed Johnson down the right, but the Leeds man’s cross found only the keeper Williams’ (Anthony) midriff. This early Alexander promise was a false dawn, as he went on to turn in a poor performance, not helped by the senseless booing of the City support that began after 15 or so minutes and reached a grizzly crescendo in the second half. The same crescendo that reduced the nervy looking Petty into a pile of footballing rubble in the first half. It was clear that this was a rather strange day for supporting City away when a small child was berated after seven minutes as being a “fookin nobhead” for returning the ball to the pitch after a wayward Pools shot. The baying for blood that ensued for the rest of game was totally destructive, but perhaps not entirely impossible to understand – although the bloke in front of me who exhorted Pearson to “fook off and tek yer money wiv yer” really did beggar belief. An ugly mood for the crowd, an ugly clash between hope, expectancy and despair. Within ten minutes Hartlepool had amassed four corners, all of which were wasted. The fifth saw Tinkler convert a header at the back post but the referee – probably rightly – disallowed the goal, adjudging that the greying Poolster had used an opponent’s shoulders to gain upthrust. The home side was entirely dominant and pummelled City incessantly. Whittle and Anderson defended manfully and both full backs looked reasonable for the first 20 minutes or so, but the midfield, as against Bury, afforded them no protection whatsoever and the waves of attacks continued. On 21 a low right wing Pools cross saw Petty airshot horribly at the back post, and the startled Williams sliced a hurried shot well wide. This was the first mistake of the day by Petty, but the hordes descended upon him with a flurry of wrath and fury that was not entirely deserved. He played like a complete arse for the rest of the half. But now what is this? Amid the ugliness emerges beauty. The Tigers realise that Dudfield on our left has the measure of the sloth-like Barron at right back, and start to switch the ball to him as often as possible. From this the Tigers gleaned confidence and started to play some pleasing possession football. In this spell Dudfield raided the Pools penalty box with no end product once or twice, and Ashbee thumped a swerving 25 yarder just wide after being teed up by Green. Crikey thought the City fans, are we about to play OK and win the League after all? No way. Just as City took the upper hand so Hartlepool released Watson down their left wing, and after a inconsequential half challenge by Petty was evaded the once-crocked forward slid a nice ball across the face of the six yard box where the gleeful Williams (Eifion) slid a shot goalwards. Alas it was also Glennon-wards and the big keeper blocked, only to see the rebound fall to the feet of the now seated Williams, who prodded into an unguarded net. A modicum of Tigery promise, and 1-0 down. The slight breeze that billowed the City sails died, and eleven heads dropped collectively. Pools were now rampant, City quite appalling, and the home should have gone nap before half time. The game was played in the City box with only Whittle standing out as someone who could keep his composure while all others flapped and fannied about. For three successive corners Watson stood totally unmarked at the back post while Green guarded unoccupied territory at the front post. While the City fans screamed for someone to mark up, the City team looked blankly at Watson and let him be. Thank God Pools can’t take a decent back post corner, or Watson could’ve tapped it in with his knob. Pools’ Smith saw a free header swing just wide after one particularly negligent piece of collective non-defending by the away side, while Keates twice sliced clearances appallingly, the second time straight to the feet of Williams (Eifion) on the edge of the box, only for the umpteenth last ditch Whittle tackle to block a routine shot on goal. As the half time whistle tooted, a battered and bloodied City XI retreated for what was no doubt a prolonged session of teacup throwing and Scousease cat-calling. Emerging unchanged for the second half, City made the first chance within two minutes when Dudfield got free down the left and pulled a cross back to Alexander whose fatal hesitation resulted in him being closed down and screwing an impossible shot well wide. This was enough for some of the City, err, “support” to now get on Alexander’s back with a tirade of heckling and name-calling rarely witnessed since, well, since Saturday. Gary’s head dropped. If it had’ve dropped any further, it would’ve dropped off. After 53 minutes Bradshaw was stripped and ready for action – surely Molby would spare Alexander the torture of playing towards the City fans that were baying for his blood and calling him a “fat bastard”. No, the Dane – cocooned in his soundproof dugout for the full 90 minutes – withdrew the nippy Johnson and left poor Alexander to plough an increasingly morose furrow at the spearhead of the City attack. Bradshaw on, surely the message to be relayed was to play the ball on the deck. Nope. Clearance after clearance was hoofed up to the little striker, who battled vainly to win headers while giving away ten inches to centre back Lee. This dumb tactic persisted even after Alexander was later withdrawn and the similarly squat Williams (Ryan) was introduced. Cretinous? Yes. Whose fault? I’ll come to that. On 62 minutes a left wing Pools corner (their 117th of the game, or so it seemed) was cleared back to the taker, and as he whipped in a second cross the City defence appeared to consider their work already complete and the grateful Watson stole in at the back post to convert a routine header. Once again the attempt was blocked by Glennon, and once again it fell unfortunately at the feet of the striker who tapped home from eighteen inches or so. Double bad luck for Glennon, who played OK in this match. Within four minutes Watson had again carved out a gilt-edged opening, charging down a clearance that fell to Smith, whose shot was skied horribly. By now Pools knew they had the points in the bag and eased up, while City realised they were chuffing awful, and also eased up. In one moment of passion Ashbee dished out retribution in a manner that contravened the laws of the game for a late tackle perpetrated on him seconds earlier, and the competent referee made a note of his particulars. One bright moment saw Keates play a decent through ball (a collector’s item from the stumpy ex-Saddler) to Dudfield whose left wing cross was arced towards Bradshaw, but the Pools defender just got a toe in first as Gary shaped to clip his shot goalwards. With ten minutes to go the game had fizzled out completely. Many City fans went home, and the Pools fans inquired as to whether this could become a more regular weekly fixture rather than the current twice a season. I could see their point. Watson finished the game’s action in the 89th minute with a lovely lob from 20 yards that landed on the roof of the net. The ref blew his whistle two and a bit minutes into the four minutes of added time indicated – an act of mercy, methinks. It is clear that individuals are not performing to expectation. Ashbee was poor today, Green was worse apart from the ten minute purple patch in the first half, just prior to Pools’ goal. Petty played like a man scared of his own supporters in the first half and perked up in the second, but it is questionable as to whether he is really any good, although it is hard to fault his willingness to run around. Regan was OK. Keates made his debut today, and I don’t think it unfair to confide that I sincerely hope his first City match is also his last. He couldn’t pass, couldn’t defend and couldn’t mark. He’s five foot five so he doesn’t possess an aerial threat. I can’t understand what he’s FOR – he is a shorter Craig Lawford. But, sweet reader, I lay the real blame at the feet of our manager. I honestly don’t think he has a clue what he trying to achieve at the moment. He has it in his mind that an attacking 4-3-3 formation is a good thing, yet he is incapable of instilling into his players (and they are HIS players in the main) the necessary mobility and flexibility to make it work. He is trying to make the players fit the system, rather than choosing a system that suits the players. Thus we play with three static forwards that fail to interchange, three static midfielders who take as little responsibility as possible and four defenders who struggle manfully to plug the breaches that occur. We seem to be playing Subbuteo tactics with real life players, in stark contrast to the mobile interchanging style of play that Hartlepool employed today to devastating effect. No one wants to take charge, no one wants to organise, no one wants to succeed above all else. Five games in we have a squad of players that appears almost to a man demoralised, and a manager who changes formations and teams with alarming regularity. Molby is incapable of motivating his players to perform to the required standard for the third division. Games in hand and points deductions aside, we are bottom of the league. My view is that Molby continues to be an abject failure, and could be no more than three games away from the sack. I don’t say “Molby out” because I want him to succeed, but the state of affairs can’t be allowed to persist and the manager must take the ultimate blame if this slump continues much longer. And judging by Adam Pearson’s head-in-hands display as he left the Victoria Park directors’ box today, I think our chairman might be of like mind to me.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Petty, Whittle, Anderson, Regan, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Dudfield, Alexander, Johnson.  Subs: Bradshaw (for Johnson, 54), Williams (for Alexander, 69), Musselwhite, Greaves, MorrisonGoals: noneBooked: Ashbee, PettySent Off: None   HARTLEPOOL UNITED: Williams A, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Robinson, Clarke, Tinkler, Humphreys, Smith, Watson, Williams E.  Subs: Arnison (for Barron, 58), Widdrington (for Smith, 79), Boyd (for Williams E, 82), Provett, Henderson Goals: Williams E 32, Watson 63 Booked: Williams E Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 4,236

Hull City 2 Hartlepool United 0

The first game at the Kingston Communications Stadium and – miracle of miracle for the weather-beaten Hull City fan – the Tigers win a momentous match!  Steve Weatherill gasps his way through a fine performance.
Now, hold on, what’s the catch? I don’t fool easily, I’ve been doing this Hull City supporting thing a whole lot longer than I care to remember, and I yield to no one in my ability to identify aroma of rat. I mean, as traps big enough to snare an elephant go, this one isn’t exactly subtle. A 2-0 duffing-up of opponents that came into the game top of the Division: a win that is richly deserved and founded on two exquisitely crafted goals adorning a canvas painted by a batch of splendid individual performances; and all this in the breathtaking setting of our beautiful new ground, a palace of inspiring football packed with 22,319 people, the vast majority noisy, jubilant and from Hull. What – I ask again – is the catch? Not finding one in yesterday’s casual demolition of the – slap your thigh! – “league leaders” were:

Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Keates Melton Alexander Elliott

Sort of – as ever, Ashbee played as the holding midfielder, just in front of the back four, while the gorgeous Greenmeister had licence to roam. And on two minutes our playmaker duly and greenly strolled at will through the plucky Poolsters’ midfield, slipped the ball to Elliott wide on the left, watched in admiration as his talented chum dribbled past a hapless full-back and placed a well-judged cross on to Melton’s toe-end in space on the edge of the box and then gasped in horror as Melton took one unconvincing touch and then followed that up with a second and worse one to blooter the ball horribly wide. I am at a loss to understand why we signed Melton. This was shocking wastefulness. Green and Elliott combined again, only to be hauled back by a tight but correct offside decision against the latter, haring in pursuit of the former’s through ball, while the visitors earned a fruitless corner after a hasty shot was deflected past a post with the Muss wrong-footed. It was an open, lively game, well received by the boisterous crowd – our largest home gate for a competitive first team game in how long? 25 years?. We had an important edge in midfield; Green was very up for it; and Alexander was displaying much more vigour as a target man than he has served up of late. And Alexander created our opening goal. He chased a ball hit too long for him and, reaching it with his back to goal with no obvious route to the danger area, he might have been expected to have given up on the cause, so feeble has been his commitment all too frequently over the last twelve or so months. But no – a glimpse of the bustling frontman of yore. He grimly wrestled his way past a determined opponent and slid a clever low pass into the feet of Dean Keates, just inside the box. He too had his back to goal, and though a deft backheel and pirouette swiftly changed that, even then he seemed entirely closed down by a burly tight-marking defender standing guard. Whereupon Keates leaned back and stroked a mesmerising slow looping chip up and over the keeper and just beneath the crossbar. It was audacious skill, shimmering brilliance – the sense of exultation deepened by simple disbelief that this dogged but limited midfielder could even dream of such inspiration, let alone execute it to perfection. The Circle’s first ever League goal – and a gem. City lead, City push on. Elliott sets up Keates for another shot, which takes a deflection and is held with relief by keeper Williams. Then a slick move down the left is ruined when Melton obtusely tumbles to the turf under a firm but fair challenge inside the box. Melton wanted a penalty but deserved a yellow card. Then Alexander sails away from the defence, clearly onside and in space, but his touch is too brutal and the ball bounces away beyond the dead-ball line. More! Melton feints inside an ill-judged challenge and strokes a very fine pass towards Alexander, who has managed to elude his marker and fires a crisp shot goalwards, only to be thwarted by an alert tip-over by Williams. Then an Alexander through ball puts Elliott clear, but the chance is smothered at his feet by another brave save. The Pools had their moments, poking around in increasingly lively fashion as the half-time whistle approached, but City had dominated the first-half possession and had basted the roast with a series of crisply-created chances. The ground? It needs to be seen. It is simply wonderful. We are so lucky. It is scarcely credible that the capacity is “only” 25,000: it feels so much grander. The West Stand, with its graceful arc of a roof, seems impossible huge, two tiers towering skywards; all four corners are filled with seats, avoiding the soulless feel of grounds that are really only four separate stands. (Anfield, I sneer at you). And the mauve lighting is elegant and stylish, the concourses are wide and civilised. Boothferry Park is already another age, and, as long as we can sustain the decibel levels achieved yesterday, I will not pine for it. Yesterday, as the sun slipped slowly towards the western horizon, its light provided an ethereally beautiful backdrop for the translucent fabric of the giant West Stand, and I shivered with glee and pride. “Moody salmon, that sky” observed the bloke sat behind me, as I shivered again, realising with a cold chill that in all-seater stadia you really are stuck with the people allocated to you by fate, and the ticket office. “Bet you don’t even know the plural of salmon, Adrian” he continued, and it struck me that it’s a long time until May. The game should have moved into the realms of “How many are we going to stick past this shower?” very early on in the second period. A weak clearance by keeper Williams fell kindly for Alexander and though his shot was blocked by the exposed netman, the loose ball fell delightfully for Elliott on the right who had the gentlest of tasks to roll the ball square, back to Alexander, to set up an open goal opportunity for our striker. Elliott instead blasted a low shot from a difficult angle hard against the post and the visitors’ goal was spared. Green against Darlo – similarly, Elliott yesterday. Occasional selfishness. But these boys can really play. I cut them some slack. A moment later Elliott went past his man on the outside but fell all too easily, and was refused a free-kick. Rightly so. Stay on your feet, Stuart, and tear these defences to ribbons. You know you can. The Poolsters were looking zippier now and they began to get the ball into our box with greater regularity than they’d managed in the opening 45. In fact they began to look quite menacing, especially when a low ball skidded across the face of our goal, thankfully without anyone getting a decisive touch. Defensively we were coping – no more. I don’t know why Justin Whittle wasn’t playing. Joseph is a shade quicker than Whittle, but his distribution is equally woeful, and, though Joseph’s perfectly competent, Justin is Justin (he really is) and I’d always, always pick him. Unless I was manager of Real Madrid, maybe. This was mainly their spell (Hartlepool’s, I mean, not Real Madrid’s) but we were damaging them too. Elliott slipped a pass through to Melton, who stumbled past his man into the penalty area before his run was curtailed by a thumping challenge. Good game, this. Alexander had had a positive first half but had now slipped from view and was replaced by Jevons. He was quickly into the action when Elliott flicked a header into his path, but Jevons was foiled by a well-timed tackle perpetrated by the final defender. This incident helped to reveal a design flaw in the new stadium. Said defender went hurtling off the pitch and tumbled over a boundary board. At the Ark the feeble balsa-wood structure would simply have collapsed under his weight. But things are larger and sturdier at the Circle. The Poolster simply came to rest, stranded on top of the hoarding, arms flailing in front, legs kicking astern. He was trapped. Jevons sized him up, stroking his chin like a Victorian gentleman strolling through the smog and gaslight in search of a companion for the evening, but he didn’t fancy him and hauled his erstwhile adversary back to his feet. This problem will have to be sorted out before FC play here. If footballers – athletes, after all – can suffer such indignity, it is probable that the lardarses that pick up their twenty quid a week for chucking an egg around are going to be stuck fast in this pose until a crane can be acquired to winch them free. Still, Stevo and Eddie and the 1,245 people who tune in weekly might find such devilry richer entertainment than their normal “T-R-Y Time” minority fare. By now we had surrendered control of the midfield and were generally dropping too deep, allowing Hartlepool plenty of room to play. Brave New Hull City World? Hmph. Sitting back on a one-goal advantage at home is the oldest of tiger tricks. Not good. But what’s this? It’s a dawn, my son, a dawn of golden promise, unleashed just as the dusk settled over East Yorkshire. One moment we’re groaning at the onset of passivity, the next Green has skipped into space in an advanced position, Keates has found him with a delightfully precise pass and the maestro Stuart Green has whisked the ball confidently past the exposed Williams into the back of the net, and we’re 2-0 up. There is a rich vein of attacking flair in this side, which makes our goalscoring failings in recent weeks all the more incomprehensible. But this was a superbly crafted goal, belonging in a much higher environment. Elliott went off to acclaim now, to be replaced (to further acclaim) by Whittle: Justin to centre back, Joseph to right-back, Regan forward to right-side midfield and Green was released to cavort destructively up front. The nimble playmaker immediately played in Jevons, who shot straight against the keeper’s legs. Jevons is a poor finisher. Most of the Hartlepool fans were by now on their way back to the land of monkey-swinging, gazing in retreating awe at our majestic stadium and sobbing bitterly that life had dealt them a hand not including a “Support Hull City!” card. Their team finished the stronger, belting one shot high over the bar and then striking the outside of the Muss’s right-hand post with another, but they were getting no points and no goals from this festive occasion. On 90 Green exited to deserved delirium and Lawrie Dudfield re-appeared, running harder in the four minutes of added time than he has in his combined total of displays across the whole of a personally dismal 2002. And then it was over and we had won. A truly strange unshaven man in my vicinity, his eyes revolving and his hair eccentric, asked early on in this game “Which football club in history has had the biggest gap between the quality of its stadium and the quality of its team?” He was one of those oddballs you smile weakly at, and carefully avoid engaging in conversation, but had I felt more mellow I might have suggested Queen’s Park or perhaps the atrocious PSG side of much of the 1970s and 1980s … Yokohama Flugels or the Columbus Crew, even? Enough already. We’ve got the stadium and the team is on the right road. Soon enough Hull City is not going to be a remotely credible answer to this poser.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Melton, Elliott, Alexander.  Subs: Jevons (for Alexander, 69), Whittle (for Elliott, 76), Dudfield (for Green, 89), Webb, Deeney. Goals: Keates 21, Green 75 Booked: Keates Sent Off: None   HARTLEPOOL UNITED: A Williams, Barron, Lee, Westwood, Barry-Murphy, Clarke, Tinkler, Humphries, Smith, Henderson, E Williams.  Subs: Widdrington (for Smith, 45), Richardson (for Henderson, 76), Istead (for Clarke, 79), Provett, Arnison. Goals: None Booked: Lee Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 22,319