|Another failure to beat a team of ten men, but beneath the headlines was further slow improvement. Mark Gretton explains how relegation may yet be avoided.|
|At the end of the game 15 600 fans rose to applaud the team off the pitch for as committed and skilful a display as we had shown for some time. 15,600! There is so much goodwill towards the club in the city that you could cry. When they boo, as they sometimes have through disappointment with the team, then they deserve more than to be dismissed as ‘morons’ by idiot observers. The fans have shown they care and yesterday the players did too and the fans responded. And that was for a 1-1 draw at home to one of the few sides who approach our incompetence on their travels, who had been reduced to 10 men for most of the second half. If ever we are any good, the players will never need to buy a pint again, which given the alleged appetites of some of our lads is saying an awful lot. At least partially warming the cockles on a cold Hull afternoon were:
Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Delaney Melton Appleby Keates Elliott Dudfield Forrester
So having talked of how well three central defenders worked last week as we were hammered by the Scunts and how the best player had been Williams, the manager reverted to 4-4-2 and dropped Williams. Life as it is lived on Planet Peter. Yet the changes, though defying the manager’s own logic, were almost certainly right. For Williams, as anyone who had not formerly managed England could tell you, had been rubbish last week. And even our most limited players are least limited with what they are most familiar. Cheeringly, Anderson was back after suspension and Appleby was having his first league start of the season. Dudfield became Forrester’s 16th striking partner since his arrival, that figure of course being made up, but no less true for that. Appleby quickly impressed, linking well with Melton to shoot over, before winning the ball with a pleasingly crunchy challenge and playing in a ball that bounced around before dropping enticingly to Elliott who shot well enough but was foiled by the keeper. A minute later a typical lumped and none the worse for that clearance from Anderson allowed Dudfield to outpace the defence but having done this his cross was screwed disappointingly across the goal. It was a pleasingly open, er, opening, contributed to by Cambridge who were giving us some space mainly because they were equally eager to get forward themselves. There was a diverting moment on 16 minutes as Chillingworth was taken off to be replaced by the wonderfully named Nacca. Chillingworth trotted off without obvious injury, prompting the thought that they clearly ran a brisk ship in Cambridge, if you don’t make your make in a quarter of an hour, that’s it, son. Nevertheless, they seemed little disrupted by the change and continued to break dangerously, although the waves of their attacks generally broke on the rock that is Justin Whittle. When we had the ball Elliott, playing as a genuine left winger, was a lively outlet on the left and got in some dangerous crosses. When we didn’t use Elliott, the factotum ball was the favoured standby of the back four lumping it at head height towards small strikers, the old Blackadder tactic of doing exactly what has failed so often before as this will be the last thing the enemy expects. Still, we were having our moments, most obviously when Melton cased gasps amongst the fans by involving himself twice in the same move, finding Elliott who crossed over long from the left for Melton to skilfully chip back in, Dudfield steadied himself with the help of one of the defenders and then fell over in one of those mutual sleeve tugging tussles. We roared hopefully, but the referee deemed no pen. In truth the game had lost a bit of shape, although we continued to look as though goals were not completely off the agenda, as Dudfield flicked cleverly but just ahead of the path of Forrester, then Elliott crossed again from the left, for Lawrie to lift wastefully over. Predictably, as we gained a little momentum we went behind. Elliott set off down the flank and then did a rather showy fall under the defender’s challenge. He then lay there to make sure he got the decision and, by the time he realised that the ref had been unimpressed, we were back-pedalling. Our left flank was stretched, Delaney was unable to prevent a ball to his flank from finding his man and then unable to prevent the cross and then, more surprisingly, Justin Whittle allowed Youngs to get across the front of him and skilfully flick a header past Fettis. 1-0, and harsh. Happily, we didn’t buckle and there was time for Dudfield to again put over as Elliott again crossed in, but we’d lost the half. Then we had a moment that summed up the way the cookie was crumbling, as the referee played a good advantage (as he attempted to do much of the afternoon) allowing a cross to come in for Keates who turned well and shot, the keeper watched hopelessly as the ball beat him but then hit the inside of the post and bounced back snugly into his undeserving grasp. Bugger. Second half and we had barely focussed before the game altered alarmingly. Elliott and central defender Tann went up for a routine header that left them both on the ground. That’s all it looked like to most of us, although the eagle-eyed claimed to have seen the Cam man use both elbow and head on Elliott. Whatever the truth of it, referee Cowburn sent off Tann and we had the dubious privilege of taking on ten. But not the unfortunate Nacca, whose afternoon was foreshortened further by a substitution in the ensuing Cambridge reshuffle. Naccered. Perhaps fortunately we had little time to fret at our previous failings when numerically advantaged. Dudfield was put through and went down under the challenge, we howled, the ref made the ‘he got the ball’ sign as it ran to Appleby who was clattered in a ‘I got the bloody man that time’ style by the last defender. Silly tackle, clear penalty and Forrester binned it joyously, 1-1. Cambridge, to their great credit, kept looking for the win and Delaney and Alexander, having initially combined well then contrived to give it away, the visitors got clear and it all went a bit quiet as they bore down on our goal before shooting wastefully wide when they should have buried it. But we were going well now. Williams came on for Appleby, Melton moved to the middle, and we got some control. Elliot crossed too long, Williams turned it back, Dudfield again missed. Then Williams crossed from the right and the advancing Anderson’s shot brought a smart save from their keeper. Whittle, in a starling example of life imitating Herman-inspired art, turned up in the inside left position and skipped daintily through their defence. Justin seemed so taken by this that he rather distractedly nearly let the Cams in just after, perhaps whilst explaining to Anderson how his shimmy had wrong-footed their entire back four. Joseph, getting forwards better from right back than in previous games got injured and went off for Regan without disrupting us. We forced back to back corners and from the second Williams’ shot was cleared off the line. Then Melton, in an unprecedented fourth touch of the game, embarked on a long and winding run that culminated in what Alan Hansen would have called a ‘decent het’ only for said ‘het’ to be blocked. And so we finished, on top although never completely in charge. Cambridge, obviously complete amateurs at this sort of thing even left men up during our corners when they were down to ten and you’ll never get anything out of a game doing that, just ask the manager. Only a draw at home. but an enjoyable afternoon, good football from both sides and we came from behind and finished on top and perhaps we will have to settle for that at the moment. Impressions, Appleby was initially impressive and then understandably faded. Dudfield got into good positions without often looking like scoring and his pace drops notably during a game, presumably due to the chronic knee damage that will see him off loaded at the end of this campaign. Elliott got forward well and then crossed often inaccurately. This doesn’t mean that he can’t play left wing although he will clearly have to work at it, not least in staying out of Delaney’s way if the left back decides to trundle forwards as he did in the second half. On a couple of occasions they fell over each other. Forrester was typically bright, but, the penalty apart, nothing fell for him. And I don’t think we’ll go down. 10 points will almost certainly guarantee survival, 6 might do it and with our defence, keepers and central midfielders we will always get more than our share of draws in the last 13 games. We don’t need to do much to survive, get to summer, buy some more players, ship out Whittle and Elliott prior to offloading Planet Peter in November. Too cynical by half? Maybe. After all, wins at Carly and Macc would get us all excited again and eyeing up 7th place, you know it’s true, we never learn and then the manager is a hero. Mind you, if we lose both to a newly Green Carlisle and Maccsters who need the points fairly urgently, I might even revise my glib ‘no relegation’ forecast. It’s a funny old game after all, you just ask Nacca.
|HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Melton , Appleby, Keates, Elliott, Dudfield, Forrester. Subs: Williams (for Appleby, 67), Regan (for Joseph, 75), Jevons (for Dudfield, 87), Burton, Musselwhite. Goals: Forrester 51 (pen) Booked: Williams Sent Off: None CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Marshall, Fleming, Murray, Tann, Newey, Tudor, Wanless, Guttridge, Youngs, Chillingworth, Riza. Subs: Nacca (for Chillingworth, 17), Theobald (for Nacca, 48), Brennan, Revell, Turner. Goals: Youngs 38 Booked: None Sent Off: Tann ATTENDANCE: 15,607|
|And so Fortress KC is finally breached. Despite defeat this was a less worse performance than recent efforts. Steve Weatherill peers closely to see the bright side.|
|Mr Clattenburg. Referee, arch-villain and unwitting comedian. His display was both woeful and richly entertaining. This week’s “I’m really not sure I’ve ever seen that before” moment arrived early in the second half as Jamie Forrester and Ryan Williams lined up in a defensive wall ready to repel a Lincoln free-kick wide out on the visitors’ right. Mr Clattenbrock methodically paced out ten yards from the ball, only to find himself still a couple of yards short of our two players. So, bemused that the normal routine of fussily ushering players back a pace or two was denied him, he proceeded instead to beckon Williams and Forrester forward from their chosen position. Sharing a “we’ve got a right one here” sideways glance, our smirking duo complied. Mr Clattengirth is indeed a right one, but most of his interventions into this game were a good deal less than harmlessly eccentric. Witness the penalty that decided the destination of the points. Holt was a shade daft but unlucky with it at Southend last week; it was déjà vu all over again this week as poor Delaney made an ill-judged challenge yet found himself victim of an enthusiastic dive by a scheming Imp, whereupon Mr Clattenfridge gleefully pointed to the spot, and the game’s only goal duly followed. Mr Clattenpreeningponce loves the limelight and he abused his power at the Circle yesterday, identifying ludicrous free-kicks, dishing out bizarre yellow cards – either in circumstances where there was no foul, a fate that befell the unfortunate Keates, or where a clear red should have followed a savage assault, a generosity accorded Lincoln’s Futcher – and generally making a fool of both himself and the panel responsible for appointing referees to professional football matches. And I’m not going to mention him again. We could have had Mr Collina himself yesterday and the best we could have expected from another mundane display was a 0-0 draw. The Tigers were meek, ill-organised and lacked fluency. Were we better than at Southend, at home to York and at Orient? I suppose we were, a bit. I damn with the faintest of praise. A numbingly ordinary, yet thoroughly committed Lincoln side were never at any stage subjected to any sustained pressure. When Mr Taylor informed us during the week that he would “surprise” us with his team selection for today, I feared this would be in the same vein as the surprise lately revealed to Ms Lesley Ash by her plastic surgeon. But, Taylor-watchers, in fact only the elimination of Melton would not have been on my “read my lips” list. Ashbee and Keates returned, the lately lack-lustre Green was dropped from the 16, while Elliott, a player Mr Taylor seems to have no idea how to use, was relegated to the bench. Meanwhile the mystery as to what position Mr Taylor thinks is Joseph’s best was further deepened. And so:
Fettis Joseph Anderson Whittle Delaney Dudfield Ashbee Keates Williams Forrester Webb
And off we went, after a minute’s silence for Dale Roberts ruined because some idiot failed to remember to turn off the blaring television screens that festoon the stadium concourses. The first incident in a very plain opening arrived when a lofted Whittle ball was attacked by Webb, but Marriott in the visiting goal pouched the ball. An Imp response was the result of a gift from our midfield as Ashbee dithered in possession while none of his team-mates offered him a useful passing option, lost the ball and watched aghast in the company of 13,000 others as Cornelly sprinted clear of our defence only to clout the ball high over the crossbar. Lincoln are big and clumsy, and set-pieces are their preferred feast. We allowed them too many, but began to defend their unsophisticated hoofing with relative comfort. 25 minutes in, and little has happened to stir the blood. But now we begin to look the superior force. Williams cuts inside from the left, but rolls a tame shot straight at the keeper Marriott. Then Forrester cleverly tees the ball up for Webb, but his shot clears the bar. Dudfield makes progress down the right and squares to Ashbee, whose shot is safely held by Marriott. Then Delaney plays a neat pass into Forrester’s feet, just inside the box; his pass is met by Webb but the shot drifts wide. The lively Forrester sets up Williams, who slides a weakly struck shot just wide of a post. As is ever the way in this Division, it sounds better than it actually was – this is not a rolling maul of attacking football, but rather isolated glimpses of endeavour against a backcloth of generally ordinary passing and unimaginative running. But when, bang on 45, Forrester turns sharply in the box and sends a low shot skimming towards the corner of the net, a brief feeling of “that’s a goal and we just about deserve it” sprints across the brain … only for Marriott to lunge acrobatically to his left to stop the ball with his fingertips, whereupon Webb’s follow-up immediately incurs the wrath of a linesman’s offside flag before the ball is whacked against a post. No sooner has the “one added minute” announcement been made than the half-time whistle is blown, and it is 0-0. Again. If the amber-and-black nose was in front just before the break, the gaudy red-and-white striped version took a slight advantage after the re-start. A penalty box melee resulted in Butcher enjoying the luxury of a free strike on goal from 20 yards out. Relief: he screws his shot wastefully wide. Then the beanpole Futcher nods a header wide before sprinting back to his defensive post, angrily berating himself for failing to make more of a clear scoring opportunity. At the other end, we win a corner, and – what’s this! – evidence is presented of training ground preparation. Two men combine at the corner, drawing out defenders; the ball is slipped back to Joseph who fires in a powerfully hit cross which Justin races to meet, heading the ball only a foot over the bar. Forrester, an energetic presence up front, makes a preposterous attempt to dupe the referee into awarding us a penalty. He doesn’t succeed, but all too quickly it becomes evident that it was worth a try. Because next up, approaching the mid-point of the second half, Lincoln too enter the halls of prepostery. But they are showered with gifts. The penalty is given by the man whose name I promised not to repeat and though Fettis guesses correctly, the spot-kick is expertly whisked into the top corner of our net by boisterous bruising Bald Brummie Bimson. It is tough on Delaney, fingered as the culprit, who produced a perfectly sensible and well-organised performance at left-back yesterday. (I don’t know if Bald Bimson is actually a Brummie, but obviously he should be, and that’s good enough for me). Williams is now pulled off in favour of Elliott, and most of our attacking ambition is focussed on the left side. Forrester shoots – just over. Elliott dribbles to the by-line, but his cross is smothered by a resolute defence. A handball appeal doesn’t convince me and therefore has no hope of convincing the match officials. Then Elliott sets up Forrester, whose shot is blocked. It’s undeniably better – but it’s still not fluent. We need more wit and flair – we need Stuart Green: or, to be exact, we need the Stuart Green who shimmered and shimmied through the later months of 2002 but has gone AWOL since Boxing Day. A strong and well-organised Lincoln side are not for yielding. Dudfield looks rickety and is not doing any damage down the right. Forrester is lucky to stay on the pitch after an outrageously blatant elbow to the face of an opponent with 10 minutes to go, but, that apart, his is a decent display. But his partner Webb looks disappointingly limited and has little influence on the course of the play. Keates’s contribution has been blunted by receipt of a yellow card for Doing Nothing At All But Being Quite Close To The Referee While Doing It, and generally we’re not packing a punch. Which is not a slur that can be aimed at the occupants of the stands. Several “Get behind the team” loudmouths near me took aggressive issue with adjacent Boo-Boys and, in the time-honoured fashion, promises to sort it out “right now, under the stand” were made. I love this stuff. It’s simply a local version of America versus Iraq, except without the mendaciously slimy “of course, war is the last option” preliminaries. However, quite unnecessarily, the stewards intervened to keep the willing would-be combatants apart, and a sullen order was duly restored. So there you are. Equip Mr Blix (crazy name, crazy guy!) with a nice shiny orange jacket and I do believe peace can even yet be satisfactorily brokered in the troubled oilfields. Sorry! Don’t mention the oil. Donaldson, a rangy young chap, takes the place of Delaney with ten to go as we switch to a back three in readiness for a final onslaught. But, apart from a Donaldson header over the bar, the onslaught is conducted with cottonbuds and silken veils, and Lincoln repel it all too firmly. At the end the Lincoln players and fans celebrate as if they have won the Cup, the League, the Grand National, the Boat Race and the Sleaford Summer Fete Grand Prize for a Root Vegetable That Most Looks Like A Celebrity (a turnip with an uncanny resemblance to Pope John Paul II just edging out a potato that had in fact already been penetrated by a local farmer convinced that it was Judith Chalmers and that this was his lucky day). Now, I am not here to sneer. Their club was near enough out of business a short while ago, and though I have no love for Lincoln City nor admiration for their traditionally ugly brand of football, their glee at victory was all too obviously doubled by a righteous feeling of pride that Hull City (in relative terms) have it all yet are still such a soft touch. I can understand that. And so …. The publication of the fixture list back in June had us all peering at the final day, thinking “Hmm … a trip to Wales … what if both of us need the points? That’ll be a bit tasty! No colours outside the ground that day”. As the season developed, that was adjusted to “what if we need the points to go up or to get into the PlayOffs, and they need them to stay up? That’ll be very tasty … no colours, and order me up a suit of armour would you batman?” And now? “What if we both need the points to stay up?”. I feel another trip to the bakers may be looming.
|HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Dudfield, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Webb, Forrester. Subs: Elliott (for Williams, 66), Donaldson (for Delaney, 81), Appleby, Regan, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Ashbee, Delaney, Keates Sent Off: None LINCOLN CITY: Marriott, Bailey, Weaver, Morgan, Futcher, Bimson, Butcher, Willis, Gain, Ward, Cornelly. Subs: Bloomer (for Ward, 63), Yeo (for Cornelly, 63), Pearce (for Willis, 89), Sedgemore, Cornwall. Goals: Bimson 65 (pen) Booked: Butcher, Futcher, Gain Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 13,728|
|A drab affair as early promise melts away to be replaced by hoofery and a crisis of lady luck – all played out in front of a remarkable 18,400 spectators. Mike Scott sees Terry Dolan drag us down to his level.|
|Even for a “cup half full” sort of person like me, it’s difficult to take much positive from the latest attempt by Hull City to set a world record for “biggest gap between performance deserved by huge attendance, and actual performance served up”. When a baby is sick down my shoulder I take solace in the fact that the malaise must be on the mend, or the painful wind relieved. When a plane crashes in the Peruvian desert I assume that to offset the death toll aircraft engineers will pore over the evidence, perhaps reconstructing the entire aircraft fragment by fragment in a large hanger, and the lessons learnt will be enacted for the next time I nervously set foot on a shuttle to Heathrow. But in front of 18,400 odd supporters the Tigers did little to cheer me or anyone else up – least of all Peter Taylor if his post-match comments are taken at face value. Too much hoofing, not enough passing, bereft of passion and hard work – how ironic that Terry Dolan was in the KC yesterday to witness a performance “worthy” of his darkest days at the Tigers helm. The advent of a countdown clock on the reprogrammed scoreboard would have pleased countless thousands no doubt, but as the board rattled through the teamsheet there was clear evidence of more Taylor tinkering. Regan returned to right back, Delaney moved up to centre midfield, Williams came in on the left. Melton and Webb were benched, while Forrester debuted in place of the totally excluded, and perhaps never to be seen in black and amber again, Alexander. We lined up:
Musselwhite Regan Joseph Anderson Holt Green Ashbee Delaney Williams Forrester Elliott
Doubtful tactics. We were in for an inevitable battle against the potless York, their belly fire enhanced further by the poaching of Fettis in the week (who wisely stayed benched in order to avoid yet further impetus for York’s strikers to ripple the ropework). Yet we lacked a strong presence up front, we had insufficient tough tackling in midfield and we had wide players prone to too much roaming – all these points were made before the kick-off and were only confirmed with the benefit of hindsight. Despite these failings City came out of the traps well once Reddy had alarmed the dozing City back four in the first minute and tested Mussy’s edge-of-box reactions with a slightly overhit first touch. Green was set free through the inside left channel and York’s loan keeper Ingham – making his third appearance against City in 6 weeks after playing for Darlo and Sunderland in December – smothered Green’s shot and sustained an injury. York were giving the ball away too cheaply, none more so than Ingham whose habit was to punt the ball wide left for a Tigers throw-in – I counted five instances of this, there may have been more. From one of these Forrester received the ball on the right in front of the East Stand, tricked York’s unpolished centre back Brass and set away Green whose cross was cleared amid some panic. From the resultant throw Williams was set up with a 20 yard shot that was well struck but deflected wide. On 10 minutes a foul throw ceded possession to the Tigers deep in York territory, Ashbee and Holt combining well on the left for the latter to cross to Delaney, whose hooked shot was blocked. Another City throw near York’s goalline saw the sorely missed Holtizer launched into the six yard box where Delaney flicked on and Anderson had the ball whipped off his toe end by Brass as the goal gaped. Finally, Elliott fed Green with a throw and the Cumbrian’s advance culminated in a lashed low shot from 18 yards that had Ingham scrambling low to save by his near post. All of these events happened in the first quarter of the game and the creaking York defence, while performing manfully, were looking ready for a breach. And then it all stopped. After 25 Ashbee gave away possession cheaply in centre midfield and Nogan and Potter combined well to set up Duffield with a regulation finish that he skied horribly with no defenders in attendance and Mussy scrambling across him to make some sort of improvised barrier. This alarm seemed to stop the Tigers in their tracks – and where confidence and swagger were evident, fear and meekness emerged. York’s hardwork across the pitch started to pay off, Nogan’s presence behind the front two causing Ashbee and Delaney particular problems, and City retreated into the two banks of four hoofery that has too often infected Taylor’s term in charge. This period of York pressure reached a crescendo three minutes before half time when a corner was defended dreadfully by a collection of flailing Tigers, and Duffield fired home from 4 yards, only to see his effort expunged by the referee who saw Ebor skull-duggery in the preceding melee. A lifeline. Not accepted. At half time the odd boo accompanied the trudge off the KC sward, which was a little harsh as we had been the dominant force for half of the half and went in to the break with a narrow points lead. But more tinkering at half time saw some very strange decisions. Delaney, who had performed gamely but poorly in central midfield for the first half (it simply isn’t a position that he is yet capable of playing), was spared the rod and Holt, who had done OK at left back, was switched for Melton, Delaney dropping to left back. Damien had a decent second half, but did Holt deserve to be the sacrificial lamb? Managers shouldn’t have obvious favourites. In addition Anderson, who had struggled with Reddy’s pace once or twice, was swapped for Whittle. New faces, but same old shite. Melton played as he has always played since he came to Hull. He linked up play well with little ten yard passes in our own half and he made pleasing looking five yard runs on halfway before laying the ball off to a defender, but his tackles were few, his successful tackles were fewer and his forward probings were almost non-existent. Taylor insisted post-match that there is a Steve Melton we have yet to see, a driving goalscoring attacking midfielder who can dominate the opposition. Fine, if that’s what he can do then he’s an asset – but when he isn’t doing it (and to date he hasn’t, other than the Sunderland kickabout) he is not worthy of selection. The second half? Poor. We got a few chances from free kicks to float the ball into York’s box, Whittle won one but no-one reacted, the rest floated over the frustrated Justin for goal kicks. The defending went off the boil and York were gifted chances. Cooper skied after a poor header from Joseph was followed by the ex-Poshman watching interestedly when a tackle might have been nice. Bullock glanced an unchallenged header wide after Whittle was harshly adjudged to have fouled 25 yards out on the left. York came forward cautiously but with good organsiation, and often our gutless tackling gave them more possession than they deserved. City carved out chances sporadically. The best fell to Forrester on 50 who accepted an early Elliott cross after a fine Delaney pass, then fired sweetly goalwards only to see the flapping Ingham get a limb of some description on the ball and execute a fine Schmeichelesque block. City were denied a clear penalty when a Forrester cross was batted off for a corner by a basketballing York defender. Elliott tried an overhead kick that went over the crossbar. Green headed wide after a deep Delaney cross. In the last 5 minutes Ashbee had a shot blocked, then screwed the rebound wide. But overall this was a poor second half performance that City deserved no reward from. Even players who have performed admirably to date this season showed signs of disinterest. Ashbee was poor in the second half, none more so than when he missed and easy header in midfield that let Reddy through on goal, only for the Irishman to slide his finish just wide. Green had an absolute stinker, all his passes were either short or overhit and his effort was minimal. Forrester faded badly after a lively start and didn’t look fit. Webb came on for the last quarter of an hour but by then even City’s hoofing wasn’t working, as clearance after clearance landed in the stands while a willing but bemused Webb looked on. The game ended with a moment of bizarre refereeing. Joseph came across to the left to tackle Nogan, and his challenge was untidy but not particularly felonious. The referee waved play-on and all was well. Then the linesman waved his flag vigorously, and not only did the stupid ref give a free-kick, he booked Joseph for a tackle that he himself had adjudged fair (and he was many yards closer to the incident than the lino). His adjudication on that booking should make interesting reading – “I booked number 39 Joseph for a fair tackle on the touchline”. Another match passes and another poor performance. Taylor has indentified Alexander and Dudfield as part of the problem, and circulated their names for transfer. But the problem runs deeper. The team is willing and able to play good football, but one setback can rock them on their heels and they stop playing, stop passing and – in some cases – appear to stop trying. It’s a major job needed to rectify this, a job that is unlikely to see us challenge for play-offs this season. And yet … only a three point gap between City and 7th (albeit with teams around us having many games in hand). And a fluke goal, a first 20 minutes that yields three goals rather than three close things, the emergence of a player from the wings who galvanises the squad … all is not lost, it’s just that I’m buggered if I can find it just now.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Joseph, Anderson, Holt, Green, Ashbee, Delaney, Williams, Elliott, Forrester. Subs: Melton (for Holt, 45), Whittle (for Anderson, 45), Webb (for Williams, 76), Jevons, Fettis. Goals: None Booked: Joseph Sent Off: None YORK CITY: Ingham, Cooper, Parkin, Brass, Jones, Cowan, Bullock, Potter, Nogan, Duffield, Reddy. Subs: Yalcin (for Duffield, 63), Wood, Fox, Collinson, Wise. Goals: None Booked: Cooper, Cowan, Reddy Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 18,437|
|A point snatched from the jaws of victory against ten man Exeter. Ian Thomson rises from his sick bed to tell another in the long line of City related sorry tales.|
|Southend. Bristol. Bury. Leyton. Rushden. Shrewsbury. Lincoln. Bournemouth.York. Exeter. Not a list of locations of hotels featuring in the Ibis Hotels “Winter Madness Promotion” advertisement in the Sunday newspaper at my feet as I type this, still less the list of venues featuring in the comeback tour of some 1980s never-was musical act, now trying to resurrect a career which never really existed in the first place No, this particular list is one which, if it grows any longer, will end up going down in the history of Hull City as the list of performances contributing most significantly to our failure to mount a serious promotion challenge in the 2002/3 season, being games in which the team through its own ineptitude emerged with a solitary League point when all three were pleading to be plundered. Our current record stands at played 27, points 37. Imagine that City had won just half of the above games (not an unrealistic hypothesis). Now reach for your Sunday paper and check where would be in the league with a record of played 27 points 47. No, it didn’t make me feel any better, either. Yesterday at the Circle was an all-too familiar tale. Despite what was ironically in many respects City’s most encouraging performance for some time, in which the message that we will be most effective when we play to our strengths and take the game to the opposition was actually heeded to good effect for long periods of the game, a draw was wrested from the jaws of victory in a manner which, not only do City seem to have got off to a fine art, but appear also to be the only team in the Third capable of doing. But despite the complacency and the lack of heart and application in defence in the final twenty or so minutes, this was a battle lost as much off the field as on it, with two charges in particular being justifiably placed at Peter Taylor’s door. Firstly, the substitution of Alexander by Williams, whilst it no doubt pleased the section of the East Stand continually baying his name (if any of you are reading this, satisfied now, are you?) was frankly disastrous. Alex had been having his best game since Carlisle; he was holding the ball up well, supporting intelligently, frequently keeping a couple of members of the Ex rearguard gainfully occupied in chaperoning him, and but for some wretched luck in front of goal and the excellence of the visiting custodian might well have notched a couple of goals of his own. Once however the diminutive one took his place City lost all the fluency and shape which, pleasingly, it looked was starting to return, and with Williams keeping back in midfield leaving Webb to plough a lone furrow up front we began to be pegged back much more frequently in our own half, when sticking with the same team and shape might well have resulted in City adding to a scoreline which, at 2-1, flattered our visitors somewhat . To compound matters, the City No 20’s own personal performance was a nightmare. He continually slowed down the pace of attacks and breaks by cutting back when there were options going forward; on one occasion he looked for the left winger quite forgetting that he was the left winger, and on another knocked a City clearance, from a position some 40 yards out, back into our box. The second Taylor-made howler yesterday was the selection of Delaney at centre-back. Why, for goodness’ sake, when there were other recognised centre-backs available, notably the forgotten man Greg Strong, was the absence of Whittle and Joseph addressed by drafting in a player suffering from that lethal cocktail of a current bad run of form giving rise to a massive lack of confidence, and being out of position?. Delaney is no centre-back; he hasn’t the physical presence despite his height, and has no conception of the fact that, especially when under pressure and a goal in front late in the game, the centre back gets himself between the opponent and the ball and takes no chances, even if that means hoofing the ball as hard and far as possible, which would have been a vast improvement on yesterday’s procession of balls stroked to the feet of an opponent thirty yards away. His exquisite ball to lay on the second goal notwithstanding, if the City number 28 is in the starting line-up at Brisbane Road next week it will be impossible to conclude anything other than that the only reason for this is that he is a Taylor acquisition and must therefore, as a matter of principle, take precedence on the team sheet over those who are not. Oh yes, and Exeter scored their late equaliser while down to ten men. If City had set out deliberately to fritter the points yesterday it is hard to see how, short of all other 21 players attacking the Muss’s goal, they could have been more ruthlessly effective at it. Guilty as charged were:-
Musselwhite Regan Anderson Delaney Holt Green Melton Ashbee Elliott Alexander Webb
As has been the case of late, the above line-up doesn’t tell the full story, with Melton taking on a very fluid role and Elliott acting as a third striker for much of the time Exeter kicked off attacking the South Stand end on a bitterly cold and at times threateningly misty afternoon. Our visitors knocked the ball around neatly in the game’s opening stages, while we looked lethargic and unable or unwilling to challenge much for the ball, taking the easy option (usually the backwards one) too often when we had the ball and showing little adventure or penetration. In short, it all looked as though it would be Bristol revisited, albeit with perhaps an end result more befitting the limited quality of our play, this latter concern being exacerbated on 11 mins when, from a free on the edge of the City box after a clumsy Ashbee challenge, the ball took two deflections, including one off the badly-positioned and disintegrating City wall, and struck the Muss’s right-hand post. A minute later came the first signs of restiveness among the City crowd (the match attendance being a hugely creditable 13 667) when Alex made a hash of a ball to Regan, but then City started to work themselves up into cohesion. The first attempts on goal came on 18 when Webb’s header from a Holt long throw was easily saved by the visiting netminder, and then a minute later when an Elliott cross flashed across the face of the away goal and the ball was returned by Green to the head of Alex, who produced a fine point-blank save from the keeper. This was much better. We were starting to take the game to the Ex, who in turn were looking increasingly less up for it, frequently and unnecessarily being caught offside, and with their ludicrously-coiffed number 26, Coppinger, resorting to the old dying swan act, sadly usually successfully, every time a City player got close enough to see the whites of his eyes and on one occasion earning Ash a booking, which earned him a chorus of boos every time he took possession of the ball and inevitably, the Circle’s first-ever chorus of “Rent Boy”. After, in an increasingly rare Exeter foray, Melton, who had his best game so far for the Tigers but faded somewhat in the second half, had to clear off the line on 26 mins, City hared upfield and had a clear appeal for a penalty turned down when a Webb header appeared to strike an Exeter defender’s hand. The Tigers returned to the ascendancy after this without ever getting really close, until the 38th minute when after a storming break down the right a stinging drive (not sure who; could have been Alex) was blocked by the diving keeper, with the ensuing frantic attempts to force the ball home coming to nought. As the half came to close Regan cut inside well and had his shot saved, and then City went as near as they had to date to opening their account with the very last kick of the half, when Alex had time in the box but saw his seemingly goalbound effort blocked by the outstretched foot of the keeper. All told, a half at the end of which City could count themselves unfortunate not to be at least one up after shaky start, but representing the most positive effort for some matches. The start of the second half was lacklustre in comparison, with City not achieving the same degree of penetration and Exeter, if anything, even less adventurous than they had been in the first, although they ought to have found the target at least when a loose ball following a Muss flap at a free kick was lobbed tamely over. Just after the hour, however, City at last got the reward their overall domination deserved. After a free on the edge of the Ex box was wasted by City messing about in the usual fashion instead of someone just having a bloody dig, another free was won on the left. A sublime ball was curled in and Elliott, who thankfully seemed none the worse for all the press attention he had been receiving though the week, rose at the far post to power in a header which the diving keeper could only push into the net. The Circle celebrated as though promotion had just been secured and the Tigers were rampant. A mere six minutes on, the advantage was doubled. Delaney curled a wonderful through ball which evaded the cover and fell invitingly into the path of Elliott, who took the ball confidently in the box and slid it insolently between the legs of the keeper. A goal of almost perverse simplicity and executed in text-book style. The way things had gone, any neutral observer not familiar with the workings of Hull City would have assumed that the home side would now cruise to a three or four goal victory. But this is Hull City, and what transpired next can hardly have been outside the range of plausible consequences to the world-weary Hull City supporter. While the team were still apparently celebrating the second goal and no doubt congratulating themselves on a job done, an Ex bore down on the Muss in far too much space and unleashed a drive which the Muss could only fuble. The ball fell invitingly for the Ex sub Partridge, who had the time and space to have two attempts to force the ball home for the first away goal at the Circle. The ill-fated Alex/Williams substitution took place, and the tempo of the game increased, with the Tigers to their credit trying to take the game still to the opposition, while looking vulnerable when Exeter had the ball, not least because of the continuing and infuriating double expedient of dropping too deep but not marking. Thus, after Elliott had forced a point blank save from the keeper with another header on 72, and from the resultant corner and Anderson header looped over the keeper from a narrow angle but was somehow hooked off the line by a defender, Exeter themselves then had two chances to score. It was end-to-end stuff now, although the eventual sight of the board of the fourth official, indicating a questionably-lengthy injury time of four minutes, seemed to indicate the end was in sight. Indeed it was; if by “it” you mean the Tigers’ lead. It is a well documented fact that the worst thing that can happen to Hull City is for the opposition to be reduced to ten men. Thus when Power of Exeter was harshly adjudged to have committed a professional foul on Dudfield after the latter had run onto a nice ball from Williams, and was granted first use of the soap, wiser heads knew what was coming, albeit not before, from the resultant free kick, the tireless Webb had forced the keeper into yet another fine save with a volley from Green’s cross. But as even the four minutes’ additional time came to a close. Green stupidly gave away a free kick when he tripped an Ex who was heading towards his own goal near halfway. The resultant free was not properly cleared (again), and when the ball was inevitably worked in from the left the City cover was so lacking that the ageing carthorse Flack, of all people, had more than enough time to mishit a ponderous overhead kick, from no more than a couple of yards out, past the spectating City defence and into the net. So where do we go from here? Not, it is to be hoped, headlong into a rush to bring in yet more players who can’t cut it in the First any longer, or never could in the first place, and fancy coming to City to pinch money for a couple of seasons (and yes, I do include Andy Thomson in that category). This has not worked in a single case since Pearson came to Hull and adopted it as his policy, so why should it start now? Surely he has to see this some time. Despite the infuriating manner in which victory was lost yesterday, the performance was in many respects the most encouraging for some time, and definitely something on which to build, provided we can learn to defend effectively and develop the strength of character consistently to defend leads successfully. But we need a run, and soon. If we drift on like this for another half-dozen games, even a play-off spot will look a forlorn hope.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Anderson, Delaney, Holt, Green, Ashbee, Melton, Elliott, Webb, Alexander. Subs: Williams (for Alexander, 71), Dudfield (for Elliott, 88), Jevons, Smith, Deeney. Goals: Elliott 61, 67 Booked: Holt Sent Off: None EXETER CITY: Miller, Sheldon, Virgo, Hiley, Gaia, Pettefer, Walker, Cronin, Thomas, Coppinger, Flack. Subs: Devine (for Coppinger, 53), Partridge (for Sheldon, 64), Power (for Walker, 76), Fraser, Ampadu. Goals: Partridge 68, Flack 90 Booked: Cronin, Gaia, Walker Sent Off: Power ATTENDANCE: 13,667|
|A few scares, but Fortress KC remains intact as the Tigers bag another three points and surge up to 10th in the table. Steve Weatherill gets a nose bleed at such dizzy heights.|
|Ah! Our beautiful new stadium! You really do need to approach it on foot. Up Londesborough Street and over the footbridge … it is to escape the narrow streets of the Borgo and have St Peter’s suddenly burst on your astonished gaze, it is to feel the thrilling vigour of turning away from forbidding grey concrete tower blocks in favour of the lavish decadence of St Basil’s … Yesterday, as a snowstorm draped the giant orb in ghostly white in the hour before kick-off, it was to approach a new and bravely honest world. Don’t miss this injection of emotional thrall to your football club. Walk. Way to go. The stadium was the star yesterday for this was an oddly disjointed game. The League table demonstrates that Bristol Rrovers are a pretty poor side, and plenty of evidence in support of this diagnosis was on show at the Circle yesterday. Nevertheless, though some of our attacking was attractive, we never dominated the play and, in fact, we had good cause to be grateful to the Muss for more than one last-ditch save after the visitors had sliced through our defence with alarming ease. So there wasn’t much basis for enthusiasm about our own long-term prospects based on yesterday’s encounter. Except that … except that we won, except that we added to the mystique of the Circle as a place we never let slip a goal, much less a point, except that grinding victories like this one will, if continued soberly and sensibly for a couple of months, contribute to a serious promotion challenge. Frost warmed by the under-soil heating had melted, and was overlain by the painfully beautiful snow shower. So it was a glitteringly wet pitch that greeted this line-up:
Musselwhite Regan Anderson Joseph Delaney Green Melton Ashbee Elliott Dudfield Alexander
As ever, a “sort of” must be appended to the midfield quartet. Ashbee played deep, Melton played central, Green roamed where his muse took him and Elliott was commonly well advanced down the left. Whatever misgivings we might have about that set-up were put on hold as we made a roasting beginning. A Green corner was flicked on by Alexander to Elliott at the back post: his meaty shot was turned away by a stretching Howie in the Rrovers goal, only for Dudfield to seize on the rebound and smash a shot from a tight angle into the side netting. Ooo! A slick start, but the visitors hit straight back, and a neat backheel in our box prepared a dangerous shooting opportunity which was snuffed out by a crunching Anderson tackle. This opening exchange of parries set the tone for a match that was not fluent enough to be labelled “end to end”, but in which nonetheless both sides seemed able to take turns in puncturing dodgy defences. A free-kick towards the by-line was awarded for a challenge on Dudfield that looked perfectly fair to me, yet earned the tackler a bizarre yellow card; Green’s floated kick into the six-yard box was cleared. Then a long cross from the right eludes Anderson and falls enticingly on to an attacker’s nut just behind the big Scotsman, but the Bris has lost sight of the ball’s trajectory and, taken by surprise, he heads tamely wide of the target. It gets more alarming still as the Muss stops a close-range header and then reacts with honed instinct to block a fiercely-struck follow-up shot. This was a marvellous double save, well worthy of the laconically murmured “Jim Montgomery!” from Ed Bacon to my right, but it was also slack marking at the heart of our defence. Shortly after Regan was culpable in missing a long cross, and was almost punished by ex-Tiger Tait, who chested the ball down and forced a corner which, happily, came to naught. The game was moderately lively, though of a pretty poor quality that could not be attributed solely to the sodden surface. There were occasional glimpses of skilful touch play, most noticeably when Messrs Dudfield, Green and Elliot were adjacent to the ball, and so far Melton was more heavily involved in this game than in any other since his arrival, but there wasn’t much evidence that the opposition were bottom-of the table fodder for our ravenous table. So then we scored. A corner, an Ashbee header – blocked, a Melton side-foot shot – blocked, a grand stramash, and after a wild flailing of limbs another corner. This one is met by a towering Anderson leap and a thumping downward header; Howie blocks it, fubles, and Alexander sweeps the loose ball into the net from close range. A predatory strike, a vital goal. Suddenly we are at the races. Stuart Green delves elegantly into his bag of tricks and tortures Bristol. He feeds Ashbee, who slips a clever pass forward to Melton. He transfers the ball to Dudfield who scampers to the by-line and when his low cross is half-cleared the ball reaches Elliott and a crashing left-foot shot is blocked close to the visitors’ goal-line. We unleash some lovely passing as the snowfall becomes thicker, but a second goal eludes us. Now the game tip-toes towards half-time in tamer mood. It’s been an odd half. Our defence looks draughty, our attack ambitious – it’s not at all like it’s been most of the time of late. It’s less controlled, and I prefer it that way. On 45 a ball is slipped across the face of our goal from their left, but no Rrovers toe makes contact, and we are allowed to make it to the break with our solitary goal advantage. Into the second half, and more flashes of lively entertainment. Alexander muscles his way through the defence like the fondly remembered terrorist frontman of Autumn 2001 and sets up Dudfield inside the box. He slips the ball past the keeper but is foiled by a fingertip save that diverts the shot an inch the wrong side of the post. The ref incorrectly awards a goal kick. Then Dudfield skips down the right and sends a cross sailing towards Elliott, unmarked beyond the back post, but he cannot control a difficult spinning ball and loses possession in a sprawling jumble of limbs. And now the game slips gradually into a shapeless phase. Bristol have slightly the better of it, though they do not help their cause by substituting Grazioli for the canny Allen up front, opting to leave the gratifyingly unimpressive Tait on the pitch. Melton is now rarely involved, Green has slipped temporarily from the radar and though, with Elliott pushed forward, we are now playing a 4-3-3, the Tiger attacks are only sporadic and marred by some consistently aimless punted crosses. The Muss makes an excellent save from a powerful 12-yard shot and then, a couple of minutes later, our offside trap is sprung with ridiculous ease and a Rrover wastes a golden opportunity by sliding a shot past the post with only the Muss barring the route to the equaliser. “Only the Muss” – ha! Our goalkeeper is in commanding form but at this stage only he and the determined Ashbee are on their game. Time for a change. Smith. Hmm. Wouldn’t’ve been my choice. But on comes our man with a (half) season of modest fruitfulness behind him. He takes over at left-back, Delaney steps forward into left-side midfield, while Elliott partners Alexander up front. It is a tiring Dudfield that is taken off. Bristol promptly carve us open once again and only a superbly-judged Muss block prevents them converting a one-on-one into a 1-1. None of our defending in this match made a case for the exclusion of Justin once he is fit. And, though it gives me no pleasure to report it once again, Mr Taylor’s two midfield acquisitions revealed nothing of the reasons for their continued presence in the side. Melton’s vaguely encouraging first-half display has now given way to a disappointing second-half. While Delaney, pushed into midfield, was a gruesome sight. His lack of confidence with the ball at his feet is painful. He advances with all the grace of a giraffe riding a unicycle and he created no beginning of problems for the right side of the visiting defence. Jevons replaces Alexander and we are homing in on a testy 1-0. Ashbee passes to Elliott whose superb ball inside the defence sets Green free, but his cross is blocked. A brief moment of excitement extinguished – too much of yesterday’s match fizzled out after showing brief indications of promise. A fussy ref didn’t help, but the bottom line is that we didn’t ever look like punishing the Bristol basement outfit that provided the opposition. A big thumbs up for the Muss and Ian Ashbee; adequate performances from the hard-working Elliott, Alexander and Anderson; and glimpses of excellence from the Dude and Stuart Green. The rest were, at best, in the “could do better” bracket (except Melton, who all evidence indicates can’t). Overall, a patchy afternoon for the team. But no matter. A nervy 3 minutes are added, Elliott is off, Webb on, and it’s over and we have the points. And the stadium is the star.
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Anderson, Joseph, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Melton, Elliott, Dudfield, Alexander. Subs: Smith (for Dudfield, 82), Jevons (for Alexander, 87), Webb (for Elliott, 89), Holt, Deeney. Goals: Alexander 25 Booked: Green Sent Off: None BRISTOL ROVERS: Howie, Boxall, Austin, Barrett, Rose, Carlisle, Quinn, Astafjevs, Street, Tait, Allen. Subs: Grazioli (for Allen, 67), Gall (for Rose, 79), Uddin (for Boxall, 79), Clarke, Bryant. Goals: None Booked: Rose Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 14,913|
|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|