|After a dreadful Tigers performance, Keith Dean returns from holiday and asks what all the fuss is about, we’re just as poor as ever, aren’t we?|
|A roll. We were on one. Apparently. I add the note of scepticism because, you see, I’ve been away on hols for a few weeks. When I left, the disappointing start had stretched to six non-victorious games and just about every aspect of the team’s performance was under question. I missed the draw with Leyton; the thrillingly brave effort against Leicester and the two wins against Cambridge and Carlisle. On my return I read how the defence has become a solid individual unit; how the team were scoring goals and pushing on looking for more and that Ryan Williams was indeed a true wizard of the wing tormenting full-backs with his incisive and direct running. That’s not quite how it seemed last night. Lining up for, perhaps, out last night match at The Ark were,
Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Green Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Jevons
Our visitors, in a dapper deep blue kit, included MaccWillo in nets and MaccLightbourne (looking a whole lot slimmer than he ever did in a Tiger’s shirt) up front. A quiet enough start but City did maintain a high proportion of the possession. Jevons and Alexander appeared willing runners onto long, deep balls to the corner flags but the midfield never supported in sufficient numbers. On ten, Jevons caught up with one on the right touchline and, with not a great deal of space to work in, turned the defender and put in an inviting cross to the near post. Alexander was lurking but Bransholme’s No. 1 gathered it safely. That was, in fact, his second safe catch of a high cross and, all night, his kicking was accurate and long. An imposter surely? Green started to get into the game and seemed keen for the ball. Sometimes he would start it from deep bringing colleagues into play, and other times he’d look to get ahead of the strikers and keep the oppo on their toes. A proper midfielder, this lad. And, after a quarter of an hour, it was he who put us ahead. A well-timed, ghosting run down the inside right channel was spotted by Jevons and his precise, perfectly weighted pass beat the offside trap. Green took a couple of touches to get himself to the edge of the area and was able to stroke it past the onrushing MaccKeeper. I started to believe. For the next twenty minutes or so we looked OK. We kept the ball and tried similar moves to open up the Macc defence. It was patient and controlled, and we quite often put a string of passes together, but it lacked a killer touch or an explosive bit of pace to really shake them up. We tried feeding it out to Williams, we tried using Regan on the overlap and we tried high balls up to Alexander but the individual players simply didn’t do enough to cause the away defence any serious problems. With the exception of a couple of goalmouth scrambles, the nearest we came to a second goal was a free-kick, about 25 yards out, which Smith hit low and hard around the wall. The initial strike was parried and then smothered before Alexander could take advantage. And then the final five minutes of the half were a bit of a scare. Firstly, a MaccStriker got on the end of a long ball beyond our central defenders and hared into the area. If he’d had shot early we’d have been in trouble but he took it on a tad further and the cover managed to get back close enough to force him nearer and nearer to the byeline so, in the end, his shot smacked into the side netting. But the real wake-up call was still to come. Justin did well to get any sort of defensive header onto a high punt whilst backpedalling and with MaccLightbourne right on his shoulder. But, for the second ball, we simply fannied around for what seemed like an age and no-one took the responsibility of getting rid. Two or three had the time to hoof it clear but hesitation and indecision resulted in Keates cushioning a header into an open space inside the area. Right into the path of MaccWelsh. To the sound of a huge sigh of relief, he showed us why he is the 39th best player at Macclesfield by pushing his shot wide of Glennon and the post from only 12 yards out. The half time summing up around me made numerous comparisons to Saturday’s win. We were a goal up but hadn’t looked convincing. The opposition looked pretty average. So, that was it then, they were in for a second half pasting again. Within five minutes of the restart I knew I had been the victim of an elaborate hoax. True, we couldn’t have done much about the equaliser. Forty yards out, and yes it was forty, the stocky defender MaccWelch (a totally different character to first half blunder boy) hit a screamer that Glennon would have seen late, and he did get a hand to it, but I’m guessing that the element of surpirse was what really caught him out. It came from nowhere. But the second goal ? Oh deary me. Whittle was tracking back to the edge of his area to clear up a forward hoof. Glennon started to come for it but stopped. Whittle hesitated. Glennon took another step forward and another back. Justin turned his body to enable him to thump it away but, in doing so, opened up the gap for MaccLightbourne to nip in, knock it past the flat-footed keeper and tap into an empty net from the edge of the six yard box. The defence as a solid individual unit ? I think not. And that wasn’t even the end of it. They could have scored more as another three good chances were wasted. A passing move starting from their ring wing was worked across field and the final pass, along the edge of the area, found one of theirs in a lot of space but he blazed over as a last-gasp despairing tackle flew in. Another MaccLad then screwed a shot across the goal and wide of Glennon’s left hand post after more simple passing had opened us up and then a left wing cross flew across the face of our goal needing just a touch to add to the humiliation. Our response ? Well it wasn’t that convincing to be honest. The Dude replaced Jevons and played down the left touchline whilst Johnson came on for a wholly ineffective Williams and pushed forward wide on the right. With Alexander, they looked a lively and more urgent threat but only sporadically. We still struggled in midfield and were now a body short in that area. Dude’s runs caused some panic in the Macc defence and brought about a number of corners. They were swung in and MaccWillo at last began to look like the lightweight flapper we recalled from days gone by. But we never ever got anyone in the right place to take advantage of his fubles or pick up the loose ball. Ashbee was the worst culprit when he failed to have a pop at goal from inside the area, instead choosing to turn and retreat and try to feed the ball out wide again. And we had had one golden opportunity to get back onto level terms with 15 mins or so remaining. Dudfield advanced down the left flank then checked back inside before swinging over a quality ball, with his right foot, angled into the area. Alexander had read it and got between and beyond their two central defenders and met the ball just five yards out. MaccWillo had remained stranded on his line, and now cowered, his kness knocking together, as foot met ball. And we watched in disbelief as the ball then, somehow, arced up and over the bar. Reality bit. Just to finish off a grim evening the visitors increased their lead in the dying seconds. One of theirs ran into the area, inside left channel, and again should have hit it early but the extra touch allowed Anderson to make a perfectly timed sliding tackle. The MaccBoy stayed on his feet and was able to play a simple pass inside to MaccAskey who finished to Glennon’s left. So it was true then. You had all been lying to me. What had I witnessed ? Well, Green put us ahead early and then we go on to concede 3. I’d seen that at Exeter. The defence looked, at times, shambolic and seemed incapable of communicating with each other. I’d seen that at Hartlepool. And Ryan Williams was totally ineffective and was substituted well before the end. We’d be here all day if I started listing where I’d seen that before. Next time I go on holiday, I’ll make sure it’s during the close season.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Dudfield (for Jevons, 58), Johnson (for Williams, 58), Edwards, Musselwhite, Bradshaw Goals: Green 16 Booked: Ashbee Sent Off: None MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Tinson, Ridler, Welch, Hitchen, Whittaker, Priest, Welsh, Adams, Lightbourne, Tipton. Subs: Askey (for Lightbourne, 65), Robinson (for Tipton, 73), Munroe (for Welsh, 81), Martin, Hardy Goals: Welch 47, Lightbourne 50, Askey 90 Booked: Askey, Priest, Welch Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 8,703|
|Murder on the dance floor. Steve Weatherill reports on how the twinkle toed Tigers clobbered the lead-booted Cumbrians.|
|Sometimes, though not always, a scoreline faithfully reflects the pattern of the match, and, on this Ark afternoon, it thumped truly into the bullseye. City deserved four, Carlisle deserved none, and we streamed away beaming with glee as we scanned upcoming fixtures with anticipation rather than apprehension. Two League wins in a row, a hat-trick for refreshed centre-forward Gary Alexander, a combined team performance that brooked no argument from flayed Cumbrians; we’re up, and we’re running. 2002/03, watch out, the Tigers are coming, and no, Colin Welland, it is not your ghost that I summon. Green replaced Appleby but otherwise Mr Molby stuck with the side that had begun against Leicester in mid-week, so wielding the scimitar were:
Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Green Keates Ashbee Williams Jevons Alexander
Since the pre-match minute’s silence has now become the rule rather than the exception, I pledge myself to alert you to it only when it does NOT occur, and yesterday was such an occasion. This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the slaughter of over 2,000 refugees, innocent men, women and children, in the camps of Sabra and Chatilla in Lebanon, a war crime perpetrated by local militia with the active support of the invading Israeli army. There was no minute’s silence for the dead at Boothferry Park yesterday. Still, not to worry, eh? No exciting telly footage of that atrocity to jog our memory, and they were only unarmed dead brown people after all, and there’ll be plenty more of them in the Middle East in the next few months. To the football, as you may prefer, and we began kicking towards a knot of 250 or so Carlisle fans on the North Stand. Three Irish tricolours fluttered in their midst as they celebrated the significant Celtic input into their club that has followed the demise of the Knighton regime. The game was very slow to take any sort of shape. Carlisle had come to spoil. They did it quite effectively. They were well-organised. Midfield was snarled up. Foran, up-front for the visitors, was immensely lively, sprinting from side to side and flashing a cheeky grin at the Kempton whenever he came close to the touchline. Stuart Green nipped inside on to his left foot to deliver our first attempt on target, but the shot swung easily straight into the keeper’s safe hands. Twenty minutes in, and this was poor fare. Whereupon we were allocated a cherry-topped slice of outrageous good fortune. A Williams cross from the left looped into the air and was clutched under his crossbar by the Carlisle goalkeeper. Alexander jumped hopefully, but he was too late to get his head on the ball, and his momentum took him forward where his shoulder collided with the ball, dislodging it from the keeper’s grasp. It rolled apologetically into the net, and the referee, surely about to smile wryly and award a free-kick against a sheepish Gary Alexander, instead sent gales of laughter sweeping around the three black-and-amber sides of the ground as he allowed the goal. If Carlisle were Italy, they’d be giving it the “It’s a worldwide conspiracy against us! The ref’s bent!” nonsense. They aren’t, but I expect they’re still pretty annoyed. The goal seemed to have allowed us to slip into a pleasing rhythm as Green and Williams, in particular, began to float the ball around the pitch with growing confidence, but this was only a fleeting glimpse of improved quality, and the game retreated to a sterile pattern, punctuated only by occasional one-off attacks at either end. Carlisle advanced down the left and crossed the ball in low – a Glennon fuble, a Whittle hoof. Then McGill, one of several nippy Cumbrian Irishmen, darted forward in space and shot over the top from outside the penalty box. For us, a Green/ Alexander combination whipped the ball into the Carlisle net, but a justified offside flag pegged us back. Half-time arrived, and it hadn’t been very good, but we held a lead that would, we hoped, allow us to settle into a more positive frame of mind for the second period. And that is just how it turned out. 1-0 after 45 became 4-0 after 90; we could have had more as we ransacked the Carlisle defence. The second half was a gratifying demonstration of how to exploit a small advantage and convert it into a large one. We mauled them. Smith took a throw-in deep in Carlisle territory, close by the corner flag at the junction of Kempton and Bunkers. Williams received possession and floated a delightful cross on to Gary Alexander’s forehead and he, having scampered clear of his bemused marker, flicked a delicate header beyond the flailing keeper’s fingers. 2-0 and, very obviously, more to come. We dominate. Williams races through; the keeper smothers the ball at his feet. Dudfield replaces Jevons who has taken a knock and has had his least effective match so far. Keates makes a rare unforced error to lose possession in midfield but Carlisle are so surprised to have a glimpse of the ball outside of their own half that they are quickly persuaded to give it back to us. Glennon is a bored spectator – I cannot, off-hand, remember him touching the ball at all in the second half. Edwards comes on for Regan and it is all City. There is something deeply satisfying about seeing opponents skulking around, dishevelled and depressed, desperate only to get off the pitch and re-focus themselves on the next game when, they wearily hope, the other team will be more accommodating. Carlisle knew we were too good for them and they were pining for their grimy Border hometown. From the Tiger perspective, the most encouraging feature of this game and of the two-and-a-half that preceded it is our evident and rapid improvement, both individually and collectively. All four defenders look convincing. Whittle’s frill-free excellence we know about; Anderson’s rugged and committed contribution is also on a fast track to becoming taken for granted. Regan and Smith are sound and steady, the latter, rightly maligned for his utter bewilderment when asked to perform the very basics of defending throughout August, having blossomed with remarkable elegance and good sense now that September has cooled the land. Ashbee and Keates, in central midfield, came out of confrontation with very capable opponents in the Leicester game well into credit, and continued their profit-making yesterday. Keates, in particular, seems to improve game in, game out, and now looks a man we could usefully acquire long-term. It gives me no particular pleasure to make the comparison, but the current Keates zest outshines anything the departed Mark Greaves had offered from midfield for many long, subdued and now forgotten months. And then there’s Ryan Williams, whose inspirational current form is – finally – proof that Chesterfield didn’t sell us a pup after all, there’s the imaginative Green and the returning Appleby, a lean and hungry Gary Alexander, spiced with the droolworthy prospect of Stuart Elliott emerging from his injury lay-off. Admittedly, we still face a potential goalkeeping problem, and the identity of Alexander’s preferred striking partner has yet to be conclusively revealed, but overall Mr Molby is entitled to feel he is steering us in the right direction, and quite quickly. But Carlisle have yet to be tortured some more. Williams crosses beyond Alexander to Dudfield, who slips the ball to the advancing Keates whose dangerous cross just eludes Green, hurtling forward on a powerful surge from midfield. Green has wisely decided to quit the right touchline for the centre of the pitch where he can do, and is doing, real damage. Ashbee too is enjoying the unaccustomed opportunity to wade into the opposition half. A third goal is imminent and, pleasingly, it completes the Alexander hat-trick. Edwards wins the ball and slides it forward to Green who releases a striker’s dream ball, into space behind a tired defence. Alexander has started his charge from his own half, so can’t be offside despite the feeble appeals of the visiting defenders, and with plenty of time to take aim he strokes an utterly confident low shot past the keeper’s left hand and into the net. Jubilation all round, and the only outstanding issue now is exactly how many goals we’re going to rip past Carlisle. Johnson is on (for Alexander) and looking typically vigorous, and Williams is flowing down the left. Ashbee and Green combine to provide a opportunity for Dudfield down the inside left channel, but the Dude is judged offside – unconvincingly. There is, however, one more treat in store and it will be scoffed by our wayward striking enigma. A corner from Williams is watched with mournful disinterest by the Carlisle defence, and Dudfield leaps eagerly to smash a header into the back of the net. 4-0. About right. Macc next. They’ll suffer.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Dudfield (for Jevons, 61), Edwards (for Regan, 67), Johnson (for Alexander, 67), Musselwhite, Bradshaw Goals: Alexander 20 49 73, Dudfield 78 Booked: None Sent Off: None CARLISLE UNITED: Keen, Birch, Kelly, Whitehead, Shelley, Molloy, Summerbell, Galloway, McGill, Foran, Nixon. Subs: Jack (for Galloway, 27), Slaven (for Nixon, 55), Wake (for Foran, 75), Andrews, Naisbitt Goals: None Booked: Foran, Kelly, Summerbell Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 8,461|
|Ian Thomson reports on the burgeoning Tigers revival, as Jan Molby finally records his first win at the City helm in grand style.|
|Abbey Stadium is, with the exception of course of the Ark, the one League ground I have visited the most often, albeit that the last occasion I saw a game there which did not feature the Tigers is now over twenty years past. In those dim and distant days the home side, after only about ten seasons or so in the League, were enjoying a spell of some half dozen years or so in the old Second Division, and more than holding their own in the process; I witnessed the likes of Newcastle and Bolton fall there, saw Cambridge score twice in injury time to earn an unlikely 3-3 draw versus Sunderland, and most famously of all remember a much more highly-regarded Villa side than the present one hanging on by the skin of their teeth for a 1-1 draw in the Cup, with all of 12 000 shoehorned into the ground to the point that your feet had nowhere to rest save the ankles of the bloke in front. These recollections are proffered not out of some desire to emulate Nick Hornby (although the tales of the latter’s so-called experiences have no doubt done his bank balance no harm), but rather are inspired by my recollection, during a bit of forward thinking to yesterday’s match in the days which preceded it, of how the Cambridge side of that era, bereft of almost any names you would recognise, relied totally for their success not on flashy skills and clever tricks with the ball, for in truth they, almost to a man, possessed the ability to perform neither, but on a formidable work ethic, meticulous organisation, and large helpings of sheer bloody guts. Not pretty, but on many occasions ruthlessly effective. How, I reflected to myself, the present City side is in need of precisely those qualities. Whilst yesterday’s Tiger offering might not quite have matched the standards of that erstwhile Cambridge team in the relevant departments, it marked a highly-encouraging step in the right direction, carrying on the germination of the seeds of improvement which, by all accounts, were planted last week against Orient. As a performance, it never spawned the levels of dynamism and general barnstorming seen in the second half at Bristol, but was in many respects more valuable to us than that; we were treated to an XI who all seemed to know what they were supposed to be doing and did it, who were willing to work for and support each other, who kept going without ever letting the home side, of whom much was expected following their demolition of the much-vaunted Irthlingborough last week, dominate at any time, and for once this season not only failed to sit back on a lead, but – yes – actually turned the screw as well. A performance in many ways evocative of the charge to the play-offs of a couple of seasons ago, delivered by a team who actually showed that, well, maybe perhaps, they might just be capable of getting the hang of understanding – and, more importantly, delivering – what it takes to get out of this Division by the skylight as opposed to the trapdoor. Oh yes, and we won. Did I mention that? As widely foreshadowed, a place was found in the starting line-up for the Grimsby refugee Phil Jevons at the expense of the Dude and Bradshaw, apart from which, given the injury situation, the City line-up, with Molby again, and, some would say, wisely for this particular fixture, opting for 4-4-2, contained no other real surprises:-
Glennon Regan Anderson Whittle Smith Johnson Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Jevons
Subs: Peat (for Johnson, 70 mins), Edwards (for Jevons, 85 mins). Despite the gloomy promises of rain all week from the Met Office, the neat Abbey was bathed in sunshine and remained so for the remainder of the afternoon as the game kicked-off, with City, in their all-white change strip, kicking away from the visiting support, at a guess 6-700 strong and in apprehensive rather than boisterous mood, approximately half-filling the new South Stand, a well-appointed if rather anonymous structure offering a view infinitely superior to the narrow and shallow terrace, complete with high-security fence, which preceded it, but with the same polite yet slightly officious stewards. In the early stages most of the dash and sparkle took place some distance from the Tiger following, as our heroes kept the home side pushed back into their own half, not allowing the latter any room or time and repeatedly making them resort to the long ball in an effort to make headway. But City, despite forcing a succession of corners, were finding the Cambridge defence in resolute mood, the result of which, coupled with the fact that our front runners still don’t seem to have found their sea legs for the season, was that even half-chances were few and far between, and which means that in truth there isn’t a lot that happened in the first period to report on. City’s best effort of the half came as early as seven minutes in, when a deft chip over the top found Alex, whose effort was tipped over by Marshall in the home goal. Indeed, it was difficult, come the half-time whistle, to think of a 45 minutes containing a greater dearth of real threat to either goal. More significant, though was the manner in which the home side, not renowned for taking prisoners on their own patch, were palpably struggling to stamp any sort of authority on the proceedings, and to that extent the half was not without its compensations. But, barring a City lapse, it did have a whiff of a possible 0- 0 about it at this stage. Half-time, and nice to note (and indeed sample the evidence) that the bacon rolls, the long-time specialité de la maison at the Abbey, had not been swept into oblivion by the tide of progress that is the building of the new stand. Rather less palatable was the observation that the match programme contained one or two more gloating references to City and our recent under-achievement than might have been thought appropriate as well as a number of factual inaccuracies, such that, until reaching the bottom and seeing the offending article attributed to one Dave Brown, one imagined that it may have been written by Fieldhouse. Oh yes, and did anyone else notice that the programme gave their colours as “amber”, but City’s as “yellow”? If anyone from Cambridge is reading this, let me just remind you that Hull City were playing in amber long before Cambridge United were even thought of. So on to the second half, and within two minutes of its commencement the home side made their first real onslaught on the City goal. But it didn’t take the Tigers long to respond, and our best chance to date came another couple of minutes on when a through ball found Jevons, who perceptibly became more settled as the game went on, and on this showing ought to prove to be one of our most successful ventures into the loan market. The Grimsby loanee held off his marker tenaciously and steered the ball goalwards only for Marshall, who had advanced off his line, to spread himself well and make a fine block. The ex-Evertonian was also unlucky when he almost capitalised on a Marshall fuble but the ball went agonisingly just wide. Both sides were cutting loose rather more now, however, and Glennon, who turned in his most assured performance for some time, made an equally impressive save in a one-on-one situation on 57 minutes. Indeed, this marked the start of something of a purple patch for the home side, and for the first time in the game City found themselves on the back foot, surviving another scare on 66 when a rare piece of defensive slackness following a corner left a Cam unmarked, but thankfully the shot went high. But that seemed to mark the end of the Cambridge purple patch, and after Peat’s introduction City took what was undoubtedly a deserved lead, courtesy of a man of such boundless talent that, not content with straightening out our early-season defensive frailties, he now took it upon himself to show the front men how their job should be done. Step forward Mr Justin Whittle. A Jevons header was deflected out on 71 minutes, and from the resultant corner from the left the City no 15, whose form so far has surely been the biggest plus of the season to date, rose like a salmon at the near post to plant an unstoppable header into the top corner past the statuesque Marshall. A good insurance policy against defeat, it seemed; after all, this is what we have become conditioned to expect from years of inept defending of leads by City teams past and present. But no, this particular Tiger was about to live up to its name in devastating style. A mere three minutes on, and an arguably slightly generous free-kick to the Tigers, slightly to the left some 25 yards out. We have, of course, had free-kicks in similar positions already this season, and seen them squandered appallingly, not least because Shaun Smith – a recognised free-kick expert – has been denied the chance to take them. Word is that Molby has not been best pleased about this and that the instruction that Smith must take them has gone out. So, the City number 3, who had his most comfortable game of the season by a country mile yesterday, duly stepped up and curled a beauty into the top right hand corner which Marshall, rather ill-advisedly positioning himself too far to his right some might have said, could only help into the net. The Tiger hordes behind Marshall’s goal celebrated wildly, and so did the players, now palpably imbued with the belief that they were, after all, capable of winning. This rediscovered self-belief was now all too evident in the way City conducted themselves over what would normally have been a nerve-racking last quarter of an hour, playing the game as far upfield as they could, still making forays deep into the Cambridge half in the process, and having the confidence to make runs, find men and keep playing football generally. Even when, in the final minute of normal time, Cambridge top-scorer Kitson forced the ball home following what looked from the other end to have been a fortunate deflection into his path, City remained unruffled, keeping possession and forcing errors from the home side. Accordingly the two minutes of added time passed without any real threat, and “I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts” remained in the Cambridge PA man’s tape rack. At the final whistle the celebrations were noisy and prolonged, and the applause deservedly generous for a most accomplished performance against a team high on confidence and well capable of turning us over big style given the opportunity. Talking to some Cambridge fans on the bus into town after the match, their view was that the difference between yesterday’s game and their defeat of Rushden was the quality of City’s performance, which if true is most encouraging to hear. Much was made of the expression of despair on Pearson’s face after the Hartlepool game; I didn’t see his face after yesterday’s game, but if it wasn’t bearing an ear-to-ear grin it damn well ought to have been. Of course, the early shoots of recovery are ever fragile, and nobody (except, no doubt, the usual suspects on the City Independent message board) should treat this as anything other than a firm and very positive step along the steep path of rehabilitation to complement last week’s rather more tentative one. There will inevitably be steps back as well as forward, but at least we now know ? which I doubt we did with any conviction before yesterday – that we do after all have a management and team which does know how to get out of this ruddy Division. The trick now is to keep doing it for the next 39 games (and maybe the three after that).
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Johnson, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons. Subs: Peat (for Johnson, 65), Edwards (for Jevons, 85), Musselwhite, Philpott, Bradshaw Goals: Whittle 71, Smith 74 Booked: Keates, Peat Sent Off: None CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Marshall, Warner, Duncan, Angus, Murray, Tudor, Guttridge, Fleming, Riza, Youngs, Kitson. Subs: Bridges (for Guttridge, 71), Scully (for Riza, 72), Brennan, Nacca, Paynter Goals: Kitson 90 Booked: Duncan, Tudor Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 4,258|
|Steve Weatherill reports as the Tigers continue their unwanted habit of tossing away a lead against limited opposition.|
|Another bad one, I’m afraid. We weren’t too shabby in the first half and took a deserved lead; we were pretty ragged in the second and found ourselves deservedly pegged back by the visitors. Bury were a hard-working side and no more, but that is quite sufficient at present to rein in Molby’s men. Again, you would have to be a profound optimist to consider that things are shaping up nicely for version 2002/03 of the Tigers, or even shaping up at all. So perhaps we can be sensibly encouraged to stick to being mere realists and accept that that it’s only August yet. And – bright side seekers – we finished with a full complement of eleven men yesterday. Justin Whittle was mercifully back in the starting line-up, though Dudfield was excluded from it, and, with Elliott injured, Morison, our loanee from Sheffield Wednesday, stepped into the left side role. But expectations that Mr Molby would persevere with his favoured 4-3-3(-ish) proved ill-founded. We carded a no-nonsense 4-4-2:
Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Petty Green Greaves Morison Johnson Alexander
However, it wasn’t quite time for the football, and – wonder of wonders, I kid you not – out trotted the Reverend Allen Bagshawe, for some characteristically witless words, and then the ground fell silent. And so the preening self-importance of football took another loathsome lurch into infamy as it arrogantly paraded the bathetic triviality of a few seconds of silence before an insignificant sports event as a tribute to poor children “the nation” never even knew existed before their death. It is a wicked war of exploitation in which I cannot grasp why football would choose so callously to ally itself to the media’s glutinous confectionery of commercialised grief over deaths they deem to lie at the summit of newsworthiness in pursuit of nothing other than extra profit (“we care! Buy our paper! More about their favourite toys! Buy our paper! WE CARE!! OUR REWARD IS BIGGER BIGGER BIGGER, GRIEVE WITH US AND WIN PRIZES!!!”). Time for some football, I think, but not until Johnson had been yellow-carded for a two-footed tackle of the type that seems inevitably to be punished these days even though the challenge was well-timed, won the ball and did not inflict even a scratch on the Bur. Johnson was back in action shortly afterwards, craftily going to ground all too easily on the edge of the box and winning an undeserved free kick from the clean-shaven referee. The ill-gotten free kick was wastefully scooped high over the bar by Stuart Green. Smith, signed for his dead ball skills, looked on disconsolately, hands on hips. It was modestly lively fare, though neither side offered much in the final third. The incidents that did involve interest in the goalmouths were largely at the North Stand end attacked by City. Mid-way through the half Alexander set up Johnson for a shot that was blocked and then, a minute later, “Jack” Regan strode forward and smashed a viciously swerving 25-yard shot just over the bar. At this stage Regan’s willingness to bring the ball forward was pleasing, though he was hindered by playing just behind Petty, who was generally loitering far too deep and simply looked positionally ill-suited to the right-side role in midfield. Elsewhere, Morison, though demonstrably no Elliott, looked deft on the ball but lightweight and, perhaps, less than fully match-fit, while Green was enjoying a confident spell of intelligent passing and moving. The muscular Johnson was a more likely scorer than his out-of-sorts partner Gary Alexander and, round about the half hour, the Leeds loanee put us ahead. And a strange sort of goal it was. Johnson seemed likely to be beaten to a hopeful through ball by Bury keeper Garner, but he slid into a challenge on his knees, as if intent on setting up a rolling maul of the type feared by quivering visitors to the High Veldt charged with the lonely task of taking on the Springboks, but he emerged to regain his feet and find the ball becalmed at his feet, with Garner rucked aside. Johnson composed himself and raked a shot into the open goal from a narrow angle before any defenders could rush back to cover, and, perhaps to his surprise, glanced at the referee to discover that the goal had been given. Bury, it should be said, had little heart for a protest, so perhaps the goal looked more dubious than it really was when observed from my distant eyrie in Kempton. Green now got himself booked, albeit a shade harshly, as Bury, deprived of Plan A, the “Defend for a 0-0” option, roused themselves and kicked on into Plan B, “Exploit their left-back”. Smith duly lost the ball carelessly and a pacy attack was halted only by a perfectly timed challenge on the edge of the box from Justin Whittle, in front of an appreciative Bunkers. Shortly afterwards it was Regan’s turn to squander possession and on this occasion it was a delicate defensive header by Anderson that protected us from a dangerous cross. Both centre-backs looked the part, and they shepherded us through to the sanctuary of half-time and a 1-0 lead. It was thus far an adequate display, no more, but it was the best we were going to get. Bury bossed it once the game re-started. For ten or so minutes we were chasing possession in vain as the visitors passed the ball around with disconcerting comfort. The sum total of serious efforts of goal was zero, and Glennon pouched a patter of feeble crosses calmly enough, but the impression was that our team had, yet again, let its collective mind drift away from the job at hand. On this occasion, Mr Molby wasn’t slow to act. Morison had just enjoyed his best moment of the match, a decent little jinking run and swerving shot that was well held by Garner, but he now came off for Price. I’d guess Morison had been told he’d get an hour, no more, until his fitness is topped-up. Johnson, who had faded in the second period but had still easily out-performed Alexander, was replaced by Dudfield, and our display briefly perked up. A penalty box melee in front of Bunkers; Dudfield chips the ball up for Alexander’s craning forehead; just wide … corner claimed, duly refused. A lung-bursting run by Green; a back-pass, a hoof clear by Garner. Just as we seemed to have grappled control of the pattern of play back from Bury, they equalised. It is, perhaps, the iron rule of lower Division football – you score most readily when you’re under pressure at the other end. Something to do with defensive dis-organisation? It was a messy goal, with a deflection or two involved, perhaps a wretchedly unpredictable squirt off a surface now moistened by rain that had begun to fall just after 4 o’clock, but the end result was that one of theirs was able to scramble it over the line from about 8 yards out, as Glennon threw his considerable bulk at his adversary in vain. So, 1-1, and it got worse horribly rapidly. Glennon spilled a low shot directly into the path of one of theirs about ten yards out and our portly keeper was doubtless hugely relieved to see the chance wastefully booted high over the bar. Then Glennon let another cross elude his nervous grasp and although on this occasion no damage was done, his confidence was visibly shredded. Throw abysmal distribution on to the charge sheet and our netman was an all-too-ready target for the witless Kempton boo-boys, now well into their stride just four games into the new season. People who tell you “This is gunna be our season” before a ball has been kicked should be cuffed smartly around the ear, for it such inflated expectation that fuels the stupidity of fans getting on player’s backs long before the clocks have gone back, a fault to which the Hull City support is woefully and perennially self-defeatingly susceptible. But Glennon could usefully lose some weight and start keeping goal properly. Names such as Forrest, Dunfield and Newby do not trip off the keyboard, but all the same these scions of Lancashire lower-Division football were now busily taking us apart. Bury passed and moved, over-ran us in midfield and looked entirely capable of seizing all three points. Green was having a quiet spell; Greaves had been having a quiet spell since kick-off. The tireless running and focused energy which made Mark Greaves one of our most valuable players eighteen months or so ago appear wholly exhausted. Petty was ordinary, Price anonymous. We have no possession of the football at all and only the supreme professional Justin Whittle, ably supported by the improving Anderson (know your history: a Hull City side will always be the better for the addition of a Scotsman), protected us now. Greaves surprised us all by winning a header from a rare Tiger corner, but its gentle goalward loop never suggested success and it was headed easily clear, and the Bury deluge resumed. Bradshaw replaced Petty, an attacking move that was predictably foiled by our midfield’s inability to supply quality passes up to the attacking trio, though the snappy Bradshaw managed to irritate a couple of defenders close to a foot taller than him with his perkiness. I think he is part terrier. And so we hung on. There were three minutes of “added” and by now Bury had acquiesced in a share of the points. The final moment of note arrives on 92 when the arithmetically-minded Smith belts a 30-yard shot twelve yards too high and eighteen wide, but you didn’t have to be much good at sums to know that this was another disappointing afternoon’s football. I don’t do “Man of the Match” nominations – it’s a team game. But we are very lucky to have a man like Justin Whittle in amber and black.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Petty, Green, Greaves, Morrison, Alexander, Johnson. Subs: Price (for Morrison, 56), Dudfield (for Johnson, 60), Bradshaw (for Petty, 84), Musselwhite, Keates Goals: Johnson 36 Booked: Green, Johnson Sent Off: None BURY: Garner, Swailes, Redmond, Unsworth, Barrass, Dunfield, Forrest, Clegg, Stuart, Abbott, Newby. Subs: Woodthorpe (for Barrass, 45), Billy (for Clegg, 78), Preece, Nelson, George Goals: Abbott 64 Booked: Barrass, Redmond, Swailes Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 8,804|
|Exeter City (2) 3 Hull City (1) 1|
|Another trip to the West Coast sees the Tigers capitulate meekly to a limited Exeter City side. Steve Weatherill reports on more red cards and red faces.|
|Desperate, woeful stuff. I’m shaken, I’m baffled, I’m frustrated, I’m angry. And I’m worried. Who can bear the thought of another season in this accursed Division? Who can begin to measure the agony of squandering the momentum available from our shiny new stadium by failing to baptise it with a promotion season? It is, perhaps, too early to start grappling with such self-torture, but this thumping reverse at St James’s Park was emphatic and wholly justified, and revealed – or, better, merely confirmed – deep flaws in the set-up and personnel chosen for this season by Mr Molby. I’ll trot out the team and then I feel the need for a cathartic rant.
Glennon Regan Anderson Strong Smith Ashbee Price Green Dudfield Elliott Alexander
“And so, Mr Molby, all those four defenders are your personal acquisitions and all four, that’s ALL FOUR, are conspicuously short of the required standard. What’s the point in fetching in Regan, a loan signing from Barnsley, and then bringing his modest talents into the team in place of Mike Edwards rather than the bewildered Smith? Sure, Smith had his best game for the club yesterday. And was still dreadful. So Edwards to left-back, please. Then there’s Strong. I suppose that he, like Smith, must once have been quite a good footballer, and quite recently too, but all the evidence is that this is a man plunged on a very rapid descent down the slippery slope of under-achievement. Sure, you hauled Strong off at half-time yesterday and quite right too, Mr Molby, but the damage had been done by then. And while I’m on, Lawrie Dudfield, a word with you too, if you please. You have abundant talent, and it was a joy to see you back to your sleek best against Southend. But you were off the pace at Bristol, and you showed minimal appetite for the fight yesterday at Exeter. I don’t want any repeat of the way you sulked your way through the later stages of last season – pull yourself together man, and do it now.” … Yes, I know, calm down, calm down, it’s only three games in, and only a half-wit with the attention span of a young puppy would seriously have expected our new manager to have crafted an irresistible promotion machine out of the smouldering wreck that was bequeathed to him last April. Marathon not a sprint, yeah yeah, don’t patronise ME sonny. Yesterday was plain awful. With Elliott off injured, Green red-carded (yes! that’s three in three!) and Dudfield subbed after guilt was established on a charge of recidivist lethargy there were spells during the second half, in particular, where we looked like a dullard lumbering pub team, casually held at bay by polished superiors. At Exeter! Throw in a first half during which we took the lead but then rapidly threw it away, and proceeded to get ripped to defensive shreds time and again, and the mood of sullen shock that settled on a City support that had braved a fearful motorway obstacle course to win the prize of viewing this shambles was palpable and painful. Exeter began by attacking the away end, and any expectation that we would extract maximum glee from witnessing the combined incompetence of aged sledgehammer Steve “Roberta” Flack, winsome waster Lee Sharpe and long-suffering absurdly Afro’d Don “Beyonce” Goodman was rudely shattered as it became horribly apparent that this comedy trio were far too lively and canny for our defence. Goodman set up Sharpe who transferred the ball on to Flack, and, in a penalty-box melee that owed everything to a lack of defensive leadership and decisiveness in our ranks, we were ultimately rescued only by a desperate toe-end from Regan. Sharpe looked keen to impress (though, one would suppose, any watching managers and scouts that swim in more elevated seas than the English 4th Division were the intended targets, rather than the Exeter support) while Goodman was visibly relishing being permitted the unaccustomed luxury of receiving and controlling the ball without any serious interference from opposing defenders. It was disturbingly poor stuff, so City, quixotically, scored. A ball was knocked in by Elliott from wide on the left towards Alexander, stationed just outside the penalty area. He squared the ball with his first touch to Green, who stroked a breathtakingly nonchalant side-foot strike into the back of home net. 1-0, and we dream of the unravelling of a relaxing afternoon in the Devon sunshine and a three-point reward. Such basking never looked likely. Exeter, to their credit, got stuck right back in. A free-kick reached Goodman in space, but he headed wide when he should have scored. Then the home side worked the ball down their right – our left: Smith’s side, I add more in sorrow than anger – and when the pass was pulled back to Lee Sharpe fifteen yards out, he had time enough to take a steadying touch and roast the ball into our net via the underside of the crossbar. Such slack, unfocused defensive organisation seems to be a chronic problem for this City side, and Exeter were by no means satisfied with their deserved equaliser. Flack headed the ball down to Goodman who held possession with supreme indifference to the feeble amber-and-black pseudo-challenges that surrounded him before sliding a pass on to Sharpe. His shot was tipped wide by a morose Glennon. Then a ball hoisted in from their left finds Coppinger, a nippy midfielder who has run unopposed from a deep-lying position, and his shot crashes noisily against the crossbar before bouncing out to safety. And now we lose Elliott. Earlier he had been booked after sprawling across the turf under a robust challenge from an Exe. I thought the booking was for simulation, in which case the referee got it horribly wrong, for Elliott never recovered from the tumble and was now forced to limp off. However, it may be that the referee booked Elliott for a tackle over the ball in the original incident, in which case his injury was, I suppose, self-inflicted. It’s often hard to tell at Exeter – the rake of the terraces is very shallow. Whatever: Johnson replaced Elliott, and slotted in on the right side, while Dudfield switched to the left flank vacated by Elliott. Only moments later Exeter too made a change, though this seemed unforced. Don Goodman ambled happily off, to be replaced by Martin Thomas. There was no apparent injury so perhaps the bustling front-man is contractually required to play no more than a half-an-hour’s cameo these days, delighting his band of admirers with a wink and a burly side-step before taking off early-doors for the sanctuary of more illicit girth-enhancing pleasures. He is surely the West Yorkshire Maradona. The dismal charade continues. Exeter are targeting Smith’s wing for most of their attacking endeavour, and Coppinger cuts in energetically from that side to smash a left foot shot just over our bar. It is a vain aspiration that we might cling on to 1-1 up until half-time, and that vision is trampled underfoot as the dismal half reaches its concluding moments. First, Green is sent off – a straight red for a high tackle. From where I was standing, this was one of those daft sendings-off, like Ronaldinho’s against England in the World Cup, where a referee treats a slightly ill-timed, over-eager but wholly unmalicious challenge as a potential leg-breaker. Well, perhaps, in unusually unfortunate circumstances, such challenges might break legs, but there’s something gone awry with the game’s values when this type of misjudgement is penalised at the same level of severity as Roy Keane’s frequent calculated on-field criminal assaults. But Green is gone and we are down to ten men, and soon after we are 2-1 down as well. It is a truly abysmal goal. The ball bounces towards Strong, in the middle of the goalmouth, six yards out. Instead of lashing it clear, he seems transfixed; have the markings on the new Official Approved Football been tested for their capacity to plunge players into a glassy-eyed trance? Strong dithers, and simply wobbles the ball a couple of yards behind him, where a surprised but grateful Flack intervenes to nudge it past Glennon and over the line. Half-time brings immediate sanction, for the woeful Strong is pulled off in favour of Justin Whittle, while the terminally torpid Dudfield loses his place to Williams. But inside a minute of the re-start it is catastrophically 3-1, as Exe skate down their right and a near-post cross is nodded home by a flurried combination of Flack and Whittle. I don’t consider this was more than bad luck thrust upon Justin. He can hardly be expected to step into the team at this late stage and immediately perform at his usual flawless defensive best, and he did all he could to block Flack’s run. On the evidence we’ve seen so far this season, Strong would have been placidly inspecting his fingernails while Flack rammed an unopposed header into our net. Justin always competes and he is now, I trust, a fixture in our first eleven once again. With the home side 3-1 up and City playing with ten men and deprived of our three most flairful players in Elliott, Dudfield and Green, there was little genuine expectation of a revival, either among players or fans. And so it proved. The second half was anaemic and deserves to be disposed off with maximum brevity. Flack should have scored again when Smith lost his man and permitted the delivery of a cross and an easy scoring opportunity, but the header was negligently tucked wide of Glennon’s post. Alexander, lacking last season’s bite, appeared to have run clear of the cover, only to be tackled pursuant to a poor first touch. In fact, the Exeter central defensive pairing of Curran and Santos was highly impressive throughout, showing mutual understanding, positional sense and commitment in the challenge. Then, up at the other end, Coppinger drifted through two tackles as he cruised from right to left before loosing a shot that Glennon held. Didn’t Coppinger once score for Hartlepool at the Ark? He was very good indeed yesterday. More will be written by stupified others, I should imagine, not least about Exeter’s willowy mascot, but I am weary with the sense of things going horribly wrong. I mean, I’ve only mentioned in any detail the players who played REALLY badly. There was also Williams, who came on at half-time and promptly vanished; Price, who offered nothing going forward and rarely shored up Smith’s over-run emplacement (a formidably large task, I admit); Ashbee, who was booked again. It was truly an all-round shocker. I’ll stop now, I think.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Price, , Dudfield, Alexander, Elliott. Subs: Johnson (for Elloitt, 26), Whittle (for Strong, 46), Williams (for Dudfield, 46), Musselwhite, Bradshaw Goals: Green 10 Booked: Alexander, Ashbee, Johnson Sent Off: Green EXETER CITY: Miller, McConnell, Curran, Gaia, Power, Coppinger, Cronin, Walker, Sharpe, Flack, Goodman. Subs: Thomas (for Goodman, 31), Roscoe (for Sharpe, 67), Sheldon (for Flack, 82), Fraser, Whitworth Goals: Sharpe 21, Flack 45, o.g. (Whittle) 46 Booked: none Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 4,257|
|Bristol Rovers (1) 1 Hull City (0) 1 A game of two halves. Steve Weatherill reports on the Jekyll and Hyde tendencies of the new Tiger breed.|
|Two games, two points, two red cards. A rum do in the rugby citadel of upland Bristol, as City were woeful throughout the first half, trailing deservedly 1-0 at the break, and then, by contrast, vigorous and effective but goalless in the second half up until the moment deep inside the last 10 minutes when Strong was sent off, whereupon sheer spirit surged to the surface, and substitute debutant Johnson thumped home an equaliser to seal a welcome and well-merited point. All in all, a decent game with no particular pattern, save that – for no obvious weather-related rationale – the whip hand was clothed in blue up until half time and amber thereafter, but nonetheless many of the impressions gathered on the opening day of the season inched closer to being confirmed: our attack is potent and though neither Dudfield nor Green looked as menacingly on-message as they had three days earlier, Bradshaw’s display outshone the limp offerings provided last Saturday by Williams, while Elliott is simply magnificent. Meanwhile, midfield is patchy. Ashbee again came and went as the game progressed. And we remain a defensive shambles. We began with the same ersatz diamante 4-3-3-ish formation as we had deployed against Southend, although a small personnel adjustment saw Williams left out and Bradshaw included. Dudfield took over the right-side attacking role and wee Bradshaw stepped in as cutting-edge. So:
Glennon Edwards Anderson Strong Smith Ashbee Greaves Green Dudfield Elliott Bradshaw
A scrappy opening ten minutes gradually gave way to obvious Rovers superiority. They looked fit and lively, as you would expect of a Ray Graydon side, and, though their lower Division hackers will never aspire to the pacy trickery of their manager in his gifted playing days, they pushed urgently down the flanks and found us defensively wanting. Our principal tactic appeared to consist of the obtuse one of allowing the thrower to go wholly unmarked, so each time the home side won a shy their man threw it in, received it back and trundled happily off into space down the wing. Perhaps someone can confirm just how many throw-ins Bristol enjoyed during the first-half last night? Too frustratingly often we were defending hopefully as crosses looped in, instead of cutting off delivery at source, and it was this malfunction that led to the first major scare. Challis, limited but eager shaven-haired left back, was permitted time to hoik a long cross towards the back of the box where more poor marking allowed another of theirs time to bring the ball down and smash a low shot beyond Glennon, only for Anderson to rescue City with a clearance from bang on the whitewash of the goal-line. I will confess I have some difficulty telling our pair of centre-backs apart. Though facially dissimilar, Strong and Anderson’s build is comparable and so is their hair colour and shape, so from a distance a case of mistaken identity is all too possible. I find myself imagining we have a composite central defence comprising two men both called Armstrong, so bear with me if such imprecision slips into these reports, but on this occasion credit for salvation definitely goes to Anderson. More woe as Rovers dominate. Edwards and Dudfield got hopelessly confused down the right, allowing one of theirs ample time to loft in another looping cross. Tait, briefly clueless for City last season, got ahead of Armstrong and nudged the ball over Glennon and on to the top of the bar. It was a good position and he should have scored. But he’s rubbish. Then Strong lost his man; the shot was soft, and Glennon made a diving meal of a fairly simple save. Oo, it was rotten. The sun-kissed undulations of urban Bristol away to our left made happier viewing than the ragged Tigers. Bristol were playing orthodox 4-4-2 and dominating midfield. Green was isolated in the advanced sections of the middle and was able to exert negligible influence on the pattern of play. The ball kept rolling Glennon-wards. Smith was regularly out of position down the left and when he wasn’t, he was easily outpaced by an opponent. On the other side poor old Mike Edwards was having a 24-carat nightmare, frequently uncertain in choice of position and hesitant in the tackle. And I’m afraid he didn’t strike a pass cleanly all night long. Tait was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon made a sharp stop. Then, a short thirty seconds later, the other home striker, Grazioli, was offside; it wasn’t given and Glennon was beaten to his right by a crisp finish that rolled into our net just inside the post. I call it as I see it and I thought it offside. Reliable witnesses around me assert Grazioli had run from deep and that he was onside. Whatever. We deserved to be losing and now we were. It’s not even half-time yet, and it could have got worse soon after as Smith backed off like a chipmunk faced by a cougar as one of theirs raced at him. The cross was duly delivered without the pressure of any challenge, and Grazioli, allowed plenty of room by Armstrong, whirled into an overhead kick which Glennon managed to cling on to. On 43, Elliott darted from left to right and, bringing his right boot into serious competitive action for the first time, he hammered in a fierce shot that was tipped over the bar. Aside from an earlier Dudfield cross which Green had headed disappointingly high it was our only attacking flash of a first half which now, mercifully, was called to a close by prancing Premiership whistler, nervy eleven-year-old and keen Airfix modeller Andy D’Urso. I had expected Mr Molby to change our formation at the break and to stiffen midfield. But he didn’t. Instead the Dane changed our players’ attitude. And some. Perhaps Ashbee and Greaves had been encouraged to play a little closer to Green, but most of all, all three had been instructed to up their work-rate. And they did, and so was midfield wrested back into our grip. A Molby plea to “Get it out wide to Elliott, that lad can PLAY!” had also evidently been issued, and was acted on. And he can play, and he did. It was a gradual improvement. Initially too much was lumped in the air at Bradshaw who, though as tenacious as a vole, cannot seriously compete aerially with standard-sized centre-backs. Bristol even threatened briefly as Tait found space. But he mangled his chip and Glennon held it without a tremble. Time for the Tiger. Green slipped a cute pass to Elliott, racing in from the left wing. He took it in his stride, near the edge of the box, and fired in a vicious meaty drive which the keeper was mightily relieved to see nestle in the side-netting, just wide. Then a slick move out of midfield presented Bradshaw and Dudfield with a gleeful 2 on 1, only for idiot referee D’Urso to haul play back all the way to half way for a useless free-kick in our favour. Never mind – all City now. Bradshaw’s darting run and flick header – saved at a stretch. Elliott strains down the left and slides an inviting ball across the face of the goal – Dudfield mysteriously hesitates and stands watching as the ball screams “hit me!!” as it travels across the goalmouth just three yards in front of the transfixed Dude. Our lack-lustre Bergkamp-lookalike pays for this moment of indecision and is hauled off in favour of Johnson, the Leeds loanster, who takes up the same right-sided berth. This lad is exciting. He is very powerfully built, in the way that so many Premiership players who regularly visit their pharmacist seem to be, and is also obviously schooled to get himself and the football forward at pace whenever the chance presents itself. Molby also made another like-for-like exchange as he brought off Greaves and introduced Price. Plenty of time for an equaliser yet. Green shot from 25 yards – just wide. Then an outrageous Bradshaw flick had the entire Rovers defence gasping in admiring bemusement as Green accepted the gift and motored forward into space, but his shot was soft and easily stopped. As yet Green’s play is a shade over-ambitious and his choice of options was certainly less well-judged last night than on Saturday, but he is a rare talent and I don’t expect Mr Molby to curtail his invention. All the more so in the case of Elliott. His commitment as a Christian is his business; his commitment as a footballer is ours. And he never gives up. He’s a genuine hard-worker, which, combined with flair, pace and shimmering self-confidence, makes him a hugely exciting prospect. We’re lucky to have him. Positive thinking all round, but we’re into the last ten minutes now and we’re still one down a long way from home. Glennon has possession and the players are trotting upfield when Strong seizes the moment and kicks one of theirs to the floor. O, yes, smart move. The linesman sees it – he can’t miss it – and once the tale is told Mr D’Urso has no option but to reduce us to ten men. I suppose that will be a three game ban for Strong and I hope that will bring us Justin back permanently. He was back temporarily last night, as we re-organised the defiant ten by bringing off Smith for the reliable Whittle. Well, I didn’t think we’d get anything from the game now, even though the efforts since the half-time break had made us worthy of a point’s reward, but team spirit was now allied to footballing power and elegance and we sneaked it. Green stroked a delightful pass down the left wing for Elliott to race on to. He picked his spot for the cross delivered from the by-line and rolled the ball into the path of Johnson, who had spotted the possibilities as soon as Green had lofted the ball forward. His 40-yard lung-bursting run was rewarded by the opportunity to ram the ball home from near the penalty spot. 1-1, about right, and, in contrast to Saturday, we duly survived an ominous repeat of the “3 added minutes” board.
|HULL CITY: Glennon, Edwards, Strong, Anderson, Smith, Ashbee, Green, Greaves, Bradshaw, Dudfield, Elliott. Subs: Price (for Greaves, 61), Johnson (for Dudfield, 61), Whittle (for Smith, 81), Musselwhite, Williams Goals: Johnson 85 Booked: Anderson, Elliott, Johnson Sent Off: Strong BRISTOL ROVERS: Howie, Boxall, Uddin, Barrett, Challis, Carlisle, Quinn, Bryant, McKeever, Tait, Grazioli. Subs: Astafjevs (for McKeever, 78), Gilroy (for Grazioli, 84), Clarke, Hogg, Gall Goals: Grazioli 30 Booked: none Sent Off: none ATTENDANCE: 7,501|
I started my away-match travelling for this season on a murky
evening in a foreign country amid a tiny band of Tigers fans, and
I repeated the dose yesterday. But Cardiff had little in common
with the joyous optimism of that win at Partick Thistle back in
late July. Indeed, the omens could hardly have been worse.
Cardiff haven’t started the season very well, but they’re still
doing better than us; our away form has been mainly poor; we seem
able to defend in the Cups but not in the League; and the sour
taste of Saturday’s rank injustice lingers deeply. And this was,
after all, Cardiff, League football’s 91st most inviting venue
and a long, long way from home.
Well, we lost. The game could be taken as a summary of our whole
season so far. Occasional bright moments, providing sources of
optimism. But individual errors and an overall lack of positional
coherence, with a bit of bad luck thrown in, denied us any
We brought back Rocastle and Bettney, the two loan players
ineligible for Saturday’s Cup tie, and, with Hodges and Mann
dropping out of the starting line-up, we played:
Greaves Wright Hocking
Joyce Rocastle Peacock
But we fell gloomily behind after only two minutes. A ball was
knocked forward into our box, their man had time and space to lay
it off to Andy Saville, who in turn had time and space to get his
head over the ball and shoot into the corner of the net from 15
yards. It was at the distant Canton end, so the City support of
100 or so were denied the opportunity to offer our former striker
a sporting round of applause on his goalscoring success.
The game settled into an even pattern, with minimal penalty area
activity, but after about 20 minutes, they made it 2-0. A free-
kick on the edge of our box was laid square into the path of one
of their midfielders, who was not closed down and he fired hard
and low past Willo’s left hand into the goal. Slack defending.
We now had fears that a dispirited Tigers team might be buried
by an avalanche of goals, but the team put some fight into it,
greatly assisted, it must be admitted, by the inadequacies of the
home side. And the balance of play began to switch our way,
albeit against the background that the overall standard was
pretty poor. By the last 15 minutes of the half, we were on top.
Darby got a toe-end to a Peacock cross and the ball looped
crazily up in the air and against the bar, with the keeper
confounded by the ball’s peculiar wobbling. Then Duane found
space for a header from only 6 yards out, only to see his effort
blocked by a desperate goalkeeper. Brave save; Duane should’ve
buried it. Then Greaves laid a fine ball into Tricky’s path, but
Peacock, advancing into the box free of defensive attention,
slipped his shot across the keeper and agonisingly just wide of
the post. Cardiff were at bay, but it felt like we needed a score
before half-time. And we didn’t get one.
If the first half had been largely listless, the first 20 minutes
of the second half were plain awful. We watched, numb with
despair. Nothing happened. Hodges had replaced Bettney (who spent
far too much time in the first 45 minutes marooned out wide) and
Fewings came on for Greaves, with Rioch moving to midfield to
free up left back for Fewings. So we had adjusted to a 4-4-2-ish
sort of a formation, though Rocastle consistently dropped very
deep (and was later still swapped for Lowthorpe). But the
football was dire, until, suddenly, we scored, totally out of the
amber. A long ball from our left found Peacock (I think!) on the
edge of the box, who cleverly laid the ball into Darby’s path and
our returning hero thumped his shot home for 2-1. Shortly
afterwards, Peacock tore inside on a dynamic run in from the
right, and struck a fine shot against the top of the bar. Rioch
was trying to pump fuel into our performance, though, as ever,
Gregor mixed frenetic energy and laudable attempts to provide
leadership with misplaced passes and occasional positional
howlers. He has the makings of a fine player, but is flawed yet.
The home side was not lifeless, and Willo pulled off an excellent
sprawling close range block with his legs, but City had the upper
hand. However, time was running out and, with the game slipping
away from us, it needed something remarkable to save us. It came
courtesy of the Cardiff defence, which in the very last minute
of the match parted handsomely to usher Duane straight through
the middle with an inviting one-on-one on the keeper. Duane
stroked his shot wide of the keeper’s left hand … and the ball
slid gently beyond the post as well. If Duane had been a week
closer to full match fitness after his long lay-off, who knows
We deserved the point we didn’t get, though neither side played
at all well.
Beaten, we retreated. A long slog back into England and on up
North was lit up at the end by a Nottingham taxi driver who took
one look at our scarves and said “Hull City? By heck, you should
have had a penalty on Saturday, shouldn’t you?” Yes, mate. Missed
opportunities, denied opportunities … we’ve had more than our
fair share so far this season. I think it would be useful for us
to defeat Doncaster in ten days time.
Can there possibly be a bright side to this alarming scoreline?
Well, until deep into first-half injury time, when Shrewsbury
scored their second goal, we were distinctly the better side, and
had played reasonably well. However, the second half was truly
wretched and ultimately we took a ghastly hammering.
Wright Greaves Hocking
Brien Joyce Rioch
And we started well enough, attacking Bunkers. A splendid piece
of Hodges trickery, down near the by-line, created space for a
low cross, which Ellington reached with a straining toe-end, but
the ball flew just over the bar. We looked to be putting together
our attacks with some conviction … whereupon they scored.
Steele had disturbing amounts of time and space to run at and
across our defence before firing a left-foot shot low past the
blameless Wilson’s right hand into our net.
But we kept going in the right vein. Joyce chip; Hocking flick;
Greaves arriving in the box .. just over the bar. And offside
too, but it was a fluid, promising move. Then Wright glanced a
header from a floated Joyce free-kick narrowly beyond the far
post with visiting keeper Benny the Gall well beaten. The Duke
displayed heartening determination in the box to wrench
possession from a Shrew, then turn sharply and shoot towards the
corner of the net, only for the keeper to produce a fine diving
save. We were by no means dominant, but we were the better side.
But injury time in the first half dragged on, for no apparent
reason. On about 48 minutes, a cross to the back post was met by
Devon White, largely unmarked for no apparent reason, and his
header was despatched into the back of our net.
A short while into the second half, a free-kick close to the
corner flag was hoisted to the back post, where White lurked once
again ready, willing and able to head the ball home. Well, I say
he “lurked”; a man of the vast dimensions of Devon White is
physically incapable of lurking. He performed his celebrated
version of a large, talentless lump of lard, but it was enough
for our defence to leave him wholly unmarked and for White to
bless the day he came across Hull City. For, to add to his score
for Notts County in August, this was three already this season
against us. Miserable defending.
The rest of the match was just dreadful. The players had more or
less given it up, and performed with minimal effort. Lowthorpe
came on for Brien, and went to right-back with Peacock switching
to midfield, but it made little difference at this stage. Moments
of skill and joy? There were none, I’m afraid, other than from
the Shrews’ superb number nine, Lee Steele, a pacy and strong
front runner acquired from non-League. If we do re-direct our
transfer policy towards buying players who’ve proved their worth
at 4th Division level, then Steele should be snapped up
The crowd (of about 4,800) was largely quiet, save only the small
bunch of boo-boys on the West side of Bunkers, with their “get
your cheque book out”s and their “What a load of rubbish”s. They
have short memories and are fools, but the match was undeniably
Shrewsbury made it four with a 20-yard shot which took a wicked
deflection off someone’s heel to leave Willo with no chance at
all. The only question was whether the bobbling ball would spin
just inside or just outside the post; it was the sort of day
where you felt the grim inevitability that it would enter the
net, and it did. We scored after a decent build-up down the right
saw the ball laid square into the path of Gregor Rioch who
thumped home a meaty left-foot shot from the edge of the box. A
well-taken goal, but even Gregor hardly bothered to celebrate it,
so obvious was its irrelevance to the outcome of the match.
Brien, of course, was a disaster yet again in the holding
midfield role and exerted no discernible influence on the pattern
of play. He must go. I find it hard to see that Peacock will ever
make a wing-back; and Hodges is not capable of doing a job up
front. Not mobile enough. But, yet again, my main anxiety
concerns the three centre-backs. They leave too much to each
other. Opposition forwards seem to have so much time and space
against us. The system just doesn’t seem to work.
A bad day. And our mood got gloomier again as we banged on the
car radio to discover that Hednesford had scored 5 away from
home. I started this piece trying to find a bright side and the
only one I can dream up to finish on is that City are frequently
at their best when underdogs. And that is quite feasibly
precisely our status for next Saturday’s very tough match.