Coventry City 0 Hull City 2

A sterling Tigers performance sees an intermittently threatening Coventry side beaten 2-0 thanks to a John Welsh brace, despite losing a defender to a red card.

Splendid result. Splendid performance.

We were mugged ten days ago by a poor Stoke side, whereas last Saturday Luton produced an admirable example of how to play away from home – get organised, stifle the home side’s fizz, and then kill the game off ruthlessly. At the Rico Stadium on the outskirts of Coventry we were much more Luton than Stoke. We deserved to win. It was a treat of an afternoon.

The side that proved we can mix it with proper teams in this Division, injury plague notwithstanding, was:

Myhill
Lynch Cort Delaney Edge
France Welsh Curtis Barmby
Fagan Brown

Dele Adebola’s the sort of forward whose presence on the teamsheet must make defenders sigh in resignation. He’s not a good footballer, he’s scarcely a footballer at all, but he’s big and strong and his business is handing out whacks. On 4 he battled clear and shot wide. Looked ominous. Wasn’t. Cort and Delaney played a fistful of matches last season when they looked as fine a pairing as we’ve had since Jobson and Skipper, but they offered up nothing last season that was as admirable as yesterday’s dominant display. They took on Adebola on his own terms and allowed him no superiority. They fought him to a standstill. Gary McSheffrey is a trickier sort but they allowed him little scope for invention. While James Scowcroft, also, I suppose, a striker, was comically useless. But it wasn’t just our teak-tough centre backs that won us this game. It was our overall well-balanced well-planned shape. Look back at that line–up. Barmby at left side midfield? Yes, and an excellent shift he put in too. The key to our win was organisation – play a secure 4-4-2 and ask Cov what they can do to hurt us. Not much. Barmby was asked to play a dour hand, and he did it manfully. Woodhouse Curtis was excellent, patrolling the area in front of our back four and challenging Cov to show invention. And the home side dismally failed.

We took the lead on 17 and I can’t tell you much about it. A glorious chipped pass from Welsh put Brown in the clear, but his effort was valiantly blocked by ex-Tig Stephen Bywater in the Cov goal. The ball spins out to the left, it’s knocked back across to the right and then a low cross flashes across the face of the goal and, what’s this, it’s slipped inside the side netting and we’ve scored.

Umm … pretty messy, but we have shoved men forward, we’ve shown ambition, we’ve deserved that. Did a deflection help us along the way? Wouldn’t be surprised.

And we’re distinctly the more convincing side. On 30 the ball is transferred from left to right, France turns it back into the middle and Brown, with his back to goal, turns a shot over the bar. Five minutes later Fagan powers through, dribbling aggressively from the left, and shoots too high.

But, on 40, the decisive moment of the afternoon occurs and it’s down our end, right in front of the 1500 travelling City fans. It’s Coventry’s best moment of the match, a surging run down the right patterned by the sparkling short passing that they generally failed to conjure up, and we’re shredded. A sharp shot from near the penalty spot and only an astonishing save can protect the lead. Boaz obliges. This is wonderful – an instinctive dive to his right, full-length, and he blocks the shot beneath him and then clutches the loose ball to his stomach.

Cov wilt.

We could have gone two up shortly afterwards as Brown stormed clear, ripping the centre of the opposition defence apart, but his well-struck shot sails past Bywater only to clip the outside of the post. Close call – close back up the other end too as Delaney makes his only error of the afternoon, gifting a chance to McSheffrey which Myhill prevents with his legs. Half-time, one up.

The Rico arena, named for a local plumber, is hugely impressive – it’s every bit as good as our Circle, I think. Steep-sided, tightly enclosed – it almost feels as if you’re in an indoor stadium. The acoustics are excellent. This wasn’t a game at which you’d expect noise to lift the roof, but when either side’s support did get cracking with singing, the racket was significantly boosted by the architecture. The Rico would be some stadium when full.

Today I saw something I cannot ever recall seeing before at a City match. A man wearing a Hull FC jersey. A grey-haired, slack-jawed toerag, who made a rapid exit across the concourse at the end of the match, denying me the opportunity to send him home with his ears ringing. The effrontery! The sheer effrontery.

To the second half. A minute in, Fagan tries to divert a firm Lynch shot into the untended corner of the net but manages only to concede a goal-kick. We start well enough, but soon have to commit to some defending.

On 52 a Cov corner is headed goalwards and there is an almighty melee up the far end. I have no idea how the ball stayed out. Watch it on telly. But if the rest of the match is any guide it stayed out because we’re a tough bloody-minded side that will not readily concede. Top Tigs.

On the hour the home side, hitherto seriously deficient in wit and width, tried a double substitution, bringing on winger Willo Flood and ex-Wrex striker Andrew Morrell. And they had a glimpse or two of success. A header hits the outside of a post from a cross. And the hapless Adebola plants a header straight at Myhill in the middle of our goal when he should have been able to target one corner or the other. Adebola’s ungainly style is easy to lampoon but he was the most honest of the Cov frontmen – shortly afterwards his well-judged square ball thoughtfully set up Scowcroft for a shot deep inside the penalty box. He slapped it horribly high over the bar. Credit Edge, who hurtled in to startle the dismal Scowcroft as he lined up the shot.

Barmby came off now, replaced by Elliott. God is busy judging Texas right now, rather than guiding our Ulsterman’s boot, and his contribution was more in the service of sturdy stifling organisation than inventive penetration. But that was just fine. We had the lead, we needed no flourishes. All the more so after Lynch got sent off. Poor lad. Injured on his debut, sent off on his second start. Lynch was a shade unlucky to walk yesterday, in that neither offence really involved an attempt to inflict serious injury. But both were just about bookable, I suppose. And so Lynch left us, and Brown was subbed for Mr Right Back Faute de Mieux for the year 2005, Marc Joseph.

Penned back into our own half, we really needed to break clear, push men forward into their half and perhaps have one of our midfielders seize possession, float around the retreating opposition and then chip a gloriously crafted effort above Bywater and into the back of the net from 20 or more yards out.

Which is precisely what Welsh did.

2-0, and really a gem of a goal: high quality, delicate skill, pure inspiration. We’re in the top half of the League foodchain nowadays and it sometimes shows. Magnificent football, and the travelling support capered around in glee and jubilation. Goals like that – they really make you feel good about investing your time and money watching a football team.

And that was pretty much the size of it. Cov were utterly dulled. Their team’s spirit vanished as did large sections of their dispirited support. We’d done to them what Luton did to us a week ago – taken the best they could put up, shrugged it off and then slid a dagger between their ribs.

Two daggers.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Welsh, Woodhouse, Barmby; Brown, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Barmby, 69), Joseph (for Brown, 73), Burgess, Green, Duke.

Goals: Welsh 17, 74

Booked: Barmby, Lynch

Sent Off: Lynch

 

COVENTRY CITY: Bywater, Impey, Duffy, Page, Watson, Jorgensen, Hughes, Doyle, McSheffrey, Adebola, Scowcroft. Subs: Flood (for Jorgensen, 63), Morrell (for Doyle, 63), David (for McSheffrey, 86), Ince, Osbourne.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: I Williamson

ATTENDANCE: 21,161

Hull City 0 Stoke City 1

A strong first half performance fails to yield goals and the Tigers capitulate meekly in the second half to an organised but limited Stoke side.

You have the neighbours round for a drink just before Christmas. There’s one you really don’t want to invite. A bit whiney, petty, small-minded, lacking in grace or even a whiff of humour, he always sits in the corner picking his plukes and exuding a faint humming hint of stale sweat, refusing to take off his elderly zipped-up Parka festooned with Thin Lizzy badges. But it’s Christmas, you have to invite everyone or no-one. So, trying desperately to summon up the spirit of giving, you issue the invitation. And, same as every year, he turns up with a bottle of warm Liebfraumilch, winking at you, saying ‘the ladies’ll love this eh!’ before taking up his customary brooding station in the far recess of the front room, picking hula-hoops from the bowl and licking them before replacing them, farting then giggling, and succeeding in a self-appointed task to cast an immoveable pall of fetid gloom over the festive event.

That’s Stoke City, that is. Sitting in the corner. Dressed in grey, lacking poise and elegance, concerned only to ensure you put nothing from later than 1973 on the gramophone.

And it’s always been the same. Admittedly, we haven’t had them round every year, particularly not recently, but the dismal suffocating effect of Stoke City has been tormenting the Hull City party for too long now. They come, they’re grim, they win. Last night’s reverse was by no means as agonising as the FA Cup Quarter Final in 1971 (lost 2-3 after Waggy had put us 2 up, young people), nor as history-denying as the defeat in the Watney Cup Final at the old Victoria Ground a couple of years later, nor even as wretched as the 0-4 capitulation at the Ark in the 1980s. But it was dispiriting because it was so mournfully familiar. We played better than Stoke. And lost to them.

Bowing the knee to history on a pleasant early Autumn evening:

Myhill
Coles Cort Delaney Edge
France Welsh Curtis Elliott
Barmby Brown

When we arrived in this Division, how we looked forward to meeting opponents whose name we actually recognised. Palace had proper internationals on Saturday. Stoke? Michael Duberry. And a very fat Ed de Goey. How we chortled! Ah, hubris. And yet we opened them up on the first of many occasions only 6 minutes in, as Stoke lost the ball pitifully in midfield, Brown transferred it on to Barmby down the right, who squared it to Woodhouse Curtis who, under no pressure, struck a disappointing shot high over the bar at the North Stand end. Stoke’s turn next, and a heavily deflected shot flies past the wrong-footed Myhill’s right-hand post. In fact, for the first quarter of an hour Stoke are surprisingly ambitious. But then the game turns sharply in our favour.

On 17 Elliott surges down the left and slides a pass inside to Barmby inside the box. Nicky tumbles to the turf under pressure from full-back Broomes, appeals for a penalty and is utterly outraged when he doesn’t get it. He berates the linesman, howls at the referee. Didn’t look a penalty to me. A simple collision. But a minute later Duberry forcibly holds down Brown inside the box and we appeal a great deal less urgently even though, for me, this really was a clear-cut penalty.

Stoke are there for the taking now. Some of our passing is intricate, incisive and hugely pleasing. But it’s not quite enough to shred a stubborn last line. The closest call arrives on 26 when de Goey limply paws out a cross and, amid a frantic melee deep inside the box, it seems to me that not once, but twice, shots flying goalwards are inadvertently blocked by flailing bodies wearing amber-and-black. Desperate bad luck.

Stoke are hanging on, niggling, naggling, noggling, timewasting, fouling, spoiling the party, which may well be their club motto. We look able to slice them open in the air and on the ground. But we can’t quite do it.

On 37 Elliott collapses to the floor as a free-kick is lofted into the box. The ref books him. The official, one Colin Webster, was right on the spot and there was little dissent from City. Not one of Stuart Elliott’s more glorious moments.

On 40, Brown plays a fine pass and a low Barmby shot is held by de Goey. On 45 a Welsh drive brings a nervous punch from de Goey, and the ball spins away for a corner. From it, France thumps a header against the crossbar. It’s half-time, we’re well on top, but it’s goal-less.

What occurred at half-time will, I think, be forgotten by those present only when the man with the scythe comes calling. To call it the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at a football match would be to undersell it. It is likely the strangest thing I have seen anywhere. Description that does it justice will surely escape me. But I try. It involved, in short, three groups, each comprising four Royal Marines in uniform, who came out and took up position on mats, one at North Stand end, one at South Stand end and one in the middle, towards West. We were promised a display of unarmed combat. And they proceeded to pretend to run at each other, fall over each other’s shoulders, pinch baseball bats from each other and brandish them like cheerleaders in an Iowa highschool and throw those really silly joke punches that stop about a foot away from the supposed target. Tarts. Utter comedy – Tally Ho Kaye, Les Kellett, Jim Breaks, your legacy is secure. In the absence of an Iraqi strapped to a forklift truck this footling display got what it deserved – guffawing derision. Still, pride of place goes to the routine which promised us ‘three ways to disable an enemy sentry’. Route 1 involves strangling him, route 2 is to jump on top on his head and wriggle round a bit, and route 3 is to punch him in the tummy a few times. The main thing that I learned from this was that it is especially important to make sure that when you sneak up on him your target sentry always looks the wrong way, even when lots of people nearby are bawling ‘BEHIND YOU!’.

Back to the football, gentle people.

At half-time, Price replaced France – seemingly like-for-like, but surprising because, unless France was injured, there was simply no need for it. We were playing perfectly well. And, admittedly, we continued to do so for a while. On 48 an ambitious Woodhouse volley was deflected wide and, from the corner, Cort headed wide. On the hour Price’s header caused alarm in the Stoke defence and Elliott forced the ample de Goey into a close-range smother. Chances enough to win the game. But what sort of formation were we playing? Well, Elliott was now playing mainly through the centre, and Price was cutting inside more than France had. Welsh drops into the holding role, in front of the back four. It is intended to provide more attacking power, I suppose. And it sort of works, I suppose – we’re well on top, for sure, as the second half takes shape.

An ever stranger shape. On 66 Brown, after a good performance, is replaced by Green. Price and Elliott now move up front. For about 90 seconds. Then Mr Taylor makes his third and final substitution, taking off the impressive Curtis for Burgess, so now it’s Elliott and Burgess up front, and poor Jason Price’s head is spinning as he wonders which position he’s not going to have filled come the final whistle.

It’s a bunch of substitutions and switching of formation that would have been hailed as tactical managerial masterstrokes had we won. But not by me. Such praise is always exaggerated. Since we lost, no doubt Mr Taylor will be accused of getting his subs wrong. Not by me. Blame of this type is always exaggerated. We didn’t play well in the later stages of the game. We ran out of steam, we ran out of ideas. I don’t suppose the odd pattern of substitutions helped and you could fairly ask why Barmby was left on the pitch looking exhausted for the last 20 or so minutes. And Elliott may have been suffering from a dose of ‘international fatigue’. But it’s not Mr Taylor’s fault that Burgess looked desperately ponderous, nor that Green was woefully ineffective.

Stoke had hit the bar on 55 when the otherwise useless Sidibe found space for a free header, and on 62 a fast break had allowed ex-Hibee Harper to fire wastefully wide. But these were isolated moments and the visitors were strictly second-best. Stoke’s support managed a vibrant version of Delilah, their theme song (though unaccountably so), during the second half but their numbers were shockingly thin – 500 or so. Traditionally a well-backed club, they must be in steep decline. I do hope so. But they were about to burgle the points.

On 74 a messy passage of play in midfield resulted in Stoke carrying the ball down the left, sending in a cross which eludes two attackers, before Harper, on the right, hammers the ball back across the face of the goal where it is turned in first-touch by Gallagher. Players and supporters celebrate – with a degree of astonishment, I think.

We were weary and unsophisticated for the minutes that remained. Three up front – Barmby, Elliott, Burgess. Cort joined in later. But, aside from calls to get the squaddie with the baseball bat on the pitch, the only real hint of a successful rescue mission came on 81 when Price deftly headed a ball square across the face of the goal for Burgess, just five yards out, equally deftly to guide the ball wide of the post. This was really a dreadful waste.

Pasty-faced partypoopers Stoke kept the ball for most of the minutes that remained, newbie ‘footie fans’ left early, mingling with those old-timers who just know that Stoke City spells Trouble, and that concludes our first unarguably Poor Result Of The Season.

Rubbish we certainly weren’t. But we need more flair going forward and more ferocity in the box. Fagan may be back on Saturday. That would work for me.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Coles, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Woodhouse, Welsh, Elliott; Brown, Barmby. Subs: Price (for France, 45), Green (for Brown, 65), Burgess (for Woodhouse, 67), Ellison, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: Elliott

Sent Off: None

 

STOKE CITY: de Goey, Buxton, Hoefkens, Duberry, Broomes, Harper, Brammer, Henry, Kolar, Sidibe, Gallagher. Subs: Russell (for Henry, 45), Dyer (for Harper, 83), Junior (for Kolar, 89), Taggart, Duggan.

Goals: Gallagher 74

Booked: Gallagher, Henry, Kolar, Sidibe

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: C Webster

ATTENDANCE: 18,692

Crystal Palace 2 Hull City 0

Premiership parachute payments and two million pound strikers didn’t faze the Tigers on a wet London Saturday afternoon, but eventually Palace’s quality up front told and the Tigers were defeated unluckily.

This may have ended in defeat – and even Palace fans I spoke to outside the ground offered the view that the 2-0 scoreline flattered the home side – but I reckon this was the Tigers’ best performance of the season so far. City rode out the absence of Ashbee, with Welsh and Woodhouse stepping up and playing excellently (aided by Palace’s three man attack leaving them short-numbered in midfield) and played much of the game in their opponents’ half without creating the number of good scoring chances that such possession levels might demand. For their part Palace were restricted to three or four decent openings over the entire 90 minutes – their superior strikers finished two of them with aplomb, that was perhaps the ultimate difference between the sides. Brown made a lively debut up front and showed strength and skill, how Fitz Hall avoided a booking for persistent fouling over 90 minutes I’ll never know. Barmby was quiet though and despite having our best chance, his other contributions were modest. I wonder if Nick has found his level this season and is maybe set to struggle to hold down a regular starting berth once Fagan and McPhee are available.

With Leon Cort restored to full fitness (although he was stretching quite gingerly by the end) and Sunderland loanee Chris Brown wearing all the 2s up front, City lined up:

Myhill
Coles Cort Delaney Edge
France Woodhouse Welsh Elliott
Barmby Brown

The one weak spot was perhaps at right back – Danny Coles is a splendid centre back but he looks like a centre back playing at right back, rather than a right back, when selected at right back. We need Lynch, a right back, back. Right?

From the off it was apparent that Chris Brown may be young and slight, but he is also tall and powerful and not afraid to push defenders around a bit. Fitz Hall, recently of Oldham and now Palace’s captain, was clearly struggling to cope with this onslaught and twice in the opening quarter Hall yielded petulant free kicks in the 25-yard-from-goal area that Azerbaijani observers might term “Elliott territory”. But the wily Ulsterman was not deputed to take free kicks today and both of Edge’s dangerous crosses were cleared by a Palace defence evidently well drilled in dealing with set pieces. At the other end Palace’s three man strike force with Johnson in behind Macken and Morrison was not working. Johnson was having a “I’m England me, I don’t need to try against Hull” kind of first half, Macken was a clumsy oaf with little apparent capability as a footballer and Morrison, much livelier, had little service thanks to City’s dominance of midfield, Woodhouse in particular turning in the sort of performance that made you remember he was a million pound player three or four years ago.

Kiraly in the Palace goal, wearing his ludicrous trademark pyjama bottoms, cut an uninspiring figure as he lounged around his box and flapped at crosses in a seemingly clueless but strangely effective way. With 10 minutes on the clock Edge and Elliott inter-passed sweetly on the left and Edge ended up with a clean run on goal from the left side of the Palace box. Kiraly rushed off his line, effected a half clearance which ricocheted back to Edge’s feet, whose cross to Brown in an unguarded box was scrambled away by the retreating Boyce. Embarrassed by his obvious error, Kiraly rolled around in fake pain for a minute or two clutching an unscathed trackie bottom that contained an uninjured leg. The daft sod. The resulting corner was cleared by another “Hungarian flap” – a goalkeeping feature in South London, and a pleasant goulash based dish.

The best moment for City came after 23 minutes, before Palace had threatened our goal even once and at a time when the game was being played almost exclusively in the home side’s half. Welsh chipped a ball forward from halfway into Brown and he showed prodigious strength to hold off his defender, dribble the ball forward to the wide left corner of the Palace box and dink a pass across the face to Barmby advancing unmarked 20 yards out. Barmby selected his shot carefully and side-footed into the roof of Kiraly’s net, but the finish was an inch too high and clipped the underside of the cross bar.

The build-up of possession by City, culminating in Barmby’s chance to score, seemed to spur a lethargic Palace on a bit and they emerged from their shell to score against the run of play. A throw midway inside City’s half was received by midfielder Soares (a fine prospect on today’s evidence) and with Elliott’s cover missing he embarked on a slalom run through the City defence of Tombaesque proportions that resulted in him reaching the goalline after four missed tackles. His low cross was drilled into the six yard box where the predatory Morrison arrived in advance of both Cort and Myhill and a simple tap in gave Palace the lead.

Johnson showed brief interest at that point and decided to have a run from halfway, deep at the City defence. Only when he encountered the resilient Edge near the Tigers’ penalty spot was this particular maze-up curtailed. Players dribbling at the heart of our defence is something for City to work on in training this week, methinks. Brown found himself 1 on 1 with the goalkeeper after Elliott fell over but still managed to donkey kick the ball into the striker’s path but an offside flag was (correctly) raised as Brown aimed a shot that the keeper saved anyway. The half finished with Palace only threatening briefly and with City enjoying some superb one touch passing football that nearly found Barmby in the free, but Hall lunged and cleared for a corner.

The away seats at Palace were truly bizarre especially for those of us near the back. The stand is presumably converted terrace and is set at such a shallow angle that the rearmost seats must be a good forty yards back from the touchline. At times it was a bit like watching a football match from the window of a passing train as it crossed a viaduct. That said the atmosphere generated by the City support was truly exemplary and a roaring noise was made throughout most of the game, a fact appreciated by the City players at the final whistle.

The second half started with City continuing to press but as time passed Johnson realised that just lurking around behind the front two and waiting for the ball to be rolled to him was perhaps wasteful of his talent, and he dropped deeper into midfield and began to exert more influence on the game. He fed Macken down the inside left channel but the former Man City striker rolled his shot wide of Myhill’s far post. How this lad was worth five million of anyone’s money, even Kevin Keegan’s, is beyond me. Ryan France was proving very influential on the right and cutting across into the hole behind Brown, which was a good thing because Barmby was utterly anonymous by now. It was therefore a surprise when Ryan was withdrawn at the same time as Barmby, with Price going to the right (and again playing well) and Green slotting into an advanced midfield role. It worked to an extent as we continued to hold sway in the centre of the park but Brown was now very isolated up front and Palace were able to get more possession as a result. Ellison came on to restore our 4-4-2 shape with Elliott up front and Green replacing the departing Woodhouse in the centre. It was a surprise to see Woodhouse come off, but he had fulfilled that great footballing cliche of “covering every blade of grass” and was perhaps being given a respite in advance of Tuesday’s game against Stoke. Ellison rampaged around a bit and actually did OK, but it was Brown on 77 minutes who again did splendidly well to win a free kick right on the edge of the Palace box and give the Tigers their best chance of restoring parity. Alas, the task of converting the chance was entrusted in Stuart Green, who chipped his shot up over the wall … the crossbar, the first tier of seats behind the goal and into Row X. Deflated, the Tigers perhaps conceded defeat at that moment.

Wily Ulster old-timer Michael Hughes had now moved wide left after Morrison’s withdrawal and he was Palace’s main outlet. His best moment came when cutting inside and running across the edge of the penalty box before planting a right foot shot into Myhill’s midriff. As the 90 minutes approaching City pressed forward but Palace defended stoutly, a clearance was poorly dealt with by Welsh on halfway and Johnson was left with a clear run on Myhill’s goal, the nearest defender ten yards behind him. Everyone expected Johnson to score, there is that sort of aura around a goalscorer of his ilk, and he didn’t disappoint slipping the ball beneath Myhill’s despairing sprawl from 18 yards out. Injury time saw Cort head a Green free kick just wide when perhaps a consolation goal was deserved.

In all then, a good showing by City despite the result. The contrast with the Wolves game – another high ranked opponent – was remarkable as City not only resisted any temptation to sit back and watch more illustrious opponents do their stuff, but took the game to the away side with some skill and used a slick passing game to dominate proceedings for much of the game. A combination of Palace’s well organised defence and City’s lack of a second predatory goalscorer up front meant that few chances were carved, but overall the signs are excellent. This is a midtable Tigers team at least. Let the consolidation continue.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Coles, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Woodhouse, Welsh, Elliott; Brown, Barmby. Subs: Price (for France, 62), Green (for Barmby, 62), Ellison (for Woodhouse, 76), Burgess, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

CRYSTAL PALACE: Kiraly, Boyce, Ward, Hall, Borrowdale, Soares, Hughes, Watson, Morrison, Johnson, Macken. Subs: Riihilahti (for Soares, 65), Butterfield (for Morrison, 75), Andrews (for Macken, 89), Popovic, Speroni.

Goals: Morrison 27, Johnson 89

Booked: Johnson, Macken, Watson

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: K Wright

ATTENDANCE: 18,630

Hull City 2 Brighton & Hove Albion 0

Despite the weakness of Brighton’s challenge, City’s first league win of the season is nevertheless welcomed as goals from Ryan France and Ben Burgess – the latter his first since his long injury lay-off – help the Tigers ease to victory.

Saturday May 11th 1991, shortly before five o’clock in the afternoon. Do you remember where you were? I do. Last match of a rotten season. I was in the corner of St James’s Park that at the time served as the away section of Newcastle United’s ground, and I was watching with mounting apprehension as waves of home fans entered the pitch, some intent on celebrating the end of the season but others displaying a vigorous and purposeful interest in hand-to-hand combat with the small ban of Hull City fans who had just witnessed a surprising 2-1 victory achieved by their tattered team that had spent most of the season capitulating woefully en route to a dismal relegation that had been confirmed several weeks earlier. I am, of course, as hard as nails but I feared for the safety of some of my less physically imposing tiger chums. Happily the fence stayed sturdy, the stewards were not overwhelmed, and we exited both St James Park and League Division 2 with a degree of dignity intact.

And why, you may ask, should I be inviting you to reflect on events a decade-and-a-half ago? Not merely because the legendary Dave Walmsley scored for us that day, though he surely did. Not simply because the win is among the rather small number of triumphs recorded by Hull City on grounds that have staged Champions’ League football. But most of all because until yesterday it was the last time we won a League match played at the second level of English football.

So hurray for us. We’re back! Beating Brighton at home does not sounds as glamorous as cuffing the club now so astutely piloted by popular but no longer moustachioed man-manager Graeme Souness on their own midden, but football is about the future more than it is about the past, and this opening win of season 2005/06 is just what we needed to get cracking in this new loftier Division. And it was deserved too. Not by a wide margin. We didn’t play particularly well, and Brighton were generally our superior in the matter of ball retention. But though possession may be nine-tenths of the law (an analysis doubtless concocted by the same imbecile who considers it a breach of human rights to keep away fans in a football ground for a short period after the final whistle) but it doesn’t get you goals, and our display inside the final third comfortably bested Brighton’s. And so we won.

Kicking off on a warm and sunny afternoon:

Myhill
Wiseman Coles Delaney Dawson
France Ashbee Green Elliott
Barmby Fagan

Fagan produced the first strike on goal when, 4 minutes in, he turned deftly inside the box to leave his marker comically flat-footed, and whipped a low shot just the wrong side of the post. Then, on 11, Brighton took their turn as Kazim-Richards slipped blind-side of Delaney and flicked a looping header just over Myhill’s bar. Even at this early stage the pattern of play that was to endure was plain enough – Brighton content to keep possession and maintain a solid, largely defensive shape, City more ambitious but not particularly fluent. No one demonstrated our superior ambition better than Andy Dawson. On 15 Fagan skipped clear down the left and hoisted an inviting cross towards the edge of the six-yard box where, to general bemusement, our left-back had arrived ahead of likelier goalpoachers, needing only a composed downward header to open the scoring. Instead he managed to roll the ball off an ungainly shoulder square across the face of the goal, where it was eventually bundled away for a corner. But Dawson wasn’t daunted, and ten minutes later swept majestically downfield to drive a right-footed shot just wide of Henderson’s left-hand post. Had an opportunity ever fallen to his preferred left foot then maybe the adventurous Dawson would have chalked up his first of the season. But it didn’t.

Guy Butters, built like a Welsh Dresser and no more mobile, was at the heart of the Brighton defence and therefore you had to fancy the pace and verve of Fagan to catch him out. It took a while, though. On 36 a superb run by France was ruined when Fagan thoughtlessly delayed his pass and allowed the offside trap to ensnare France. But two minutes later our Brummie was on the end of a delicious move down the right involving France and Barmby, allowing him a volley from the edge of the area which he struck cleanly but just wide of the post. Two minutes more, and we take the lead. Fagan dribbles powerfully at a nervous defence on the retreat, slips the ball to France and his strike earns a meaty deflection that sends it spiralling beyond the hapless keeper Henderson, who won’t have relished his dose of misfortune. Tough – it’s 1-0, it’s not been much of a half but we’re half way to the first win of the season.

The second half’s opening is delayed by some repair work needed for the North Stand goalnet – Colin Appleton would have fixed it in a jiffy, but Mr Taylor manages England U-21 in his spare time, no handyman he – but disgruntled Brighton begin with not one but two substitutes. The main idea seems to revolve round bringing on a big beefy centre-forward, McCammon, to lead the line. And then playing the ball everywhere except in the air to him. Well, fine.

Still, McCammon is desperately close to equalising on 51. Mike Scott’s testimony is something I trust as if it were to come from my own brother, so when he assured me before the match that Danny Coles “simply doesn’t make mistakes” I naturally assumed that our new centre-back wouldn’t sell Myhill criminally short on a backpass just as we were looking to make the game safe. Well, I don’t have a brother, and Coles could only watch aghast as McCammon homed in on this disastrous error, looking certain to level things up at 1-1. Well done, Boaz. He hurtled off his line and threw himself at the ball bravely, and succeeded in blocking the goal attempt. Coles is certainly a highly promising acquisition, but no more of this nonsense is required.

Brighton spent a large chunk of the second half on top, but in the main they failed miserably to subject Myhill to serious pressure. Periodically crosses flew dangerously into our box; blocks and hoofs were demanded from our defenders. We were never sitting comfortably on our lead and, not for the first time in the last year or two, we were struggling with our shape and ball retention in midfield while Ashbee himself, though not the most natural of possession footballers, could not be faulted for effort or leadership.

But at bottom Brighton lacked the rhythm or imagination needed to damage us. Highly-rated Leon Knight had looked feebly ineffective through the first-half but looked livelier now, and he was their best bet for an equaliser. On 67 he outmuscled Dawson in pursuit of a cross but nudged his header from eight yards wide of Myhill’s right-hand post. Then, on 75, confusion between Delaney and Myhill allowed Knight to insert a toe and divert the ball goalwards, only for the opportunistic effort to trickle just wide. Delaney, by the way, was culpable of failure to give the loose ball the Row Z treatment in this instance.

Did someone mention Justin Whittle?

Meanwhile, after the harrowing scenes a fortnight ago of hundreds of QPR fans walking out in disgust, many in tears, after hearing a few people sing a song at a football match, it was gratifying to see Brighton’s travelling support proving hardy enough to make it through to the final whistle. Still, they were wary, and understandably so. Before the match, one of their number was in front of me in the queue for food at the splendidly appointed trattoria “Viking Fisheries” on Anlaby Road. He had hidden his colours, and he spoke softly to minimise the risk that his accent would be detected. It was all going so well. Until he asked for “cod and chips” …

Ben Burgess arrived for Barmby on the hour, while the summit of a disappointing afternoon for Stuart Green had been to hoof the ball clean out of the ground during the first half. He departed on 76, replaced by Woodhouse Curtis, whose short but lively stint might have catapulted him up the midfield pecking order.

Such ideas as Brighton might have had now seemed to be running out. On 77 a glorious move transferred the ball from Curtis on to Elliott, then Dawson, whose lofted diagonal ball to the far post sailed invitingly on to the Burgess forehead. His forceful downward header looked perfect, but was superbly blocked by the agile Henderson. Now that one he will have relished. But Burgess, looking fit and fluent, was not to be denied. Ten minutes later, with Brighton pressing men forward more in hope than expectation of reward from the afternoon, Elliott was able to release a marvellously well-judged pass behind the defence for Burgess to chase. He homed in on goal and, with two, even three, team-mates in support and wholly unmarked, he elected to do what any proper striker would – he ignored them, put his head down and lashed the ball goalwards. Henderson stuck out a hand and deflected the ball on to the far post, but it bounced back directly into Big Ben’s path and he gleefully rolled it into the back of the unguarded net.

That put us 2-0 up, which was maybe a margin double that which we deserved over the piece, but no matter – game won, points total ticking over steadily enough, four games in.

To finish, here’s another date for you. Tuesday November 10th 1998, in the evening. Where were you then? Me, I was standing in the Kempton watching as limp, witless and gutless a performance as I would ever wish to see from Hull City. Then, as now, it was Brighton who came visiting. They beat us 2-0. They only needed nine men to do it, a brace having received their marching orders from a fussy referee. We were simply awful, it was freezing cold, and a largely deserted Boothferry Park was sinking in funereal gloom. A few weeks later we saw in the New Year several points adrift at the foot of the League, and seemingly on the critical list. Less than 7 years ago! Yesterday’s win over Brighton was nothing spectacular, and plenty of players can do better. But when Messrs Pearson and Taylor talk about how far we’ve come as a club and how quickly we’ve done it, I don’t think they know the half of it. We’re in the middle of Division 2! Where we belong! Some journey since that cold night at home to Brighton in 1998.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Coles, Delaney, Dawson; France, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Fagan, Barmby. Subs: Burgess (for Barmby, 61), Woodhouse (for Green, 77), Ellison, Joseph, Leite.

Goals: France 40; Burgess 87

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

BRIGHTON & HOVE ALBION: Henderson, Dodd, Butters, McShane, Reid, Knight, Oatway, Carpenter, Robinson, Kazim-Richards, Hammond. Subs: McCammon (for Robinson, 45), Nicolas (for Kazim-Richards, 45), Carole, El-Abd, Chaigneau.

Goals: None

Booked: Kazim-Richards, Knight

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: P Joslin

ATTENDANCE: 18,648

Sheffield Wednesday 1 Hull City 1

A return to Hillsborough after last season’s City victory sees Nick Barmby again equalise an early goal, but by the end City were clinging on for a point.

Like Saturday’s opener, last night’s Hillsborough showdown was, to paraphrase my learned fellow Tiger Chat match reporter Mark Gretton, a bit half-full, a bit half-empty, although not in the same way as the QPR game. Whereas on Saturday City had looked second best for long periods but gradually adjusted and managed to tough out a hard-earned point, last night we were – admittedly against opponents against whom we might have been expected to fare rather better and who, since I’m feeling bitchy, wouldn’t even have been in the same division as us if Myhill hadn’t decided to start his summer holiday three weeks early – the superior outfit, at times by a quite significant margin, for long periods of the game, and, having bounced back in style from an early Wednesday goal, spurned chances which would have been gleefully bagged nine times out of ten and thereby rendered the Owls thoroughly plucked and trussed before the resurgent home side, capitalising on a loss of City shape after late substitutions, stormed back, made the Tigers look uncomfortable for the first time in the game, and might easily have sneaked a winner themselves. We will say that on balance it was a case of two points lost rather than one gained, they will say that if the game had gone on another 15 minutes they would have won, and it’s hard to disagree with either view. What nobody else who was there will disagree with, I trust, is that, played out beneath the towering Hillsborough stands containing a whisker short of 30 000 individuals, it was by and large a stirring evening’s entertainment.

Last night’s line-up showed, not unsurprisingly, a number of changes; some easy to explain, others less so:-

Myhill
Coles Cort Delaney Edge
Price Ashbee Andrews Elliott
Barmby Fagan

Last night did not start well for me. The plan of parking up by Hillsborough at five-ish and then tramming it into town for a swift couple with friends was thwarted by my not reaching Sheffield 6 until shortly after six, courtesy of a journey over the Peaks spent breathing in the exhaust fumes of slow-moving lorries in front of me and the heavy Sheffield traffic (I’d forgotten how slowly traffic moves in that city). Wasn’t sure I wanted to sample any of the pubs in the immediate vicinity and so opted to stand outside the away turnstiles waiting for the ground to open in the company of a large crowd of hicks who looked as though they do that sort of thing every game, and furthermore that it’s vitally important to them that they do so. Having then endured over an hour’s wait punctuated periodically by a naff “Countdown to the return of Coca Cola Championship Football to Hillsborough” (err, ‘scuse me, it wasn’t called that last time you lot were in it) with only the beverages of the tournament’s sponsor for consolation the emergence of the teams onto the field through a dense swathe of grey smoke, but sadly lacking a revolving globe in the rafters of the main stand to make the effect complete, was indeed heaven-sent relief.

The white-beshorted Tigers played towards the 4 000 or so City fans (not as many as last year, but not the biggest game this year) and within a couple of minutes created the first scoring opportunity as Elliott released Fagan who crossed from the by-line, only for Pricey, perhaps distracted a whisker by the inrushing Delaney, not to connect properly with his volley from eight yards out with the Owls defence nowhere.

This was the only real event in a rather tentative opening spell which was then promptly broken on 9 minutes by a Wednesday opener as unexpected as it was preventable. Danger Owl Whelan was given far too much room to progress down the inside-right channel before steering an angled ball into the box which Best – with perhaps a question or two to be asked about our central defenders – ran onto and drilled first time under the blameless Myhill. It all looked a bit too easy.

But City were not knocked out of their stride at all, and responded almost immediately with Elliott wasting a good position by blazing his shot high and wide. He was somewhat closer with an effort from a similar position about five minutes later, by which time City were in increasing control of the leather, their slick passing, intelligent use of the flanks and lively running off the ball all leaving the Owls chasing shadows. The stage was set for an entertaining evening and more goals looked likely, and City duly confirmed that view by drawing level on 22 mins with a piece of sublime skill which, according to the media pundits, is an early contender for the goal of the season. It started when Ash – who turned in another excellent performance – got his head in the way of a bouncing clearance on the half-way line and looped the ball towards Fagan, who had been a handful for Wednesday from the off. As he in turn flicked the ball first time over the Wednesday back line, Barmby darted through it, it was one on one with keeper Lucas and the Tiger Nation rose to its feet. Rarely one to disappoint in such circumstances, the City number 8 cracked the leather on the full volley into the bottom right-hand corner. Three players, three touches, fifty-odd yards and the ball didn’t touch the ground once. And City did it. Sadly, Barmby was booked for his celebrations but that didn’t detract from a scintillating piece of football.

And now it was all City, who for the remainder of the half were in total domination, with Ash and Andrews bossing things soundly in the middle of the park, and produced some quite glorious passing play to which the Owls had no answer. During this spell the Tigers quite possibly could have bagged two or three more goals and put the game beyond doubt in the process. On 29 Delaney headed wide from a left-wing cross when he probably ought to have found the target, then Pricey went agonisingly close four minutes later, reacting alertly to a quickly-taken Andrews throw to loop a header over the stranded keeper only to see an Owl head it to safety from virtually underneath the crossbar. From the resultant corner Cort rose like a salmon to power a bullet-like headed goalwards, but the incipient roars of celebration from behind the goal were stifled as a desperate goal-line block kept the scores level. Elliott then stung Lucas’s hands with a rasping volley from the corner of the box, but the piece de resistance came on the stroke of half time with the noise from the Leppings Lane end of the ground now at crescendo levels, when a delightful four-man move ended with Andrews being robbed by a lunging tackle just as the erstwhile Wolf was shaping up to open his City account. Absolute make-the-hairs-on-your neck-stand-on-end stuff, and evidence that City have stepped up a level from last season.

During this entire spell the only instance of City being at risk was entirely self-inflicted. On 41 mins a long back-pass from Andrews (I think) was trapped in the box by Myhill, who then, inexplicably, picked the ball up. Luckily, the City netman was alerted by the howls of the Wednesday fans behind him and nonchalantly rolled the ball back onto the turf before the officials, evidently dreaming of their half-time cuppa, noticed anything was amiss.

The half-time ovation was rapturous, but ultimately the Owls were still undeservedly on level terms, so had our chance to win the game been blown? At first it seemed possibly not, for while Wednesday, undoubtedly fired up by the half-time rhetoric of that arch aficionado of the sports jacket Paul Sturrock, undoubtedly came into it rather more after the break, and could well have had a penalty on 49 when the ball made contact with the hand of Edge, who generally did not have the most comfortable of outings. It looked a strongly-arguable case of ball-to-hand, but we’d have been disappointed if we’d not been awarded it had the boot been on the other foot. The game then quietened down for a while before coming to life again on the hour, while Barmby, whose effectiveness had diminished after he had taken a clattering, was off the field and McPhee had not yet been allowed on (what was all that about?). Pricey received the ball on the right and went on a superb mazy run, the leather apparently glued to his boot, and took the ball to one side of the keeper before steering it goalwards, but Wednesday had got men back and for the second time in the game the Welshman was denied by a goal-line clearance. Pricey then blotted his copybook somewhat though by not covering back and putting Coles under pressure as a result, which on 63 mins gave one of theirs the chance to cut inside and deliver a curling drive which can’t have missed the angle of post and bar by much.

And now…From Sheffield…it’s the Miss of the Week (apologies to anyone who didn’t watch ITV in the 70s). And the culprit, surprisingly, was the mercurial Ulsterman himself. Another sweeping passing move involving several Tigs ended with Andrews, who on this showing will be a shrewd acquisition, in a shooting position 12 yards out. He could have had a go himself, but the cover was getting across and he wisely fed the unmarked Elliott, almost on the corner of the six yard box.. Again the Tiger Nation rose to its feet. Again, we thought, surely this time this is it. But, inexplicably, the City number 7, who to be honest had not been at his best all night, drove the leather right across the face of the goal and narrowly wide.

But that was the last time we threatened. City had been losing shape since the departure of Barmby, and the need to have an effective plan B for those occasions when the little fellow goes off or is unavailable became painfully clear. The crisp passing game was replaced by hoofing, which doesn’t exactly play to the strengths of either McPhee or Fagan and rather begs the question off why, if that was the game plan, Big Ben wasn’t let out of the traps sooner than the 84th minute. One also suspects that the instructions emanating from the City dug-out were to hold on for the draw. The entry into the fray of Greeny didn’t exactly make much difference; indeed, if the reason for the substitution of Pricey was his failure to defend it would have been better to have left him on, for Green’s little trips into the centre of the field when he should have been out wide left the harrassed Coles, already playing out of position, even more exposed. I have never really subscribed to the view shared by many Tiger-watchers that the Cumbrian is the greatest thing since soft toilet paper (in fact, I think he’s a lazy little get) and his showing (or lack of it) both last night and on Saturday did nothing to alter my view. This could have cost us twice when, as Wednesday rallied and the home fans made themselves heard for once (a sad thing to say for one brave or daft enough to go and watch City at Hillsborough in the 70s), an attack down our exposed right resulted in a cross and glancing header which luckily went straight into Boaz’s pouch, and then again at the very death when the overworked Coles was forced to give away a free kick on the edge of the box. When you consider that, sandwiched in between these two events, Boaz had to make a good save from their number 31 three minutes from time after the 20 had been given too much room to get his cross in, you will understand why those of the amber and black persuasion were the most relieved to hear the final whistle.

Despite that, the overriding thought in the minds of the departing City fans as they filed out of Hillsborough with the police telling us over the tannoy what wonderful supporters we had been (apart from the thick bastards chanting “United” at the home fans at one point in the second half), must have been about how the game should have been out of Wednesday’s reach by the 70th minute; the Owls could scarcely have complained if they had been 4-1 down by that point. By dint of a combination of bad finishing, bad luck and good defending it wasn’t to be, but for all that there were many positives to come out of last night, with some truly memorable football being played for long periods, and you have to be reasonably happy about the start we have made.

Roll on Saturday and the Moulinex, albeit with one lingering unresolved issue. Where was the Wednesday band?

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Coles, Cort, Delaney, Edge; Price, Ashbee, Andrews, Elliott; Fagan, Barmby. Subs: McPhee (for Barmby, 58), Green (for Price, 72), Burgess (for Fagan, 84), Wiseman, Leite.

Goals: Barmby 23

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Lucas, Lee, Hills, Simek, Wood, Whelan, Eagles, Rocastle, Brunt, Best, Peacock. Subs: Proudlock (for Best, 45), Partridge (for Eagles, 79), Coughlan, O’Brien, Adams.

Goals: Best 8

Booked: Simek

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: M Jones

ATTENDANCE: 29,910