Hull City 1 Leeds United 0

Eighteen long hard seasons since City beat Leeds home and away, the Tigers – inspired by classic Beasting from lone goalscorer Jon Parkin – once again taste victory against West Yorkshire’s Most Unpleasant.

77 minutes into an absorbing and frequently thrilling game of football, and Craig Fagan picks up the ball and wheels into space, looking for a pass. Stuart Green has made a supremely intelligent run into space down the right and Fagan transfers the ball skilfully to the sunny Cumbrian. His touch is sure, and his cross is a delicious looping invitation to a man sliding into position at the back post with the predatory instincts of a panther and the physical presence of a tyrannosaurus rex: it is the Beast and he leaps high, hangs in the air as if borne on the wings of an angel and thuds a perfectly judged header into the sodden turf, whence it bounces past the exposed Sullivan in the visiting goal, and wins us the game.

Wins us the game! Wins us all the three points, and completely banishes relegation fears as our club’s dizzily progressive ascent up the league continues.

And sends evil Leeds whimpering homewards like a whipped cur.

There will be more on the richly well-deserved fate of the vile Wessies. Much more. But though the essence of football is usually that the joy of witnessing the opposition cowed, tamed and defeated exceeds the pleasure of victory – and never more so than on derby day – I will dwell for a moment on the excellence of our team. We have improved so much through the course of this season. From the team that began the season, fresh and lively but looking out of its depth against the stronger sides well established in this Division, we have moved on and re-shaped into a team that is convincingly at home in this standard of football, solid at the back, awkward in midfield, and dangerous up front, and heading more-or-less for midtable. This victory was thoroughly deserved: we were the stronger, more effective side from start to finish, and Sullivan had to work a great deal harder than Myhill. And roll on 2006-2007: we haven’t stopped improving yet.

WEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Welsh Andrews Ellison
Fagan Parkin

And on 2 minutes we were treated to a reminder of just what dark forces were ranged against us. Unpleasant bullboy Rob Hulse committed an outrageous shove, right in front of the linesman. This was ignored, but moments later, when Hulse himself was tripped, the whistle was promptly blown and we were facing a free-kick on the edge of the box, invitingly located for sly Leeds. A firm strike, a sprawling Myhill save. Game on: but it won’t be a fair one. It never is with wicked Leeds.

We scored on 8, a sumptuous left-foot Beast volley leaving an awestruck Sullivan clutching thin air as the ball whistled past him, but the linesman had flagged for offside early, and correctly. But the signs were already encouraging. The Leeds back four looked creaky. Butler and Gregan made a thuggish but one-paced pair of centre-backs. Fagan, fizzing with energy and ideas, was already showing speed enough to terrify them, while the pattern of play on New Year’s Eve, when we’d got outmuscled and ultimately grew dispirited, had no chance of being repeated. Because now we’ve got the Beast. Leeds had as much joy in taming Parkin as has everyone else since he joined us from Macc. No joy at all.

I wouldn’t know how you do stop the Beast. Try and climb all over him and he just absorbs the pressure and holds the ball. Stand off, and his first touch is so confident that he simply turns and passes. A superb player.

On 16 a defensive shambles allowed Ellison to turn and shoot. The ball was deflected but lost its pace and Sullivan had time to adjust and make the save. We are the better side.

Disgusting Leeds are playing some sort of a 3-4-3, with Hulse alone up front, the initially impressive Eddie Lewis, of the land of the free and the torturing, wide on the left and fatso Robbie Blake on the right. Lank-haired Sean Derry as the notional playmaker. And they look poor. They do create a serious moment of alarm on 25 when Lewis and the feeble Liam Miller combine down the left and a low cross lays on an inviting opportunity for Blake in the middle, but his effort is woeful and flies high and wide. It’s their best chance of the half.

On 35 Fagan touches the ball on to Parkin, who executes a breathtaking backheel into the path of Green surging into the box …. A powerful shot, a leaping save. This is seriously good football. On 38 the bustling Ellison feeds Fagan, whose cross reaches the Beast … he heads goalwards, but the ball is defected wide. We’re well on top. At the end of the half there are two added minutes and the closest call of the whole first 45 arrives right at the end of them. Cort, marauding forward, wins a throw-in in an advanced position. Fagan takes possession, turns deftly and fires in a powerful low cross which Parkin meets six yards out and, under despairing defensive pressure, he shoves the ball goalwards. It would be past Sullivan if it were not for the pure bad luck that it’s hit straight at him – the ball cannons off Sullivan’s knees and out to safety before the bemused Londoner realises what’s hit him.

Half-time. 0-0. Cracking stuff.

Gets better.

But not initially. Grey clouds and rain showers blow in from the west, and the second half begins with a degree of passivity from our team which offers a worrying reminder of how we surrendered so meekly at Elland Road in December. Happily it doesn’t last. On 52 Fagan does well down the right but his cross is mis-hit by Green. No danger to snide Leeds. Oo but it’s lively now. Derry shoots – just wide. Fagan races forward, tries to dribble through three of them. Can’t quite manage it.

The game is terrific now. On 63, Blake shoots – just over. 64, Fagan shreds grisly Leeds down the right but when the ball reaches the Beast in a crowded goalmouth he is momentarily nonplussed and the chance is gone. Immediately after, Cort soars and heads goalwards, only to suffer as Sullivan swoops on the ball down low by his own feet. Then, on 68, Ellison is clearly fouled in the box, but no penalty is given and smelly Leeds whisk the ball clear and upfield at high speed, deep inside our half and then our box, Blake sets up Miller, but he screw a dismal effort well wide of Boaz’s goal.

Crikey, this is good. And we’re besting them without any help from referee Ilderton. Fussy, prancing, and inclined to prefer the away team in case of doubt. Gah. I like Mr Howard Webb but otherwise refereeing is a dying art. Graham Poll to the World Cup? Come on. Still, I’m pleased to see that nice German dentist on the list. I like him too.

Back to Mr Ilderton. He booked the Beast for Being Tall, and at that moment I feared our talisman might be withdrawn. He was getting frustrated with the absence of refereeing protection from the increasingly desperate attempts of the thieving Leeds players to hound him, harry him and generally foul him. It looked as if Butler could have taken a machete to assault the Beast and Mr Ilderton would have smilingly waved play on.

Of course, the machete would have finished up hopelessly out of shape.

And the Beast stayed on. And he scored the winner. Talisman, genius, goal-maker, goal-scorer. Ours.

Elliott had replaced the doughty Ellison on 70, and now, one up, our job was to keep a grip on the game as the increasingly eager Leeds players threw everything into a desperate late surge designed to keep the flickers of their automatic promotion aspirations alive. Or so you would have thought. In fact, Leeds had looked poorly-led and lacking urgency all afternoon, and that didn’t change even after they’d found themselves a goal down. We remained the superior side in the time that remained. Cort, bloodied, had been off for treatment, but he returned to dominate aerially and resist malicious but futile Leeds attacks. The visitors could do with a player of Cort’s ability and honesty. But playing it straight has never been the Leeds way.

On 82, Sullivan tipped a chipped Andrews free-kick around the post. Paynter came on for Green, and we approached the 90th minute looking more in control than you would have expected. Ha! Not so easy, my friend, we are Hull City after all. And we dropped deep, and we wasted possession, and Andrews tripped one of theirs on the edge of the box.

Urgh. Don’t fancy this one. But David Healy, on as a sub, hit a useless shot wide, and we were into the final added-on 4 with our lead intact. C’mon City! 4 became 6 as referee Ilderton adopted a strategy of giving resentful Leeds every opportunity to level the scores, but, aside from a Hulse shot on the turn that flew two feet too high, they were simply not good enough.

Or we were too good. We are getting steadily better, I’ve said that already, but it is so deeply, warmingly true. Rancid Leeds offer a reliable benchmark: we competed with them for 45 minutes three months ago, but then fell away. This time, we beat them and deserved to, and this at a time when you would suppose sneering Leeds had far greater incentives to tuck into the game aggressively than we did. There were excellent performances all over the pitch from the Tigs, but I think Stuart Green deserves special mention. Six or so weeks ago and you couldn’t imagine him ever looking worth a regular place in this Division and yet now he is an obvious pick: committed, skilful, determined. Young and getting better.

Final whistle, exultation on three sides of our ground, save only for those sad souls who scurried away head down in dismay, revealed as sporadic cancerous Leeds infiltrators by their failure to celebrate when City scored. Misery is your reward, and a righteous one. Leeds United Football Club is a vindictive pit of hate, but they haven’t got any more points tonight than they had at the start of the day. Cos we’ve got ‘em.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Welsh, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Ellison, 71), Paynter (for Green, 84), Duffy, Wiseman, Duke.

Goals: Parkin 76

Booked: Myhill, Parkin

Sent Off: None

 

LEEDS UNITED: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Gregan, Crainey, Douglas, Derry, Miller, Lewis, Hulse, Blake. Subs: Graham (for Miller, 77), Healy (for Lewis, 77), Richardson (for Blake, 80), Kilgallon, Bennett.

Goals: None

Booked: Gregan

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: E Ilderton

ATTENDANCE: 23,486

Leeds United 2 Hull City 0

After a promising start in near-silence at Elland Road, the Tigers waste early chances before conceding soft goals and, in the end, take a beating off Leeds United. Hrmmph.

Groan.

A grey day, a grey result. As noonday rain fell steadily on a sodden pitch at shabby Elland Road we lined up as follows:

Myhill
Lynch Cort Collins Dawson
Price Andrews Delaney Elliott
Fagan Paynter

Which was in itself a surprise. I’d reckoned on a much more defensive formation, probably a 4-5-1, but Mr Taylor obviously reckoned us more likely to find the Leeds weakspots if we pressed them high up the field. And, you know, he was dead right – for the duration of the first half, at least. For we began with vigour and ambition.

An Elliott shot over the bar, a Delaney shot deflected wide, a Cort header, just too high. Off target so far, but we’re the dominant team. Sights are trained with more care – a blasted Paynter shot prompts home ‘keeper Sullivan into a deeply unconvincing tip-over and then Paynter sets up Delaney for a firm low shot into Sullivan’s ample gut.

That’s the first quarter-of-an-hour gone and we’re playing with skill, invention and confidence. It’s proper stuff. Increasingly nowadays our team passes the ball around carefully and relinquishes possession only with the utmost reluctance. It’s the Taylor method, it’s hardly Hull City orthodoxy down the decades, but it’s very encouraging as we seek to build a squad good enough for this Division and, ultimately, one able to climb upwards out of it.

Cracking stuff. And was it only a coincidence that this positive display was provided by players wearing our proper amber-and-black stripes, rather a silly and anaemic change strip? Well, yes, I suppose it was, but even so it was heartening to see us in true tigerish styl-ee, wholly in charge of the afternoon’s football.

So what do Leeds do? Commit a grotesque and wicked foul.

And don’t imagine it’s a coincidence that the vicious assault is committed by the captain, Butler. Just outside the entrance to our corner of the ground stands the ugly and inelegant statue of Billy Bremner, a man for whom no foul was too base if the tide had turned against his team. So it was then, so it is now. Butler, outplayed, scythes down Fagan from behind, utterly indifferent to the career-ending potential. He gets a yellow card and trots away smirking, having successfully challenged our flowing football with barbarian intimidation. Welcome to Elland Road.

What Butler failed to do was provoke the Leeds support to make some noise. Not a peep. Pathetic. Sure, the team was getting royally outplayed, but Leeds fans are too stupid to notice, and in the past the one thing you could guarantee at Elland Road was noise, buckets of brutal noise. Not any more. Silent as a library, as the permitted City 1500 were quick to remark. What has football come to, that we can outsing Leeds at their place with such effortless ease?

Might it be that Ken Bates’s apparent readiness to prefer meek surrender to his local police rather than stand up for his right to take as much money as he can off visiting fans has much to do with the humiliation that a seethingly full away end would inflict on his tuneless home fans?

On 24, Andrews gives the ball away wastefully in midfield, and Leeds launch their first serious attack, but it comes to nothing as Robbie Blake sends a feeble shot well wide. But only five minutes later we’re again handing out gifts, and it’s almost fatal. City are attacking, Leeds hoof the ball clear, Lynch is the last man, on the half-way line, his first touch is perfect and he brings the ball under control but then he loses his grip and crumples to the turf, presenting the ball to Robbie Blake who sprints clear into our empty half, fully fifteen yards separating him from the nearest defender, and only Myhill in his line of vision.

Only Myhill! 30 yards out Blake slows down … reaching the edge of the box he is screaming DITHER! DON’T FANCY IT! … by the time he’s inside the penalty area his head’s spinning in fear. Low shot, superbly stopped. Boaz – the best goalkeeper outside the top Division.

Leeds have created two chances thanks to our errors, and without our help they’ve shown nothing. On 34 Dawson sends a delightful long pass sailing forward for Fagan, who cuts inside and clips the top of the crossbar with a rasping shot. We deserve a goal. But we don’t get it, and in the concluding five minutes of the half the game finally looks vaguely balanced as Leeds start to improve. On 40, Boaz pouches a Blake shot and then on 42 a cross flies across our box, Blake escapes Lynch on the far post and slides a shot into the net …. or so it seems from our angle, but in fact the effort has slipped a couple of inches wide of the upright.

And now we arrive at the key segment of the game.

On 44 a superb attack rips Leeds apart. Paynter dances through and needs only to play the ball square to Fagan who has gloriously left his marker far adrift. Fagan would have time for a touch, maybe two, before crashing the ball beyond the marooned Sullivan. But Paynter doesn’t pass. He goes round one man, trips over his feet, finds himself surrounded by a posse of defenders, and still, finally, manages to squeeze the ball out to Fagan, who has to take an awkward shooting opportunity first-time but still succeeds in slamming a powerful shot goalwards – Sullivan blocks it heroically.

Turning point?

There are two added minutes and the home side score right at the end of them. It’s a swirling high cross which Collins misjudges, allowing Blake to put a half of blundertude behind him by slipping the loose ball out wide to Douglas who fires low past the exposed Myhill. A dismal and desperately unlucky way to finish off a half in which we played some very high-quality controlled football.

But it was a turning point.

At the beginning of the second half the rain is gone, but so is our self-belief. Leeds use the ball with much more purpose than previously and, in particular, move the ball out wide on both sides, with Derry increasingly influential in the middle. On 52, Eddie Lewis, able Yank, strokes a shot across the face of the goal, and Boaz, motionless and helpless, watches the ball bounce against the far post and back into play. On 53 a low free-kick snakes through a thicket of legs and is pushed away by our goalkeeper’s fingertips. But on 54 it goes badly awry. A looping back-post corner tempts Boaz injudiciously off his line. He fails to collect the ball, it’s knocked back into the melee, bounces off the top of our bar not once but twice, and is finally shoved over our line for the second – and decisive – goal.

And, frankly, after that we never looked seriously able to mount a recovery mission.

There were a lot of weary legs out on the pitch. Three games in six days – some heavy pitches too. It showed. We toiled. Sure, Leeds too have been faced by the gruelling demands of high-velocity football over the English Christmas, so it was the same for both sides – but they held a two-goal lead and could afford to play at a more relaxed tempo. They did it perfectly competently too, holding a solid and well-organised shape and challenging us to discover the extra energy needed to force the pattern of the play. We couldn’t do it.

On 67 Lynch came off for Wiseman (who was impressive) and Fagan was replaced by Green (who waved his arms around a lot). On 81 Barmby replaced Price, who had slowed to an exhausted crawl by this stage. Perhaps the substitutions could have usefully been inserted a bit earlier, but the truth is that the game was lost, and it was no easy task to choose which of our struggling players most deserved a rest – Paynter was out on his feet before the end, and even the massive Damien Delaney was walking on rubber legs before the final whistle brought its mercy.

I suspect that this level of fatigue will force a distinctly unadventurous approach to the Sheffield United game, and a chance for starts by all our fringe and reserve players in the Villa Cup tie.

Enough, nearly. There is little to report on the last half-an-hour or so. On 71 a Cresswell shot took a huge and absurdly fortunate deflection off Cort and looped over Myhill into the net, but the strike was chalked off as a result of a push by a home played charging in support through the middle. And then, finally, on 90 Myhill advances outside his area to hoof clear, but a weak effort lands at the feet of sub Healy, who has an empty goalnet to aim at from 40 yards or so. He blats the free chance feebly over the crossbar.

The sun’s out now.

But not in my heart, gentle readers.

Astute pre-match parking selection allowed us to be away and out of West Yorkshire before half-past two, but I felt unable to resist torturing myself by tuning in to the Radio Leeds phone-in. Initially this seemed to have the edge on Radio Humberside’s version in that Leeds people, unlike their Hull counterparts, actually attend the game before ringing up to parade their dopy views, but it soon became apparent that attendance at the match is no guarantee of having understood any of what was happening during it. Our cascade of first-half attacking would appear to have occurred in a capsule entirely invisible to the ill-spoken stuttering Wessies. Ten minutes of pained listening was enough for me to conclude that poor old Eddie Gray, as host, has fallen on desperate times, and that the home fans were unanimous and sincere in regarding today’s display as their best at home all season. Which astonishes me. Leeds were, on this evidence, inferior to Reading, Watford, Wolves, Luton, Norwich, perhaps Derby County and Preston and certainly Sir Clive Woodward’s champions-elect So’ton. And that’s their BEST performance? A Leeds fan who’d read this far might be tempted to reply – “ooo, me head hurts, why does he use so many long words? I don’t understand any of this stuff, what does it all mean?” But if we were tempted to pause and buy into the absurd conceit that a supporter of that vile club might possess a reading age of more than eight, then that reply might instead run “I think you’ll find we’re 3rd in the table, so run along with your sour grapes now sonny”.

Sigh. Well, OK. We lost. Didn’t deserve to, sort of, but there’s no doubt we faded out of sight long before the close. That’s West Yorkshire’s orcs and ogres out of the way. South Yorkshire’s loom next. If Sheffield United’s fans are nowadays as prim, proper and silent as those we shared a ground with in Leeds today, then it really might be time to retire my scarf and settle down with my memories.

Sheffield United? Prim?

AS IF!!!!

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Price, Andrews, Delaney, Elliott; Paynter, Fagan. Subs: Wiseman (for Lynch, 68), Green (for Fagan, 68), Barmby (for Price, 82), Woodhouse, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

LEEDS UNITED: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Kilgallon, Crainey, Miller, Douglas, Derry, Lewis, Cresswell, Blake. Subs: Hulse (for Cresswell, 78), Healy (for Blake, 78), Pugh (for Crainey, 80), Bennett, Richardson.

Goals: Douglas 45, 57

Booked: Butler

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: A Hall

ATTENDANCE: 26,387