Reading 1 City 1
To the Madejski, dull and unimaginative, the most colourless of the stadiums newly built round the country these last twenty years. Outside they sit in the September sunshine on friendly wooden benches, laughing and joking, shoving down burgers on the concourse, gulping chemical lager, tasteless and bland as the out of town concrete landscape. Inside they blare out Sweet Caroline over the tannoy – Sweet Caroline, what in God’s name has that to do with the football? What has any of this to do with football? A day out for the kids, ice cream and chocolate biscuits, and fixed glassy grins whether the team wins, loses or draws.
Passion and emotion are strangers on the pitch too. This is a dull game, a game full of players of limited ability and contested by two teams frequently cancelling each other out. The only excitement of the afternoon features our stubborn attempt to hold on to a lead that would have delivered the relief of a first away win in the league for fully thirteen months. But Reading equalised late, as they (as a minimum) deserved to on the overall balance of possession.
Casting a humdrum shadow over a bright blue day in Berkshire:
Aina Tomori Dawson Hector Kingsley
Bowen Meyler Irvine Larsson
A 5-4-1, then, with a sturdy looking pairing in the centre of midfield, and Campbell preferred to Dicko for the thankless task of running around hopefully up front on his own. No place for Kamiel Grosicki, who’s not on the bench either, and rumoured explanations for his absence ranged from ‘tweaked a muscle playing subbuteo’, through ‘interviewing for a new agent’ to ‘poring over Mrs May’s Florence speech to see if it gives him an excuse to flee the country’. Meanwhile the hooped home side carded the indomitable Paul McShane, the reliable and well-liked Vito Mannone, and the resurgent Sone Aluko, plus another eight folk ranging from the gnarled (Chris Gunter, Gareth McCleary) to the tyro (Tyler Blackett and a diminutive midfielder name of Liam Kelly – sounds Irish, may be so, born in Basingstoke – whose demeanour and stature immediately put the drooling away fans in mind of the sublime Paul Wharton). Football time! And off we go!
Crikey this is poor fare.
The game is congested, with no space at all in the cramped midfield, and the quality is low low low.
It would be unfair to say nothing happened during the opening 27 minutes of the match, because a lot of passes were misplaced, a lot of touch was found, Stephen Kingsley wasted possession several times (on this evidence we’d be better off with Charles Kingsley) and quite a few people went to the toilet. What was not on show was any hint of footballing creativity. Until, all of a sudden, what’s this? It’s Seb Larsson playing a delicate and exquisitely beautiful through ball which splits their defence, allowing Fraizer Campbell, making an intelligent run, to hare into the created space. He doesn’t even need to break stride before sliding a confident shot past Mannone for the game’s first goal.
I’m going to confess here that, in the ground, with this moment of sorcery taking place at the far end of the pitch from the watching City support, I convinced myself it must be Jarrod Bowen who had delivered the killer pass, because I simply didn’t think Larsson capable of such joy and magnificence. But Larsson it was, and more of that skill and dash will have him firmly in our good books.
On 33, Reading advance, a slick move down our right, their left, opens us up calamitously, the ball is transferred inside and crossed to the back post, where Aluko must score.
But doesn’t. He shovels it wide of the post from close range, and turns away ruefully.
Thanks Sone. I’d like to think he did that specially for us. Except he did, when he played for us, from time to time do that sort of thing specially for us. Admirable player. No predator.
The first half has offered little, but we lead 1-0, and a dour Reading side look unlikely to hurt us. In fact the most alarming aspect of the play has been a profoundly erratic linesman, who appears to be attending his first ever football match. At one point he signalled that the ball had gone out of play (which it certainly had) and indicated that it was a Reading throw (it was ours, in fact), but, after a couple of seconds during which the ref failed to notice the raised flag, the lino simply lowered it and carried on scooting up his touchline. I’d’ve been quite cross had Reading scored after this moment of bizarre behaviour.
And it begins with a fizz.
Aina, marauding with intent (he’s no Harry Maguire, but I like this lad carrying the ball forward a lot, and much more than I like his defensive positioning), draws a foul just outside the box, in the inside left position. Tempting. Larsson hovers over the ball, and so, peculiarly, does Stephen Kingsley (on this evidence we’d be better off with Ben Kingsley), but Larsson it is that takes it. Up and over the wall, and WHUMP the ball crashes off the angle of bar and post, and bounces back into play.
Do it again. A couple of minutes later Bowen surges forward thrillingly, plays in Campbell, who can’t get a shot away and is tackled, the ball spills to Meyler who is fouled on the edge of the box, this time in the inside right position. Larsson again. A scuffed low shot which takes a wicked deflection which, for a moment, seems likely to squirt it past Mannone’s left hand as he is moving to his right. But Mannone’s footwork is swift and agile and he adjusts to stop the ball just before it crosses the line.
Did we fear that our chances to seal the deal had come and gone? O yes, we did. We are, after all, Hull City supporters and we know despair like a pair of comfortable old shoes. It fits.
The game unfolds now with Reading in possession most of the time, yet unable to show any spark of creativity in midfield and incapable of creating space up front. The defensive shape fashioned by Mr Slutsky is strong and it is sturdy. Five across the back, four suffocating midfield. Dawson is commanding, Irvine committed, Meyler tireless. Come on, Reading, show us what you’ve got. Not much, it seems.
But you can’t help thinking we’re being too submissive. It only takes one error, and the win is squandered.
Campbell is replaced on solo patrol up front by Dicko, while Larsson gives way for Toral. Toral, again, offers nothing at all. Stephen Kingsley, meanwhile, is getting his head down and working hard and effectively, which is fortunate because I have run out of people with the surname Kingsley with which to berate him. The lithe and pacy Tomori produces a brilliant crossfield run on 84, culminating in a left foot shot that slips just beyond the far post. Deal not sealed, again. But the clock is ticking, as referee Michel Barnier notes, and we’re gonna hang on here, yes?
As above, only takes one error. It’s Dicko’s, and it arrives on 87.
He receives the ball inside the Reading half. His job is clear. Hold possession. Wait for team mates to arrive in support. Pass to one of them. Retain possession in the Reading half, and squeeze the life out of their thinning hopes.
Dicko loiters and lingers, dawdles and dangles. Team-mates are arriving in faithful support, but he doesn’t feed them. He clumsily coughs up possession. Reading break, our defensive shape has been stretched, and all of a sudden the home side find a bit of space that has previously been ruthlessly denied them. Sub Bodvarsson races through the inside right channel and flays a low shot across McGregor and just inside the far post.
Two more minutes are left and then an added three, but a stalemate descends. A melee in our box is the final moment of action, and the referee blows the whistle on a draw that had its quirky and lively moments but was largely forgettable. The clubs on show were, remember, in one case, in the Premier League last season and, in the other, just a penalty shoot-out away from reaching it. Neither looks likely to trouble the upper reaches of the Championship table this season.
If ever you want to know what makes a touchline different from a goal
line, or what materials football pitches have to be made of, then read
Law 1 of the rules of association football. It’s not racy, nor is it
unputdownable, and there are nopictures, but it’s handy. Especially if
you’ve just watched a game played on a field with no penalty spots.
No penalty spots. Can you imagine? Actually, you don’t need to. Back in
1977, Derby County were giving Manchester City something of a seeing-to
at the Baseball Ground when a bearded Archie Gemmill was fouled by Gary
Owen in the box. Penalty given, no penalty spot located. The usual April
deluges in the East Midlands had turned the pitch into a quagmire, and
as such the gluey mud had managed to scrub away any previous evidence of
a penalty spot.
A bloke with a tape measure, a bucket of whitewash and a brush walked on
to the pitch (in suit and brogues) and repainted the spot. Gerry Daly
then scored the penalty, 4-0. A very good win for a struggling side
against title challengers that season, and yet the game only has infamy
because there was no visible penalty spot.
City didn’t have the excuse of a sludgy pitch to account for the lack of
penalty spots for the visit of Sunderland. They also didn’t require any,
as no penalties were given in a decidedly average 1-1 draw between two
sides still licking their wounds and rediscovering themselves after
their mutual awfulness of the previous season.
But, you know, no penalty spots. Who’s responsible? Well, we could ask
why the referee, the underwhelming and diffident Darren England, didn’t
notice their absence during his warm-up or, indeed, any time during the
Just to check this, we asked Keith Hackett.
“It’s the responsibility of the officials to check field markings.
Penalty mark is part of that. Amazing if no one noticed. Had they done
so they wouldn’t have allowed the game to proceed without the mark
(correct term in law). Potentially the referee could face a suspension
for failing to apply the laws.”
(We really did ask Keith Hackett).
So, the ref could be carpeted for this, but he’s not the painter, just
Now, far be it from me to suggest that the recent unjust sacking of some
loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this, but I think it’s
possible that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at
the Circle is related to this.
Either their replacements are incompetent, or they are supporting their
predecessors by not doing their own job properly. Like a protest. See if
anyone notices. And if they do, Ehab Allam can be blamed. Because like
it or not, be it incompetence or solidarity, even something as trifling
as the absence of penalty spots can be pinned on the hierarchy being
utterly unable to look after staff, recruit properly and generally act
with competence and care.
Law 1 includes the line “within each penalty area, a penalty mark is
made 11m (12 yards) from the midpoint between the goalposts.” City broke
Wonder if Ehab can sew mailbags?
Meanwhile, there was a match, and not a very good one, really. Law 3 is
about the players; maybe there’s a sub-head in there, covered in Tippex,
that says “no manager of Hull City is allowed to play Jackson Irvine or
David Meyler from the start of the game”. It could be the only reason
why neither were in the team. Markus Henriksen, devoid of confidence.
Sebastian Larsson, devoid of interest. A Scandinavian axis of ghastliness.
Sunderland, meanwhile, brought their usual noisy lot to fill up E1 while
we continued to pretend nigh on 17,000 were in attendance, with a
straight face. West Upper shut, west lower half empty, pockets of space
everywhere else. And no Jackson Irvine nor David Meyler. And no penalty
spots. We embarrass ourselves on a daily basis.
Booking their 5.15pm taxis to get to the ballet on time were…
Tomori Dawson Hector
Aina Henriksen Larsson Bowen Kingsley
… ish. I’ve no idea, really. 3-5-2 at times, 3-4-3 at other times,
5-3-2 when we were defending, which was often. It was disorganised and
shambolic in the first half. Dicko was far too isolated up front and the
central midfield was in a very sorry state. Nobody really had much of an
idea what was going on.
Henriksen made just the one tangible contribution to the half, when a
smart move within the inside right channel allowed him to deliver a
venomous cross shot that Ruiter managed to parry away as Dicko closed
in. What further attacking there was seemed to happen spontaneously,
with few of the City players knowing where to go irrespective of whether
the ball was theirs or not.
Sunderland, with the acidic Lee Cattermole still in their midfield (it
genuinely shocked me when I saw the teams that Lee Cattermole is still a
thing), were quite tidy in the first half. They had passers, runners and
creators, they were putting the challenges in, they seemed quite well
drilled and positive. Any number of things could have gone wrong to make
them as despondent as City in these early weeks, but it could just be
that they are bruised and cautious following their travails last season.
And they scored early. Shocking goal from City’s point of view.
Possession coughed up, cross from the right, James Vaughan heading in.
Sunderland fans reacted like any self-respecting fans who’ve known
nothing but hardship for the last few years would; they hollered and
capered and gestured as if they knew they might never score again.
Vaughan, the dolt, kicked the corner flag clean out of the ground in the
south east corner in celebration; referee Mr England told him like a
naughty schoolboy to go and put it back again or, presumably, risk a
booking for sabotaging the pitch apparatus.
“You made the mess Vaughan, you can clear it up. And look at me when I’m
talking to you.”
Still, good of the official to notice on this occasion that the pitch
wasn’t fit for purpose.
City tried to get back into the game, but the planned use of Grosicki’s
talent on the left wing was constantly foiled by Sunderland’s ploy,
crafty as it was, to stick two men on Grosicki and boot him in the air a
lot. In the absence of any other method of attack, this became a
depressingly frequent occurrence, and Grosicki cut a thoroughly
exasperated figure by the time the whistle went at half time.
The interval began with boos and ended with cheers, thanks to the
introduction of the People’s David who has always, frankly, been a good
footballer, despite what that gruesome chant says. Meyler replaced
Henriksen, who is probably still refusing to come out of a toilet
cubicle at the Circle even now. Hector also went off as Slutsky
simplified the formation and brought on Toral. In between, someone in
each stand won a season’s worth of pies in the half-time draw. Classy
We didn’t really showcase any class on the pitch in the second half, but
it did seem that boots had been forcibly applied to fundaments and City
were at least a good measure more urgent. Sunderland dropped, soaked up
the collective pressing and relied on the break to pursue a second and,
likely, clinching goal.
They nearly got it when McManaman hit a shot that McGregor did very well
to palm away, with Vaughan’s rebound well blocked by the buttocks of
Kingsley. Escape complete, although Meyler’s prompting and general
positivity was nearly ruined when he was robbed in his own half, only
for Tomori to get across and swipe the ball and accept the thankful
apology of the Irishman as he cleared the danger.
Sub number three was Fraizer Campbell, on with 20 to go for Dicko,
meaning three ex-Sunderland players were now on the pitch. Campbell
immediately did a bit of heel toe conjuring round the edge of the box
before lifting his left foot shot a tad too high, but his instant
willingness to go for a goal seemed to up everyone’s game, including the
City fans. From this moment on, it was all in the Sunderland half.
Often, when you go a goal down at home, you can tell quite quickly
afterwards whether a game is going to finish with that scoreline. This
felt like a 1-0 defeat from the moment the ball went in up to about the
80th minute here, then the hope – that dreaded, toxic, malign thing
called hope – took over. It felt possible.
Grosicki shot wide, Bowen headed one which the keeper palmed away
acrobatically. Chances. Not necessarily getting nearer to scoring, but
the ratio was growing. Sunderland looked panicky and tired. If they held
on it was as much to be despite themselves as anything.
Then, on 82, the leveller. And it was a combo of subs that did it.
Campbell played an inside ball to Meyler who stabbed it goalwards,
aiming at the near post. Did it get a flick off a Sunderland player?
Possibly. Not that any hoots were given. It was in. 1-1, eight to go.
And a player we really wanted to do well had, well, done well. Well done.
Meyler had another effort well saved and in injury time, both Meyler and
Dawson had chances blocked from corners. Though a winner couldn’t be
found, City were chasing it right to the last second and that bodes well
for future encounters. We acknowledged the plan hadn’t worked, we
restructured, we fought back, we didn’t lose.
Slutsky has had a raw deal but he seems to be the only one who doesn’t
see why Meyler should be in the starting XI. The team is inexperienced,
both in aggregate games played and with one another. By having Meyler
ahead of Dawson and McGregor, we have club stalwarts who can organise.
And Meyler looks like he’s playing properly, too. Unappreciated he may
have been for too long, but currently we are a better club for his
presence, and that’s not something we can say about everyone in the
employ of Hull City.
Reading (a) next, then consecutive home games against Preston and
Birmingham. Hopefully by then we will have Jackson Irvine and David
Meyler in partnership in the middle of the team, and penalty spots in
chiffon white near the middle of each 18 yard box.
Fulham in the Autumn. It doesn’t quite have the same ring to it as Paris in the Spring, but it’s as pleasurable an away football experience as you’re likely to get on the face of it. Except Hull City don’t do pleasurable away experiences any more. I’m not that sure we still do pleasure full stop.
So, after a lovely few beers in a lovely pub and a lovely walk through some lovely parkland towards the lovely cottage next to one of the loveliest stands in football (the best-preserved Archibald Leitch building that remains) we braced ourselves for some un-loveliness. And it started with the team announcement. The 5-0 spanking by Derby had seen Slutsky opt for a formation change. 3-4-3 it goes, and looks a bit like this:
Tomori, Dawson, Hector
Aina, Meyler, Larsson, Kingsley
Bowen, Dicko, Grosicki
Frankly, after Friday night I’d have sent Larsson to the Far Side of the training ground and forgotten about him (those of you who spent far too long in Athena in the early 1990s will hopefully get that horrendously crown-barred-in reference). It was good to see Meyler restored to starting duties however. Campbell was back on the bench, alongside Toral and mystery man Jackson Irvine.
We started on the back foot, seemingly hoping that the trickery of Grosicki and Bowen would conjure up something. That isn’t a bad tactic in some respects. Grosicki is better than this level when it comes to skill levels. And Jarrod Bowen is the best thing about the club right now. But we look a bit toothless and formless to be honest. On three minutes, a goal-bound Fulham shot is blocked by Kevin Hector. Ahh, great stuff Big Heck. With defending like that we’ll never concede.
We don’t really do much for the first 10 save for the odd bit of Bowen trickery, aided by Aina – who is terrific going forward – creating more space for our top goalscorer.
Then on 12, Big Heck takes the ball out of defence and absolutely leathers a pass in the vague direction of Kingsley. I mean, he REALLY leathered it. It went nowhere near our left-back and straight out into touch. I’ve no idea what he was thinking. I mean, he REALLY, REALLY leathered it. Sorry, it was unimportant, but Hector is an odd footballer to watch. There’s some brilliant stuff, some horrendous defending, and then just weird stuff like that. He confuses me. And not in a good way.
On with the game. On 15, the tricky Ayité gets a shot in that Meyler does very well to block out for a corner. The corner falls back to Ayité who produces an outstanding save from McGregor. McGregor was outstanding last night. This was the first of four or so magnificent saves.
On 17 Dicko has our first shot of note parried away. Given the lack of imagination largely shown by footballers, I can’t imagine what Dicko’s nickname is, as his surname is already a nickname. Do they go with just ‘Dicko’? Or ‘Dicko-y’? Our even ‘Dicko-o’? Either way, this conundrum posed me more problems than Dicko posed for the Fulham defence all night.
On 26 minutes, I’ve simply written “Larsson is a useless nobhead”. I haven’t elaborated on this sentence any further, and I can’t recollect what drove me to write this out, but on the evidence we have so far, I don’t think that it can be argued with.
Nothing happens for the next 15 minutes so I’ll freestyle:
Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out! Allam out!
Not so much freestyling really, was it? But I’m sure it’s a sentiment we can all get behind.
On 40 minutes we concede. Ojo breaks down their right, Oh Heck can’t really deal with it and a low cross sees Ayité blast home with ease. There were defenders sort of near him but they weren’t near enough. And even though a Cairney-less Fulham haven’t really got out of second gear, they still sort of deserved the lead.
The half fizzled out. We didn’t do much, save for when the ball went near Bowen. It wasn’t Derby bad, but we’d been a long, long way from good.
In the second half, nothing was changed by Slutsky and little seemed to have changed on the pitch. On 49, Ryan Sessegnon – the subject of numerous bids of the equivalent of the GDPs of several small Caribbean nations combined over the summer – somehow contrived to miss with a header from about eight yards out. Sessegnon looked terrific all night, but you can see why he’s a full-back and not a centre-forward.
For us, Bowen and Aina continue to combine pleasingly down the right, and happily it’s the former who draws parity on 53 minutes. Grosicki flights in a lovely ball over their defence on to a perfectly timed run by young Jarrod. His header is well saved by Button, but Bowen reacts brilliantly to nod home a header from the rebound. I know I’ve already mentioned it but Bowen is such a joy to watch. I look forward to his contract being allowed to run down and then him be sold for bugger all.
On 54 it nearly gets better. Aina makes a terrific run into the box and shoots to the keeper’s right. Sadly Button makes a good save and we can’t get anything on the scramble that ensues. On 56 Grosicki gets a shot in. It’s all us, IT’S ALL US!
Oh bugger, they’ve scored.
Out of nowhere they attack down our left. On the evidence of last night, Hector and Kingsley are to defending what Little and Large were to, well, comedy. They just don’t do it. A cross comes in from the left, Ayité tries and fails to get an overhead kick in, but then the balls falls to the impressive Johansen who volleys an unstoppable shot into the top left-hand corner. Rats.
Not to worry, Slutsky is bringing on Jon Toral for Larsso… what? Wait! That’s not Larsson. No, it’s Meyler. What’s happening? Ahhh… the fourth official has put the wrong number up. Soon this mistake will be rectified and we can all have a good laugh about it. You can stop walking off the pitch now David. Go and tell Seb that he’s being taken off now. No David, stop! STOP! Please, for the love of god stop walking off the pitch! SSSSSSTTTTOOOPPPPPPP!!!!
We took Meyler off. I’m not sure of the wisdom of this decision.
We concede a free-kick that is hit just wide. On 72 we take Dicko off. I’m not sure he was ever really ‘on’. He’s not a lone striker, that’s for sure. Campbell comes on and immediately offers more of a presence up front. Though before he’s had chance to do anything McGregor pulls off a terrific save from point blank. He repeats the trick on 80 when he saves well at the feet of a Fulham attacker. We’re still a bit tepid. We don’t look like a team chasing the game.
On 81, Diomande comes on for Kingsley and we go back to a flat back four. Kingsley can have no complaints. He isn’t helped by having Grosicki in front of him, whose attitude to hard work leaves something to be desired, but it was a poor night for our new left-back. He doesn’t look much like an upgrade on Clark on current evidence. This also meant that Larsson got a full game. How, I don’t know.
Obviously Diomande didn’t do much, but on 85 Grosicki releases Campbell with a terrific pass which sees our returning hero shoot straight at Button. It is perhaps fitting that the closest we came to scoring was when a Sessegnon header went just over the Fulham bar in Manucho time. Owns goals seem to be our most likely way of scoring given our paucity of centre-forward options. Anyway, Mollo hits the bar for Fulham, the ref blows and we head back into the loveliness.
We didn’t deserve to win. The new formation was only really a success in it allowed Aina to do what he appears to love doing the most – getting forward – but other than that it was hard to see what we gained from it. We need to give it time, perhaps. Hector and Kingsley look a worry defensively. But then so did the likes of Delaney, Turner and Ricketts at this stage of their Hull City careers. I’m really not sure how, of our late signings, Jon Toral, Larsson and Dicko are considered ‘Championship ready’ whereas the exciting Irvine isn’t. The substitutions were baffling and as much as I love Slutsky’s interviews and the like, and I sympathise with him over the positions he’s found himself, such decisions don’t really help his cause. But let’s finish on a high. In Jarrod Bowen we’ve got a player who loves playing football, and loves playing for Hull City. He offers a reminder than supporting the club can be enjoyable too. And if we can win against a broken Sunderland, everything will seem less bleak again. If….
I hate football. Again.
A trip to Derby on the telly looked likely to be a solid test of the newly assembled City squad and when asked before the game I predicted a narrow defeat on that basis. Not in my worst nightmares did I foresee the sort of capitulation we made a habit of this time last year.
There wasn’t a player who had a good night and the same goes for the manager. He chose to change the 3-4-3 formation that worked so well against Bolton and left David Meyler out of the midfield for Markus Henriksen. Unless Meyler was literally seconds from death, this was the wrong decision.
Aina – Dawson – Hector – Kingsley
Larsson – Henriksen
Bowen – Toral – Grosicki
If you’re thinking that midfield looks too soft for an away game in the Championship, you’re absolutely right. Derby’s fans have been downhearted at their start to the season and lack of transfer activity but on paper, they look a decent side. They’re experience at the back with Davies and Keogh, quality in midfield in Huddlestone and Johnson and pace and flair up front and out wide from the likes of Wiemann, Lawrence and Vydra.
City started well and for the first half an hour there was no sign of the horror that was about to unfold. With both sides feeling each other out, we passed the ball around confidently, made the pitch wide and started to assert ourselves on the game, forcing a couple of corners and winning the second balls around the box. Then Henriksen gifted them possession in our half on 15, Aina fouled clumsily and Vydra stepped up to hit a free kick that we knew would go in two minutes before he hit it because McGregor doesn’t save free kicks [1-0]. It was shambolic all round but McGregor’s habit of guessing the wrong way was decisive.
The goal didn’t deter City and we continued to dominate possession but without hurting Derby. Grosicki wandered around looking for the ball rather than staying wide and Dicko had as little affect as Diomande does around the box. From nowhere on 25 mins, Lawrence pulled down Aina at the back post as he tried to meet Grosicki’s cross and City were awarded a penalty. Seb Larsson stepped up to take it and, unforgivably, chipped it over the bar. It was a dreadful effort and the start of a complete collapse. Henriksen jogged around hopefully and passed to them as often as us. Larsson’s impression of Tom Huddlestone was passable against a poor Bolton side but utterly ineffective here. Jon Toral was also in midfield, in theory.
Derby went further in front through a nicely worked goal from their point of view but another hideous one from ours. Hector took himself out of the game, Nugent ran in behind Dawson with Kingsley struggling to cover and laid the ball off for Vydra to smash home untroubled by our midfield [2-0]. Worryingly, it got much worse before half time. Curtis Davies headed in from a right-wing corner after finding himself completely unmarked on the six yard line [3-0]. McGregor made a decent save at his near post and as the resulting corner was recycled, they crossed again from their right and Johnson arrived at the back post to tap in [4-0]. We didn’t stop crosses, didn’t mark properly and didn’t track runners. We’d gone. Shoulders slumped. Faces blank. The absence of anyone with the gumption to tell the rest that they’re a f****** shower of s**** another worry.
Half time: Derby County 4 Hull City 0
The second half was barely worth reporting on. Bowen headed wide after a nice run took him onto Hector’s cross, Grosicki shot wide from close range with his left foot and Meyler curled just over amongst other City chances but Derby rarely looked flustered. Perhaps because they went five up near the hour when Hector twisted, turned, flicked the ball up in the air and eventually smacked it straight down the centre of the pitch where Johnson pounced on it and passed the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot [5-0]. Shocking defending from a player who has started the season brightly but looked way out of his depth against quality opposition.
Slutsky’s decision to wait 66 minutes before attempting to make a substitution was baffling. Irvine, Diomande and Meyler replaced Toral, Dicko and Grosicki in quick succession and Irvine and Meyler will go down as by far our best players on the night. How Henriksen and Larsson evaded the hook is beyond me. I’m getting close to writing Henriksen off. We’ve waited for him to settle and waited through injuries. Now the opposition are worse than last season and he still looks inept.
Full Time: Derby County 5 Hull City 0
I don’t think this game told us anything we don’t already know but it did hammer home just how far this squad has to go. We know it’s been cobbled together far too late and needs time to gel. There is a lack of leadership and know-how. Of the few experienced players we’ve got, too many go missing when the going gets tough and always have.
It’s not all gloomy – we know there is talent in the squad. Even on a terrible night we had the majority of the possession and 18 shots on goal. The game reminded me of the 4-1 defeat at Leeds under Nigel Pearson. With the ball, we looked superior that night, but were punished for mistakes and wasted chances. We grew as a team that season and I think we will this season. We’re not a promotion challenging team though. Nowhere near.
The fans were outstanding. The game just got in the way. I hate football.
I was unduly worried by the visit of Bolton Wanderers. Worried because though they’re newly promoted and under transfer restrictions, it seemed just our luck that City would go into the game with only one fit striker – Diomande. When Leonid Slutsky named the same team that finished at QPR last week, I was worried further. But I say unduly because Bolton were absolutely garbage and City brushed them aside with atypical ease.
Dawson – Hector – Mazuch
Aina – Meyler – Larsson – Clark
Bowen – Diomande – Grosicki
It might have been the same names that finished the game at QPR but it was obvious from the first minute that they’d worked hard at the system. The three centre halves were well spread while Grosicki and Bowen played narrow alongside Diomande and left the channels clear for overlapping full backs. Meyler picked up a yellow card for a late challenge after ten mins and then City took the lead and never looked back. Hector went through one of theirs to win the ball off another and then sprung Grosicki on the counter in a style new England call-up Harry Maguire would be proud of. Grosicki drove past Dervite with ease and poked the ball into Diomande who lashed the ball into the roof of the net [1-0]. He’s the butt of all the jokes but Diomande started well with some honest running in behind and good pressing of their centre halves in possession and got his rewards.
McGregor made a decent save with his right boot from sub Pratley who replaced Karacan (who I think was the victim of the Meyler challenge) and then made a far less convincing save with his shoulder after appearing to misjudge a bounce. If Bolton thought they were coming back into the game, they were wrong. A lightening quick counter saw Diomande hold the ball up, play in Grosicki and he delivered from the left with the outside of his right boot onto the head of Bowen [2-0]. A pair of assists for Grosicki who it appears might be a flat-track bully and the Championship has a lot of flat tracks. The cynical amongst you might be wondering why, with six days left in the transfer window and being the only high value player left at the club from last season, Grosicki was putting on a show. I’ve no idea.
If anyone was watching Grosicki, the best was still to come as he received the ball in their half, murdered Dervite for pace again, cut inside and slotted the ball into the bottom right hand corner [3-0]. This report can skip on 60 minutes now because that was game over. Bolton, who are as poor a side as we’re likely to see this season, surrendered and made it their mission to escape with just a three-nil defeat. Phil Parkinson must hate the KC(OM) Stadium. City didn’t exactly bust a gut to try and add to the score content to stroke the ball around and take the occasional counter. Mazuch had a decent game on his home debut with good use of the ball and a couple of nice interceptions. Meyler and Larsson in front had fine games too. Larsson showed an ability to make a forward pass that we often lack while Meyler took great responsibility for organising around the middle and passed the ball simply and effectively. It was a mature showing from two of the few experienced pros we’ve got – once Meyler had killed on of theirs like.
Grosicki should have made another chance for Diomande but delayed his pass and the Norwegian was offside by the time it eventually came. Bowen forced a save with a decent shot from distance and then a defender took one off Diomande’s head with the goal begging after McGregor had launched a quick counter and Aina surged 80 yards down the pitch before delivering a near-perfect cross.
Half time: Hull City 3 Bolton Wanderers 0.
The second half was a non-event. Bolton had eleven behind the ball for the most part and City weren’t open to taking risks to try and break them down. Some in the crowd got frustrated but I enjoyed watching us pass the ball around hapless opposition while Hector rehearsed pushing into midfield to make an extra-man when we had the ball and Seb Larsson practiced his diagonal balls from deep positions. A Bolton fan got fed up of watching his team be rubbish and got himself thrown out of the North Stand. City announced a 16,000+ crowd (but only on Twitter) of which about 3,000 came dressed as black seats. There was plenty of anti-Allam feeling expressed by the fans who were there. It didn’t put the players off to the best of my knowledge.
Left back Stephen Kingsley made a Hull City debut for the last quarter of an hour replacing Max Clark and midfielder Jon Toral followed suit, on for David Meyler. Our last sub provided some unintentional comedy as the board went up for number seven and Seb Larsson, who wore that number at Sunderland, jogged off applauding the crowd’s standing ovation only to be told when he got to the touchline that Kamil Grosicki is number seven here. Sorry Seb.
James Weir came on and provided a little bit of impetus for City to finish the game strongly. McGregor made a routine save at his near post from Armstrong and within a minute, Jarrod Bowen had bagged his fourth goal of the season. He made a lovely run in behind the defence and was found by Diomande with a beautiful through ball. Bowen stayed calm and finished like Andy Payton in his pomp [4-0]. He’s the real deal this kid. With the formation allowing he and Grosicki to be lazy without harming the team, they were just far, far too good for Bolton.
Full time: Hull City 4 Bolton Wanderers 0
It’s hard work this first month of the season after relegation. Every defeat feels like a disaster. Signings can never be made quick enough. Every player leaving is a crisis and every player performing well is potentially the next one to go. From out of the darkness of two successive league defeats, a new day dawns and it’s showing promise. There are players arriving to fill the threadbare squad. Most a good age and of sufficient quality to improve. We’re not building a side that will walk through the Championship but one that with a bit of luck and steady improvement should be closer to the top than the bottom.
There may still be one big “crisis” to overcome though. Grosicki is the only player left who I was certain back in June would be sold. He divides opinion, mainly due to his attitude, but there’s no doubt that he has pace that will terrify teams in this division. He might just have come good at the right time for him and the wrong one for us.
Any walker will tell you that even the wintriest and most fleeting shaft of sunshine can briefly illuminate the bleakest of landscapes. It needn’t last long, and it may change very little; but you savour it nonetheless.
Savour this League Cup defeat at Doncaster, my friends. Marvel at our 2-0 loss to a side we were three divisions above last season. Because we are Hull City AFC, beset by malice, and there’s really nothing else we can do.
The ever-churning social media informs us of the team an hour before kick-off. With the exception of the redoubtable Rick Skelton and his hardy band of U23 regulars, who can truthfully say they’d heard of more than half of them? My wife notes that she taught one. None of them will remember the Smiths, Pulp, Cool Britannia, Boothferry Park or trebles for singles in Sharkeys. It transpires that the average age of the side is 19 years and 11 months. You don’t need to be particularly old to suddenly feel it.
They were, for the record:
Mannion; Lenihan (c), Clackstone, McKenzie, Fleming, Annan, Weir, Batty, Hamilton, Olley, Luer.
Seven City debuts, and a side captained by 23 year old Brian Lenihan, now a veteran of four first team games in England. Robbie McKenzie, wearing the famous #37 shirt, was a nice lad at school, incidentally.
We began with the City youths kicking away from the 2,000+ away fans, and they started terrifically. Composed in possession and fighting nerves and a much weightier Doncaster side in a way that made you feel a gulping pride, they stuck it out then started to play. And they could play as well, with lots of neat interplay, assured touches and smart one-twos.
The City fans roared their encouragement, breaking off only to pour torrents of scorn on the Allam family. “Where’s the money gone” was a familiar entreaty. Well, when Andy Medcalf publishes the next set of accounts we may find some interesting answers, though forensic accountancy skills aren’t required to observe the difference between income and expenditure on football players. In the meantime, an invitation to stand up if you hate Allam found very few willing to remain seated. The vitriol was universal, by a distance the greatest at any match thus far.
Doncaster pressed their way back into the game, and began to create opportunities of their own. They were unlucky to not score shortly before the break when some defensive uncertainty led to a shot smacking the inside of Mannion’s right hand post; luckily it bounced to safety.
Still, the kids stuck it out and made it half-time, an achievement rapturously received by the Tiger Nation. We began to wonder if a shock victory against Doncaster Rovers was even possible.
It was not. The home side scored early in the second half, and then shortly after, and dreams of a famous win in South Yorkshire were replaced by the gloomy possibility of these willing but cruelly exposed young lads taking a wholly undeserved shoeing.
Leonid Slutsky must have wondered the same. Asked to wave a few times by the supporters who are pained at the colossal betrayal he is experiencing, there was nothing he could do. His bench was nothing but even younger youngsters; no gnarled old pros on there to offer a bit of guidance. On we went.
And on the youth went, too. Heads briefly sagged but didn’t reach critical drooping status. Mannion kept things respectable when they threatened to not be, making two fine saves that, from our distant vantage, appeared to also strike the frame of the goal. And the boys rallied, and reapplied themselves, and kept going. By now, tiredness was clearly an issue and some of the neat football of earlier had been replaced by slightly hopeful long balls that were all too easy for actual grown ups to deal with, but not one of them gave up.
I wonder if the targets of David Meyler’s ire for non-trying were watching?
City made a couple of changes and towards the end Greg Luer slashed a shot wide when an appealing City move cut open the Doncaster defence – a shame, as even though the result was a fair one, a goal would have been just reward. But it wasn’t to be. City went down 2-0, but the boys were cheered off at the end anyway.
It’s funny to take pride in such an evening, but it shows that all isn’t lost. No matter what, there’ll always be young players itching to make a professional debut; their collective sense of pride in finally making a Hull City AFC debut was demonstrated in gushingly enthusiastic social media utterances that brought a smile on the way home. You were a credit to yourselves and your families, young men.
And the City fans were ace too. There’ve been times in the past when we’ve been just about all the club has left, and if the Allam family has its way we’ll be there again soon. But an angry, defiant, and passionate night’s work acted as a reminder that as long as we give a toss, there’ll always be a Hull City. And if it doesn’t look much like the one that realised our dreams between 2004 and 2014, then never mind. It’s ours, not theirs, and however hard they try, they’ll never destroy us.
If you are prone to bouts of depression then I advise not reading this report. Instead, here are some images of kittens to while away the time. If you are into self-flagellation then you might want to know more.
Walking back to Shepherds Bush station, weaving through the blue and white hooped hordes and dodging the many deposits left by nervous police horses I reflected on the match. Had I seen more crap on the road (the horse dung, not the QPR supporters) or on the pitch? Probably the latter.
This is my first taste of the 2017/18 vintage Hull City. I don’t think it’s going to be one that goes down in history.
Lining up on a warm summer afternoon and not doing the business for The Tigers were:
The first – and very observation – is that Clucas wasn’t on the pitch and nor was he on the bench. A fairly obvious giveaway that we have seen the last of him in black and amber. Wherever he ends up, well done young man. His development over the last couple of years has been great to watch and one in the eye for the naysayers who liked to call him “Clueless”.
We kick-off with the sun behind the team, and the City supporters who have made the trip. It’s almost ten seconds before the first anti-Allam chants are raised. It’s an even game. QPR are poor and can hardly string a couple of passes together, but we are competing with them to see who can be worse. Nine minutes into his first start, Kevin Stewart went down with an injury following a routine clearance. It looks like it could be a recurrence of the ankle problems that suffered last season which is worrying. He was replaced by Diomande, the latter going up front with Campbell playing a deeper role.
We are well into the half before the first chances arrive. We have had marginally better of the early exchanges but about twenty minutes in the home team – and their supporters – wake up. The chances go begging and neither goalkeeper has been troubled at this stage. A promising break is lead by Grosicki but the end result encapsulates his career to date, promise followed by poor execution. The first call to action for either keeper results from a Campbell shot after he manages to wiggle free.
After half an hour a trip right on the edge of our area gives the Rs free kick in a dangerous position. An elaborate manouveur with several players running in random directions seems to confuse the home team more than it does us. The first attempt is aborted as a couple of City players have encroached, the second results in a daisy cutter that is easily repelled by the wall. We are still under pressure however and smart defending from Hector and Dawson is needed more than once to keep them at bay.
And then we score. A free kick on the left is played across to the right. It looks like we have messed around too much and the opportunity will dissipate but finally Meyler gets his cross over. It evades the players in the middle and reaches Bowen. He fends off a defender and slots in a low shot. Bowen was one of the few to rise above the morass of mediocrity in the game. The goal actually manages to stop the “Allam Out” medley for a few minutes.
There are still ten minutes left in the half but that’s about it until the break. 1-0 up just about reflects the play but it has mostly been meagre fare on offer.
Slutsky makes a change at half time with Mazuch replacing Campbell. We learn later that the latter had taken a slight knock but it’s a negative move and reduces our attacking threat. It’s also a reflection of the inexperience on the bench: of the seven selected, only Diomande had played more than three games for City. There is almost a complete lack of action in the first quarter of an hour. There are players out there, there is effort, there is no quality and no end product. On the hour mark we win a corner after an incursion by Aina up the right flank but the resulting header from Mazuch is straight at Smithies in the Rangers’ goal.
Diamonde does produce a bit of quality with take down and turn but then negates the good work when the attempted through pass is too heavy and straight to the keeper. By this time Holloway has brought on Matt Smith for the ineffective Lua Lua (it could have been anyone, they were all just as ineffective). This does regenerate the home team. Smith’s physicality is the sonic screwdriver that unlocks the home defence. First he heads straight at McGregor and then just wide but it looks like an equalizer is on the cards for the home team. The traffic is now mostly one way, but there is a respite when first Diomande and then Bowen are brought down. It looks like an opportunity for dead ball specialist Larsson but Grosicki lashes it high, wide and not handsome.
And then the inevitable equalizer arrives. A corner is partially cleared, Freeman returns the ball into the box and the inevitable Matt Smith nods in a close range header with no discernible challenge from a City defender. It’s almost immediately doubled as Sylla (another substitute) hits the post and the resulting rebound off the diving McGregor squirms to safety. QPR are definitely on the ascendency and looking more likely. McGregor is booked for time wasting which sums up our lack of ambition at this point. Therefore it’s something of a surprise when almost snatch a winner. Grosicki threads a through ball that Larsson latches on to. His shot lacks power however and Smithies is able to stick out a foot and direct it away.
The 4th official has just announced seven minutes of added time (there were a couple of injuries to add on to McGregor’s shenanigans) when QPR get what proved to be the winner. I’ll need to see this again to comprehend the comedy defending that lead to Sylla being free to tap in from a couple of feet out from goal. It hard to say who exactly was culpable at that distance so I’ll blame all of the defence. Sylla gets a yellow for excessive celebration (i.e., ripping his shirt off to reveal a very fetching sports bra).
There is still time for an equalizer and we nearly get one. In final flurry, first Hector and then Mazuch have attempts cleared off the line and a couple of of other efforts were sent wide. Finally, after 90+ minutes there is some effort and intent but it’s way too late to make a difference. If only we had shown such intent earlier in the game. QPR were a poor team, there for the taking. It just so happens we were poorer.
As I write this, I see in the morning papers that Clucas’s departure has been confirmed. With the other transfers and injuries we have a threadbare squad. Reinforcements are definitely required if we are not to emulate Wolves and pass straight through this league on our downward spiral.
Good news: I think we saw the best team in the league tonight. Bad news: it wasn’t us.
I wasn’t sure what to make of Wolves at the start of the season. They spent a lot of money last summer on continental players and it never really worked out for them. But this time they look the real deal. It’s not just the excellent players they’ve brought in but they have a top manager in Nuno and he’s got them set up incredibly well. They’re playing a style of football that, particularly away from home in the Championship, is very brave. They played three at the back stretched out almost the width of the pitch while the two wing backs hugged the touchline high up the pitch and stretched City every time the ball went forward. In the middle exploiting the space this leaves they have clever players who can move the ball about well and, as we saw devastatingly for the opening goal, shoot from distance.
City had started well until Neves smashed one past McGregor from 25 yards after six minutes [0-1] but it was already clear that Wolves wing backs were going to be a crucial part of the game and we were already struggling to cope with them. Not for the first time this season our naive young full backs were exposed – in part by the opposition and partly by our failure to protect them up the field. That situation isn’t helped by us only playing one central midfielder. I’m not counting Markus Henriksen. He’s not a central midfielder – he has no effect on games, he doesn’t make a tackle or a forward pass.
I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the manager for our failure to match them tactically. He just doesn’t have any other fit players to work with. Sure, 4-4-2 is no counter for what is almost a 3-2-5 formation but replacing any of the first eleven with those from the bench is far worse a proposition.
We weren’t just second d best on the ball, with Neves dominating for them like Tom Huddlestone as his very best, but we didn’t have their knack of drawing fouls or killing time, with Neves dominating for them like the love child of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rudi Voller.
After Miranda spurned the chance to double their lead after a corner was flicked on to him at the near post, we equalised pretty much from nowhere. Hector met a Donald Trump corner along with a defender and the ball was shuffled away from the far post. We took the resulting corner short, a cross was whipped past Ruddy, headed off the line and Dawson headed it back in [1-1].
That could have been the catalyst for City to push on before half time but instead, we were sloppy in possession, gave them gifts in our half and looked susceptible to a ball over the top to either wing-back. In the end, it was the little winger Enobakhare who picked up the ball on the right touchline, breezed past Hector and laid the ball on a plate for Jota to score [1-2].
Half time: Hull City 1 Wolves 2
Our flaws were there for all to see but fixing them was going to be difficult. We had nothing on the bench to change the game. In similar fashion to the Villa game on the opening day though, the eleven sent back out changed it themselves by getting on the ball, keeping possession and forcing Wolves to worry about us. And they looked nowhere near as effective.
McGregor made a decent, but simple, save from Bonatini’s far post header in what was suddenly a rare Wolves attack. City struggled to find a final ball after getting into key areas until just after the hour a neat move worked the ball to the edge of the area where Campbell exploded into the box, beautifully beat the last man with a neat trick and was denied by a good save from John Ruddy’s out-stretched right arm. If that was close then Hernandez’s thumping header from Clucas’s corner smashing the post five minutes later was tantalising.
We had momentum. Even Henriksen won two excellent challenges in midfield. Then Campbell was subbed off for Diomande and the game went. Again, it’s hard to blame the manager when Campbell is clearly not yet at peak fitness but there is just nothing outside the first eleven and losing Campbell’s effervescence for Diomande’s clunky and clumsy wandering was the sign that this game was over. Worse was still to come when Hernandez jumped to challenge for a good Grosicki cross (not many of them to the pound) and landed awkwardly. He immediately called for the physio who called for a stretcher and Abel went off with a serious looking achilles injury. Shiiiit.
With the referee just about to announce NINE minutes of stoppage time, we made it irrelevant. Typical. Aina was caught in possession in their half and sub Nouha Dicko raced onto a ball into space to finish under McGregor [1-3]. We were awarded a seriously soft penalty eight minutes into the nine added for a foul on Diomande which David Meyler buried into the bottom left hand corner [2-3] but the game was up.
Full time: Hull City 2 Wolves 3
This felt like a game that would let us know how good we are after a comfortable win on Saturday. In the end though, it’s probably not told us anything we didn’t already know. We’re a decent outfit with 7 or 8 quality players. Michael Hector is a classy defender. We’re at least five players short of having a squad anywhere near Wolves’s (they had actual grown-ups on the bench and the manager didn’t pick who came on by playing Ip, Dip, dog shit). We desperately need a left back. Markus Henriksen isn’t a central midfielder. Kamil Grosicki will have games where you wonder if he gives a toss.
And one new one, we desperately need Abel Hernandez to not be injured for six months. Or even six weeks.
ou forget, don’t you, that a gulf in class between City and an opponent can work in our favour too. For all of its gaudy glitz, a season in the Premier League can be demoralising as the weekly assignments against the significantly wealthier continue without cessation. Back in the calmer waters of the Championship, with fish smaller as well as larger, the scope for dishing it out instead of being a permanent punchbag does possess a certain appeal. And as City pummelled an adventurous but pretty hopeless Burton, we left in a brighter mood than so often last season.
Not that Hull City AFC is a club wreathed in smiles at present. The sight of the whole Upper West Stand closed is a testament to the damage being done by the Allam family, and made for a sorry pre-match spectacle.
Luckily, one man for whom the next beaming grin is rarely too far away is the new City manager, Leonid Slutsky. On his home debut as the Tigers’ manager, he named the same XI that started and improved to draw at Aston Villa a week earlier:
Clark, Dawson, Hector, Aina
Grosicki, Clucas, Henriksen, Bowen
On the bench was new signing Seb Larsson, and City began the afternoon attacking the South Stand (hooray!).
It was open start, with Kamil Grosicki pinching the ball in the third minute and ill-advisedly opting to conclude his burst down the wing with a shot from an acute angle with unmarked teammates in the middle. Meanwhile, Stephen Warnock – who’d been struggling since a first minute knock – failed to last beyond 3.07pm, limping off to be replaced by Lloyd Dyer.
With the first anti-Allam chants of the afternoon only just subsiding, City took a gratifyingly early lead when a loose ball fell to Markus Henriksen. His fabulous volley hit the crossbar and came back out, where the alert Abel Hernández’s superior anticipation gave him a free header at goal. In it went, via a strong but vain attempted deflection from the exposed Burton keeper.
That began a spell of near total domination, as Burton Albion Brewers – as our own club cretinously renamed them in the build-up – looked close to being totally overwhelmed. Grosicki had a shot blocked after neat play by Fraizer Campbell, but the besieged visitors nearly (and should have) found themselves level soon after. Aina dithered naively on the ball, was dispossessed and Akins’ low shot went past McGregor but was ruled out for offside, erroneously it seemed.
That wasn’t unique, with a disagreeable vein of complacency running throughout City’s otherwise strong work. It became a madly end-to-end affair as Burton grew in attacking intent. McGregor smartly saved from Akins, Hernández fluffed a chance tougher than the one he’d earlier taken, Sordell sent one curling inches wide and Grosicki then wrapped up the 2017/18 miss of the season when rounding Bywater after being released on the right only to then miss the open goal. A crazy match.
It got crazier. More defensive faffing saw City fail to clear their lines repeatedly, and eventually Jackson Irvine was able to bend a superb shot past McGregor into the top right of the goal.
A great finish, and while parity flattered the visitors, they’d probably been worth a goal – City’s mucking around in defence and profligacy up front had badly undone them. Meanwhile, the 473 Burton fans crowed about this sudden and unexpected improvement in their fortunes.
But City weren’t to be the only ones capable of substantial self-harm. With eight minutes remaining before half-time and Slutsky’s charges yet to properly recollect themselves following their concession, Irvine rashly upended Bowen for the second time in the game. He’d seen yellow the first time, and although the City youngster was fully 80 yards from the Brewers’ goal, it looked a promising enough break to warrant a second caution. The Australian international forlornly departed, and the game very much felt City’s to lose.
Save for Grosicki directing a free kick well over, that was it for the half, with both sides appearing content to get to the interval and assess how best to approach the numerical disparity that Jackson’s foolishness had engendered.
Burton’s response wasn’t too unexpected. Nigel Clough deployed his depleted yellows in a 4-4-1 formation, while Leonid Slutsky took the opportunity to capitalise upon Burton’s likely lack of attacking ambition by urging his fullbacks further forward. It was to work splendidly.
On 50, City again began a half with an early goal. It came from the flanks, with the impressive Ola Aina fleet-footedly bewitching his marker before sending in a cute cross with his presumably weaker left. Grosicki determinedly attacked it at the near post, and sent a header bouncing into the far post to make it 2-1. Relief! Even if Burton were unlikely to win with ten, holding on for a point wouldn’t have been impossible, but now they had to chase.
Soon after, their stiff task began to appear impossible. A long ball was partially cleared straight to the unattended Hernández, who instantly crashed a low shot at Bywater. He may have done better with it, though its instant nature and sweet connection made it a challenging effort. Either way, he couldn’t keep it out, and on 53 it was 3-1. Game over, right?
Right. Flanagan replaced Sordell for the ailing visitors, who looked completely winded by their disastrous start to the second half. Campbell missed a chance to get his first City goal in 3,395 days when sending a header wide, but spurned opportunities no longer felt as though they’d materially affect the outcome.
On 68, any remaining doubts were dispelled. Clucas obtained possession in midfield, lost it and then quickly regained it, before threading a perfectly weighted ball to Hernández. The Uruguayan had cleverly found himself a yard of space and his control was perfect, allowing him to hare free of the beleaguered Burton defence. It never felt as though he’d miss, and he didn’t, coolly steering the ball past late-90s City loanee Bywater for his hat-trick and an emphatic 4-1 lead.
That left a quarter of the game remaining, and with the result assured, what to do? Push on for more goals and really put the distressed visitors to the sword, or relax a little with successive midweek fixtures approaching? Pragmatism won the day, with Slutsky swiftly withdrawing Clucas, Hernández and Grosicki for Meyler, Diomande and Larsson. Either way, it was a pleasant situation for the new boss to have.
14,882 was the official gate, incidentally. It felt approximately right, though tellingly it wasn’t announced over the PA system. It was displayed on the big screens though, and precipitated further calls for the Allams to bugger off.
City could and perhaps should have scored more as the cowed Albion prayed for an end to their torment – chances fell to (in no particular order) Clark, Henriksen, Dawson, Larsson, Hector, Diomande and Meyler, and if there are any frustrations to be gleaned from a comprehensive 4-1 win, it’s that City missed a boatload of opportunities throughout the game.
But hey, a 4-1 win! That didn’t happen much last season. Behind the affable exterior, Leonid Slutsky won’t have become a national manager without knowing his stuff, and he’ll know there are things to improve upon. Occasionally lackadaisical stuff in defence, too many chances being frittered away at the other end, coupled with the odd piece of bad decision making.
There’ll be tougher tests than a Burton side who played with ten men for over half the match. They don’t look like a side who’ll be seriously contesting for anything other survival this season. Wolves have won all three this season, beating two fancied Championship sides on the way – they’ll provide a much stouter examination on Tuesday. For now, four points and five goals. That’ll do nicely.