Macclesfield Town 0 Hull City 1

Two wins in a row?  Blimey, things are looking up now the play-offs are out of reach.  Keith Dean peeks over his horn rimmed spectacles, implores us to “shush” and tells the tale of another victory.
Hey stop it. Stop that right now. Never mind looking down the table at those teams in 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th and 12th places deciding how many of them you think we might catch. And you can put your calculators away too because, no matter how optimistically you predict the results of the remaining games, we aren’t going to make the play-offs. We aren’t. We’ve left it too late. Still that doesn’t stop us enjoying evening’s like last night when we put in a thoroughly competent performance, kept a clean sheet for the first time in eons, and pouched another three points from our travels. We lined up with just one change from Sat’day: Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Smith Appleby Ashbee Keates Elliott Walters Forrester. So no Melton and no Delaney then. That was a pleasant surprise. Rather more predictably though, the game kicked off in wet and blowy conditions as is customary for our trips to the open terrace of the Moss Rose. The Silkmen, in their fetching dark blue, er, polyester, began with the wind at their backs but struggled to make any significant headway against the solid and dependable partnership of Whittle and Anderson. Energetic and harrassing play from our front six gave the Silks little time on the ball and time and time again a homester was forced into a hopeful hoof upfield. Most were overhit and carried harmlessly through to Fetts whilst the rest were rendered useless by an immobile and uninterested display from Kyle Lightbourne. True, we weren’t exactly ripping them to shreds at the other end either but we saw by far the greater share of possession and spent most of the half in control. Our passing was more accurate and the intelligent running of Forrester and Walters created enough of a threat to to keep the Silks from committing too many men forward. Elliott again looked happy pushing up from a wide midfield role. One surging run infield provided Appleby with a shooting chance that he hit only a foot or so over. We went close again after a drive from Smith, from the right hand edge of the box, was blocked inside the goal area and was eventually cleared with Walters and Elliott ready to pounce. Just a couple of anxious moments at the back. Firstly Whittle and Joseph got a bit hesitant when another high aimless ball was hit over their heads and they let it bounce, not once, but twice. Joseph was in the better position to clear but, instead, he chose to wait for Fettis to come to claim it. An alert Silkster nipped in and ran in on our keeper but Fettis’s dive got enough of a touch on the ball, and nothing on the player, to force the striker sufficiently wide and to the byeline to make his cross completely harmless. And secondly, during a brief period of Silk pressure, a corner from the left was won far too easily at the far post. The header landed only a few yards from the goal line and was only partially cleared to the edge of the box and right to the feet of one of theirs. The well-hit shot looked on target and destined for the net until Appleby threw himself into it’s path and was able to send it swirling high over the bar. Aside from these few incidents it was a 45 that lacked any noteworthy goalmouth action. But it was never dull fayre. We were battling away tenaciously against reasonable opposition and awful conditions so going into the break at nil all was going to be a pleasing reward for all those efforts. I’ll tell you what was dull though. The bloke in front of me (a tall, greying old sod) who spent most of the evening wittering on about some new job he’d got in a Library somewhere. Yawn. I have to give credit to him though, he can read a game. Deep into added-on time, a routine attack down our right flank was broken up by a Silk’s hoof into the crowd. The throw in was taken quickly. “Ey up, we might just nick one here” said the shelf stacker. His sentence started at exactly the same moment as when Richie Appleby drew back his right foot to thump over one helluva cross, and ended as Elliott’s header (from around the penalty spot, glanced perfectly to Willo’s right leaving him stranded on his line) bounced just inside the far post. Excellent stuff Tigers ! It was quick thinking and great awareness from all involved and Elliott showed again how dangerous he can be in the air. Two touches from the restart and the ref blew. Marvellous. Thankfully the conditions eased for the second half so the Tigers’ play was able to continue in a similar vein. Nothing too extravagant, nothing too risky, just steady and controlled. We were sitting back a bit without looking in any great danger and, as you might expect from a team scrapping for their existence in the Football League, the homesters did buck up their ideas a tad in the early stages. A lot of their better moments stemmed from the boy, Adams, on the left flank. We gave him a lot of space and he started whipping in some decent crosses. The heads of our central defensive duo got onto the end of most and Fettis was left to deal with only speculative shots from outside the area. The nearest they came to an equaliser was when Adams chose to hit in a lower ball that got behind the defence. Anderson turned to clear it as Fettis dived out at his feet and the loose ball almost fell to a Silk foot but was thankfully hacked behind for a corner. Up front, young Walters was having another storming game. Perhaps even equally as impressive as he’d been against Carlisle if less prominent. He takes up excellent positions wide out on both flanks, holds up the ball very well and invariably retains possession with a simple, sensible pass or forces the defenders around him to give away a corner or throw in. He has some good close control and looks bloody hard to knock of the ball. Importantly too, he looks to be forming a good understanding with Forrester. And he’s prepared to take on the oppo as he showed midway through the half. He chased down a ball out to the right touchline, held off the fullback and flicked it inside to Appleby. A neat return pass got the young ‘un clear on the edge of the box and he hit a clean shot towards the top corner that Willo had to be sharp to cover. And it was he who almost doubled our advantage soon after. Forrester won a tackle midway in their half in the inside right position. Ashbee took over and hit a wonderous pass between two Silks to the left edge of the box. Walters, with instant control, cut inside and was again thwarted only by Willo’s quick advancement from his line. With about twenty to go the tiring Appleby was replaced by Regan. We didn’t really create anything from then on but never looked in any danger of throwing away the spoils. In fact the star man of the last fifteen mins was the irrepressible Justin Whittle. Up for a corner that was met by a Silk head and that ballooned the clearance vertically upwards, Justin found himself in the D with the ball dropping invitingly to him. Much to the amazement of many, he showed us that he’s not just the rugged unflappable stopper that we all so love. He make a good strike on the volley and it looked on target but he was unlucky to see it fly off a defender’s shoulder before it could test Willo’s agility again. Then in the dying minutes, right by his own corner flag, he executed the most authoritative shoulder charge you will ever wish to see. The poor Macc ended up way over the advertising hoardings and into row L. To a great cheer, he then lumped the ball a good eighty yards or so deep, deep into the oppo’s territory to pin then back by their own byeline and use up a few more seconds of what time remained. Awesome stuff. And so the evening’s entertainment came to an end. It may seem strange, but I found it all just as enjoyable as the goal-fest at the weekend. It was great to see so much effort and commitment from a side and for it to be justly rewarded. It was a case of, in many ways, witnessing the simple things and seeing them pay off. I’m thinking of how the midfielders and strikers never stopped hassling their counterparts whenever they were in possession; of how the defence stood firm and unruffled, and of how we had so much movement that we hardly ever hit long hopeful punts to no-one in particular just to clear our lines. And, all of a sudden, when a loose ball drops on the fringes from a half-cleared corner or cross, we have people there looking to capitalise. It’s not rocket science, I know, but it is starting to look like the team knows what it’s doing for the first time since we saw off the Poolsters on Boxing Day. The play-offs ? Well, you never………………… NO. Stop it, stop that now.
HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Appleby, Ashbee, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Regan (for Appleby, 70), Melton, Webb, Dudfield, Musselwhite. Goals: Elliott 45 Booked: None Sent Off: None   MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Welch, Tinson, Macauley, Hitchen, Smith, Dunning, Whittaker, Adams, Eaton, Lightbourne.  Subs: tipton (for Smith, 60), Martin, Ross, Abbey, Nash. Goals: None Booked: Lightbourne Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 2,229

Hull City 0 Macclesfield Town 3

Whoops!  City slip on another Cheshire banana skin, and fracture their Cup hopes for another season.  Mike Scott pieces together the broken bones.
Oh Hull City. Why do you have to make things so complicated. I’ve seen the way your acting like you somebody else, it gets me frustrated. This was a bolt out of the blue, a weak performance from highly promising beginnings that saw the Tigers crash out of the FA Cup. Pre-match speculative talk was of the chairman offering enhanced players’ bonuses as an enticement to help facilitate a lucrative home 3rd round tie in the new stadium – well if such an offer was made, then clearly it proves that our current squad is not motivated by such base and coarse trinkets as hard cash. Killing us softly with their song were:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Burton Green Ashbee Delaney Williams Alexander Jevons

The suspended Keates was replaced by the returning-from-suspension Ashbee while the Cup-tied loanee Branch was replaced by the Grimsby-don’t-care-if-he’s-cup-tied-or-not Jevons. And it all started much as it left off against Lincoln last week. Within 30 seconds Stuart Green skipped through the left side of the Macc defence and crossed, the clearance falling to Ashbee who lifted a tricky falling effort over the bar. Moments later Green again pulled the attacking strings and a cross found Alexander at the far post who nodded across goal only for Jevons to sky a close range effort, albeit under the close attention of the Macc defence. When Macc were looking to attack they went down their right using Eaton, but Burton was getting the better of the early exchanges. When the wide man finally did get a cross in Lightbourne was unattended and his header drew a fine save out of Musselwhite. This appeared to be a turning point. The crowd was quietened. Burton’s game went to pieces. And from the resulting corner Macclesfield opened the scoring. A melee in the six yard box culminated in Delaney swinging at the ball and it rebounded off another City player to Tipton, who has never knowingly refused an open goal chance from three yards. 0-1. But still there was some life in the City team, even though the home support was largely mute for the remaining 79 minutes. Within seconds Regan had fed Jevons who rode two challenges and swept a shot just past Steve Wilson’s post. But as time went on Macclesfield began to get City’s measure and the attacking threat waned. Macc line up 3-5-2, although with Lightbourne tucking in on the right it was often more like 3-6-1. More than enough defenders, and a flooded midfield aimed at swamping the threat of Green. It worked. I would also praise the excellent Tipton up front. I presume he only turns it on for City, otherwise his career would’ve encompassed Oldham and Man City, not Oldham and Macclesfield. His willing running saw him pop up all over the place – wide right, wide left, in the hole, between the centre backs. He even served tea and pies to hungry North Standers at half-time. Perhaps. Tipton was a thorn in City’s side all day, and I suggest we sign him for the simple reason that he then wouldn’t play against us again. After 15 minutes Tipton crossed for Lightbourne to head just wide. That was twice the big Bermudan headed goalwards with scant attention from Whittle and Anderson, and he was finding his range. His next intervention was less positive however, a crude lunge at Regan that earned him a yellow card. From the resultant free-kick Wilson flapped characteristically and twice Whittle had chances to head goalwards from 12 yards but instead elected to square to no-one in particular. The Macc back line creaked a little for 10 minutes as Williams briefly exerted a greater influence on the game, but the threat from the away side continued to be there. When Anderson ceded possession carelessly on the halfway line and the onrushing Tipton fed Lightbourne, City heaved a sigh of relief as Ashbee motored back to block the shot and concede a corner. So relieved, in fact, that they didn’t defend the resultant cross at all and the well-practiced Lightbourne despatched a routine header under the dive of Mussy for 0-2. City continued to play a passing game, quite right too, but the zest had gone out of our play and the attacks lacked any real threat. Green wriggled through the midfield crowd scene to set up Alexander whose first time shot was blasted high and wide when space for at least two touches and a composed finish was available. Regan was set free by Jevons and the cross found Alexander in the box, but his header went over the crossbar – once more Wilson was left untested. Regan may have got this cross in but much of the rest of his play was poor, as passes went astray or were blocked. A similar story was seen on the left with Burton and Williams – Macc had clearly determined that they should cut off the City supply lines at source, and it was a highly effective tactic. As the half closed two flashes of individual skill saw Burton and Delaney both craft shooting chances, but Burton’s dribbled wide off his shin and Delaney’s was parried adeptly by Willo. As the half time whistle approached Jevons drew a further save out of Wilson, and the feeling on the terraces was that while we had been undone by Macc for the second time this season, some well-crafted changes to the formation could see City get back into the tie. The home draw against Leeds was not yet out of the question. A vigorous half-time workout by Elliott confirmed that the required surgery was to be undertaken, but when the players emerged for the second stanza it was apparent that some strange decisions had been made. Williams had been very ineffectual and did not deserve a minute longer on the pitch, and the same could be said for the invisible Delaney. But instead, it was Jevons and Whittle that were withdrawn for Elliott and Peat, with Delaney switching to centre back, Williams to centre midfield, Peat patrolling the left and Elliott going up front. Lessons learnt. Williams is as short as Keates, but is no centre midfielder – he was shocking. Elliott is far more dangerous armed with a left sided brief than he is through the centre. Delaney is a good passing centre back, but lacks positional nous. Peat is capable of being totally ineffectual, he barely touched the ball for the full 45. It was a tactical switch that failed in almost every sense, and I sincerely hope that Mr Taylor realised this. Macclesfield came out and defended with their 3-6-1 line-up now a permanent feature, and they worked hard to protect their goal – plenty hard enough. Burton’s problems of the first half continued to escalate and he spannered a succession of passes and clearances into touch. He was soon replaced by the restored-to-fitness Shaun Smith, who performed OK in the circumstances, and all the manager’s jokers were played. But still no penetration, and the game died a sorry and dampsquibby death. Only the ex-City stalwart Wilson could be relied upon – he rolled back the years and flapped gruesomely at a corner on the hour, the ball dropped to Delaney who showed the composure of a drug-crazed po-going safety-pin-laden Sparks fanatic as he skied his chance over the bar from two yards out. Peat briefly left the shooting stick that he perched upon while observing the game go past him, and fired a decent shot after cutting inside from his wing, and Wilson showed that his shot stopping skills are still in good order as he pushed wide. But the final throw of the dice went in favour of the away side, as a cleared corner fell to the slap-headed Whittaker who lashed a fizzing drive into the top corner, giving Mussy no chance. The only remaining moment of note was when Williams went down and injured and Stuart Green kicked the off the pitch to allow the trainer on. Not a quick roll over the touchline for young Stuart, oh no, he lashed a full blooded drive that propelled the ball at warp speed into the front row of the West Stand director’s box. I don’t know who sat next to Mrs Pearson yesterday, but whoever it was had a sore head this morning. So a meek capitulation for a second time in six weeks against hard working but limited opponents. David Moss, the Macc manager, clearly has Hull City sussed, I just hope he keeps his masterplan to himself. This next week will be very interesting, this is Peter Taylor’s first real test. Will he get the players back up for the visit of statesiders Boston next Saturday? Will he modify the tactics to freshen up the attacking potency? Will he never ever on any account play Ryan Williams in the middle of midfield again? Just two more matches for Hull City to shine at Boothferry Park. Over to you, Mr Taylor.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Burton, Green, Delaney, Ashbee, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Elliott (for Jevons, 45), Peat (for Whittle, 45), Smith (for Burton, 69), Holt, Harvey. Goals: None Booked: Regan, Williams Sent Off: None   MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Tinson, Ridler, Welch, Hitchen, Whitaker, Monroe, Eaton, Adams, Lightbourne, Tipton.  Subs: Abbey (for Eaton, 60), Martin, Hardy, O’Neill, Askey. Goals: Tipton 12, Lightbourne 27, Whitaker 76 Booked: Adams, Lightbourne Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 7,803

Hull City 1 Macclesfield Town 3

After a dreadful Tigers performance, Keith Dean returns from holiday and asks what all the fuss is about, we’re just as poor as ever, aren’t we?
A roll. We were on one. Apparently. I add the note of scepticism because, you see, I’ve been away on hols for a few weeks. When I left, the disappointing start had stretched to six non-victorious games and just about every aspect of the team’s performance was under question. I missed the draw with Leyton; the thrillingly brave effort against Leicester and the two wins against Cambridge and Carlisle. On my return I read how the defence has become a solid individual unit; how the team were scoring goals and pushing on looking for more and that Ryan Williams was indeed a true wizard of the wing tormenting full-backs with his incisive and direct running. That’s not quite how it seemed last night. Lining up for, perhaps, out last night match at The Ark were,

Glennon Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Green Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Jevons

Our visitors, in a dapper deep blue kit, included MaccWillo in nets and MaccLightbourne (looking a whole lot slimmer than he ever did in a Tiger’s shirt) up front. A quiet enough start but City did maintain a high proportion of the possession. Jevons and Alexander appeared willing runners onto long, deep balls to the corner flags but the midfield never supported in sufficient numbers. On ten, Jevons caught up with one on the right touchline and, with not a great deal of space to work in, turned the defender and put in an inviting cross to the near post. Alexander was lurking but Bransholme’s No. 1 gathered it safely. That was, in fact, his second safe catch of a high cross and, all night, his kicking was accurate and long. An imposter surely? Green started to get into the game and seemed keen for the ball. Sometimes he would start it from deep bringing colleagues into play, and other times he’d look to get ahead of the strikers and keep the oppo on their toes. A proper midfielder, this lad. And, after a quarter of an hour, it was he who put us ahead. A well-timed, ghosting run down the inside right channel was spotted by Jevons and his precise, perfectly weighted pass beat the offside trap. Green took a couple of touches to get himself to the edge of the area and was able to stroke it past the onrushing MaccKeeper. I started to believe. For the next twenty minutes or so we looked OK. We kept the ball and tried similar moves to open up the Macc defence. It was patient and controlled, and we quite often put a string of passes together, but it lacked a killer touch or an explosive bit of pace to really shake them up. We tried feeding it out to Williams, we tried using Regan on the overlap and we tried high balls up to Alexander but the individual players simply didn’t do enough to cause the away defence any serious problems. With the exception of a couple of goalmouth scrambles, the nearest we came to a second goal was a free-kick, about 25 yards out, which Smith hit low and hard around the wall. The initial strike was parried and then smothered before Alexander could take advantage. And then the final five minutes of the half were a bit of a scare. Firstly, a MaccStriker got on the end of a long ball beyond our central defenders and hared into the area. If he’d had shot early we’d have been in trouble but he took it on a tad further and the cover managed to get back close enough to force him nearer and nearer to the byeline so, in the end, his shot smacked into the side netting. But the real wake-up call was still to come. Justin did well to get any sort of defensive header onto a high punt whilst backpedalling and with MaccLightbourne right on his shoulder. But, for the second ball, we simply fannied around for what seemed like an age and no-one took the responsibility of getting rid. Two or three had the time to hoof it clear but hesitation and indecision resulted in Keates cushioning a header into an open space inside the area. Right into the path of MaccWelsh. To the sound of a huge sigh of relief, he showed us why he is the 39th best player at Macclesfield by pushing his shot wide of Glennon and the post from only 12 yards out. The half time summing up around me made numerous comparisons to Saturday’s win. We were a goal up but hadn’t looked convincing. The opposition looked pretty average. So, that was it then, they were in for a second half pasting again. Within five minutes of the restart I knew I had been the victim of an elaborate hoax. True, we couldn’t have done much about the equaliser. Forty yards out, and yes it was forty, the stocky defender MaccWelch (a totally different character to first half blunder boy) hit a screamer that Glennon would have seen late, and he did get a hand to it, but I’m guessing that the element of surpirse was what really caught him out. It came from nowhere. But the second goal ? Oh deary me. Whittle was tracking back to the edge of his area to clear up a forward hoof. Glennon started to come for it but stopped. Whittle hesitated. Glennon took another step forward and another back. Justin turned his body to enable him to thump it away but, in doing so, opened up the gap for MaccLightbourne to nip in, knock it past the flat-footed keeper and tap into an empty net from the edge of the six yard box. The defence as a solid individual unit ? I think not. And that wasn’t even the end of it. They could have scored more as another three good chances were wasted. A passing move starting from their ring wing was worked across field and the final pass, along the edge of the area, found one of theirs in a lot of space but he blazed over as a last-gasp despairing tackle flew in. Another MaccLad then screwed a shot across the goal and wide of Glennon’s left hand post after more simple passing had opened us up and then a left wing cross flew across the face of our goal needing just a touch to add to the humiliation. Our response ? Well it wasn’t that convincing to be honest. The Dude replaced Jevons and played down the left touchline whilst Johnson came on for a wholly ineffective Williams and pushed forward wide on the right. With Alexander, they looked a lively and more urgent threat but only sporadically. We still struggled in midfield and were now a body short in that area. Dude’s runs caused some panic in the Macc defence and brought about a number of corners. They were swung in and MaccWillo at last began to look like the lightweight flapper we recalled from days gone by. But we never ever got anyone in the right place to take advantage of his fubles or pick up the loose ball. Ashbee was the worst culprit when he failed to have a pop at goal from inside the area, instead choosing to turn and retreat and try to feed the ball out wide again. And we had had one golden opportunity to get back onto level terms with 15 mins or so remaining. Dudfield advanced down the left flank then checked back inside before swinging over a quality ball, with his right foot, angled into the area. Alexander had read it and got between and beyond their two central defenders and met the ball just five yards out. MaccWillo had remained stranded on his line, and now cowered, his kness knocking together, as foot met ball. And we watched in disbelief as the ball then, somehow, arced up and over the bar. Reality bit. Just to finish off a grim evening the visitors increased their lead in the dying seconds. One of theirs ran into the area, inside left channel, and again should have hit it early but the extra touch allowed Anderson to make a perfectly timed sliding tackle. The MaccBoy stayed on his feet and was able to play a simple pass inside to MaccAskey who finished to Glennon’s left. So it was true then. You had all been lying to me. What had I witnessed ? Well, Green put us ahead early and then we go on to concede 3. I’d seen that at Exeter. The defence looked, at times, shambolic and seemed incapable of communicating with each other. I’d seen that at Hartlepool. And Ryan Williams was totally ineffective and was substituted well before the end. We’d be here all day if I started listing where I’d seen that before. Next time I go on holiday, I’ll make sure it’s during the close season.

HULL CITY: Glennon, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Dudfield (for Jevons, 58), Johnson (for Williams, 58), Edwards, Musselwhite, Bradshaw Goals: Green 16 Booked: Ashbee Sent Off: None   MACCLESFIELD TOWN: Wilson, Tinson, Ridler, Welch, Hitchen, Whittaker, Priest, Welsh, Adams, Lightbourne, Tipton.  Subs: Askey (for Lightbourne, 65), Robinson (for Tipton, 73), Munroe (for Welsh, 81), Martin, Hardy Goals: Welch 47, Lightbourne 50, Askey 90 Booked: Askey, Priest, Welch Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 8,703