Cardiff City 2 Hull City 1

I started my away-match travelling for this season on a murky
evening in a foreign country amid a tiny band of Tigers fans, and
I repeated the dose yesterday. But Cardiff had little in common
with the joyous optimism of that win at Partick Thistle back in
late July. Indeed, the omens could hardly have been worse.
Cardiff haven’t started the season very well, but they’re still
doing better than us; our away form has been mainly poor; we seem
able to defend in the Cups but not in the League; and the sour
taste of Saturday’s rank injustice lingers deeply. And this was,
after all, Cardiff, League football’s 91st most inviting venue
and a long, long way from home.

Well, we lost. The game could be taken as a summary of our whole
season so far. Occasional bright moments, providing sources of
optimism. But individual errors and an overall lack of positional
coherence, with a bit of bad luck thrown in, denied us any
reward.

We brought back Rocastle and Bettney, the two loan players
ineligible for Saturday’s Cup tie, and, with Hodges and Mann
dropping out of the starting line-up, we played:

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Greaves Wright Hocking
Joyce Rocastle Peacock
Bettney Darby

But we fell gloomily behind after only two minutes. A ball was
knocked forward into our box, their man had time and space to lay
it off to Andy Saville, who in turn had time and space to get his
head over the ball and shoot into the corner of the net from 15
yards. It was at the distant Canton end, so the City support of
100 or so were denied the opportunity to offer our former striker
a sporting round of applause on his goalscoring success.

The game settled into an even pattern, with minimal penalty area
activity, but after about 20 minutes, they made it 2-0. A free-
kick on the edge of our box was laid square into the path of one
of their midfielders, who was not closed down and he fired hard
and low past Willo’s left hand into the goal. Slack defending.

We now had fears that a dispirited Tigers team might be buried
by an avalanche of goals, but the team put some fight into it,
greatly assisted, it must be admitted, by the inadequacies of the
home side. And the balance of play began to switch our way,
albeit against the background that the overall standard was
pretty poor. By the last 15 minutes of the half, we were on top.
Darby got a toe-end to a Peacock cross and the ball looped
crazily up in the air and against the bar, with the keeper
confounded by the ball’s peculiar wobbling. Then Duane found
space for a header from only 6 yards out, only to see his effort
blocked by a desperate goalkeeper. Brave save; Duane should’ve
buried it. Then Greaves laid a fine ball into Tricky’s path, but
Peacock, advancing into the box free of defensive attention,
slipped his shot across the keeper and agonisingly just wide of
the post. Cardiff were at bay, but it felt like we needed a score
before half-time. And we didn’t get one.

If the first half had been largely listless, the first 20 minutes
of the second half were plain awful. We watched, numb with
despair. Nothing happened. Hodges had replaced Bettney (who spent
far too much time in the first 45 minutes marooned out wide) and
Fewings came on for Greaves, with Rioch moving to midfield to
free up left back for Fewings. So we had adjusted to a 4-4-2-ish
sort of a formation, though Rocastle consistently dropped very
deep (and was later still swapped for Lowthorpe). But the
football was dire, until, suddenly, we scored, totally out of the
amber. A long ball from our left found Peacock (I think!) on the
edge of the box, who cleverly laid the ball into Darby’s path and
our returning hero thumped his shot home for 2-1. Shortly
afterwards, Peacock tore inside on a dynamic run in from the
right, and struck a fine shot against the top of the bar. Rioch
was trying to pump fuel into our performance, though, as ever,
Gregor mixed frenetic energy and laudable attempts to provide
leadership with misplaced passes and occasional positional
howlers. He has the makings of a fine player, but is flawed yet.

The home side was not lifeless, and Willo pulled off an excellent
sprawling close range block with his legs, but City had the upper
hand. However, time was running out and, with the game slipping
away from us, it needed something remarkable to save us. It came
courtesy of the Cardiff defence, which in the very last minute
of the match parted handsomely to usher Duane straight through
the middle with an inviting one-on-one on the keeper. Duane
stroked his shot wide of the keeper’s left hand … and the ball
slid gently beyond the post as well. If Duane had been a week
closer to full match fitness after his long lay-off, who knows
….

We deserved the point we didn’t get, though neither side played
at all well.

Beaten, we retreated. A long slog back into England and on up
North was lit up at the end by a Nottingham taxi driver who took
one look at our scarves and said “Hull City? By heck, you should
have had a penalty on Saturday, shouldn’t you?” Yes, mate. Missed
opportunities, denied opportunities … we’ve had more than our
fair share so far this season. I think it would be useful for us
to defeat Doncaster in ten days time.

steve weatherill

Hull City 0 Hednesford Town 2

Imagine this. You are an overweight, middle-aged man. You have
a dead end job, where no one likes you. You dye your hair black
and sport a stupid little toothbrush moustache, but you still
enjoy not the slightest hint of success in your occasional forays
into your town’s bars in search of a pull. Not even your cheap
and nasty aftershave helps you when your chat-up line is “I’ve
got a lovely whistle”. Your own mother forgets your birthday. So
what do you do to try and cover up your deep feelings of anxiety
and inadequacy? You become a football referee, of course. And you
exercise your power-without-responsibility to the aggravation of
players county-wide, and eventually country-wide. The desperate
lack of refereeing competence in England means that one day you
find yourself elevated to take charge of an FA Cup tie between
a highly respected League club, with a tradition going back over
90 years, and a poorly supported bunch of non-League non-
entities, enjoying a brief flirtation with life outside the West
Midlands Sunday League. You know that the game is one of several
at which the Match of the Day cameras will be present, but if the
League side wins, the game will be no more than a footnote to the
programme, and your chance of TV fame will be lost. But if the
non-League team wins … well, it’ll be a featured match and you
will be in the news. Surely you might get some friends then, you
ponder …..

So what do you do? If you have the integrity and fair-mindedness
to put your personal inadequacies behind you, you get on and
referee the game in a sporting, impartial manner. In which case
Hull City would have defeated Hednesford yesterday by 2 or 3
clear goals. If, however, you are the “Mr D Laws” with whom we
were tragically saddled yesterday, you lie, cheat, steal your way
to victory for the visitors and the return home to put your feet
up with a steaming mug of Horlicks, to bask in your infamy.

For that is the story of this FA Cup tie. City were the victims
of rank corruption. We were the better side, by far. We performed
with commitment and skill. No complaints about City. But the
referee (and his linesmen) had written the script of this game
long before 3 o clock.

Wilson
Gage Rioch
Wright Greaves Hocking
Joyce Mann Hodges Peacock
Darby

We were the superior side in a largely lively first half. Our
closest chance came from a well-timed Joyce run down the middle,
thwarted only by a last-ditch tackle, sending the ball spinning
away for a corner. We had plenty of good possession, but couldn’t
quite pin down real goalscoring opportunities. The welcome return
of Mann and Darby already looked a big improvement, even though
both had traces of rustiness about their play. Hednesford were
in the game, and came close when a corner flew through a melee
at the near post, but Hocking, alert at the far post, headed the
ball clear as it seemed to be dipping into the net. Almost
immediately, the referee took a decisive hand. One of theirs
turned just inside the box past Gregor. I don’t think Gregor
touched him, but even if he did, it was the slightest nudge, and
in no way contributed to a ludicrous theatrical dive by their
man. As he fell in a pathetic heap, I was half enraged at the
deceit and half amused by how bad his acting was … and then I
saw the referee was pointing at the penalty spot. The visiting
players made clear their views with huge grins and mobbed
celebrations; they might as well have pulled up their jerseys
Ravanelli/Fowler-style to reveal a t-shirt beneath bearing the
words “Fooled you, ref!”. But maybe this ref planned to be fooled

Willo guessed correctly, diving to his left, but the ball was
cleanly struck high into the roof of the net.

We nearly levelled just before half-time, when Hocking headed
against the bar, which was followed by a desperate scramble. But
we were beginning to get the picture – had it gone in, a mystery
offside would have been produced like a rabbit out a rancid hat.

We came out with re-doubled determination after the break and
took complete control as we attacked Bunkers. Early on, a flick
header from a corner sailed over the line for the equaliser. One
of theirs tried to hack the ball clear, but his front foot was
behind the goal-line, so there could be no doubt that the
football itself had easily crossed the line. It was a goal.
Neither linesman nor referee were interested. O yes, we were
getting the picture all too clearly now. Atrocious bias was mixed
with appalling bad luck. A goal-bound Hocking header struck Darby
… the ball then dropped to Duane who tried a Whitby-style
backheel into the net … just wide. Then a shot took a looping
deflection to land in the side-netting; it looked as if it had
gone in, but it had flown just the wrong side of the post. Then
Duane turned neatly about eight yards out only to lose his
balance and scoop a soft shot into the lucky goalkeeper’s arms.
We were all over them, looking especially dangerous from corners.
But we couldn’t score. There was little to be seen of them –
Willo made a good save from a shot from 15 yards on pretty much
their only moment of possession in our half. But they didn’t need
to score – they had the lead and they had the ref.

Our torment went on. Peacock dribbled coolly and swung over a
long cross to the back post, where Duane, intelligently heading
the ball back across the face of the goal, saw his effort bounce
off the bar. We kept pressing. Fewings came on and pushed forward
energetically. The Duke joined the fray but had an unhappy cameo
appearance, let down by his first touch. Peacock looked most
likely to undo them; Duane, in his first game back, was now
visibly tiring. But the source of what should have been our
equaliser was our captain. Gregor cut inside from the left
touchline with one of his trademark barnstorming runs, scooting
past three of their men, and running thrillingly on into the box,
where he pushed the ball past the last defender, ready to line
up a glorious shooting opportunity. The last man strode into
Gregor’s path and, with a brutality that would have made an ice-
hockey crowd wince, cruelly body-checked him. Surely, we thought,
even this referee can’t ignore that … but he could. Play on.

They scored in injury time on the break.

I don’t doubt that the wicked Mr Laws has covered his back and
that the bare statistics of this match will suggest a fair deal.
We were awarded fouls, sure. But almost always in our own half,
where no damage could done – indeed, on occasion we were awarded
free kicks that denied us a promising advantage. And when we did
get an occasional free kick anywhere near their penalty area,
their wall would retreat 5 yards at most, if we were lucky, and
the ref would smile and direct that we take the kick. A similar
story at throw-ins, where they were getting the throw even when
it was plainly geometrically impossible, given the ball’s
trajectory, for it to have come off anyone other than a
Hednesford player. Above and beyond the fundamental issues of
giving them a non-penalty and denying us a cast-iron one, the
referee made sure all game long that we were at an insuperable
disadvantage.

Hednesford were rubbish. No, that’s not quite fair. They looked
shapeless, short of commitment and generally inferior to us. But
they were mostly old heads, they’ll doubtless have realised the
score with the referee from the start. They knew that all they
needed to do was to play sensibly and wait for gifts to be
showered on them. And so it proved. City too must have spotted
the impossible odds they were up against, but it is to the credit
of our players that they did not give up.

I’m not objective. But if we get beaten and deserve it, I’ll say
so. Not yesterday. I wish ill on Hednesford and piles on Mr Laws.
But ultimately there is a bottom line in Cup football. They are
in the next round, and we are not. Impotent rage and frustration,
which is what I’ve been feeling since shortly after 3 o clock
yesterday, isn’t going to change a thing. I’ve been watching
football for thirty years, from Moscow to Morecambe, Carlisle to
Cadiz, and I have never seen such bias. Bad refereeing, yes, we
see that most weeks. But cheating? I didn’t think it happened
here.

steve weatherill

Hull City 1 Shrewsbury Town 4

Can there possibly be a bright side to this alarming scoreline?
Well, until deep into first-half injury time, when Shrewsbury
scored their second goal, we were distinctly the better side, and
had played reasonably well. However, the second half was truly
wretched and ultimately we took a ghastly hammering.

We played:
Wilson
Wright Greaves Hocking
Peacock Fewings
Brien Joyce Rioch
Hodges Ellington

And we started well enough, attacking Bunkers. A splendid piece
of Hodges trickery, down near the by-line, created space for a
low cross, which Ellington reached with a straining toe-end, but
the ball flew just over the bar. We looked to be putting together
our attacks with some conviction … whereupon they scored.
Steele had disturbing amounts of time and space to run at and
across our defence before firing a left-foot shot low past the
blameless Wilson’s right hand into our net.

But we kept going in the right vein. Joyce chip; Hocking flick;
Greaves arriving in the box .. just over the bar. And offside
too, but it was a fluid, promising move. Then Wright glanced a
header from a floated Joyce free-kick narrowly beyond the far
post with visiting keeper Benny the Gall well beaten. The Duke
displayed heartening determination in the box to wrench
possession from a Shrew, then turn sharply and shoot towards the
corner of the net, only for the keeper to produce a fine diving
save. We were by no means dominant, but we were the better side.

But injury time in the first half dragged on, for no apparent
reason. On about 48 minutes, a cross to the back post was met by
Devon White, largely unmarked for no apparent reason, and his
header was despatched into the back of our net.

A short while into the second half, a free-kick close to the
corner flag was hoisted to the back post, where White lurked once
again ready, willing and able to head the ball home. Well, I say
he “lurked”; a man of the vast dimensions of Devon White is
physically incapable of lurking. He performed his celebrated
version of a large, talentless lump of lard, but it was enough
for our defence to leave him wholly unmarked and for White to
bless the day he came across Hull City. For, to add to his score
for Notts County in August, this was three already this season
against us. Miserable defending.

The rest of the match was just dreadful. The players had more or
less given it up, and performed with minimal effort. Lowthorpe
came on for Brien, and went to right-back with Peacock switching
to midfield, but it made little difference at this stage. Moments
of skill and joy? There were none, I’m afraid, other than from
the Shrews’ superb number nine, Lee Steele, a pacy and strong
front runner acquired from non-League. If we do re-direct our
transfer policy towards buying players who’ve proved their worth
at 4th Division level, then Steele should be snapped up
immediately.

The crowd (of about 4,800) was largely quiet, save only the small
bunch of boo-boys on the West side of Bunkers, with their “get
your cheque book out”s and their “What a load of rubbish”s. They
have short memories and are fools, but the match was undeniably
terrible.

Shrewsbury made it four with a 20-yard shot which took a wicked
deflection off someone’s heel to leave Willo with no chance at
all. The only question was whether the bobbling ball would spin
just inside or just outside the post; it was the sort of day
where you felt the grim inevitability that it would enter the
net, and it did. We scored after a decent build-up down the right
saw the ball laid square into the path of Gregor Rioch who
thumped home a meaty left-foot shot from the edge of the box. A
well-taken goal, but even Gregor hardly bothered to celebrate it,
so obvious was its irrelevance to the outcome of the match.

Brien, of course, was a disaster yet again in the holding
midfield role and exerted no discernible influence on the pattern
of play. He must go. I find it hard to see that Peacock will ever
make a wing-back; and Hodges is not capable of doing a job up
front. Not mobile enough. But, yet again, my main anxiety
concerns the three centre-backs. They leave too much to each
other. Opposition forwards seem to have so much time and space
against us. The system just doesn’t seem to work.

A bad day. And our mood got gloomier again as we banged on the
car radio to discover that Hednesford had scored 5 away from
home. I started this piece trying to find a bright side and the
only one I can dream up to finish on is that City are frequently
at their best when underdogs. And that is quite feasibly
precisely our status for next Saturday’s very tough match.

steve weatherill