Hull City 0 Oxford United 0

Promotion chasing Oxford come to the KC to spoil and delay their way to a draw.  Mark Gretton describes how City nearly made it three wins in a row.  But didn’t.
So the all too brief winning run came to an end and we again dropped points at home, dropped points that will almost certainly extinguish the optimism behind even the most black and amber tinted spectacles. But getting that out of the way at the start, that apart, this was another hugely encouraging display to build on to the back of the games at Carlisle and Macclesfield. We played well from start to finish, the defence was solid, the attack created chances and the midfield, glory be, was an effective link between the two, buttressing the first and launching the second. In short, we looked again like a proper football team and we did it against a side 4th in the league who looked frankly terrified of us throughout the second half and whose ambitions seldom rose above a point. Rubbish they were, so I shan’t really talk about them. That’ll show ’em. Lining up as I took my seat were:

Fettis Joseph Whittle Anderson Delaney Appleby Ashbee Keates Elliott Walters Forrester

So Delaney back for Smith, new man Reeves on the bench, kept company by Melton, amongst others and those on the pitch were immediately into their work attacking towards the South East stand, forcing 4 quick fire corners which the visitors dealt with with strategies veering from competence to panic, the latter including a defender scooping just over his own bar. That’s nice, we thought, and we kept on thinking it, as the flow of traffic was entirely towards the Oxish goal. An Elliott cross-cum-shot was tipped over after the netman gazed at it for an inordinately long time, before deciding, belatedly but correctly, that it was on target, then Elliott was again involved in flicking on Joseph’s long ball for Forrester whose shot was deflected wide. Anderson played a good ball long and wide to Joseph who ran on and shot, the keeper parried to the feet of Forrester who pounced tigerishly. It looked like 1-0, but a defender had anticipated even more rapidly than our diminutive goalsmith and the block was brave and effective. In truth, some intelligent breaking down of our moves was about as good as it got for the Oxen in the early stages. Appleby, Ashbee and Keates had the midfield in their grip, won the 50-50’s and then set us moving towards their goal. Walters was strong and Forrester active. Our occasional problems were almost all created by carelessness on our part rather than adventure on theirs. On 24 minutes Elliott was, as he is too often, in Delaney’s way, so he took a ball far too short with his back to the defence and no good out ball. He fannied about, lost it in the tackle and belatedly fell over, allowing them to skip upfield before the ever reliable Whittle broke up the attack. Elliott seemed to stay down forever in just the sort of blunder that had let Cambridge in a fortnight ago. I don’t object to Elliott doing a bit of what we might delicately call ‘cheating’, on principle. No, when we have a fine exponent of the art,such as David Brown, I think it’s an excellent thing. None who saw it will ever forget, for example, the splendid moment at the Ark when he fell over as Rotherham oaf Guy Branston slide-tackled him fairly, managing to tread on the Rotherham man’s South Yorkshire gonads as he did so. As Browny climbed to his feet in careworn but brave fashion, the understandably irate Branston confronted him, causing Browny to stagger back, fall over and Branston, now having completely lost it, to be sent off, though he had never at any point made any assault on our hero other than raking Browny’s studs with his groin. No, that sort of thing can only ever be good, and Elliott needs to work on it if he is to reach those heights. Alternatively he could, I suppose, try and stay on his feet and chase after the man to whom he’s lost the ball. It’s a thought. As the half wore on, the Oxters did come into it more. They forced a corner that was turned over. After Delaney had misspassed they put in a cross for a free header for Basham that was gratefully pouched by Fettis. And just before the half ended they got away completely, with only Justin Whittle blocking the route to goal. And block it he did, stepping smartly in front of their attacker and flattening him as he knocked the ball past the skipper and prepared to roast him for pace. Instant decision making from Justin but it looked as though the retribution might be swift and terrible. But the referee was lenient and the card was yellow and we exhaled as one as we went to half time just wondering if they might have turned the corner. Half time, 0-0. Second half and Appleby was immediately replaced by Reeves. Whether this was typical tinkering Taylor in ‘if it aint broke, then fix it mode’ was hard to say. Appleby had produced the mixture of strong tackling and astute passing to which we are rapidly becoming accustomed, but he may still be coming to full fitness. Anyway, Reeves was a straight positional swap, wide right on midfield, but operationally he was different. Less likely to come and find the ball, he was more likely to advance. He looks a sallow youth with bog brush hair, in truth not an early playground pick, you would have gone for the much harder looking Walters and hope that he didn’t nick your Curly Wurly. But he worked hard from the off and he can play. Oddly enough, the real catalyst was an injury to Joseph on 58 minutes and his replacement by that renowned and redoubtable right back Steve Melton. This looked like an awful Planet Peterism, but it ushered in our best play of the day. Excellent work by Walters in holding up and delivering the ball just so set Elliott free for the sort of run on goal he enjoyed at Carlisle which, up there had ended with him firing narrowly but wastefully wide of the keepers right hand post. This was very different, as the ball was dragged narrowly but wastefully wide of the left hand post. There was also the little difference of us being 4-0 up at Carlisle at the time and pretty damn mellow, here it was head-in-hands time. But now we were motoring. Reeves won the ball well, interlinked with the advancing Melton, ran wide for the well-placed return and got over an excellent first time cross. Walters was there, headed down, the keeper spread himself dutifully but forlornly and the bloody ball hit him and he clung on to it. Credit it him if you must, but it should have been in. Another intelligent ball forward found Forrester who ran wide, crossed for Elliott and the shot was blocked. Then Forrester picked it up in the inside right position, advanced menacingly on a thoroughly spooked defence, drew back the bow and arrowed one in, dipping, dipping, over the keeper….and on to the cross bar and away. Oxford had given up any ideas of winning it. Their highly rated strikers, Martin Basham and Lee Steele, the latter who has tormented us often in the past in his long term role as ‘Shrewsbury’s only decent player’ (a part now played by Luke Rodgers) were anonymous and were both withdrawn in favour of shoring up a creaking defence. They took an age over goalkicks and an eternity over throw ins, managing to get a booking for timewasting. They also goaded the referee into adding on 5 extra minutes at the end. But they only looked remotely like scoring once, putting over from 4 yards when the ball had ended up loose in our area. Taylor had looked forward to this game, saying that we would have freedom to play as the oppo would come at us. If you were churlish, which thank the Lord I’m not, you might think that this was more of Planet Peter. But in truth, it was surprising that a team so highly placed would be so grateful for a point away to someone in the bottom half. Further evidence, were any needed, of the dreadful standard of teams in this division this time around after last year’s unexpected upwards quality blip. We kept control and kept attacking, but our best chances had come and gone. Walters weakly hit shot was then followed by a much better effort on the turn and just over. Elliott had a scruffy effort scrambled away. Ashbee, worryingly was stretchered off near the end and we couldn’t quite do it. But we had done a lot and we had done well and we are a point nearer to safety and our inevitable place as promotion favourites season 2003-2004. And, for now, that’s enough.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Appleby, Ashbee, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Reeves (for Appleby, 45), Melton (for Joseph, 56), Smith (for Ashbee, 88), Dudfield, Musselwhite. Goals: None Booked: Whittle Sent Off: None   OXFORD UNITED: Woodman, Waterman, Bound, Crosby, McNiven, Savage, Hunt, Ford, Robinson, Basham, Steele.  Subs: Scott (for Basham, 62), Louis (for Steele, 90), Hunter, Whitehead, Hackett. Goals: None Booked: McNiven Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 17,404

Oxford United 0 Hull City 0

Mark Gretton reports on the return of Paul Musselwhite and the kind of dour nil-niller that can squash promotion hopes at twenty paces.
And so to posh uni country for consecutive away games and our second visit to Oxford in the last 6 months. As in March we had a lovely sit-outside pub luncheon before watching two underachieving sides desperate to regain former glories that were never really that glorious anyway. Again we didn’t break our Kassam scoring duck and again we didn’t win at Oxford, although this is nothing new. Their programme informed us that we hadn’t done this since the mid-seventies, Wagstaff, Galvin and Vince Grimes the scorers. But unlike March we got a point. And we deserved it in a performance of which, whilst you might question some of the quality and organisation, you couldn’t, even if you were the manager, question the commitment. This was a lot better than Tuesday as it had to be. A final furious five minutes that would have gladdened the heart of Grandmaster Flash might have won it for us as we subjected them to the sort of big finish that has been largely absent from our teams over the last decade or so. In this time Dudfield spotted hesitancy between their keeper and a defender that had prior to this been our property and nipped in to streak it just wide of the empty net from a tight angle. Then Dudfield, thankfully playing this games as The Dude rather than The Dud, was even closer after Green made the sort of clever pass that he had essayed for much of the afternoon into his path. Dudfield steadied himself, took aim, struck it cleanly and missed, but by so little that the watching tigerfolk were already in the air in pre-acclaim mode. After that we pummelled them from a series of corners without quite finding the knockout blow. So a 0-0 draw and the inevitable feeling of going out on a date and it going pretty well and when your mates ask you how it was you say ‘Oh, great, great, had a really good time’ so they know and you know that, fulfilling as it was to find someone who likes The Manic Street Preachers and The West Wing, what it really needed to top it off was for you to score, and you didn’t. But in truth a draw was an eminently fair result, despite our big finish we couldn’t actually find a finish and they would have won but for one appalling miss and two excellent Musselwhite saves. So the Muss was back in place of Glennon. No cries of dismay from the faithful greeted this announcement over the PA, although it is possible that this was because no-one heard it. Memo to City. Try and have a spiffy new sound system to match the spiffy new Circle. This one belonged in a railway station. And so it came to pass that Glennon sat this one out on the bench, which left it sinking into the ground at his end whilst Bradshaw, Edwards, Johnson and Dudfield were airborne at theirs. Lining up in 4-4-2 order were:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Smith Green Ashbee Keates Williams Alexander Jevons

And a comfy enough start we made of it, The Muss taking an early catch to calm our nerves more than his, Smith getting in a thudding early challenge and us moving it around nicely enough. Our passing looked good and acquired purpose as Williams and Green combined to gain a corner from which Ashbee and Jevons had shots charged down. Gradually the Oxters came into it, an Anderson error led to a shot ricocheting wide and they began to bypass our midfield. That they sought to attack our left was not surprising, as they had filleted and grilled Holt here last season. But instead of an inept defender with some ability going forward we now have, er, Smith. Now of course Smith has improved hugely from some early season horror shows, but here he got a searching examination. He didn’t, as is the current fashion, go from A grade to Unclassified, but he was beaten on the outside more than he and his team mates would like, particularly as Whittle, Anderson and Musselwhite had clearly not established who was going to pick up the subsequent crosses. One of these was a shot-cum-centre which everyone watched slip just by our post. But we kept doing good stuff, better than them really, Ashbee and Jevons set up Williams for a tame shot before the favour was returned for Jevons to produce a similar weedy effort. Neither side was much cop at keeping the ball and after they had again coughed it up, Alexander flicked on for Williams to produce another non-taxing shot. Then Alex himself got on the end of a through ball but was unable to deflect it with the necessary force. He looked like he was getting closer as a fine ball from Green found him bearing down on goal only for sometime Dolantiger Matt Bound to slide in and make an excellent challenge. Half-time with no score and neither side creating quite enough to suggest that they thought they would. Whilst the teams rest Oxford have the same boring fail-to-kick-the-ball-through-the-hole interval routine as do we. Before the game they had a bewildering obstacle race between someone dressed as a cow with horns and someone dressed as a blood clot. This was hard to fathom. The cow chap could well have been the Oxford mascot, but whether the blood clot was there to symbolise the ability of City to bring on a stroke or heart attack in their sympathisers I couldn’t say. Anyhow, the silly cow beat the silly clot. I think it’s the sort of razzamatazz you think you should have with a new ground, designed to distract attention from the fact that your stadium only has three sides and lacks a piece in the football hot bed stakes. These caveats apart the Kassam is impressively appointed, offers a clear view of an excellent surface and is much better than many new builds in the bottom division. Second half started much as the first ended, we passed it well but lost it before we set up a clear chance, they got it forward more directly but with no more potency. Green was prominent for us, through the middle rather than wide on the right, our width on that flank provided only when Regan advanced forwards. Working hard for them up front was Oldfield, who looked alarmingly like now departed veteran Oxford fatbastard Paul Moody except that no-one ever accused him of working hard. But Oldfield held the ball up well and bounced around both Whittle and Anderson. He also set up a very good chance for Scott who, from 12 yards off a measured pullback and a clear sight, managed to hit the best chance of the game over the bar. The home side were definitely on top on the hour, Jevons was on his heels and looked knackered, we gazed anxiously at the bench, but all was slumber. An Ox got clear and was felled by Justin’s challenge. Their fans predictably screamed, we looked on anxiously, yellow card and free kick was the verdict. From around 20 yards they got in a very fine strike only to be thwarted by an even better Musselwhite save, stretching low to his left. Then we got free Williams ran at them and set up the labouring Jevons who had a free shot but took so long to position it that a defender got back to make a good block. From the resulting corner the ball fell to Keates free on the edge of the area. No doubt musing to himself “Other spirits there are standing apart/upon the forehead of the age to come” he found neither the others, their foreheads or a particularly spirited effort as his shot was high and wide. On 75 minutes we made the change, Dudfield came on. It was at least 15 minutes late, but, we thought, better late than never. Then, astoundingly to at least these old eyes, we saw the number held up was Alexander’s not Jevons’. Now our combative front man had not been at his belligerent best, but at least he was still able to run, something that seemed beyond Jevons after the first half hour. The change didn’t really work the trick as we were again forced back, one of theirs was again set up with a pullback and from 8 yards he shot low and true for the corner, only to be frustrated by a tremendous Musselwhite stop when the ball had seemed to be past him. Custodian of the leather! And that was as good as it got for Oxford. Jevons was left on lumbering but Williams departed for Johnson on 85 and his pace and that of Dudfield seemed to unsettle Oxford as we ended the game pleasingly in their half and around their area. So it ended equal, equal commitment, equal lack of bite when it mattered. Whether we were watching a couple of promotion teams is another matter. On balance I would have thought not, but if this season has taught us anything, it is how unwise it is to make sweeping predictions on the basis of one game.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Smith, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Dudfield (for Alexander, 78), Johnson (for Williams, 84), Edwards, Glennon, Bradshaw Goals: None Booked: Whittle Sent Off: None   OXFORD UNITED: Woodman, Crosby, Bound, Viveash, McNiven, Savage, Hunt, Ford, Powell, Scott, Oldfield.  Subs: Omoyimni (for Oldfield, 72), Louis (for Savage, 85), Whitehead, Robinson, Waterman Goals: None Booked: None Sent Off: none   ATTENDANCE: 5,445