A full-throated display from a remarkable City supporting contingent cheers the Tigers to their final point of the season against a tidy Watford reserve side.
Even if you could readily spot that neither side was willing to invest total commitment in what was in essence a meaningless fixture for both clubs, this was nevertheless a whole lot better entertainment than we could reasonably have expected on a pleasantly sunny Sunday lunchtime. Watford had the better of the first half and only Myhill prevented them claiming a deserved lead, but after the break City were convincingly the stronger side, and threatened the goal defended by Foster on several occasions. A good point gained, and, as we ponder what we can expect from our team next season, store this game away with the others in recent weeks when we’ve looked comfortably at home taking on the better sides in the Division.
In The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Amber mood were:
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Andrews Welsh Ellison
On 2, Thelwell showed impressive defensive strength to hold off the marauding Ashley Young (picked for the PFA Divisional Team of the Season), but this was pretty much the only moment of note in a slumbering opening 20 minutes. Unless you add in the tactical point that Ellison and Green had swapped sides. To no obvious purpose.
But just as we were settling down to relax without the inconvenience of having to bother about a non-event on the pitch, the game crackled into life. On 21 the aforementioned Young is free in the box but is too tentative and Myhill blocks him. On 25 the muscular and distinctly impressive frontman Marlon King finds space and plays the ball out wide to Chris Eagles, who sweeps past Rogers with contemptuous ease and, advancing into the penalty area to shoot low with his left foot, is denied a goal only by a fine Myhill save. Five minutes later Rogers is again undressed by the same opponent, whose square ball is missed by Henderson and skied by King. Eagles, a willowy youth on loan from Manchester United, has obvious talent on the ball but has the sort of poncey boots and, horror, hairband that make you yearn for the days of Andy Davidson and Harry Cripps, when such callow glitter would have earned a meaty tackle and an ungainly despatch to Row Z for the fashion miscreant. Regrettably poor Alan Rogers spent the half struggling to get within five yards of Eagles in flight, and might have better off laying down some poisoned bait rather than attempting fruitlessly to make a tackle.
Watford, then, are the better side. City have been laboured on the few occasions we’ve managed to get forward into their half. After a decent move 23 minutes in Green got the ball stuck clumsily beneath his feet and couldn’t get his shot away. Our best moment of the half arrived on 44 and placed Green in a better light: Parkin played a ball in to Ellison on the edge of the box who moved the ball on quickly and intelligently to Green, whose well-struck shot drew a diving save from Foster. But this followed more pressure on our goal – a Henderson header extracted a save of practised ease from Boaz, high to his left, and then another more dangerous effort was turned away by our excellent goalkeeper for a corner. Nil-nil at half-time, but advantage Watford.
If you were to thin out the English league by lopping off 30 clubs, then Watford would be one of those that you would discard as colourless dullards (along with Walsall, Blackburn, Gillingham, Charlton, Colchester, Chesterfield, etc), and yesterday did nothing to dispel my scorn for this pale outfit. Their fans were silent throughout, competing with Ipswich for the least passionate home crowd of the whole season. One even had the audacity to wander up to me on Vicarage Road outside the ground after the match to shake my hand and wish our club well for next season. I spit on such false bonhomie. This genteel civility is not football, it is sickness, they come to the footie like they go shopping for garden furniture at B & Q or have a day out at Whipsnade Zoo, it’s just filling the day until they die, there’s no depth or passion, and whatever Hertfordshire may deserve Premiership football is not it.
Amid such footie indolence it is gratifying to report that the travelling City support was on top form. I expected us to have 400 at this meaningless match – max. There were 1500, at least, scattered across the large stand behind the goal defended by Myhill in the first half (the away end now being the opposite end from its location when we visited in the 1980s), and the vast majority in boisterously loud mood too, determined to celebrate a startlingly successful season. With no involvement from the mute Watford fans, it was left to us to make our own fun, and this was achieved in entertaining fashion as the City support split into two and alternated between serenading and taunting each other. “Sat with the Watford, you should be sat with the Watford!” sang the right side, in mock scorn for the left side’s supposed lack of vocal vigour, and we giggled away in the sunshine at the sheer aceness of Hull City.
Second half. Rogers had spent the later stages of the first period making a tactically astute claim to be injured, and he was replaced at the break by Dawson. Fagan had made no impression at all in the first 45 and he too was taken off in favour of Duffy. And with Watford probably under instructions not to get hurt or tired, City promptly took the game to the home side. We took charge.
Duffy most of all. He’s fast, he’s keen, he’s going to be a very good player for us, even if his natural inclination to lurk on the last defender’s shoulder even when we’ve not got possession rather than track back is never going to endear him to the prats among our support who think a player isn’t contributing unless he’s running around like a headless chicken (with bird ‘flu) … though on reflection even when we’ve got a player who’s terribly good at doing exactly that (and yes, I’m afraid it is Kevin Ellison of whom I am thinking) the self-same prats have a lamebrain pop at him too.
The Darryl Duffy show, then. On 47, set up by Parkin, he shoots across the ‘keeper and wide. On 55 he chases a ball into the penalty area takes a meaty whack from Foster. Undaunted, he sprints clear of the defence a couple of minutes later to chase a looping long ball, and is foiled only by an impressive burst of speed and a well-timed tackle by the very good Adrian Mariappa. Then, on 60, quite delightfully swift interplay between Green and Duffy opens up another shooting chance for the Scot, who forces a fine left-handed save from Foster. This last move was the best of all – what finer sight is there in football than slick first-time passing and bewildering swift spinning into space? Top quality.
It’s all us, isn’t it? A foul on Parkin, a free-kick and a free header for Cort, which he squanders by sending the effort well wide. Watford are getting crunched, and they look listless and leaderless. And they are the victims of another episode in the Legend that is The Beast, as our hero, chasing a victim, hurtles over the whitewash and off the pitch where he collides meatily with an unsuspecting Watford sub, whose warm-up routine is rudely altered into a crumplingly close-up inspection of an advertising hoarding. Even if you’re not playing, you’re not safe from a Beasting.
A propos of nothing very much – though I expect Wasps play at Vicarage Road, or did once, or something – I’d like to see Lawrence Dallaglio on the receiving end of a beasting. Can’t stand that bloke. Self-satisfied, sneering, arrogant, preening bore. Mr I know what’s best. If Dallaglio were to try his hand at football – and my goodness me, after the success that Sir Clive Woodward has made of the transition, who’s to bet that more rugger chappies won’t be following this path? – I’d like to see him limp off whimpering for his shoulder pads after he’s been smacked half-way to Invercargill by The Beast.
And while I’m musing, was that really David Hockaday on the cover of the programme yesterday? Crikey, he looks like he’s had a hard life. I met him on the tube once after he’d played for City at West Ham (would it be the game where we played well for the first 40 minutes but still found ourselves 1-7 down half way through the 2nd half? I think so), and he looked fresh, fit and bouncy. Those days are long gone on this photographic evidence.
Towards the closing stages now. Watford remind us that they’re third in the table by opening us up down the left – superb block from Myhill – and then with a vicious shot from the edge of the box by King – another smart save from our goalkeeper. But time’s nearly up. France replaces the doughty Ellison, a clot behind me tries to begin a “We’ll never see you again” chant aimed at the splendidly indefatigable midfielder and is humiliatingly ignored, and the game meanders to a conclusion. 0-0 – a pretty good 0-0 – and a satisfying point to round off the season.
And a very satisfying season it’s been too.
Low points of the campaign? Well, we’ve been beaten 18 times, and we’ve scored just 49 times in 46 League games, with limp exits from both Cups to add to the mix. So – plenty of low points, surely? No. The way we faded from poor to dismal at Preston back on the first day of November festers as a sore – but it was just about our only truly abject display of the whole season. Leicester away in March was painful, both on the pitch, as a careless display suddenly had us doing a seriously convincing impression of relegation fodder, and off the pitch, as we were treated like idiots and criminals by a haplessly inept club on which I heap scorn and wish misery. Self-serving sneering buffoon John Prescott wearing a City scarf at Brighton in December was a bad moment too – and I’m pleased it’s got worse for that hypocrite since, typical of New Labour too, as Two Shags disdains his political roots and gets down and dirty with a fellow participant in the lewd deceitful Westminster circus rather than settling for a nice lass off Bransholme. But overall the whole point of this season is that for the first time in a generation we’re back playing where we belong, in English football’s second tier, we’re playing proper clubs week in, week out, and we’ve visibly improved as the season has developed. Terrific stuff. Gorgeous moments include Elliott’s brilliantly imaginative goal to win at Plymouth, Welsh’s glorious chip on a grand sunny day out in Coventry, Ellison’s astonishing strike on a grand sunny day out in Southampton, the vital pair of gritty home wins against Cardiff and Wednesday in December, Paynter’s crashing equaliser at Crewe, Myhill’s double penalty saves at Stoke, a frantic and wonderful first half at Kenilworth Road, the vital pair of gritty home wins against Plymouth and Crewe in March, the Beast heading in the winner at home to Leeds, Delaney’s honest endeavour and uncomplaining readiness to play wherever he’s asked and to do it well, Cort’s consistent excellence … And, as ever, lots of mirth and tomfoolery that makes following Hull City such a smashing antidote to the grind and stress of the many serious things that infect life on this planet. Thank you.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Welsh, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Fagan, 45), Dawson (for Rogers, 45), France (for Ellison, 85), Paynter, Duke.
Sent Off: None
WATFORD: Foster, Doyley, DeMerit, Mariappa, Stewart, Eagles, Mahon, Bangura, Young, King, Henderson. Subs: McNamee (for Young, 62), Spring (for Henderson, 81), Chamberlain, Chambers, Robinson.
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: K Friend