Watford 0 Hull City 0

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.

Nice game!

Fantastic season.

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:

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Andrews Welsh Ellison
Fagan Parkin

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.

watford-v-hull-city-30th-april-2006The 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.

Goals: None

Booked: None

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.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: K Friend

ATTENDANCE: 17,128

Hull City 1 Preston North End 1

A sunny KC Stadium witnesses its last match of a season of learning, the Tigers showing that they have accepted their lessons well as they match play-off bound Preston.

A decent canter on a sunny afternoon, and another measure of the progress the Tigers have made during the season now drawing to a steady close. With Preston entering the game as the play-off zone’s form team, and City’s recent hard work in avoiding being sucked into the relegation mire bringing a successful outcome, it was perhaps inevitable that the opening exchanges saw the away side enjoy the majority of possession without threatening City’s well marshalled defence. Once goals were exchanged – one splendid, one comical – the Tigers settled into general dominance and had their elevated opposition playing for time and generally looking second best. A far cry from the Deepdale drubbing dished out in November.

With City not sporting quite as many of the late season changes as one might expect, they lined up:

Myhill
Wiseman Cort Delaney Rogers
Ellison Andrews Welsh Green
Fagan Parkin

Most notable selections were Ellison on the right and Green on the left, both deputed to hang wide and cut inside when in possession, a tactic that worked only sporadically even against Preston’s largely second string back four, where Jamaican Davis and Scots Alexander and Davidson were absent. It was Preston that started the brighter and City soon lined up in “none shall pass” two banks of four formation. While this quelled Preston’s attacking threat effectively – only the nippy Whaley looked a danger while the lithe Dichio looked even poorer than all the other times we’ve seen him – it meant that City offered little going forward, with Fagan looking subdued and Parkin having a third straight quiet game compared with the high standards he set for himself when he joined the Tigers fold. As Preston knocked it about sweetly City had one brief glimpse of goal when Parkin fed Ellison, SuperKev fed Rogers and Rogers won a corner that culminated in Fagan driving a shot over the bar. After 20 minutes Ellison won a couple of throws on the right before whipping in a tidy cross that was cleared for a corner. Rogers’ flag kick was met meatily by Delaney but his header was just over.

Preston first genuine chance came when Jarrett punted a shot way over the crossbar, but on 33 minutes they finally showed a bit of striking class. A long ball from defence sailed over the City back four and dropped on the edge of the penalty box near the right apex. Delaney was chasing back with Whaley, a nippy fella whose looks appear to suggest he was sired by a night-time alliance of Floella Benjamin and Bernard Manning. Delaney made a hopeless mess of dealing with the high ball and missed his header as Whaley lurked. The ball dropped to the ex-Bury man and he took a neat touch before thumping a tremendous shot into the far corner of the net past Myhill’s right hand. A goal out of nowhere, but one that was reward for the balance of possession and ambition that had gone before.

This goal catalysed the Tigers and they started to pose an attacking threat. A Rogers free kick from the right was punched weakly by fake-tanned shiny-haired keeper Nash and the ball dropped to Ellison whose long distance header drifted wide of the post. Then a marvellous interchange down the right between Green (who had by now swapped with Ellison) and Fagan resulted in a cross to Parkin, unmarked ten yards from goal, but the Beast’s shot was directed into the ground and the ball looped up and over the goal. City were looking the better side and when Fagan knocked the ball past Mawene and beat him for pace, the defender hauled Craig to the turf. Not content with earning a yellow card for his misdemeanour, Mawene then generously chested the resulting Green free kick past his keeper to equalise the scores. A remarkable thirty seconds of craptitude by the French ex-Ram.

Half time saw some remarkable ball juggling skills being exhibited by a portly ginger kid in the centre circle. I imagine he’d be ill-equipped to cope with a thigh-high Peter Skipper lunge tackle as he bounced the ball on his shoulder. The second half began in less than inspiring style, much like its immediate predecessor, but after some early Preston chances the away side appeared happy to defend and time-waste their way to a point that matters very little in the context of who will ultimately win the play-off and the chance to be cuffed 0-6 by second string elevens of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool next season. A minor alert came when Rogers handled and a quick free kick was only half cleared to Mawene, whose clever lofted ball towards City’s penalty spot found Dichio unmarked. The big man – like snooker hero Tony Meo, “of Italian extraction” – performed a flick header but aimed it straight at Myhill’s midriff when the rest of the undefended goal beckoned invitingly. Three minutes later Dichio again had a chance, this time a shot after a corner was returned into the box, but he again finished feebly and straight at City’s custodian.

The change came when Duffy replaced Fagan on 64. Duffy immediately looked hungry and ready to chase down causes – lost or otherwise – and this lifted everyone in the City side and the crowd, except the moron behind me in East who shouts “lazy twat Duffy” every week, even when Darryl is nowhere near the play or even, occasionally, not on the field of play. Duffy and Parkin soon combined to feed Welsh whose angled cross fell to Parkin on the back post via Ellison’s bonce, but the Beast’s shot was smothered by Nash. Then, after Preston introduced the large and angular Agyemang up front for a spectacularly ineffective rampage, Duffy had a shot flash just wide after Welsh rode two tackles to advance into the box. Duffy had another chance when Mawene’s panic header fell to the young Sweatie’s feet, his shot on the turn was well directed to the far corner but under-hit and Nash pouched easily. Preston had a the last decent chance when Whaley was played in by a sweet midfield pass but his shot was shovelled aside by the splendid Myhill. Dichio headed the resulting corner straight at the goalie, not for the first time today. Paynter and Thelwell were introduced late, mainly for time wasting purposes, and the game dribbled to an end.

OK, so Preston had a load of injuries and this was only half of their first team. But this was nevertheless a decent Tigers performance with none of the end-of-season lethargy witnessed last season post-Swindon and none of the general uselessness witnessed last week against Burnley. Rogers was again excellent and should be signed as soon as possible. Andrews was again tidy if unspectacular – those who believe Andrews to be useless should ask themselves what they actually expect from a holding midfielder – while Welsh looked keen to tackle, pass and take people on. Green was quiet but did nothing wrong. Cort and Delaney quelled Dichio with ease but looked nervous when confronted with Whaley’s trickery.

So now for the last foot-slog of the season south to Watford and the last game. Fancy dress in the form of hiking boots and rucksacks will be de rigeur as the Hornets no doubt card their youth team in preparation for the play-off semi the following week. It’s been a roller coaster season compared with recent glories, but in the end I believe it has been a far more rewarding term than even the previous two as the Tigers’ players and management have adapted superbly to the much higher standards that the Championship demand. A brief flirtation with the play-offs around February, culminating in a solid mid-table finish, will hopefully be the order of things next season as new summer signings are added to effectively new signings Coles, McPhee and Ashbee. Bring it on!

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Ellison, Andrews, Welsh, Green; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Fagan, 64), Paynter (for Ellison, 83), Thelwell (for Wiseman, 87), Dawson, Duke.

Goals: Mawene o.g. 43

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

PRESTON NORTH END: Nash, Mears, Wilson, Mawene, Hill, Sedgwick, Stock, Jarrett, Whaley, L Neal, Dichio. Subs: Agyemang (for L Neal, 70), McKenna (for Jarrett, 82), C Neal, Alexander, Hibbert.

Goals: Whaley 33

Booked: Dichio, Mawene

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: A Bates

ATTENDANCE: 19,716

Derby County 1 Hull City 1

An entertaining canter at Pride Park spoilt by a late penalty that equalised a splendid Stuart Green drive.

Well, it’s fair to say that in the end it was a bit better than Saturday. After a turgid Saturday afternoon the general feel of which was encapsulated fairly accurately in Mike Scott’s report, the Tiger fans (possibly 1500-plus in number) who headed to Pride Park yesterday must for the most part have done so out of a sense of duty as opposed to any expectation that the performance would reflect the efforts of men anxious to secure for themselves a starring role in Phase 2 of the Tigers’ March on the Championship (due for general release August 2006; check press for details), as the manager would have us believe is the case in much the same way as he told us we were going for the Div 3 title last season once promotion had been secured. And that collective frame of mind will not have been at all unsettled by a first half, matched only in the greyness stakes by the brooding cloud cover save for one moment of drool-worthy pulchritude, which bore all the hallmarks of an encounter between two outfits whose players had clearly decided that the end of term was nigh and that it was quite in order, metaphorically speaking, to get out the Subbuteo and Ker-Plunk (and I did write this before reading the Burnley report posted on here) to while away the time until the plane leaves for Lanzarote.

Maybe the eye had just become accustomed to what it had witnessed in the first half and adjusted expectations accordingly, but the second period did, surprisingly, seem to be something of an improvement, as Dorrbeh (as the locals pronounce it), fired by the enthusiasm of a number of young recruits, at least managed to ping the ball around with the sort of accuracy that one might be entitled to expect of professional footballers and certainly a fair bit more than the appalling Burnley managed on Saturday, even if it wasn’t sufficient to dent a City rearguard showing a generally pleasing resolve and left the whole thing looking like some sweatless exercise in geometry of a kind that might have befitted the State-sponsored games in North Korea or 1980s Albania, while our own favourites played their part by a series of incisive counter attacks and some dangerous set-piece play which left us slightly unlucky not to have added to our tally. In the end, it was left to the man who had looked all afternoon to pose the biggest threat to the Tigers, namely referee D’Urso, one of that new breed of so-called celebrity refs who in their vanity think that the crowd are there to watch them as much as the players, to stamp his mark on the proceedings by deciding in the closing minutes to pull up Wiseman for a challenge which. although the manager and player both admitted that it was a foul (but was Taylor just being diplomatic after the hot water he got himself into at Sheffield?), was nothing worse than probably a dozen ones that had gone unpunished during the afternoon.

Dorrbeh will claim they were worth a point, but whilst they had plenty of the ball they had shown precious little by way of penetration and City, who might well have had a justifiable penalty claim themselves, can rightly feel that the end result was a wee bit hard on them.

Inevitably, there were changes from Saturday’s team, and we lined up as follows:-

Myhill
Wiseman Cort Delaney Rogers
Paynter Welsh Andrews Green
Parkin Fagan

So, our second visit to Pride Park and our first since 9/12. How the fortunes of the two clubs have differed since then. Pride Park, although not a patch on the Baseball Ground for atmosphere (that said, at PP you don’t get some home soap dodger tipping wee onto your head out of a paper cup from the balcony above you), is for my money one of the better of the modern stadia (although not a patch on our own, of course), and it was pleasing to see such a large attendance – a shade under 25 000 – for this one given the lack of any importance attaching to the fixture for either club, and all the more surprising given the Rams’ headlong fall from grace and the state of near-meltdown that exists behind the scenes there, the latter provoking the occasional chorus of “Derby’s Going Bust” from those among the City faithful with either short memories or no inkling of how desperate life used to be for our own club until Pearson rode into town. It was nonetheless interesting to note that the Derby manager’s car park space was vacant before the game; perhaps Mr Westley’s caretaker status does not qualify him to use it, or maybe he was out selling his hot dogs at one of the innumerable vans that lined the route from town to the ground and littered the environs of the stadium.

After we had been treated to some excruciating triumphant-sounding Derby song the irony of which in Derby’s current plight was clearly lost on the PA man, the game kicked off with Boaz defending the goal in front of the City support. Derby spent the early stages spraying the leather around with flashy ineptitude, and our first attempt on goal came on 12 when Green, who was generally the pick of the midfield, got Fagan away in space on the left only for the Beast uncharacteristically to spoon the resulting cross high over the bar. The ex-Colchester man went a bit nearer a minute later when making space for himself and firing a low effort a couple of feet wide.

But it was pretty uninspiring stuff on the whole, played in conditions of near-absolute silence at times, and the whole general lack of effort just seemed like a bit of a fraud on the paying punters, who after all are not charged any less for the dubious privilege of attending these fixtures. So devoid of effort and incident were the proceedings that I actually got away with taking the ultimate risk and visiting the Gents just before the half-hour mark, and relieved I am that I chose my time so well, for on 33 we took the lead with an effort that deserved a much better setting to be honest. Fagan swept a Rogers throw into the box, a Derby defender did no more than block with his head as opposed to making the effort to clear it properly, and the ball bounced to Greeny who from the left of goal a good 25 yards out lashed the leather first time into the near top corner with such ferocity that it must have come close to tearing the net from the posts. A genuine wonder-strike.

But then it all reverted to type – a bit like that old Kit Kat ad where the participants in the Anglo-Russian summit, their silence broken only by the arrival of the tea trolley, sit once again, unspeaking, with arms folded as the tea lady disappears – although that clearly suited City now, who it had to be said now actually looked quite comfortable in the face of Derby’s inability to put us under any sort of pressure. It got a bit livelier towards the end of the half as Fagan was felled in the box on 40, and then a minute later the puffed-up, prissy Premiership (or is he ex now?) prick D’Urso wrongly pulled Derby up when Boaz made a poor job of punching a cross, but the goal apart it was generally pretty desperate stuff. The forcing by City of a corner in injury time after the Beast had fed Fagan did nothing to assuage the gloom.

Full marks to Derby though for opening the exit gates at the back of the stand at half time to allow legs to be stretched, tobacco to be smoked and certain of the afore-mentioned burger vans to be visited by those who might otherwise have been discouraged by the lengthy queues at the official outlets. Nothing more elaborate than a line of stewards prevented egress to or ingress from other parts of the ground, and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why City couldn’t do something similar to keep the smokers happy and out of the concourses at half-time, thereby keeping everyone content.

Into the second half as the rain starts to come down, and the firing of a free kick straight at Boaz on 51 generates the first rumblings of discontent from the home support. But a pattern is emerging now with Derby knocking the ball around quite sweetly and City content to defend and attack on the break. After the welcome entry into the fray of Adam Bolder (and would one of the City oafs who booed Bolder like to come on here and explain precisely what possible justification there might have been for that?) on 63, Fagan starts to assert himself. Firstly on 67 he robs their 27 and is fouled for the privilege, Andrews (who was generally ineffectual but no more then others) firing the resulting free just wide, and then four minutes later he gets in behind the cover and crosses for the Beast to get in a shot which is deflected for a corner which Leon heads over.

This is a good spell for us as we start to look increasingly good value for the points, but the mini spell of Tiger domination is ended when Boaz can only block a left-wing cross and Welsh has to hook the ball to safety. For all Derby’s possession, though, we still look the most likely to score and on 80 another City attack sees the Beast set up Greeny, who is denied his brace by the fingertips of Camp in the Derby goal. The resulting corner is met perfectly by Leon and the Tiger Nation rises to its feet…only to see the Derby defender Bisgaard clear off the line, albeit not without a suggestion that he used his hand and was behind the line to boot.

Two minutes on, and an Ellison drive is pushed behind by Camp for another corner which the unlucky Cort heads just wide. The points are surely ours now, as Derby show no more sign of getting the hang of breaching our defences than they had at three o’clock, and we sit back to play out the final minutes.

But then with 87 on the clock a cross comes over from the right, admittedly towards the ineffectual Peschisolido (which interestingly comes up on the spell-check as “semi-solid”; computer having a Freudian slip, maybe?) who looks to be well marshalled by a combination of Wiseman and Cort. The former goes up with the Derby player and with nobody expecting it Mr D’Urso’s whistle comes into play, the latter having apparently spotted a sneaky push by Wiseman. Certainly City skipper Andrews was none too happy with his right-back which suggests that maybe young Lee was a bit over-exuberant, especially in the presence a ref of the kind likely to want to make himself the talking point of the day. Anyway, up stepped the reliable Smith to despatch the ball to Boaz’s left as the City custodian went right. Just as well that we weren’t in need of the full points, for that would have mattered not one jot to an upstart such as D’Urso.

Finally, noise from the Derby fans other than in criticism of their team. And yes, you’ve guessed it, the inevitable “Tom Hark” as yet another once-respected, traditional football club sells its soul. On a serious note, though, was anyone else concerned by the apparent attempt in the Burnley programme to resurrect the debate on whether we should have music after goals at City? There are clearly forces at work who will not let this drop until they get a “yes” vote (and speak to any member of the FLC, and they’ll tell you that the subject is raised at nearly every meeting). Be on your guard, folks.

Nothing else happens of note, and at the end we have that same silly triumphalist Derby record.

Best for City were probably Cort, Fagan and Greeny, with most of the others below par to a greater or lesser extent. Not a memorable showing , though, albeit much better than the awful stuff served up at the end of last season, which still rankles – and rightly so – with a lot of people.

But let’s end on a positive note. This was always going to be a challenging season, and in the final analysis the players and management team have delivered. On any objective assessment, and despite a bit of a flaky record in actual games against the teams concerned, we are better than the three relegated teams and are staying up on merit. Hopefully the message will now get home, and we can kick on from this vitally-important season of consolidation.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Paynter, Andrews, Welsh, Green; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Ellison (for Paynter, 70), Duffy (for Fagan, 90), Thelwell, Fry, Duke.

Goals: Green 33

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

DERBY COUNTY: Camp, Edworthy, Nyatanga, Johnson, Addison, Smith, Bisgaard, Thirlwell, Idiakez, Holmes, Peschisolido. Subs: Jackson (for Johnson, 57), Barnes (for Thirlwell, 64), Bolder (for Holmes, 64), Poole, Ashton.

Goals: Smith 89

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: A D’Urso

ATTENDANCE: 24,961

Hull City 0 Burnley 0

A dreadful game with an end-of-season feel, only an enraged Frank Sinclair threatened to lift the boredom.

The precise method that I will need to use to move muck around in my front garden. The last time City played against a team playing their first ever league fixture. The current career path of former Big Brother contestant and subsequent anal specialist porn star Nichola Holt. These are some of the things that crossed my mind briefly between 3:00pm and 4:50pm this afternoon.

While City today secured a point that sealed Championship survival in mathematical terms, and while City today kept a useful clean-sheet against an expensively assembled strike force, these “good things to remember about today” are overshadowed by the sheer paucity of the fare on offer today. The game was an absolute shocker played out by two teams unable to string passes together and mount coherent attacks with any kind of frequency. Uppermost was Burnley Number 7 O’Connor, in the past a decent looking short-arsed midfielder of the Garreth Roberts ilk. But today he turned in the worst performance I’ve seen this season – by approximately three country miles – as he fouled unnecessarily and hit countless passes into touch, straight at a City player or aimlessly into no-mans’ land. He epitomised today’s game, a small modicum of huff and puff but barely any end product or entertainment whatsoever, other than the ability for the 19,926 in attendance to breath a collective sigh of relief and say “it can’t be that bad next time”.

City opened brightly with Stuart Green very much to the fore in a central playmaking role that his new-found acquaintance with the tackle allows him to play at this elevated level of football. We made two changes – nippy Duffy in for scurrying Fagan up front, half-decent France in for lost-looking Paynter on the right – and lined up:

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Dawson
France Andrews Green Ellison
Parkin Duffy

And the Tigers started brightly as Parkin was fouled, the ball fell to Green, the ref waved play on and the Cumbrian drove a shot straight at the broad Burnley keeper Jensen – a poor quality pretender to Parkin’s “Beast” moniker. From mini-beast’s clearance the painfully thin Lafferty up front for Burnley fed £750k man Andy Gray who sponged a shot well wide. Gray went on to be largely ineffectual and fouled a lot. Lafferty looked a decent prospect although I worried for his health every time he carried his voluminous shorts behind him like a dragster’s parachute brake as he ran after the ball.

Moments later Big Beast flicked the ball onto Duffy and as the Scotsman shot centre back Duff lunged horribly in only the general vicinity of the ball, the shot dribbled away and the referee quite amazingly waved play-on. This encouraged Burnley greatly and for the next 10-15 minutes they got very physical, a tactic which quelled the Tigers a bit but left the game bereft of any kind of entertainment. A few shots came in – Mahon shot wide for the Clarets, Ellison trod on the ball when eight yards out with a clear sight of goal, Green mistimed a run onto France’s flick and tried to chest the ball past Jensen, France had two chances in a minute deflected wide and saved respectively. But the game was a scrappy affair that needed a moment of inspiration, an utterly ludicrous refereeing decision or a rash leg-breaking challenge to liven it up. The ref had a go but to no avail, the other two failed to materialise. And so the first half dribbled towards a close with only a low cross by Branch cleared by Cort, a powerful shot by Parkin straight at Jensen and an Ellison shot just over the crossbar to raise the spirits. Rarely has the half time whistle been greeted so readily by the frankly bored supporters in attendance.

It got no better, not on the footballing front at least. The second half began with a spell of desperately poor football, the only glimmer of a goal chance came when Cort and Jensen challenged for a cross and Cort was surprised to find he had won the header and could only steer it over the bar. On the hour the crowd was finally roused by the antics of Frank Sinclair. The Ex-Chelsea defender seemed agitated from early in the first half and was wittering at the referee on a regular basis for seemingly nothing. An injury to Manchester United loanee right back Bardsley had seen Sinclair switch from centre back to right back so for the second half he patrolled the flank alongside the East Stand. A gesture or two from the defender saw a volley of abuse rain down on Sinclair and – remarkably for someone that has played at the highest club level – he seemed to really lose his rag. Seconds later he lunged at Ellison quite deliberately and nastily and earned a very obvious yellow card. Indeed he could probably not have complained if he had been invited to make first use of the KC after-match shower suite, such was the pre-meditated nastiness of the challenge. Super Kev rose to his feet gingerly and shook Sinclair’s hand, the ex-Leicester colleagues thereby demonstrating a rare moment of limb-eye co-ordination.

A minute or so later a deep City corner was cleared by Duff with a swivel of the shoulders and hips that appeared to cause him to handle the ball, but not much fuss was made by the players closest to the incident. On 64 minutes a regulation Burnley through ball wrong-footed the City defence as they pushed out and Lafferty advanced one-on-one with Myhill. The young lad never looked very comfortable with this situation, and rather than go to the trouble of attempting a proper shot, he just belted the ball at Boaz’s standing leg and the ball ricocheted well clear.

That was about it. Burnley’s fans got all excited when Mahon lined up a free kick from 30 yards, the recent acquisition from Wigan rewarded them by, err, thumping the set piece wide of the goal. Oops. Some Duffy persistence saw City win an unlikely corner, and after Green had an initial shot blocked the rebound fell to Super Kev whose shot was well struck but in comfortable saving range even for a lummox like Jensen. O’Connor then crowned his display of utter craptitude by receiving a poorly aimed headed clearance and swishing a 25 yard shot into Myhill’s grateful arms in the manner that one would normally lob a TV clicker to one’s partner across your front room. Ellison had one more shot saved and Andrews, otherwise excellent today, gave the ball away dangerously 30 yards out before McCann had his shot blocked.

With nine minutes left Taylor decided to change things around in an effort to create a goal, Fagan, Elliott and Paynter replaced Duffy, Ellison and France.

The game ended soon after.

This game reeked of end-of-season half-heartedness. As such no-one played specifically badly, they just collectively didn’t really play at all. Big centre back Duff coped with Parkin as well as most and the Beast doesn’t seem to be able to combine with Duffy as effectively as he does with Fagan. Andrews was the pick of the midfield, pick-pocketing tackles and simple-things-done-well passes being the order of the day. Thelwell defended splendidly but passed wastefully, a curiously mixed performance. Cort was a giant in defence and Delaney also played well.

Off to Derby now. Don’t be surprised if we see more of the same, with all nine division-changing positions just about confirmed mathematically we are in for some half-paced joggery against mid-table-and-useless Derby and play-off-bound-so-let’s-avoid-injury Preston and Watford.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Dawson; France, Andrews, Green, Ellison; Parkin, Duffy. Subs: Elliott (for Ellison, 81), Fagan (for Duffy, 81), Paynter (for France, 81), Wiseman, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

BURNLEY: Jensen, Bardsley, Sinclair, Duff, Harley, Mahon, J O’Connor, McCann, Branch, Lafferty, Gray. Subs: McGreal (for Bardsley, 39), Spicer (for Lafferty, 83), Hyde, Elliott, G O’Connor.

Goals: None

Booked: Branch, J O’Connor, McCann, Sinclair

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: D Drysdale

ATTENDANCE: 19,926

Sheffield United 3 Hull City 2

A rip snorter. Goals aplenty, a splendid comeback, freak weather, an obvious penalty denied, neck-hair-raising atmosphere. A real derby is played out at Bramall Lane, the home side claiming all 3 points deep into injury time.

There are probably three levels at which to reflect on yesterday’s game. On one level, it was very much a case of “same old, same old” where our Blunt friends are concerned, in that having clawed our way back onto level terms from a 0-2 deficit with twenty minutes to go, and survived the inevitable farrago of dodgy decisions (of the ten genuinely bad ones I counted, only one was in City’s favour) which have characterised our every fixture against the Blunts since time immemorial, we eventually were cruelly stripped, deep into injury time, of the hard-earned point which had looked to be ours. On another level, it was case of the Tiger coming back down to earth, in that, despite some very pleasing football at times and a generally spirited response to the riotous second-half backing from the 3 000-plus Tiger Nation delegation, our unbeaten run came to an end and, mathematically at any rate, our status for next season is still not guaranteed. And on a third, and final level, but perhaps most memorably, this was an absolutely rip-roaringly barnstorming good old-fashioned Div 2 Yorkshire Derby, with both teams slugging it out on a proper football ground, in an often-seething atmosphere (although this was confined to the way end except when the Sheff goals went in) with the weather fluctuating from one extreme to the other seemingly in keeping with the oscillations of the pendulum of the game, in some respects even overshadowing the WS game. As my companions and I sat post-match in our pre-match hostelry and reflected over a further couple of pints on the day’s events, the general view was that it was some years since we had seen one of those, and, as we gravely informed the youngsters among us in what we fondly imagined to be sage tones, it might be a while before we saw its like again.

Sure, it was a pity that we lost, as a point would have pretty much made us mathematically safe, but to be honest we ought to have to come to expect that, aside from the odd occasion (about every 15 years or so) when we take the Blunts apart on a grand scale, it generally doesn’t happen for us against that lot. Personally, I knew our fate was sealed when my new (4 games old) lucky pre-match routine, the 107th of my City-supporting career, went wrong; this consists of bashing out on the keyboard on the morning of the game a certain tune which would have been familiar among City-goers of the late 60s, and it took me four goes to get it right, having hit a bum note on the first three attempts.

On the plus side, the comparison between yesterday’s game and the first encounter at the Circle gave an encouraging indication of how far we have come in the last three months. It may fairly be said that the Blunts have had a touch of the promotion jitters of late and this was reflected in their performance at times yesterday, but that should in no measure hide the fact that, despite some below-par individual performances, City looked a deal more comfortable in this fixture and with their Championship status than they had done back in January. Taylor was not wrong with his post-match quote to the BBC that we have shown we can now play in the Championship. Granted, there were times when the old respect thing reared its ugly head yesterday, but it’s gradually becoming less of a problem.

On duty yesterday were the following:

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Dawson
Paynter Green Andrews Ellison
Parkin Fagan

Yes, it really was like rolling back the years yesterday, A Derby game kicking off at 3.00 (Humberside Police please note; it isn’t rocket science, you know), jostling through the hordes shoe-horned into the labyrinthine staircases and concourses of the Bramall Lane end to get to ones seat, being allowed to smoke in the stand, and a raucously-vocal City contingent all served to heighten the mood of anticipation. As, following an infinitesimal but impeccably-observed moment of silence in memory of recently-departed American songster Gene Pitney, the black-shirted Tigers kicked off towards the Shoreham (as it used to be called) the rain which had lashed the dye out of our trousers on the walk from the pub subsided – temporarily – in favour of bright sunshine and the scene was set.

And in the early stages, it was the Tigers who made the running. On 6 Fagan returned a poor clearance first time inches past Kenny’s right hand post, and the Beast, who it must be said generally met his match in Short throughout the afternoon and had his least effective game in a City shirt to date as result (but don’t worry folks, that won’t happen every week), took down a long ball and steered it inches wide of the other post. Sheffield were absolutely at sixes and sevens during these early stages, the biggest threat to City at this stage coming from referee Crossley who, as Mike Scott pointed out to me so many times yesterday that I’ll never hear the end of it if I don’t mention it, never plucked up the courage once during the afternoon to make a difficult decision. After the quarter hour mark, at which point the rain started to teem down again, the Blunts started to crank a little bit of steam out of themselves, but we remained composed, and went close again on 23 when Andrews squared to Ellison, for whom a gap suddenly opened up for the ex-Chest to thump a low drive which seemed destined for the bottom corner only for Kenny to get down and save well.

It could so easily have been 3-0 to us at this stage, but instead on 27 we very nearly went a goal down in what was our first real scare of the afternoon. A poor clearance from Cort (who curiously lacked his customary levels of authority and effectiveness yesterday) was turned back in and Jagielka hit a low effort which Boaz, moving in the wrong direction, managed to block with his legs and then gather the ball as it stopped dead in front of him.

This scare seemed really to get to City. From being generally positive and spunky we suddenly became hesitant and withdrawn, and the Blunts, sensing their chance, and no doubt apprehensive of the welcome their performance so far would elicit from Warnock (and how relieved I was to discover that I was not the only one among my friends not to have known for the last three years that Neil Warnock is an anagram of Colin Wanker) were not slow to capitalise on this and gain the ascendancy as a result. At first they seemed to lack the penetration to exploit this but then on 37 produced a goal out of almost nothing. There didn’t seem a lot of danger when Tonge whipped in his cross from the right but Shipperley, showing remarkable agility for a man of his girth, beat the cover and toe-ended the leather inside Myhill’s right hand post.

At this point we were dealt a stark reminder of just how the fetid tide of footyism has flooded our beloved game. For as Shipperley turned away in triumph to receive the plaudits of the City contingent in front of him, out of the tannoy blasted the ubiquitous “Tom Hark”. In Sheffield. At what I thought was a proper football ground whose regulars would give short shrift to such embarrassing behaviour. I’m sorry, but this is dashed bad form.

This heralded probably the quietest period of the game, the only real incident of note in what remained of the half coming again at the City end a couple of minutes from the break when Cort stood off Webber, whose drive was tipped over by Boaz.

More cringe-making stuff from the Bramall Lane PA man at the start of the second half, with his exhortation to the “Red and White Wizards”, followed by the first line of Annie’s Song as a prompt to the Blunts to sing that song of theirs – called the Greasy Chip Butty song or something similar – which actually sounds quite impressive until you cotton on to the lyrics and wince at the sheer banality of them.

Any hopes that City would reprise the ascendancy they had shown in the game’s first quarter were soon dashed as Sheffield – clearly having had a bollocking from Colin anyway – got and stayed on top from the off. City were all over the place at this stage and it was not surprise when on 52 Ifill beat the City defence to a Webber cross and headed in from the near corner of the six-yard box.

Oh bugger. We looked in for a real towsing now. But City never lose their capacity to conjure up the unexpected (even if it is normally to an adverse effect), and, with the support of the City faithful now rising to thunderous levels – nice to see and hear when so often the fans go quiet in adversity – and the double substitution on 56 things turned round in a manner and with a speed that nobody in the City end could seriously have been expecting. The team, given new impetus by the roaring-on they were getting, started to press forward and suddenly the Blades were looking anything but sharp. After one of theirs had been beaten fairly to the ball by Ellison in the box and won a free kick by falling over (dodgy decision number 6), we came scorching down the right wing and a raking cross from Alton, who generally had a decent game, evaded everybody except Elliott, who had time to control the ball, pick his spot and smash the ball past Kenny’s right hand.

Was it my imagination, or did Stu’s team mates seem reluctant to congratulate the Ulsterman as he did his celebratory somersault? No matter: this was game on big style, now. The game had swung our way, although it looked to have swung back against us a mere minute after the goal when, after Cort had done well to block a Jagielka effort, a long ball found Duffy who hared into the box and beat the advancing Kenny to the ball. the leather ran loose, and as Greeny, who turned in a pleasingly spry performance on the whole, headed towards it and the unguarded onion bag beyond he was upended by Kenny in a manner which would have had Eddie Waring waxing lyrical. Mr Crossley however opted to do a Wenger (presumably, at least; if he had seen it it’s hard to see how he could have done anything but point to the spot). The sheer fury emanating from the Bramall Lane End was literally enough to make your eyes water, as this raised the standards of injustice with which we have to put up when we play that shower to unimaginable levels, and Taylor didn’t seem too enthusiastic about it either.

So, dodgy decision number 8, and with it the chance of doing what had seemed impossible three minutes previously and securing a point now surely whipped heartlessly away from us. Oh, ye of little faith! With the only noise in the ground coming from the City end (but enough noise being made from there to make up for the lack of it elsewhere) and with Kenny clearly struggling with an injury sustained whilst committing his foul on Greeny, we press forward again on 70. This time a lofted ball comes though to Green, who crosses to the near post and Duffy, arriving at the point of contact a nanosecond before the ailing Kenny, pokes it over the line.

Total ear-splitting, stand-shaking, breathtaking pandemonium. Easily the equal of the hysteria which greeted the Beast’s winner against the WS.

We might even have gone in front on 74 when Elliott’s header from outside the box was misdirected with the still-struggling Kenny out of his goal. But surely the energy created by the City fans in that event would have caused the universe to implode, and rather than provoke any cosmic adventures of that nature City opted to settle back for a point which – if you were going to be fair (some chuffing hope!) – you might say was a tad hard on Sheffield. Inevitably, and with the home crowd finding their voices but only for the purpose of getting impatient with their own team, there were a couple of scares in normal time, with one of theirs putting a free header wide from two yards out on 84, and then Nsworthu hit the outside of the post with a low drive.

But injury time – swelled to a lengthy five minutes due mainly to the injury to Kenny – came, and when after a couple of minutes of it Jagielka was through on Boaz in a one-on -one, only to see his effort blocked by the City netman, we thought we might be home and dry. But this is City and, well, you know the rest. The City defence jabbed and feinted at the resulting corner, and when a point-blank stop from Boaz came out again Nsworthu smacked home the rebound. Needless to say, Mr Crossley, taking no chances, then brought an end to the proceedings before the end of the allocated five minutes.

The Blunts celebrated like reprieved killers, as well they might as, frankly, on this showing, they won’t get too many chances to do so next season. Oh yes, Colin the former chiropodist will soon be reminded how callous the Premiership can be for the ill-equipped (sorry, that was a bit corny….er, I’ll get me coat). I was going to say that when we next meet them in the League in 07/08 they’ll find us a very different proposition, but, even if they do, will it be enough to defeat the Sheffield hex?

Anyway, hopefully our Championship status will be put beyond any doubt next Saturday when we entertain Burnley, along with their strange supporters who, if you watch them, all walk in oddly short, shuffling steps with their shoulders hunched.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Dawson; Paynter, Andrews, Green, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Paynter, 56), Duffy (for Fagan, 56), France, Wiseman, Duke.

Goals: Elliott 65; Duffy 70

Booked: Myhill

Sent Off: None

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Kenny, Short, Morgan, Kozluk, Unsworth, Jagielka, Ifill, Tonge, Armstrong, Shipperley, Webber. Subs: Kabba (for Ifill, 87), Akinbiyi, Montgomery, Gillespie, Lucketti.

Goals: Shipperley 36; Ifill 52; Unsworth 90

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: P Crossley

ATTENDANCE: 26,324

Hull City 1 Leeds United 0

Eighteen long hard seasons since City beat Leeds home and away, the Tigers – inspired by classic Beasting from lone goalscorer Jon Parkin – once again taste victory against West Yorkshire’s Most Unpleasant.

77 minutes into an absorbing and frequently thrilling game of football, and Craig Fagan picks up the ball and wheels into space, looking for a pass. Stuart Green has made a supremely intelligent run into space down the right and Fagan transfers the ball skilfully to the sunny Cumbrian. His touch is sure, and his cross is a delicious looping invitation to a man sliding into position at the back post with the predatory instincts of a panther and the physical presence of a tyrannosaurus rex: it is the Beast and he leaps high, hangs in the air as if borne on the wings of an angel and thuds a perfectly judged header into the sodden turf, whence it bounces past the exposed Sullivan in the visiting goal, and wins us the game.

Wins us the game! Wins us all the three points, and completely banishes relegation fears as our club’s dizzily progressive ascent up the league continues.

And sends evil Leeds whimpering homewards like a whipped cur.

There will be more on the richly well-deserved fate of the vile Wessies. Much more. But though the essence of football is usually that the joy of witnessing the opposition cowed, tamed and defeated exceeds the pleasure of victory – and never more so than on derby day – I will dwell for a moment on the excellence of our team. We have improved so much through the course of this season. From the team that began the season, fresh and lively but looking out of its depth against the stronger sides well established in this Division, we have moved on and re-shaped into a team that is convincingly at home in this standard of football, solid at the back, awkward in midfield, and dangerous up front, and heading more-or-less for midtable. This victory was thoroughly deserved: we were the stronger, more effective side from start to finish, and Sullivan had to work a great deal harder than Myhill. And roll on 2006-2007: we haven’t stopped improving yet.

WEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Welsh Andrews Ellison
Fagan Parkin

And on 2 minutes we were treated to a reminder of just what dark forces were ranged against us. Unpleasant bullboy Rob Hulse committed an outrageous shove, right in front of the linesman. This was ignored, but moments later, when Hulse himself was tripped, the whistle was promptly blown and we were facing a free-kick on the edge of the box, invitingly located for sly Leeds. A firm strike, a sprawling Myhill save. Game on: but it won’t be a fair one. It never is with wicked Leeds.

We scored on 8, a sumptuous left-foot Beast volley leaving an awestruck Sullivan clutching thin air as the ball whistled past him, but the linesman had flagged for offside early, and correctly. But the signs were already encouraging. The Leeds back four looked creaky. Butler and Gregan made a thuggish but one-paced pair of centre-backs. Fagan, fizzing with energy and ideas, was already showing speed enough to terrify them, while the pattern of play on New Year’s Eve, when we’d got outmuscled and ultimately grew dispirited, had no chance of being repeated. Because now we’ve got the Beast. Leeds had as much joy in taming Parkin as has everyone else since he joined us from Macc. No joy at all.

I wouldn’t know how you do stop the Beast. Try and climb all over him and he just absorbs the pressure and holds the ball. Stand off, and his first touch is so confident that he simply turns and passes. A superb player.

On 16 a defensive shambles allowed Ellison to turn and shoot. The ball was deflected but lost its pace and Sullivan had time to adjust and make the save. We are the better side.

Disgusting Leeds are playing some sort of a 3-4-3, with Hulse alone up front, the initially impressive Eddie Lewis, of the land of the free and the torturing, wide on the left and fatso Robbie Blake on the right. Lank-haired Sean Derry as the notional playmaker. And they look poor. They do create a serious moment of alarm on 25 when Lewis and the feeble Liam Miller combine down the left and a low cross lays on an inviting opportunity for Blake in the middle, but his effort is woeful and flies high and wide. It’s their best chance of the half.

On 35 Fagan touches the ball on to Parkin, who executes a breathtaking backheel into the path of Green surging into the box …. A powerful shot, a leaping save. This is seriously good football. On 38 the bustling Ellison feeds Fagan, whose cross reaches the Beast … he heads goalwards, but the ball is defected wide. We’re well on top. At the end of the half there are two added minutes and the closest call of the whole first 45 arrives right at the end of them. Cort, marauding forward, wins a throw-in in an advanced position. Fagan takes possession, turns deftly and fires in a powerful low cross which Parkin meets six yards out and, under despairing defensive pressure, he shoves the ball goalwards. It would be past Sullivan if it were not for the pure bad luck that it’s hit straight at him – the ball cannons off Sullivan’s knees and out to safety before the bemused Londoner realises what’s hit him.

Half-time. 0-0. Cracking stuff.

Gets better.

But not initially. Grey clouds and rain showers blow in from the west, and the second half begins with a degree of passivity from our team which offers a worrying reminder of how we surrendered so meekly at Elland Road in December. Happily it doesn’t last. On 52 Fagan does well down the right but his cross is mis-hit by Green. No danger to snide Leeds. Oo but it’s lively now. Derry shoots – just wide. Fagan races forward, tries to dribble through three of them. Can’t quite manage it.

The game is terrific now. On 63, Blake shoots – just over. 64, Fagan shreds grisly Leeds down the right but when the ball reaches the Beast in a crowded goalmouth he is momentarily nonplussed and the chance is gone. Immediately after, Cort soars and heads goalwards, only to suffer as Sullivan swoops on the ball down low by his own feet. Then, on 68, Ellison is clearly fouled in the box, but no penalty is given and smelly Leeds whisk the ball clear and upfield at high speed, deep inside our half and then our box, Blake sets up Miller, but he screw a dismal effort well wide of Boaz’s goal.

Crikey, this is good. And we’re besting them without any help from referee Ilderton. Fussy, prancing, and inclined to prefer the away team in case of doubt. Gah. I like Mr Howard Webb but otherwise refereeing is a dying art. Graham Poll to the World Cup? Come on. Still, I’m pleased to see that nice German dentist on the list. I like him too.

Back to Mr Ilderton. He booked the Beast for Being Tall, and at that moment I feared our talisman might be withdrawn. He was getting frustrated with the absence of refereeing protection from the increasingly desperate attempts of the thieving Leeds players to hound him, harry him and generally foul him. It looked as if Butler could have taken a machete to assault the Beast and Mr Ilderton would have smilingly waved play on.

Of course, the machete would have finished up hopelessly out of shape.

And the Beast stayed on. And he scored the winner. Talisman, genius, goal-maker, goal-scorer. Ours.

Elliott had replaced the doughty Ellison on 70, and now, one up, our job was to keep a grip on the game as the increasingly eager Leeds players threw everything into a desperate late surge designed to keep the flickers of their automatic promotion aspirations alive. Or so you would have thought. In fact, Leeds had looked poorly-led and lacking urgency all afternoon, and that didn’t change even after they’d found themselves a goal down. We remained the superior side in the time that remained. Cort, bloodied, had been off for treatment, but he returned to dominate aerially and resist malicious but futile Leeds attacks. The visitors could do with a player of Cort’s ability and honesty. But playing it straight has never been the Leeds way.

On 82, Sullivan tipped a chipped Andrews free-kick around the post. Paynter came on for Green, and we approached the 90th minute looking more in control than you would have expected. Ha! Not so easy, my friend, we are Hull City after all. And we dropped deep, and we wasted possession, and Andrews tripped one of theirs on the edge of the box.

Urgh. Don’t fancy this one. But David Healy, on as a sub, hit a useless shot wide, and we were into the final added-on 4 with our lead intact. C’mon City! 4 became 6 as referee Ilderton adopted a strategy of giving resentful Leeds every opportunity to level the scores, but, aside from a Hulse shot on the turn that flew two feet too high, they were simply not good enough.

Or we were too good. We are getting steadily better, I’ve said that already, but it is so deeply, warmingly true. Rancid Leeds offer a reliable benchmark: we competed with them for 45 minutes three months ago, but then fell away. This time, we beat them and deserved to, and this at a time when you would suppose sneering Leeds had far greater incentives to tuck into the game aggressively than we did. There were excellent performances all over the pitch from the Tigs, but I think Stuart Green deserves special mention. Six or so weeks ago and you couldn’t imagine him ever looking worth a regular place in this Division and yet now he is an obvious pick: committed, skilful, determined. Young and getting better.

Final whistle, exultation on three sides of our ground, save only for those sad souls who scurried away head down in dismay, revealed as sporadic cancerous Leeds infiltrators by their failure to celebrate when City scored. Misery is your reward, and a righteous one. Leeds United Football Club is a vindictive pit of hate, but they haven’t got any more points tonight than they had at the start of the day. Cos we’ve got ‘em.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Welsh, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Elliott (for Ellison, 71), Paynter (for Green, 84), Duffy, Wiseman, Duke.

Goals: Parkin 76

Booked: Myhill, Parkin

Sent Off: None

 

LEEDS UNITED: Sullivan, Kelly, Butler, Gregan, Crainey, Douglas, Derry, Miller, Lewis, Hulse, Blake. Subs: Graham (for Miller, 77), Healy (for Lewis, 77), Richardson (for Blake, 80), Kilgallon, Bennett.

Goals: None

Booked: Gregan

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: E Ilderton

ATTENDANCE: 23,486

Ipswich Town 1 Hull City 1

Despite spells of impressive play, Ipswich are held by the Tigers to a 1-1 draw before a largely silent Suffolk crowd..

When the Lions play the Tigers on Valentine’s Day you might expect a few references in the Tiger Chat match report to shagging, but such filth would be entirely misconceived for a match played on Lady Day. And so, as I donned the match reporter’s fur-lined alpine salopettes, I took a moment to reflect on the events of two thousand years ago, and wondered what Mary was doing that day before her celestial visitation. Buying Easter Eggs, perhaps. There was a gentleman in front of me in the queue, a retired military type, and I could see that he too was aware of the significance of the day. Indeed, I watched the old chap stand to attention before entering Natalie Portman Road and beginning a rather laboured, groaning ascent.

Beneath grey East Anglian skies and in front of a crowd of 23,968 we carded a much-changed and solid looking starting 11 including a centre back berth for new loanee Rui Marques:

Myhill
Wiseman Cort Marques Dawson
Green Andrews Delaney Ellison
Paynter Beast

Against an Ipswich line-up of:

Currie Lee
Richards Garvan Westlake Magilton
Barron De Vos Wilnis Sito
Supple

Just before the off a super-sized home shirt wafted its way through the main stand in a rather pointless and ineffectual way, doing no more than to prompt speculation that they were planning a bid for the Beast, having produced a shirt big enough for his enormous frame.
The early exchanges were fairly even. First Big Kev fed the ball through to Green who shot wide, then a mix up in our box resulted in Bo’s first action of the day. On 7 Parkin won it and played a ball out to Green, only for his shot to be deflected behind for a corner. Green took it and Cort connected, but on this occasion his header was wide.

On 12 Delaney felled Garvan with a typical defender’s tackle. He likes to get stuck in does our Damien, and doubtless the manager’s words that “they won’t like it up ‘em on Annunciation Day” were still ringing in his ears when he executed this tackle just inside their half with a full team of Tigs behind him. There’s a fine line sometimes between getting stuck in and getting yourself booked for fairly pointless tackles, and on this occasion referee Mr Ray Olivier kept his cards to himself. No doubt your standard Premiership official would have produced an instant yellow or maybe even a flamboyantly displayed red.

On a day for bald-headed left wingers Ipswich attacked down the left and Richards beat Wiseman, crossing low into the box. Myhill went down low and pouched it, only to spill it to Lee 12 yards out. 1-0 we thought, with our keeper on the floor and an open goal beckoning playfully, but Lee’s shot was blocked by the perfectly positioned head of Dawson. A let off. On came the physio who chose to clean Myhill’s knees with his magic sponge. I don’t know why.

For the next 10 we were under pressure. A cross from Barron was cleared unconvincingly, then Cort headed one away after Magilton crossed and Myhill saved from Lee. Then on 24 Green fouled one of theirs and Currie swung in a cross that didn’t look particularly menacing but was allowed to bounce its way past Myhill and into the corner of the net. 1-0 and a very soft goal. Think Barnet away in ’98 (but don’t think about what followed). For a few seconds the Portman Road library came alive, until a grumpy lantern-jawed gentleman you’d probably recognise if you’re into television quiz shows silenced them with a loud harrumph.

We fought back. A Delaney shot was blocked and an Andrews shot deflected wide. The corner from Green was cleared to Andrews but his shot was wide of the keeper’s left post. Paynter flicked on to the Beast but his shot found the side netting. On 31 Parkin swung it cross-field to Green who held it up and played in the advancing Wiseman. His left footed shot went narrowly wide. After that, though, we couldn’t get hold of the ball and, when they had it, we backed off and let them pass it around. The exception to this observation was Rui Marques. I don’t want to make wild assertions on the strength of one game (I thought Matthew Wicks was good when I first saw him, I have to admit), but he was good. He is quick and gets into the right positions, heads well and his tackles were strong and well timed. While the rest of the team backed off for the last 15 of the 1st half, Marques got stuck in, felling Westlake with a tackle that was hard but perfectly fair on 35 minutes from which the Ipsman never recovered. McDonald replaced him on 40 as the Ips were forced to switch. But before that, on 39 they should have gone two up when Bo again failed to pouch and Garvan hit over when it seemed easier to score. The muppet.

Three added minutes produced one chance for City when Paynter won a corner that was fizzed in by Dawson. Marques connected but his header was wide. After that there was only time for another offside against Parkin, who had a slightly irritating day for being on the wrong side of the last defender. On came the heavy roller at half time, to repair Ipswich’s soft southern pitch. The local pies were sampled and found to be good.

At the start of the 2nd we sat back and let them pass it around. Like a lot of teams in this division, if you give them time to play they’ll very happily do that, and the longer they have the ball the more dangerous they become. On 47 they won a free kick on their left which was swung in and clipped the top of Myhill’s bar on its way out. A cross from the left evaded Myhill but was headed out for a corner. It was all looking fairly grim. And then it wasn’t.

On 59 Ellison charged down the left and won a corner. Green took it short to Dawson, who returned the ball to our in-form Cumbrian. Green swung it in, Cort rose with the grace of an angel and with his unmarked forehead powered an immaculately conceived header past Supple’s despairing left hand. 1-1 and we rejoiced for it was good.

After that the game, which had been reasonably good up until that point and a whole lot better than last week, became richly entertaining. I don’t think it would be right to avoid clichés when reporting on a game of football, and I’m therefore not afraid to inform you that it was end to end stuff from then on. Andrews played in Ellison who shot just over. At the other end Currie waited a couple of minutes for someone to find him a spoon with which to take a free kick. Over the bar. Two minutes later Parkin with great skill held the ball up and then played in Dawson down the left, but his cross came to nothing. Then Big Kev lost it and a cross found McDonald, who could only shoot straight into Bo’s mitts. On 63 Delaney was finally booked for one foul too many. Currie and Magilton combined and a cross from the left was headed away by Marques, who needed treatment. I like a centre back who’s not afraid to put his head in painful places for the cause, and Marques is of that mould. Ellison shot over after fine work from the Beast before, on 63, we made a double substitution, with Welsh replacing the booked Delaney and Fagan coming on for Green. Green was unlucky to be subbed, I thought, after another good performance. Paynter moved out wide right and Fagan went up front.

Ipswich fought back, and Bo again showed his lack of confidence in missing a Magilton cross that was headed back in but over. Marques looked to be tiring and spannered a clearance out for a throw. It was knocked in and in the melee at the far end I think I saw Myhill make a great save before a second shot was cleared off the line. On 74 Magilton was replaced by the red-booted Haynes. Two minutes later Ellison tricked his way past his marker and headed for goal. His shot/cross evaded Fagan. The Beast looked to be about to connect for our second goal, but one of theirs got a foot in to send it out for a corner. Both sides were playing fast, attacking football. Their tactic seemed to be to lob it over the top of Wiseman into the corner for someone to run onto and cross, and it worked on a worryingly regular basis. On 79 Bo made a great save low to his right. Into the last 10, and after great work down the right from Fagan, Parkin and Welsh had shots blocked. Then Leon made a great defensive tackle to deny McDonald. Into three minutes of added time at the end and Dawson swung over a cross that Paynter headed over.

Then on 92 minutes we almost lost it. First out for the second half had been Myhill, before the rest of the team, for some emergency catching practice. Our custodian, so fine for so much of this season, is going through a bit of a difficult patch and his confidence looks pretty low. So it was delightful, both in terms of point preservation and for his own self-confidence, that it was Bo who deflected away a powerful goal-bound effort with one of those superb low reflex saves with which he’s kept us in so many games this season. Top work. There was still time for Ellison to skip free down the left and take on their defence. Caught in three minds, with the goal in front of him and Fagan and Parkin screaming for a pass, our bald one chose the fourth option of wellying it wide, and the points were shared.

It was a great game to watch and a good performance from City. We put an end to the habit of playing well and losing, and although the chasing pack closed the gap with some surprising victories, we should be satisfied with a point from a game like this. Positives included a good performance on his return from injury from Dawson. Rogers has looked good and we now have two decent left backs to choose from. Wiseman was reasonably assured and I think a run in the first team is what he needs to become (I hope) the solution to our inability to find a right back who isn’t utterly hopeless. Leon Cort: a Tiger legend. There’s a lot of discussion about how well we’ll do next season with the likes of Coles and McPhee back from injury, but I have no doubt that one of the keys factors in a good 06/07 season will be the fitness of Leon Cort.

Marques looked very good although tired later on. He looks a very assured player and worth his place in the side on the strength of this. Ellison had a good game, and looked comfortable on the ball when he had it. If there is a criticism to make he didn’t really know what to do when he had the chance to shoot or pass and mostly chose badly or at least mucked up what he had chosen to do. He also has the irritating habit of not closing down players when defending. Instead he sticks his arms out like’s he’s an airplane and leans forward to the point of scraping his head on the pitch. Kev, mate, it’s no wonder you have no hair. Get a bit closer and use your feet, is my suggestion.

Six to go, nine clear.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Marques, Dawson; Green, Andrews, Delaney, Ellison; Parkin, Paynter. Subs: Welsh (for Delaney, 68), Fagan (for Green, 68), Duffy, Thelwell, Duke.
Goals: Cort 57
Booked: Delaney
Sent Off: None

IPSWICH TOWN: Supple, Sito, De Vos, Wilnis, Barron, Magilton, Westlake, Garvan, Richards, Lee, Currie. Subs: McDonald (for Westlake, 39), Haynes (for Magilton, 74), Casement (for Barron, 79), Price, Brekke-Skard.
Goals: Currie 23
Booked: None
Sent Off: None

REFEREE: R Olivier
ATTENDANCE: 23,968

Hull City 1 Crewe Alexandra 0

Solid rather than spectacular, a Stuart Green strike is sufficient to dispatch a lame Crewe Alex side and ease considerably any lingering relegation fears.

Well folks, I can tell you one thing straight-off. This is going to be the shortest match report that I have ever written for Tiger-Chat. Not, I hasten to add, because of any lack of mental or other preparation yesterday for my duties (even though there wasn’t any; it finally dawned on me at about one minute to three that I was in charge of the match reporters’ pen, much to the amusement of my chums), nor because of any high-handed desire to deprive Tigchatters (especially the absent ones) of the withering drivel, errr…lovingly-crafted prose, that you all look forward to with such rabid eagerness, but because I can scarce recall a game where (a) so little actually happened and (b) the fare that was served up was so meagre that there must almost have been an arguable legal case for a refund.

But is anyone complaining? Didn’t seem to be many gloomy countenances among the droves heading in various directions from the Circle at five o’clock yesterday, and why should there have been? The two home games against Plymouth and Crewe were billed as the make or break ones for City in the quest to retain Championship status, and on both occasions the team delivered the points. Oh yes, missus, these were big, big points, and, whilst we shall need to pick up a few more of them before we can finally blow the dust off the route map to Blunderland in total confidence that we are not wasting our puff, we can at least surely all agree that the League table has assumed a much happier appearance than the one it possessed after the Leicester debacle, not only because of the eleven-point cushion we now have in front of our good friends from south-east London, but also because we only have about four points to make up on those above us to have us sitting in a genuinely mid-table position. Course, whether we shall make up that ground is questionable given the run-in we have (and the fact that, if mathematical certainty of avoiding the drop is achieved with games to spare, we shouldn’t rule out the prospect of players going on strike for the remaining games once their job is done as they did last season), and to be honest it doesn’t matter if we do or we don’t, but the real objective for this season, namely staying up, is now so close that we can just about reach out and touch it. And that is what matters.

It is true, though, and some may say slightly frustrating, that we have clawed ourselves back to a position of relative safety by dint of two performances that were far less inspiring than those served up in all bar one of the run of defeats which preceded them, but there we are; I can offer no explanation, having come to the conclusion that my understanding of the beautiful game is about as sketchy as my understanding of the beautiful sex.

But we shouldn’t feel at all guilty about that, for the other palpable conclusion to be drawn from yesterday’s game is that, for all our travails at the wrong end of the table this season, we are clearly a markedly better side than Kru. They came to the Circle after what was for them by the standards of this season a half-decent run of form, it was a game which they had clearly targeted to pick up full points (and their manager had said so publicly), and it was very much the shit-or-bust game for them (which their manager also admitted in the papers I have read today). But for all that, they had nothing to show except honest endeavour, and for all the neat passing certainly no sign of any real flair or cutting edge, and had no idea how to break us down after we scored an early goal; he doesn’t deserve my saying this after the way he laughed at my expense yesterday, but the analogy drawn by Mark Gretton on this list a couple of hours ago between Crewe yesterday and us in the early part of the season is an astute one.

Anyway, I’ve padded this out for long enough. We carded:-

Myhill
Wiseman Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Andrews Noble Elliott
Fagan Parkin

Kru won the toss and opted to have the Tigers play towards the South Stand in the first half (which was about as inventive as they got all afternoon in their attempts to unsettle us), with a pathetically small Crewe following, frankly, given the importance of the game, at our backs. The visitors, assisted by a number of favourable decisions from referee Mr T Kettle (Honestly! Only Mr T Pott would have been funnier) tried hard to assert themselves in the early stages as we responded with all the vigour of a somnolent, Chum-sunken labrador, and in the first quarter of an hour manage a couple of attempts at goal, one of which did actually cause a minor scare as their unmarked number 18 managed to toe-end a cross high over the bar from about five yards out

But then, on 17 minutes, we lead. An Elliott cross from the left was messily cleared out to the right only as far as the unmarked Green, who had time to pick his spot, to say nothing of his nose had he so desired, so generous were the Crewe defence in the time they allotted him, before rifling the leather high into the far corner of the net.

Would that ignite the game? Not a bit of it. Crewe continued to plug away, but we didn’t have to do very much to neutralise them. Greeny has been (quite rightly) pilloried for much of the season, but, credit where it’s due, he actually got stuck in for a good hour yesterday, which is more than could be said of his midfield colleagues. Elliott was at his botttling-out-can’t-be-arsed-powder-puff-infuriating worst, while Andrews and Noble showed little endeavour in either attack or defence. Passing was generally inaccurate and at times silly free-kicks were conceded. Result of all this was that the Beast and Fagan had to do their best on decidedly meagre rations, though there were a couple of bright spots, firstly on 27 when a Green foray led to the Beast firing one straight at the keeper, and then ten minutes later when Cort (who didn’t put a foot wrong all afternoon, although he’d be the first to admit he’s had more torrid days to contend with) had a header cleared off the line after the jittery Crewe defence had failed to clear a corner. Fagan and then the Beast put efforts just over as the half drew to a close, but it was mostly pretty dreich stuff; we were winning almost in spite of ourselves.

Luckily, there was something to lift the gloom on the East Stand concourse as I enjoyed my half-time smoke, namely the spectacle of a child blubbering inconsolably because someone had burst his balloon. I mean, this is a football match for crissake.

General half-time consensus was that an early goal for us would settle is all down and we would play with gay abandon as a result. Some sodding hope. It was as scrappy and error-strewn as ever (almost comically-so at times), and, worryingly, we started to drop deep (which Mr Taylor tells them not to do, you know). The Beast turned and fired over a couple of minutes in, and a promising move involving the Beast and Wiseman (who looked a bit hesitant at times, as I might I suppose if my boss publicly called me a tart) came to nought on 58 when Elliott and Fagan got in each other’s way. The subbing of Fagan with the white-booted Duffy did nothing to help matters, as the erstwhile Bairn decided that he preferred the company of the midfielders (whose line-up had changed after Elliott’s substitution, with Paynter going out right and Greeny coming inside) to that of the Beast, who now cut a decidedly lone figure.

We’re now into the last ten minutes. Kru, by now pressing forward at will, manage to put a couple of timid efforts straight at Boaz (and get a free header even though we had nine in the box at the time), and City show absolutely no interest in adding to their lead, although we nearly do add to it on 86 when a Rogers through ball bobbles its way through to the Beast, who turns and smacks the ball hard against the crossbar.

Three minutes’ injury time, and a scare after two of them have elapsed when a flick on of a long ball looks to have put one of theirs through, only for Damien, who also had a decent game, to ghost in and hook the ball to safety.

And that was it, especially for our visitors who will have to do something really spectacular in order to survive the drop now. As for us, well, let’s just be happy with the fact that we secured the points and rose three places up the table, overtaking in the process Burnley, who might yet be Millwall’s best hope of avoiding the drop.

At least we can now go and enjoy in a relatively-relaxed frame of mind the Annunciation Day tussle at Ipswich as an hors d’oeuvre to the violation of the sacred Circle by the presence of the WS in a fortnight’s time.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Noble, Elliott; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Ellison (for Elliott, 64), Paynter (for Noble, 66), Duffy (for Fagan, 74), Thelwell, Duke.

Goals: Green 16

Booked: Noble

Sent Off: None

CREWE ALEXANDRA: Turnbull, Otsemobor, Foster, Bougherra, B Jones, Bell, Lunt, Grant, S Jones, Rodgers, Taylor. Subs: Vaughan (for Rodgers, 59), Higdon (for Taylor, 66), McCready (for Grant, 82), Tomlinson, Johnson.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: T Kettle

ATTENDANCE: 21,163

Hull City 1 Plymouth Argyle 0

A nervous first half, which turned on an amazing lunging clearance by Leon Cort, gave way to a thrilling second period as Craig Fagan stepped from the bench to fire a goal and seal a valuable three point haul.

In which we got what we needed – and what we deserved.

A tough battle in the first half, an early goal in the second – thereafter it’d be misleading to claim we cruised to the points but we did feel the benefit of playing a team safely stationed in mid-table and not inclined to get down and get dirty in pursuit of an equaliser. But I shouldn’t be churlish to our team. It was a grinding win yesterday, but after the lack of steel late on against both Norwich and Wolves, the wretched ill-fortune at Cardiff and the terrifyingly stupid display at Leicester, a spell at the grindstone was just fine by me. I want us in this Division (and progressing) next August. It looks a much safer bet now than it did 24 hours ago.

On a day of snow flurries and bright wintry sunshine the game kicked off under the stern gaze of very (and unusually) able referee Mr Webb according to the following Tig 4-4-2 orthodoxy:

Myhill
Wiseman Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Welsh Andrews Elliott
Parkin Duffy

And inside the second minute the half’s best opportunity presents itself. A cross from the left by the Beast is bundled out to Elliott, who has time to line up a searing swerving left-foot drive which looks destined for the back of the net until Larrieu, impressively alert at such an early stage of the play, leaps to his left to beat away the shot.

A bright start. But on it we did not build.

Plymouth played with ambition, shoving plenty of men forward at every opportunity, and we creaked defensively. The lack of mutual understanding among our back four was no great surprise, given the weekly changes to personnel inflicted on that wobbly platoon. On 9 Rogers was culpable in sloppily giving away a foul on the edge of the box only to watch in relief as Plymouth made a horrible mess of the set-piece.

When we visited Home Park early in the season lightweight and unimaginative Plymouth looked worth a very short price to suffer relegation this season. The appointment of dour journeyman Tony Pulis hasn’t done much to alter the team’s ratio of wit and flair to sweat, but at least they are now sweating. And lightweight they certainly are not. Instead they are physically powerful and uncompromising – it pains me to see a team achieve success through an emphasis on brawn but I suppose that’s the bare minimum you need to survive in this Division. We remain a bit short of it. But we’re progressing.

So burly bustling Vincent Pericard was troubling Damien Delaney. Delaney never took a step backwards (I think he wouldn’t even recognise the concept) and kept concentrating on tight marking and physical determination. Hodges, Capaldi – two more imposing figures. Long-haired midfielder Nalis (hard as Nalis? Not quite that intimidating, but another big bloke) was being allowed far too much space and looked increasingly menacing as playmaker. The points were not going to be won easily against this side – though ‘keeper Larrieu’s timewasting tactics from an early stage hinted that the visitors wouldn’t ultimately sneer at a draw to take home to Devon in the company of their usual decent-sized long-distance travelling support.

So we were second-best. Andrews, most of all, seemed unable to impose himself on the game, though he was not alone in looking vainly for a way to unsettle the opposition. And on 39 the lead seemed about to fall to Plymouth. A free-kick is knocked into our box, Myhill punches uneasily under intense pressure from Pericard and the ball drops cosily to the feet of Nalis, just outside the box. He sends a firm low shot directed unerringly at the middle of the goal, with Myhill unable to recover his position, but is thwarted by an astonishing stop from the masterly Cort, who stretches out a long leg and diverts the ball up and over the crossbar. This is superb defending, and the Plymouth team is visibly open-mouthed in astonishment by the splendour of it.

A match-winning piece of defence. More than a turning-point. A season-defining glitter of resilient brilliance.

There are two minutes added at the end of the half, during which Green cleverly strips the ball from Nalis and slips a neat ball in behind the defence for the Beast to chase, but his shot is scuffed feebly at Larrieu. And the whistle is blown.

It had been a first-half of honest endeavour from both sides, but at this stage, as a City fan, you would have not only expected, but also even welcomed, a final outcome of nil-nil. We’d hoped beforehand to be better than Plymouth, but we weren’t, we’d hoped they might have their minds on the summer sun on the beach at Bude, but they didn’t.

Off came Duffy, on came Fagan. Duffy is slight, alert and very quick, and we are simply not playing to his strengths. I hope he’s being tenderly handled behind the scenes, because he is a young man with real talent. I could say much the same about Welsh, though his relative lack of physical power seems increasingly to be casting him as a Taylor unfavourite – he too came off at half-time, replaced by the (also less than bruisingly brutal) Noble.

Oh, and Fagan. Craig Fagan. A word. Lose the gloves son.

Y’know, we could do with a goal in this game. On 53 a free-kick, the ball drops to Delaney, he shoots, it’s blocked, corner. The ball is hoisted in and Cort, in space, heads over the top. Then, on 55, a fine move develops, the Beast takes possession and glides a quite glorious pass into the path of Fagan, advancing down the inside-left channel, and the speedy young Brummie shows commendable confidence for a man out of the team more often than in it of late and he strikes a powerful shot beyond Larrieu into the corner of the net.

1-0, relief is tangible, and, don’t doubt it, this was a fine goal. We opened up Plymouth like a thing that can be easily opened up, which is to say not like one of those corned beef tins with the fiddly little key thing stuck on the side that in my view they should have devoted a lot more time on Tomorrow’s World to improving on. And central to this incisive and decisive moment of football was the Beast – as he has been central to most, near enough all, of the attacking inspiration we’ve served up since he joined us. There’ll never be another Billy Whitehurst – football has changed a lot in 20 years and some of the physically direct and unambiguous deeds Billy used to get away with would nowadays land him a trip to The Hague and a War Crimes Tribunal – but Parkin truly is a modern-day equivalent in his sheer size, power and ability to persuade defenders that backing off is a better option than trying to go in mano-a-mano. Result: Parkin’s marker steps back warily, Parkin can bring the ball down and Parkin can choose a pass. And he can execute a pass too. That’s how we scored yesterday. Whitehurst, of course, would be Parkin’s inferior judged by delicate touch on the ball (Billy Whitehurst! Delicate! If you’re out there Billy mate, sorry, I’m not being rude, I loved you then as I love you now, but not for your delicacy). Even Chris Chilton, peerless target man, couldn’t play on the ground with the elegance that Parkin offers (though, to be fair to the golden footballing memory of Sproatley’s number one son, I suspect that granite-hewn gents of the calibre and might of Duncan Forbes and Eddie Colquhoun would rather have sawn their own legs off than succumb to a beasting as meekly as some modern-day defenders).

Rio Ferdinand. I’d like to see him suffer a beasting. John Terry, he could take it. But Ferdinand? Don’t think so.

The Beast almost scored again after play re-started, but his shot was too high. On 63 the Beast (again) surged clear of the despairing defence and, meeting a through ball, poked a shot goalwards only to be foiled by a good block from Larrieu. And then a Greeny shootfest – the first effort flies too high and then the second flies, err, too high as well. Still, Green’s influence on the game was growing. So, in fact, was that of most of our players. Andrews, visibly more combative than earlier, looked the pick of the midfielders on show by now and Noble, playing a more conservative central role rather than wandering free all over the pitch, looked well worth his place. We were showing much improved form compared with the first half.

Or were we? At first glimpse, yes. But the temperature had by now dipped appreciably and so had Plymouth’s workrate. On 72 they served up their only real threat during the second period, when a left-foot volley from sub Djodjoc was deflected goalwards by Pericard, drawing a fine parry form Myhill, but that was the limit of their ambition. It had taken a while but now we could recognise a team with nothing to play for. Fine by me – we need the points. But though we did play some attractive football in the later stages of this match, I think it was in circumstances which will not be repeated in the next few, considerably more testing, games.

Still, we can only win. And we do. On 80 Noble shots too high. On 81 a corner, won after an excellent dribble by the doughty Rogers, results in an Elliott header pushed round the post by a defensive toe. But, for me, the best moment of the closing minutes arrived with ten to go when Noble hopelessly missed a challenge on Pericard near the half-way line, allowing the Plym forward to race clear and beat Delaney too. It’s still 45 yards from goal but it could be dangerous if Pericard advances further. So Delaney scythes him down. Of course it’s a foul. Of course it’s a booking. Of course it destroys any chance Plymouth have of using pace to open up our defence. Ruthless and simply excellent defensive work by Damien Delaney.

There are four minutes added on at the end, but though Plym manage one shot – from Connolly, safely pouched by Myhill – it’s the Beast who looks more likely to provide the game’s second goal. He doesn’t. It doesn’t matter. We win.

We could yet be safe at Easter.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Wiseman, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Welsh, Elliott; Parkin, Duffy. Subs: Noble (for Welsh, 45), Fagan (for Duffy, 45), Paynter, Lynch, Duke.

Goals: Fagan 55

Booked: Delaney

Sent Off: None

 

PLYMOUTH ARGYLE: Larrieu, Connolly, Wotton, Aljofree, Barness, Norris, Hodges, Nalis, Capaldi, Evans, Pericard. Subs: Djordjic (for Barness, 67), Buzsaky (for Hodges, 70), Chadwick (for Evans, 84), McCormick, Pulis.

Goals: None

Booked: Aljofree, Capaldi

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: H Webb

ATTENDANCE: 20,137

Leicester City 3 Hull City 2

Chaos at the turnstiles and things weren’t much better on the pitch as a disheveled City performance saw a second 2-3 reverse against very limited opposition in our first ever visit to Leicester’s Walkers Bowl.

I hated this game more than any game since Terry Dolan was in charge of our team.

Horrible. We were treated like vermin by Leicester City Football Club. I don’t have much desire to be treated like a ‘customer’ at football, still less to be integrated into happy-clappy family entertainment footie fun, but I do like to be allowed to pay into the ground to see the match. The home club were a disgrace, as were the local police, as vile and aggressive a bunch as anything that the late 1980s could have thrown up. And then we were treated like fools by our team, who set aside several weeks of promising performances that have been ill rewarded by poor results and instead served up a foppish self-indulgent ill-disciplined woeful display that got all the points that it deserved. None.

Parkin was wonderful.

No one else was worth their wages. It really is the Dolan era that I last found myself issuing such condemnation. But we played like a relegation team yesterday. Dismal. Inept.

I’m being a bit harsh, I suppose (on the lovely Leon Cort most of all, perhaps). But I’m not happy about yesterday. As you may have noticed.

I reached the ground at about quarter to 3, a bit earlier maybe. I saw that round thing that we call a football for the first time at quarter past 3, a bit later maybe. One turnstile – one! – was open to City fans wanting to pay. Two turnstiles were open for those with tickets, and they were almost completely unused, since we’d been advised we didn’t need to buy tix in advance, since this is a new stadium with copious capacity allied to all modern facilities. Ha! Prattish stewards wandered around asking if we had tickets, waving towards the unused pair of turnstiles. No, we said, politely at first, as the minutes ticked by and kick-off came and went, and our queue got longer.

There were plenty of employees of Leicester City around – none thought to re-designate the ticket turnstiles as pay turnstiles, none thought – imaginez! – to open another turnstile. They did however laugh in most jolly fashion when asked if kick-off might be delayed.

If this was a proper country like Romania or Syria, the officials in charge would have been hung until dead from lampposts, suspended by the gold braid on their epaulettes, while their children would have been slaughtered with piano wire. This being England, we inspected our fingernails and muttered to anyone willing to make eye contact that ‘it is all a bit unfortunate really, all things considered’.

But even the stiff upper lip trembles when jolted with sufficient force. Irritation mounted. All the while sneering police loitered, itching for a fight, treating our increasing protests as a public order issue rather then legitimate frustration at our treatment. Eventually, well after the game had kicked off, one more turnstile was opened. One! And eventually I got in. I expect other City fans are queuing still.

And then we lost.

And, unlike recent reverses, this one we deserved.

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
France Green Andrews Noble Elliott
Parkin.

Sort of like that, anyway. We were sloppy, lacking leadership and threw away an importance chance to keep – very ordinary – opposition beneath us in the table. Our goals – both equalisers – were Parkin products. Theirs were horror shows, from our perspective. The second was a freak punt from near the halfway line, but the other two arrived after flowing moves which sped around, past and beyond our stranded midfielders and defence. We looked gruesomely vulnerable.

Four flaws? One, Delaney at centre-back. This utterly admirable young man doesn’t seem quite sharp enough to cope with quick-witted and nimble-footed strikers in this Division. I think this too is Mr Taylor’s view – well, that’s what Andy Dalton told me – but injuries currently force his hand. Two, Andrews is not a bad holding midfielder player. We could do with a better – more engaged, more consistent, more authoritative – holding midfielder. Three, Mark Noble. A talented ballplayer whose ability to find space by roaming across the full width of the pitch could be the source of goalmaking creativity. But when we’re level away from home in a don’t-lose scrap I like to see sundry opponents getting booted up in the air from time to time, and I don’t think young Noble sees getting bloodied or carded in the Hull City cause as the best way to win the heart of Alan Pardew as the chirpy West Ham boss plans for next season. Four, lack of a leader. You can best grasp why Mr Taylor bought Sam Collins when we take to the pitch without him. Collins is a shouter, an organiser, a natural captain, and it’s a role that no one else in the squad can fill. We’re vocally lightweight and I suspect opposing teams draws strength from the impression that we just don’t much fancy getting stuck into it and them.

A summer of post-injury re-birth for Collins, Coles, Dawson, Ashbee (though I doubt he’ll ever be back) and McPhee will help us solve these problems, but I need not remind you that no one has ever been spared relegation on the basis that they’ve had a few men out hurt.

Meanwhile, abuse rained down on Mr Taylor like snow in July. Yes, they’re a fierce bunch these Leicester fans. My, I almost heard them once. I could have been mistaken. The Walker’s Bowl is a functional and unimaginative arena, of a type with So’ton and Reading though probably overall poorer than both, and it is home to a dour, dull and somnolent set of supporters.

By the way, I agree with everything Richard Herman has contributed to this list lately. I understand perfectly well that offering a price in April for next season’s pass, when we don’t know which division we’ll be playing in, gives the punter a chance to gamble. Buy early, buy cheap – and maybe buy Boston not Birmingham. That’s fine, it’s your free choice. But stipulating – as our club currently does – that unless you buy at the earliest date, and no later, you lose you chosen seat at the Circle, is completely unfair, a new departure and simply an attack on the flexibility of the hardest core fans. By all means tell passholders they can buy in April at price x while if they wait until June it will be x plus y. But let them keep their seat in either case.

I’m off topic. ‘Cos I’m fed up. Parkin. Let me lighten the mood. He is fantastic. It was his beautifully crafted crossfield ball that allowed Elliott, arriving at the back post much as he had done – but fruitlessly – in stoppage time at Cardiff, to plant a meaty header past Henderson to provide our first equaliser. His astonishingly deft touch set up Green for a firmly rifled shot from just outside the box to bring us back to 2-2. This man Parkin is a genius. You know, I like him better than Aaron Wilbraham, I really do.

Actually, I like him as much as Colin Stein and Derek Johnstone, and now we really are getting serious. And – seriously – will we keep him? He’s scoring goals, even when (as at Cardiff) the linesman fails to spot it, he’s forcing heroics from goalkeepers (Henderson produced one astonishing save from a point-blank effort during yesterday’s second half), he’s leading the line, he’s winning penalties, he’s making goals for others, he’s turning decent defenders into gibbering wrecks (will Lescott ever recover from his beasting last week?). Parkin is a very seriously gifted footballer and when you look at the silly money thrown in recent years after folk like Adi Akimbiyi, James Scowcroft, Blakes Robbie and Nathan, and assorted feckless Poles and Croats you find yourself wondering what size of cheque may be brandished in front of Mr Pearson over the summer (and not only by whoever is misguided enough to employ Harry Redknapp).

Well, with ten or so minutes to go, I was happy with a point, though not much enamoured of my afternoon’s fun. Then Leicester broke clear down their left, the ball was transferred across the field with the minimum of fuss and an alarming absence of intervention from any of our players, and Gudjonsson, twenty yards out, got his head over the ball to clout a firm low shot into the net via the fingertips of the sprawling Boaz. 3-2. Paynter promptly arrived to bustle, Duffy had been doing the same since his arrival on the hour (and the Scot looked perkier this week than last), but the task was beyond us. In stoppage time the best scoring opportunity fell to Leicester when Boaz found himself marooned upfield in support of a fading attack, and a sliced hoof simply left their sub Welsh in space, homing in on an empty net. He slapped his shot wastefully high over the bar as our defence scurried back, to the dismay of team-mates advancing in support both to his right and his left. But, for us, the game was lost, and the fell murmur ‘Millwall have won’ spread among the City support.

Commendably astute pub selection by a reliable china o’mine ensured this was a splendid day up until about quarter to three. After that, it was vile. I don’t think I’ll be bothering with the away game at Leicester next season. Assuming there is one.

HULL CITY (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Andrews, Noble; France, Green, Elliott; Parkin. Subs: Welsh (for Noble, 60), Duffy (for Thelwell, 65), Paynter (for Andrews, 87), Ellison, Duke.

Goals: Elliott 35; Green 73

Booked: Elliott

Sent Off: None

 

LEICESTER CITY: Henderson, Stearman, Gerrbrand, Kisnorbo, Johansson, Maybury, Gudjonsson, Williams, Hughes, Hume, Fryatt. Subs: Welsh (for Hughes, 71), Brevett (for Fryatt, 88), Logan, O’Grady, Hammond.

Goals: Hume 30; Gudjonsson 64, 84

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: N Miller

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