Rushden & Diamonds 4 Hull City 2

A game with everything, ending ultimately in defeat.  Steve Weatherill assesses the highlights of another Nene Park goalfest.
Two minutes into this match a Rush slid a pass down the inside right channel. But it was over-ambitious. The attacker was a yard behind the covering defender, who had ample time to clear the danger. Instead that defender simply spanked a solid low shot beyond the right hand of the aghast Fettis, and Rushden were – to their utter astonishment – ahead. As own goals go, it was a quality strike. As witless, ignorant, thoughtless and unprofessional defending goes, it was gold medal stuff. You. Do. Not. NOT. Hit. A. Back. Pass. Directly. At. Goal. We have all had that beaten into us in the school playground. All of us, that is, except Damien Delaney. Young Delaney is surely on the right road to becoming a cult figure of Eddie Edwards proportions. He is the sprinter who trips over his starting blocks. The cricketer allergic to newly-mown grass. The high jumper with vertigo. His game gaucheness and his unmistakable eagerness-to-please make it impossible to dislike him, but there comes a point at which you have to say “honest endeavour is not enough”, and I really would prefer never to see him again playing for the Hull City first team. Or at least not until he’s spent a couple of years in the reserves learning the basics of defending and losing his unnerving fawn-caught-in-headlights demeanour. I mean, don’t get me wrong. For me, part of the joy of football is the spectacle of profound incompetence. I tend to prefer it when it’s provided by the opposition rather than the team I support, but even so I have, in an odd sort of a way, thrilled to the Craig Lawford malpassing academy, the Roger De Vries hoof into touch and Darren France’s ability to jump for a header and look shorter than when he was when still in contact with the ground. But I don’t think there has ever been a player as monstrously prone to disastrous errors – game in, game out – as this hapless fellow Delaney. Enough about Damien Delaney. We would probably have just about lost this match even if we’d had someone worth his wages in the Irishman’s stead. This was a lively game spotted by a multitude of mistakes. We trailed 1-0 at half-time (Delaney, o.g.) and were down to ten men (Whittle, red card), and yet, showing admirable spirit, we claimed a 2-1 lead before the mid-point of the second half. And then, amid managerial indolence and shocking defending, we duly surrendered the points to eager, promotion-bound opponents. Lining up for us on a beautiful sunny afternoon by the River Nene were:

Fettis Otsemobor Whittle Anderson Delaney Reeves Appleby Keates Elliott Walters Forrester

And we went one down. Delaney. Shortly afterwards a free kick on the edge of our box offered Rushden a fine opportunity to double their advantage, but a tame shot was easily held by the Fettis. A couple of minutes later our keeper was put to a sterner test, as a dangerous cross was floated towards the back post, but the Fett sprinted off his line to snatch the ball off an attacker’s toe. But we began to settle down after a disastrous opening. Reeves and Otsemobor combined effectively down our right, and the latter delivered a cross that was just too long for our advancing attack. Then Otsemobor played a fine pass into the feet of Walters: he turned and slipped a slick ball into the box, which was hurriedly, worriedly bustled away for a corner as Rushden began to defend anxiously. The Tigers were having the better if it. Both flanks were lively, our front two mobile, and the midfield, though certainly weaker with the disappointing Appleby in and the sturdy Ashbee out, was nonetheless holding its own. Forrester set up a shot for Reeves, which was blasted wastefully wide, but, minutes later, when Forrester this time set up Elliott, Turley in the Rushden goal could only watch nervously as the shot slipped a foot or so beyond his far post. Walters headed down to Forrester, who shot wide, and then a delightful defence-splitting pass from the energetic Forrester put Elliott into the clear down the left for a shot that was well saved by Turley. It wasn’t all City, and Rushden had their moments as they attempted to play a neat passing game rather than kick-and-rush. It’ll never get you anywhere in this Division, as is demonstrated by the current fate of the Division’s main exponents of proper football – Hartlepool, Rushden, Wrexham – and the home side looked decreasingly likely to disturb the Fettis. The equaliser we deserved almost arrived when a quite glorious Walters knock-down released Forrester who scuttled to the by-line before chipping a cute cross on to the forehead of his striking partner – just wide. And then, as half time approached, Justin Whittle got sent off. He fouled Duane Darby, of that there was no doubt. But it was outside the box, and several City players were close to the scene. Darby had nothing remotely resembling a clear run on goal. As the referee reached to his pocket it never even crossed my mind the card’s colour could be anything other than yellow. But it was red. The short period left before half-time was marked by Forrester streaking clear of the defence and deftly lifting the ball over the exposed Turley. But, in contrast to the similarly-executed strike at Carlisle a fortnight ago, the effort hit the post and the ball bounced straight back into the relieved clutches of home goalkeeper. It was a glimpse of what was to come after the break. For City, even a man short, dominated the play. In fact it was an absorbing, thrilling and hugely encouraging spell of football. Appleby was taken off, in favour of Smith, who took up the left-back spot; Delaney moved to Whittle’s position in the centre; and Reeves was asked to take up a more central, hard-running role. And we took control. A marvellous move saw Elliott feed Walters, whose first-time touch released Reeves in space down the right. His cross was met with a sharp shot by Forrester, but the ball flew a yard over the bar. Forrester’s energy and vision were impressive yesterday, but his shooting was awry. Not so our corners. We’re not very good at corners. Not very good in the same way that Nigeria are not very good at ice hockey and Brazil are not very good at cricket. And yet we scored twice from corners inside five minutes at Rushden. The world truly is a strange place. I can’t tell you a lot about the first one. The corner was looped into the box, and a header was despatched goalwards. And suddenly it all went quiet … we noticed our players celebrating … and so we did too. More than that, I cannot say. But the second was a peach. Walters raced clear of his marker across the penalty area to receive a corner directed to the near post, and swivelled to smash an unerring  first-time shot into the back of the net. A thumping strike, a wonderful goal. But 2-1 up soon became 2-2. Our defending was sloppy and horribly lacking in conviction. Rushden simply barged their way through the middle and Hall fired a low shot past Fettis. Neither Anderson nor Delaney cut a happy figure. Poor old Delaney. In one priceless moment he strode clear with the ball at his feet. You could almost hear him thinking, “Here’s me! Damien Delaney, Professional Footballer! Scirea, Beckenbauer, Ruud Krol … I’m too young to know who they were, but if I did know, that’s how they’d play. Just like this, Ball Playing Centre back, Weeeee!!! …. O bugger, I’ve kicked it too hard and I’ve lost it now, I hope no one noticed”. Poor old Delaney. Hall pulled a cross back from the by-line and the giant Onandi Lowe hit the post. Then Lowe turned past Delaney as if he were a pillar of salt before shooting powerfully enough for Fettis to spill the ball before recovering it to the shelter of his gut. And then good defensive work under our crossbar nevertheless resulted in a shooting chance as Rushden exploited their extra man as the ball ran loose, and a shot clipped the top of our bar before skidding over and into the crowd. It’s 2-2 but we’re reeling, and some urgent tactical thinking is needed. Might we go 4-4-1? Perhaps some fresh legs would help? It’s at key moments in difficult games that smart managers really show their mettle. There is no sign of wit from our bench. Except that Reeves, who has enjoyed a lively second half, is withdrawn for … Melton. This useless lump does all that would be expected. Which is to say he prances around well away from the football and – of course – never even remotely looks interested in making a tackle. I could never hate a gentle and hard-working soul like Damien Delaney, even though I would like it if he wasn’t a member of my favourite football team, but, my o my, I could hate this sponging sneering idle meltonian waste-of-space. Another Rushden defensive error frees Forrester, but he is again guilty of wild shooting and the ball soars over the crossbar. We’re into the last ten now, and a point is evidently the summit of our ambitions. We’re dropping deep. With Lowe a constant menace up front (though Darby is quiet), the willowy Burgess providing intelligent prompting from midfield and Peter Stringfellow lookalike Underwood surging down the left, the home side are well on top. Delaney is easily beaten by Lowe down the left; Lowe misplaces his pass and presents the ball to Melton. Who promptly kicks it straight back to a Rushden player. Pitiful. We’re dropping deeper. Walters is limping – we’ve only got nine-and-a-half men now, and one of them is Melton. We’re dropping too deep. The defence scatters, Delaney panics, falls over, gifts the ball to Lowe inside the penalty box, and the beanpole striker gleefully rams his shot beneath Fettis. 3-2, five minutes to go. We’re sunk. There is still time for a piece of defending that should in all fairness guarantee its perpetrator a permanent place in the reserves until his contract expires. Smith is the man. He tries to shepherd a ball out over the by-line. His judgement is flawed. His physical determination is woefully absent. Hall skips past him, collects the ball, cuts in towards goal and strokes a square ball to Wardley, who smashes it into our net from eight yards out. It is dreadful stuff. And there is still time for Burgess to flash a 25-yarder a foot wide of the far post before the referee calls time on a 4-2 defeat. Right then. That’s us done for season 2002/03. The spirit was pretty good today, although we drooped in the later stages – perhaps in part because no useful guidance was forthcoming from our manager. But we’re playing for the medium- and long-term now, so there’s no point having loan players unless we’re likely to be able to sign them. So Otsemobor, Reeves and Walters should be packed off home tomorrow. Smith should never play for us again; Delaney needs a long spell out of the first-team. Melton should be the first to be paid up and booted out. I doubt much, if any, of that will happen while Mr Taylor is in charge. Should he be in charge, do you think?

HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Appleby, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Smith (for Appleby, 46), Melton (for Reeves, 75), Jevons, Regan, Musselwhite. Goals: Otsemobor 59, Walters 63 Booked: Reeves Sent Off: Whittle   RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS: Turley, Bignot, Edwards, Hunter, Underwood, Hall, Wardley, Burgess, Bell, Lowe, Darby.  Subs: Gray (for Bell, 84), Peters, Mills, Sambrook, Duffy. Goals: Delaney 2 (og), Hall 68, Lowe 87, Wardley 90 Booked: Edwards Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 4,713

Hull City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 1

A goal in seconds promised another rout, but this time Taylor’s Tigers fought for a well-deserved point against quality Northamptonshire opposition.  Steve Weatherill tells the tale.
It’s tempting to feel frustration about this one. We took the lead inside the opening minute, but still couldn’t win, and so saw our winning run under Mr Taylor terminated. But restrain yourself. This was a lively match against powerful opposition, and we were palpably the better side, especially in the second half, so take from this encounter just one point but further confirmation that our team is marching steadily up this Division. We kicked off attacking North Stand, with the same line-up that began the demolition of Torquay, excepting only that Alexander took over as central striker from Jevons, who in turn slotted in on the right to replace the broken Branch. So:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Keates Ashbee Green Jevons Alexander Elliott

And the game started, and we went 1-0 up. Really, no messing. 30 seconds? No more. Green made a run from deep, bursting through the centre to receive the ball with the Rushden midfield on its collective heels and their defence astonished at our attacking presumption. Inside the box, Green shoots, Sollitt saves, but the ball runs loose and Green capers to his right and gleefully slides it into the corner of the net. It was a tremendous beginning, putting City in control before we’d had any opportunity to size up the relative merits of the two sides. But once the game settled down it became plain that Rushden were no dummies. Anderson headed over the bar from a corner that was deftly flicked on at the near post, but then, in front of Bunkers, our defence was horribly exposed by a dangerous left-to-right ball and the diminutive Jamaican international Hall stretched but put the chance over the bar when he could and should have scored. Then Rushden’s other, more effective Jamaican, the giant Onandi Lowe, slid a sweet pass into space for Duane Darby – for it is he! – to chase, and we were relieved he didn’t have his Whitby head on as the low skidding shot flashed across the Muss and wastefully wide of the far post. Rushden looked the better side for a spell, but our midfield trio worked hard to maintain a balance. However, Keates and Ashbee have a worrying tendency to make themselves a target for referees. Keates was lucky to avoid a red card last Saturday, but was, by contrast, sorely unfortunate to get booked yesterday. An innocuous challenge left his immediate opponent sitting on his backside on the turf, entirely unhurt, but as the referee approached, his fingers rightly making no move towards his pocket, the non-leaguer threw himself into a spasm of writhing and groaning, and the ref, duped ridiculously easily, waved a yellow at a fed-up Keates. Another Estelle Morris of a match official, but even Cabinet Ministers seem readier to own up to basic inadequacies than football referees. Our turn for a dose of superiority, and an Elliott free-kick was headed in a loop up over the crossbar and on to the roof of the net by Anderson, under pressure from the visiting defence. Then Jevons crossed from the right and Elliott and Keates contrived to get in each other’s way and the glimpse of a shooting opportunity was lost. We had a few corners too and, in a radical departure from hallowed Hull City tradition, they were whipped in at pace and looked genuinely dangerous. An early imprint of the Taylor method? If the new manager not only abandons our woeful incompetence at corners but also gets players to show a bit of movement when we’re trying to take a throw-in, then we truly will be witnessing the rise of a New Hull City. But Rushden took a turn at pressing, and this time they equalised. Regan was harassed by Darby and surrendered possession feebly, only for Ashbee to intervene with a well-judged saving tackle just as Duane was readying himself for a shot. Then, from a corner, a ball to the back post was headed back across the face of our goal and thumped home on the half-volley from about eight yards out. We didn’t defend this set-piece particularly sturdily, but Rushden were value for their goal. On 45, Green dribbled through a couple of tackles and drifted a shot just wide of the post, and then it was half-time. 1-1: a decent game between two decent sides. Rushden started the second period on top. A surge through the centre was halted by resolute City defence, but Lowe, hopping from foot to foot in agitated manner, was right to be irate – he had been left in complete freedom and a pass to him, out on the left, would have left the Muss exposed. Lowe had the beating of Regan and looks a fine player for this Division, while we could be grateful that Duane, his partner, was being criminally under-used. Darby is a master at controlling the ball and shielding it from attentive defenders, but few such passes were being guided his way by his team-mates. Mr Taylor opted for a change. Williams replaced Elliott, and we switched to a more orthodox form of 4-4-2, with Green playing wide on the right side of midfield. The team gradually re-discovered its poise and took control. Alexander sent a venomous left-foot shot five yards wide. Green received the ball from Williams near the dead-ball line and, in a twinkling shimmy of white boots, he skated round his marker, only for Rushden to shovel the ball out desperately for a fruitless corner. Alexander and Williams combined well out on the left, only for the promising move to fall apart on the edge of the box as both left the ball to the other. Jevons and Delaney exchanged delightful passes, setting up Alexander for an effort that was held by Sollitt. Then Keates delivered a free-kick long to the back post, where Whittle headed back across the goalmouth and Sollitt again stretched to clutch the ball. This was impressive stuff from City. We were playing with appealing fluency and genuine conviction, and in this spell we were definitely worth a second goal. Delaney looks to me more like a midfielder than a left-back, which is to say he’s going to be vulnerable to exploitation defensively, but, with Elliott off, he was getting forward with panache and showing an eagerness to receive long passes. Jevons plays with his head up, but isn’t a natural goalscorer; Alexander is a natural goalscorer (which is something his growing collection of boo-boys, the same lamebrains who two years ago were whining on about the need to sign a 20-goal-a-season man, might wish to recall), but currently lacks confidence. Green is adding a bit more consistency to his performances with each game and, as beleaguered Rushden tried to waste time at every throw-in and every goal-kick, Green, now abandoning the right-side for the centre, was the man most likely to rip them apart. It was high-quality football from our team, but not quite incisive enough. Rushden still possessed menace – or, more specifically, Onandi Lowe did. A thumping header from Lowe was held by the Muss. Then Lowe skipped round Anderson with alarming ease before advancing to hit a left-foot shot wide of our goal. Time for another change, and Mr Taylor sent on Bradshaw for Jevons, and then Burton for Keates, playing the willowy and hugely promising youngster at left back, with Delaney stepping forward into midfield. The game is drawing to a close, but we’re still pressing, and Rushden are still hanging on nervously, selecting time-wasting as their main tactic. A Regan cross – Williams is foiled at the back post by alert defence. Another fine ball played in from right to left – Burton, gliding forward into space intelligently, just fails to get his forehead on the ball. It’s over, it’s 1-1. We were the better side, and Rushden were quite possibly the best-organised opponents we’ve faced this season. If, as seems logical from last season’s placings and this season’s results so far, Rushden are a good bet for promotion, then so are we.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Jevons, Alexander, Elliott.  Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 55), Bradshaw (for Jevons, 80), Burton (for Keates, 80), Peat, Deeney. Goals: Green 1 Booked: Ashbee, Keates Sent Off: None   RUSHDEN & DIAMONDS: Sollitt, Bignot, Peters, Tillson, Setchell, Hall, Gray, Mills, Bell, Darby, Lowe.  Subs: Wardley (for Bell, 73), Mustafa, Turley, Duffy, Dempster.. Goals: Gray 38 Booked: Bignot Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 10,659