Hull City 2 Scunthorpe United 0

A dominant City performance sweeps aside a stunned South Bank eleven.  Mark Gretton reports on late goals, jubilation and a naked man.
For the busy amongst you we won 2-0, deserved pressure finally bringing two late goals, making us unbeaten in 5 since Molby departed and, just to keep it all in perspective, keeping us 11 points off the leaders, 7 points off a promotion spot and 4 points out of the playoff zone, as we occupy an 11th place that was considered catastrophic when we ended up there at the end of the last campaign.Right, now bollocks to perspective. We were excellent on Saturday, settling into an easy rhythm from the outset, dictated throughout by the marvellous Stuart Green. The boy really can play. When I tell you that older supporters were likening him to the wondrous Theodore Whitmore then you can imagine what we witnessed. He shimmered, he shone, he floated and he completely dismantled a Scunt side that had as severe a chasing on our greensward as I can remember. Ah, poor Scunny! Now I enjoy a good local derby as much as the next, so it saddens me that we don’t get to play any.  For a start such matches have to be, well, local, not between places 30 miles apart. Remember that for North Lincolnshire folk, who regard somewhere like Newark the way that the rest of us might regard Atlantis, 30 miles is equivalent to interstellar travel. They are not local, they are not our neighbours. And they are rubbish. But now is not the time to be patronising. I’ll do that a bit later. We lined up thus:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Ashbee Keates Williams Jevons Alexander

And we played towards the North Stand and pretty full it was too as though the visiting fans thought they might not be completely outclassed. And for the first 10 minutes, strange to relate, that proved to be the case. They had a couple of free kicks, one scuffed wide, one well held by Musselwhite and then Calvo-Garcia advanced and shot past the post. The visitors were holding their own whilst we seemed to be coming to terms with the fact that, though Williams was playing wide on the left, Green was not a mirror image on the right and we initially looked a little lop-sided as Green wandered and Regan hung back. But then after what had looked like random brush strokes leaving only a few splodges on the canvas, as the Kempton wondered aloud is this art?, the brush was seized by Stuart Green and our afternoon went from Turner Prize tosh to Fine Art majesty. He drifted from right to left, occupied the centre, tackled, passed and prompted and what had looked a slightly clunky mechanism suddenly meshed sweetly. A typical interchange with Keates made room on the right and Regan, doing what he does best, was suddenly keen to overlap and a good cross went behind for a corner. Next up he wandered over to the left flank and set Williams away, the Scunts again clearing at the expense of a corner. After 20 minutes Alexander shot wide after a sumptuous move from the right as the Keates/ Regan axis was again launched by the ubiquitous Green. Then Green won a free kick that Keates put wide, then a Green run to the left resulted in a corner from which Delaney shot narrowly wide. My notes at this stage said ‘it’s all us’ – but you’ve probably gathered that and also, as Joy Division would have put it, that everything had gone Green. The Scunts, well, what can we say? I know they seethe at the thought of us being a big club, so I won’t use that term in order to avoid giving offence, but they really looked out of their depth. For the baseball fans amongst you it was as though the Duluth-Superior Dukes, plucky minor league outfit, had unaccountably wandered into the major league and were getting a seeing to from the mighty Minnesota Twins. In all honesty I hadn’t expected them to be this poor. After all, in Torpey and Carruthers they have a nineteen goal strikeforce so far this term and thick-as-mince manager Brian Laws had remembered this time that Calvo-Garcia was a midfield player and played him accordingly instead of at the heart of the defence as he did here last season. Their other star ( I know, I know) is ex-Bradford, SheffU and Everton serial failure Peter Beagrie who enjoyed a comically useless afternoon. We are told that Beagrie is injured, but that is to do less than justice to a complete waster of a footballer who can produce displays of such mediocrity when fit as a flea. Anyway he lasted well into the second half, so presumably the manager felt, useless though he undoubtedly was, he was better than what he had sat next to him on the bench. As this included Lee Ridley and Steve Ridley but not, sadly for us Dad’s Army fans, Arnold Ridley, perhaps this was understandable. You did feel at times as though Private Godfrey, or even his sister Dolly, might have brought more to the Scunts table. But perhaps they felt they needed Beagrie’s presence when they are playing such an, er, sizeable club as us. The Stuart Green show continued as he put Jevons through for a shot that was blocked for another corner and then set up Jevons again, the striker this time cleverly juggling the ball before getting in his cross that again was cleared for a corner. Green wasn’t the only impressive midfielder on view. Keates was busy and skilful and Ashbee continues to surprise, combining his major role of buttressing the defence with supporting the attack as the extra man whenever possible. The ‘opposition’ were now visibly flustered, perhaps due to playing against such a large club, and the cracks were appearing. Beagrie got a good shouting at from a hard working defender and was now virtually a second left back. It didn’t help. The keeper and proper full back got in a right tizzy, each left the ball for the other, then both hoped it would run out of play. It didn’t, but Jevons didn’t react as quickly as he might have done and the chance passed although the laughter from the Tigerfolk went on through the half-time interval. A fine half, good football, but the final pass hadn’t quite been there and the Scunt central defence had stood up to it well. Second half and we carried on, a high speed move between Green, natch, Alexander and Ashbee filleted them again but again there was no finish and we just started to fret that it might be one of those afternoons, that can sometimes bedevil huge clubs playing against minnows. And the Scunts got going! No, really, they did. A bright move ended in a free kick and Musselwhite custoded the leather in typically assured fashion. He might have had to work harder when the torpid Torpey roused himself briefly to screw, and I use the term advisedly, a shot wide. A bad miss from a man having a very bad game. At the other end Alexander headed a difficult chance wide from Green’s cross and then Jevons badly wasted a free header. But we didn’t let up, Keates and Williams linked on the left and little Ryan ran directly at ’em before shooting past the post. Next up Jevons tried the run and shot thingy and got his on target as the keeper fubled and seemed to have let it past him but then got up with great nonchalance to clear his lines with an ‘I meant that, y’know’ air about him. I suspect the lining of his shorts told a different story. Elliott came on for Jevons and this produced no let up for the Scunt defence as the sub turned refulgently but spoiled it by tumbling over too easily as he burst into the area. The referee waved away our howls of anguish and he was probably right to. Branch came on for Williams and Tigerinsecurity grew as Elliott gave away a daft free kick on the edge of our box, in rather the same way that Hodges duped us last time. But the Scunts have lost their gifted fatboy, lured away by moneybags Rochdale, an humongous club I reckon, and no-one in the visitors line up made us pay as the wall blocked the shot. Like a wall, it was. So we were in the last five minutes and we still hadn’t broken through. But with rain pelting down, the Scunts dam was finally breached. The defence unaccountably watched a ball run towards their line, but Damien Delaney didn’t, he charged after it and, better yet, he reached it and dragged it back. Michael Branch was there and he drilled it between the keepers knees and joy was unconfined. There was no way back for the visitors and they clearly knew it, not even making a token effort to go forward. But the best for us was still to come, the loping Delaney got a ball forward that looked again as though it should have been the defender’s but Gary Alexander, having spent the afternoon buffeting and barging, got on the end of it, got inside his man and then wellied it past the keeper in a fashion to put Manc disaster Diego Forlan to shame. A glorious finish to the game. Unlike Forlan, Gary has scored many goals and so celebrated modestly and kept his shirt on, but one fan didn’t, leaping o-er the greensward with tackle out. He’d either done this incredibly quickly or he’d been stood au naturelle since the first goal, but he looked pretty well made, the blokes round me thought it looked a good 8 inches, the women thought 2. But we’d won, and it was wonderfully pleasing, not just because it was another three points and further signs that Peter Taylor really is doing things right, but because we’d never wavered in our desire to play proper football and beat the opposition senseless with it. The goals were late but they were no less deserved for that. ‘Brain’ Laws bleated that the goals came from defensive errors and they did, but that was a result of them being asked to work without a let up from the outset. In truth, their defenders were the only ones who can look back on their afternoon’s ‘effort’ with any satisfaction at all. Torpey and Carruthers were appalling and the midfield seemed to have given up long before the end. As we filed out, watching disconsolate Scunts standing in the good old Hull downpour whilst we walked past them and shouted words of encouragement and consolation, they were probably thinking, like Groucho Marx, that they’d had a great time, but this wasn’t it. In truth they’ve had a number of good days at the Ark over the years, more than we might like to admit. But they were spanked this time, as the Americans and we fetishists like to say. I suppose that’s what happens sometimes when you’re up against a real behemoth of a club.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Jevons.  Subs: Elliott (for Jevons, 63), Branch (for Williams, 78), Burton, Peat, Deeney.Goals: Branch 85, Alexander 90 Booked: Delaney, Elliott Sent Off: None   SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Evans, Stanton, McCombe, Balmer, Dawson, Barwick, Graves, Calvo-Garcia, Beagrie, Carruthers, Torpey.  Subs: Featherstone (for Barwick, 45), Brough (for Beagrie, 73), L Ridley, S Ridley, Collins. Goals: None Booked: Balmer, Beagrie, Dawson. Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 11,885

Scunthorpe United 3 Hull City 1

Derby day comes around and while there are small signs of improvement, there is no let-up in tactical switches and ultimate defeat.  Mike Scott struggles to see the bright side as the club descends towards the relegation dogfight.
OK, this was another nudge in the right direction. A reasonable performance that only diminished when the home team hit a rather undeserved but well taken third goal with just under 10 minutes left. There were some decent personal performances. This was a long way better than Southend, the low point of the season, indeed the low point of the last 5 years. But was it good enough? No. The question that was asked of me as we trudged out of the Meccano Stadium was “can we avoid going down?”. And of course my knee jerk reaction was “yes, of course, there’s no way we can get relegated”. But then I started to consider the facts. 22nd in Div Three has been secured in the last five years with 46, 48, 40, 51 and 41 points (the latter was us in 97/8). There is no dead duck at the foot of the table this year, so a target of 45-48 points is likely to secure the last position of safety. That means City needs another 7-10 points, or 2-3 wins. There are 14 games left. We have the worst form guide rating in the division, we haven’t won in six. We are slowly regaining some semblance of form, but it is painfully slow. We haven’t got much time left. We need to turn this around. We need to defend better. Yes, we can go down. But I don’t know that we will. Yet. “Stability” is the typical cry of City fans, just before the suggestion that we need two new signings and three current first teamers dropping. I do it myself, we’re allowed. Taylor likes to tinker with the team week on week, I think we can safely establish that. Today we went with a 3-4-1-2 formation that defended well in the first half but lacked cutting edge, then attacked better in the second half and gave away three goals from breakaways. It’s like that “hammer the raccoons’ heads” game in the amusements at Whitby – press down on one raccoon and another pops up. Press down on one City deficiency and another one pops up. Mr Taylor is having a lot of trouble with his team at the moment. He’ll probably change it again next week. Good. Smith and Williams both played poorly today and are undeserving of another start for a while. Webb trundled around willingly but looks like a tall fit kid who can’t play football very well. We might as well play Wade Dooley up front. Or Kareem Abdul Jabaar. And most bizarre of all, Taylor chooses the day that Stuart Green is out of favour with the club and about to move to Carlisle to play a formation that would’ve fitted perfectly his skills, strengths and, let’s not forget them, his weaknesses. So off we went on a chilly but sun-drenched day on the North Lincolnshire badlands lining up thus:

Fettis Joseph Whittle Delaney Regan Ashbee Keates Smith Williams Webb Forrester

It looked a bit more attacking, except the attacking width was provided by defenders – one decent at going forward, one terrible at going forward, both poor at defending. Smith was the one to fail on both counts. Williams was in the hole – they should’ve filled it in with Ryan at the bottom. Elliott – an international in the week – on the bench for the team 14th in Division Three. Green in the stand. Still too much craziness for my liking. As said before, this was an improved performance in terms of effort. The degree to which this was down to the galvanising effect of the local derby can only be gauged next week, but nonetheless the Tigers came out fighting from the off. Where in recent weeks responsibility was abdicated, now two players were going for the same headers – Delaney and Whittle in the opening minutes, Delaney and anyone else in the vicinity for the rest of the game – there was no doubting young Damien’s fire and passion today. His defending wasn’t too shabby either, while it is true to say that two of Scunnie’s three goals were scored by runs down his channel the fact is that Damien was upfield on attacking duties on both occasions and others failed to deal with the situations presented. City started OK as Scunthorpe looked a little nervous. Ex-Crewe man Smith advanced down the left and fed Forrester out wide. Our new striker, roundly booed by his former south bank idolisers for much of the game, lobbed in a low cross that Webb latched onto but failed to hit with sufficient sweetness and Evans in the Scunt goal smothered gratefully. But after ten or so minutes the home side exerted a firm grip on the game, centred on sending the ball directly into our box for the youngster Hayes and the experienced Carruthers to knock down either to each other or onrushing midfielders. While City repelled these thrusts and went in at 0-0 one can’t help but think that with a little more luck the home side could’ve opened their account – the home fans, who had seen their side’s form dip in recent weeks, must’ve feared the worst. Calvo-Garcia, Hayes and Calvo-Garcia again hit three good chances inches wide, while a Ridley shot and a Carruthers prod drew good saves from Fettis. On countless other occasions the three centre halves nodded and tackled in a last-ditch kind of way, while City offered little or nothing in return at the other end. Only in first half injury time did the Tigers threaten the Scunt goal when a deep Williams corner was headed meatily goalward by Whittle only to see Evans scuttle sideways to scoop the ball round the post. At half time we were “entertained” by the Glanford mascot Scunny Bunny. This furry affair spent at least ten minutes standing in the centre circle staring menacingly at the City fans while Roary entertained the young mascot for the day. The Bunny swayed around in the manner of someone under the influence of alcoholic fluids. He couldn’t join in the footie as he had huge inflatable comedy boots on. He clearly couldn’t see through his costume very well. So he limited himself to passing the time of day with the fork-wielding groundsman. I bet the Scunthorpe kids loved it! The second half started very brightly for the Tigers and we sustained a five minute spell of intense pressure right from the off. Joseph bunged a throw-in to an unmarked Regan wide right and the full back’s cross was cleared for a corner. This was defended badly by Scunny and the ball fell to Ashbee whose goalbound shot was deflected wide. From the second corner the ball was served up to Whittle eight yards out, his shot was saved well by the diving Evans. A couple of other crosses were put dangerously into the Scunnie box and were dealt with in a flap. And then a goal – at the other end. A corner was cleared hastily to Hayes on halfway, who turned and set off goalwards. Regan was brushed aside easily and then Smith treated us to just about the limpest leg-wave half-tackle that we’ll see this season and Hayes was away on goal. As he reached the edge of Fettis’s box he had the confidence to lash a right foot shot that hit the top left corner as he looked, giving our Ulsterman netminder no chance. A short spell of pressure for City, yet 1-0 down after crap tackling. A couple of minutes later poor defending resulted in Hayes again getting through on goal, but the good save he drew from Fettis with his shot was rendered pointless by the lineman’s flag. Then Calvo-Garcia went through a couple of tackles before hurling himself groundwards as Whittle challenged. It was so far away that I couldn’t see how serious the felony was, but as the home side screamed “penalty!” referee Parkes, equipped with two very shiny legs, signalled a City free kick and motioned a dive. This seemed to knock Scunthorpe out of their stride for a while and City got a brief upper hand. Elliott replaced the totally ineffective Williams and we went with three forwards. Correctly, in my opinion – it worked for a time and soon we equalised. Joseph and Regan rode a couple of weak challenges on the Scunt left and Joseph’s cross found Forrester, who swivelled neatly and hit a shot which deflected off a defender’s foot up and over Evans and into the net. A burst of Tigery relief blasted forth from the Caparo Stand and Forrester punched the air gleefully as he received the adulation due for his first strike in Black and Amber. Within 2 minutes of the restart a fine Ashbee tackle and pass on halfway fed Elliott down the unattended inside left channel, but his run onto goal culminated in a shot that was screwed uglily wide. City continued to press for the quarter hour between 60 and 75 minutes as Scunthorpe withdrew into their shell. Delaney booted a clearance which Beagrie elected to watch drop a couple of yards behind him and his arrant laziness was punished as Regan took up the cudgels and advanced towards the byline. His fine cross was met by Elliott at the back post two yards out, but once again the Ulsterman fluffed as he skied a shot that might’ve been easier to score. Not quite Ronnie Rosenthal, but not far short. Then Scunthorpe did us again. A rare foray over the halfway line on 75 minutes saw a punted long cross descend just under Fettis’s crossbar. Rather than touch it over for a corner Fettis got his directions wrong and succeeded only to spoon the ball onto the head of Sparrow two yards out, who gratefully nodded it into an open net. It was a spawny goal in many respects, but Fettis must take the principal share of the blame. Musselwhite’s views on the matter have not yet been recorded. Soon after a corner fell to Jackson and his defender’s shot was cleared off the line. On 81 a slick passing combination down the right engineered Sparrow a run through our defence. As half hearted tackles rained in, Sparrow slalomed through pleasingly before firing a low shot just inside Fettis’s left hand post. From 1-1 and looking poised to score a winner and end Taylor’s jinx, poor play from our back line had seen Scunthorpe take an emphatic 3-1 lead within six minutes. The game died as a spectacle and even the combined prowess of Dudfield and Melton, introduced for Smith and Forrester, couldn’t spark a revival. We lost. Again. Let’s review the evidence. The 3-5-2 looked to provide a better balance between attack and defence when we got hold of the game. When we were pushed back it was the inability of Webb and Forrester to hold the ball and relieve the pressure that did for us rather than the formation. Yet can you say a new defensive line-up has worked when you concede 3 goals? Whatever the chosen formation of Mr Taylor, let’s STICK WITH IT. Let’s get the best players in the squad in their best positions. That’s Burton at left wing back. That’s Smith and Webb in the reserves. That’s Williams on the bench. Perhaps that’s Green rehabilitated and placed in behind the front two of Forrester and “A Big Man” of your choice. Anderson’s return next week may well see us go back to a back four, or a back three with Delaney wide left. More tinkering I’m afraid, but we must continue to strive to find better form than that currently on show – because make no mistake we are showing relegation form, even if we do eventually escape relegation by a handsome margin. I think Taylor would be well advised to consider the remaining games as a relegation dogfight rather than a play-off push. Promotion is gone. Let’s stay in this division.

HULL CITY: Fettis, Joseph, Whittle, Delaney, Regan, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Smith, Webb, Forrester.  Subs: Elliott (for Williams, 62), Dudfield (for Forrester, 84), Melton (for Smith, 84), Burton, Musselwhite. Goals: Forrester 65 Booked: None Sent Off: None   SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Evans, Stanton, Jackson, Byrne, Ridley, Sparrow, Calvo-Garcia, Kilford, Beagrie, Carruthers, Hayes.  Subs:  McCombe (for Carruthers, 85), Brough (for Beagrie, 89), Graves (for Kilford, 89), Parton, Capp. Goals: Hayes 50, Sparrow 76, 82 Booked: Calvo-Garcia, McCombe Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 6,284