Sheffield United 4 Hull City 1

So, imagine this for a minute. One day you get a call from Kim Jong Un’s office, informing you that the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea is to honour you with his presence at dinner chez vous. Aware that nothing is too good for the great socialist leaders of our time even though they prefer a more proletarian lifestyle for their subjects, you opt to rustle up a Beef Wellington. As you are about to set off for the shops, you are then informed that the Supreme Leader’s Head of Procurement will source the ingredients for you, so you sit and wait and finally, at quarter to six in the evening, a hamper is deposited on your doorstep containing a dented tin of chicken supreme, a torn packet of mung beans, a couple of fermenting peaches, two eggs, some manky-looking celeriac, a tub of dried parmesan ( the sort that smells like sick) a small carton of whipping cream past its “use by” date and a slab of margarine.

Not having the faintest idea how to conjure up a Beef Wellington from this list of goodies that you were not allowed to source, you whisk the whole lot together and roast it in beef dripping. The results aren’t too sound, so you stick it all in the steamer. That doesn’t help, so you dump the whole mess into the food processor and give it a good beating before deep frying it. That tastes even worse than the first attempt, so you put the mix into a bowl, microwave it and hope for the best. Needless to say, even the dog whimpers, more in sorrow than anger, when confronted with this final offering.

Still with me? Good, because the above is pretty much a fair representation of the challenges with which our manager has been faced and the manner in which he has attempted to meet them as at the present moment.

A cursory perusal of social media after this most recent debacle suggests an increasing feeling, if not yet a groundswell of opinion, that the manager should fall on his sword. There really isn’t any reason to suppose that The Idiot Son is going to sack him (despite the clear hints from the manager that such a move would not surprise him), but there is clearly a growing view among the City support that, given the appalling hand that has been dealt to him in terms of the timing of our recruitment and the fact that he seems to have had little if any influence over it ( a fact that that our owners would no doubt deny, but they have long since forfeited the right to be trusted or believed), Slutsky falling on his sword would not be a bad thing. If nothing else, it would create untold turmoil at Allam Towers, to say nothing of dropping The Idiot Son in the plop and landing this unholy mess well and truly back at his door where it deserves to be, with no cause for anyone to believe that an effective solution would be within his capability.

This is not to say that Slutsky is blameless, but one would feel more comfortable about sitting in judgement on him had he at least been given the opportunity to choose the tools with which to work. Anyway, The Idiot Son won’t sack him because it would cost the club more money than he mistakenly thinks that he has saved by delaying recruitment as late as he did.

Whether Slutsky stays or goes, he is not the main part of the problem. But he is part of it.

Let us just for a moment though go back to the players. OK, so they might not have been the ones that Slutsky would have chosen had Ehab simply handed him the cheque book on his appointment and told him to get on with his own recruitment. OK, so there are possibly a couple of crocks in there. OK, so we are perennially unlucky with injuries (or incompetent at protecting players from them and rehabilitating them when they do get them). But man for man we can and do still field an XI which is capable of doing decidedly better than the 20th spot in the table in which we currently find ourselves, and the attitude of the players has surely been a bit of an elephant in the room here as we debate over whether Ehab or Slutsky is the more guilty party. It was clear at the final whistle yesterday that the City support, often infuriatingly complacent and naive (if I see anyone on Twitter today gravely intoning that “perhaps it’s time for the Allams to consider their position” or some such guff I swear I’ll go and wire my fillings up to the mains), are finally getting this, as they really let the players know what they thought of them, gesturing to them just to get off the field and not to bother approaching the City end.

And whilst jeering your own team is seldom the thing to do, it wasn’t hard to see why the mood of the supporters yesterday was so especially vituperative. The first 45 minutes yesterday was as creditable a stint as the team has put in for quite a while away from home. Yes, we were under the cosh for periods and McGregor made a couple of important saves, but we gave as good as we got and more, taking the lead with a fine goal, having a near nailed-on penalty appeal turned down, the Blunts looking uncomfortable every time City crossed the halfway line, the midfield in fully functioning mode, Tomori and Dawson looking composed at the back and all of that underpinned by 45 minutes of tireless graft. Right from the start of the second period, though, it was clear that everything had evaporated, and when it took our hosts a mere seven minutes to get back on terms it all just collapsed completely, and we could neither do anything right nor apparently summon up the will to do so. The half was a bad as the first had been good, and more.

Now you could argue that maintaining the correct mental attitudes is the manager’s job, and no reasonable observer would argue with that. However, these players have a responsibility too. It’s inconceivable that the farrago of slackness and half-arsed commitment that we saw in the second half was served up on the manager’s instructions, so why did it happen? And no, not because the players are distracted because the fans are at the throats of the owners, even though you might argue that Slutsky has not perhaps been as successful at shielding his players from the strife as some of his predecessors were. The City players need to examine their own role in our poor start to the season a little more searchingly.

With Slutsky’s hand forced to an extent, selection-wise, by injuries and suspensions, City lined up as expected:-

McGregor

Aina Dawson Tomori Clark

Larsson Meyler Grosicki

Irvine Bowen

Campbell

Subs: Stewart (for Larsson, 63 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 69 min), Henriksen (for Irvine, 82 min).

In classically-autumnal conditions, the game kicks off with City, in all white, defending a Bramall Lane end whose lower tier was very well filled with Tigerfolk. McGregor makes his first save on 4 minutes, while at this very early stage in the proceedings City seem content to go sideways or backwards at a leisurely pace, even when a break looks on. When the Blunts are allowed two or three unopposed touches in our box it’s beginning to look as though the ghastly predictions of the outcome of the game that peppered the conversation in the pre-match pub would be bang on the money.

Then on 9 minutes we apply a bit of pressure, culminating in a Grosicki cross-cum-shot flashing across the face of the goal. Suddenly we don’t look as uncomfortable, and up for a fight. And on 12 we attack again. It looks as though Campbell is fouled but referee Bond waves play on. Larsson’s shot is blocked and when he gets a further go home keeper Moore saves.

Suddenly this looks more like a contest, even more so on 18 when Clarke is allowed a free header at point-blank range from Duffy’s cross but McGregor saves magnificently.

A little later I write, “We seem to be competing. You wouldn’t back us, but…”. “But” indeed. For just before the half-hour we take a not-undeserved lead. Our fully-functioning midfield work the leather out to Grosicki on the left, who cuts inside and hits a curling effort from just over 20 yards. Sadly it’s straight at Moore…..except that suddenly it’s in the back of the net. My initial reaction was that the keeper had blundered. My companions insisted that the swerve on the ball foxed him, and looking at the goal on Channel 5 last night I think they were right: it was a very fine strike. Oh, and one of theirs nobbled Irvine in the confusion.

Seven minutes on and we should have had a penalty. it looked at though Campbell’s flick past the last defender was stopped by a flailing arm and once again Channel 5 settled the issue: the arm in question had no need to be where it was. So that’s another entry for the book I’m writing, to be entitled, “The Lost Penalties of Bramall Lane”.

McGregor tips over from O’Connell, but we’re soon roaring back up to the other end, where Aina is felled and promptly booked for simulation. He didn’t seem too cross about it, so fair enough, and we aren’t subdued for long. Grosicki feeds Tomori, whose cross is fubled by Moore and the leather rebounds out to Grosicki who only has time to snatch at it. It nevertheless looks goalbound from 120 yards away, but soars just wide of the far post.

The rest of the half is spent under sustained Sheffield pressure, which begins when Tomori concedes a silly foul and only ends after four corners in succession which we defend heroically, bodies being thrown in the way of the leather with gay abandon, players clearly pumped up but with the situation always looking under control. And so we see out what was really a most commendable half, which showed exactly what these players are capable of.

As I made my way to the somewhat-congested (and highly riotous) concourse at half-time I caught up with TigChatter Julian Daniel, whose first observation was, “We need that second goal”. Yeah, and, unbeknown to us at the time, the third, fourth and fifth. It’s still well nigh impossible to work out what the hell happened in the second half, and in particular how we managed to deteriorate so alarmingly after having the measure of the Blunts in the first period.

Straight from the the start you could tell that something was wrong. Aided by a referee who seemed to be giving them everything (not that I’m pinning the blame for yesterday’s loss on it, but why do we never seem to get a fair crack of the whip at Bramall Lane?) the home side take the ascendancy from the off. Two minutes in and McGregor is called into action, saving a header from a dodgy free kick. It’s a short-lived respite, though, for five minutes later and our hosts are on level terms. Carter-Vickers drills in a cross, Tomori fails to get tight enough on Clarke and the Sheffield number 9 curls the leather into the far corner. A similar goal – except that it was from the other side – to Proschwitz’s in the famous Cardiff promotion game.

A rare City break sees Aina put his cross too close to Moore, and this heralds a brief spell during which we actually steady the ship. We don’t actually create any proper chances, but neither do they and indeed, to coin a random expression, one might have said that the game had entered a bit of a formless phase. Normal service is resumed on 68, though, when the City defence is completely asleep as Sheffield attempt a short corner and Clarke misses an open goal from Fleck’s unchallenged cross, shooting straight at McGregor.

It gets worse. On 73 Clark prevents a certain goal by diverting a Sharp effort for a corner, from which O’Connell plants his free header wastefully wide.

It then gets even worse still. After Irvine fires over, Clarke is sent haring into the box in the insider right channel and dinks the leather over McGregor.

It then gets even worse than that, Clark getting his hat-trick after waiting virutally unopposed by the far post to nod home a Sharp cross. We really have gone to pieces now.

The fourth Sheffield goal rally does put the tin lid on it: it’s a veritable microcosm of the second half. Dawson falls over on his bottom as if someone has laced both his boots together and the ball runs loose to, inevitably, Clarke, who nonchalantly passes the leather into the unguarded net. Pure slapstick. Proof, if it were needed, that City really have given up all pretence of defending now. The gloating tone of the PA announcer, and the triumphalist brayings of a home support who had sweet FA to say for themselves during the first half, don’t do a great deal to lift the mood among the City faithful, if truth be told.

The last goal came with two minutes of normal time on the clock, and you really wouldn’t bet against our hosts adding to their tally. In the event, we spend it and the three minutes (bit of pity taken on us by the ref there) of added time passing the ball backwards and sideways, and committing the occasional foul.

And that’s it. The away section reverberates to a thunderous chorus of “What the fucking hell was that?” and it’s made clear to Meyler (now, incidentally, shorn of his facial fungus) that the fans are in no mood to show any kind of appreciation to the players. Mercifully, we are then free to leave.

So, where do we go from here? Safely back in the warmth and comfort of the pub, I overheard another prominent Tiger Chatter observe to a home supporter, “Well, at the moment we have our problems, of course…”. A delightfully understated remark. For is not the truth of the matter that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss with the sound of the ground crumbling beneath our feet? The other complacent utterings at the top of the City fan soundbite charts and that make we want to dance with exasperation every time they are sounded are “We are too good to go down” and “This is a season of consolidation”. OK, so it’s still very early doors, but we’ve still passed that point in the season where the table has become a fair reflection of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in it.

Maybe Ehab’s chickens are now properly coming home to roost, and if they are there’s no sign of any respite at all, Slutsky’s insistence that he will “find the answers” notwithstanding. All that a resurgence in form will do is increase the likelihood of more cashing in by the owners come the next transfer window. This looks a proper downward spiral now, and not one that will be reversed unless and until not just the supporters, but the community as a whole, turn their back on the Allams and make it clear that they and their money are not wanted around here. However, enough people and organisations are already beholden to Allams, by virtue of having already taken their shilling, to ensure that that is a most fanciful outcome.

For all (IMHO) his lack of tactical prowess and fondness for communicating with the media in tiresome cliches, you have to commend Steve Bruce for his prescience and wisdom in getting out when he did.

La Nuvola Nera

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 Sheffield United 3

Another top of the table side – Sheffield United – receive a decent going over by the Tigers before easing to a victory as the City challenge fades. In this case, the Blades allied fortune to good play in order to eke out a result.

Deja vu.

This game had peculiarly loud echoes of the one at Leeds four days ago. We played some very decent football in the first half, reached stoppage time level (albeit at 1-1 last night, not 0-0) but conceded a very late goal and then, confronted by another goal which doubled our opponent’s advantage soon after the break, largely ran out of steam (and self-belief) second half.

Deja vu all over again.

The creepy feeling of having been here before was not confined to the short-term perspective of comparing last night with Elland Road on New Year’s Eve. There were much longer-term demons that came rattling back to make us suffer last night. Younger fans will, I hope, have looked forward to the first renewal in many years of a fixture which was by far our most regular local match in the mad bad 70s and 80s, and which frequently brought wild scenes around Hull Station, on Anlaby Road and the Ark’s car park, as well as round the back of Bramall Lane’s John Street stand, a seriously intimidating corridor which separated the away end from Sheffield Midland station. Skirmishing of that type and on that scale is no longer part of football, but it was heartening to see a Proper Travelling Support populating the Circle’s North Stand last night, and a suitably ferocious atmosphere was the result, at least for the first hour or so. But what was also a hallmark of those past games was rank injustice. Time and again we would be cheated by the Blades, by referees or by ill-luck that so consistently helped out our opponents that it could be explained only by a red-and-white pact with Satan (a coincidence that the demonic Neil Warnock is now their manager? I think not). So it was last night. Again. They equalised courtesy of a ludicrous deflection, of a type so absurd that you could watch football week in, week out for a decade and never again see its like – unless your itinerary included visits to Sheffield United v Hull City games. And they scored the decisive goal of the match in added time at the end of the first half as a result of a moment of criminally negligent refereeing. A blatant shove in the back on Price was ignored, the space where the fouled Price should have been was exploited and the ball was in our net. Our players protested long and loud, Mr Taylor joined in, the crowd hooted in disbelief and fury. Sheffield smirked. They know their history.

On duty on an evening modestly warmer than the sub-zero conditions that greeted Ipswich were:

Myhill
France Cort Collins Dawson
Price Andrews Delaney Elliott
Paynter Barmby

No Lynch, no surprise, but otherwise an orthodox 4-4-2, with Elliott and Barmby swapping positions regularly during the early exchanges. These were lively and largely well-balanced, until the first chance arrived on 13 – messy Tiger defence encouraged a sharp shot from ten yards, brilliantly parried by Boaz.

After that, however, we began to look the better side. On 18 Price sends a long cross sailing in from right to left, and Barmby, running alertly to the back post, is squeezed out at the expense of a corner. A couple of minutes later Barmby, displaying bristling aggression as we attack the goal in front of the rancid Blade hordes, chips cleverly up and over Kenny, who twists in retreat to fingertip the ball over the crossbar. From the corner Elliott makes poor contact with an inviting cross.

And then we score.

It’s not any old goal. If you weren’t there, make a point of seeking it out on television. If you were there, you don’t need me to tell you to go look at it again – and again.

Jason Price. He smacked it in from 25 yards. With his left boot. Making the ball curve and dip like Rivelino. Rippling the netting as the hapless Kenny flew through the air in beaten despair, his mouth agape at the audacity and genius of the strike.

He’s had a good holiday period, has Jason Price, and this was simply glorious.

A couple of minutes later a free-kick on the edge of the box allows Dawson to test Kenny, who tips the effort over the bar. But soon after, the scores are level, and in desperately unfortunate – though historically unsurprising – circumstances.

It’s a waft of a shot, it’s not going anywhere dangerous. It hits Dawson – in fact, it seems to hit him not once but twice – and spins up in the air, wobbling crazily. Boaz is hopelessly and, of course, entirely excusably wrong-footed. The ball, cavorting drunkenly as if on its way home from a torrid New Year party, could feasibly career out for a throw, behind for a goal-kick, back up the pitch into midfield … but no, it spins wickedly inside the post and into our net.

1-1, which is less than we deserve, but shortly afterwards, on 35, we are agonisingly close to regaining the lead. A free-kick into the box, a flick-on, and Cort smashes a right-foot volley towards the near corner of Kenny’s goal. It looks in. It’s saved. Brilliantly saved. Sheffield have a pair of porkers on the pitch in Shipperley and Unsworth, and keeper Paddy Kenny is no waif either, yet he belies his unathletic figure with a wonderfully agile stoop to his left to push Cort’s fierce shot on to the post and back out into play, where the ball is cleared.

A great chance, but great defiance by Kenny. But he should have been picking the ball out of the net five minutes later. Price surges through two tackles, Elliott crosses low and hard into the box and Paynter, judging his run down the middle to perfection, escapes the defence and has only to slide the inviting opportunity into the net. He runs over the ball and somehow contrives to let it bobble loose behind him.

And then, during stoppage time at the end of the half, the game is won.

This second goal was so disgraceful that I am doing my health no good at all forcing myself to relive its pain. Ghastly. I mean, it couldn’t have been more obvious. Price had the ball inside their half, their man came in sneakily from behind, barged him in the small of the back, sending him crashing to the turf … and the referee, though well positioned, simply waved play on. Webber picked up the ball in the inside left channel and he was in space – well, of course he was in space, the relevant opponent, Jason Price, had just been taken out of the game unlawfully. Webber sprinted clear, ducked inside and fired an unstoppable low shot past Boaz’s left glove, and a fine finish it was, but most strikers in this Division will score at will if their support players are allowed to clear away potential tackles and create space by fouling the opposition.

Sheffield Bloody United.

Into the second half. We’d played well. But I’m afraid I didn’t think we’d have the energy to get back into this game now. And I think the players felt the same way.

On 47 Shipperley skipped past Collins with alarming ease and crossed to the back post, where Boaz produced a fine block to a well-struck shot. A corner, a melee, a shot hard against our crossbar. And then on 53 we’re opened up down the right, quick passing, across the box, low shot, 3-1.

And that’s the end of that.

Curtis and Green replaced Andrews and Elliott on 62, with Price and Paynter taking on the front-running duties until Price himself came off in favour of Ellison on 72. But Sheffield United looked capable of adding a fourth through most of the middle stages of the second period. Webber danced round a sluggish Collins with impudent ease before scuffing a shot comically feebly at Myhill; a header from a corner flew narrowly too high. Dispiriting stuff. But later on we showed more dogged determination than we had in drooping at Leeds, and had slightly the better of the last ten or twelve minutes, though the only moment of goalmouth excitement involved a Cort header at the back post, firmly directed into the sidenetting. I think our opponents were easing down long before the finish.

Jammy equaliser. Disgraceful refereeing handing them a winner. Hull City versus Sheffield United. The sheeted dead rise up and gibber anew.

Onwards. For reasons of local pride as well as salvation in this Division, it would have been precious to have extracted points from these games at Leeds and home to Sheffield United, but the core of our campaign to stay up will be built on good results against other teams likely, like us, to finish in the lower third of the table. By my reckoning we’ve only got one such fixture at home over the next two months. So we need to be bloody-minded against the stronger teams we meet at home and we need to improve our results away. And get Coles back fit as soon as possible, reinstate Welsh in midfield and buy someone to do the goalpoaching task that McPhee was intended to fulfil. Give it a couple of years and we’ll be as resilient and as well-organised as Leeds and Sheffield United, and we’ll have as strong a squad too – but only sale of our souls will allow us to match the Blades for sheer good luck.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Dawson; Price, Andrews, Delaney, Elliott; Paynter, Barmby. Subs: Woodhouse (for Andrews, 62), Green (for Elliott, 62), Ellison (for Price, 72), Lynch, Duke.

Goals: Price 23

Booked: Woodhouse

Sent Off: None

 

SHEFFIELD UNITED: Kenny, Geary, Bromby, Morgan, Unsworth, Ifill, Jagielka, Tonge, Armstrong, Shipperley, Webber. Subs: Gillespie (for Ifill, 76), Montgomery (for Tonge, 80), Kabba, Quinn, Kozluk.

Goals: Ifill 31; Webber 45; Armstrong 52

Booked: Unsworth, Webber

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: M Thorpe

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