|A low key performance ended in a City double strike and three points. Steve Weatherill describes how we rekindled those play-off hopes for one more week.|
|Winning’s everything – perhaps. Winning was the full extent of what we took from this thoroughly drab game, in which entertainment was meagre as an unmistakable end-of-season feel came early to the Circle. Shrewsbury, for whom the end of the season might yet deliver a grisly downfall, deserved to get beaten, for they played with a poverty of ambition during the second half that made no sense and earned them righteous defeat. We were worth a win secured by two strikes in the game’s concluding ten minutes. But whereas the last time we won 2-0 at home against a side that had held on grimly to a point until capitulating late on was one of the most satisfying games of recent seasons – I refer to the demolition of the Scunts back in November – this victory was pale and forgettable. Just doing enough on a gloriously sunny Spring afternoon were a 4-4-2:
Fettis Otsemobor Joseph Anderson Delaney Reeves Keates Melton Elliott Walters Forrester
If it had been a Formula One race the green light would have flicked on and the drivers would have calmly inspected their fingernails and checked the smoothness of their shave in the mirror before switching on their ignition. Had it been a horse race, the stalls would have been flung dramatically wide open, and the nags would have peered out and delivered a gallic equine shrug, as if they really did have better things to do than pound up hill and down dale with some skinny runt on their back, arse in the air and whip in hand. The early stages of this match were not formless. They were static. But it really was a beautiful afternoon. After a few minutes had drifted gently by, some football type things started to happen. Walters chipped the ball over the bar – a deft touch, but there was no serious danger for the visitors. Then Steve Melton was presented with possession just outside the box. A left-foot shot was inviting, but instead the twinkle-toed magician skipped to his left, away from the danger area, and executed a sublime pass straight on to the toe-end of a defender, who Kicked It Very Hard Into The Stand. Teams need players who can do this. The mighty Shrews built their defence around the giant Matt Redmile, who cannot be less than 25 stone nowadays and is able to win possession simply by allowing his immense gravitational force to draw the football towards him. This skill helpfully compensates for his own inability to move his bulking hulk anywhere other than at a snail’s pace. A big snail, mind. A really big snail. Jason van Blerk plays for them too. He looked much as he did when he wore amber and black. Sort of OK. Not too bad. Alright really. I’d forgotten about his existence totally, to be honest. Anyway, Shrewsbury had us tamed, and they nearly took the lead when a powerful low shot tested the Fett to his left. Our number one netman dived full-length and made an excellent save. We had a bit of fun claiming that their keeper had handled the ball outside his box, but he hadn’t done actually, and we were only teasing! The linesman and referee enjoyed the jape and waved play on. Soon it will be summer and we can enjoy watching some cricket. Our main tactic was to lump it long, from right to left, in the hope that the sprightly Elliott might leap and win some headers. Shrewsbury’s main tactic was to put a tall defender near Elliott and win the header whenever we crossed in Elliott’s general direction. Ooo, cut and thrust! it was like a chess match out there. One in which the players didn’t really know many moves. A cute free-kick by Keates seemed to have released Forrester inside the box. But he fell over. Then he was substituted for Jevons. And Reeves came off for Burton. And by now it was really, really quiet inside the ground. Half-time couldn’t come too soon, as I was eager to take in a televised concourse view of the whey-faced Englishmen, terrified and gaunt in their preparation for a wicked tawsing courtesy of Roy Laidlaw, John Rutherford and Roger Baird, but before you could say “Finlay Calder’s offside!” those tricky Shrews had created a shooting chance. And Fettis was alert to tip the effort over the bar. The dying moments of the half offered the best tiger moments so far, as a Delaney free-kick was met by Anderson and a looping header escaped only inches beyond the far post. Then Otsemobor charged forward eagerly before lamely punting a shot wide. And it was time to pause. We switched to 4-3-3 for the second half. Burton dropped back to left-back, while Delaney-Keates-Melton ranged across midfield. Elliott took up an advanced role as a left-sided attacker, supporting Jevons and Walters. The visitors won two corners early on, but gradually retreated, while we began to play the game more often in their half than our own. It was poor fare. It was dull. But we did now have more of the possession. Walters sliced a hasty shot wide of the near post, and then Delaney blasted a left-foot shot well over the top. It was Walters again as we pushed down the right, but his final shot slipped weakly past the keeper’s left hand and wide of the near post. We now look the better side, and there was gratifying determination from the midfield trio. Keates played as the deepest-lying of the three, and got through plenty of scampering about designed to hold our ambitious formation together. Delaney, of course, was brimming with enthusiasm and effort, though his passing is, to be charitable, no more than modestly proficient in its accuracy. As for Melton, well he drifts out of the game more than he drifts in, but he was just about worth his place yesterday. However, the game was going nowhere in the sunshine, and if, like me, you had invested a score in a scoreless draw at 8/1, you were by now feeling perfectly serene. So City spoiled it, as they always do. A ball whisks in from the right, and Jevons clambers among defenders to shove a shot goalwards – it cannons into the crossbar and rebounds to a defender, who nods it back into the clutches of a relieved keeper. The impression that we are now seriously intent on breaking the dull deadlock is temporarily put on hold, first as a bashful streaker is allowed far too much room to play by standoffish stewards and then as Melton bursts into the box only to be firmly tackled by a stray plastic bag which does enough to propel the shot wide. “Well in son!” remarks Redmile, encouraging his youthful but promising partner. Melton picks himself up sorrowfully, and vows to work in training on improving his one-on-ones when confronted with this upcoming new breed of defensive fruit-and-veg carriers. Now we score. Keates pops a corner from the left on to Otsemobor’s forehead and the young full-back, criminally unmarked, gleefully thumps the ball into the net. So, so easy – all of a sudden. Shrewsbury look deflated, but have only themselves to blame for a craven second half display. They have a superb attacker in Rogers and a canny one in Jemson, and neither has received a shred of decent service since the opening seconds of the second period. Ha! Right on 90, we got another one. Walters had infuriated the Shrews with a splendid display of stubborn ball retention and, off the back of his strength, we constructed a neat move which culminated in Jevons taking a tumble inside the box. It didn’t look like a penalty to me. But it was awarded. And, after a tetchy dispute about who should take it, Keates stepped up to send a low left-foot shot under the keeper and into the back of the net. There was still time enough for us to squander the best opportunity of the game. Elliott surged forwards, lost the ball, won it back, passed wide to Jevons and when his cross flew unerringly on to the forehead of Keates, completely unmarked in front of goal, the absurdity of winning a poor game by all of 3-0 loomed large. But Keates doesn’t do a lot of heading and he directed his effort wastefully wide. Still, he had a decent game. So did Walters, and Elliott was handy from time to time too. Jevons was first-rate after he came on. He’s playing for a contract though. I suggest we don’t give him one. Too many limp displays earlier on this season. Oh, and a word for the manager. I’d say he got the half-time rearrangement just about right. Regan for Walters, two goals for us and none for them, game over, and we look nailed on for that all-important 13th place. Shrewsbury? I’d be sorry to lose them, for Gay Meadow is high on my list of “places I’d like to take those lovely sugarbabe girls to for a hot threesome (but not the brassy scouser)”, but on this evidence they are heading for relegation.
|HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Melton, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester. Subs: Jevons (for Forrester, 29), Burton (for Reeves, 41), Regan (for Walters, 89), Donaldson, Musselwhite. Goals: Otsemobor 81, Keates 90 (pen) Booked: None Sent Off: None SHREWSBURY TOWN: Cartwright, Redmile, Artell, Atkins, Moss, Murray, Jagielka, Woan, van Blerk, Rodgers, Jemson. Subs: Aiston (for Woan, 86), Drysdale (for van Blerk, 87), Lowe, Dunbavin, Packer. Goals: None Booked: Murray Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 13,253|
|A fine Tigers performance spoilt by an inconvenient last minute Shrews equaliser. Steve Weatherill reports on another good day at the office.|
|On 87, a slick Shrewsbury move provided one of theirs with a clear shooting opportunity from the edge of the penalty area. A blasted drive was brilliantly tipped away by the Muss, diving gallantly to his right, and we celebrated jubilantly, confident that inspired netminding from our returning hero had bagged us the points on a damp and misty evening by the Severn. But three minutes later, bang on the 90, Shrewsbury were awarded a free-kick on their right, close to the edge of the box. The referee blithered and dithered, he even allowed them two bites at the cherry, but amid total bemusement the ball was eventually poked into our net for an ill-deserved home equaliser. The match had something in common with Saturday’s draw against Rushden, in the sense that we had been indisputably the superior force, especially during the second half, and yet had been forced to concede a share to dogged opponents. But that’s where the similarities end. Shrewsbury played with resolution but they aren’t half the team that Rushden are, and we should have had them trussed up like the Christmas turkeys that will soon join the Christmas decorations, toys and traditional Harry Potter manger scenes in the shops long before that inelegant climax. Even though I’m pleased to report that City, and Green and Ashbee in particular, played pretty well again last night, it was still two points dropped rather than one gained, and frustrating with it. We kicked off in a 4-4-2: Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Green Keates Ashbee Williams Alexander Elliott Is that really Green’s best position? And Elliott’s? And is Williams really worth his place? A trio of “No!”s answer those questions on last night’s (and other supporting) evidence, but in the meantime the game began in furious fashion but with relatively little poise anywhere near either goalmouth. The Muss pouched a tricky low shot to his right, then an easier lofted effort to his left, while, at the other end, Alexander crumpled to the turf in a comedy bid to win a penalty and was fortunate not to receive a booking. Anderson then did succeed in attracting the penmanship of another eccentric referee, but redeemed himself by hooking clear when, following a looping back-post cross which the Muss watched with mild interest instead of claiming, a savagely dangerous cross was whipped back across the face of our box. A frantic opening. This was our fifth last-ever visit to Gay Meadow, and the surroundings were as delightful as ever. Tall trees by the swollen brown river, soft autumnal textures, a cascade of jumbo kit-kats. The pitch, expected to be sodden, played firmly enough for confident football. Why would Shrewsbury ever wish to leave their tranquil dell? Could the reason be that dread word, professionalism? But what’s this? Along the small terrace, backing on to the Severn, is infiltrated a mean-throated band of local youths, who are singing aggressive songs with sweary words in them! At Shrewsbury! I’ve never heard the like. It didn’t sound ugly, and it certainly didn’t threaten, it merely sounded wholly incongruous. What could be more out of place at Gay Meadow than such absurdly obnoxious posturing? It’s as if your dimple-cheeked, cherubic 9-year old niece were to look at you sweetly, and observe “Uncle, you’re a bit of a fuckwit, aren’t you”. I was surprised, I have to admit. Back to the game, and an extraordinary moment. You know that goal Ashbee scored at Torquay? The one that some foolish observers suggested was best enjoyed as a freak because, believe you me, this bloke isn’t ever going to do anything similar again, not if he plays until he’s 90? Well, if I may quote my own match report from that euphoric afternoon at Plainmoor: “I expect talented ballplaying midfielder Ian Ashbee to do this sort of thing every ten days or so from now until 2014”. And last night the ball dropped gracefully on to the Ashbee boot twenty-five yards from goal and he smashed in another of his astonishing volleys, this time only to see it crash against the outside of the post and bounce clear. It was a magnificent strike and keeper Dunsavin was immobile in shock. Keates now secured another yellow card for a challenge that was merely clumsy but not malicious, and we entered a disturbingly sloppy phase in which Shrewsbury shuttled the ball around quite happily and we depended on Justin Whittle to intervene and boot it clear when necessary. This, of course, is Justin’s long suit and he did his job as reliably as ever. But it wasn’t pretty to watch. The diminutive Williams and the rangy Delaney are physically a mis-matched pair, and unfortunately they look mis-matched in all other respects too, and so our left side looked uncertain both going forward and defensively. Green, playing on the right, flickered briefly, while Elliott, though lively and mobile, is just not a natural as half of a striking duo. Alexander headed over from a corner late on in the half, but generally was again guilty of a bit too much aimless mooching around. All in all, we were content to reach the break on level terms. Parity was what we deserved, but, Ashbee’s volley aside, we had offered a performance well below the standard enjoyed so far under the Taylor regime. Into the second-half and more high-velocity but medium-grade-skill football. The Earl appeared to up-end his man in the box, but the referee, close to the scene of Delaney’s alleged crime, awarded nothing and, since it occurred at the far end, I have neither basis nor motive to disagree. Then a cute Alexander dummy allowed the ball to run free to Williams just outside the box, but the infuriating wee man’s first touch was dismal and the space quickly vanished under a mere of converging Shrews. Up the other end: the lively Rogers darts clear at pace but his cross is flicked comfortably over our bar by a wasteful Shrew. And then, as on Saturday, we took a firm grip on the game and demonstrated that once we hit our stride we have the players to win this Division. Doesn’t mean we will win it. But we’re capable of it. Alexander, suddenly summoning memories of the muscular front man who regularly rampaged through opposition defences this time last year, grabbed possession and forced his way into a shooting position just outside the box and hammered a low shot just wide of the keeper’s far post. Then a wonderful flowing move involving five or six Tigers, including the increasingly prominent Green, resulted in a glorious low cross from the left and, with Dunsavin stranded, only a superb defensive header, in the manner of Olarticoxea (sp?) from Lineker in the dying minutes of the 1986 World Cup Quarter Final, protected the home side from going into deficit. But that wasn’t to be long delayed. We attack again at pace, Green releases a brilliantly judged pass beyond the lumbering defence and Elliott, timing and directing his run perfectly, connects to slide the ball under Dunsavin and put us into the lead. 500 City fans? More maybe? A degree of total tiger mayhem, the lead is ours and the amber-and-black football is increasingly imperious. Shrewsbury need to defend, and they have only unsophisticated tools to do the job. As anyone who drives the high roads of this nation is aware, the problem of abandoned cars is growing. Rusting, incinerated hulks, the victims of wanton joyriders and insurance fraudsters. The police are overwhelmed. On my own personal favourite stretch of motorway, a vehicle that first appeared a while ago half way up the grassy bank looking almost serviceable has steadily deteriorated, mirrors cracking, wheels disappearing, bonnet ruptured and chassis corrupted. Such is the career of Matt Redmile. A big brute of a central defender when we first encountered him at Notts County, he was already visibly coming apart at the seams as his displays at Meadow Lane spluttered to a halt and now, well into his 28th season with Shrewsbury, you wouldn’t even risk a trip down the shops with him. Redmile got booked, he could have had ten yellow cards last night and deserved the lot of them, and he was powerless to quell our nimble attacks. Keates came off for Burton, who went to left-back and Delaney stepped forward into central midfield. This didn’t really work. Delaney, for sure, belongs in midfield, but on the left side of it. That berth was filled by Ryan Williams. Who was rubbish last night. Never once did he pose a threat to Shrewsbury. Ashbee, however, was playing well, heavily involved in the midfield scrummages, while Green was soaring resplendent on the glittering floodlit turf. This young man’s sheer talent on the ball is enormous. He moves confidently, on and off the ball, he passes quickly and thoughtfully, and he likes to keep play moving at pace. A dapper run took him past two feeble challenges and he shot straight at Dunsavin from 15 yards with Jevons, now on for Elliott, howling for a pass in space to Green’s right. Jevons had a point, but so did Green – in this sparkling mood, I’m happy to let Stuart Green make his choices and try his luck. Ah well. At 1-0 you’re never safe, but we really did seem to have Shrewsbury’s measure. Time ticked by, the points looked ours. And then the Muss saved, Shrewsbury scored, and a pot-pourri of harum-scarum at both ends accompanied us through the three added minutes to an unsatisfying single point. But there was plenty last night, especially in the second half, to buttress the growing optimism about season 2002/03. Bring on Saturday and a match which I understand you young people regard as a “derby”.|
|HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Williams, Alexander, Elliott. Subs: Burton (for Keates, 69), Jevons (for Elliott, 76), Philpott, Peat, Deeney. Goals: Elliott 59 Booked: Anderson, Keates Sent Off: None SHREWSBURY TOWN: Dunbavin, Moss, Redmile, Artell, Drysdale, Lowe, Wilding, Atkins, Woan, Rodgers, Jemson. Subs: Tolley (for Wilding, 63), Stevens (for Jemson, 76), Kendall, Murray, Murphy. Goals: Stevens 89 Booked: Redmile Sent Off: None ATTENDANCE: 3,086|
Can there possibly be a bright side to this alarming scoreline?
Well, until deep into first-half injury time, when Shrewsbury
scored their second goal, we were distinctly the better side, and
had played reasonably well. However, the second half was truly
wretched and ultimately we took a ghastly hammering.
Wright Greaves Hocking
Brien Joyce Rioch
And we started well enough, attacking Bunkers. A splendid piece
of Hodges trickery, down near the by-line, created space for a
low cross, which Ellington reached with a straining toe-end, but
the ball flew just over the bar. We looked to be putting together
our attacks with some conviction … whereupon they scored.
Steele had disturbing amounts of time and space to run at and
across our defence before firing a left-foot shot low past the
blameless Wilson’s right hand into our net.
But we kept going in the right vein. Joyce chip; Hocking flick;
Greaves arriving in the box .. just over the bar. And offside
too, but it was a fluid, promising move. Then Wright glanced a
header from a floated Joyce free-kick narrowly beyond the far
post with visiting keeper Benny the Gall well beaten. The Duke
displayed heartening determination in the box to wrench
possession from a Shrew, then turn sharply and shoot towards the
corner of the net, only for the keeper to produce a fine diving
save. We were by no means dominant, but we were the better side.
But injury time in the first half dragged on, for no apparent
reason. On about 48 minutes, a cross to the back post was met by
Devon White, largely unmarked for no apparent reason, and his
header was despatched into the back of our net.
A short while into the second half, a free-kick close to the
corner flag was hoisted to the back post, where White lurked once
again ready, willing and able to head the ball home. Well, I say
he “lurked”; a man of the vast dimensions of Devon White is
physically incapable of lurking. He performed his celebrated
version of a large, talentless lump of lard, but it was enough
for our defence to leave him wholly unmarked and for White to
bless the day he came across Hull City. For, to add to his score
for Notts County in August, this was three already this season
against us. Miserable defending.
The rest of the match was just dreadful. The players had more or
less given it up, and performed with minimal effort. Lowthorpe
came on for Brien, and went to right-back with Peacock switching
to midfield, but it made little difference at this stage. Moments
of skill and joy? There were none, I’m afraid, other than from
the Shrews’ superb number nine, Lee Steele, a pacy and strong
front runner acquired from non-League. If we do re-direct our
transfer policy towards buying players who’ve proved their worth
at 4th Division level, then Steele should be snapped up
The crowd (of about 4,800) was largely quiet, save only the small
bunch of boo-boys on the West side of Bunkers, with their “get
your cheque book out”s and their “What a load of rubbish”s. They
have short memories and are fools, but the match was undeniably
Shrewsbury made it four with a 20-yard shot which took a wicked
deflection off someone’s heel to leave Willo with no chance at
all. The only question was whether the bobbling ball would spin
just inside or just outside the post; it was the sort of day
where you felt the grim inevitability that it would enter the
net, and it did. We scored after a decent build-up down the right
saw the ball laid square into the path of Gregor Rioch who
thumped home a meaty left-foot shot from the edge of the box. A
well-taken goal, but even Gregor hardly bothered to celebrate it,
so obvious was its irrelevance to the outcome of the match.
Brien, of course, was a disaster yet again in the holding
midfield role and exerted no discernible influence on the pattern
of play. He must go. I find it hard to see that Peacock will ever
make a wing-back; and Hodges is not capable of doing a job up
front. Not mobile enough. But, yet again, my main anxiety
concerns the three centre-backs. They leave too much to each
other. Opposition forwards seem to have so much time and space
against us. The system just doesn’t seem to work.
A bad day. And our mood got gloomier again as we banged on the
car radio to discover that Hednesford had scored 5 away from
home. I started this piece trying to find a bright side and the
only one I can dream up to finish on is that City are frequently
at their best when underdogs. And that is quite feasibly
precisely our status for next Saturday’s very tough match.