AS Trenčín 0 Hull City 0

The train meanders along its slow but steady procession out from the pleasingly grimy bustle of Bratislava’s main station into the Slovak countryside. Low hills give way to higher ranges, green countryside and church spires abound, a deep and strongly flowing river joins us on the left side. The town of Trenčín comes and goes, offering a view of a neat but unviably small football stadium and a splendidly romantic castle perched high above the houses. The beer is chilled and studiously downed in the well-provisioned buffet car as the route winds past the scarcely larger stadium in Dubnica, where Trenčín bested Vojvodina Novi Sad in the previous round. We’re on our way to Žilina. We’re on our way to see Hull City in Europe.

Europe! Not the entity from which, contrary to popular misconception, it is geologically impossible for the United Kingdom to separate. Europe – European football, competitive stuff. The UEFA Europa League.

How far we have travelled!

It’s well over twenty years since Terry Dolan took over as manager of Hull City. Now, that’s a journey. Gruesome days. Grotesque football. Six long years and more we suffered, two relegations, poverty-stricken football and a combination of manager and Chairman who resolutely refused to accept the slightest responsibility for the decline and near demise of the club. Most current fans of Hull City don’t have any memory of those dreadful afternoons spent losing to Mansfield and Kidderminster and Northampton and so many others besides. Some are too young but most simply weren’t there: Dolan’s formless passionless defensive garbage sliced our crowds down to the bare bones, 3,000 at most inside Boothferry Park by the later stages.

But oh, we had some fun. Byways and back lanes to some of the remoter towns in the country, welcoming pubs, songs to sing and flags to flutter, a sense of camaraderie and defiance among a small band of regular travellers, a resolute determination to impose high jinks and colourful behaviour on a day that would unavoidably have at its unwanted core a miserable ninety minutes of grey half-paced football.

Long time ago!

We’re in Europe now. It’s different now.

Hull City are in Europe.

Byways and back lanes to a remote town? Check. Welcoming pubs? Check. Songs, flags, camaraderie, defiance, high jinks and colourful behaviour – yes, yes, we had all that in Žilina. And a miserable ninety minutes of grey half-paced football. Yay! Bring it on! O yes, we had that too.

The pelting rain of a Slovak summer afternoon relents and we make our way towards the main square, from which the tunes of Hull City waft. Here I admit to a small sense of impeding dread. I’ve watched Scotland play away dozens of times, and it is a uniquely exhilarating experience. I’ve seen England play away now and then too, though I don’t support them, and the majority of their fans, especially nowadays, are similarly cheerfully minded to revel in the opportunity to travel to new places and meet new people, but there remains a sour-faced knot whose understanding of patriotism is not to love your own country but to hate others’. And I really did not want to find myself making my Hull City competitive debut in continental Europe to the strains of ‘No Surrender’ or ‘German Bombers’.

I needn’t have worried. I shouldn’t be so precious (as if). The main square, a pleasantly if architecturally unremarkable open space, is ringed by cafes and bars, all thronged and songed by Hull City fans determined to enjoy the whole experience. The feel is exceptionally positive, the smiles are broad and genuine, and they have taken decades in the shaping. We are going to have fun in this competition. Heavy-handed police are in sight, but they stay relaxed throughout.

To the stadium, a mere ten minutes walk from the main square (significantly less if you are fleeing to avoid the rain), a neat compact affair. Each of the four stands carries a merciful roof against the darkening clouds that continue to circle above, and the City support, some 600 strong, is housed at the North end behind the goal that Alan McGregor will be defending in the first half. Fine mesh netting stretches from floor to ceiling, protecting the pitch from incursion by fans or projectiles, and here and there ungainly spikes and fences intrude. It’s not like that any more in England.

We are not in England any more.

The game kicks off. I remember now, like it was yesterday, just how excited I felt on an oppressively hot night in Malaga in 1982 as the match kicked off. It was Scotland v New Zealand, and it was the first World Cup game I’d ever been at. I was dazed, I was full of glee (also Sangria, local brandy, beer et al), I was utterly thrilled. And now here I am, the game is kicking off, and I am attending a match I never believed would or could happen. Hull City’s first ever venture into competitive European football.

O, this is great, this is wonderful, this is truly special.

It’s a 4-3-3:
                       Rough
McGrain   Hansen    Evans   Frank Gray
     Strachan Souness  …….
O no, hang on. sorry: 5-3-2
                    McGregor
      Davies      Bruce         Chester
Elmo                                          Rosenoir
        Livermore     Huddlestone    Meyler
               Long        Aluko

 

20140731+Trencin+v+Hull+City+prog+coverIn the first minute we win a corner. Huddlestone delivers to the back post, Bruce heads just over the bar.

Then not much happens for a while. It is – I adjust my reporter’s paisley cravat self-consciously – ‘largely formless’.

Legs look tired even this early. There is no sharpness. The football played is sloppy. Huddlestone and Long are perhaps the most lethargic, though Meyler and Aluko are close behind. In truth none of our players looks noticeably eager to be playing a competitive match in July, and, with a ten month haul now lying in front of them, they have some reason to embrace this caution.

22, Huddlestone’s free kick from the left, bashed straight into the wall. 27, their ‘keeper, Volesak, spills Aluko’s shot, but recovers quickly.

Trenčín’s small knot of fans in the corner of the stand opposite us begin to become more vocal as the half progress, grasping, perhaps with surprise and certainly with relief, that their opponents from the self-styled finest league in the world are not going to obliterate their hopes. The home side, in a predominantly white kit, with a single vertical red stripe off-centre on the shirts, are well organised and hard working and, their League season already underway, evidently fitter than our team. They press a little in the later stages of the first half, though without causing serious alarm to McGregor, soundly protected by the three centre backs that did such a fine job for much of last season, including in the Cup Final.

Half time. No score.

On 49 Bruce blunders horribly, gifting possession in a dangerous area, and only desperate defence rescues the situation, at the expense of a corner. Then on 52, as the home side enjoy the better of the play, a shot rips into our side netting – one of those that the dopy fan with a poor sightline celebrates, thinking it’s a goal. Ha! Slovak dopes are duly reeled in. You’re dealing with professionals here, sonny.

None more professional than Shane Long.

Which I do not mean in a good way.

Long does remarkably well to wrest possession wide out on the left, and cuts inside, racing at high speed into the box. He slips the first challenge, but it’s as obvious as the nose on Gareth Southgate’s face that he has not the slightest intention of shooting nor or finding a team-mate with a pass. He’s looking for a defender’s leg to fall over. He finds one, tumbles to the turf with extravagant theatre. And the referee awards a penalty.

I understand the match was not televised so perhaps there is a referee or two tucked away somewhere in a remote corner of Europe who is still not aware that Shane Long dives. Not occasionally, but routinely.

Defenders whose tackling verges on the brutal. Midfielders who attempt ambitious through passes too frequently. Wingers who over-elaborate their stepovers. Flawed players, but I recognise what they’re trying to do and sometimes – especially the defenders, especially if they’re ours – I can enjoy the exuberance. But forwards whose primary aim when they enter the field of play is to win a penalty? No. I can’t accept that. That goes beyond any proper definition of the purpose of this sport. We’ve done some exciting transfer business during the summer but a deal that saw us sell this weasel Long before he gets a richly deserved long-term ban for simulation would please me most.

Still, penalty it is. Huddlestone takes the ball, and, since no one else looks interested in stepping up, I suppose he must be our designated penalty taker. For the moment. Da Silva, one of their defenders, approaches Sir Tom, talks to him, pats him. He’s been watching Tim Krul. Sir Tom’s head is down, focused on the ball sitting placidly on the spot. I’m wanting to believe he is concentrating. In fact he looks tentative and unsure.

The penalty is dreadful. It’s hit without power and close to the goalkeeper, on his left side. Volesak stops it easily. But the ball bounces up kindly for Huddlestone who is able to advance and slam the ball into the exposed net from no more than four yards out.

Except he leans back. He looks for the stars and he sends the ball in their general direction.

Ye cannae defy the laws of physics Cap’n, but putting the ball over the crossbar from that short distance out demands some pretty challenging geometry.

Snodgrass and Ince come on, replacing Aluko, almost entirely anonymous, and Meyler, slightly better but far short of his sharp best.

Snodgrass and Ince had the easy job in Trenčín, because they were asked only to play a cameo rather than extend depleted levels of fitness over the full 90, and so too, arriving fresh, they were able to take on opponents that were beginning to tire. Even allowing for that, both our subs impressed. They looked lively, eager to please and both offered a couple of neat touches of a quality that we’d seen precious little of until their arrival.

A Snodgrass free-kick is stopped by an utterly blatant hand ball by a man in the wall, standing just inside the area, but the referee ignores an obvious penalty (plus yellow card). But the game’s petering out now. Trenčín are tiring, but grimly determined to see it out, and we lack the resources to trouble them. In fact the home side probably shades the possession over the last ten or so minutes, and a mazy run on 87 briefly threatens to unravel our defence.

Jelavič makes a brief appearance in place of Long, but soon enough, after three added minutes, it’s over, and nil nil it is. Rightly so. The City players acknowledge and applaud us. Then Trenčín’s do the same, rather more warmly and rather closer up. They are greeted with admiration for their spirit by our excellent support.

I have been too critical. The whole idea was to treat this game and next week’s as only slightly more testing than a pre-season friendly. It would have been absurd for Mr Bruce to have got his team fully prepared for a game in late July, ahead of a season that will stretch deep into May. A steady if humdrum scoreless draw is just fine. As long as we finish the assigned task next Thursday. I hope we will, and we should, but I confess I am a bit twitchy we have not killed off determined but limited opponents, who look to me perfectly capable of being durable and hard to break down in Hull. I really don’t want to get knocked out.

Because I absolutely love watching Hull City play in Europe.

Stephen Weatherill

 

Highlights from Hull City Official YouTube Channel

A Fan’s view of the Penalty

Follow Chris Skelton on Twitter

Hull City 0 Crystal Palace 1

Tuesday 17th March 1981. We lost 1-0 at home to Colchester. It’s a game I recall whenever I’m asked which was truly the most dismal ghastly Hull City performance I’ve ever witnessed. And given the natural sense of lugubriousness that pervades our city, albeit nowadays in a cultured sense of course, that is a question that doesn’t go long unasked when Tigers fans assemble. We revel in our despair. It’s in our genes. That Colchester game was quite horrible: thoroughly ordinary opposition against which we made scarcely a chance and duly tottered to inexcusably meek capitulation.   Fans of a more recent vintage might choose to go back to December 2002 when, for all the teary-eyed emotion generated by our departure from Boothferry Park, an afternoon of grindingly awful poverty-stricken football was on show. Lost. 1-0. To Darlington. We revel in the gloom. Ornate decoration, pretty promises, gift-wrapped treats – no thank you, that is not the Hull way. The freezing pinched-face wind ripping off the North Sea. That is where we belong, that is what defines us.   Palace at home in November 2013. Add it to the list.   I’m struggling to revel.   This was just dreadful.   Looking nothing remotely like a Premier League side were:  

                           McGregor
Elmohamady  Davies  McShane  Figeuroa
Koren    Huddlestone    Livermore  Boyd   Brady
                          Sagbo

    Or, as ever, something like that. Boyd, Brady and Koren attempted at different times and in different ways to push forward to support Sagbo and to provide the midfielders in behind with extra attacking options. But there was no difference in outcome. All were hopelessly haplessly ineffective as Palace resisted our limp forays with ease. Commendably honest toilers though Danny Gabbidon and Damien Delaney, the Lion of Cork, certainly are, they are no more than competent mid-table Championship centre backs and should have been given a more searching examination than we managed yesterday. Palace, to be clear, looked what they are – bottom of the table and spent of confidence.   I’m struggling to revel.   By far the most entertaining action during the first half involved the circulation of the ‘City Till [sic] We Die’ banner, which was paraded to general acclaim, in part because the football wasn’t worthy of attention but mainly because of a strong and (I think) increasing sense that our owner’s foolish name-changing stunt needs closing down before our club is seriously undermined from within. Well done to those who have given up time and money and directed their passion at preserving our club’s good name. As far as I could tell, the peaceful protest was brought to an end by some violent and grossly disproportionate interventions by stewards down near the corner between East and North Stands.   Football? Well, both McShane and Chamakh acquired complex bandages after an early clash of heads.   O, that’s not strictly football is it? Well ….   There wasn’t any.   Really. None.   Palace defended deep and stuffily, we lacked energy, vigour, invention, wit, and it was just miserable to watch.   Suddenly the team looks tentative and lacking in confidence. Not-so-suddenly we carry no goal threat.   Sagbo’s game has improved thrillingly as the season has progressed, but yesterday he looked forlorn, starved of service but worryingly incapable of coming even remotely close to upsetting the Palace defence with his undoubted physical power. Boyd too has looked a better player lately than we could ever have expected of a man previously unknown to the top flight, but he was half-paced, frail and ineffective yesterday. I hope Brady wasn’t fully fit, because, unless he has that excuse, he seems to be moving in the wrong direction – a player who looked full of ideas and shining self-belief at the beginning of the season but now hesitant and slow to find space. Koren too: off the pace and not a hint of the moments of bewitching skill that turned games as tight as this one our way last season.   Half time. Graham comes on for Brady.   Graham’s first few games revealed plenty of hard running but no goal threat. The second bit remains evident. The first bit, not so much. There seems to be nothing useful about Graham now at all.   The game’s astonishingly poor. On 51 Boyd manages to set up Sagbo but his effort is blocked and Palace break quickly, leading to a shot which McGregor saves to his left. Two sights on goal within a minute. Riches beyond price. It’s deception. The pattern resumes. Poor, poor, poor. Rotten first touches, worse second ones.   McShane off, Rosenoir on. Figueroa to centre back.   Palace, for whom Jedinak, a busy midfielder, performed as impressively as anyone, look briefly interested in netting three points rather than just the one, and on 67 Cameron Jerome, a talent wasted by lack of guts and application, wanders lazily though our inattentive defence before punting a shot over the bar. But when, on 78, Bolasie lunges clumsily at Livermore and is sent off, the assumption round the ground is that the visitors will tuck in, defend and hang on to the single point. There is, sad to report, no sense at all that Palace going down to ten men will invigorate our team. The sour dour tone is set too deep for that. The game deserves to end scoreless.   But the afternoon does have a winning goal in it and ten men Palace probably surprise themselves by getting it. Push down the left, low ball into our box, lack of urgency in our defending and weasel-impersonating Scottish midfielder Barry Bannan forces the ball home before fleeing in search of celebration with the jubilant knot of 500 or so travelling Palace fans.   Gedo is on for Koren. We’ve got lots of possession. We’ve got no imagination.   I’m not revelling in this.   The four added minutes spur glimpses of the attacking force we’ve failed to summon consistently. Livermore heads goalwards but the ball is scrambled away by a whirling combination of defensive arms and legs. Rosenoir – Rosenoir! – thumps a shot against Speroni’s left-hand post. Too little, too late. FAR too little.   On this evidence, and that which I’ve gathered second-hand over the course of the season, I’d expect Palace to go down. On the evidence of Hull City’s performances so far this season, I don’t expect us to go down. If I confine my assessment to our last two fixtures, though, I can only be deeply fearful. It’s an alarming dip.   I might revel in how outstandingly memorably atrocious this match truly was when I look back at it in twenty years time. Maybe even in May next year, after we’ve secured safety in this Division, I might raise a smile about how we have recovered from the depths plumbed at home to Palace on a cold winter’s day. Right now, I don’t revel. That was a horrible game

Hull City 1 Sunderland 0

There was always likely to be an extra frisson of rivalry on the KC turf this afternoon. Not being a betting man, I didn’t check the odds on 22 players remaining on the pitch at the game’s end, but they’ll no doubt have been shorter than usual. As we kicked off under the already darkening sky  of our first Greenwich Mean Time home game of this winter’s stirring schedule, Listmeister Andy leaned forward and offered me his long-acquired wisdom. A thing to be treasured of course, but when he suggested that Meyler would be heading for the proverbial early bath first, I reminded him that Lee Cattermole was lining up in the oppo’s red and white stripes. Cattermole thinks yellow is for wusses.   Bringing City’s game time to over 300 minutes in less than a week were:                                               Harper Rosenior              Davies   McShane             Figueroa Elmohamady      Meyler   Huddlestone     Livermore       Boyd                                                  Sagbo     Sone Aluko’s injury-disrupted Tigers’ career suffered yet another reverse in the warm-up. He was on the teamsheet at 2 p.m. only to be replaced by Meyler by the time the teams came out. Hardly like-for-like. Steve Bruce seems to be a manager who picks the player over the pattern, and Meyler’s inclusion meant that we carded three ex-Black Cats – a fact that was to prove not without significance in the match’s progress.   As ever, Sunderland fans packed out the away section in what seemed a near capacity crowd at the KC. It was a raucous but largely formless opening quarter. City looked like a team trying to find its shape. On Meyler watch, I tried to pin down his position, as he spent the first few minutes almost as an inside forward, before going back into midfield, and allowing the excellent Livermore to roam higher up the field. Sunderland looked disorganised. Ex-Tiger Altidore as guileless and lacking in touch as I remember from a few seasons back, but lacking the naïve enthusiasm of his spell in Hull. Altidore scored goals for fun in the Dutch league last season, and spent the summer smashing various US national team records – scoring 7 goals in all over 5 consecutive games including one against Germany. May be the Premier League just doesn’t suit. Or may be the chaos that has been Sunderland AFC of late has robbed him and his teammates of the necessary ease and endeavour.   As the game moved through its first half hour, City – attacking the north stand end – were getting the better of the exchanges and half-chances. Tom Huddlestone whipped in a dangerous free kick from our left which almost found McShane towards the far post, but the lunging Irishman couldn’t quite connect.   Shortly afterwards, Jake Livermore dispossed the unwary Altidore with apparent ease. We’re just about on top, but lacking in bite. Sagbo is a presence, as ever, but the supply line hasn’t been established. For Sunderland, Cattermole is getting tetchy. Though perhaps ‘getting’ is superfluous.   Then we score. A Huddlestone freekick from the half-way line, just in front of the benches, finds its way to the edge of the penalty area on our right, and eventually to Rosenior who dinks a dangerous ball towards the near post. Sagbo and a defender go for it together, and Sagbo appears to flick it across the goal and inside the far post, past the flailing Westwood.   1-0   The scoreboard later records it as a Cuellar own goal, so presumably someone saw a replay and deemed that it came off the Sunderland man last. Who cares. Well, may be Yannick Sagbo does, as it was his presence and attempt on goal that did the damage.   It’s the sort of forward play that Sunderland loanee Danny Graham has been unable to provide so far this season.   After we take the lead, the rest of this half is all City. Rosenior and Elmohamady work well as a combination down our right. Our five man midfield begins to large it with pass after pass after pass, each greeted with cheers from the home crowd.   Meyler, to Livermore, to Huddlestone, back to Livermore, to Boyd, to Figueroa, neat triangles leave an increasingly frustrated Sunderland flailing and chasing. 104 passes in total before finally the ball is given to Harper who clears it up to Huddlestone.   Obviously it might not have been 104. Just let that number stand for ‘a lot’. It was great to watch a City team playing this way. Sunderland’s frustration became more evident.   Just before half-time that frustration increased still further, when keeper Westwood and ex-Black Cat McShane collided going for a ball whipped in by Boyd. Westwood lies prone for a good few minutes, carries on playing for a couple more, but is then replaced by ex-Tiger Vito Mannone, who gets  warm applause from the City fans as he joins the fray.   It’s not all warmth and bonhomie on the pitch though. As the first half ticks over into 5 minutes added time, Lee Cattermole, in the middle of the pitch, right in front of the referee, launches himself into a two-footed tackle on his former teammate, Ahmed Elmohamady. With scarcely a pause to check the red of referee Marriner’s card, Cattermole walks off the pitch and down the tunnel. Whether he took a bath or not, I can’t tell you.   It’s all done with the insouciance of a professional mafia hitman, and immediately makes me wonder whether there’s some grudge held over from the days – only last season – when Elmohamady and Cattermole were playing and training colleagues.   That would be some end to the half in itself, but we’re not even half done with added time. Play briefly resumes before the fourth official alerts Marriner to something that Sunderland’s new don – sorry, manager – Poyet has said or done. Marriner ticks off Poyet, who stares down at the official silently. He doesn’t look happy.   Let’s try again, there’s still time on the clock. No sooner does play restart than Sunderland are down to 9 men. This time it’s one of Paulo Di Canio’s signings, Italian internationalist Dossena, who takes the two footed approach, scything down Meyler with a vicious challenge in front of the East Stand. Once more it’s a recent Sunderland player who is the victim. But Meyler never played alongside Dossena so it’s less likely to be personal. Still, if I was McShane at this point, I might be watching my back in case the capo and his crew are out to whack me too.   So at half-time it’s all looking rosy for City. One goal up, Sunderland down to 9 men, Meyler and Elmohamady emerged amazingly unscathed from two dangerous tackles, and the only player forced off by injury being the opposition keeper. If there were any vendettas being played out, our mob has got the upper hand.   John Hawley – one of many players to have turned out for both clubs in recent decades – makes the half-time draw. Micky Horswill, Roy Greenwood, Tony Norman, Billy Whitehurst, Steve Doyle, Kevin Kilbane, Michael Turner. They all would have done a decent job of pulling out the numbered ticket. Chris Brown wouldn’t. Iain Hesford would have got his hand stuck. John Moore would have made a late lunge and missed.     As the teams came out for the second half, there was a feeling that the match was won and now we would put Sunderland to the sword. After all – it’s 11 versus 9. Poyet takes off Altidore and Borini and replaces them with Adam Johnson and Wes Brown, two players with plenty of England caps between them. I’ve long admired Johnson. He’s a fine player and would seem to be well suited to playing on the break, which is Sunderland’s only hope now.   The more the second half goes on though, the more the problems of playing against 9 men become apparent. Sunderland really have no other option but to defend en masse and – very occasionally – to try and nick an equaliser on the break.   It reminds me of those internationals where a decent team comes up against San Marino, and San Marino just pack the defence and concede possession. There’s so many players in the final third that it’s really hard to break through. There’s so much time on the ball for the attacking team in midfield that their normal pattern of play breaks down. The crowd gets frustrated because they see their team with all the possession but unable to do much with it.   That’s basically how the half shakes down. George Boyd in particular sees more of the ball and has more time than he’s ever likely to again at this level. Repeatedly he passes back and forth with Figueroa down the left, getting into the Sunderland box and then either shooting or crossing to no one in particular. Likewise Elmohamady down the right crosses several times, but with no real effect.   No one seems very sure what to do. A little experience and guile is needed. Perhaps this is Bruce’s thinking when he brings on Robert Koren for Meyler after 10 minutes of the second half. Koren does nothing wrong, but not much changes.   The real guile and skill comes from our Tottenham loanee, the excellent Jake Livermore, who comes nearest to extending our lead with a couple of long-range shots. One forces a fine save from Mannone, another – towards the end of the match – smashes against the post and rebounds to Proschwitz, on for Rosenior, who can’t control it in front of the open goal.   Of course, just packing the defence and keeping us out won’t get the Mackems any points, and so as the half progresses they increasingly try to hit us on the break. With quarter an hour to go one such break leads to Boyd fouling Bardsley about 25 yards out, just to our left. A perfect position for Johnson to hit one. Happily Larson takes it. Badly. The ball trickles wide of Harper’s left hand post.   Boyd may have played well in recent games, but he’s no left winger and he’s not having much impact today. With 15 minutes to go he’s replaced by Robbie Brady – in theory a far more natural winger, but in practice today he doesn’t play down the left much at all and looks as bemused as his teammates when it comes to finding a way through the Black Cats’ rearguard.   The nearer we get to the end of the match, the more likely it seems that Sunderland will snatch a goal. Never more likely than when a clearance upfield beats McShane, bounces over the impeccable Davies, and puts Adam Johnson one-on-one with Steve Harper.   Johnson’s a fine player and well suited to playing on the break. Hah! Harper rushes out to meet him, denying the forward both time and a space to shoot into. Johnson’s shot sees the ball hit Harper and rebound to safety. Not that spectacular, but a fantastic points-clinching save all the same.   City’s worries aren’t completely over as Sunderland have two more freekicks from around the halfway line either side of the 90 minute mark. Mannone takes the first and every other player on the pitch is in our penalty area. It’s cleared to Bardsley who shoots poorly wide. Then in added time Larsen takes a similar kick, with Mannone going up for it to no great effect.   And that’s it. The ref blows for full-time and we’ve got another 3 Premier League points and remain unbeaten at home.   We’re a quarter of the way through the season now – 10 games gone, 10thplace in the Premier League. May be it’s because we’ve been in the top division before. May be it’s because we’ve got a manager of immense top flight experience. May be it’s because of the way the team’s playing. Whatever combination of these it is, there’s no doubt that we’re being patronised a little less than last time round. That all makes me happy.   Most of all though, it’s the 3 points that makes me happy tonight. For all the plaudits, we had just lost 3 in a row before today’s game. We needed to win, and we did so. And given that 3 of our next 4 games are against clubs in the top 5, wins like this are likely to seem all the more important as we head into the winter months.

Hull City 0 Aston Villa 0

I rather like Paul Lambert. I like the way his teams  perform, the fact that he uses young up & coming talent, doesn’t lambast  them in public, just quietly and calmly gets on with the job, without too much  distraction from his chairman which must help also.   I like the style of football he tries to play,  attractive, pacey, on the deck, as football in the modern era should be  played.   Contrast that then with last weeks opposing manager,  Dudley’s worst footballing export, the odious perpetually winging Sam Allerdyce.  God I loath that man, still smarting & seething from not getting the England  job (thank God) had he done so I would have cheerfully stabbed the fad sweaty  Brummie . Yes I know a Dudley-ite  isn’t a Brummie, but as they term it, a Yam-Yam, not to be mixed up with  a sugar glazed doughnut stick, a Yum-Yum, because sugar coated he aint. But if  ever you DO want to wind them up, call them Brummies, it annoys them immensely,  as I do regularly. And boy can they winge! Winge, winge winge. Just like big fat  Sam. One minute he’s saying “if someone feels a touch in the penalty area he has  every right to go down”, the next its “He’s a diver, a cheat”. These two  scenarios can of course be differentiated dependant upon whether its his team  gaining or conceding the penalty.   Fat oaf.   However, Paul Lambert nice chap,  nice team. And taking aside the dourness  of the fans, also quite nice. And helpful as we found out on Sat pre match as we  set too handing out leaflets & badges on behalf of the  #notohulltigers movement. Villa fans not  only taking the leaflets but helping to hand them out as well.   I Do say movement, as that’s what it has now, real  movement. Prior to my holiday, ( yes it was lovely, thanks) I had joined in with  the two protest marches, about 100 at the 1st, about 50-60 on the  2nd. Upon my return, support has now swelled in a very short  space of time to thousands, and the number of voices against can literally be  counted on one hand. I had three on Saturday. Voices against that is, not hands.  A huge well done to those involved, and anyone who can get involved, should, as  I intend to.   So, on with the match, as I ran out of leaflets with only  a few minutes to kick off, all 80 odd mins of it. Yes a this match report may be  a little incomplete as I found myself locked out as I got to the doorway &  had to hammer at it for a few mins before someone let me in!   Rudely kicking off before I got to my seat  were:   McGregor Rosenior Faye Davies Figuero Quinn Huddlestone Livermore Elmo Aluko Graham     My entrance to the game saw City on the defensive, a  quick chat to those around me  suggested that’s what it had been in the few mins I had missed, with  Delph marauding time and again towards the City goal, skipping past Huddlestone  with ease on at least one occasion. This was not going to be easy.   Kozack fired in from long range which was blocked by  Figuero, as City struggled to get a grip of the game, never mind get out of  their half.   A neat move from Aluko after it looked like he had lost  possession gained a corner, but alas it came to nought.   A move down the right saw Elmo put in a rare good cross,  I say rare as he had an off day by his high standards, which Danny Graham should  have at least ‘worked the keeper’ but Guzan collected with ease, a sign of a  striker desperately lacking in confidence, and maybe its time for Sagbo to have  a go from the start.   The game more even now as City clawed their way into it,  edged towards 19 mins and 4 seconds time for the demo! With leaflets held high  and a somewhat disjointed “City til I die” We made our feelings known. This is  not a protest against the Owner, something we stressed to people we handed the  leaflets to, merely a protest against a misguided decision. However, from my  South Stand vantage point, black leaflets on a sea of black and Amber didn’t  look great. Amber reverse side of the leaflet on a sea of Black & Amber  would have looked much better. Maybe a bright red leaflet with “Stop this  nonsense” would have been easier to spot, although with a slightly less Dr  Martin message. Maybe.   City once again gave away possession to see Agbonlahor  force a good save from the impressive McGregor, and shortly afterwards Villa  maybe should have done better through Kozack as we clung on a bit.   This was certainly a good, fast counter attacking side  we  were facing as ‘Gabby’ had  another good chance but ‘Rossy’ saw off the danger, albeit by scything him down  just outside the box, and seeing yellow to boot from referee Clattenburg, who  did as he always does, and tried to let the game flow.   A purely accidental crunching a bit later as a City  defender landed on Agbonlahor, saw him somewhat subdued for the rest of the  game, but one of theirs, later to be identified as Westwood should really have  seen red as an elbow clattered into Huddlestone’s face.   A neat move a bit later saw Hudds hit a good long rage  shot which didn’t trouble Guzan to much as it was straight into his  midriff.   Mistakes & misplaced passes by both sides were the  order of the day as half time approached.   The second half carried on in much the same vein, with  rare pickings from either side for MOTD cameras and it came as no surprise to  find out we were last, in fact such lacking in goal scoring opportunities, we  nearly made it straight onto MOTD2.   Villa did have one very good move involving a break away  with Bacuna & Wiemann feeding the off the boil Agbonlahor who just fired  wide, thankfully.   Our attacking options were also limited, mainly due a  very poor 2nd half display by Elmo, who’s crossing suddenly became  erratic at best and it was no surprise to find him later subbed.   City came back with three corners in a row, all taken by  Aluko, all failing to find a striped shirt. Wasted opportunity. Dead ball  situations looked our best bet but we wasted all of them.   Villa came close again through El Ahmedi twice, and it  was time for a change.   Off went Aluko, who to be fair had been well marked  throughout and the quiet Quinn, replaced by Sagbo and Boyd.   Sagbo had a chance soon after coming on but was bundled  to the floor as he began to look lively, astonishingly not seen as a foul by the  ref. . Hopefully he’s learnt from his first game, as he didn’t protest too much.   Into the final 15 and we looked the better side as Villa  looked to have settled for a point, and with 5 mins left, we too shored up,  replacing Elmo with Mayler, who promptly sliced his first clearance into West  stand.   It sort of fizzled out after that, and ended a very  respectable 0-0 against a side I think will do well this year.   My Villa supporting work colleagues were subdued today,  as I think they thought they would give us a thumping, but as teams are finding  out, our defensive work is proving to be a match, if we can find the net, a good  season awaits.   One of our Manchester United season pass holding ( I’ll  give him his due, he IS from Manchester) senior Managers passed my desk this  afternoon, and commented “Good result for you guys at the weekend, you’re doing  well, you were even above United earlier this season”   To which I had great pleasure in replying, “ We still  are, Dave, we still are…”

Hull City 1 West Ham United 0

I’ve seen better performances before. I’ve seen us sneak a few wins with a smidgen of luck before. I’ve seen plenty of scrappy games which have left us calling for the final whistle before.   But in 3 decades of regular City watching, I’ve never before known such a match take us 7th in the top division, level with Liverpool and Man City, 3 points and 5 places above the other Manchester club. So far so very good in our Premier League return season – it might lack those feelings of starry-eyed glamour and incredulous novelty that we experienced in season 2008-09’s first few months, but it all feels a lot more solid and well constructed this time round.   Grabbing 3 precious Premier League points, stuffing them in the bag, and zipping it up quickly before anyone could take them back, were:                            McGregor         Rosenior Davies  Faye   Figueroa   Elmohamady  Huddlestone  Livermore   Brady                      Graham      Aluko    The big call in that line-up was Abdoulaye Faye replacing the injured Chester. Faye was the right choice, and he was given a warm welcome by City fans and the impressive turn-out of West Ham fans alike, having been a key player in the Hammers’ promotion season in 2011-12.   It’s not really possible to dislike Abdoulaye Faye. The same can’t be said of chicken-dancing, referee-baiting, fading force at this level, Kevin Nolan, who introduces himself to a sun-drenched East Stand early doors by launching a dreadful tackle on Liam Rosenior.   Rosenior writhes. The ref brandishes a yellow card. Nolan has shot his tetchy bolt too soon and is a subdued bit-part player for much of the rest of the afternoon.   If there is any strutting around to be done in the early exchanges, then it’s City doing it. Sone Aluko in particular seems to be walking tall, boosted by last week’s tremendous 3-point-grabbing, side-foot-volleyed winner at St James Park. Aluko demands the ball tirelessly, and today he is the central element of most City attacks, keeping the ball under close control, at speed, turning this way and that. Aluko is class – and this week’s news that he’s confident of signing a new contract soon is reassuring.   For all Aluko’s star is shining at the moment, it’s our other speedy and skilful young forward – Robbie Brady – who ensures that City take an early, and ultimately decisive, lead. On 11 minutes, Elmohamady, released from his usual defensive duties today by Rosenior being picked at right-back, swings one of his trademark crosses from deep into the box. Brady jumps for it with O’Brien, appears to be pushed from behind during the challenge, and referee Kevin Friend points to the spot. It’s a soft one. Thank you very much, Friend.   Knowing of old how Hammers’ keeper Jussi Jaaskelainen can keep the Tigers at bay, I am not counting any chickens yet. But the bearded Brady is walking as tall as Aluko. A short run-up by Brady, facing the West Ham fans in the north stand, Jaaskelainen dives to his right and watches helplessly as the ball goes hard and low to his left.   1-0 to City.   At this stage of the game, City seem dominant, West Ham lethargic and unable to cope with some of our play. Ex-City loanee and life-long Hammer, Mark Noble, can only try to stop Aluko by fouling him, and is given a lecture by the ref after he’d let play go on to City’s advantage.   For all his qualities – and he seems to be pretty much the fulcrum of West Ham’s team today – Noble’s play looks churlish set against that of the best Londoner on the pitch, Jake Livermore. Livermore plays some really sweet football. Overshadowed a little, literally and figuratively, by the immense Tom Huddlestone, nonetheless Livermore is fast becoming a key figure for City this season.   West Ham’s contribution to the game has so far consisted of obvious fouls, balls hoofed forward for big men, and central defenders trooping upfield for long throws wound up and unleashed by Razvan Rat. Yes, now that things at the Britannia Stadium have been transformed by urbane Mark Hughes replacing old-school Tony Pulis, West Ham United are the Stoke City de nos jours. I don’t know the mood amongst West Ham fans well enough, but it wouldn’t surprise me one iota if distaste for Sam Allardyce’s preferred style of football has only been held back by the relative success of promotion last year. The days of Ron Greenwood and John Lyall are decades behind us, but fans brought up on players like Peters, Brooking, and Devonshire must surely mutter discontent at the less cultured stuff served up now.   Incidentally West Ham’s long-throw specialist has ‘R. Rat’ on the back of his shirt. Players usually use their initial to distinguish them from teammates with the same surname. But, help me here, there aren’t any other Rats playing for West Ham are there?   Right, back to the action. Don’t let me get too cocky, and don’t let me give the impression that silky City ran rings around lumbering Hammers all afternoon. There are shades of that for the first 20 minutes or so, but after that West Ham get far more of a grip on the game. The Allardyce method might not be attractive, but it can be effective.   On 21 minutes West Ham get a free-kick, central, 30 yards out. City clear it for a corner, from which one of theirs heads it goalwards, only for Elmohamady to chest it off the line. They get another corner a few minutes later, and then on 30 minutes West Ham build a good move down the left, feeding the ball in to Diame on the edge of our box, who contrives an air-shot.   It’s a let-off for City. A couple of minutes later a more messy West Ham attack sees the ball fall to Noble who shoots low and hard and just wide. We could do with another goal.   City respond to this West Ham pressure by reviving the attacking threat. An Aluko free-kick goes over the wall, dips impressively, but is pouched by Jaaskelainen. Then another Elmohamady cross finds Brady, who heads it back across the box where Davies tries a brave diving header, only to the see the ball bundled over the West Ham bar.   Half-time. City 1-0 up in the Premier League, and if it doesn’t quite feel comfortable in terms of getting the result yet, it seems entirely normal. We’ve got a decent squad with the odd weak link. So far, and it’s emphasised today, the weakest is Danny Graham. He doesn’t look good enough for our team at the moment. Just on half-time Graham has been booked. Rightly so. A chipped pass to him in the right inside forward position saw him look startled as he failed to control the ball, and then hurl the ball at the linesman when he didn’t get the decision he wanted. Petulance, brought on perhaps by frustration at not playing to the level required.    In the second half the West Ham way shapes the game more and more. Scrappy, not pretty. Effective in terms of getting the Hammers more possession and creating the odd chance, but not threatening in the way a quality passing side can be. Until, that is, the introduction of Stuart Downing mid-way through the second half. I’m very glad that Allardyce decided – inexplicably on today’s evidence – not to start with the intelligent and skilful sometime England man.   Even before Downing came on, at the 70 minute mark, West Ham are increasingly forcing City into defensive errors and tactical fouls. Rosenior looks to be suffering a bit from second-game syndrome, having impressed on his return at Newcastle last week, he is less secure today. His potentially strong combination with Elmohamady down City’s right doesn’t really catch fire, though there is the odd spark.   There’s a burst of hectic end-to-end stuff. An Aluko attack down the right is repelled. United stream up our end and get a shot away, well saved by McGregor. They continue to press, and City give away a number of free-kicks around 30-40 yards out. Each one is delivered into the box by Noble, each one is dealt with without too much danger by our defence. Faced with this sort of assault, I’m preferring Faye to Chester.   City get chances too. On 61 Graham meets a cross by volleying it over the bar. On 67 Graham is involved again, entering the area, he checks back instead of pressing on, and lays the ball into the path of Livermore, whose low shot from outside the box beats Jaaskelainen and bounces back off the post.   On 70 United bring on Downing and Vaz Te (another ex-City loanee). Steve Bruce sends Sagbo on in place of Graham. So for the last quarter West Ham are boosted by the pace and skill of their two substitutes – Downing in particular. He’s starting off deep, almost reprising the full-back role he tried out at Liverpool, but repeatedly raids down our left. City are defending deep too, and leaving only Aluko up top so that when we do get the ball there are few options and West Ham regain possession.   On 74 comes the second contentious penalty decision – this one not given, as West Ham players appeal loud and long for a handball. Not one that could be spotted from my East Stand vantage, though the strength of appeals suggest at the time that we are lucky to concede only a corner rather than a spot-kick. Definitely one that could be spotted from the North Stand where the Hammers fans show their anger by getting behind their team still more.   Later on, TV pictures show a clear handball and an unsighted ref. Bad luck West Ham.   Although that’s the last real scare, United continue to have the upper hand for the rest of the match. City are holding on, and – with 4 minutes added time extended still further for treatment to Rosenior after a clash of heads – eventually that’s that.   So, we’re doing well. Back-to-back Premier League wins are not easy to come by. We’ve won 2 out of 3 home games, but both of those wins are by disputed Brady penalties.   Last week’s goal fest aside, it’s fair to say that Bruce has still not solved the forward problem which he tried to address on deadline day. Long sits on the bench at West Brom. There’s a time limit on how long we can say of Danny Graham, ‘he just needs a goal’. Sagbo’s sending-off against Norwich stopped his progress before he had time to get into his not inconsiderable stride. Proschwitz’s reward for scoring mid-week against Huddersfield was to lose his place on the bench today. And I assume that Gedo when fit will be higher in the pecking order than our enigmatic German.   It’ll be interesting to see how we line up next week, when the vagaries of the fixture list mean we do it all again at the KC against a team in claret and blue. In the meantime, if you find yourself having a bad week for whatever reason, take a glance at the league table. It’ll raise a smile.

Newcastle United 2 Hull City 3

1662 days. That seems a long time. 1662 days is how long we Hull City fans have had to wait since Manucho poked home a Garcia cross in our last away win in top flight. Maybe that’s a little unfair, we have spent three seasons in the second tier, so maybe 26 away league games without a win is a better comparison. Steve Bruce brought his Tigers side back to his native North East. With Figueroa missing on compassionate leave and Koren out of the side due to a broken foot, the team was shuffled to face a Newcastle side who had won 2 and drawn 1 of their last three games. McGregor Elmohamady Chester Davies Rosenior Quinn Huddlestone Livermore Brady Aluko Graham The early exchanges of the game set the pattern for much of the first half. The impressive Cabaye frequently combined with Santon and Remy on their left wing, as they appeared to target the defensive weakness of Elmohamady. On the whole, the City back line proved a formidable foe to these Newcastle attacks, giving the home team plenty of possession, but adopting a ‘thou shall not pass’ attitude once they reached the edge of the Tigers area. At the other end, chances were few and far between. In our last games against Newcastle, I was struck by how Coloccini struggled with the physical battles with Cousin. Whilst he’s a composed defender, he still struggles with the physical side of the game, this time it was the much less physically imposing Aluko who brushed aside the Argentinian, but was unable to direct his shot goal wards. However within a minute, City were trailing. Sissoko works some space in the right hand channel before crossing over to the left. Elmohamady misjudged the flight of the ball, allowing it to loop over his head and onto the foot of Santon. His central cross is met by the meaty head of Remy, putting his header beyond the reach of McGregor. In the previous match against Cardiff, Graham was singled out for his missing of easy chances. This week he seemed to be playing a different role. He may now have broken his goal-scoring duck, but was proving a strong and effective target man against the Newcastle back-line, bringing other players into the game. That said, when a chance did fall his way, he managed to scuff his shot giving Krul an easy ball to pick up. Despite Graham not scoring, it’s not proving too much of an issue as City are finding other players to carry that job out. Again Newcastle had been given plenty of possession, whilst rarely being given the opportunity to threaten McGregor’s goal. City were starting to get better chances up to the equaliser. A Krul ball out finds it was to Quinn on the right side. The Irish midfielder passes to Aluko at the top of the Newcastle D, before the ball is played over to Brady finding space down the left channel. Whilst the shot seemed to head straight at Krul, it sneaked under the netman’s body and into the back of the net. The Newcastle trio of Santon, Cabaye and Remy continue to be a thorn in the side of the City defence. At that point, I thought a reshuffle of the City wide players may have helped the situation. Elmohamady to right wing, Rosenior to right back, Brady to left back and Quinn to the left wing. But City kept their shape and held on for the most part. However, just as we were preparing for the half-time break, Newcastle put themselves back in front. Santon again attacks the left wing, before passing back to Cabaye. His shot is blocked by Chester, but falls nicely to Remy, who’s got plenty of space to pick his spot and put the Geordies 2-1 up. Much is said about the 7 levels the away fans have to ascent of the Leazes stand. To my immediate left, a large screen is constructed to keep out the weather – providing an effective greenhouse to those in the stand. This does however provide some great views over the Tyne valley past the youth clubs of Byker, the football pitches of Glipton and over the water to Gateshead. The Leazes and Milburn stands provides half of a massive stadium, although the Gallowgate and East stand, being somewhat lower gives the ground a feeling of being somewhat unfinished. That may well be down to being unable to expand on those sides, due to the nearby residential areas. Soon after the half-time break, City are once again back on level terms. After Aluko is knocked down, having received the ball from a throw-in, a free kick is awarded about 30 yards out to the left of the field. Brady’s kick is met by the head of Elmohamady, who’d glided beyond his marker, to loop a header off the far post and into the goal. Slight confusion did reign after the announcer suggested it was Chester who had scored, but no matter, the score line was 2-2. That early goal spurred City to be more adventurous than the first half. Quinn in particular seemed to be finding more space to attack his wing. However whilst Graham was still proving to be an effective target up front, his goal scoring eye was still proving less than effective. This was by no means one way traffic. Newcastle still seemed to be attacking through the trio of Santon, Cabaye and Remy, but they were getting less luck out of the stubborn centre-back pairing of Chester with his well timed interceptions and Davies with a more physical approach to getting the ball clear. On the other side of the pitch Ben Arfa had largely been kept quiet by the busy efficiency of Rosenior, so the French winger found himself having to drop deeper and deeper to get any time on the ball. A rare opportunity did seem to be hit out of play by Ben Arfa, before the referee Atkinson awarded a corner. Fortunately Yanga-Mbiwa put his shot over. The sight of Atkinson in the referee’s shirt had filled me with dread before the game. I was convinced he was one of those referees that we never got any decisions from. However I was proven wrong. From my high vantage point, we appeared to be getting the majority of the decisions. Many of which I thought should have gone the other way. So perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much about Ben Arfa being awarded that corner. The next Newcastle attacks end Cabaye’s day. He once again attacks down the City right, but is met by a strong but fair challenge from Davies. Initially it seemed that he went down far too easy, as Newcastle put the ball out of play when they had a very promising attack on the cards. He did however limp off to be replaced by Gouffran. After Quinn fells Sissoko, Ben Arfa is given a chance on the free-kick, whilst Rosenior is restricted to remain 10 yards away, but perhaps his continues presence put the Frenchman off, meaning he could only put it wide. After Boyd replaces Quinn, City appear to be trying to take all three points from the game. A few set pieces fall City’s way, yet we are less than efficient with these, firstly with a Huddlestone free-kick finding Elmohamady before Krul punches clear, then a Brady corner which Sissoko heads away. With the game becoming more open, Newcastle’s chances are blocked by City’s men at the back. Chester is having a great game, forever getting his toe to the ball and constantly stopping the Black and White attacks. When they do find a way past Chester, then there’s Davies. Is it too much to suggest these could be one of the best City centre-back pairings? I’m not sure Turner & Zayette would compare and as for Sonko… A substitution for both sides sees Cisse replaced by Marveaux for Newcastle and Meyler on for Brady. Within a few minutes, Aluko gives City the lead. Huddlestone plays the ball wide to Rosenior, who passes up the line to Boyd. Boyd easily goes past his full-back, before crossing to the edge of the area, where Aluko’s lurking to hit a volley past Krul and into the net. After the match, many comments were comparing this to Windass’s volley at Wembley. Whilst I don’t believe it’s as good, it was a fantastic finish from an equally good move. With the lead gained, City again drop back to hold on to the three points, inviting more Newcastle possession. Ben Arfa drops deeper to try and gain possession, before being felled by Meyler. His free-kick is however passed short to Santon, who can only blast the ball at the City wall. Whilst Grahams goal scoring touch had deserted him, the Tiger support gave him a standing ovation when he was replaced by Sagbo, due to his strong target man play. Sagbo offered a bit more energy running up front, but with Newcastle penning City back he was an occasional outlet. Newcastle keep probing for an opening but every time, there’s Chester nicking the ball away. In the final minute of normal time, Davies breaks forward before passing to Huddlestone in an off-side position. Huddlestone decides to shoot after the whistle goes, thus seeing Atkinson book him for kicking the ball away. As the clock reaches 90, Newcastle find themselves a very good chance to get level. A cross from the right finds Sissoko free at the back post. Surely there can only be one outcome. But no, there’s another as he directs his shot wide of the post and off the advertising hoardings. Before McGregor can take his goal kick, Chester goes down, holding the top of his leg. After treatment, Huddlestone fills in at centre-back with Chester returning to run about up front. This however proves useless with Chester then having to hobble off with a hamstring injury. By now, McGregor is obviously taking his time over every kick, to the frustration of the remaining home support. A great break by Meyler relieves the pressure on the defence, before winning a free kick by the corner flag. Sissoko’s frustration gets the better of him as he pushes out at Sagbo, to also find his name taken. A final chance comes after a long Newcastle ball into the box, which is held by McGregor, and congratulated by Davies, much like Brown on Myhill at the end of the Playoff game. The final whistle is then greeted in the away end by Total Tiger Mayhem, whilst on the pitch we once again get to see Elmohamady’s ‘Uncle at a wedding’ dance. The match was therefore a great win for City, whilst walking away from the ground, the home fans didn’t seem too despondent, having heard of Sunderland’s latest defeat. So from a run of 26 away games in top flight without a win, to a run of a 1 game winning run. Things keep looking up on the pitch

Hull City 1 Cardiff City 1

Hull Pharaoh Tigers 1 Cardiff Redbird Dragons 1 Yesterday’s result clearly generated a fair bit of negativity among sections of the paying customers, typified by the guy with the abnormally large head trudging just in front of me up the steps to the railway footbridge after the game. I find it harder to place people in their correct social and behavioural pigeonhole these days, but this same guy a generation ago would have worn Crimplene slacks (cream, probably with finger marks on them), driven a Ford Escort 1100 and drunk keg Tetleys, which he would sip with a smug, knowing look on his face. Resplendent in his new City away shirt, and, one suspects, with a couple of less colourful replica shirts, advertising the wares of Messrs White & Mackay and Top Man, folded away in the bottom of the chest of drawers in his spare room, for about half the walk to Argyle Street, until I finally managed to get out of his earshot, he delivered to nobody in particular at intervals of about twenty seconds a series of soundbites (“Can’t score”……..”Won’t do owt till we get some strikers”…….”Need to get rid of that Graham”……”Be going down at this rate”…….) looking round after each one in search of a word or gesture of assent or approval from those around him, in exactly the same irritating way that Ian Hislop does in Have I Got News for You? Then there was the imbecile journalist or sub-editor whose headline today declared that City were in for a “Long, hard season”. A cursory glance at the report below revealed this headline to be no more than a somewhat gauche attempt at a play on words around the collapse of the Shane Long deal, but nevertheless creating an unnecessarily-negative impression for someone without the time or the inclination to read the report more thoroughly OK, it’s fair to say that, on the balance of play and chances created, yesterday might arguably have been a case of two points dropped, and yes, to that extent one might conclude that if anything the result was a tad on the disappointing side, and yes, nobody is under any illusions that the strike rate will not need to improve if we are to avoid a struggle but really, does any of that justify the levels of gloom and despondency that seemed to have descended over the Tiger Nation yesterday? Would we not have taken where we are now before the start of the season, especially with the difficult fixtures we have had away from home? Thankfully, the way in which the manager, sensing the mood, one suspects, placed our season to date into perspective, both on Humberside and later on MOTD, and brought a healthy and frankly much-needed dose of sanity to the proceedings. Could a Club of our stature and means possibly be blessed with a more sure-footed and capable manager at this level? Very doubtful indeed. It was also pretty clear from yesterday’s game which of the two teams looks – at this admittedly early stage – the more comfortable and better-equipped overall at this level, and no, it isn’t the one that has spent all the money. The injury scare surrounding McGregor having evaporated, and with Sagbo serving out his last week of self-inflicted exile, City lined up pretty much as expected:- McGregor Elmohamady Chester Davies Figueroa Koren (C) Livermore Huddlestone Brady Graham Aluko …..or something like that. Sub: Quinn (for Brady, 66 minutes) For the first time this season the autumnal nip which has crept into the air of late made it feel like proper football weather as the game kicked off with City playing towards the 1,268 Welshmen clad, pleasingly, for the most part in blue and occupying the deeper recesses of the North Stand: not a terribly impressive following for such an early away game for a Club returning to the top flight after more than half a century, but after years of it being rare for more than a couple of half-full busloads of Cardiff fans to show their faces in Hull undoubtedly the most they have ever brought to Hull apart from the rather special circumstances of last season. Their team, rather more surprisingly but even more pleasingly, was clad in blue too. What’s up, Mr Tang? Colour clash? The first threat to either goal comes from the visitors, when Campbell gets into a position on the right side of the City box which momentarily looks a touch threatening, but Figueroa skilfully glides in between man and ball and ushers the leather to safety. Which brings us nicely on the one-time monopolist of the City man of the match award, even when he wasn’t playing. Why do City fans insist on booing him? OK, so he declined to re-join us in 09 or whenever it was, but what the boo-boys have to remember is that footballers for the most part lack the intelligence to make their own decisions about career moves and that the decision of Campbell to go to Sunderland was almost certainly made by his father, who acts as his agent. If you want to boo somebody, boo Campbell senior, but even then do bear in mind that Campbell junior was under absolutely no legal or moral obligation to come back to the Circle (shortly to be renamed the Pyramid, my sources tell me), neither was his father to make him. But back to the football. Two minutes on and we really should have got off the mark. Aluko skilfully makes space on the edge of the D and fires in low. Stand-in Cardiff keeper Lewis (sporting the only Welsh surname in the visitors’ squad) dives low to his right but can only push the leather out to the feet of Graham, who, with the goal gaping before him, spoons the leather into the gleeful away support. Admittedly, the ball came back at him off the goalie quite quickly but one ought to expect a bit of anticipation at this level. Truly a shocking miss: highly reminiscent of one for which my younger brother was responsible when playing for his Cub pack many years ago, but at least he had the excuse of being inherently slow-witted and clumsy. For much of the rest of the half the game adopts a somewhat formless guise. Initially Cardiff have most of the ball and when City do get they give it back quite quickly, with little of the fluency that was so evident at Eastlands on show. The visitors though do very little with their possession, the only real scare coming when one of theirs takes a tumble in the box but referee Madley is having none of it. Shortly afterwards Campbell’s name finds its way into the book after a late lunge on Elmo and the Cardiff number 10 then spends much of the game in a mood of petulance until his eventual substitution just before three-quarter time. Finally City rally, and shortly after Lewis is forced to bat out a Koren cross after a nice crossfield move, Aluko makes space for himself on the inside left channel and fires powerfully into the side netting one of those efforts that look from the far side as if they have gone in, and yes, a few East Standers fell for it. This is a good City spell, with Graham just failing to convert a cross from Aluko, and then the City number 24 himself steers one just wide of the near post. We are looking very likely to score now and on this occasion follow the script. Six minutes before half time, Livermore and Huddlestone combine, and the latter hits a low drive which Lewis is glad to be able to push round the post. The resulting corner is cleared, but only as far Huddlestone, out wide on the right, who curls an absolutely delightful cross in behind the Cardiff defenders, completely wrongfooting them in the process and allowing the alert Davies (what an impressive start to the season from him, by the way) to ghost in and glance a header into the pokey from three or four yards out. Nothing else of note happens in the remaining few minutes of the half, and a neutral would conclude that we were just about good value for the lead. So half-time, and perhaps an observation or two about the ongoing name change fiasco, and in particular the Grauniad interview with the Chairman on the subject during the week. Whether you are consumed with a desire to burn the stadium down in the event of a name change, or whether you think it’s high time that City embraced modern commercialism and move into the 21st Century, one thing is now clear, namely that, whatever his actual motives, the Chairman’s plans cannot possibly not rooted in any kind of commercial thinking, the key to this conclusion lying in his frankly incredible declaration to David Conn that Man City should be called Manchester Hunter. Those in favour of, or ambivalent about, any name change might be well advised to reconsider their position in the light of this. The protest that was planned at short notice before the game did not seem to have any appreciable effect on the numbers in the ground, but that should not be taken as any indication that there is no real groundswell of opinion against this nonsense, or that only those protesting are opposed to any change: I personally know numerous fans who, for various reasons, choose not to take part in the protest marches but have said that they will not renew their passes if the name changes. Not only that, but the majority of those who will stay away are fans of longer standing, whose support – both vocal and financial – will be sorely missed if and when times get hard. The observation made during the week by one regular contributor to this list that this could all get very personal if the Chairman presses ahead with his plans is, to my mind, absolutely correct. That would be an enormous shame, because the good he has done for our Club is near-immeasurable, and yet he would only have himself to blame. He really ought to consider whether this is all worth it, especially as it’s by no means certain that he would be allowed to make the name change, even if it is his club. Back on the pitch, a promising situation is pissed up the wall when Brady (who turned in a largely lazy, self-indulgent performance, for which he was deservedly substituted) tried to be too clever when he had easy options, After a free kick to Cardiff causes some problems until a goalbound-looking shot is blocked, Aluko delightfully skins Turner on the right and is hauled down, earning the defender a yellow card. The resulting free-kick, near the by-line, is, instead of being crossed, cleverly pulled back to the unmarked Koren, whose shot is similarly blocked. We’re looking decidedly sprightly now and the more likely of the two sides to score, and so experienced City watchers know what’s coming next. Campbell feeds Cowie out on the right, and the cross is volleyed home in fine style by Whittingham. Undoubtedly questions need to be asked why Elmo allowed Whittingham to cut inside him, but it was a fine finish nevertheless, poignantly reminiscent of the Graham goal that was ruled narrowly offside against Man Citteh. Sometimes the line between hero-worship and opprobrium is that thin. It could be much worse a couple of minutes later, when Gunnarsson, unmarked seven or eight yards out, really ought at least to have hit the target with his free header, but directs the leather over the angle of post and bar. That, though, is pretty much the last time that Cardiff threaten, as City generally dominate the last quarter of the game. Graham almost manages to walk the ball through the entire Cardiff defence on 76 but just fails, and a couple of minutes later we suffer some genuinely cruel luck as a corner is cleared, the ball is played out to the lively Quinn, whose energy and probing are a welcome contrast to the posturing and indolence of Brady, and the City sub’s teasing ball is poked home at the far post by Aluko, only for the City striker (correctly) to be ruled offside. The Nigerian forces Lewis into a save from 20 yards on and then on 86 is felled just outside the box but Huddlestone’s free kick thunders into the wall. The clock is running down now and four minutes’ injury time are signalled, but still City press on and, having negotiated one potential scare when Davies dallies on the ball, loses possession and is forced to bring his man down, for which he is booked, have one final chance to secure the full three points. Elmo picks up a clearance, works a nice one-two (not sure with whom) and delivers a pinpoint cross onto the head of Graham. A couple of feet either side of the netminder and it’s in, but in fact the header is planted straight into the arms of Lewis. A chance spurned, and it’s our final one of the afternoon. Still, we’ve had worse days, and we’ll have better ones this season, for sure. In conclusion, one question and one request. Anyone know why Steve Bruce wears a suit for some games and a tracksuit for others? If I were Malky Mackay I’d be quite hurt at our manager’s scruffy garb yesterday, a far cry from the sartorial elegance he displayed when standing shoulder to shoulder with Mourinho at Ver Bridge. And the request. Can someone please tell David Osgerby that his poetry doesn’t scan?

Manchester City 2 Hull City 0

On our way up to Manchester we passed a minibus full of Manchester City supporters on the A1.  Her ladyship doesn’t know much about football but a dozen or so men in replica kits is something of a giveaway.   She asked who they supported and I told her it was that day’s opposition.  She cogitated for a while and then opined: “power blue isn’t a good colour for men unless they are hairdressers”.  Later she came up with the theory that it might be a good shade for a Manchester team, “to remind the supporters what the sky looks like in the rest of the country”.   Not surprisingly she spent the afternoon shopping, while we watched the football.   It’s not often you come away feeling optimistic after a 0-2 setback but this was one of those times.  If we play like this regularly there will be more happy Mondays in our future than blue ones.   Lining up against The Champions’ noisy neighbours at The Etihad there was just the one enforced change from the team that started against Norwich.  Sagbo was serving the 2nd game of a 3 match ban (see, there is value in League Cup ties) and Danny Graham took his place in front of a now familiar looking formation. We kicked off playing away from the visiting supporters in the South Stand under blue skies with scudding clouds.  The first twenty minutes must have been exactly what BT were hoping for when they coughed up the money to televise live games.  Fluid movement, sharp passing, and penetrative attacks: just what you would expect in match featuring Manchester City only it was the team in Black and Amber that was looking like the ones expected to be challenging for the title.  First a through ball to Koren that is dragged back and taken off the toe of a marauding Graham for corner.  Then Aluko breaks free of a sluggish Lescott, advances on the exposed Hart and drags a shot agonisingly wide of the upright.   It’s not all one way though.   Figeuroa dallied on the ball giving Manchester a corner.  The resulting near post flick is smartly turned around the post by McGregor. In a flash we are heading up to the other end.  A flowing move involving Koren, Elmohamady, Graham and Aluko ends up with Brady whose cross is neatly turned in by Graham.  He looked suspiciously offside and sure enough there was the linesman with flag raised.   Subsequent views on television showed the decision to be the right one although Graham’s slick movement meant that it was closer than it had seemed live.   It was breathless stuff and the next action look place in front of us.  I had wondered at why the grass around the area had been cut the way it was.  Perhaps it was to show less than honest players where to go ground, I mused?  The ball was hoisted into the City area, and played out via a very obvious powder blue clad arm to Aguero on the edge of the box who took a very theatrical – and unwarranted – tumble: two bad decisions in two seconds.  From the resulting free kick the ball was eventually headed towards the net only to be tipped over by the alert McGregor.   We still weren’t twenty minutes in when Brady was taken out clumsily.  Thudd’s free kick was cleared but only to Koren whose shot was lashed just wide.   The game settled down a bit now.  We continued playing some excellent passing football and for large swathes of the game it would have been impossible for an impartial observer to differentiate between the team assembled for billions and the one put together – in Premier League terms – on a shoestring.  I can’t recall ever seeing a City team so comfortable with the ball from front to back.  Much of this good play came through Huddlestone: an Oasis of calm.  Livermore who was seemingly everywhere, no more so than when Davies rampaged forward.   Chances were coming less frequently now, and on about 35 minutes there was a huge exodus of blue to the concourses.  Through amber coloured spectacles (seriously, they are the ones I wear for cycling) it seemed that the referee had decided that Manchester needed a hand.  He overruled the linesman more than once, gave free kicks for shoulder to shoulder challenges and for what looked like yet another Aguero dive.  At the same time the manhandling of Aluko was ignored.  After his early break he was being given no opportunity to turn, either by fair means or foul.   Half time was reached with no goals.  Would we regret the early chances squandered?  Popular opinion was that we probably would.   The 2nd half saw the introduction of one time City target, Alvaro Negredo for the ineffectual Dzeko.  The latter had been consummately shackled by Davies and Chester, the former showing why he was (and will be again) so highly regarded, the latter growing into life with the big boys.  Manchester start the period on the front foot and City’s bright spells of possession are becoming less frequent although still in evidence.  Aluko continues to be the subject of physical assaults each tome he gets the ball and eventually Nastasic is booked for a tackle that would be more appropriate against Hull FC.   A great spell of City play involving Graham and Koren comes to naught before our skipper accompanies Figueora into the book for a foul on Kolarov.  The resulting free kick is cleared but the pendulum is swinging towards the home team now.   Negredo had already got one errant header before he pulled away from Elmohamady in the box to get on the end of a fine cross from Zabaleta.  The header was close to McGregor but powerful and angled down so our keeper was well beaten.  1-0 to the Powder Blues and our first half profligacy was coming back to haunt us as the wizened sages around me had predictions.   Shortly thereafter, Aluko was fouled once too often and withdrawn to give Steven Quinn his first taste of Premier League action.  And all action he was, winning a header and getting clattered for his pains before buzzing around the left flank and causing many worrying moments to the home defence.  Koren had given way for George Boyd and the latter got off a wayward shot before Quinn threatened again.  Quinn’s initial shot hit a Manc arm in the area (“bet they don’t show that again on the big screen” opined my neighbour, and sure enough, they didn’t) and his follow up was safely pouched by Joe Hart.   A flowing City move sees the ball switched from left to right, through several passes.  Brady’s cross is agonisingly ahead of Graham’s slide: if only he had been wearing the longer studs.  It’s worth a few words about Graham at this point.  He has put in a shift as they say, nothing like the feckless showing at Chelsea.  Leading the line, getting shots in (it was a great finish in the first half, despite the offside) and generally looking a threat.  He gets in one final header that is comfortable for Hart.   We have been in the ascendancy for the last few minutes and looking the more likely to grab a goal so it is no surprise when we don’t and they do.   Nasri had been introduced after the first goal.  He has previous against City in a red shirts when the main attributes he showed were niggling little fouls and petulance.  Nothing changes and on this occasion he did his very best Olga Korbut impression when Chester failed to make contact in injury time.  Two rolls, a pike and a flip later the referee succumbed and gave the free kick.  Ya Ya Toure, who had played like a poor man’s Carlton Palmer throughout, slammed in the dead ball off the underside of the crossbar.   And that was that.  In many ways it was similar to Chelsea.  Two goals conceded, one classy, one thunderbolt from a dubious (and I being generous there) free kick.  The difference in how we approached the game showed how much we had come on in those two weeks.  For most of the game we matched one of the pre-season favourites.  At times we outplayed them.  In the end out shortcomings in front of goal meant that we were always likely to come away unrewarded.   We won’t be playing the top teams every week and we now have a run of fixtures against teams that we will competing with in the lower reaches (i.e., everywhere below 7th or 8th) in the league.  Play against them like we did on Saturday and we will get results. The New Order at Hull City will bring Joy in this Division.

Hull City 1 Norwich City 0

Curtis Davies reminds me of Carlton Palmer. And this is meant as nought but a compliment. There was a moment in the second half of a compelling and nerve-shattering game against Norwich City when the new centre back, on his home debut, made an interception, played a pass and then just kept on running. He received the final ball and got to edge of the box, ready to have a pop at goal before contenting himself with a corner and a deafening round of applause from the City faithful. That run, that spindly-legged, unconventional, utterly determined, manic run. That was the kind of thing Palmer did at his peak in the early 90s as a marauding, awkward sod of a midfielder and sometime centre back in one of Sheffield Wednesday’s best sides. It got him the 18 England caps that to this day tiresome people say he didn’t deserve, despite being in the form of his life. Davies probably doesn’t walk like Rihanna, though he may do press-ups like Sinitta, eat cakes like Tracey Ullman and vacuum clean like Susan Cadogan. But he runs like Carlton Palmer. And it was gripping to see. His performance at the back and as a general behemoth encapsulated a totally absorbing return to the Circle of Premier League football. That City won the game was slightly fortuitous thanks to Norwich, sporadically threatening but generally a disappointment, not creating anywhere enough chances for a team that had a man advantage for two thirds and more of the match. The determination, the endeavour, the enterprise, the self-made luck; all were clustered together by a resolute Tigers ten after a temerarious sending off for Yannick Sagbo left a bewitched 23,682 crowd biting approximately 216,820 nails. And nails is homonymically appropriate, as that’s what the Tigers were. Determined to put all references to Iain Dowie to bed once and for all were:

McGregor
Elmohamady
Chester
Davies
Figueroa
Livermore
Sagbo
Koren
Huddlestone
Brady
Aluko

… ish. All of our sides and formations express fluidity these days. With Danny “Jimmy” Graham, faultlessly isolated but culpably unenamoured at Chelsea last week, demoted to the bench and the exposed David Meyler also in a bib, the team looked somewhat more ravenous for the ball, with Robert Koren aiming to support Sone Aluko as much as possible. Norwich, elegant in a basic white with black change kit, had City’s great defender of the modern era, Michael Turner, among their ranks. The Canaries made the first chance when the gangly Leroy Fer, whose surname looks like the registrar’s pen ran out while completing the birth certificate, headed a Steven Whittaker cross just wide of Allan “Rioch” McGregor’s right hand post. Handy chance, gratifyingly not taken. For all the joy and excitement and summery eagerness that goes with a first home game of a top tier season, there was still the nagging fear that City might not yet be up to the job. And surrendering an early goal wouldn’t have helped. The visitors had another try through Nathan Redmond’s shot from distance that McGregor tipped away well, and James Chester needed to make a timely interception after Fer and Redmond combined fluently down the right before the latter issued a low tempter to the six yard box. City settled down, with the resourceful Jake “David” Livermore banging one shot over the bar after divine interplay with Aluko that included a backheel for the Spurs loanee to chase down on the edge of the area. It otherwise became a smart and open but largely closed game for ten minutes until Ahmed Elmohamady swung in a cross and Turner got forearms all over Sagbo, forcing the Ivorian to the ground. Turner wasn’t happy but the penalty decision was instant and pretty obvious, and despite a bit of needless gamesmanship involving Fer and the position of the ball, Robbie Brady was as cool as required in sidefooting it in, with John Ruddy diving the other way. Steve Bruce chose to walk down the track towards the south west corner while all this was going on. Strange superstition of his; firstly because he was for a while a useful penalty taker himself for Manchester United; secondly because the last time he refused to watch when City had a spot kick, it was missed. Be that as it may, this was a first goal in the Premier League this season. The first, in fact, since … hang on … ah yes, Mark Cullen’s close range header at Wigan in May 2010. And a first at the Circle since … back in a jiffy … blimey, Kevin Kilbane’s opener against Burnley early on in what was ultimately as wretched as countless other games that season, irrespective of the many there are to choose from. The maths aren’t pleasant; City’s first Premier League goal on home turf in 357 minutes of normal time. Brady’s penalty looked simple, but the churl in me hates the low, sidefooted, stroked spot kick because unless there’s proper power in it there’s a real chance a keeper shall get it, sometimes even with comfort, if he guesses the right way. Ruddy didn’t and so Brady looked like a phlegmatic genius in dispatching it. But it may not always be thus, as a certain German reserve team target man – and his ritualistic manager – may attest. Buoyed by the gift, City took control and with the wonderful Tom Huddlestone to the fore, exhibited some delightful touches and put on a bit of a show with pass-and-move football that suggested the rest of the team had learned quickly how to rise to the level of their division and the standards of their newest playmaker. Huddlestone really is a treat to observe; that adage of having the first yard in his head rings truer than most with him, as does this notion that some players instinctively know where to put the ball in the very split-second they know they are going to receive it. Assuming he stays motivated, he will be gigantic in a black and amber shirt this season and players like Brady can only benefit from his presence. But then, a setback. A big one too. It seemed that it had been averted when Davies, winning everything in the air thus far, seemed to take hold of Turner in as similar a way as the former City defender had done at ‘yon end but was bizarrely not penalised. In the box too, meaning some vigorous protests from the Norwich players and some evident wiping of brows in the home ends. A corner was given, and as it swung in and out again, Sagbo aimed a headbutt at Russell Martin and while only referee Mike Jones appeared to see it as live, he nonetheless was entirely justified in showing an instant red card. Foolish boy. He will now essentially have a month off, and it was notable that none of the coaching staff spoke to him as he trundled down the tunnel, having initially been persuaded not to confront the referee or the opponent any further by Koren and Elmohamady’s intervention. One nil up is good; one nil up to a decent Premier League team in hot conditions with more than an hour to play and shorn of a body is less good. At least as it was an attacker who had gone, there was little need to make any emergency changes. The defence remained stoic, Livermore dropped back a tad further, Aluko went wider and Koren did less of the support striker malarkey that had been such an integral part of Bruce’s game plan. This was no more evident than when Huddlestone found the Slovene square from 40 yards out and, striding purposefully, he realised there was nobody ahead of him and so tried a shot with the outside of the boot from 30 yards which Ruddy saw go wide. Livermore then worked very hard to get down the flank and find Aluko who did an exquisite turn to get to his favoured left side and curled a shot a yard or so wide and City, aided by Norwich’s bewildering lack of positivity despite the man advantage, continued with the same tone until first half injury time, including one bit of one-touch showmanship across the field involving six players that finally ended in a right-foot shot from Brady flying over. Norwich won a free kick in the last seconds which Redmond aimed for McGregor’s right hand post but the Scottish stopper flung himself across well to divert it out. The referee gave the corner but then blew for the interval instantly, and City left the pitch and the supporters left their seats with a strange feeling of satisfaction mixed with edginess. After all, ten man teams like ours don’t hold on to leads forever. Do they? A pause here to mention Michael Turner. At one point, this author heard a boo as Turner took possession in defence. It was a single boo, not long, not reciprocated but also not shouted down. Who on earth boos Michael Turner? Who is that dense, that pig-headed, that one-eyed? I know we have extremities among our support, but even so I did allow the sector of fans whose brains resemble their own feet some semblance of intelligence when it came to appreciating our former players. However, there is a school of thought among supporters of all teams that any player who leaves their club, whatever the circumstances, should not be anything but scorned upon their return with another team. And Turner is just that. That he didn’t engineer the move to Sunderland, that he didn’t set the fee, that he didn’t run up the debt that made his move urgent to begin with, that he didn’t take the rise out of the City fans right in front of him when he promptly scored on his debut for his new club against his old one, and that the first three months aside, he gave unflinching, massively consistent and occasionally life-affirming service to the club, putting his gonads on the line (literally) right up to the last seconds of his City career, seems to have passed these unswayable individuals by. They should take a look every day at that moment when his thigh stopped Lee Trundle banging in an obvious equaliser at Wembley. And then shut up. Turner still looks effortlessly good, an interesting and skilled disposition to adopt given that effort is something he possesses and shows all the time. Norwich, aware that their formation was now unduly negative with their hosts down to ten, sent on portly ex-Leeds gabber and creator Robert Snodgrass at the break. Good player, Snodgrass. Also very cynical and very belligerent. Maybe this was why he got all the anti-Leeds invective from Es 1 to 5 in the second half when Jonny Howson and Bradley Johnson, just as stained by previous WS connections, were on the pitch and got off lightly. Or maybe it’s because he has a familiar and amusing surname. He was quite influential on the second half and City had to graft. Alexander Tettey had a shot deflected wide by Livermore, then a scramble in the box resulted in Davies heroically dealing with it prior to having elongated treatment for a cut head, eventually regaining his feet with a headband wrapped round the abrasion. What was interesting, and gladdening, about City’s performance was that they seemed agile and fit enough to counter attack in numbers when the inevitable pressure caused by Norwich’s extra body and desire to gain parity had cooled. Koren and Aluko combined sweetly in one such instance to cover 50 yards between them before Turner slid in to take the ball away from Aluko, as cleanly as normal. Howson had a swerving effort tipped away with some difficulty by McGregor, then the same two duelled again with a drive that seemed to rise at the last moment, allowing the City custodian to let it be. Norwich maintained the pressure; Javier Garrido chipped in from the wing and Ricky van Wolfswinkel chested down for Fer to slice high and wide. The Tigers rearguard fell short of proper concentration after this, conceding possession cheaply and van Wolfswinkel, quiet thus far, headed a pearler for goal from Garrido’s cross but McGregor was able to stretch up, tip over and land on his backside to roars of appreciation for what was his finest save to date. Apropos of this, Ricky van Wolfswinkel is a superb name. We should have re-signed Jan Vennegoor of Hesslink just for this game and hoped they went up in Dutch combat for a header together when one came back to defend a corner. The commentators on duty would have swallowed their tongues. Tackles flew in as Norwich kept a tight hold of the game, but still their breakthrough wouldn’t come. Assuming you were realistic enough to believe a ten-man City couldn’t hold on for an hour, it’s at around the 70th minute mark you start cursing yourself for hoping they might, thereby setting you up for a bigger fall and a bigger bruise when the predictable equaliser finally comes. Then when Davies, bandaged, drunk on the atmosphere, showing his desire, went on a pitch-length run, some of it with the ball, some without, his legs all telescopic, his athleticism incontrovertible, his directive wonderfully spontaneous, the mood changed. He didn’t get a shot in when Aluko played the final return, despite it being essentially two on two, as Turner was doing his usual shtick of unflustered defensive excellence, taking the ball off his fellow defender’s toes and dousing the flames. But in being so proactive he seemed to trigger a second wind among the other nine players, not to mention the crowd. Nails remained at risk, but suddenly it felt like City would hang on. With good reason. Bruce aided the situation by bringing on Graham as an effetive sponge up front, withdrawing Aluko, then later introducing George Boyd (was I alone in thinking he looked rather good in his brief cameo at Stamford Bridge?) for the immense Brady. Graham and Koren, whose continuing presence on the pitch was brilliant and puzzling at the same time, combined arrestingly on the right side of the box, with the Slovene’s final ball just too far ahead of the slithering Boyd. Maynor Figueroa, whose experience at the back (especially when making opponents angry) was invaluable throughout all this, took on Davies at his own game and traversed at pace down the left flank before delivering a final ball that again just evaded the willing Boyd. Bruce finally took Koren off to massive applause – when he’s like this, he’s still a master of his game – and moved Elmohamady forward while slinging on Liam Rosenior. Boyd turned numerous circles on the edge of the box to make room for a clipped cross slightly too high for Graham just as the board for six – six – injury time minutes went up. Ulp. Six minutes is a long time when you haven’t got the football. And yet Norwich seemed bereft of ideas. In the final seconds Snodgrass wanged in a desperate cross to the six yard area that Howson just failed to flick; any deviation in the ball would have left McGregor in trouble but instead he pouched it safely. The ball went to the other end, and as Ruddy belted it upfield there was a false start – or false end, if you prefer – when the whistle assumed to be the one ending the game actually turned out to be for a retake of the goal kick as the ball was moving. Back it went, down it went, up it went – and off it went. Three magnificent points. The opposition weren’t as good as they should have been. City were better than could actually have been expected of them, however. That really does bode well. Sagbo was a fool and no excuses were offered for his behaviour, but Bruce can now give the majority the rest they need and have earned. Davies was magnificent, Livermore out on his feet, Koren industrious as well as immaculate, Huddlestone dominant, Brady relieved of every ounce of energy in him, the rest all worthy of the praise aimed their way. Meanwhile, esteemed Messrs McShane, Fryatt, Proschwitz and so on can engineer our depressingly inescapable struggle through the League Cup at Leyton Orient in midweek. Then it’s Manchester City. Someone ought to persuade Bruce to try to win there. It can be done.  

Matthew Rudd