Stoke City 0 Hull City 3

A splendid afternoon in the Potteries as City ride their luck and eventually dismantle a poor Stoke City side, netting three unanswered goals. Truly a sign that while we struggle against the top six, we are more than capable of living with most of the other 17 Championship sides.

Now, how SWEET that was! True, it doesn’t come close to wiping out the pain of our defeat at Stoke’s hands in the FA Cup Quarter Final back in 1971 (remembered in yesterday’s programme by tormentor-in-chief Terry Conroy), but it more than makes up for the savagely unjust 0-1 reverse at the Circle back in September. Stoke looked a downright poor side then, they looked as hapless again yesterday and this time we got a richly-deserved three points. The game may be remembered most of all for the unusual feat of our goalkeeper in saving two penalties – two separate ones, not a twice-taken single – but don’t for a moment imagine this suggests Stoke were unfortunate to get beaten. Stoke got precisely what they deserved. A caning.

Applying well-judged punishment:

Myhill
France Collins Cort Delaney
Price Welch Andrews Elliott
Fagan Parkin

And we started smoothly. On 3 Parkin was crowded out at the back post, but on 7 we took the lead. A free-kick in the middle of the field. One of ours (Andrews?) loiters over the ball as if ready to take the kick but instead sprints forward into space to receive the pass. It’s hardly the most complicated trick in the book, but Stoke’s entire team stands watching passively, mouth agape as if just told that a whale has been spotted in the Trent, and the ball is lofted dangerously to the back post, Cort heads goalwards, it’s blocked, it’s at the far end and I don’t know what’s going on, but there’s a melee, the ball’s bundled over the line, Elliott claims it but an own goal is the media verdict.

Never mind the detail. The conclusion is plain – this is a feeble, ragged, ill-disciplined Stoke side. And we’re ready to cuff them.

On 10 a corner is knocked out to Price who smashes a superb half-volley back at Simonsen in the Stoke goal – a well-judged tip-over. Then, on 11, the rangy Sidibe turns and tricks Collins all too easily, advancing on Myhill with intent but unable to find a sufficiently powerful shot to disturb our ace netman. On 14 a slick break involving Fagan and Price shreds the home defence, and it needs only a alert cross to the unmarked Parkin beasting into space at the back post to double our advantage – but the opportunity is squandered as Parkin waits in vain for the pass. On 17, Collins is again culpable as he misses a tackle allowing ugly Old Trafford failure Luke Chadwick to skip free into our box but Welch intervenes with a superbly judged tackle.

That’s a lively start. But the better team is the away team. By far. Stoke offer flashes of individual ability, most of them involving Sidibe, but we look a proper team today. Welch and Andrews make an excellent pairing in central midfield, ably supported by Price – who drifts out of play a bit too often, as if his head needs a rest every ten minutes or so, but who is still magically transformed from the lame no-hoper we’d gladly have got rid of for free a month ago – and Elliott, whose display in the Potteries was as lively and relevant as anything he’s produced since the Spring. With Fagan and Parkin quickly developing a classic fast littl’un, bruising big’un routine up front, there is, all of a sudden, reason for surging optimism.

But we won’t regularly face teams like Stoke. They had a bit more possession as the first half petered out tamely, but the play was, if not formless, then largely conducted unimaginatively in the middle third of the field. Which suited us just fine. Even the absurdly whistle-happy referee Andy D’Urso was helping us, by ensuring the game never developed any rhythm favourable to Stoke. On 43 lightweight forward Paul Gallagher hit a low shot, comfortably held by Boaz, but we reached half-time one to the good, and worth that as a minimum.

Second half. Jubilant Tiger fans, present in healthy numbers. We will surely win this. And yet it could all have gone wrong. On 49 Collins and an attacker stumble into each other – no foul, surely, a simple collision. To our dismay the mincing referee is pointing to the spot. No matter. Gallagher runs up tentatively as if the demons in his head, as well as the large travelling support, are commanding him to fail, and he hits a poor sort of a penalty which Boaz leaps to his right to push away triumphantly.

It could be a turning point, though really it’s a turning five minutes. It could have been 1-1 but shortly after, on 54, it’s 2-0. And this one’s delicious. A long ball is aimed at Parkin, and he shows a glorious touch to control the ball, turn past a cowed and retreating defence and slide a confident shot past Simonsen. As already suggested by his goal last week against Palace, this big man has real delicacy on the ball, and his acquisition looks a super piece of business by Mr Taylor.

At this point all the stewards and all the police in the ground hare around the side of the pitch towards a commotion in the far corner. It’s impossible to tell what mischief was afoot but the best bet was that stewards were desperately attempting to stop disillusioned home fans from heading for home with well over half an hour of the match to go. Stoke looked clueless. We brought on Duffy for the tiring Price, dropping Fagan to right-side midfield, and settled back to enjoy the cruise.

But there was one more moment of alarm. Another penalty, just after the hour – and no complaints about this one, a clear foul (though who by? I don’t know, maybe France). Gallagher didn’t fancy a second go (or maybe more in point his team-mates wanted him nowhere near the spot kick) so the job was transferred to Uglyman Chadwick. “Hmm” pondered the whey-faced youth as he started a nervous run-up, “I think I’ll shoot straight down the middle and hope that this immense goalkeeper dives out of the way”. Boaz stood his ground, grinning wolfishly, and let the ball sail safely into his gloves. Catching practice. Humiliated Stoke.

The game is scrappy now. A broken pattern of our choosing, for we are in control – though atrociously fussy refereeing helps too. D’Urso is a clown – he reminds me of David Elleray in his complete absence of any feel for the rhythm of the game, a total inability to distinguish between clumsy mistake and sly malice.

More importantly, there’s no way back for the home side.

Allow me a dose more gloating. Stoke’s a club on the slide. It gives me a shiver of pleasure to write that. And it’s true. They made a dreadful impression in Hull earlier in the season when a previously well-supported club brought no more than couple of charabancs across from the grim Potteries. And yesterday a gloriously unmistakable air of gloom hung over their functional, soulless new ground (which looks a great deal more impressive from outside than from within). No noise. Vast steppes of empty seats. Supporters streaming away grim-faced long before the final whistle.

I loved every moment of their pain.

On 74 Elliott barges through and forces a shot past Simonsen but just wide of the post, as the splendid Fagan waits in exasperation for the square ball that never arrives. Then on 80 we score a magnificent third goal. Ball out of defence to Duffy, who calmly transfers the ball out wide to Fagan. Duffy continues his run down the middle, little remarked by the shoddy home defence, and Fagan hits a quite brilliant low, firmly-struck pass into Duffy’s stride. The elegant Scot takes a perfect first touch, glances up at the exposed goalkeeper and rolls a confident shot past his left hand and into the back of the net.

Artistry! It is, of course, not a normal goal in the sense that it’s rare in League football for there to be such a gap in ability and honesty between the two teams. Stoke have long ago given up for the day, their defence shredded. But, with this third goal, we showed ruthlessness and considerable skill and vision on and off the ball. More room for optimism.

Fagan now departed for Wiseman, and Elliott for Ellison, and the Stoke fans for an early tea. The remaining minutes featured a series of puzzlingly furious assaults on poor Kevin Ellison by assorted Stoke players, while our professional determination ruled out the obviously appealing way to conclude the match, namely by deliberately conceding a third penalty so Boaz could try for his hat-trick and ownership of the match ball.

Well, what larks! Favourite game of the season? O, I think so: three goals, each better than the one that went before, two saved penalties, a vastly encouraging team display and, best of all, misery heaped on the vile Stokies. Favourite game for a good while, in fact, never mind just this season. Away wins, ye canny whack’ em.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; France, Cort, Collins, Delaney; Price, Andrews, Welsh, Elliott; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Price, 63), Wiseman (for Fagan, 83), Ellison (for Elliott, 86), Paynter, Leite.

Goals: o.g. (Russell) 7; Parkin 55; Duffy 81

Booked: Collins, Elliott, Fagan, France

Sent Off: None

 

STOKE CITY: Simonsen, Buxton, Hoefkens, Duberry, Broomes, Chadwick, Russell, Henry, Sweeney, Gallagher, Sidibe. Subs: Harper (for Chadwick, 70), Rooney (for Harper, 78), Junior, de Goey, Kopteff.

Goals: None

Booked: Broomes, Duberry, Rooney

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: A D’Urso

ATTENDANCE: 13,444

Hull City 0 Stoke City 1

A strong first half performance fails to yield goals and the Tigers capitulate meekly in the second half to an organised but limited Stoke side.

You have the neighbours round for a drink just before Christmas. There’s one you really don’t want to invite. A bit whiney, petty, small-minded, lacking in grace or even a whiff of humour, he always sits in the corner picking his plukes and exuding a faint humming hint of stale sweat, refusing to take off his elderly zipped-up Parka festooned with Thin Lizzy badges. But it’s Christmas, you have to invite everyone or no-one. So, trying desperately to summon up the spirit of giving, you issue the invitation. And, same as every year, he turns up with a bottle of warm Liebfraumilch, winking at you, saying ‘the ladies’ll love this eh!’ before taking up his customary brooding station in the far recess of the front room, picking hula-hoops from the bowl and licking them before replacing them, farting then giggling, and succeeding in a self-appointed task to cast an immoveable pall of fetid gloom over the festive event.

That’s Stoke City, that is. Sitting in the corner. Dressed in grey, lacking poise and elegance, concerned only to ensure you put nothing from later than 1973 on the gramophone.

And it’s always been the same. Admittedly, we haven’t had them round every year, particularly not recently, but the dismal suffocating effect of Stoke City has been tormenting the Hull City party for too long now. They come, they’re grim, they win. Last night’s reverse was by no means as agonising as the FA Cup Quarter Final in 1971 (lost 2-3 after Waggy had put us 2 up, young people), nor as history-denying as the defeat in the Watney Cup Final at the old Victoria Ground a couple of years later, nor even as wretched as the 0-4 capitulation at the Ark in the 1980s. But it was dispiriting because it was so mournfully familiar. We played better than Stoke. And lost to them.

Bowing the knee to history on a pleasant early Autumn evening:

Myhill
Coles Cort Delaney Edge
France Welsh Curtis Elliott
Barmby Brown

When we arrived in this Division, how we looked forward to meeting opponents whose name we actually recognised. Palace had proper internationals on Saturday. Stoke? Michael Duberry. And a very fat Ed de Goey. How we chortled! Ah, hubris. And yet we opened them up on the first of many occasions only 6 minutes in, as Stoke lost the ball pitifully in midfield, Brown transferred it on to Barmby down the right, who squared it to Woodhouse Curtis who, under no pressure, struck a disappointing shot high over the bar at the North Stand end. Stoke’s turn next, and a heavily deflected shot flies past the wrong-footed Myhill’s right-hand post. In fact, for the first quarter of an hour Stoke are surprisingly ambitious. But then the game turns sharply in our favour.

On 17 Elliott surges down the left and slides a pass inside to Barmby inside the box. Nicky tumbles to the turf under pressure from full-back Broomes, appeals for a penalty and is utterly outraged when he doesn’t get it. He berates the linesman, howls at the referee. Didn’t look a penalty to me. A simple collision. But a minute later Duberry forcibly holds down Brown inside the box and we appeal a great deal less urgently even though, for me, this really was a clear-cut penalty.

Stoke are there for the taking now. Some of our passing is intricate, incisive and hugely pleasing. But it’s not quite enough to shred a stubborn last line. The closest call arrives on 26 when de Goey limply paws out a cross and, amid a frantic melee deep inside the box, it seems to me that not once, but twice, shots flying goalwards are inadvertently blocked by flailing bodies wearing amber-and-black. Desperate bad luck.

Stoke are hanging on, niggling, naggling, noggling, timewasting, fouling, spoiling the party, which may well be their club motto. We look able to slice them open in the air and on the ground. But we can’t quite do it.

On 37 Elliott collapses to the floor as a free-kick is lofted into the box. The ref books him. The official, one Colin Webster, was right on the spot and there was little dissent from City. Not one of Stuart Elliott’s more glorious moments.

On 40, Brown plays a fine pass and a low Barmby shot is held by de Goey. On 45 a Welsh drive brings a nervous punch from de Goey, and the ball spins away for a corner. From it, France thumps a header against the crossbar. It’s half-time, we’re well on top, but it’s goal-less.

What occurred at half-time will, I think, be forgotten by those present only when the man with the scythe comes calling. To call it the strangest thing I’ve ever seen at a football match would be to undersell it. It is likely the strangest thing I have seen anywhere. Description that does it justice will surely escape me. But I try. It involved, in short, three groups, each comprising four Royal Marines in uniform, who came out and took up position on mats, one at North Stand end, one at South Stand end and one in the middle, towards West. We were promised a display of unarmed combat. And they proceeded to pretend to run at each other, fall over each other’s shoulders, pinch baseball bats from each other and brandish them like cheerleaders in an Iowa highschool and throw those really silly joke punches that stop about a foot away from the supposed target. Tarts. Utter comedy – Tally Ho Kaye, Les Kellett, Jim Breaks, your legacy is secure. In the absence of an Iraqi strapped to a forklift truck this footling display got what it deserved – guffawing derision. Still, pride of place goes to the routine which promised us ‘three ways to disable an enemy sentry’. Route 1 involves strangling him, route 2 is to jump on top on his head and wriggle round a bit, and route 3 is to punch him in the tummy a few times. The main thing that I learned from this was that it is especially important to make sure that when you sneak up on him your target sentry always looks the wrong way, even when lots of people nearby are bawling ‘BEHIND YOU!’.

Back to the football, gentle people.

At half-time, Price replaced France – seemingly like-for-like, but surprising because, unless France was injured, there was simply no need for it. We were playing perfectly well. And, admittedly, we continued to do so for a while. On 48 an ambitious Woodhouse volley was deflected wide and, from the corner, Cort headed wide. On the hour Price’s header caused alarm in the Stoke defence and Elliott forced the ample de Goey into a close-range smother. Chances enough to win the game. But what sort of formation were we playing? Well, Elliott was now playing mainly through the centre, and Price was cutting inside more than France had. Welsh drops into the holding role, in front of the back four. It is intended to provide more attacking power, I suppose. And it sort of works, I suppose – we’re well on top, for sure, as the second half takes shape.

An ever stranger shape. On 66 Brown, after a good performance, is replaced by Green. Price and Elliott now move up front. For about 90 seconds. Then Mr Taylor makes his third and final substitution, taking off the impressive Curtis for Burgess, so now it’s Elliott and Burgess up front, and poor Jason Price’s head is spinning as he wonders which position he’s not going to have filled come the final whistle.

It’s a bunch of substitutions and switching of formation that would have been hailed as tactical managerial masterstrokes had we won. But not by me. Such praise is always exaggerated. Since we lost, no doubt Mr Taylor will be accused of getting his subs wrong. Not by me. Blame of this type is always exaggerated. We didn’t play well in the later stages of the game. We ran out of steam, we ran out of ideas. I don’t suppose the odd pattern of substitutions helped and you could fairly ask why Barmby was left on the pitch looking exhausted for the last 20 or so minutes. And Elliott may have been suffering from a dose of ‘international fatigue’. But it’s not Mr Taylor’s fault that Burgess looked desperately ponderous, nor that Green was woefully ineffective.

Stoke had hit the bar on 55 when the otherwise useless Sidibe found space for a free header, and on 62 a fast break had allowed ex-Hibee Harper to fire wastefully wide. But these were isolated moments and the visitors were strictly second-best. Stoke’s support managed a vibrant version of Delilah, their theme song (though unaccountably so), during the second half but their numbers were shockingly thin – 500 or so. Traditionally a well-backed club, they must be in steep decline. I do hope so. But they were about to burgle the points.

On 74 a messy passage of play in midfield resulted in Stoke carrying the ball down the left, sending in a cross which eludes two attackers, before Harper, on the right, hammers the ball back across the face of the goal where it is turned in first-touch by Gallagher. Players and supporters celebrate – with a degree of astonishment, I think.

We were weary and unsophisticated for the minutes that remained. Three up front – Barmby, Elliott, Burgess. Cort joined in later. But, aside from calls to get the squaddie with the baseball bat on the pitch, the only real hint of a successful rescue mission came on 81 when Price deftly headed a ball square across the face of the goal for Burgess, just five yards out, equally deftly to guide the ball wide of the post. This was really a dreadful waste.

Pasty-faced partypoopers Stoke kept the ball for most of the minutes that remained, newbie ‘footie fans’ left early, mingling with those old-timers who just know that Stoke City spells Trouble, and that concludes our first unarguably Poor Result Of The Season.

Rubbish we certainly weren’t. But we need more flair going forward and more ferocity in the box. Fagan may be back on Saturday. That would work for me.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Coles, Cort, Delaney, Edge; France, Woodhouse, Welsh, Elliott; Brown, Barmby. Subs: Price (for France, 45), Green (for Brown, 65), Burgess (for Woodhouse, 67), Ellison, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: Elliott

Sent Off: None

 

STOKE CITY: de Goey, Buxton, Hoefkens, Duberry, Broomes, Harper, Brammer, Henry, Kolar, Sidibe, Gallagher. Subs: Russell (for Henry, 45), Dyer (for Harper, 83), Junior (for Kolar, 89), Taggart, Duggan.

Goals: Gallagher 74

Booked: Gallagher, Henry, Kolar, Sidibe

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: C Webster

ATTENDANCE: 18,692