Hull City 1 Torquay United 1

Parity snatched from the jaws of victory.  Keith Dean describes another decent display that ultimately ended in disappointment.
When will we ever learn. I know it wasn’t particularly important last night but it’s still incredibly infuriating. How many times have we seen our team pass over a golden opportunity to finish off a game from a position of dominance and then defend far too deeply and nervously in the final period before succumbing to the inevitable last minute, or in this case injury time, goal ? It’s been a much-told tale over the years and last night was just yet another addition to the list. Add to that another unfathomable and erratic performance from the match official, and you’ll realise that, on reflection, it was one of those evenings when it would have been a far better idea to stay in with a good book. The first refereeing blunder was a failure to book all 10 outfield visitors for taking to the field in an horrendous mix of black and white striped shirts with pissy yellow shorts. Equally as shocking was the realisation that, for the first time this season, your match reporter was able to say that we put out an unchanged team. No injuries, no suspensions (yet) and no managerial tinkering.And, thank goodness, no repeat of Sat’day’s comically disasterous start for it is safe to add that it was a rather cautious and unproductive opening. When some semblance of shape finally showed its face, it was the Tigers who shone that bit brighter. Elliott began to look a little menacing, cutting in from his touchline and running straight at the heart of their defence. And, on the opposite flank, Reeves and Ostethingummy were linking well with the ever-willing Forrester. We’d had a few pops at goal from outside the box, all blocked and cleared, before the first real opening was created at the other end. A free-kick was hit in with pace from the left and a flick header from the edge of the area took it goalwards but it proved to be only a marginal concern for a well-positioned Fetts.That was a rare foray forward for the Torqs as we continued to dominate possession and looked for a way past their solid midfield and back four. The clearest chance we had before half-time stemmed from a similar dead-ball position. Appleby whipped it onto Walters’ head. His effort was low and well angled forcing a full-length diving save. The ball squirmed free and, whilst it was an amber shirt that dashed forward on to the loose ball, it unfortunately was that of Anderson who managed only to place his shot straight back into the prostrate keeper’s midriff. We finished the half with a Reeves free-kick getting up and over the wall and sailing a foot or so wide of the right-hand post and then a low, vicious cross from the right flank was met by the shins of a back-tracking defender on the 6 yard line. It wouldn’t have been a surprise to see the ball fly into any of the four corners of the goal, or even through the goalie’s legs, but sadly it flashed wide of the post and away for a corner. Not a particularly memorable first half then. Much as it has been against Oxford in fact. The majority of the chances had fallen to the home team but, as a spectacle, it had been dulled by irritatingly pernickity refereeing and an away side that was clearly out to defend and frustrate. The second half though, well, it was certainly not dull. There was a shed load of chances at both ends after the game had been opened up with an early City goal. Our first chance came from a looping Delaney cross to the near post that Reeves, running in all the way from the opposite flank, got his spikey head to but he couldn’t put his effort on target. Breaking out from a defensive position, we deservedly took the lead. A quick push left us with Elliott free, overlapping on the left. Appleby tried to put him clear but his pass was halted by a full-stretch despairing slide. The ball fell invitingly at the feet of Keates who continued the move with a simple but inch-perfect pass into the area for Elliott to run onto. He advanced a yard or so before finishing low and hard past the keeper’s left hand. And from then on we were treated to another 30-odd minutes of similar cut and thrust football with both sides looking dangerous on the break. We had the better chances initially whilst the Torqs got at us more but without testing Fettis too severely. Walters saw a well hit drive fly just over before we were forced back and had to resist a bit of pressure. Our young Liverpool loanee lad got himself into a bit of a tangle with two opportunities to clear a left wing corner from his position on the far post. The loose ball fell to a visitor but his cross-shot was off target and had no colleague following up in support. They then had another quality free-kick that was met with a good header from within the D but it was smartly caught by Fettis under his crossbar. From this spell of defensive activity, we broke away and earned that perfect opportunity for a two goal cushion. Justin wellied a clearance forward that was partially blocked on halfway and fell to Elliott in loads of space on the left. He went on and on, with the defence backing off, until he reached the edge of the area at which point he knocked it between two of them and ran through on goal. There was some contact, not a great deal I grant you, but enough for his tumble to look merited and enough for the ref to point to the spot. Forrester stepped up and hit a poor shot that was far too close to the keeper, and at a comfortable height, and was routinely parried away. The despair was eased somewhat in that we continued to push forward and create the clearer chances. We hit a lot of quick, but accurate, long balls out of defence to Forrester and Walters and they both had shots fizz narrowly off target. Melton, who was on for Appleby, made his first telling contribution with a good block tackle midway in his own half. He played it out to Elliott who hit a peach of a diagonal ball over the full-back into Walters’ path. Again, he failed to hit the target. Forrester repeated the trick moments later and then the moment that was to prove equally as crucial as the penalty miss. A great low cross from our right wing flew across goal, only five or six yards out. A defender moved in to effect a clearance but could not decide quite how best to deal with it. In the end he ran into its path and stomached the ball against the post with his keeper completely flat-footed. Forrester and Reeves both had a chance to make something of the rebound before the custodian finally leapt at their feet to claim the ball. From there the tide turned and we had to endure a final ten minutes of spurned chances in front of our goal. A corner was not cleared properly and the resulting cross, from the right, sailed over the heads of all the City defence to an in-running Torq. His mishit shot flew down into the turf before looping up and over Fettis and against the bar. Then they opened us up on the left. The cross was controlled on the edge of the box, centrally, and laid off to another supporting midfielder who really should have hit the target but blazed his shot inches  wide. Then, with a City played down injured in midfield and the visitors not sure whether to play on or push on, a long range drive was deflected straight to the feet of one of theirs just ten or so yards out. His first-time effort looked destined for the net but Fetts had raced out and flung out a hand to make a tremendous instinctive save that looked like being enough to preserve the three points. Oh no. That ain’t how it works. We were into added on time (Jevons had replaced Forrester) when a Torq found himself with too much space to the right of goal. He flashed in a brutal shot that Fettis did well to get his body behind but the parry went almost directly upwards and it was one of theirs who won the header and, even though our keeper had scampered across and was able to get a hand to it, he couldn’t prevent it creeping over the line off the inside of the post. Bugger. I’d heard a snippet of an interview with Mr Taylor on Humberside before kick-off in which he suggested that six points from two home games this week would leave him still thinking our season may yet go beyond that last ever trip to the Vetch. Anything else, he admitted, would mean that the season was over. So what will he do with the remaining matches ? Give some of the young ‘uns and those recovering from injuries a chance to prove themselves ? He’s spent all his time in charge so far confounding us by avoiding a settled team so maybe he’ll continue to mistify us by adopting that tactic now that it doesn’t really matter any more. Suspensions will enforce some changes in the coming weeks and I can agree, to a point, about not playing the loanees who won’t be here next season. Who knows. And quite frankly, for now at least, who cares? Roll on the summer.
HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Appleby, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Forrester.  Subs: Melton (for Appleby, 62), Jevons (for Forrester, 89), Smith, Regan, Musselwhite.Goals: Elliott 54Booked: Reeves Sent Off: None   TORQUAY UNITED: Van Heusden, Hazell, Woozley, Taylor, Canoville, Russell, Hockley, Fowler, Clist, Gritton, Kuffour.  Subs: Graham (for Kuffour, 34), Woods (for Hockley, 63), Hill (for Gritton, 83), Dearden, Benefield. Goals: Hill 90 Booked: Fowler, Graham, Hazell Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 13,310

Torquay United 1 Hull City 4

The Taylor revival continues as the Tigers rout Torquay in distant Devon.  Steve Weatherill waxes lyrical.
Shiver with excitement this bright morning! Two consecutive victories, fresh hope and optimism, players dulled with despair suddenly revealed as glitteringly talented diamonds. The deep plunge of long-term failure replaced by golden sunlight. But that’s enough about Scotland. Hull City, yes, right! Them too! Ooo! We’re good! I mean, we’re really good: promotion-winning, title-chasing, get on the bandwagon NOW or you’ll be missing out good. We flayed Torquay and, with exultant terrace talk turning to available odds on two successive promotions, nothing and no one’s going to stop us now. “Err, Steve … aren’t you getting a little carried away here?” Well, yes. But that’s what football’s for, isn’t it? Hull City gets sand kicked in its face all too often, mainly by puny wimps who shouldn’t even dare to try, so all the more reason to large it when it’s us doing the bullying. And this was a terrific victory. In the catalogue of searing away performances, file it below the awesome 4-1 evisceration of Wimbledon in the mid-80s, but on a par with the Bobby Doyle-inspired New Year massacre of Barnsley and well ahead of the more recent 4-0 win at hapless Carlisle. Torquay came into this game in second place in the table and you could see why; they are a well-organised, hard-working side and, until deep inside stoppage time at the end of the first half, there was nothing to choose between the two teams. Then Ian Ashbee crashed an astonishing 25-yard volley into the top corner of their net. No, really. If you missed this, set your video, buy a video – whatever. A jaw-dropping goal. At 2-1 down during the second period Torquay remained dangerous opponents, but we quelled them with a splendidly worked third goal, and thereafter we revelled in the rare sight of City looking elegantly capable of scoring at will. An exquisite fourth goal, scored by Stuart Green, rounded off a vibrant afternoon’s demolition. And yes, promotion is a word that should be on our lips this morning. We played an ambitious formation:

Musselwhite Regan Whittle Anderson Delaney Keates Ashbee Green Branch Jevons Elliott

Keates secured an early yellow from referee Ross for a robust challenge, but the game settled into a lively pattern, with both teams bringing the ball forward confidently though without offering any serious penalty-box threat. Torquay took advantage of the linesman’s failure to spot an obvious offside to set up a shooting chance which was belted well wide of the near post guarded by the Muss. Then a chipped cross from Regan seemed to be looping on to the Jevons forehead, only for a defensive intervention to rescue the home side. Next up, a low cross-shot from Torquay which the Muss fingertipped away at the expense of a harmless corner. There are good reasons why 4-3-3 formations are uncommon. They leave the opposition plenty of space in which to play, and our 4-3-3 was now being placed under increasing strain. Torquay had rapidly decided to test debutant Delaney, and though the rangy new boy looks a very competent and appealingly mobile footballer, I doubt he is a natural left-back, and even Stuart Pearce himself would have been alarmed at the lack of support from team-mates available in that part of the field. Elliott was tempted to drop deeper to offer defensive assistance, but each time he did this he was rightly howled forward by an animated Peter Taylor. Why play 4-3-3 if you’re going to sacrifice your winger? A compromise was struck in the shape of a temporary switch of Elliott and Jevons, with the latter helping out defensively when Torquay tried their luck down our left. So, 4-3-3: a high-risk strategy, but one that promises excitingly unbalanced games. Torquay thumped a free-kick from outside the box just past the post and then proceeded to waste an inviting opportunity when Delaney lost possession inside his own half after receiving a poorly struck pass from Keates. Three Torqs confronted two backpedalling City defenders, but one of the home side’s trio foolishly strayed offside, and we escaped. Into 3 minutes of added time at the end of the half, and a game that had been pretty even took a decisive lurch in favour of the amber-and-black cause. Jevons crossed long to Elliott, who headed the ball back into the danger area, where Jevons, arriving at pace, was just unable to get a toe on the ball. And then .. Ian Ashbee. My word. The ball dropped to him, 25 yards out, and he smashed it, on the volley, straight into the top corner. Keeper Dearden, feet rooted to the turf, could move only his head, watching aghast as the ball flew past him at the speed of light, or at least a Serena Williams serve. Ashbee hurtled around the pitch whirling dervishly, his mouth agape, as team-mates and fans cavorted in astonished glee. In its execution the strike was as perfectly achieved as Zidane’s goal in last season’s European Cup Final, though, given that I doubt we’ll witness anything similar ever again from the dogged but limited Ashbee, perhaps the better comparison is with the freak televised goal-of-the-season scored from long range for Fulham in the mid-70s by talentless workhorse Alan Mullery. In City terms, think of the audacity and breathtaking magnificence of Deano’s goal in the 2-2 game at Wycombe a few years ago, though Ashbee yesterday shot from a shorter distance. 1-0 City, and time enough before half-time for Green to slip a shot past rattled Torquay’s post. And this was one of those rare occasions on which the break did not interrupt the flow. We came out for the second half bursting with self-belief and the momentum delivered prompt reward. Jevons struck a low shot, but it had little power and looked a simple save for ex-Tiger Kevin “Billy” Dearden. But, in a feeble flop reminiscent of the risible efforts in the Torq goal of his recent predecessor Neville “used to be good in the 1880s” Southall, Dearden went lumpenly to ground and missed the ball, pure and simple. It rolled apologetically into the ropework: 2-0. Any team would have been floored by the devastation visited on them either side of half-time, and poor old Torquay were reeling. A Green cross was floated to Jevons and, with Dearden standing stock-still and glum on his line, a powerful header seemed to be on its way into the net for a third goal, only for the left-back to effect a game goal-line clearance. But this Torquay side is near the top of the table for good reason, and they began to gather some composure, and started to take the fight back to us. First possession, then glimpses of chances. Muss punched a dangerous cross away for a corner. Whittle raced to intervene with a perfectly-judged tackle as Regan hesitated. There was rather too much positional dithering from Mr Regan yesterday afternoon. The game was stretched now and though we had our moments, notably when Dearden came out of his box to head the ball away from the advancing Elliott only for Branch to waste the open goal by chipping an awkwardly bouncing ball well wide, Torquay were penetrating with increasing regularity, with David Graham a particularly tricky opponent. And the Torqs scored. One of theirs was permitted too much time down the left, near the by-line, and his cross was shoved into the net from about 8 yards out. An immediate double substitution revealed Mr Taylor’s anxiety. Jevons came off, and was joined on the bench by Elliott, who tucked himself up in a tartan blanket, swigged some Irn Bru and buried his nose in a handsomely-bound copy of “Ivanhoe”. On came Alexander and Williams. And Ryan immediately played a major role in extending our lead to 3-1. He took up possession down our left, tripped himself up, but righted himself with urgency and from having apparently lost the ball he fought back vigorously and contrived to win a corner. This sailed on to the forehead of Justin Whittle, towards the back of the penalty box stramash, and his header, down into the tangle of bodies on the edge of the six-yard box, was gleefully thumped into the back of the net by Anderson’s weighty right boot. Crumple! That’s what Torquay did. They thought they were right back in it. Weren’t. And now we preened ourselves with disgusting self-satisfaction, like the bronzed, ripplingly-muscled Adonis who strolls the beach confident of his sharply-defined six-pack and well-filled Speedos. Envy and admiration is our due,and the team justified such presumption. Green’s natural role is a central midfielder. He has skill and vision on the ball, and is wasted if played out wide. And he was now conducting play with relaxed grace. But he could do this only courtesy of terrier-like aggression from Keates, who teetered on the brink of a second yellow card all game long but did plenty to stop Torquay seizing control of midfield, and the ebullient Ashbee, who concentrated with care on the unglamorous holding midfield role. Branch limped off, on came Burton, we re-shuffled and Delaney pushed forward, but nothing now would disturb our command. Keates chipped over the bar from 25 yards. Williams crossed to Alexander, whose forceful header was directed straight at Dearden. And our eager frontman came close again when he muscled a hapless Torq defender off the ball, before turning and shooting, but again only to lodge his effort firmly in Dearden’s gloves. Mr Taylor must be wondering just why such an impressive collection of players has been turning in such gruesome under-performances over these last ten months; I know I am. A fourth goal was lurking, but what a gem it was once finally revealed. Green to Alexander, back to Green, the defence is split wide open, Green is racing away, five yards clear of the despairing cover, only Dearden to beat … and the ball is whisked confidently past the keeper’s left hand and just inside the post. 4-1, a delightful digestif. And so we won, and we won well. The game finished with a reminder that we had thrashed a decent side, as Regan was again harried into surrendering possession only for the Muss to block the shooting opportunity crafted by Torquay. And up the Football League we go. I suppose this six-point week is mainly a demonstration of the players’ relief at the termination of the Molby reign rather than proof of Peter Taylor’s managerial genius, but right now Adam Pearson must be congratulating himself on a big and brave decision that so far he seems to have got dead right. The Taylor era. So far, so very good.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Ashbee, Keates, Branch, Jevons, Elliott.  Subs: Williams (for Elliott, 66), Alexander (for Jevons, 66), Burton (for Branch, 74), Peat, Holt. Goals: Ashbee 45, Jevons 47, Anderson 68, Green 85 Booked: Burton, Delaney, Keates Sent Off: None   TORQUAY UNITED: Dearden, Canoville, Hazell, Woozley, Holmes, Brown, Russell, Fowler, Hill, Graham, Gritton.  Subs: Osei-Kuffour (for Brown, 51), Prince (for Holmes, 73), Hockley (for Fowler, 78), Attwell, Douglin. Goals: Hill 65 Booked: Canoville, Fowler Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 3,607