Watford 0 Hull City 0

A full-throated display from a remarkable City supporting contingent cheers the Tigers to their final point of the season against a tidy Watford reserve side.

Nice game!

Fantastic season.

Even if you could readily spot that neither side was willing to invest total commitment in what was in essence a meaningless fixture for both clubs, this was nevertheless a whole lot better entertainment than we could reasonably have expected on a pleasantly sunny Sunday lunchtime. Watford had the better of the first half and only Myhill prevented them claiming a deserved lead, but after the break City were convincingly the stronger side, and threatened the goal defended by Foster on several occasions. A good point gained, and, as we ponder what we can expect from our team next season, store this game away with the others in recent weeks when we’ve looked comfortably at home taking on the better sides in the Division.

In The Future’s Bright, The Future’s Amber mood were:

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Andrews Welsh Ellison
Fagan Parkin

On 2, Thelwell showed impressive defensive strength to hold off the marauding Ashley Young (picked for the PFA Divisional Team of the Season), but this was pretty much the only moment of note in a slumbering opening 20 minutes. Unless you add in the tactical point that Ellison and Green had swapped sides. To no obvious purpose.

But just as we were settling down to relax without the inconvenience of having to bother about a non-event on the pitch, the game crackled into life. On 21 the aforementioned Young is free in the box but is too tentative and Myhill blocks him. On 25 the muscular and distinctly impressive frontman Marlon King finds space and plays the ball out wide to Chris Eagles, who sweeps past Rogers with contemptuous ease and, advancing into the penalty area to shoot low with his left foot, is denied a goal only by a fine Myhill save. Five minutes later Rogers is again undressed by the same opponent, whose square ball is missed by Henderson and skied by King. Eagles, a willowy youth on loan from Manchester United, has obvious talent on the ball but has the sort of poncey boots and, horror, hairband that make you yearn for the days of Andy Davidson and Harry Cripps, when such callow glitter would have earned a meaty tackle and an ungainly despatch to Row Z for the fashion miscreant. Regrettably poor Alan Rogers spent the half struggling to get within five yards of Eagles in flight, and might have better off laying down some poisoned bait rather than attempting fruitlessly to make a tackle.

Watford, then, are the better side. City have been laboured on the few occasions we’ve managed to get forward into their half. After a decent move 23 minutes in Green got the ball stuck clumsily beneath his feet and couldn’t get his shot away. Our best moment of the half arrived on 44 and placed Green in a better light: Parkin played a ball in to Ellison on the edge of the box who moved the ball on quickly and intelligently to Green, whose well-struck shot drew a diving save from Foster. But this followed more pressure on our goal – a Henderson header extracted a save of practised ease from Boaz, high to his left, and then another more dangerous effort was turned away by our excellent goalkeeper for a corner. Nil-nil at half-time, but advantage Watford.

If you were to thin out the English league by lopping off 30 clubs, then Watford would be one of those that you would discard as colourless dullards (along with Walsall, Blackburn, Gillingham, Charlton, Colchester, Chesterfield, etc), and yesterday did nothing to dispel my scorn for this pale outfit. Their fans were silent throughout, competing with Ipswich for the least passionate home crowd of the whole season. One even had the audacity to wander up to me on Vicarage Road outside the ground after the match to shake my hand and wish our club well for next season. I spit on such false bonhomie. This genteel civility is not football, it is sickness, they come to the footie like they go shopping for garden furniture at B & Q or have a day out at Whipsnade Zoo, it’s just filling the day until they die, there’s no depth or passion, and whatever Hertfordshire may deserve Premiership football is not it.

Amid such footie indolence it is gratifying to report that the travelling City support was on top form. I expected us to have 400 at this meaningless match – max. There were 1500, at least, scattered across the large stand behind the goal defended by Myhill in the first half (the away end now being the opposite end from its location when we visited in the 1980s), and the vast majority in boisterously loud mood too, determined to celebrate a startlingly successful season. With no involvement from the mute Watford fans, it was left to us to make our own fun, and this was achieved in entertaining fashion as the City support split into two and alternated between serenading and taunting each other. “Sat with the Watford, you should be sat with the Watford!” sang the right side, in mock scorn for the left side’s supposed lack of vocal vigour, and we giggled away in the sunshine at the sheer aceness of Hull City.

Second half. Rogers had spent the later stages of the first period making a tactically astute claim to be injured, and he was replaced at the break by Dawson. Fagan had made no impression at all in the first 45 and he too was taken off in favour of Duffy. And with Watford probably under instructions not to get hurt or tired, City promptly took the game to the home side. We took charge.

Duffy most of all. He’s fast, he’s keen, he’s going to be a very good player for us, even if his natural inclination to lurk on the last defender’s shoulder even when we’ve not got possession rather than track back is never going to endear him to the prats among our support who think a player isn’t contributing unless he’s running around like a headless chicken (with bird ‘flu) … though on reflection even when we’ve got a player who’s terribly good at doing exactly that (and yes, I’m afraid it is Kevin Ellison of whom I am thinking) the self-same prats have a lamebrain pop at him too.

watford-v-hull-city-30th-april-2006The Darryl Duffy show, then. On 47, set up by Parkin, he shoots across the ‘keeper and wide. On 55 he chases a ball into the penalty area takes a meaty whack from Foster. Undaunted, he sprints clear of the defence a couple of minutes later to chase a looping long ball, and is foiled only by an impressive burst of speed and a well-timed tackle by the very good Adrian Mariappa. Then, on 60, quite delightfully swift interplay between Green and Duffy opens up another shooting chance for the Scot, who forces a fine left-handed save from Foster. This last move was the best of all – what finer sight is there in football than slick first-time passing and bewildering swift spinning into space? Top quality.

It’s all us, isn’t it? A foul on Parkin, a free-kick and a free header for Cort, which he squanders by sending the effort well wide. Watford are getting crunched, and they look listless and leaderless. And they are the victims of another episode in the Legend that is The Beast, as our hero, chasing a victim, hurtles over the whitewash and off the pitch where he collides meatily with an unsuspecting Watford sub, whose warm-up routine is rudely altered into a crumplingly close-up inspection of an advertising hoarding. Even if you’re not playing, you’re not safe from a Beasting.

A propos of nothing very much – though I expect Wasps play at Vicarage Road, or did once, or something – I’d like to see Lawrence Dallaglio on the receiving end of a beasting. Can’t stand that bloke. Self-satisfied, sneering, arrogant, preening bore. Mr I know what’s best. If Dallaglio were to try his hand at football – and my goodness me, after the success that Sir Clive Woodward has made of the transition, who’s to bet that more rugger chappies won’t be following this path? – I’d like to see him limp off whimpering for his shoulder pads after he’s been smacked half-way to Invercargill by The Beast.

And while I’m musing, was that really David Hockaday on the cover of the programme yesterday? Crikey, he looks like he’s had a hard life. I met him on the tube once after he’d played for City at West Ham (would it be the game where we played well for the first 40 minutes but still found ourselves 1-7 down half way through the 2nd half? I think so), and he looked fresh, fit and bouncy. Those days are long gone on this photographic evidence.

Towards the closing stages now. Watford remind us that they’re third in the table by opening us up down the left – superb block from Myhill – and then with a vicious shot from the edge of the box by King – another smart save from our goalkeeper. But time’s nearly up. France replaces the doughty Ellison, a clot behind me tries to begin a “We’ll never see you again” chant aimed at the splendidly indefatigable midfielder and is humiliatingly ignored, and the game meanders to a conclusion. 0-0 – a pretty good 0-0 – and a satisfying point to round off the season.

And a very satisfying season it’s been too.

Low points of the campaign? Well, we’ve been beaten 18 times, and we’ve scored just 49 times in 46 League games, with limp exits from both Cups to add to the mix. So – plenty of low points, surely? No. The way we faded from poor to dismal at Preston back on the first day of November festers as a sore – but it was just about our only truly abject display of the whole season. Leicester away in March was painful, both on the pitch, as a careless display suddenly had us doing a seriously convincing impression of relegation fodder, and off the pitch, as we were treated like idiots and criminals by a haplessly inept club on which I heap scorn and wish misery. Self-serving sneering buffoon John Prescott wearing a City scarf at Brighton in December was a bad moment too – and I’m pleased it’s got worse for that hypocrite since, typical of New Labour too, as Two Shags disdains his political roots and gets down and dirty with a fellow participant in the lewd deceitful Westminster circus rather than settling for a nice lass off Bransholme. But overall the whole point of this season is that for the first time in a generation we’re back playing where we belong, in English football’s second tier, we’re playing proper clubs week in, week out, and we’ve visibly improved as the season has developed. Terrific stuff. Gorgeous moments include Elliott’s brilliantly imaginative goal to win at Plymouth, Welsh’s glorious chip on a grand sunny day out in Coventry, Ellison’s astonishing strike on a grand sunny day out in Southampton, the vital pair of gritty home wins against Cardiff and Wednesday in December, Paynter’s crashing equaliser at Crewe, Myhill’s double penalty saves at Stoke, a frantic and wonderful first half at Kenilworth Road, the vital pair of gritty home wins against Plymouth and Crewe in March, the Beast heading in the winner at home to Leeds, Delaney’s honest endeavour and uncomplaining readiness to play wherever he’s asked and to do it well, Cort’s consistent excellence … And, as ever, lots of mirth and tomfoolery that makes following Hull City such a smashing antidote to the grind and stress of the many serious things that infect life on this planet. Thank you.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Green, Andrews, Welsh, Ellison; Parkin, Fagan. Subs: Duffy (for Fagan, 45), Dawson (for Rogers, 45), France (for Ellison, 85), Paynter, Duke.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

WATFORD: Foster, Doyley, DeMerit, Mariappa, Stewart, Eagles, Mahon, Bangura, Young, King, Henderson. Subs: McNamee (for Young, 62), Spring (for Henderson, 81), Chamberlain, Chambers, Robinson.

Goals: None

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: K Friend

ATTENDANCE: 17,128

Hull City 1 Watford 2

Three defeats in a row as City dominate high-flying Watford for long periods but are undone by defensive errors and woeful finishing.

Another day, another defeat, the third in just over a week. That’s the bottom line, despite what seems to have been an improvement on the capitulation at Preston. I can’t think that a November fixture list promising trips to QPR and Reading and with Southampton visiting was singled out preseason as a time to garner a good few points. But we’re going to need some now, after 3 fixtures that should have yielded points have produced none. It’s not the time to panic yet. But if we don’t get, say, 3 points from the next 3 games, then it might be time to get a bit jittery.

‘You’ve got to take your chances in this division,’ Steve Weatherill told me after the game, fixing me with a steely look behind his steely specs, and I nodded anxiously, mainly because he is fairly alarming when in that mood and it pays to seem to agree, but also because it is quite true. We don’t create too many chances, so we can’t afford to squander those that we do. Chief culprit was Stuart ‘The Squanderer’ Green who had a match that will haunt him.

We set off:

Myhill
Lynch Cort Collins Delaney
Green Welsh Woodhouse Ellison
Brown Barmby

So good to see the boy Nicky back, fascinating to see that Elliott had so earned the ire of the manager that he didn’t even make the 16 after his supine display in East Lancashire, and interesting to get our first look at centre back Sam Collins. Not what I was expecting, really. Tall, thin, thinner legs, pale skin. Hmm. I like my central defenders to look like Steve Baines, or Larry Lloyd, or Matt Redmile. In short, I want to shudder when I look at them, and think how dreadful it would have to be to get close enough to them to be kicked. The opposing forwards should be reduced to the sort of snivelling, mewling pitifulness to which Justin Whittle recently introduced Alan Shearer, so that at the end of the game they are too miffed to shake hands and too scared to go outside for the fight which Shearer later told the media he had been too professional to take up. Whatever his virtues, Collins won’t do that.

But we started well, very well in fact, as we were ahead inside 7 minutes. Brown won a flick on to Ellison out wide left who beat one man, cut in to the edge of the area and crossed to Green in plenty of space to his right. Green’s first touch was ordinary, but he recovered well and quickly found Barmby completely free steaming in from the angle, taking one touch and hitting a fine shot home despite keeper Foster getting a touch. Worth reading the above to yourself again, as for each of our players their involvement was pretty much the high point of their respective afternoons. But a good goal it was, and we cavorted merrily, 1-0.

Worth mentioning, briefly, the particularly ecstatic cavortings of one tiger chatter, happily larging it and leading the ‘who are you?’ chants aimed at the crestfallen Watford fans in the North Stand as 2 of those those fans were his lovely young wife who is also the mother of his strapping infant son and his father-in-law. His gleeful expression spoke of a man suddenly feeling a whole lot better about the restaurant meal a deux booked with his wife later. Whether any sexual forfeits had been built in to their pre-game planning, I am unable to say. But he wore a beaming smile for all of a hundred seconds.

For that’s how long we controlled the game. The Watties won a corner, it was a bog-standard affair, swung over into the middle with not much on it, but we obligingly stood and allowed Mahon to head it past Myhill. A really dreadful goal to concede, one that must have had the manager putting his head in his hands and then, as he looked up and saw that the player who had not challenged for the header and was looking at the ground and avoiding the pointed glances of his colleagues, was a certain Sam Collins, he perhaps returned head to hands pronto. 1-1.

We weren’t awful from this point on, but we didn’t carry a lot of threat. Barmby ran and harried, Ellison was typically industrious and willing, Brown was constantly offside, Green did fuck all. Welsh and Woodhouse were effectively functioning as defenders numbers 5 and 6, as they have done so often once our opponents discover how limited is the threat we pose and start to come at us and out-pass us. Woodhouse did have a deflected shot that Foster did well to tip over, Welsh had one very good forward run which came to nothing, and this heightened the frustration; both of these players can get forward, but due to the pressure we are under, they seldom do.

And we were now under pressure. Paul Devlin did well on the right, but Anthony McNamee was alarmingly good on the left, lightning paced, twinkle-toed, he began to spoil Mark Lynch’s afternoon. Lynch hung in there, but soon needed the help of Welsh, which resulted in their being too men out of the game when McNamee sashayed away from them both. Young in the centre was starting to link well with Marlon King, and suddenly we were struggling, although only once, when Ellison needed to race back to do enough to cause a shot to be scuffed just wide, did they come alarmingly close.

There was no lack of effort, but we were under the hammer at the back from their verve and pace, and apart from Brown doing his Danny Webb flying elbows impression, we were not frightening them up front. But their next goal, when it came, was another choker. Just prior to the interval they won a throw in down our right side. The ball was chucked in, they were first to the flick on, first to the loose ball bobbling about the area and first, in the form of Matt Spring, to bury a good shot past Myhill. That wasn’t clever football, it was basic stuff allowed to succeed by very bad defending. 1-2, and a subdued half time amongst the faithful.

Would the manager change it around? Are Ross Kemp and Steve McFadden even softer than Alan Shearer? You bet. Burgess and Fagan came on to play up front with Barmby just behind them. Ellison departed, a shade unluckily, Brown went off, uselessly. Actually, he went off OK, but everything else hadn’t been. He increasingly looks, like a grand piano in a modern semi, a luxury that we haven’t got the room for and can’t really afford. Hard to believe of a striker too useless to make it at Sunderland, but there we are. Two words: Michael Reddy. Two more: ship out.

The changes bucked us up though. Fagan was hard working and mobile, Burgess unsettled them and won a lot of headers. Later on his touch seemed to desert him completely, but I still feel there’s enough to think that he can do us a job at this level. But Fagan it was who ran and crossed and appealed for a penalty that wasn’t given. Then he was put through by Barmby, steadied himself, shot wide, and then was taken out immediately after. Barn door, they call those penalty shouts. Again, not given. Mystifying.

The visitors paid us the compliment of withdrawing the lissome McNamee and deciding to shore things up and try and hit us on the break, nearly doing so as Welsh’s concentration wavered in giving the ball away resulting in King’s shot bringing out a sharp but routine save from Bo. Fagan again ran from wide left, found Barmby, who sublimely put through Green, free, one-on-one with Foster. Cumbria’s finest seemed to shrink as Foster got bigger and made a good save from a shot placed rather than struck and at what we like to call a nice height. It was hard to think he’d have a better chance, but minutes later he did. On the far side of their area one of ours, I don’t know who, was felled with a raised arm. It looked a nasty foul, it looked like a straight red, it even looked as though it might have been outside the area. No card was brandished, but a penalty was given, and the Squanderer wandered up to take it, shrinking further in size as he did so. Despite his lack of height he retained the strength to hit the ball high up and faraway, over the bar, over trees and villages, never to be seen again. Greeny ambled back sadly, and I’m sad to be writing this. It’s desperate to see such a skilful player having such a bad time in the tiger cause.

Watford thought they had sealed it when they had the ball in our net, which shows what they know, as flag and whistle had ruled it offside ages earlier. Duffers. And we had one last gilt-edged chance, again set up by Fagan, putting through Nicky, lots of time, good angle, but this time the right player. But sadly, the same result, Barmby got more venom into his effort than had Green, but again Foster did very well and again the height was ‘nice.’ A word here for Foster: excellent. Apparently he belongs to Manchester United and he looks a real talent in his one year loan spell, fine shot stopper, good decision maker and a distributory throw that must have the Mancs salivating and thinking of Peter Schmeichel. Custodian of the leather.

Anyway, that was pretty much that. We met up with the 2 earlier mentioned Watford fans in a hostelry after the game and they wore the restrainedly smug, kindly smiles, of people not wishing to intrude on private grief, oh no, not us. They thought they had easily deserved the win. We politely agreed with them that this was complete bollocks, and cited our second half chances as evidence. They restrained more smiles and we glowered. But as the sky darkened and fireworks exploded heavenwards to mingle with the ball orbiting there from Greeny’s spot kick, their views were interesting. They thought we were well organised, but simply don’t carry as much threat up front as most in this division. They thought we passed the ball about too slowly and lacked both the vision to open a side up and the pace to finish them off. I think they’re right, too. I’ve thought this most of the time since the season started, but hoped it was just us coming to terms with this division. Well, we’re in November, we know what’s required now. I’m sure the manager does, too. He can’t do much about the injury crisis, but he does need to ensure that the lack of belief that is palpable doesn’t become crippling. Positives: Barmby and Fagan’s best outings of the season. Negatives: the implosion of Green, but also the desperate defending that produced the goals. Collins looks like he can play and particularly in the second half showed some good touches, but when he’s been a part of a defence that has conceded two rotten goals, you can’t say he’s had a good game, so I won’t. Also, if he really was been leading and communicating, he was clearly doing it in such a subtle, one lifted eyebrow, almost imperceptible nod of the head, Roger Moore sort of way that it was completely lost on the spectator, as I think we can refer to Damien Delaney. No, though it wasn’t awful, it wasn’t great. And as I said, bottom line, we lost. We’re going to have to stop doing that.

In most fields of human endeavour I think management is a vastly over-rated idea, the term you apply to what the person is doing who gets paid more than you for not really doing any of the work needed to get the job done. If you’ve got good people you achieve good things, whether you’ve got some numpty with a clip board and spread sheet making inane suggestions and calling meetings that distract you from the job in hand, or not. But If we’re going to turn around our recent down turn in fortune, Peter Taylor might just have to prove me wrong about that.

HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Lynch, Cort, Collins, Delaney; Green, Welsh, Woodhouse, Ellison; Brown, Barmby. Subs: Fagan (for Ellison, 45), Burgess (for Brown, 45), France (for Lynch, 71), Joseph, Duke.

Goals: Barmby 6

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

WATFORD: Foster, Chambers, Carlisle, DeMerit, Doyley, Devlin, Mahon, Spring, McNamee, King, Young. Subs: Bangura (for McNamee, 53), Mackay (for DeMerit, 76), Henderson (for Devlin, 76), Chamberlain, Stewart.

Goals: Mahon 8; Spring 44

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

REFEREE: L Mason

ATTENDANCE: 18,444