Hull City 2 Wolves 3

Good news: I think we saw the best team in the league tonight. Bad news: it wasn’t us.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Wolves at the start of the season. They spent a lot of money last summer on continental players and it never really worked out for them. But this time they look the real deal. It’s not just the excellent players they’ve brought in but they have a top manager in Nuno and he’s got them set up incredibly well. They’re playing a style of football that, particularly away from home in the Championship, is very brave. They played three at the back stretched out almost the width of the pitch while the two wing backs hugged the touchline high up the pitch and stretched City every time the ball went forward. In the middle exploiting the space this leaves they have clever players who can move the ball about well and, as we saw devastatingly for the opening goal, shoot from distance.

City had started well until Neves smashed one past McGregor from 25 yards after six minutes [0-1] but it was already clear that Wolves wing backs were going to be a crucial part of the game and we were already struggling to cope with them. Not for the first time this season our naive young full backs were exposed – in part by the opposition and partly by our failure to protect them up the field. That situation isn’t helped by us only playing one central midfielder. I’m not counting Markus Henriksen. He’s not a central midfielder – he has no effect on games, he doesn’t make a tackle or a forward pass.

I don’t lay the blame at the feet of the manager for our failure to match them tactically. He just doesn’t have any other fit players to work with. Sure, 4-4-2 is no counter for what is almost a 3-2-5 formation but replacing any of the first eleven with those from the bench is far worse a proposition.

We weren’t just second d best on the ball, with Neves dominating for them like Tom Huddlestone as his very best, but we didn’t have their knack of drawing fouls or killing time, with Neves dominating for them like the love child of Cristiano Ronaldo and Rudi Voller.

After Miranda spurned the chance to double their lead after a corner was flicked on to him at the near post, we equalised pretty much from nowhere. Hector met a Donald Trump corner along with a defender and the ball was shuffled away from the far post. We took the resulting corner short, a cross was whipped past Ruddy, headed off the line and Dawson headed it back in [1-1].

That could have been the catalyst for City to push on before half time but instead, we were sloppy in possession, gave them gifts in our half and looked susceptible to a ball over the top to either wing-back. In the end, it was the little winger Enobakhare who picked up the ball on the right touchline, breezed past Hector and laid the ball on a plate for Jota to score [1-2].

Half time: Hull City 1 Wolves 2

Our flaws were there for all to see but fixing them was going to be difficult. We had nothing on the bench to change the game. In similar fashion to the Villa game on the opening day though, the eleven sent back out changed it themselves by getting on the ball, keeping possession and forcing Wolves to worry about us. And they looked nowhere near as effective.

McGregor made a decent, but simple, save from Bonatini’s far post header in what was suddenly a rare Wolves attack. City struggled to find a final ball after getting into key areas until just after the hour a neat move worked the ball to the edge of the area where Campbell exploded into the box, beautifully beat the last man with a neat trick and was denied by a good save from John Ruddy’s out-stretched right arm. If that was close then Hernandez’s thumping header from Clucas’s corner smashing the post five minutes later was tantalising.

We had momentum. Even Henriksen won two excellent challenges in midfield. Then Campbell was subbed off for Diomande and the game went. Again, it’s hard to blame the manager when Campbell is clearly not yet at peak fitness but there is just nothing outside the first eleven and losing Campbell’s effervescence for Diomande’s clunky and clumsy wandering was the sign that this game was over. Worse was still to come when Hernandez jumped to challenge for a good Grosicki cross (not many of them to the pound) and landed awkwardly. He immediately called for the physio who called for a stretcher and Abel went off with a serious looking achilles injury. Shiiiit.

With the referee just about to announce NINE minutes of stoppage time, we made it irrelevant. Typical. Aina was caught in possession in their half and sub Nouha Dicko raced onto a ball into space to finish under McGregor [1-3]. We were awarded a seriously soft penalty eight minutes into the nine added for a foul on Diomande which David Meyler buried into the bottom left hand corner [2-3] but the game was up.

Full time: Hull City 2 Wolves 3

This felt like a game that would let us know how good we are after a comfortable win on Saturday. In the end though, it’s probably not told us anything we didn’t already know. We’re a decent outfit with 7 or 8 quality players. Michael Hector is a classy defender. We’re at least five players short of having a squad anywhere near Wolves’s (they had actual grown-ups on the bench and the manager didn’t pick who came on by playing Ip, Dip, dog shit). We desperately need a left back. Markus Henriksen isn’t a central midfielder. Kamil Grosicki will have games where you wonder if he gives a toss.

And one new one, we desperately need Abel Hernandez to not be injured for six months. Or even six weeks.

Hull City 2 Wolverhampton Wanderers 3

A splendid game of football and a superb attacking display by the Tigers – nevertheless the class of Wolves forwards ensure a 2-3 reverse and extend the period of winlessness at the KC beyond two months.

Another game goes by. The bottom three don’t catch us up and we remain nine points clear of relegation. Again City turn in a performance against top-half opposition that showed huge promise for the future, but produced a zero points haul. Just like Cardiff last week the Tigers dominated proceedings but in the end clinical finishing by an Arsenal loanee striker, a Scottish international striker and a striker that has commanded a £7m fee in recent years saw the away team win late on. And there’s the difference. We can all go on about how City should “not fear the opposition” and “let’s get at them” and “let’s not get overawed”. City avoided all three of those pitfalls in this game yet still lost – because when the chances came, Wolves had better players than us. We’ll learn. We’ll improve. We’ll get there.

With three strikers on the bench and big Jon Parkin alone up front City lined up in a formation that generally matched the away side’s. France and Elliott supported the Beast wherever possible, Green was in an advanced role, Andrews and Noble tidied up and kept the decrepit but capable pairing of Ince and Anderton in check. We carded:

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Noble Andrews
France Green Elliott
Parkin

City have tried this formation a few times before, generally with Ben Burgess at the spearhead, and it has rarely worked. Yet today it did – another sign of the progress we are making as a club, both in terms of training and the capability of our squad to perform flexibly according to match conditions. A decent Wolves following cheered on the away side while City emerged in a state of considerable fired-upness. As early as the 3rd minute Leon Cort had outmuscled his elder brother Carl (were the Charltons the last centre forward/centre half brothers to play a league game in direct opposition?) and played in Parkin down the right, whose first shot was blocked and second was underhit and saved low by renowned amateur porn star Postma in the Wolves goal. Moments later Parkin held off Lescott – such a dominant force at Molineux in August – and played a sumptuous flick into France’s path but the opening was squandered. A great start with Jon Parkin once again looking like a proper footballer as well as an enormous presence in the City attack. City continued to press while Wolves played the ball around nicely when they had it, but didn’t actually pose any threat in City’s last third. City had a corner cleared to Noble on the edge of the box but his low shot was deflected wide. Then Andrews screwed a shot wide after a tidy knock-down by the advanced France. On 18 minutes Mark Noble had a Star Trek moment, a move started with the West Ham youngster on the right before neat City passing in midfield saw the ball fall to Noble wide on the left, apparently teleported across the pitch in a matter of seconds. Noble cut inside and shot over the crossbar, then went on to give a display of great promise, much better than his rather limp effort at Cardiff which had left this correspondent wondering whether he was any better than the previous incumbent, John Welsh. I can now see the point of Mark Noble, a fine player with a great engine.

All these shots and chances, surely a goal was coming. Rogers and Parkin combined on the left to feed Elliott in space, Stuey cut inside and shot straight at Postma, who stood as erect and firm as his young lady’s Poke-u-Like 12 Inch Strap-on as he caught the ball. Penetrative stuff by City, and for once Postma didn’t turn his back. Then Delaney stepped out of defence to intercept a clearance and advanced 30 yards before thumping a low shot a foot past Postma’s post. City were utterly on top, waves of attacks were crashing over the Wolves defence and the City crowd was as fired up as it had been for a while. Time for a show of real class to open the scoring.

Noble received the ball on half way and dithered momentarily as he searched for a short pass when the nearby presence of two Wolves players might have demanded he lump it Beast-wards. He was dispossessed (I think by excellent youngster Davies) and glove-wearing speedster Aliadiere was released down the loosely defended right channel. Those City fans who had wondered before the game who would win a sprint between Aliadiere and Damien Delaney got their answer as the French Gunner eased into City’s box and struck a low drive past Myhill’s right hand. One-nil, thoroughly undeserved on balance of play but justified on balance of talent.

Shaken by this setback, City retreated into their shells, a sign of awe-struck fear rearing its head again for a while. In this period Aliadiere had another raid down the right saved by Myhill and scrambled away by Delaney, while the express-paced Miller looked a genuine threat before heading a cross well over after more unchallenged attacking down City’s left. For this I do not blame Rogers – he performed excellently again and looks to be a real asset – but Wolves realised that they could double up out wide and expose Elliott’s absence when he was caught upfield. In time Noble realised the threat and covered across, thankfully before further additions to the scoreline were made.

As the end of the half approached City regained their confidence and more chances were made and missed. Noble blasted over from 25 yards and Andrews’ clever free kick released France but his cross evaded Parkin. Then five minutes before the break a France throw-in found Parkin on the right by the goal-line and the Beast scuttled past Lescott with a deft shuffle (how can such a big brute be so delicate?) only to be felled by a swishing and mistimed Lescott tackle. The referee was left with little choice but to point to the spot (there was no way the felony could be located outside the box, as per last week at Ninian Park) and Stuart Green stepped up to convert the twelve yarder.

To his credit Greenie looked pretty confident as he waited for the penalty box to clear and the referee to whistle the go-ahead. It wasn’t a confidence shared by many onlookers in the home stands and as Postma correctly guessed which way the blonde Cumbrian was placing his effort, so Green overcompensated and rolled his penalty a foot wide. That’ll be his last spot kick for a while, I suggest. Elliott lashes them straight (he missed the one he placed) while Parkin would surely scare any goalkeeper into submission just with his thundering approach to the ball. Fair play for Greenie to have the nerve to take it. Whether he should have been allowed to is open to question.

Just before half time Green nearly made amends as he took in his stride a splendid Parkin knock-down and breezed past two defenders before rolling a low shot just wide of the post. Green was only 24 inches from bagging a brace – a distance that might not seem much, but would make even Stefan Postma wince in the bedroom.

The second half started as the first left off, and the KC crowd was treated to as thrilling a 45 minutes of football as have been served up for a while. Wolves had clearly upped their level a notch or two and Kenny Miller in particular became more influential with his pace and power. But City too had come out fired up and had soon restored parity. France had powered past Wolves left back Naylor to set up Parkin, whose shot was blocked for a corner. The flagkick was cleared to the right and Noble delivered a swerving cross that was only part cleared. It fell to Leon Cort near the penalty box who struck a sweet volley into the roof of Postma’s net. It was absolutely deserved by both player and his team. Game on.

Alan Rogers has a long flat throw and this looks to be a decent threat. Straight after City equalised Noble headed on a Rogers chuck and Parkin hit a twisting shot from behind his body over from 12 yards. Then Andrews had a shot deflected over the bar after a deft trick by Parkin had opened up Wolves again. The winner looked on the cards and on 56 minutes came the golden chance. Elliott was found free on the left in City’s half from a quick-thinking Myhill throw and the Christian wing-wizard sprinted 60 yards deep into Wolves’ territory before threading a tremendous cross to the back post where Parkin was unmarked and had a simple right foot tap-in from 8 yards. Inexplicably the Beast elected to switch the ball to his left foot – no doubt in an attempt to wrong-foot Postma – but this momentary delay afforded Lescott the chance to effect a last-ditch tackle and the chance was gone. Bah!

Three minutes later we were behind again. Andrews underhit a square pass to Thelwell on half-way and the right back – who looked composed and a real asset to the side for a second match running – trod on the ball and ceded possession to the pacy Miller. The Ireland-bound Scotsman sprinted from half way line to penalty box before rolling the ball to Aliadiere who was lining up a low shot when Rogers got a toe in. Alas this tackle simply returned the ball to Miller who struck the ball inside Myhill’s left post. Double bah!!

It was real gloves-off time for both sides now (the pinky-protecting Frenchman Aliadiere excepted) as both sides ripped into each other with gay abandon. Anderton had hobbled off to give way to Mark Kennedy while Thelwell had been sacrificed to allow the introduction of another fleet-of-foot Scotsman, Darryl Duffy. Alas Duffy was the one City player that looked utterly overawed (“blaady heull, tha’s Kenny Millah ah’m chasin'”) and he was pretty ineffective, especially when Fagan later came on and Darryl was deputed to Stuart Green’s midfield string tugging role. Wolves had one or two glimpses of goal – Ince shot wide after good chest-play by Aliadiere – but the balance of play remained Tigery. Noble accepted a free-kick nod-down from Leon Cort before side-stepping two tackles and shooting striaght at the keeper. Then neat passing in midfield found France – by now playing right back – well advanced and in space to cross. His long ball cleared the back post but found Parkin closing down centre back Edwards at the goal-line. The defender appeared to have the chance to let the ball bounce away harmlessly for a goal kick but clearly a Beastly presence unnerved him and he attempted an extravagant over-the-shoulder clearance. The ball instead went straight up in the air and swirled around in the wind a bit before returning pitch-wards deep into the goal mouth. As the keeper flapped and Noble advanced, the ball dropped directly on the goal-line and bounced up into the roof of the net. Another deserved equaliser.

City didn’t sit back, they went for the win. But the changes in personnel designed to chase an equaliser now came back to haunt us. Duffy was ineffectual as already stated while France has not looked entirely comfortable at right back for some time. Going for a winner seemed the only solution and when Fagan had sight of goal after more Parkin strength on the left, the approach looked a good one. Alas Lescott blocked Fagan’s shot. In the end though, the changes were City’s undoing. With a minute left Duffy failed to close down Miller in midfield and the ball was switched to Ricketts on the left wing. Ricketts stepped inside a lame challenge by France and swung a high cross to the far post where Carl Cort showed greater strength than the tiring Delaney to deftly knock a volley past Myhill for the winner. With four minutes of stoppage time to go City went in search of an equaliser, and it nearly came with three of those minutes gone when Parkin – like at the end of the first half – nodded a long ball into Green’s path who struck a fabulous volley that was tipped wide by the sprawling Postma.

So the points reward that City deserved from this game was denied, nevertheless this was a hugely encouraging performance to take into the much more important game against struggling Leicester next week. After a shaky start Green was a positive addition to the team and only his missed penalty blotted his record – he played in a position that was Taylor-made for Barmby, future-City-formation-spotting-fans. The defence was generally sound although Delaney was ultimately exposed for his lack of pace and weariness. Rogers looks a fine player and on present form looks a better bet than Dawson in that position. Andrews and Noble were a powerhouse combination full of running and clever passing, albeit interspersed with the occasional error that Wolves were good enough to punish so severely. France was excellent restored to his attacking role, and Thelwell looks good enough to make the right back slot his own. Top plaudits must go to Jon Parkin though, his display of hard running, strength and deftness betrayed his massive fitness as well as his target man qualities. Parkin could be our best signing in twenty years if things continue this way, he could be the focus for our rise up the table next season. Top beasting.

HULL CITY (4-2-3-1): Myhill; Thelwell, Cort, Delaney, Rogers; Andrews, Noble; France, Green, Elliott; Parkin. Subs: Duffy (for Thelwell, 65), Fagan (for Elliott, 78), Paynter, Welsh, Duke.

Goals: Cort 51; o.g. (Edwards) 82

Booked: None

Sent Off: None

 

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS: Postma, Ross, Lescott, Edwards, Naylor, Ince, Davies, Anderton, Miller, Cort, Aliadiere. Subs: Kennedy (for Anderton, 62), Ricketts (for Aliadiere, 77), Frankowski (for Miller, 89), Oakes, Rosa.

Goals: Aliadiere 28; Miller 59; Cort 89

Booked: Kennedy, Miller, Naylor, Ricketts, Ross

Sent Off: None

 

REFEREE: I Williamson

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