Hull City 1 Wrexham 2

Another performance of promise but in the end the promotion chasing visitors just wanted it a bit more, and had a quality striker in Morrell who helped them prove it.  Steve Weatherill casts an eye over another Anglo-Welsh clash.
Wrexham scrapped, City were scrappy. That’s a shade harsh, because overall we didn’t really deserve to lose this game. But the visitors are playing for promotion, the home side are playing for nothing, and those essential ingredients of bite and spirit were just a bit more in evidence among the Wrexham team than among our own. The Welsh passed the ball around nicely at times too, and I don’t entertain any particular sense of injustice about the result this morning. It was, however, a largely formless game, and although in years to come the (again, astonishing) crowd of 15,002 may look back with fondness at having witnessed the promising debut of Big Ben Burgess, right now “Wrexham, home, lost” simply brings us 90 minutes closer to calling time on this wretched season of faded hopes and sloppy football. On duty:

Fettis Otsemobor Joseph Anderson Delaney Reeves Keates Melton Elliott Burgess Walters

With Ashbee absent injured and Whittle suspended, we were likely to look lightweight. And we did. But this cannot apply to Big Ben Burgess. He is Big. And also called Ben. Can I make it any more obvious? Anyway, our hoped-for new cult hero soon skated into the action, mis-controlling an astute pass from Elliott not once, but twice, before the ball squirted free to Walters, who shot wide. It was a dopey entrance by Burgess and soon after the whole team was shaken up by the early (but not premature) departure of Steve “Big Hits” Melton, who wandered off the pitch as if no one would notice, whereupon eagle-eyed Peter Taylor (a former England manager, remember) pounced and immediately decided to employ a substitute. Not much gets past our guv’nor, and no mistake. Steve Burton came on, and took over at left-back, while the ever-enthusiastic Damien Delaney stepped forward into central midfield. It strikes me that it is peculiar just how many footballing chums of Mr Taylor select his impressions of Norman Wisdom as his primary achievement in life. It was the doughty Geoff Barker, profiled in yesterday’s programme, who, in glancing back over highlights of his stalwart career, set aside recollection of an ex-Tigers vs Southern Supporters match from the mid-1980s when he was tormented by a tricky wingman with a turn of pace and an eye for goal name of Steve Weatherill, and instead waxed lyrical (how else can you wax?) about the teenager Taylor’s regular chorus of “Mr Grimsdale” Should Mr Taylor ever become widely popular among us Tigers fans, there is one day potential for some communal awry-flat-capped-related humour on a distant away terrace. But let us await that surge up the League before we dust off the (waxed) lyrics of “Don’t Laugh at Me Cause I’m a Fool”. Umm. Unfortunate title, I suppose. Maybe Mr Taylor could try and do Sid James instead, and we’ll just join in on the laugh. Back to the football! Ah yes! Not a moment too soon, for Walters may score. But he scuffs his shot badly and the keeper saves. Then Burgess, improving, wins the ball and shoots: straight into the keeper’s gut. Back in November Wrexham looked better than most teams we’ve faced this season, and they were once again proving tough opposition. Big and uncompromising in defence – Lawrence must be all of 6 foot 5, though his location at left-back rather than centre-back suggests he’s not much use in the air. And if you want an experienced netman, look no further than Andy Dibble. “No!” you cry, from Hong Kong to Cape Town via Jakarta and Perth, “the Officer? Surely he is retired, and has been for years?”. Nope. He’s in goals for Wrexham. And perfectly competent. In midfield Wrexham are occasionally slick and generally steady, with the mobile Jim Whitley, a lookalike for Sanath Jayasuriya (a man sadly without a catchphrase), the pick of the bunch, while in attack they sport the very good Lee Trundle and the excellent Andy Morrell. This pair are quick, thoughtful and too good for this Division. So the visitors had a good spell. We survived it and, as is ever the way in this Division, then proceeded to enjoy our own little glimpse of superiority. And it won us a penalty. Big Ben controlled the ball with great skill, turned confidently – a less burly chap might have been thought to have pirouetted, but let me tell you, Big Ben doesn’t do pirouetting, in fact I doubt he does French stuff at all – and swept a delightful ball out wide to Elliott. He sprinted into the box where he was crudely tumbled to the turf, and a penalty was correctly awarded. Which we missed. Groan. Keates had buried one against Shrewsbury last time out, but this time a similarly low shot was too close to Dibble and he blocked it all too easily. Groan. We adjusted the shape of the team now, with Burgess operating as battering-ram, supported right-side by Walters and left-side by Elliott, with Reeves asked to do a lot of extra running in midfield. It sort-of worked, sort-of didn’t – the game deteriorated into the sort of stuffy midfield stalemate that is the worst feature of lower Division football. Neither team was able to provide any quality of service to players located near the opposition danger area. But in the footballing basement you take your pleasures where you can, and yesterday offered rich comedy in the guise of a fight among the stewards policing the pocket of Wrexham fans. At first it seemed as if they were intent on hauling out a visiting Welshman or two, but after a brief and inconsequential struggle, the mood of the stewards appeared to become more introspective. An orange-coated one biffed a yellow-coated one, who fell down the steps. Great stuff! What was going on? Such stewarding energy would have been welcome at Sunderland last Wednesday, but, hey, burberry-capped-freaks, if you want a closed-doors international, that’s just the dandiest way to go about getting one. In the added time at the end of the first half Fettis made an excellent diving save from a header, as our defence was carved open, but half time was reached and it was a bit shapeless and a lot scoreless. The second-half offered more goal-bound purpose- thankfully so. Walters slipped the ball to Burgess, but he mis-hit his shot and it trickled harmlessly through to the Officer. We were beginning to trouble the Wrexham defence through a combination of an energetic midfield and increasing success in using Burgess as a target-man. And we scored. A corner was flicked on by Burgess, headed against the bar by Walters and then rammed in from close range by the marauding Otsemobor, whose ability to slip forward unnoticed from right-back and score is currently on a par with the very early City days of Richard Jobson. The game had been just about lively enough for the fans to believe it unlikely to remain goalless, though it had been far from clear which of the two teams would break the deadlock, but now, a goal to the good, could we protect, even extend, our lead? Err, no. Shortly before our strike, a ghastly error by Burton, who simply fell over on receipt of a throw from Fettis, had almost handed the visitors the lead, only for Edwards to screw a shot badly wide, and then, at 1-0, Joseph fell over and allowed Trundle a free shot, which he belted too high. Messy, error-ridden stuff, but it was not a amber-and-black mistake that finally brought the equaliser. Anderson’s challenge in the box was admittedly less than perfectly judged, but the Wrexham tumble was deeply unconvincing. It was the softest of penalties, but it was given, and it was scored, and the game was level. Now the play was open and lively, the points up for grabs. We were sticking with our 4-3-3-ish, even though pushing Walters wide on the right doesn’t strike me as making the best use of his talents, and much depended on the reliable industry of Keates. Of his midfield chums, Reeves was tiring, while Delaney was, as ever, joyously puppy-like, never pausing for breath but equally never pausing to think. Elliott wasted possession twice, passing straight to an opponent, as we began to look a bit ragged. Time for a change. Elliott and Reeves off, and two men we might have thought we’d seen the back of, Williams and Jevons, came on. The formation was altered too, with Williams taking over left side and Walters right side, sandwiching Keates and Delaney in a four-man midfield, while the 2 bit of the 4-4-2 was populated by Jevons and Big Ben. But by now we were looking a bit sloppy, a bit half-hearted, and a lot hoofy (mainly directed – vaguely – at the willing Burgess). I suspect the several changes of formation introduced periodically through the afternoon by the manager didn’t help cohesion much, though I don’t complain – he’s experimenting, the season’s dead, we judge in the Autumn, I know, I know. Wrexham now took the points. A deft ball straight through the middle of our defence, one touch from Morrell to assert immediate and perfect control, and a second touch to slip the ball beyond the Fett’s reach and into the corner of the net. 2-1, they win. Our defending was flabby, but both the move and the finish were first-class, and the only flash of real footballing quality in the whole match. And so – given the fact that our season is already irretrievably entombed in sub-mid-table mediocrity – I don’t begrudge Wrexham their win. Still, they might not have held it tight had we enjoyed a shade more fortune in the few minutes that remained. Dibble saved well from Jevons, and then a silly but clear hand ball inside the box by a Wrexham defender went unaccountably unpunished. Had it mattered more, we’d’ve been cross. As it is… six games to go, all of them meaningless. Excepting only that tastiest of morsels – relegating Swansea (but not Boston).

HULL CITY: Fettis, Otsemobor, Joseph, Anderson, Delaney, Reeves, Melton, Keates, Elliott, Walters, Burgess.  Subs: Burton (for Melton, 9), Williams (for Reeves, 79), Jevons (for Elliott, 79), Donaldson, Musselwhite. Goals: Otsemobor 55 Booked: Delaney, Joseph Sent Off: None   WREXHAM: Dibble, C Edwards, Roberts, Carey, Lawrence, P Edwards, Whitley, Ferguson, Green, Trundle, Morrell.  Subs: Morgan (for Carey, 45), Holmes (for P Edwards, 49), Jones (for Trundle, 89), Rogers, Barrett. Goals: Morrell 67 (pen), 80 Booked: Whitley Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 15,002

Wrexham 0 Hull City 0

A valuable point ground out against high flying opposition.  Ian Thomson gets eleven men behind the ball before reporting.
Definitely a case of a point won rather than two lost, this one. This St Andrew’s Day encounter at the Racecourse was in many ways the converse of what we have seen several times this season, with teams coming to the Ark to frustrate City and to stifle the flair of which they are so devastatingly capable given the chance. Our heroes showed themselves to be fast learners under Taylor tutelage, as they dug in deep to hustle, deny, thwart and eventually palpably unsettle a home side fast developing a reputation for free-flowing football and goals. It wasn’t pretty to watch for long spells, but it was damned effective. Wrecsam fans will argue that they gave us a footballing lesson and deserved to win, based purely on the amount of possession they had. This however has to be placed in the context that they saw the whites of the Muss’s eyes on probably a third to a quarter of the number of occasions on which City managed to do the same to the Boston keeper Bastock in the second half last Saturday, when Boston tried to do the same to us. All this doesn’t give your reporter much to write about in terms of action, but that is not to detract from the fact that this was, despite the lack of the right kind of excitement and comparatively few chances, in many ways a satisfying performance which ought to have engendered as much confidence in the City camp, and especially its under-fire back division, as it will have been a blow to our hosts and their fans, who, talking to some after the game yesterday, were expecting before the game to see us swept aside. OK, so we didn’t boss the game as we have some this season, but it was never going to be that sort of game from our perspective, and it’s precisely because some of our more talented players, especially the loanees, can’t do it week in week out that they find themselves on loan to City rather than turning out in their own club’s first XI in the First every week. Most tellingly of all, though, let the moaners remember that Plymouth cantered to the title last season, at the expense of more skilful sides such as Luton in particular, by doing, in almost every away match, exactly what we did yesterday (and, for good measure, doing at most home games exactly what we did to Boston last Saturday). But we can do the flair bit as well. The Wrecsam programme, whose notes on City were quite excellent (I doubt whether you’re reading this, Mark Griffiths, but if you are congratulated on a thoughtful and well-researched piece of writing), commented that the Taylor influence has brought increased cohesion in the side. Prophetic words, I fancy, for this was a game which, had it been played against the same Wrecsam side at any time after Christmas last season, or in the first twelve games of this, City would probably have lost by easily three goals. That’s what you have to remember about yesterday. Well, that and the fact that, despite having been exhorted, en route from the pub to the ground before the game, to insert into this report the phrase “the City defence was as indecisive as an Oxford don getting into a minibus”, I can find no reason to do so. Taking to the drenched and windswept Racecourse (a fine stadium, incidentally) were the following:-

Musselwhite Regan Anderson Whittle Delaney Green Ashbee Melton Keates Branch Alexander

Subs: Jevons (for Alexander, 50 mins), Joseph (for Branch, 82 mins) Wrecsam kicked off, with the customary yellow ball, towards the healthy contingent of City fans (the home fans I spoke to said it looked about 700, although the crowd of 4 412 was about a thousand up on recent home attendances), which sad to report contained a large body of racist freaks, resplendent in their Style Island (fake Stone Island) gear and imitation Burberry baseball caps from Bransholme market, although they were soon quietened by the simple tactic of the Heddlu adopting a near-intimidatory amount of interest in them (Mr Pearson please note). The first real incident of note was on nine minutes when Ferguson junior was booked for going through the back of one of ours (sorry, didn’t get who), but the pattern of the game was being set as the home side attempted to take control, hustling City in all corners of the pitch and allowing us no space at all, and City took a little while to settle down, being far too profligate with the ball in these early stages. After 11 the Wrecsam 9, Trundle, was given too much room but shot tamely at the Muss, but then came one of perhaps three real City chances in the entire match, when persistence from Melton in the home third of the field allowed him to create space for himself on the edge of the box, but our Brighton loanee dragged his shot wide when perhaps he ought to at least have found the target. But it was pretty much backs to the wall stuff for the rest of the half. Muss denied Morrell on 18 and then Delaney let a flicked-on throw glance dangerously off his head over the angle of post and bar. Wrecsam’s best chance of the game came a couple of minutes after that, when for once two homesters ? Morrell and the number 5 – evaded the attentions of the City defence but both went for the same far-post cross and got in each other’s way, the ball being headed against the outside of the post when, if either had left it to the other, the result might well have been different. But really, apart from Justin heading over his own bar when a cross was knocked dangerously back into the middle, there was only one further moment of real trouble in the City box, when three City defenders, outdoing their Wrexham counterparts, all went for the same ball, it dropping to a Wrec whose powerful header was brilliantly tipped round the post by the Muss. Moreover, as the half wore on, and Wrecsam realised that City, increasingly giving as good as they were getting in the middle of the field as well as at the back, might be about to put the mockers on their game plan, early signs of frustration kept in and the challenges made by our hosts started to take on an increasingly physical nature, an approach facilitated by referee Cain, who wasn’t really very able (boom-boom!); one wonders what was made of it all by Adam yesterday eve (ka-boom?tschh!). I would even go so far as to say that our hosts were in some ways more relieved to hear the half-time whistle. But this is a club managed by Denis Smith, a man who, wherever he has laid his managerial head during his odyssey around the League, has invariably started off in swashbuckling style only for things to deteriorate gradually and, ultimately, fatally. And pretty much the same could be said about the Wrecsam effort during the second half yesterday, at least after a couple of scares early in the half; firstly when Morrell, given too much room, forced a save from the Muss, who again came to the rescue to stop a near-post effort following the resultant corner, and secondly when Delaney stupidly gave the ball away through dithering on the edge of his own box, which led to a goalmouth scramble with the ball ultimately being blazed high over (about as high as Chris Lee’s famous penalty on the same ground, for those who were there and remember the occasion, except that this was at the other end). This, however, heralded the one spell of the game in which City looked as though they might breach the Welsh defence. After some fine passing down the left Delaney, barely a minute after his lash-up at the other end, crossed the ball in and Green thundered the bouncing ball over the angle of post and bar with the home keeper Whitfield spectating. The City left back then drove straight at the keeper from outside the box after 53 minutes. Four minutes after that, and the closest we came all afternoon. Green, who worked hard throughout but was never given the time or space to do much, picked up a poor clearance, cut inside and laid an inviting ball into the path of the onrushing Melton whose low and sweetly-struck drive the diving Whitfield just managed to stop but could not cling onto, but sadly for the Tigers the cover got back to shepherd the ball to safety before we could react. It seemed at that point as though my confident half time prediction that City would power forward and put Wrecsam to the sword in the second period might, for once, come to pass, but in point of fact that was almost the last goal-related incident of note in the entire match, although Jevons just failed to connect with a dangerous ball from Keates a couple of minutes from the end after some fine work from Ashbee in midfield. There really was scarcely anything of note to report in the last half-hour, except that the match seemed to be heading for some sort of record for unpenalised handballs from the home side, although any smugness the home fans were feeling was swingeingly dispelled by the award of a goal-kick to City after a hopeful shot from far out looped high over the City bar having clearly been deflected by a City foot. That Mr Cain was merely incompetent as opposed to biased was at least a modicum of consolation. The hard-working but largely ineffectual Alex was replaced by Jevons, but City’s attacking momentum diminished as rapidly as it had surfaced, and the game became increasingly restricted to the middle third of the pitch, the mounting raggedness of the home side becoming ever-apparent, all played out to a backdrop of the Wrecsam band, high up in one corner of the futuristic new stand at the Racecourse, continually performing a repertoire seemingly limited to “Men of Harlech” and “Land of my Fathers”, while City kept it tight and took no risks, frequently turning the ball back when in possession, which brought sporadic boos from a few lamebrains in the City end. Eventually Taylor decided to play even safer, sending on Joseph for his first Tiger outing in place of Jevons, and the point was duly secured, despite Mr Cain allowing play for some reason to continue somewhat beyond the allotted three extra minutes. A commendable performance in some respects, then, against very determined and motivated opposition in foul conditions. Some will point to a mere three real chances and the fact that we failed to force a single corner in the entire game, and there’s no argument to that. But the unbeaten League record under Taylor carries on, despite playing a number of front-runners during that spell, and the overriding impression from yesterday has to be that we have now shown ourselves capable of playing with real character and resolve, qualities not habitually associated with Hull City, when the occasion demands. That must count for something too. So, onto Darlington and the final showdown at the famous old stadium.

HULL CITY: Musselwhite, Regan, Whittle, Anderson, Delaney, Green, Melton, Ashbee, Keates, Alexander, Branch.  Subs: Jevons (for Alexander, 61), Joseph (for Branch, 82), Elliott, Smith, Deeney. Goals: None Booked: Delaney Sent Off: None   WREXHAM: Whitfield, Roberts, Carey, Bennett, Edwards (C), Barrett, Whitley, Ferguson, Edwards (P), Morrell, Trundle.  Subs: Pejic (for Carey, 52), Sam (for Trundle, 84), Jones (for Barrett, 89), Rogers, Holmes. Goals: None Booked: Ferguson Sent Off: None   ATTENDANCE: 4,412