Oh, the euphoria!
A dazzling Hull City performance brought to book a dreadfully cynical, unsporting QPR team and their deeply unlikeable manager, with the lateness of City’s ascent into three-point heaven making the occasion all the more sweet. If you’re going to break the heart of someone you despise, best smash it to smithereens.
One down, 85 minutes gone. An entire half of football has been spent battering the opposition goal without success – sometimes literally, as the ball twice decided to make merry with the woodwork rather than the net. Just not our day, and the fact that it was against a bunch of timewasters, a trait undoubtedly forced on them by their cretinous manager because they can’t actually play normal football, just provided an extra cherry for the cake, provided we could make something, anything count. And we did.
My God, what has happened to City? The character in this bunch of players bears no resemblance whatsoever to the shambolic rabble of scuttling tommies under Phil Parkinson, brains malfunctioning through over-complicated and unworkable tactics, demeanour made unsure by a desire to not lose rather than win.
These 16 players on the teamsheet may have been put together by Jan Molby, Peter Taylor and Phil Parkinson, but yesterday they were all Phil Brown’s. Every man Jack of them. Our new gaffer has them playing, really playing. And they’re fighting. And they’re adapting. And they’re caring. And they’re delivering.
A late injury to the luckless Ryan France allowed a return for the recently unheralded Sam Ricketts to City’s defence, while Dean Marney and Damien Delaney returned after bans. Asthmatic impact sub Stuart Elliott reverted to his preferred bench role and a recall was also presented to Nick Barmby, replacing the departed Craig Fagan. Daylight robbery, that deal. He was worth no more than a quarter of a million. Heh. Derby, eh? Gawdblessem. Anywaysies, it was Myhill; Ricketts, Turner, Delaney, Dawson; Ashbee, Marney, Livermore; Barmby, Parkin, McPhee.
With the North West corner crammed full of fiver fairweathers, and irony duly noted in the revelation that Hull Trains were sponsoring the game during a period when they had no trains running to transport the QPR fans to the KC (serves them right for shutting half the Tube in September and forcing us through the abomination of Shepherd’s Bush market), much was expected. City were woeful at Loftus Road but were going into this game on real form.
Quickly, however, it became obvious that QPR’s side – boasting plenty of feet and inches but not much actual footballing ability – had been instructed to play as little football as feasible. I bet those Rangers fans who still braved the indirect and expensive alternative trains up to Hull weren’t exactly chuffed. But then they do have an absolute shyster as a manager.
Instead, we got plenty of that cancerous habit in modern, touch-free football – play acting. The player would go down, stay down, and then miraculously get up again as soon as he was gingerly helped in death throes to the touchline. Over and over again. Head injuries (ie, a mild scraping to the right nostril) were feigned and the referee, a bald bloke from Durham, struggled manlessly to cope. People forgot who put the ball out, who they should give it back to at the uncontested drop ball, and ultimately it became a fantastic waste of time. There were genuine injuries – Rangers defender Bignot had to be substituted on the half hour and lummox striker Jones had his bonce swathed in bandages, but the dye had been cast with the numerous lesser efforts at slowing the game down and wasting the seconds. I bet Gregory wasn’t taught this when he did his coaching badges.
There were brief moments of football during the genocide. Really, there was. Barmby clipped a backward shot just wide after McPhee headed an Ashbee cross into his path. The dangerous Bircham snapped a shot which Myhill managed to grasp. Parkin headed delicately into Barmby’s path at pace, but the final ball to McPhee put the City striker in an offside position, a decision made all the more questionable and galling by McPhee’s confident dispatch of the leather into the net. And Turner, in space after a cleared corner is sent back in, fired profligately wide when a striker would surely have found the target.
The reliance entirely by Rangers on delaying and stalling the flow of the game seemed to get to City as the half wore on, especially when the referee began to demonstrate that he didn’t know quite how to react to the timewasting, injury claims and drop balls. The half was essentially ruined. It wasn’t football, and it merely made Rangers more hateable than before. The only thing I now like about QPR is their use of old players in the main banner of their official website. I’m trying to imagine Stan Bowles or Gerry Francis, Clive Allen or Andy Sinton, sagely nodding their approval at their manager telling them to fall over, writhe around and then do so again until the whistle goes for half time.
The interval was due when shockingly, and surely to the detriment of football’s good name, QPR snatched the lead in time added on. Myhill, who had been predominantly used for catching practice, added to Mark Prudhoe’s greyed hairs when he fumbled a wholly straightforward Cook cross from the left and Blackstock, a good player who deserves better than this enforced tosh, swept the loose ball home.
The celebrations before the 75 or so Rangers fans were long and flamboyant, as if they were to thrive on being hated just that little bit more. There was time for Parkin to be booked for kicking out at useless right back Kanyuka before a glum half time whistle sounded. Grrr, the injustice at being behind to such a rubbish, cynical side. But this is Shiny New City under Mr Brown. Under the last manager, we’d have held on for a narrow 3-0 defeat and played none up front for the last quarter. Good luck Charlton, by the way.
This time, the consensus in the pie queue and at the wash basins was “we’ll beat these”.
And boy, did we beat them. Not just in goal tally – which nearly didn’t happen anyway – but in terms of application, character, optimism, desire and actual footballing nous.
Barmby had picked up a knock and so Forster was introduced for the second half. I’d have liked an extended run for Duffy, a much more exciting player and natural finisher, but undoubtedly Forster’s impact against Middlesbrough last week made it not unreasonable to suggest he could do likewise against a team not fit to scrape the dead skin off Chris Riggott’s shinpads.
The first action of the second half seemed to involve the QPR physio offering executive relief to nuisance midfielder Cook on the touchline after he took a Ricketts, er, tackle (ah, seaside postcard humour…) directly in the orchestras. As the giggling died down, Marney delivered a gorgeous crossfield pass towards Forster, who had the measure of Kanyuka but belted the ball into the side netting.
Shortly afterwards the multiball system was abandoned. In doing so, the referee made his best decision of the day, even though it came about because a ball boy had nervelessly entered the field of play to dispose of a loose ball while the game continued elsewhere. The City fans urgently returned each heavily-booted clearance to a pleading man in black and amber kit, while also brilliantly throwing the same balls directly at QPR’s robots whenever they had a throw. The Rangers tendency to tick down the seconds ceased forthwith, as acting all dopey and sluggish looks more prominent when there’s only one ball.
Kanyuka’s foot then connected with Forster’s sternum in a challenge of such highness that it should have been added to the civil list. City’s fans cried for red, which wasn’t unreasonable. A yellow would have been acceptable at least. The ref did nothing, deeming the challenge no more punishable than by virtue of a free kick, which Marney saw deflected on to a post. We’re too nice, us – we should have had players spitting blood at the official until he was forced to pick a colour, any colour.
Ashbee and Livermore then both picked up cautions for much softer felonies than Kanyuka’s. Livermore’s took him over his suspension threshold, so it wasn’t long before he was being replaced by Elliott, with a lively Duffy already on the park for the tiring McPhee.
Prior to Livermore’s departure, he swung over a corner from which Turner crashed an entirely free header against the bar. Then he hit a free kick at Royce in the Rangers net, who dropped it at Parkin’s feet. It was ballooned over. Ugh, the pain of seeing chance after chance go begging against such weak, featureless opposition was getting too much to bear. The “we’ll beat these” mantra began to slip away from the mind’s eye as the clock ticked slowly by. Yet the home crowd, swelled by the fiver freeloaders in the north west, refilled its lungs and belted out its support in as vocal a display I’ve ever seen from a KC throng.
Another corner. Elliott drove it over and Ashbee headed it skywards. Then Elliott, looking very lively, fed Forster but the first touch forced a stretch and the chance too went too high. But then, finally, the reward for City and punishment for their abject opponents came, in the nick of time.
Parkin, who got more unwarranted stick but looked distinctly fitter than seven days earlier, found room in a wide position to feed the willing Marney. With four attackers waiting in the box, the super-skilled midfielder slid a peach of a cross to the six yard area and Elliott’s anticipation and ever-clinical knowledge of the net did the rest.
Bedlam. And yet there was no sense of relief from the City fans, even though we’d just equalised at home with five minutes to go against a truly appalling team who represented everything which was bad about 21st century football. There was no relief because the goal was never unexpected. It was always a question of when it would happen, not if. So, now to win it?
Rangers, who had claimed a laughable penalty prior to the City goal, found themselves reduced to ten when Cook – booked earlier in the half for a typically ruthless foul – spouted a bit of choice anglo-saxon at the ref over the non-decision, and the bald bloke from Durham duly waved a second yellow and a red his way. It gets better too, as City kept possession as the sands of time ran into four minutes added – fine, but it could easily have been twice as much – and in the first extra minute, the game was won. Marney curled in a corner and Elliott rose highest to place a bullet header past Royce and in off the top of the post.
This was easily City’s most celebrated goal of the season, not just because of the timing, but also because it was the perfect culmination of a half which had seen the opposition utterly destroyed, humiliated, made to look like the negative losers and wasters they are. Luck had to be ridden as Rangers had two late free kicks defended well, and Parkin – yes, Parkin – cleared a last ditch shot off the line with Myhill beaten all ends.
The final whistle was a moment to treasure, a great volcanic eruption of noise from the Tiger-centric ends of the ground and a fabulous reaction from the players as they dished out the gestures of celebration to the crowd, whom Gregory would later – in a rare moment of shrewdness – call “their best player”. The faithful certainly made sure City didn’t give up – indeed, giving up against this sorry shower of west London wretches would have been unforgivable. It might have happened under the last regime. But under Phil Brown we’re loud and proud again, and we’re also four points clear of relegation.
Individual performances are usually the order of the day at this point, but I can truthfully say that everybody was magnificent. Parkin is still a bit of a carthorse, but his heart is in it and he looks leaner by the game. Turner and Marney are completely different to the clueless oafs of the season’s start, although Marney’s set-piece delivery at times brought back memories of that tragic-comic performance with a dead ball at Birmingham. Ashbee and Livermore were indefatigable; Delaney in his comfort zone; the full backs vibrant; Barmby and McPhee willing to chase and create. The subs all did their jobs; not just the glorious Elliott, but Forster made chances and gave that dunderhead Kanyuka all sorts of problems. Duffy is rehabilitated as a worthy City player now; he just needs a goal. He’ll get one. As does McPhee, of course. And he’ll get one as well.
As for QPR, I so hope they go down now. This is not meant as a slight to their fans, for whom I felt quite sorry once I’d stopped shouting words like “beauty” at the City players for three hours, but the Championship has some good teams, some talented players, and the philosophy of that clot Gregory seems to consist of nothing based around the beautiful game whatsoever. QPR and Leeds in League One together? Rub your hands in glee at the very prospect.
So, now it’s a quick holiday on Teesside followed by a trip to Selhurst Park for a distinctly winnable fixture. Messrs Taylor, Cort and Green await our pleasure, and the Tiger Nation is very much looking forward to seeing them. God, it feels just great to be a City fan again.