Inevitable. Totally inevitable. The very two things we feared most after selling Michael Turner happened.
One – we looked slipshod and amateurish in defence.
Two – he scored.
His goal was the fourth of four, and so didn’t make a blind bit of difference to the result. But it made a difference to us. Us, the supporters who have watched Turner grow into a defender of confidence, stature, strength, belief. And now he was demonstrating all those qualities against us.
And yet his dignity in scoring was typical of the gentleman Turner himself. The goal – an archetypal header from a set-piece (freely offered by the ramshackle defence he left behind) – was in front of the despondent Tiger Nation. His natural position took him before the City support as the ball hit the back of Boaz Myhill’s net and he had the grace and goodwill to offer a hand of apology before jogging towards the Sunderland support, jubilant but maintaining an element of reserve.
The class of a man who was once ours.
So, are you happy now, Mr Duffen? Go on, tell us how you felt when that fourth goal from the one player who could guarantee to make a difference to Hull City’s destiny bulged the back of our net. The player you decided to sell for business reasons. How did you feel? Or would you prefer to know how we felt? Could you see angry grown men almost in tears at the sickening predictability of it all?
That Turner could have skied the chance made no difference. The game was lost and the best player on the park was Turner. We said that a lot last season, but the circumstances were so different. As long as the great man was in our camp there seemed to be hope, nay a little expectation.
And, of course, there may still be plenty of hope. It remains only September, and only the most doubtful of doubting Thomases would claim our future in this elite tier has rotted to its very core already. But when your best player leaves unwillingly and scores against you on his debut in precisely the way for which he is renowned, you can’t avoid those awful doubts.
Turner was comfortable but for the first half at least, City seemed so too. The starting XI read Myhill; McShane, Zayatte, Sonko, Dawson; Ghilas, Olofinjana, Kilbane, Hunt; Geovanni; Fagan. When you consider all the marksmen we’ve now procured, to the extent that we’re now trying to get shut of two members of the striking old guard to the north east’s brace of ex-Premier League clubs, it was a tad disappointing to establish that Craig Fagan, that paragon of indiscipline and finishing lack of excellence, was to wander as lonely as a cloud at the top. Paul McShane captained the side on his second debut (in the absence of Ashbee, Boateng and Marney) and Ibrahima Sonko stepped into Turner’s unfillable boots.
Fraizer Campbell started for Sunderland, very surprisingly, and the reception he received from the City fans in comparison to that of Turner was somewhat hostile, to say the least. Kenwyne Jones had been round the world on international duty but you can bet Steve Bruce always had Campbell pencilled in for this. Fortunately, and as if to provide a minuscule consolation on an embarrassing afternoon on Wearside, Campbell was utterly and totally appalling. Yay.
City attacked from the start, with Geovanni finding room for a swerving cross which fit-again Craig Gordon (oooh, how George Burley must be seething…) clasped in front of the hovering Fagan. The Brazilian then let loose an awkward low shot which the Scotch keeper had to fingertip wide.
Hopeful? Indeed. Then an unaccompanied Fagan handled a corner in the box like a total tool and Darren Bent slotted home the penalty with the coolness of a man who can organise his next lucrative transfer via the hashes and RTs of Twitter and not get carpeted for it. Myhill went the right way but Bent is a man who can place his chances immaculately.
It wasn’t a good day for Fagan. Given real responsibility, he wasted it. He stayed horizontal, head in hands, for a good 30 seconds after conceding a spot kick which was beyond protest from players or supporters. Shortly afterwards he gave away a free kick in a super-perilous position on the edge of the City box, from which Sunderland failed, gratifyingly, to take advantage. He was a danger to all but the apostles of red and white stripes. He was terrible.
City made some amends with a jugful of promising assaults. Geovanni was set free subtly by McShane but the pullback wasn’t anticipated by the supporting City attack. Seyi Olofinjana then hit a long one for Kamel Ghilas to chase while Sunderland waited vainly for a flag, but couldn’t quite find a touch as Gordon came out to collect. Fagan then got Olofinjana freed but the ball across was half cleared to Stephen Hunt, who teed up a narrow-angled volley which was on target but easy for Gordon to second guess.
It wasn’t stunning, but it represented reasonable progress. After McShane picked up a booking for a super-soft handball, Hunt delivered a peach of a free kick which Kamil Zayatte glanced at Gordon, then the same City centre back got his nut to a Sonko long throw and this time found the top of the Sunderland net. The pressure was growing, and a reward arrived when Gordon punched a Hunt free kick out for a corner, which the Irishman duly swung on to Zayatte’s determined bonce, and the ball touched the post on its way in.
Half time was approaching and Fagan managed to aim a header goalwards from Geovanni’s cross as City were briefly resurgent, but it lacked placing or any element of beefiness and Gordon held it in comfort.
So, level at the interval. It was on.
From almost the moment the second half began, it was off again.
City were mercilessly, shamefully, catastrophically, woefully, laughably, suicidally lousy.
Lousy, lousy, lousy.
Sunderland regained the lead when Campbell was foiled in front of goal by kicking fresh air but the brief amusement of an unforgiving Tiger Nation was soon transformed into grief as the ball was swung back to the far post where Bent collected and delivered a dangerous cross that Campbell couldn’t reach but the triangular Andy Reid could, guiding home a precise shot.
The home fans celebrated loudly and the game hit a quite long and almost welcome lull where absolutely nobody did anything worthwhile whatsoever. Football was becoming the loser. Brown threw on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for the accident-prone Fagan, which brought a cheer (12 quid for his full surname on your replica shirt, incidentally), followed soon by Jozy Altidore for the effectual but huffing Ghilas. Needless to say, Turner placed both carefully in his pocket and only agreed to their release once the final whistle shrilled.
And just as Turner’s prowess galvanised Sunderland, his absence drilled a cavernous hole through whatever heart was left behind in City’s defence. Certainly there seemed to be little organisation of an offside trap, as proved with some devastation when Bent was ushered clean through by a hopeful long ball and placed another careful finish beyond the grasp of Myhill, who went bananas at his defence afterwards.
It was 3-1 and now we were lifeless, beaten, totally free of ideas.
There was a pointless penalty appeal as Hunt’s corner kick was allegedly controlled by a Sunderland hand, but any protest was futile for the referee and for City too. The game was up. All that was left was for Turner to get the goal seemingly everyone with a weighted heart had predicted, and he did just that with a free near post header from a corner. His respect for both himself and those in the stand afore him by gesturing an apology to the Tiger Nation as a first reaction to his debut goal paints him as a most sporting, well-raised chap and does him the kind of credit that the people who thought it was somehow beneficial to flog him can only ever dream about. Love Michael Turner. Scorn those who felt we were better for his loss.
What was a little cheering – but only a little – was Campbell’s ineptitude, which was summed up by a counter attack just before Turner’s goal in which he was comfortably and confidently robbed of possession by Andy Dawson, and then chose to stick his tongue out and smile at the City fans who were giving him stick. It’s all a rather unlovely business, but Campbell played around with the club who established his growing reputation and so merited some home truths. He was equally as entitled to react, but on the evidence of this game it will be at Sunderland where the reputation Hull City gave him will crash and disintegrate before his very eyes. That will provide a hollow victory for us, should we seek one. He’ll be on loan at Tranmere soon.
Bruce gave Campbell the full 90 to find the goal he wanted but he never managed it, and it was Bent whom the far more reliable and feared Kenwyne Jones replaced in the closing stages. The sub nearly scored from Steed Malbranque’s late cross but aimed it wide as the final minutes were played out with nobody on either side wishing to care any more.
Turner applauded the Tiger Nation. What a guy. Why the hell isn’t he still ours?
We have a diabolical recent record against Sunderland – five defeats from five now – yet this was allegedly one of the clubs we needed to match in terms of ambition in order to prolong and maybe enhance our Premier League stay. The gap grew wider, both long term and with the stark evidence of this game, with the imbecilic, irresponsible and non-footballing decision to sell them our star performer for a fee the club still refuses to disclose. But Turner is only part of the problem, and even the most homicidal of City supporters wishes him good cheer.
This was as toothless and guileless as any City performance of last season and the time has come – indeed it is long overdue – to get the new signings in the team and jettison some of the old guard. When we play Birmingham City next week at the KC, we need a proper attacking outlet which allows the pace of Ghilas to be not exclusively isolated down a flank and the power of the two fresh strikers not to be kept solely in reserve in the event of emergency. Beyond all that, we need to find out which of our players possesses anything even faintly resembling the powerful heart that was sent within Turner’s chest to Wearside for a few million pieces of silver, as he confirmed what we all knew already – with him Sunderland are far better, and without him we are goodness only knows how many times worse. (MR)