Apologies once again for being nostalgic about a defeat, but this one really was a corker.
Ipswich Town visit us this weekend. Now, those of us who bothered with Hull City prior to promotion to the top flight will have Ipswich’s visit down as the nadir of the near-relegation season that preceded our glorious day at Wembley by just one solitary year.
The day Danny Coles handed Ipswich victory on a plate.
Not just a plate, either. This was a banquetting plate, complete with cutlery for ten courses, well-buffed cruets, exclusive waiter service and a toastmaster banning all consumption until he said it was allowed. Such was the quality of this plate, Nanette Newman was hired to wash it personally afterwards.
We go back to March 2007, and the Tigers are suffering. Relegation from the Championship haunts our every kick of the ball. Phil Brown was just under four months into what was officially a temporary reign and was delivering occasional causes for optimism but still slightly more moments of doom. Two weeks before Ipswich’s evening visit to the Circle, City had capitulated in a quite humiliating fashion to Barnsley. The 3-0 defeat at Oakwell was so dreadful that it was hard to find a member of the Tiger Nation who wasn’t convinced, even with a stack of games left, that the players weren’t up for it and we were heading back to League One. Judging by the notorous shrug of the shoulders that Ian Ashbee offered the ferocious City fans as the players left the field, he thought this too.
Typically for that season, City tightened the straps and played promotion-chasing Birmingham City off the park four days later to win 2-0. But then a defeat at Coventry followed and so as Ipswich turned up for, in terms of scheduling, an unedifying and stupid midweek match, only victory seemed to matter.
By now, Phil Parkinson’s signings had settled. That manager had long gone, but his legacy was relatively secure. Michael Turner was, slowly but surely, beginning to look like the accomplished defender who had seemed to leave all his defending talent on the North Circular when joining from Brentford. Dean Marney had begun to create and even score the odd goal from midfield, although was still mainly wretched at delivering set pieces. David Livermore was a stoic and sensible midfielder and Sam Ricketts a likeable yard-eater at right back. City were also beginning to see the usefulness of Nicky Forster, whose initial signing seemed to be little more than an act of nepotism by his old mate Parkinson but had shown himself to be a man that thrived on hard graft. In some ways, the new boys were the ones holding it together, with the weaknesses caused by more long-term protagonists.
Brown, meanwhile, had acquired a knock-kneed centre forward of pushing 40 named Dean Windass on a remainder-of-season loan. Sentiment soon became shrewdness, however, as the old lag began to weigh in with the goals that we’d missed for ten long years.
The Coventry defeat had smarted with Brown, and he made changes. Livermore was dumped, but far more notably, so was Turner. It appeared that even the unforgiving Tiger Nation, including those who saw Turner’s journey by spade to the earth’s core at Colchester a few months before, were seeing more in Turner than the caretaker manager. Coles, meanwhile, had been peripheral at the club since pretty much the day he signed, for relatively big money, from Bristol City in the summer of 2005. Part of this was down to long-term injury, and upon recovery he was rarely noticed by either Parkinson or Brown. Still, with Turner wearing a tracksuit pitchside and Damien Delaney alongside him in the centre of defence, there Coles was, in the starting line-up.
What a night he, and we, would have.
Coles made his first error when his awful positioning played Francis Jeffers onside from a goalkeeper’s punt but no damage was done. City then scored courtesy of a Stuart Elliott looping header that hit the bar and bounced kindly for Windass to tuck in, goalkeeper nowhere to be seen. Sturdy start.
Fewer than two minutes later, Ipswich were level. They took a quick free kick and blasted it high over Coles as the last man, allowing Jeffers to steer a shot past the exposed Boaz Myhill. Before half time, another long ball caught Coles kipping in the wrong bed and this time Jaime Peters was the fortunate recipient of the one-on-one, his shot helped into the net by Ricketts as he slid across to attempt the block.
So it was 2-1 to the visitors, and Coles had contributed two assists. They were stark, too. Absolute.
The spotlight, figuratively, was on him as the players trouped off. Even the most braincell-free ignoramus (yes, even those who travel in from Goole), knew that Coles was having a bad game. Still, there was ample opportunity for him to get the encouragement he needed from his manager and team-mates, and the second half would be so much better.
Four minutes after the restart, Ipswich had a third. Alan Lee, burly, determined but immobile, rounded Coles with infuriating simplicity and smacked one past Myhill. Three goals for Ipswich, all directly provided by inept defending from one City centre back.
Instantly, Turner began warming up and the crowd began chanting his name. The devil you know was evidently a preferable option, even though Coles had been around the KC for a whole year longer than Turner, and Turner had only recently started to come good.
Along then comes the fourth Ipswich goal. A free kick is swung in, Coles mistimes his free chance to head clear and Jason de Vos forces in the shot.
Coles had now, unbelievably, assisted the opposition four times out of four. He was in real danger of being voted Ipswich’s man of the match. In a perverse way, he was performing better for Ipswich than any player in blue was.
The game was lost and, despite long term worries over City’s future, the dark humour of the situation was now taking over some of the more vociferous and experienced City fans. If Coles received the ball, there would be a verbal drumroll akin to that when an opposing keeper lines up a dead ball. The “you’re shit-aaaah!” was optional, though. A placed pass or reasonable header received outright cheers. A tackle… well, there weren’t any, to be honest. Fortunately, however, people only questioned Coles’ competence, not his honesty. Nobody wanted to check for the existence of rogue betting slips that had been stamped in a Bristolian bookies. It was, to put it in the simplest terms (ie, for the Goole fans), just a very bad night for Coles.
The gallows nonsense didn’t last long as Brown sent Turner on and Coles, to cruel but unsurprising cheers, trudged away. If you think the verbals chucked by idiots at Richard Garcia these days are unnecessary and spiteful, then they were nothing compared to what Coles had to put up with during this brief trot of shame. It was the single most calamitous defensive performance that most City fans will ever have seen from a chap in amber, but upon his number going up he was in no position to make things worse.
Ipswich scored a fifth through Danny Haynes before Windass stroked in a penalty late on after substitute John Welsh was fouled. City then tried to sort out goal difference issues by battering the Ipswich area with chances but couldn’t get any more.
What makes Coles’ performance all the more remarkable was that we knew, to a visible extent, that he was a good defender. He had a sound reputation at Bristol City and Peter Taylor – unwilling to break up the Delaney partnership with Leon Cort of the time – played him a few times at right back to decent effect. Many will remember a diving headed clearance off his own goal-line at Sheffield Wednesday in the autumn of 2005 that almost went beyond the call of heroism and helped City to a 1-1 draw. A long-term knee injury did for his season soon afterwards, however, and he was evidently never the same player.
Coles warmed the bench for the remainder of this season, coming on only twice, each in death throes of victorious matches as City eventually stayed up at the direct and amusing expense of Leeds United. Almost as infamously, he began just one more game for the Tigers, again instead of Turner, on the opening day of the following season against Plymouth Argyle at the KC. The script was written; Coles played poorly, was to blame for at least two goals, City lost 3-2 and Turner was quickly restored.
Now desperate for a move to restore his sanity, never mind his form, Coles was soon on his way to Hartlepool United on loan, prior to returning to his hometown and joining Bristol Rovers. There he gained national exposure with a goal at Fulham as his new team reached the FA Cup fifth round, and he remains a first-team regular there today. Turner didn’t miss another game for six months and was immaculate and iconic as City gained promotion at Wembley.
One has always wondered what the Ipswich fans, the hardy souls who had made such a riotously awkward and long journey, were thinking as they headed back to East Anglia on those deserted A-roads with a five-star performance and three points under their belts. Unless you take major interest in the football around your own team, often you don’t notice one opponent from another. Even, however, a blinkered Ipswich supporter – one from the Suffolk equivalent of Goole, perhaps – must have seen Coles’ individual contribution to four of their side’s goals and, if not, the Tiger Nation would have made it plain. Some wag with a season ticket for Portman Road will have sent a ‘Thank You’ card to the KC, addressed to one D.Coles, in the days following the match. That’s almost certain.
Not ever to be regarded as a Hull City villain, as he played nowhere near enough games for that dubious label, Danny Coles will, however, for that one night against Ipswich, never be forgotten by the Tiger Nation. Mention his name at this weekend’s game and see grown ups involuntarily shudder.