The “Humber Derby” between Hull City and Scunthorpe United is a largely artificial construct. This was only the 36th such fixture in a sequence that didn’t see a League meeting until the 1950s. No historical grudge match this, despite (probably understandable) efforts on the South Bank to make it so.
Nonetheless, Scunthorpe have been something of an irritant to City in recent times. The seething determination to best the Tigers when both sides were in Division Four made for galling visits to Glanford Park. City eventually made to the Championship, which ought to have put these games behind us; Scunthorpe (impressively) followed us. We broke into the Premier League; they were waiting for us when we returned.
Well, we suspect “Humber Derby” #36 will be the last for a while, and unfortunately for them, Scunthorpe are likely to have several years to reflect upon the trauma of seeing the biggest defeat in this fixture’s history inflicted upon them, at home, en route to what seems a certain relegation. For the Tigers, a satisfying way to finally swat the fly, and at the risk of recruiting the entire animal kingdom into this sentence, we have bigger fish to fry now.
When Scunthorpe embarrassed City at the Circle in November our season was crumbling – we were 20th and only outside the bottom three on goal difference, while the Iron were upwardly mobile in 15th. Things have changed very starkly since that foul afternoon. City are aiming for the play-offs, Scunthorpe have the unmistakable stench of death about them. For the former we credit Nigel Pearson; for the latter, meh.
Our man-of-few-words manager had a couple of decisions to make regarding team selection. We imagine these’ll have been done with the conditions in mind – it was wet, windy and the pitch was in an abysmal state. Uneven, muddy, it’s suffered over the winter more than you’d expect in a place that’s less a football stadium and more four large-ish bus shelters arranged in a rectangle that can’t be expected to block the sun too much.
So, Pearson N made one fairly obvious decision – McShane and not Solano would deputise for Rosenior – and one we didn’t see coming, Cairney coming in for Harper to make his first start since…Scunthorpe at home. Kicking off, rightly, at 3pm in Lincolnshire were: Guzan; McShane, Gerrard, Chester, Dawson; Stewart, Evans, Cairney, Koren; Mclean, Fryatt.
Dawson may not have had a vintage season, but Nigel Pearson still trusts him enough to retain him, and permit his likeliest replacement to join Huddersfield on loan – he was becoming the first City player to make his 30th start of the season, while on the bench youth team player Sonny Bradley joined Duke, Solano, Belaid, Devitt, Barmby and Simpson on the bench.
Kicking towards the far-from-full home terrace, City led after five minutes with a goal of real quality. Stationed on the left forty yards from the goalline, Koren flicked the ball over his head to Mclean, who sent it back; Koren popped it back to the City forward and then back to the Slovene international who’d continued his run into the area, and he dragged the ball across goal for Fryatt to apply a nerveless finish. Beautiful, sparkling play and a goal of real vision and execution. We capered with suitably gleeful appreciation.
The atmosphere, subdued everywhere apart from the engorged away end that comprised a stand-and-a-third, was flat. Scunthorpe were being completely outclassed in the opening stages as City’s slick passing and clever running overwhelmed their confidence-free opposition. There was an air of resignation among the home fans, who seemed to be expecting further concessions at any stage.
One nearly arrived. Once Guzan had easily collected a mishit shot from Mark Duffy, a swift counter-attack saw Fryatt feed Stewart on the right – his low cross was aimed at the lurking Mclean, but debutant and one-time City target Michael Nelson was on hand to divert the ball to safety.
Nelson then let himself down at the other hand when he met a corner first but clumsily spannered the ball wide. Back went City, still on top but no longer in complete control – this time, another piercing move on the left saw Koren send in a great ball to Fryatt that was desperately cleared. Moments later, Cairney volleyed wide from outside the area when another raid was only half-cleared.
As the half wore on, Scunthorpe struggled their way into a kind of parity of possession, looking only sporadically threatening but at least no longer being completely dominated. Their supporters were even audible for the first time in the game.
Mark Lillis was required to beat Cameron Stewart to a through ball that’d seen City’s newest signing burst a sloppy offside trap – good goalkeeping considering Stewart’s frightening pace. At the other hand, the lively Duffy had a shot smartly beaten away by Guzan after he evaded Dawson’s challenge.
The game entered a scrappy stage as half-time neared. Referee Haywood wasn’t endearing himself to the Tiger Nation by awarded Scunthorpe a string of generous free-kicks, winding Anthony Gerrard up in particular. James Chester became the afternoon’s first victim of Mr Haywood’s sudden descent into pernickety officiating when he was cautioned for felling Miller, and rather unexpectedly Scunthorpe were on top at this stage.
Miller had an effort easily caught by Guzan, though he’d done well to even contort himself into position to have an attempt, then Gerrard finally entered the referee’s notebook for his third foul in five minutes, all softly conceded, but his fulminating rage was hardly advisable. Meanwhile, the Tiger Nation roundly abused his agent provocateur Garner, doing a sly but effective job of riling the otherwise dominant scouser.
Mr Haywood then had a significant decision to make when Hughes collapsed after being challenged by Gerrard. The City centre half didn’t get the ball, but Hughes’ downward trajectory had begun before coming into contact with Gerrard; had he not crumpled so extravagantly City could have been down to ten. However, City made it through the break, deservedly ahead but with work to do.
We went off in pursuit of beer, which was available. We frequently rail against the extensive incompetence of Humberside Police, who’ve long viewed City fans as the enemy instead of their employers and who appear to view the whole club as an easy way of racking up overtime while making themselves feel important. However, they’ve finally realised that Scunthorpe v City simply doesn’t carry enough feeling on our side for there to be any risk of trouble, and so a 3pm kick-off and alcohol on sale were permitted. Forgive us sounding sour, but it’s about bloody time, so don’t expect TOO much credit.
Would City hold on? It’s a remarkable statistic that City, at kick-off, were the only team in the division yet to lose from a winning position and win from a losing position. It was fairly apparent that Scunthorpe lacked the class to completely reverse the game, but City had faded in the first half and coughing up an equaliser didn’t seem totally implausible. All that was needed were cool heads, and a return to the vivid attacking play that lit up the opening stages, and we’d be okay.
And so it proved. Attacking the all-standing (yay) Tiger Nation, City started the second half as powerfully as they’d begun the first, and once again scored after five minutes. It came in laughable circumstances when a move involving Koren (again – spotting a pattern, anyone?) saw him cross to Mclean, whose attempted to flick to Fryatt was intercepted by Nelson…except that instead of heading the ball to his keeper he cretinously sent it across goal. The scrambling Fryatt was just beaten to it by the retreating Lillis who pawed the ball a yard or two from goal, only for the predatory Mclean to gobble up an easy chance for his first City goal. The away end went mental with joy, laughter, derision, the whole gamut of superiority-emotions.
Yet just when Scunthorpe looked set for a completely battering, they scored. It came a minute or two after Hughes has flashed a shot narrowly wide, and was in disappointing circumstances when a free-kick on the Scunthorpe left was whipped in by Duffy and headed home by Garner.
Tom Hark, Chelsea Dagger, Chase the Sun, something else, or nothing? Tom Hark it was. We mocked this small-time nonsense.
We worried, too. Would City squander a two-goal lead for the second time in four days? Nigel Pearson withdrew Cairney for Barmby on the hour mark to settle the City nerves, and in truth Scunthorpe did very little with their little burst of optimism. In fact, they’d only succeeded in making City mad.
One thing Nigel Pearson appears not to have got much credit for is the conditioning of his players. City tend to finish games well. And with 17 minutes left, the Tigers went berserk. Koren (hello again!) fed Barmby, whose intelligent first-time ball picked out a bright run by Dawson into the Scunthorpe area. He was ahead of Grant, who foolishly bundled him over from behind and City were given a penalty that wasn’t protested in the slightest.
Up stepped Fryatt to make the game safe…and he did, the power of his shot too much for Lillis despite him guessing right and getting a glove to it. 3-1 City, general delight in the away end, three points secure. Now, about that goal difference…
It was 4-1 on 82 minutes. A move on the left – hadn’t Scunthorpe noticed this yet? – saw the ball headed onto Fryatt, who just kept the ball in. Instead of making the obvious cross he transferred it cutely to Barmby, who’d made an unattended dart into the area, who first-time touch cut it back to Mclean, who passed the ball into the goal from six yards. Another absolutely gorgeous goal. A deserved reward for Mclean, whose workrate and unselfish play has been hugely impressed. Barmby shook his first in delight to us and kissed his badge – an unappealing habit in most, but he’s Nick Barmby, he’s allowed to. Mclean was mobbed by his jubilant colleagues.
We haven’t finished yet, Scunthorpe. Belaid and Devitt replaced Koren and Stewart, and with the home defence in total ruins, a Koren corner from the right was bundled on by Gerrard to Fryatt, who swivelled and volleyed home a peach of the shot for his hat-trick. Scunthorpe 1-5 City. Total humiliation, and City’s biggest away win since Northampton in 2003.
At full-time the dejected Scunthorpe players slunk from the scene of their embarrassment, the City players enjoyed being fêted by the smug Tiger Nation. Barmby again capitalised upon his status as one of the few City players able to point to our – his – badge, Fryatt clutched the match ball with a smile as wide as the Humber, they all revelled in the moment. Nigel Pearson went last, and was given a huge roar of acclaim.
When City lost to Scunthorpe, there was increasing discontent with the manager. The season was going nowhere, except perhaps into a dismal dogfight at the foot of the table. The defence was still creaky, while the attack had yielded two goals in a game just three times. We were a club in bit of a fix, and as manager, Nigel Pearson was copping some flak.
No more. He’s revitalising things from top to bottom. The defence was a problem, so he mended it with the acquisitions of Gerrard, Rosenior, Ayala and now Chester. Not scoring enough? Welcome to Hull, Messrs Fryatt and Mclean. Insufficient creativity? Let’s get that lad Stewart in from Manchester United. Unhappy with some of your team? That way to Preston and Ipswich, chaps.
Some naysayers continue to bemoan his dour media demeanour. So what? He strikes us a serious professional, he’s got a group of talented players busting a gut for him – and by extension, us – and we’re reliably informed he’s respected in the dressing room by the senior pros (Barmby, Koren et al) and looked up to by the younger players. We can see for ourselves that they’re buying into his vision. That’s rather more important than clowning about for the media.
The Pearson revolution is being lubricated by the largesse of the Allam family, that much should be acknowledged. There is a gulf between some sides in the Championship. Scunthorpe couldn’t conceive of paying the thick end of £3m to sign Fryatt and Mclean. Few clubs are in our fortunate position right now, a position made even happier with the contrast between the financial scorched earth left by Paul Duffen and now being carefully regrown by the redoubtable Adam Pearson.
Off the field things look good. On the field, they look great. Guzan is a decent keeper with an even better one waiting in the wings. Rosenior is a fine player with McShane and Solano more than adequate understudies; Gerrard simply HAS to be signed for next season, Chester is a player of rare class and composure, while Andy Dawson has returned to form recently and has best game of the season against his former club yesterday.
Midfield has the preposterously under-appreciated Harper, an upgrade on Ashbee in terms of ability, age and fitness, if not leadership. Koren is a wily menace on the left and was mesmerically unplayable at Glanford Park, Stewart is usually all raw pace and skill but showed hugely encouraging glimpses of positional maturity and well judged passing, we know Cairney is a real talent and will come good again, Evans isn’t an international for nothing and put in a good display on a boggy pitch, while Fryatt and Mclean were simply sensational.
Fryatt’s pedigree was well-known, but he’s surprised even this long-term admirer with his cunning movement and lethal finishing. Mclean is an even bigger surprise – his workrate is astounding, his leap belies his diminutive stature, and they’ve struck up a dazzling partnership in just six games.
So, let’s get a bit excited. Six points adrift with 16 games left? Why not? But if not…with another summer to strengthen and for Nigel Pearson’s plans to really take hold, what a season 2011/12 could be.