It isn’t healthy to dwell on the 1990/91 season, so bad did it turn out to be, but thanks to the best natural finisher some Hull City fans have ever seen, there was never a shortage of goals. Sadly, whatever Andy Payton managed at one end was usually surpassed by what the defence couldn’t manage at the other end, but this was one occasion where City managed to entertain, offer hope and emerge with parity.
In November 1990, City were struggling near the bottom of the second tier as Stan Ternent‘s team of young hopefuls and overpaid marquee signings simply failed to show they were collectively bothered. Ternent, who had rescued the Tigers from relegation the year before and held a sense of entitlement because of this, had packed the side with players who had been around long enough to not worry about affinities with clubs or supporters. This would be the downfall of Ternent and, ultimately, the downfall of the club.
But as Ipswich arrived at Boothferry Park, there was hope. This is City, we always have hope. This time it had cast itself as a victory the previous weekend over Newcastle United, arguably the division’s mightiest side although evidently not the best. Prior to that, however, there had been straight defeats against Plymouth Argyle, Brighton & Hove Albion and Wolves, the concession of a two goal lead against Oldham to draw and, should you wish to know of further proof, a 7-1 humping by West Ham. City were losing, regularly and badly, and Ternent wasn’t ready yet to claim responsibility or admit they were even struggling at all.
Ipswich were mid-table when they took to the greasy Boothferry Park surface, comfy with life in the second tier after four years but still anxious to return to the top again. In the short term, however, they would have felt confident of inflicting the Tigers’ fourth defeat in five. Yet Payton, as definitive an example of a diamond in the rough as any City have ever had, had other ideas. Oh, this lad was so good, and never more so than when his team mates were bad.
Payton was in his element, and given his known tunnel-visioned way of seeing life, it was felt then – and now – that the fortune of the team meant less to him than his own form, even though he was always staunchly Hull City whenever asked about the club on his travels. This, however, didn’t matter, as Payton’s form was remarkable. As the narration by Nick Powell on YTV’s footage states, he was behind only David Hirst and Steve Bull – future and current England strikers – in the second tier scoring charts while playing in a side that was as abysmal as we’d seen in years. That Payton got all of these goals says a lot about him as a player, about those around him that could create, and about those at the back and between the sticks that weren’t remotely inspired or shamed by what was happening at ‘yon end.
Payton opened the scoring against Ipswich with typical opportunism, seeing the chance before anyone else from Dave Bamber’s flick on and using the greasy surface to time his sliding shot to perfection. That was a very Payton-esque goal, but so were individual efforts, so were tap-ins, so were penalties, so were first-time efforts. He achieved the double whammy by which great goalscorers could be measured – he scored loads of goals, and he scored loads of kinds of goals. Some would grumble today that his surly personality prevents him from being regarded as an all-time City great.
True to form, Payton’s good work was undone at the other end in the second half, as Jason Dozzell got ahead of a woefully limp challenge from Tony Finnegan, as chronic a signing by Ternent as any (though there were so many to choose from), to head in Mick Stockwell’s cross. Payton, as if proving his generosity, wiped all memory of the equaliser within 60 seconds when he headed in the rebound after David Hockaday’s speculative free kick had come back off the post, and so the advantage was restored.
Back came Ipswich, and Scottish striker Ian Redford got to the far post to claim a touch on Romeo Zondervan’s curling cross, though it looked more like a Hockaday own goal. Then, with ten minutes left, the apparent killer blow, as with crushing inevitability Ipswich took the lead for the first time as Dozzell’s peachy cross was butted in by Chris Kiwomya. Three goals, all from crosses with which the Tigers defence was ill-equipped to deal. Kiwomya celebrated with the hardy Suffolk contingent at the open gate on the North Stand; a pitch invasion seemed a possibility for a brief moment but for one copper robustly shoving the Ipswich fans back in.
Ternent slung on Ian McParland, an Eddie Gray signing he’d largely ignored when he was fit, and he responded with a superb curling free kick that rescued a point for the Tigers.
A game drawn 3-3 seems, at first glance, a reasonable afternoon of entertainment. Such was the mood around the Tiger Nation at the time though, that more were grateful for the late equaliser than mournful of the two leads that City squandered. It was as if we had to look for causes for optimism, as the negativity had already reached its peak. But it was only November. We were bad, but there was ample room for improvement, if only by dint of the the quantity of matches remaining. And Ternent had done the escapology thing the year before, quite spectacularly.
City promptly took a battering from Bristol City – the only goal of Finnegan’s briefly shambolic period at the club was in that one; indeed, that game was the last one he started for the Tigers, as it was also for the villainous Bamber – and continued to shame and disappoint while occasionally torturing the Tiger Nation with oddly conclusive wins – a 5-2 swatting of Leicester City on a Friday night, a really good 3-1 victory at home to Blackburn Rovers, both of which were down in their entirety to Payton and Peter Swan being beyond all reaches of excellence. These two barely stopped scoring, but just as metronomically City kept failing, and Ternent got the long overdue bullet after City took a 5-1 hiding at Portsmouth on New Years Day.
The rest is well known; City waited a month, appointed Terry Dolan, accepted relegation pretty much from the start and the new manager, whatever sins he would subsequently commit in charge, was at least ruthless enough in getting rid of the garbage that Ternent had thrown money at. Only the defenders – Hockaday, Russell Wilcox, Malcolm Shotton, David Mail – stuck around for a sizeable period of the Dolan era. Payton kept scoring, finished with an astonishing 25 for the season, and was flogged for three quarters of a million to Middlesbrough the following autumn. Dolan didn’t take to Swan, and let him go to Port Vale in the summer.
The rest of that team that faced Ipswich was a bit of a mishmash. Payton, Swan and Bamber all started up front, leaving an exposed midfield three that included Ternent’s one skilled signing, Leigh Palin, whom Dolan hated due to a history at Bradford City, and pretty much refused to select from the off. Beside Palin were Finnegan and the combative Colin Appleton signing Steve Doyle, who trooped off at the end of the game and never trooped back on again. Mail and Shotton were at the back with Hockaday to the right and Wayne Jacobs to the left, while Iain Hesford maintained his immobile, hirsute presence in the goal. The talented McParland came on as sub for Finnegan, but he was another Dolan didn’t take to, and he never played for the new manager.
City used a ludicrous 36 players that season which, when taking out the trio of loanee goalkeepers dragged over to replace an injured Hesford, plus the kids given their bows after relegation was confirmed – Steve Wilson, Gary Hobson, Neil Allison, David Walmsley, Paul Waites – was still a crazy number of professionals. No wonder Dolan got nothing to spend.
Ipswich took all three points when City went to Portman Road at the end of February in Dolan’s third game in charge, and finished 14th. Their manager was the former West Ham boss John Lyall, who the following season guided them to promotion back to the top after a six-year absence, leaving these two clubs two divisions – and, given that the Premier League had just been formed, many more worlds – apart little more than a year after scrapping out a very even 3-3 draw. Proof if ever you need it that individual games can’t always tell the whole story of a club.
This fixture has provided a fair few high-scorers – the narration alludes to City’s 4-3 win over Ipswich in the last home game of the previous season; more recently we endured a 5-2 crushing at the Circle in 2007, a 3-1 victory in 2007/08 and a 2-2 draw last season. A 0-0 draw is now presumably nailed on for this weekend.