With time ticking away in the game between City and Brighton, a goalless outcome seems inevitable. It’s been a decent game and the away side could make a decent argument for having deserved all three points, but the draw is not an unfair reflection on the general pattern of play, and the majority are content. Then suddenly, almost from nowhere, the home side snatches it at the end, and the visiting supporters are left to rue both their misfortune and earlier profligacy as they face up to a lengthy journey home.
Yes, Brighton were indeed unfortunate to lose at the Circle in August. Now we know how they feel.
With earlier results having gone City’s way, most notably Leicester’s defeat at Peterborough, the Tigers took to the field in front of the Sky cameras knowing that a point would elevate us to second. Hoping to accomplish that, and more, were: Stockdale; Chester, Hobbs, McShane; Elmohamady, Bruce, Meyler, Quinn, Brady; Koren; Simpson.
3-5-1-1 again, with Alex Bruce reprising the defensive-midfield role that was both unexpected and effective in the win at Millwall last week. New Egyptian loanee Gedo was on the bench, to the presumed satisfaction of those City fans sporting crimson fezzes. Brighton had ex-England pair Wayne Bridge and Matthew Upson in the side – in fact, they possess a strong side on paper, with the lively though profligate Mackail-Smith up front, the robust (more of this later) El-Abd at the back and, most weeks, the tricky Will Buckley. They probably ought to be a little higher up the table then they are.
The match began with City kicking away from the creditable Tiger Nation deputation of 860, attacking the home stand in their bizarrely lopsided stadium. Both sets of fans were in good voice and the match quickly assumed a pleasing openness. The Tigers nearly led inside a minute for the second week in a row when an Elmohamady burst down the right saw his low cross deflected to Jay Simpson; it was a tough chance though, and it went comfortably over.
Argentine forward Leonardo Ulloa missed a difficult chance from a Brighton corner before Robert Koren scuffed a shot from long distance in the tenth minute. He could/should have opened the score two minutes later when a gorgeously-weighted pass by Stephen Quinn found him in a yard of pace eight yards from goal – he delayed his shot just too long, allowed El-Abd to insert a strong blocking tackle. From the resulting corner a partial clearance fell to Quinn, who flailed rather unconvincingly at the ball with his right foot, sending it well wide.
City had started well but Brighton improved as the half went on, though not in entirely laudable fashion. On 16, Orlandi burst into the area and dived – really, blatantly, obviously dived – and went unpunished for this squalid piece of cheating. Our referee was Stuart Attwell, not a man noted for a competence surplus, and this loathsome episode was basically ignored.
Give ‘em an inch and they’ll take a mile – less than two minutes Craig Mackail-Smith threw himself to the ground, no more than three yards from a linesman and squealed for a free-kick. Instead of the yellow card he deserved, he got his set-piece, which was thankfully cleared. While we can’t readily recall every instance to check for their legitimacy, it’s perhaps not hard to see why Brighton have had six penalties this season. City have had one.
The match entered a quieter phase after this, with the only incident of note being Alex Bruce taking a knock and eventually being withdrawn in favour of Corry Evans. Mackail-Smith swished a shot wide and then had a much better shot well saved by Stockdale as the match laboured a little, not helped by the maddening fussiness of Mr Attwell, for whom every challenge had be a foul. He has so little understanding of the game you wonder quite how he made it as a professional referee.
At least he got a major decision right on the half-hour when Evans clumsily bundled Ulloa over a yard outside the area. His fall occurred inside in the box and we nervily awaited the verdict – happily, the referee got it right. From the free-kick, Orlandi smashed the ball goalwards, where Stockdale produced a comfortable camera-pleasing tip-over.
City had largely been quelled as an attacking force, with Brighton (understandably) starving our principle threat Elmohamady of ball and space, and then double-marking when he did receive it. That frustration manifested itself when Robbie Brady sent an optimistic 30-yarder well over the bar. At the other end Ulloa sent a cross from the Brighton right straight at Stockdale. With half-time approaching City forced a couple of corners that came to nothing, then Ulloa sent a header from another right-wing cross wide.
And that was that. After a brisk opening the Tigers had rather been forced backwards, and while immediate threats to Stockdale’s goal were comparatively infrequent, the pattern of the game was concerning.
So it was rather nice to begin the second half the way we did. We were aided by a ludicrous decision by Mr Attwell to punish Orlandi for a wholly clean challenge on Simpson. City not surprisingly took the chance to work it wide to Elmohamady where Upson and Hobbs tussed for the cross, the latter fouling the former.
City appeared to have been given firm instructions to attack with greater purpose and began to piece together lengthy spells with the ball in the Brighton half, to the evident disappointment of a home crowd who’d have hoped the previous pattern of play would be maintained. A series of crosses were rained in by Elmohamady, Quinn and Brady, though City’s on-going lack of attacking bite meant they all went unconverted.
Robert Koren was the next to attract ire for tumbling pitifully softly to the turf – he was challenged by El-Abd, and while he was actually struck he’d already decided to go down and was in mid-tumble when hit. This is not what we want to see from a captain of Hull City.
It was all City by now, with Simpson flashing a near-post header wide from a Brady cross. Seeking to stem the amber wave, Brighton made a substitution, swapping Hammond for Vincente. It made little immediate difference as a deflected Quinn cross was ineptly shovelled back into play by Kuszczak, from which an Elmohamady cross was cleared to Quinn and flashed across goal the unmarked Koren…who sent the ball just over.
Less than thirty seconds later Brady sent another fine cross through to Meyler at the far post, who volleyed wide. Two great chances inside a minute. Already, we wondered if failing to take them would be pivotal.
At the other end there was a frantic moment when Mackail-Smith had a header blocked and was within a foot of fastening onto the rebound. Moments later the ball broke to Meyler with the Tigers possessing a four-on-three advantage; Meyler’s attempted reverse pass to Simpson was easily telegraphed and a great opportunity was wasted.
On 66, Brighton should have led. A raid down the City right was led by Bridge, whose cross was knocked back to Orlandi, twelve yards out and with Stockdale exposed – he screwed the ball horribly over.
City made a double change on 71 with the disjointed duo of Koren and Simpson withdrawn for Proschwitz and Gedo, and this inspired City to step it up again in search of a winner. In response, and equally adventurously, Gus Poyet brought on Buckley for Bruno.
With sixteen minutes left a superb effort from distance by Brady looked set to beat the Brighton keeper, only for an equally fine save to deny him. Back came the Tigers, with a Meyler shot on the edge of the area being blocked and Brady’s resulting cross being knocked to Elmohamady – his control was instant and the low volley looked in…again, Kuszczak produced a fine save to keep the ball out.
Ten minutes remained, and the likeliest winners were surely City. Right? Hm. In the 82nd minute a clumsy foul on the edge of the area by Evans saw Brighton gifted a superb opportunity to test Stockdale. Vincente took it…the wall disintegrated, the unsighted Stockdale saw it slip through his grasp, and we trailed.
Though that’s not quite the whole story. This passage is written with the benefit of televised hindsight, but there was a clear foul by El-Abd as the kick was being taken, for he barged into the wall to clear space for Vincente’s cross. For once we can’t blame Mr Attwell, who can’t be expected to see everything; it’s just a sly, illegal but very effective piece of play. Without introducing televised replays (which we should never, ever do) it’s hard to see how it can be stopped. And perhaps Evans ought to have stood his ground more resolutely. We trailed, undeservedly, and the despondency was acute.
We had an instant opportunity to level when El-Abd flattened Quinn on the edge of the area – Brady failed to emulate Vincente and the ball went miles over, to the irritation of all. Brighton closed the game down effectively after that and we were left to rue a missed opportunity.
It’s not a disaster, of course. Brighton are a handy side and our overall position is much the same as a week ago. But…it feels as though we’ve really missed out. There won’t be many weekends when almost everyone around us slips up, and those are the times when we need to capitalise. The performance was perfectly decent, with crossed being rained in and genuine chances created, but that unsettling feeling that a lack of goals is, ultimately, going to cost us growing. And worst of all, there’s no easy answer. Lots to ponder as we prepare for a three successive home matches, a run that cast aside these Sunday afternoon blues, or conspire to derail City altogether.