At around 2.25pm, as the scoreboard showed that 19 minutes and 04 seconds of the game had been played, a chant of “City till we die” was sung with gusto and reverberated around the KC Stadium, as Tiger Nationals who value the history and heritage of their club voiced their opinion that 109 years of the club being Hull City AFC should not be thrown away just because the owner has had a spat with the Council, that tradition should not be cheaply traded away for hoped for, yet unguaranteed non-domestic revenue.
Twenty seconds later, after Ahmed Elmohamady tenaciously won the ball from Victor Moses on the East Stand touchline, Jake Livermore played a one-two with David Meyler before thrashing a shot at goal that struck the trailing leg of Martin Skrtel, looping the ball over a stranded Simon Mignolet, who couldn’t adjust his dive in time to stop it nestling in the netting.
That goal did more than just give City the lead, it proved that a statement from the club’s owner, published earlier in the day, was a shameful and opportunistic lie: Speaking about the unfurling of a “We are Hull City” banner and the singing of “City till we die” on 19 minutes and 04 seconds into the Crystal Palace game a week ago, Assem Allam said…”We lost that match. And we still talk about these people as ‘fans’? Again, how can you be supporting a club when you distract attention during a game?”
City fans, singing the club’s name and displaying a banner bearing the club’s name early in the game, are effectively responsible for a goal conceded near the end of the game and the resulting defeat, was the point being made. Yet today, oddly, the players weren’t distracted by the chant, in fact they seemed uplifted and inspired to score almost immediately. By Assem Allam’s kneejerk rationale then, City fans were directly responsible for the first goal and a superb victory against Liverpool.
Dr. Allam, untroubled it seems by logic, probably didn’t see it that way, he was likely waiting for these “hooligans” to “die as soon as they like”, judging by the disgusting and offensive comments he made to the Independent on Sunday.
In the run up to this game, the latest in a series of intemperate outbursts from the owner threatened to overshadow a fixture that many Hull City fans, certainly those who remember the dark days of bottom division football in dilapidated stadia, used to dream about. City, playing an illustrious club, as equals.
Thankfully, it did not, and fans of Hull City AFC left the stadium in wondrous disbelief, later to be buoyed further still by the words of Steve Bruce, who said something a manager could only say after masterminding one of the greatest home victories in club history, but more on that later.
First though, a recollection of the second of two games that have amply illustrated that nothing is certain in football, that a team who record a miserable defeat to the bottom side can themselves upset the form book a few days later and topple a side nurturing title aspirations and lying second in the Premier League.
With James Chester’s recovery from injury seemingly complete, many fans postulated he would go straight into the starting XI, but that wasn’t to be the case and Chester made do with a place on the sub’s bench. Starting at the back (seemingly part of a back three that was helped out by the wide men depending which side we were defending) was Alex Bruce, who had featured just once in the previous 12 top level fixtures. Those worried about how Bruce would fare against the speedy goalgetting duo of Suarez and Sturridge (9 goals apiece) were slightly less worried when Sturridge was ruled out.
City fielded: McGregor; Figueroa, Bruce, Davies; Brady, Meyler, Huddlestone, Koren, Livermore, Elmohamady; and Sagbo.
At the rather odd time of 2.05pm, ref Howard Webb signalled City, facing the North Stand, to kick off. The first quarter of an hour was largely formless, with no goal attempts to speak of, so City fans made their feelings towards Dr. Allam’s frankly callous and crass statement about fans who love their team name dying soon known with a lusty chant of “We’ll die when we want”.
The first chance fell to City: Soon after Koren’s attempt to set up a Sagbo shot was thwarted by swarming defender, Curtis Davies met a Bruce cross from the left wing, heading the ball just wide of the far upright.
Then came City’s opener, with Elmo’s alert dispossession of Moses paying handsome dividends when Livermore’s early shot took a deflection off the Slovak Skrtel that reduced Liverpool’s keeper Mignolet to a spectator as the ball arced over him. 1-0 City.
The lead was short lived however, lasting just 7 minutes. Curtis Davies scraped a boot across some part of Jordan Henderson’s body as the midfielder sprinted obliquely towards the box and the resultant tumble led to a free kick and a yellow card for Davies. The set piece seemed to take forever to set up, two Liverpool men lined up in City’s wall and when Gerrard eventually began his run up, flanked by Suarez who also shaped to hit it, the Liverpool men in the wall broke away, possibly obscuring McGregor’s view as Gerrard’s strike curled around the wall, through assorted bodies and into the corner of the goal. Parity restored, 1-1.
Tom Huddlestone was having a fine game, his best in a few weeks, acting as a metronome in midfield, establishing City’s rhythm. His passing was crisp, he cleanly robbed opponents of the ball, including Suarez and Gerrard, and had a few attempts on goal, a speculative rainbow of a shot that dropped just over the bar but wide and another ground hugging strike that Mignolet pouched.
City were harassing Liverpool, constantly hustling and showing a pleasing lack of respect for the high flying visitors. Huddlestone and Livermore combined well to thwart a move from the ‘red men’, who were wearing white shirts featuring an 8-bit rendering of a bad LSD trip.
Robert Koren had a mixed game, often looking a bit past it, sad to say, but his best contribution came when he swivelled to quickly find Sagbo and sprinted towards the box while Sagbo laid the ball off to Elmo on the wing. His cross would have been very useful had we had anyone in the box, an oft-cited failing for City this season, Koren went through the jumping motion but the ball was well beyond him. Curtis Davies twice stopped runs by Sterling smartly before at the other end Robbie Brady deservedly saw yellow for a contemptuous and obvious dive in the box.
1-1 at the break, and City could be pleased with their first half input. Liverpool were curiously somnambulant and lacking in any creative spark, which encouraged City to grow bolder as the game progressed.
Allan McGregor made a smart save from an oblique Suarez shot not long after the restart, but it was City that were enjoying the better spells of possession. Livermore played a sweet diagonal ball to Koren in the right wing and a cross from the Slovene was aimed at Brady in the box but was perhaps a little too high for him to be able to direct it towards goal. At the other end Koren tracked back and made a precise sliding tackle on Moses as he entered the box.
Luis Suarez was moaning about some perceived sleight in the centre circle for a bit, holding both his head and his thigh while grimacing like a beaver with a migraine. Whatever. There’s no doubting the divisive Uruguayan’s talent, he has a rare ability to conjure space when none seems available, but he put in a listless, uncommitted performance in today, compounded by some excellent marking by Alex Bruce that effectively rendered him a non-factor in this game. Who predicted that when they saw the team sheet eh?
City were probing for chances when in possession but doing so at a plodding pace. Davies, having a splendid game both in defence and going forward put another header narrowly wide, connecting with a Brady free kick pumped into the box. Liverpool resorted to aimless hoofing which Suarez tried to take advantage of, pressuring Bruce who deftly kept himself between the ball and the Liverpool man, heading back to McGregor.
Brendan Rogers made a change, replacing the pacey but witless Sterling with Coutinho. Steve Bruce made a change too, taking off Koren and throwing on Liam Rosenior as the defence switched to a flat back four. A defensive change you might think, but it freed Elmohamady and Brady from any responsibilities at the back, allowing them to occupy Liverpool’s wide players.
Maynor Figueroa is such a composed player with such an effortless looking style that he can often be a bit underrated, but he darted across from his full back position to put his body on the line in stopping Stephen Gerrard who was bursting into the box to shoot.
The game was really opening up with chances for either side, Tom Huddlestone clipped a curling shot that fizzed the wrong side of the bar before our netman McGregor made a terrific instinctive stop to deny Moses.
And then, City took the lead! Rosenior was doing as much to drive City forward as he was to solidify us at the back, he launched the ball long towards the box from his right back position and an advanced Curtis Davies headed the ball on the turn towards Yannick Sagbo in the middle. Skrtel and Toure collided as they tried to scramble the ball away and Meyler struck a shot against Toure that Sagbo thought struck Toure’s arm, appealing for handball. Meyler though wanted only another crack at goal, he took a step forward, opening up an angle that allowed him to sweetly rake the ball past Mignolet into the corner of the goal. 2-1, and the KC Stadium erupted with joy.
Liverpool withdrew the ineffective Moses, throwing on Luis Alberto. Coutinho made a run that was all swivelling hips and direction changes, but his through ball attempt was read by Figueroa who dealt with it easily. Alex Bruce blocked a Suarez shot, much to the latter’s chagrin.
The visitors had a spell of possession, passing the ball around quickly but not advancing beyond a lateral strip of pitch some 35 yards out, which suited City just fine. Liverpool’s next shot came from a direct free kick that Luis Suarez curled wide.
It seemed more likely that City would extend their lead rather than allow Liverpool to cut it. Yannick Sagbo was put through and seemed caught in two minds, to shoot or to lay the ball off to Livermore racing alongside him. The Ivorian got off a weak shot that was blocked by Mignolet.
Would we rue that miss? Nope, as soon after Curtis Davies hoofed the ball clear from our box and found Sagbo on the left wing, played onside by the frankly awful Kolo Toure. Sagbo brought the ball into the box, repeatedly shaping to shoot but finally laying the ball off to Huddlestone, who hit a shot that might well have been going wide until Skrtel, predatory in front of goal today, headed the ball into his own net. 3-1, and City had clinched an impressive win.
The outstanding Huddlestone had people tugging his hair in celebration, alluding to City’s record signing’s pledge to not cut his hair till he scored his first goal since 2011, but the barber shop visit might yet be further delayed as this looked to be a text book own goal.
Incredibly City had a gilt edged chance to make it 4-1 when Meyler drilled a diagonal ball to Elmo on the touchline, sending the Egyptian who started the move close to our own goal line racing towards that of Liverpool with defenders scrambling after him. A calmer finish than was produced was required, as Elmo’s shot was thrashed rather than placed, allowing Mignolet to deflect the shot wide. Breathtaking stuff nonetheless.
Yannick Sagbo picked up the man of the match award, and he was indeed magnificent, though you could say the same about several City players, Davies, Figueroa, Bruce, Huddlestone and Livermore all had stellar afternoons. Steve Bruce, wrong with his team selection and tactics last week got it spectacularly right this time, though perhaps his most bold decision of the day was to remark upon the owner’s proposed name change.
“I have to have a conversation with him [Allam] because I don’t think he understands history and tradition” said Bruce, adding “We should be enjoying the Premier League and not discussing a badge and name change, which becomes irrelevant.”
That was a brave thing to say, even in the aftermath of a first ever victory over Liverpool as our owner has shown himself to be volatile, but perhaps Steve Bruce is the only person who can get through to Assem Allam. It is the owner’s name ‘shortening’ bollocks that is providing a distraction to a wonderful season, not the inevitable hurt reaction of supporters who are merely expressing a love of their club’s identity, showing the sort of brand loyalty that a man who says he’ll run the club as a business should be cooing over.
Few fans are ungrateful for Allam’s contribution to Hull City, and the CTWD campaign has gone out of its way to be respectful in the face of shocking and unjustifiable diatribes from a man who claims to want to leave a legacy of top flight football. He can still do that, he may have gone too far with ego driven attacks on fans to be loved again by the understandably indignant masses, but he needs to wind his neck in and check his ego for his own and Hull City’s benefit. We’ll see if Steve Bruce can inject a dose of common sense into proceedings.
This was ultimately a great day for Hull City, and we hope not one of the last for the club in that form.
City till we die.