Sometimes, it’s helpful to be reminded why we do this. Why a lifelong attachment is formed to a football club by dint of geographical accident, parental coercion or simple adoration of the game.
Sometimes, it’s useful to block out the external cacophony, reduce things to their simplest, to the way they were when Hull City AFC began to worm its way into our affections, and see how we go.
Yesterday, City played in the second highest tier of English football, contesting a Yorkshire derby in a three-quarters full stadium in which they played fairly well and won quite convincingly.
Doesn’t that sound handsome? Yes, life isn’t that easy, particularly when your cause is sometimes less a football club and more an outlandish soap opera. Which is why, just for ninety minutes yesterday, this humble observer tried to focus on one thing. The only thing that ought to matter. The football.
Spirits were high in the Circle yesterday. England had just won the Ashes, football was back, it was a pleasant day and the prospect of a promotion push is there to whet the appetite. Of course, that confers different responsibilities upon Steve Bruce and his players. As an ex-Premier League side, we must now attack and dictate games, rather than allow bigger boys to dictate them to us and hope to simply survive. However survival is no longer good enough, we must prosper.
Was there a recognition of that in Steve Bruce’s side? David Meyler may reasonably have expected to start yesterday, but correctly forecasting that Chris Powell would assemble his Huddersfield side to be stiflingly negative, he opted to include the more expansive talent of Arsenal loanee Isaac Hayden in midfield.
Also missing out was Sone Aluko – he was on the bench as Hayden’s fellow Gunner Chuba Akpom partnered Nikica Jelavić up front. 4-4-2 was therefore Bruce’s preferred formation, and it was populated by: McGregor; Taylor, Dawson, Davies, Robertson; Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Hayden, Clucas; Jelavić, Akpom.
Can you name many better XIs than that in the Championship? Hm.
Before the game there was mirth at the Allams’ laughably sulky decision not to attend games any more, citing fictitious “abuse” from fans – but far more uplifting was the club’s planned commemoration of prominent supporter Omar Sharif and former goalkeeper Ian McKechnie. That meant the surreal sight of oranges being hurled onto the KC greensward, as happened in McKechnie’s day at Boothferry Park. It was a surprisingly beautiful moment.
Once cleared of citrus fruit, City began the afternoon attacking the North Stand, partially housing the 2,500 Huddersfield fans. It was a fairly quiet opening, with City enjoying stacks of possession as the visitors looked to sit deep, though the first opportunity actually fell their way, Harry Bunn wastefully blazing over from a tight angle on the right.
At first, the atmosphere in the ground was quite good, relegation hangovers clearly dispelled in the home ends, while the Huddersfield fans – though all surprisingly sitting down like good boys and girls – roused themselves too. But it wasn’t awfully thrilling as a spectacle, and off the field things also began to settle.
It wasn’t really through a want of trying on City’s part. We can understand Huddersfield’s caution, their side is a weaker one and heaven knows we tried to frustrate better sides on the road plenty of times last season. City were trying to probe, but with little incision and insufficient pace.
Things livened a little on the half hour mark with a pair of cautions, Tom Smith for Huddersfield for a chopping foul on Akpom and then, a little harshly, for Hayden after tugging his marker on the halfway line.
You’ll note the lack of goalmouth action so far. Well, it improved as half-time neared. With Huddersfield’s 5-3-2 formation allowing them an extra man in midfield, an advantage they used only to bottle up Tom Huddlestone and Hayden, City were increasingly looking wide to Sam Clucas and Ahmed Elmohamady. The Huddersfield left back was in particular having a testing afternoon against Elmohamady. From the right, a Ryan Taylor cross almost picked out Jelavić, but the attendance of two scrambling defenders distracted him enough to ensure a clean connection couldn’t be made on the volley; but on 39, we finally broke through.
Huddersfield cheaply coughed up possession in midfield, for once with a few men caught out of position. The ball was switched to Elmohamady, whose cross was predictably excellent – the only two Huddersfield players to retreat in time went to the near post, missing Clucas altogether. His first time shot was parried back by Town keeper Alex Smithies, but he adeptly netted the rebound and ran off in delight at his debut goal.
Relief! The goal hadn’t exactly been coming, but was reward for a first half of greater ambition and strong possession.
Huddlestone blatted a free-kick wide from the edge of the area on the stroke of half-time, but we went in just a goal ahead.
Satisfactory then, but with room for improvement. However, it was Huddersfield who improved after their break. It would be something of an exaggeration to say they dispensed with their safety-first approach in favour of a cavalier approach, but aided by City’s more circumspect attitude, it meant a noticeable shift in the pattern of play.
They should have quickly equalised. Just three minutes into the second half, a ball chipped in from the City left saw Jason Davidson unaccountably given plenty of space barely ten yards out. He probably had time to take a touch and steer the ball past the exposed Allan McGregor, but giddily walloped his volley several yards over. A shocking miss, and a real let off for City.
With Huddersfield enjoying more possession but creating little, they opted to take a more direct approach as Ishmael Miller replaced Smith. His first contribution was to hold up the ball to tee up Butterfield, however his well-struck effort from about 25 yards was at a good height for McGregor, who strongly pushed the ball out of danger (a welcome sight after his pre-season fumblings).
City brought on Aluko for Taylor moments later, ostensibly an attacking move, though it was probably just done to give Huddersfield something new and a little unexpected to think about it. With twenty minutes left Mark Hudson was booked perhaps unluckily for impeding Akpom, the referee possibly punishing the accumulation of niggling little digs the Arsenal youngster had uncomplainingly endured during the game – and three minutes later it was to be he who settled the match.
An Elmohamady cross was half-cleared to Akpom, about fifteen yards from goal on the right of the penalty area. He neatly stepped to his right to create a pocket of space for himself and coolly sent a well-hit shot high into Smithies’ goal. 2-0, game over and abundant celebrations – except in the away end, where impending defeat was all too much for a couple of stroppy Wessies, who were forcibly removed.
A fine goal, too. Akpom is still a teenager, yet he coped with the physical side of the game impressively, was a willing runner throughout and when his chance came he remained calm, in contrast to the wildness of Davidson for Huddersfield 25 minutes earlier. He did very well on his City debut and deserved his goal.
No-one was in any doubt that the game was over. It was tough on Huddersfield in one respect, because they’d been better in the second half – even if they could scarcely have been worse. But City had shown greater enterprise and control throughout, and the win that was now clearly ours was ultimately merited.
Chances came for a slightly flattering third goal. A low Huddlestone shot was parried by Smithies, before a clutch of substitutions sucked even more life out of the game. Meyler came on for Jelavić to shore up City’s midfield, Adam Hammill replaced Jonathan Hogg for Huddersfield, who then swapped Dean Whitehead for Kyle Dempsey.
Meanwhile, City’s last change saw Greg Luer replace Akpom – the latter jogged off to hearty acclaim, the former coming on to also make his City debut, reward for a fine pre-season and doubtless a fine moment.
That was largely that. Clucas nearly pinched his second of the afternoon in injury time, we were treated to a couple of showy backheels, and eventually Mr Hill ended proceedings, sending most of the crowd home perfectly happy.
City can do better than this, and against better opposition, they’ll have to. By opting to contain rather than discomfit in the first half, Huddersfield let a side not accustomed to dominating games do precisely that, even if the way in which City went about their work can be bettered.
However, there were some strong debuts, the defence looked powerful, 4-4-2 worked well, the young lads acquitted themselves well, the atmosphere was positive – and it feels as though we’re going to be all right this season. Decent start, City. Welcome back, football.