Yesterday ought to have been quite a big day for me. It was the fiftieth anniversary of my very first City game. On that day back in 1966 Huddersfield were the visitors to a Boothferry Park positively heaving with 35,630 East and West Riding folk, the seething atmosphere enhanced by the sense of anticipation and optimism which was very much the hallmark of the Club at that time, not only locally but within the football world at large.
The most up-and-coming club in the English game at that time was Coventry City, managed by Jimmy Hill and destined at the end of that very season to take the Second Division title and, for the first time, their place in English football’s top flight. Hull City, however, were not that far behind, it seemed to many. Like Coventry, we had an ambitious, visionary chairman who had invested heavily and – to a point – wisely, both on and off the field of play, and this was clearly playing dividends back on Boxing Day 1966 as the most famous of the Club’s signings of the era, Ken Wagstaff, put City in front in the first half and local boy Chris Chilton, the other half of one of the most deadly striking partnerships in the English game, made the game safe in the dying moments, the 2-0 victory keeping us well in touch with Coventry and the other front runners.
One of the abiding memories of my days as a fledgling City supporter was not only the perception that City was destined for Division 1, but that the Club and the community positively ached for it. And if, back in December 1966, that rather precocious six year old, tightly clutching his father’s hand and agog with excitement as part of that monster crowd filing out of the ground, could have seen 50 years into the future to the day when Hull City would be hosting title contenders Manchester City in a top-flight game at home on Boxing Day, it’s hard to articulate the feelings of excitement that that would have generated in such a young and impressionable mind.
What a terrible shame, nay an absolute scandal, therefore, to make that 50-year journey and find something that something so coveted, so yearned for, so seemingly snatched from our grasp only to be restored, should be made light of in such a contemptible way by the successor custodians of that ambitious and visionary chairman.
For although the atmosphere at the Circle yesterday was significantly better than it has been on the whole at home games this season, and although the performance was on the whole a creditable one, the eventual scoreline flattering our visitors to an extent way beyond parody, and although no blame should be levelled at the players or (not in the wider sense) the manager, the whole mood and experience yesterday was way short of what it should have been for such a fixture on such a day.
Sadly, there is no prospect of that changing any time soon. It’s looking increasingly likely that those of us who declared that the Allams do not have, and never have had, any intention of selling the Club in the short term have been proved right. Furthermore, the attempts to register some kind of effective supporter protest have gained no traction whatsoever, partly because the owners have not the slightest interest in or concern over the dissatisfaction among the supporters, partly because those currently attending City games still includes sufficient tourists, with bugger all interest other than to gawp at Wayne or Theo or Diego or whoever, to dilute the mood and intensity of those supporters who actually do love and care about the club and partly because those supporter organisations who should be spearheading the opposition to the Allams have, it is very persuasively arguable, the wrong people in charge.
As if all this is not enough, one high-profile member of the Tiger Nation made an observation to me yesterday that I had not considered but which is entirely plausible, namely that it might take not just the inevitable relegation this season but a second one to rid us of the Allams, since next season’s parachute payments could be used, as they arguably were last time, to fund a promotion push only for another season of underinvestment and ultimate failure in the Premier League to ensue. Of course, this has no hope of becoming an indefinite cycle, as recruitment of players and management and backroom teams of the requisite quality will become increasingly difficult as the word of the Allams’ poison becomes more widely known around the football world (a process that could be speeded up considerably if the local media showed a bit more gumption and the national media actually bothered to investigate and report on what was happening in the way that we all know they would if this wasn’t happening to Hull City but instead to the likes of, say, Everton, Spurs or even Stoke), but even so the prospect that Ehab might continue to toy with Hull City for a number of seasons to come in the same way that a cat toys with its prey for some time before finally putting it out of its misery, is potentially a very real one.
I don’t even know why I’m writing all this: after all, it’s not as if I or anyone else has any effective solutions that would not involve a serious breach of the criminal law. But in a way it’s cathartic, and might actually save me some therapist’s fees in the future and prevent me from drawing a line under my support for City and either going to watch my second favourite team, St Mirren, instead, or giving up on football altogether.
So, turning to the game itself, which after all is what I am supposed to be writing about, it was no surprise, after the creditable but ultimately fruitless performance at West Ham, to find an unchanged line-up:-
Maguire Dawson Davies
Elmohamady Livermore Huddlestone Clucas Snodgrass
Night had long fallen and a crisp evening atmosphere set in , courtesy of the later kick-off time for television purposes, by the time the game kicked off with City playing towards the North Stand and free clackers for all (thank you Mr Allam, sir) .
After a largely formless first few minutes Citteh win a free kick within shooting distance but Tourė’s effort was palmed away by David Marshall. With far too many of their players sporting gloves, they seem content to push the ball around but to no real purpose and certainly limited real threat to the City goal. This goes on until about the quarter hour mark when, in the space of a couple of minutes, a couple of good passages of play from City suddenly has the visitors looking not at all comfortable, although the shooting opportunity fashioned from the second of these is wasted when Jake Livermore balloons the leather high over Bravo’s goal. Then on 20, Dieumerci Mbokani, who worked tirelessly and effectively all night and surely must have run Harry Maguire close for Man of the Match, combined with Ahmed Elmohamady, whose cross was headed a foot over by Livermore. The City number 14 then gets one on target, again after a decent build up, but fires straight at Bravo after another decent build up.
It would be wrong to say that City were all over Citteh at this point, but the visitors were certainly not having it all their own way.
For the rest of the half there isn’t a great deal to report, the main talking point being the incorrect award of a goal kick to Hunter by referee Madley when an Elmo cross is put behind by one of theirs. I was quite surprised by the possession count of 67/33 to Citteh posted by the BBC because the visitors did not appear to be dominating to anything like that extent. Maybe it was simply yet more of the fake news to which the BBC has been subjecting us over the Christmas period and previously.
Half-time arrives without real incident and City can look back on the first-half showing with quiet satisfaction. What is needed now is a motivational team talk from Mike Phelan.
What we actually got was yet another inexplicable substitution. But not before we continued to show that we were capable of causing discomfort to our much-vaunted opponents. We force a couple of early corners, and from the second of these there seems a credible shout for a penalty although it was too far away for me to be authoritative on just how credible it was. Then on 51, a training ground move from a free kick sees Maguire loop the leather over on the full volley. Almost immediately a narrow escape follows, when De Bruyne hits Marshall’s near post with a low effort, which would have been harsh on us. Mbokani is then pulled down twice without any sign of a card, before we go agonisingly close to taking what would not have been an undeserved lead, Michael Dawson’s header from a Robert Snodgrass corner being headed off the line by Sagna.
And then, THAT substitution. At West Ham we were looking comfortable and good for at least a point when the manager makes an unnecessary substitution which disrupts our flow and eventually we lose the game. So, scroll forward nine days. We’re looking comfortable and good for at least a point, so what does Phelan do? Takes off Tom Huddlestone, who has performed with authority and application throughout the game, who shows no sign of injury or tiredness, for Ryan Mason on whom perhaps the kindest thing that can be said is that the jury is still out. OK, it might be said that this substitution did not weaken us or cause and it is, of course, impossible to disprove either of those statements with empirical evidence. But why on earth take the risk when there is no need? It’s almost as if Phelan made the substitution for the sake of it or – as I think was suggested on here yesterday – had made a decision that he was going to make a substitution on the hour regardless of whether the pattern or balance of play demanded it. Not impressed.
Of course, a few minutes later we trail. And it’s down to yet another penalty, Andy Robertson being the culprit, not for the first time, clumsily downing Sterling. We have the odds stacked us in any event this season – Mr Allam has seen to that – and then to be giving away no fewer than nine penalties as we have done so far this season is criminally irresponsible, frankly. Granted, there are a lot of cheating bastards in this league and this idea that seems to have taken root that any kind of physical contact warrants a penalty is both wrong and perverse, but we have been incredibly naïve and reckless around our own box this season and that is a coaching issue, I’m afraid. My irritation was not, at all, assuaged by Robertson’s tweeted apology this morning: insincere weasel words from a player who has been as foolish in the past and has therefore clearly learned nothing.
Anyway, Tourė smacks the leather home (and Marshall doesn’t save penalties) and that’s us well and truly fornicated. The Citteh fans, disgracefully silent for virtually all the game, unlike their neighbours from across the self-styled centre of the universe, suddenly find their voices.
It’s really a matter now of whether they will score again. And indeed we don’t have to wait more than six minutes to learn the answer to that particular question, when Iheanacho scrambles the leather over the line from Silva’s cross.
In fairness to City we rally a bit after this but never really show enough incisiveness to raise any hopes of getting fully back into the game. We do however manage our third attempt of the game on target in injury time when Snodgrass curls a free kick round the Hunter wall and into the arms of Bravo. Almost immediately they break down our right and Sterling’s low cross is turned into his own net by Curtis Davies. The whole thing was symptomatic of a player and team shorn of luck, confidence and concentration.
Davies’ intervention proves the last kick of the game. Two games from which we might easily have plundered four points actually garner a zero return and our position looks more hopeless than ever, the more so because the sort of investment that would see us so much as stand a chance of retrieving the situation in the second half of the season isn’t going to be forthcoming unless Ehab’s polo pony stamps on his master’s head.
Not all doom and gloom, though. If we continue to play like we have since the Palace game and can cut out the naïve silly penalties and careless own goals we can at least go out with our heads held high, with a points tally in the 20s and possibly not, in view of how dreadful Swansea are at present, bottom of the Premier League. The spirit is there on the whole and in players such as Sam Clucas, Robertson and Snodgrass, we have a few credible Premier League players.
Small comfort, to be sure, but in our situation you have to take what positives you can concoct.
Ian Thomson (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)