If ever you want to know what makes a touchline different from a goal line, or what materials football pitches have to be made of, then read Law 1 of the rules of association football. It’s not racy, nor is it unputdownable, and there are nopictures, but it’s handy. Especially if you’ve just watched a game played on a field with no penalty spots.
No penalty spots. Can you imagine? Actually, you don’t need to. Back in 1977, Derby County were giving Manchester City something of a seeing-to at the Baseball Ground when a bearded Archie Gemmill was fouled by Gary Owen in the box. Penalty given, no penalty spot located. The usual April deluges in the East Midlands had turned the pitch into a quagmire, and as such the gluey mud had managed to scrub away any previous evidence of a penalty spot.
A bloke with a tape measure, a bucket of whitewash and a brush walked on to the pitch (in suit and brogues) and repainted the spot. Gerry Daly then scored the penalty, 4-0. A very good win for a struggling side against title challengers that season, and yet the game only has infamy because there was no visible penalty spot.
City didn’t have the excuse of a sludgy pitch to account for the lack of penalty spots for the visit of Sunderland. They also didn’t require any, as no penalties were given in a decidedly average 1-1 draw between two sides still licking their wounds and rediscovering themselves after their mutual awfulness of the previous season.
But, you know, no penalty spots. Who’s responsible? Well, we could ask why the referee, the underwhelming and diffident Darren England, didn’t notice their absence during his warm-up or, indeed, any time during the match.
Just to check this, we asked Keith Hackett.
“It’s the responsibility of the officials to check field markings. Penalty mark is part of that. Amazing if no one noticed. Had they done so they wouldn’t have allowed the game to proceed without the mark (correct term in law). Potentially the referee could face a suspension for failing to apply the laws.”
(We really did ask Keith Hackett).
So, the ref could be carpeted for this, but he’s not the painter, just the foreman.
Now, far be it from me to suggest that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this, but I think it’s possible that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this.
Either their replacements are incompetent, or they are supporting their predecessors by not doing their own job properly. Like a protest. See if anyone notices. And if they do, Ehab Allam can be blamed. Because like it or not, be it incompetence or solidarity, even something as trifling as the absence of penalty spots can be pinned on the hierarchy being utterly unable to look after staff, recruit properly and generally act with competence and care.
Law 1 includes the line “within each penalty area, a penalty mark is made 11m (12 yards) from the midpoint between the goalposts.” City broke the law.
Wonder if Ehab can sew mailbags?
Meanwhile, there was a match, and not a very good one, really. Law 3 is about the players; maybe there’s a sub-head in there, covered in Tippex, that says “no manager of Hull City is allowed to play Jackson Irvine or David Meyler from the start of the game”. It could be the only reason why neither were in the team. Markus Henriksen, devoid of confidence. Sebastian Larsson, devoid of interest. A Scandinavian axis of ghastliness.
Sunderland, meanwhile, brought their usual noisy lot to fill up E1 while we continued to pretend nigh on 17,000 were in attendance, with a straight face. West Upper shut, west lower half empty, pockets of space everywhere else. And no Jackson Irvine nor David Meyler. And no penalty spots. We embarrass ourselves on a daily basis.
Booking their 5.15pm taxis to get to the ballet on time were…
Tomori Dawson Hector
Aina Henriksen Larsson Bowen Kingsley
… ish. I’ve no idea, really. 3-5-2 at times, 3-4-3 at other times, 5-3-2 when we were defending, which was often. It was disorganised and shambolic in the first half. Dicko was far too isolated up front and the central midfield was in a very sorry state. Nobody really had much of an idea what was going on.
Henriksen made just the one tangible contribution to the half, when a smart move within the inside right channel allowed him to deliver a venomous cross shot that Ruiter managed to parry away as Dicko closed in. What further attacking there was seemed to happen spontaneously, with few of the City players knowing where to go irrespective of whether the ball was theirs or not.
Sunderland, with the acidic Lee Cattermole still in their midfield (it genuinely shocked me when I saw the teams that Lee Cattermole is still a thing), were quite tidy in the first half. They had passers, runners and creators, they were putting the challenges in, they seemed quite well drilled and positive. Any number of things could have gone wrong to make them as despondent as City in these early weeks, but it could just be that they are bruised and cautious following their travails last season.
And they scored early. Shocking goal from City’s point of view. Possession coughed up, cross from the right, James Vaughan heading in. Sunderland fans reacted like any self-respecting fans who’ve known nothing but hardship for the last few years would; they hollered and capered and gestured as if they knew they might never score again.
Vaughan, the dolt, kicked the corner flag clean out of the ground in the south east corner in celebration; referee Mr England told him like a naughty schoolboy to go and put it back again or, presumably, risk a booking for sabotaging the pitch apparatus.
“You made the mess Vaughan, you can clear it up. And look at me when I’m talking to you.”
Still, good of the official to notice on this occasion that the pitch wasn’t fit for purpose.
City tried to get back into the game, but the planned use of Grosicki’s talent on the left wing was constantly foiled by Sunderland’s ploy, crafty as it was, to stick two men on Grosicki and boot him in the air a lot. In the absence of any other method of attack, this became a depressingly frequent occurrence, and Grosicki cut a thoroughly exasperated figure by the time the whistle went at half time.
The interval began with boos and ended with cheers, thanks to the introduction of the People’s David who has always, frankly, been a good footballer, despite what that gruesome chant says. Meyler replaced Henriksen, who is probably still refusing to come out of a toilet cubicle at the Circle even now. Hector also went off as Slutsky simplified the formation and brought on Toral. In between, someone in each stand won a season’s worth of pies in the half-time draw. Classy outfit, us.
We didn’t really showcase any class on the pitch in the second half, but it did seem that boots had been forcibly applied to fundaments and City were at least a good measure more urgent. Sunderland dropped, soaked up the collective pressing and relied on the break to pursue a second and, likely, clinching goal.
They nearly got it when McManaman hit a shot that McGregor did very well to palm away, with Vaughan’s rebound well blocked by the buttocks of Kingsley. Escape complete, although Meyler’s prompting and general positivity was nearly ruined when he was robbed in his own half, only for Tomori to get across and swipe the ball and accept the thankful apology of the Irishman as he cleared the danger.
Sub number three was Fraizer Campbell, on with 20 to go for Dicko, meaning three ex-Sunderland players were now on the pitch. Campbell immediately did a bit of heel toe conjuring round the edge of the box before lifting his left foot shot a tad too high, but his instant willingness to go for a goal seemed to up everyone’s game, including the City fans. From this moment on, it was all in the Sunderland half.
Often, when you go a goal down at home, you can tell quite quickly afterwards whether a game is going to finish with that scoreline. This felt like a 1-0 defeat from the moment the ball went in up to about the 80th minute here, then the hope – that dreaded, toxic, malign thing called hope – took over. It felt possible.
Grosicki shot wide, Bowen headed one which the keeper palmed away acrobatically. Chances. Not necessarily getting nearer to scoring, but the ratio was growing. Sunderland looked panicky and tired. If they held on it was as much to be despite themselves as anything.
Then, on 82, the leveller. And it was a combo of subs that did it. Campbell played an inside ball to Meyler who stabbed it goalwards, aiming at the near post. Did it get a flick off a Sunderland player? Possibly. Not that any hoots were given. It was in. 1-1, eight to go.
And a player we really wanted to do well had, well, done well. Well done.
Meyler had another effort well saved and in injury time, both Meyler and Dawson had chances blocked from corners. Though a winner couldn’t be found, City were chasing it right to the last second and that bodes well for future encounters. We acknowledged the plan hadn’t worked, we restructured, we fought back, we didn’t lose.
Slutsky has had a raw deal but he seems to be the only one who doesn’t see why Meyler should be in the starting XI. The team is inexperienced, both in aggregate games played and with one another. By having Meyler ahead of Dawson and McGregor, we have club stalwarts who can organise. And Meyler looks like he’s playing properly, too. Unappreciated he may have been for too long, but currently we are a better club for his presence, and that’s not something we can say about everyone in the employ of Hull City.
Reading (a) next, then consecutive home games against Preston and Birmingham. Hopefully by then we will have Jackson Irvine and David Meyler in partnership in the middle of the team, and penalty spots in chiffon white near the middle of each 18 yard box.