REPORT: City 2 Fulham 2

BowenJ
“Urgent – order some updated headed notepaper. Stuff trifling matters like festive bin collections or pothole repairs. The stationery is out of date! And while we’re at it, those auto-responses on email need updating too. Three letters need adding. An important three letters!

“And once you’ve done it, you ought to write on my behalf to that nice Allam chap, the one at the top of the family. No, I don’t know why, I’m sure you can think of a reason. Tell him his chauffeur has driven in a bus lane or something. Put in those lines about a gold Rolls Royce from Sex Dwarf by Soft Cell. That’d be funny. Marc got three letters too, you see. We’re going to be big mates now. While we’re at it, does one know whether these three extra letters need adding to my handwritten signature?”

Some of the stream of consciousness lines the great cynic of Hull can imagine is going through the mind of the leader of Hull City Council right now. He might not be a man who feels any schadenfreude. If he is not a bitter person, he’s the better person. Even if he is a bitter person, well, he’s still the better person. Because he got the OBE and Assem Allam, after all his hard work sucking up to the establishment while swatting aside the unwashed, did not.

The honours system is at best outdated and at worst irrelevant. You only have to look at the photos of the council leader that accompanied news of his decoration to see that; surrounded by good people in the turquoise uniform of the 2017 volunteer, none of whom (presumably) came close to any kind of recognition, though the gratitude towards the volunteers of those at the top of the magnificent City of Culture experience seemed genuine and heartfelt as they too accepted their array of gongs. And it has been a phenomenal year, and therefore a phenomenal success for those tasked with running it, prolonging it and maintaining interest in it and publicity for it. To that end, it has been a phenomenal year for Hull, and not a phenomenal year for the Allams.

Can you imagine what the reaction was like at Allam HQ when the news of the council’s monopoly of the honours list was revealed? It doesn’t bear thinking about (but it’s still quite amusing to do so). Heaven knows there are lots of people with a love for Hull City Council not particularly greater than that held for the Allams, but it’s hard to imagine too many falling on the Allam side of the argument that he started, pursued and continues to have in his own head all the time.

On her recent stopover, Assem Allam remembered to call the Queen by her correct title, bowed, explained his position and benevolence clearly, tried to remember that humility was an attractive quality in a person, didn’t do the Maxwellian thing of putting his arm around her, and likely mentioned how much he loved corgis and thought Philip was a marvellous chap, a jolly old cove, a dab hand with a rifle, all that. And all good. But when he met her recently, the famous Spitting Image sketch of the Queen meeting a line of celebs after some gala performance came to mind, with Donald Sinden reappearing every three or four guests, sidling along the line to remind the sovereign over and over again that he really, really, deserved a knighthood.

You have to remember, always, that nobody tells the head of state how to run her honours system. You are irrelevant.

Anyway, having three letters added to your name only makes it longer. Plus, we have a resourceful peoples supporting our club. The letters MBE, OBE or CBE can easily be re-interpreted.

So, HCC 1, Allams 0. Actually, make that 2-0, as they still own the stadium. Bravo.

And 2-0 was a scoreline we would have loved against Fulham. At half time, we had it. At full time, we didn’t. New year imminent, old issues prevalent.

With auld acquaintance duly forgot, because he was out through injury and replaced by Jarrod Bowen…

McGregor
Tomori Dawson Hector Aina
Stewart Larsson
Bowen Toral Irvine
Dicko

And Evandro was on the bench! He really is still, like, a thing. It’s notable that while we’ve had semi-regular updates on Odubajo, Hernández and even Keane since they picked up their long-term injuries, Evandro’s recovery has been in pretty much entire silence. He’ll almost certainly play in the FA Cup next week.

Fulham contained the chewed string, pattern-shaved presence of Tom Cairney in midfield. Steve Bruce wouldn’t build a team around him, whereas Fulham have done so impressively. Neither were wrong in their actions.

City started the game superbly, dominantly even. It was remarkable that Fulham, who had won five in seven, seemed wide open at the back, with the likes of Bowen and Toral given plenty of room on the ball and try to get the tireless, excellent Dicko through on goal. Yet up front Fulham didn’t have an awful lot chasing down the clearances either. They seemed to have ten outfield players purely on a wandering brief, and City took full advantage.

Under Nigel Adkins, the Tigers seem to be more organised at the back but this game showed that, finally, a blueprint for the way the team should attack had been set down. We didn’t have one of those under his predecessor. And, given that this is a team lacking Grosicki, Hernández and Campbell, although the latter was fit enough to go on the bench here, it’s an achievement to get any cogent attacking play from the bare bones left over.

But creativity is all very well. Finishing matters too. You can’t win a Test match without taking 20 wickets and you can’t win a darts match without hitting a double, no matter what your averages show. And City can’t win football matches because they can’t score goals.

Or so we thought.

The preface to a long-awaited opener had been inspiring. A counter attack that started with Aina and involved Larsson and Toral ended up with Tomori, of all people, haring through on goal. He chipped the onrushing keeper, struck the bar, held his head in disbelief, took a few encouraging words from team-mates, gave a thumbs-up to his manager. Only then did the linesman flag for offside.

But it was a cracking move, edge of seat stuff. Emotions ran high among sections of the crowd, it was good to feel the wintry crackle and the territorial needle of a proper sporting occasion again. Fulham were unhappy and started breaking up City’s play unlawfully, with both Bowen and Dicko winning free kicks in positions that could have been more dangerous than eventually proved.

Then the breakthrough. And it was a goal borne out of perseverance, twice over.

Toral showed the first bout of it by closing down Sessegnon near the byline as a City attack momentarily broke down, forcing an unlikely and, from the visitors’ viewpoint, soft corner. The in-form Spaniard took it himself and, again, City persevered when Fulham only partially cleared. Tomori made one giant leap to return the ball to the six yard box, from which Irvine aimed a second header across goal for Bowen to lash in the volley.

This may be insignificant, but as Bowen celebrated near the north west corner flag, every outfield player joined him. Collectiveness is going to be a big contributor to City’s progress under the new head coach, and his non-negotiable stance on team spirit seems to have been passed on to the players.

And individual players are starting to look the part. Toral is one, Dicko another. In the absence of actual victories, the biggest source of cheer during a long period where the cupboard has been bare has been the visible improvement of players as they settle properly into their surroundings. These two were very good against Derby and tremendous in this one, embodied by their combination for the second goal just four minutes on from the first.

Toral turned almost full circle in the centre of the pitch to get the ball doing what he wanted, and the through pass between two half-paced defenders was perfect for Dicko, who wasted little time in seizing up the opportunity and blasting it into the net as the keeper came out.

Fulham, absent in defence, absent in attack. Their manager courageously made changes and shoved on two forwards including the heftily-built, pink-booted Kamara. The travelling support sing his name, imaginatively, to the tune of September by Earth, Wind and Fire. Unfortunately, they would have cause to do so frequently in the second half.

City could have had three before the break, with Hector reaching the ball on a stretched volley after Bowen’s set-piece went over everybody else, but it was off target.

And so to half time, 2-0 up. Wow.

This guff that 2-0 is a “dangerous” scoreline. It was overheard a few times during the interval. Who is it more dangerous for? The ones with nil, obviously. They’re the ones losing, they’re the ones who need to take risks and up their game. The ones with two, they’re winning, they’re comfortable, confident, buoyant.

It really isn’t a dangerous scoreline. It’s an absurd thing to say.

Unless you are Hull City. We have our share of exceptions that prove the rule.

Fulham clearly wanted more from the game when it resumed, though in truth their first half display was so vapid they couldn’t have showed they wanted less from the game short of lying on their backs on the pitch for the whole second half, or refusing to come out of the changing room altogether because it was too cold. But it was up to City to control and contain their opponents’ inevitable daisy-fresh approach.

Be sensible, careful, professional. Don’t do anything daft.

Ah.

The foul by Hector on Kamara just inside the corner of the penalty area could be the most ill-advised challenge in the history of the game.

We’re not talking Battiston and Schumacher here. Malice and violence were not present when Hector decided, in his infinite wisdom, that Kamara needed to be stopped despite being in a comparably safe part of the pitch, going backwards, not having the ball under full control and not having an obvious target to pass it to.

So no malice, no violence. Just rank stupidity.

One leg, one Kamara-shaped crevice in the pitch, one blast of a whistle.

The decision taken by the referee was correct, in sharp contrast to the decision taken by Hector. What do they teach them about defending in these Premier League academies?

Kamara’s pink boot aimed the ball high to McGregor’s left. The keeper guessed correctly but to no avail.

“Do you remember; the 30th night of December…”

They didn’t really sing that, but it would have been innovative if they had.

So, deficit halved early in the second period and the game was on. It was markedly a different Fulham, more so now their fairly mild commitment to playing football had been rewarded so meekly. They knew we had a soft centre, that we could still panic and concede, that under the previous regime we’d already let one two-goal lead turn into defeat at home.

Tom Cairney knew. His effect on the remainder of the game was key.

Does anyone think Cairney was given a raw deal by Steve Bruce? It’s a discussion worth having, though ultimately it’s hard to argue, and probably unwise to try, when you note that Cairney didn’t start a league game all season in 2012/13 as City won promotion to the Premier League in Bruce’s first year in charge. With new players and a new coaching regime, it would have been easy for Cairney to wipe away the damage his reputation took in his earliest days as a senior player thanks to his mother’s self-serving valuation of him and Jimmy Bullard’s poisonous influence. But maybe that stuck, a bit. When City got promoted under Bruce, the other central midfielders included Robert Koren, Corry Evans, Stephen Quinn and David Meyler. All different to Cairney, not all better footballers, but all reliable and, the brainfreeze in April and May aside, consistent. When the players gather around the camera to await that late result at Watford which would confirm promotion, Cairney was the only one in a suit. Ultimately, his skills weren’t backed up enough, it seems, by either a good enough attitude or a strong enough presence and maybe his failure to build on his nascent teenage promise was overplayed by the fact that he came through the City system, meaning the hope for him to do well was greater and the disappointment when he didn’t do well was greater still. Now 26, he’s approaching the peak of his powers and his touch remains absolutely delightful. He’d have thoroughly enjoyed dictating the pace of the game and being the mainspring of the plot to earn Fulham at least a share of the spoils. Few outside of the north east corner of the Circle would have enjoyed witnessing him do so.

Every ball went to Cairney whenever Fulham had possession, which was quite a lot of the time. Intricate triangles, pass and move, it would have been enthralling for neutrals but, with a hellish acknowledgement of the inevitable, it was awful to watch as a City fan. That it was specifically Cairney orchestrating the revival became less relevant as time went on; that it was happening at all was enough.

When City did get the ball, it didn’t stick very often. The odd chance was created; Dicko couldn’t react to a wicked Toral corner when everyone else missed it, and the ball rebounded the wrong way off his thigh, then Aina cut in from the left and hit one through a vision-blurring array of white shirts but it was too close to the keeper, who trapped it with a combination of knees and gloves. But the atmosphere was different, even though City were still winning. Everyone knew. Probably even the players.

Adkins shuffled the pack, the tired Stewart made way for Henriksen, who always looks tired even when he’s just come on. Fulham now had even more room for Cairney to probe from, and one pass found Kabano whose shot was well tipped over by McGregor.

Getting closer.

Then the chance came to seal it. Toral switched play with a superb back heel that allowed Dicko to twist and turn in the box and hit a deflected shot that fell perfectly for Bowen. He only had the keeper to beat from six yards, but smacked the ball straight at him. That was it, the moment the game seemed to go.

Campbell came on for Toral, which briefly suggested Dicko would get a strike partner, but eventually Adkins wobbled and sent on Clark to play in midfield while withdrawing the terrific Dicko. True, there is a game to consider in 48 hours, but withdrawing City’s two best players on the day with the game still in the balance felt like something of a come-on to Fulham.

There were five minutes remaining when Fulham, after incessant possession of the football, finally got what was always coming. Time and again, City’s efforts to clear were feeble, and eventually a patient passing sequence left City with stars circling their heads. Hector’s bad clearance found Cairney on the edge of the box, and three passes later Kamara was unforgivably allowed to stand on the ball to control it before guiding it effortlessly past McGregor from eight yards.

Five minutes were added and though City forced a late corner, it was obvious that no last-ditch heroics were on the cards here. Fulham, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t go all out for the winner, even though they would have been given every chance to get it. A point within a good sequence of results, especially from two goals down, represented an excellent afternoon’s work and put the tin lid on an excellent December. Like last season, they seem set for a second half to the campaign that will take them to a sniff of promotion back to the Premier League.

You can’t say that about City.

There is a current obsession about calendar years. Our 2017 makes grim reading. Of 44 league games, we won 11 and lost 21. Any obsessing about this calendar year, needs to be exclusively on the basis that we cannot afford to let it happen again.

If Bolton, a team bereft of ideas and footballing aptitude for much of this season, win on New Years Day, they will go above City in the table. All of the bottom three before play started were winning while City were chucking their lead away. It seems that sometimes, when you are accused of too much negativity, it’s because there is too much to be negative about.

Still, all three of the next league games are winnable, by dint of the Championship’s madcap unpredictability, City’s structural improvements under Adkins and, more through hope than expectation, the prospect of reinforcements to the squad through healed injuries and the January window. There has always been an underlying belief that as bad as City are, there are three in the Championship that are worse. January is the time to make sure of that and our gregarious head coach knows it.

Meanwhile, happy new year. That includes to you, Assem. And if you really are so desperate to have a little badge pinned to your lapel, there are one or two knocking about that City fans are wearing. You’re welcome to one of those. And to do as it asks.

10 replies
  1. HempholmeTigers
    HempholmeTigers says:

    Good (lengthy!) read. So-o-o frustrated with that performance. A good 1st half – rubbish 2nd.
    Hector actually becoming a liability.
    Toral off. Why? His link-up with Dicko was working well.
    Clark on. Henrikson on. Why? These were the sort of subs we bemoaned Slutsky about.
    Hoping 2018 will be better but feeling very demotivated and actually preparing for the drop – thought I’d never say that at the start of the season.
    Allam – get lost or give the manager some money to give us a fighting chance.

  2. Richard pearson
    Richard pearson says:

    Excellent report as usual. This is the best coverage of City matches and for that, thanks. A happy new year to Amber Nectar and my fellow long-suffering fans. Stick with it…hope springs eternal.

  3. WSM
    WSM says:

    I never see more thoughtful and entertaining football reporting anywhere than on AN. And this is a perfect example. Thanks for 2017 and thanks in anticipation for 2018.

  4. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    Oh dear, with Bowen and Grosicki wearing for sale stickers it could be a very dodgy January, but wait, Ehab said we are not a selling club so that’s ok then! I cheered when the hapless Stewart went off but groaned when Henriksen replaced him, I watched as he watched as Fulham players ran past him, he never attempted so much as a token tackle, what a waste of space! So up 2-0 but with recent results making a Fulham come back entirely predictable City proceeded, via a half wit called Hector, to throw away another two points.

    I was convinced that this side was too good to be relegated but now I’m convinced they can be, Monday’s game is a MUST NOT LOSE or we could sink into the bottom three by Monday night, we have to keep Bowen and buy a decent central defender but will that happen? All will be revealed next year, I just hope it’s a happy one for Hull City and all of their fans.

  5. haltemprice tiger
    haltemprice tiger says:

    Another excellent report. The substitutions yesterday totally baffled me. Although Stewart was having a poor game, I would rather he stayed on instead of replacing him with the hopeless Henriksen who barely moved after he came on. To replace arguably our two best players, Dicko and Toral, just handed the initiative more to Fulham, although Hector was the main culprit – it is a long time since I have seen a more stupid challenge.
    Centre back, centre forward and winger required during the transfer window, possibly more, if as expected, the Allams decide to cash in on Bowen and Grosicki.

  6. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    The best line in the report: “….the tired Stewart made way for Henriksen, who always looks tired even when he’s just come on.”

    Stewart: 4 million rising to 7 million, the Allams were sewn up like a kipper on the Robertson deal. Liverpool are laughing all the way to the bank.

  7. Rottenborough
    Rottenborough says:

    Don’t remember enjoying a match report as much in ages – splendid!

    I fear the drop but my gut feeling is we’ll survive.

    Consistency is the key, I feel. Forest, one of our main competitors for relegation, have just sacked a manager who in my view could have kept them up. The Allams need to allow Adkins the time he needs, and give him the funds he needs, to both keep us up and push on. But when they’ve done that they need to fuck off sharpish.

    Happy New Year to all.

  8. Jimmy Weekly
    Jimmy Weekly says:

    Thanks for the report. Not sure why there’s a paragraph of amazement that Evandro was on the bench and is still at the club. His recovery has only been silent if you’ve not noticed that he’s been on the bench regularly for the last couple of months and has made a substitute appearance already this season, away at Millwall.

  9. Blackadder
    Blackadder says:

    Another hopeless display at Bolton and only goal difference is keeping us out of the relegation places. I agree Ambertigerfan, Liverpool saw us coming with the Stewart deal, they got Robertson for peanuts and sold us a dud, I’ve seen better County League midfielders than Stewart! And why Adkins dropped Larsson for Henriksen is a mystery to me, the Norwegian is hopeless, I’ve never seen him make a tackle and he runs around like a headless chicken. We need some decent signings this month or the drop is beckoning and from what I’ve seen so far, Adkins has no more idea than Slutsky had.

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