January brings greyness. The sun is lost, forgotten behind a forbidding blanket of low damp cloud, the air chill, the rainspots intrusive. The fields and hedgerows want for colour, grey and brown, listless and sullen. The land is dead.
January deserved this match. This match deserved January.
It was probably the dullest game played at the Circle in the fifteen years since it opened.
It was possibly the dullest game played in Hull since our club emerged into the light over 110 years ago.
It would need to be ranked high on any Sunday supplement’s list of Dullest Events ever to take place in human history.
If you spent your afternoon not at the Circle but instead in a sealed room with only looped old episodes of Crossroads to watch on television and a stock of reading matter confined to back issues of The Dalesman, then you had a pretty similarly tedious afternoon to those of us who suffered, mostly in silence, through this completely dismal game of football.
So, your executive summary to this match report is – you must surely have something better to do than read about this tosh.
Well, if not, and if perhaps you derive enjoyment from leafing through the faux apolitical smug nostalgia and casual Tory shire bigotry of The Dalesman, then on we go, and I shall serve you up a few words of explanation and comment. But don’t blame me if it turns out that tips about dry stone walling would have been more entertaining.
We line up:
Tomori Dawson Hector Aina
Toral Larsson Irvine Bowen
A 4-1-4-1, roughly, and if, at three o’clock in a half empty stadium, you had predicted “Well! This leaves us with good protection provided by David Meyler for the back four, but little scope for a platform on which to build attacking creativity, so I expect Dicko will run around willingly but rarely touch the ball, and no way Jose are we going to score a goal in this game even if we played until midnight”, then you would have pretty much nailed it.
On 13 Toral plays a good ball to Bowen, who slips it back inside to Toral, who makes a complete mess of the chance. A lazy football scribbler would observe that this illuminates Jon Toral in an instant, a flash of promise and then disappointment. I content myself by observing that this illuminates Jon Toral in an instant, a flash of promise and then disappointment.
On 18 Aina plays a decent ball in from the right, Dicko puts the opportunity over the crossbar. But most of the time nothing is happening. Largely formless? Worse than that. Formless, full stop. No one would watch football if it was normally like this.
Reading are struck by two injuries mid way through the first half. Damage to Swift allows the entry of Sone Aluko, who is well received, and rightly so, and who goes on to produce a touching reminder of much of his time as a City player – good attitude, nice touch, rarely looks likely to upset a hulking and well-organised defence. A few minutes later Paul McShane – the wonderful Paul McShane, the mighty Paul McShane – goes down in pain and cannot continue. From what we know of McShane’s granite durability, it must be two broken legs and a rinse of dysentery, because pain is not a word that the man even recognises, but he limps sadly and slowly off the pitch, to tumultuous applause. Football needs men like Paul McShane, even if it often doesn’t deserve men like Paul McShane.
We score on 40, and exult briefly, but the goal is chalked off. It’s a slick move, Dicko feeding Bowen who advances into the box and shoots low across another welcome visitor, Vito Mannone. He spills the ball and Toral nips in to lash it into the back of the net. Referee Darren England immediately points towards the centre circle, but after being surrounded by Reading players and fiddling with his earpiece, he changes his mind and gives a foul instead. Presumably the conclusion was that Mannone had sufficient purchase on the ball when Toral kicked though it. I think Reading got lucky on that call.
Three added minutes. They add nothing to the entertainment.
The second half opens, and shapes up as even worse than the first. Nothing is happening. Formless joyless football. Thoughts wander. I have spent all this season so far hoping patiently that one of our opponents would sign Yank centre back Jonathan Spector to play against us, so I could channel my inner Mark E Smith and describe Spector Vs Hector. But reluctantly I now concede it is not going to happen. Drudge nation.
On 58 Dicko does well down the middle and transfers the ball out to the right, from where Toral floats in an enticing cross which just eludes Dicko but runs through to Bowen unmarked at the back post. He has time for a touch but this allows Mannone to charge off his line and effect a decisive block. There’s room for arguing Bowen was a bit dithery here, there’s room too to praise Mannone’s speed of thought and of action. The game plods on. We have slightly more of the play, but never dominate. On 62, a free header at the back post from a corner for Liam Moore, McGregor manages to save it with his toe.
Campbell replaces Dicko, so it’s still just one man upfront, a sure sign that we are not going to take risks in search of victory. And then Irvine, who’s been hobbling for a while, comes off in favour of Evandro.
On 66 Aina drives powerfully down the left, but crosses straight to the goalkeeper. Aina played well enough yesterday, and in fact was anointed Man of the Match (an award would more fittingly have been made to no-one). He is the only one of the three Chelsea lads who seems to have improved as the season has progressed.
Meyler off now, and one comes Markus ‘Hammer of Thor’ Henriksen. Larsson slips back into the holding midfield role previously occupied by Meyler.
On 71 Bowen wins a free kick on the edge of the box, but Larsson strikes it wide. On 78 Bowen crosses, Toral heads, Mannone saves, linesman offsides. Poverty of football. This is desperately pale stuff. The clock ticks down with the minimum of interruption from on-field activity. On 89 one of theirs tries a shot which is deflected past the post and then, after three more added minutes, it finishes and we can go home.
We are in trouble. I am not telling you anything you don’t know. We have won one out of our last 14 League games, of course we are in trouble. The squad is thin. The defence, though clearly better organised since the arrival of Mr Adkins, is still far from commanding. The midfield has its moments, but is ultimately too lightweight. We are horribly short upfront. Add in too an atmosphere of sullen resignation among the fans who are even troubling to turn up, and apathy is expanding. The return of players from injury should help with some of these problems, with Hernàndez surely the most important figure as a genuine goalscorer, and maybe the manager will be granted some cash in the transfer window, though it might need the sale of Grosicki to ensure that. What we really lack are leaders. There’s an international break in late March and when we return from that, with a home game against Aston Villa on Good Friday, there are just eight games left to play, some of them against seriously strong opponents. Do you see Kevin Stewart, Markus ‘Vengeance of Wodin’ Henriksen, Seb Larsson and a bunch of kids getting down and getting dirty and saving City in those circumstances? I know I don’t. If we enter that final run-in with the table looking as it does now, and the Hull City squad looking more-or-less as it does now, then it’ll take more than a feature on “Emmerdale star Frazer Hines takes us on a tour of his favourite Dales village greens” to save us.
Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)