And so it continues, this blossoming of our team of majesty, drawn upwards towards glory by the coming of the Spring. Shrewd tactician Nigel Adkins smooths a path to the manager of the month award for March. Hull City, limber yet pacy, teak-tough yet elegant, swagger past yet another bunch of East Anglian losers, and it strikes me that provided we can ensure that our next foray into the Europa League involves being drawn principally against opposition from Norfolk and Suffolk – I’m thinking a qualifying group placing us alongside Benfica, Diss Town and Wisbech St Mary – then a long and fruitfully entertaining campaign beckons. Such a thing it is, to see a team forged in wintry adversity emerge from its cocoon as a swaggeringly lethal butterfly.
None of the previous paragraph has even the remotest connection to reality, except only that there truly was a pleasant hint of Spring in the late afternoon sunshine as we strolled the Ipswich docklands in search of beer. Our team is flawed, our club still more so. But following Saturday’s topsy-turvy dismissal of Norwich, tonight it was the turn of their local rivals Ipswich to suffer defeat. And Ipswich, did they suffer. In silence mostly – Portman Road has long been among the more peacefully drab of the stadiums we regularly visit, but last night it resembled a whist drive in a graveyard. Ipswich play the same trick as we do – a crowd that cannot have touched more than 9,000 was absurdly announced as exceeding 13,000 – and the majority of those who did show up uttered not a single word all night long, though many tutted and fretted in irritation now and then. They watched, stupefied by their team’s complete capitulation. We, the travelling Hull City support, announced as 290 strong (which seems about right), watched with an air of mounting incredulity as we dismantled opponents in a way that we haven’t seen in a very long time. Our last 3-0 away win is (I think) the Play Off semi final destruction of cocky Derby, and last night, even if more low key than that sunny lunchtime extravaganza, carried the same scent of thoroughly unexpected and burstingly enjoyable footballing superiority.
On a pitch that showed signs of heavy going through the middle that would not have been out of place at Cheltenham racecourse, we carded:
Aina Dawson Hector MaxiClarkiguez
Wilson Larsson Henriksen Bowen
No sign of Hernández, not even on the bench, so he was presumably rested ahead of Saturday’s crucial – though now, thanks to this victory, slightly less crucial – trip to Brum. Campbell leads the line, presumably ahead of being rested himself for the next two and a half weeks, and Jackson Irvine is asked to put in the vital shift shuttling between sturdifying the midfield when required and offering periodic support to the solo frontman. And he did it well – Irvine was dutiful and hard-working throughout.
After a minute’s silence in memory of Ken Dodd, regrettably spoiled by a few folk disrespectfully flicking through their tax returns, we’re off. On 7, an Ipswich corner, headed on, a second header by Spence, the ball strikes the outside of the far post with McGregor beaten and it bounces out. Had that gone in, how different things might have been. We might, for example, have heard a peep or two from the Ipswich fans. Mick McCarthy, Easter Island statue, might have emerged from his dug out and showed animation, instead of sitting down glumly and grimly, hot and cross. But the ball didn’t go in. And Ipswich Town Football Club, prepare to feel the wrath of our merciless bombast.
On 9, Wilson plays in Bowen, blocked. On 11, Bowen plays in Irvine, saved. On 14, Wilson plays in Wilson – o, this lad has some tricks, and plenty of power and confidence too – and draws another rescuing save from the busy home keeper Bartosz Bialkowski (playing for a place in the Polish World Cup squad, the programme advises me).
City fans are loving this, the home support not so much. Atmosphere on three sides of the ground? None. I’ve heard people get more excited on being told they’ve got cholera.
We do, however, need a goal to confirm our preening dominance. It duly arrives on 17. Come the moment, come the man, and it is the giant that is Markus Henriksen. Ipswich give him time and space in an advanced position in central midfield. What!? Give time and space to Markus Henriksen – the Markus Henriksen!? It’s hare-brained crazy stuff, and it is punished with maximum severity, as our serene ballplaying colossus breezes forwards and strikes a beautiful daisy-cutting cross shot into the far corner of Bialkowski’s net. It was hit with the right foot rather than the left, but nevertheless, in its insouciant confidence and demonstration of supreme footballing technique, it put me in mind of Gerson’s goal in the 1970 World Cup Final – and yes, young people, that is how commentators used to enunciate in those days). Who, among our players, would deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the extraordinarily gifted Gerson? Well, a Norwegian would, and Ipswich crawled off to sleep in the bath.
On 27 Bowen hits the post. We are the better side all over the park, and this is turning into an unexpected treat of an evening. Henriksen. Rangy, upright, confident on the ball. I’m loving this. I believe we have now found the key to the prowling Norwegian virtuoso. Just make sure his immediate opponents play as if struck by nerve gas and young Markus, freed of the fear of an intervening tackle, can conduct the game with panache. That above-mentioned Europa League campaign could go with a real swing if we get through to the knock-out stages and draw teams that have got on the wrong side of the Russian government.
On 38 Ipswich require McGregor to save a header, the first moment in a long while that they have popped up anywhere near our goal, but, as if to emphasise the futility of their gestures, the points are wrapped up moments later. Wrapped up in glitter and gold, wrapped up in ermine and sable. 2-0 it is, but what a glorious, searing scimitar of a goal. Marvellous interplay down our right, Aina scoots free with glee, delivers a magnificent cross low into the box, and Wilson, much as he did at Forest, arrives with perfectly judged timing to caress the ball into the net.
Truly a gem.
Referee Simpson adds to the joy by booking their man Bersant Celina for a quite absurdly unconvincing dive, and the first half ticks away on a tide of complete comfort. One added minute – though in fact, since play was never interrupted, there should have been none added – and that, as the whistle is blown, is as satisfactory as it gets, a long way from home against opposition who, at least according to the League table, should be awkward.
‘Get out there lads’ snarls Mick McCarthy during the half time break, ‘and hit them hard, show ’em what you’re made of’. OK, boss, thinks the bedraggled Ipswich eleven, and they promptly begin the second half by ushering Jarrod Bowen, in receipt of a deft Henriksen pass, past and through the left side of a defensive trainwreck, whereupon he blats a low shot past Mr Bialkowski. No World Cup for you my Polish friend, if you’re going to let goals in at your near post from an angle as narrow as that, but credit Bowen with the nerve and verve to cash in with an ambitious but perfectly executed strike.
3-0, and 44 minutes left on the clock. The Ipswich fans will have enjoyed better 44 minutes picking at verrucas.
On 54 Hector blocks a shot, and for a while Ipswich have most of the possession. But there’s a not a hint that they have a comeback in them. I credit our players for that. This was a committed display. We looked well-organised too, and seemed to have worked out how beat Ipswich by putting on plenty of numerical and physical pressure in midfield, so maybe Mr Adkins has a bit more about him than we’ve been idly suspecting so far.
Keane replaces Campbell. Keane’s wearing gloves. It’s about 9 degrees above. And Keane’s from Stockport. Gloves.
Larsson off, Meyler on. David Meyler is not wearing gloves. David Meyler does not possess any gloves. David Meyler does not possess any clothes or other items that suggest he finds weather challenging. David Meyler challenges things. He doesn’t get challenged. He is the boss. I love David Meyler.
Wilson plays in Irvine on 77, but the shot is easily saved. That’s an isolated moment, though. The game is completely dead now. Suits us. We’re winning. Ipswich have neither zest nor flair, and are lamentably poor. On this evidence Mick McCarthy’s backside is not simply in the baconslicer, it’s being rapidly sheared into rough-cut Irish prosciutto.
Grosicki for Irvine. I imagine we’ll see neither Grosicki nor Harry Wilson in a Hull City shirt next season, but if I had my choice on which of the two I’d prefer to see haring down the left side into the Hull City future, his nationality certainly would not be Polish.
Three added. It’s done.
That was terrific. City being City, we will now go and throw on a horror show on Saturday at St Andrews. The season so far consistently promises only inconsistency. But at Ipswich we looked a solid and inventive football team. Well played, City.
Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)