Just close your eyes for a minute and imagine that you had been part of the away support the last time that City won an away fixture by five clear goals. The venue was North Road, Glossop, and although played on a Tuesday, the match would presumably have kicked off mid-afternoon so as to finish before nightfall. As the game drew to a close you would probably have been contemplating the long, slow journey back across the Pennines, possibly by charabanc but more likely by steam train, in either case with a rather late (or possibly early, depending on how you look at it) arrival time back in Hull. You would not have greeted City’s fifth goal by bellowing “‘Oo are yer?” at the disconsolate home support, or breaking into some inane song to the tune of “Sweet Caroline” (mainly because the writer of the tune wouldn’t be born for another 26 years), but rather with an approving twirl of your waxed moustache or maybe, on pain of being derided as uncouth by your fellow supporters, by tossing your bowler or flat cap into the Derbyshire air.
For while five-goal away performances do come along every few years, a five-goal winning margin outside the city boundary is a much rarer beast. In fact the 5-0 win at Glossop was chalked up a whole 103 years ago. Then, as last night at the “Pie-relleh” as the locals are sometimes wont to pronounce it, the victory was achieved against a team at a very low ebb (the Glossop game took place on 16th March 1915 and they were voted out of the League at the end of that season) but that should not detract in any way from the sense of history that the Tiger Nation – especially one of the 1,400 or so who were there to witness it – should be experiencing today. This result was something that you were lucky to witness and may well not see again.
Of course, looking at it more pragmatically, we should also be very mindful of the significance of the result in terms of its likely influence upon our fate come the end of the season, to say nothing of the fact that a genuine potential banana skin – think Bolton, think Birmingham – was safely negotiated in such consummate fashion. It would have to take a collapse of which even City are probably incapable – along with four of five other teams all to have an improbable run of form – over the last few games for Championship football not be on offer at the Circle next season. It could easily have gone very wrong last night, so all credit to the players for ensuring that it all went very right.
What next season will bring is another matter, though it probably doesn’t take a crystal ball to conclude that it might well involve inadequate replacement for the numerous players out of contract in a few weeks, kicking off next season with barely enough bodies to put out a team and a continuing dripfeed of lies, contempt and vindictiveness from our dear owners for the long-suffering support. But hey, we’ve got all summer to worry and fulminate about that: let’s think of the positives for now
The first of those has to be the manager. Now, whilst I was not exactly whelmed by Adkins’ appointment and do find his manner more than a little grating, you would have to be pathologically ill-disposed towards him not to give him the credit for finally getting City functioning like something approximating to a proper football team. The St Andrews debacle apart, we have on the whole looked the genuine article since half-time in the Norwich home game. Of course, this could well all be wrecked soon for the reasons cited in the preceding paragraph, but that won’t be his fault.
The second positive – doubtless the result to some extent of the first – is that the supporters seem in much better heart of late. The City following was of course swelled last night by the professional ground-tickers but from my vantage point behind the City dug-out the away end was noisy and bouncing throughout, even before it became apparent that our hosts were in for a proper shoeing. Genuinely good to see after what we have had to put up with and proof that the Allams will not succeed in breaking our spirit.
Anyway, onto the football itself. The coolish night air heavy with damp, the manager again opted to ring the changes:-
Tomori Dawson MacDonald Kingsley
Wilson Henriksen Meyler Grosicki
From the off it’s clear that this is going to be a lively affair. Although struggling quality-wise the home team are a spirited bunch and you realise very quickly that we had better be up for this. Fortunately Tiger minds are soon set at rest in that regard, for in an opening phase about as unformless as you can get, Campbell should do better with a free header that he plants wide from Grosicki’s cross before Tomori feeds Wilson out wide on the right and the youngster speeds inside and curls the leather just inside the far post from near the corner of the box. There aren’t five minutes on the clock yet.
The following 25 minutes or so are not always comfortable ones for our heroes, it has to be said. The game is being played at a daunting tempo with very few opportunities for players to dwell on the ball and you sense that we are going to need more than the one goal. Boyce fires and Bent (apparently Dorrbeh are paying £30k per week towards his wages) heads wide. After the second of these there is a vociferous shout from the home fans for a penalty when McGregor tackles Boyce with his feet. Referee Bankes, though, is having none of it, ruling – quite correctly, it later emerges – that our custodian got a touch on the ball. Seen ’em given, mind you.
Shortly afterwards and we are properly in the ascendancy. A sumptuous 60-yard ball from Dawson finds Grosicki near the left-hand corner of the box. The right-back gets nowhere near close enough on him and Turbo has time and space to bring the leather down and whack it on the half-volley just inside Bywater’s left-hand post.
We haven’t really had much in the way of chances since the first goal and to punish the opposition so ruthlessly when we do get the chance is very gratifying. It also emphasises the essential difference between the teams: Burton are short of quality and we have it in abundance. Clough maintained after the game that the scoreline was harsh on his team but, whilst it’s true that our two late goals give the score a bit of a lopsided look and that there wasn’t that much disparity between the teams in the possession and shot statistics, 5-0 arguably did reflect the difference in class pretty accurately. There wasn’t a weak link in midfield, with Henriksen and Meyler (the latter after a couple of early bloopers) rock-solid, the wide men a tireless and constant menace and Irvine, clearly anxious to impress on his old stamping-ground, acting as link between the midfield and Campbell. The full-backs put in a decent shift, supporting and defending as required, and Dawson and MacDonald did what they had to do with calm efficiency. Yes, you can argue that this was all against limited opposition, but isn’t that precisely when City are all too often found wanting?
Nothing else of note occurs before half time apart from Wilson and then Dawson shooting over in positions from which they really ought to be testing the keeper, but 2-0 at the interval is very satisfying.
As you might expect Burton come out for the second half with all guns blazing and we have to endure quite a testing fifteen or so minutes. Greggsy has to make a couple of saves, in addition to which the home side might have benefitted from some steadier finishing on a couple of other occasions, our only reply of note during this spell being an Irvine effort, pouched by Bywater. As with the Burton purple patch in the first half, though, we show – almost – just how ruthless we can be when Irvine breaks up Burton’s play 35 yards or so from their goal and Grosicki takes control of the leather and ghosts through the home defence like a hot knife through butter. He cleverly takes the ball wide to make the target bigger and sets himself up for a seemingly-certain goal, but the shot rebounds off the post.
We don’t have long to wait for our next strike, though, as the home heads drop. Wilson dances across the box from the right and is gloriously scythed down by Flanagan. Grosicki bangs home the loose ball but the ref is already pointing to the spot. Meyler sends Bywater the wrong way, the Tiger Nation exults and we’re home and hosed.
Not before the screw is well and truly turned, however. Burton plug away but you can see that their hearts are not really in it any longer and thoughts are maybe turning to their Derby derby game on Saturday. Bent goes close to getting a consolation with about ten left but it’s City who carry by far the greater menace. And so it proves on 85, when Irvine feeds Grosicki a through ball and the number 7 hares away from the defence, rounds the exposed Bywater and slides the leather home in front of the delighted City support.
He then stupidly gets himself booked for diving in injury time (I mean – why?), but there’s more to come as Tomori gets to the by-line in the dying seconds and his hard, low cross is turned into the roof of the onion bag by sub Keane, in what was pretty much a carbon copy of Wilson’s effort at Forest.
And that, as they say, will have to do. Hopefully we can relax now and the team will put on a bit of a show over the remaining four games, starting with The Biggest Team In The Known Universe on Saturday. That would be nice, as the likelihood of the same group of players being together to take up where they left off in August is not looking promising, to put it mildly. The Burton Mail opined today that City are surely destined for a much higher Championship position next season: if only they knew…
Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)