No, I didn’t expect this either. I didn’t expect a point, I didn’t expect a committed performance, I didn’t expect our team to more than match opponents who’ve been sauntering to promotion ever since the warmth of last August. Yet that’s what was served up – a really admirable display by Hull City.
Such is the confused mess that is the current Hull City, I suppose. There’s ability in this squad, but too often rank poor organisation and absence of commitment has undermined the season. Consistent inconsistency. The gloating malevolence of Ehab Allam looms large over every aspect of our club, and we all grasp that survival this season is likely to open up nothing more palatable than another close season with minimal transfer activity, sale of anyone that another club wants to buy (err, Bowen) and a grim grind from day one onwards beginning in early August. But better to suffer in the Championship than in Division 1.
We lined up, a shade apprehensively:
Aina Tomori Hector MacDonald Clark Kingsley
Henriksen Meyler Toral
Lightweight? I’ve seen more convincingly brutal cotton buds. I can assure you that there were plenty of murmurings of dismay among the travelling support when that chosen line-up pinged our way in the approach to kick-off. That’s a team set up to fail, we supposed, and one designed to spare other players from exertion ahead of the immensely more winnable fixtures that arrive on Saturday at home to QPR and next Tuesday at Burton.
And yet …
And yet we played really well, in short. What looked like a petrified rabbit-in-the-headlights shambles of a back six evolved into a stubborn but fluid formation, flexing between the demands of defence and the pressure of midfield, in which both fringe players, Kingsley and Tomori, looked entirely adequate to the needs of a tough fixture, while Aina seems to have put his St Andrew’s nightmare behind him. Max Clark has almost a season of toil behind him now, and is a much more convincing performer now than when he first appeared at Villa Park back in August. And, it gives me no pleasure to share with you, our centre back partnership looks a great deal more mobile and suitably equipped without Michael Dawson in it.
Hector was pretty good last night, yet it was he who conceded the penalty that gave Wolves the lead after 17. Diogo Jota, tricky frontman, turns sharply in the box and, with the lurking Hector poking an indolent toe in his direction, Jota collapses to the ground in a comically incompetent attempt to win a penalty.
He wins a penalty.
Referee Darren England can never have played the game of football, nor watched it on the telly. No one with any feel for the rhythm and pace of the game could give a penalty for that, it’s as soft as a Mr Whippee ice cream that’s been left melting an hour in the summer sunshine.
Jota himself strikes the penalty past McGregor.
Wolves have been pretty sloppy so far, but that gift will presumably lift them, and quell our sprightly beginning. Not a bit of it. There is a tangible feel around a well-populated but largely mute stadium that this game is a trivially simple distraction for a side intent on the title and Premier League lucre, and that sense of complacency infects the Wolves players. Quite the reverse among our boys. There is no sense of submission, only of defiance and determination to show we’re worth more than the current League position suggests – and we are worth more, only not consistently.
A combination of McGregor’s feet and a heavy touch by the attacker rescues us as a fast break opens up the defence, but we are giving as good as we get in an increasingly open game. Toral and Henriksen is a candyfloss midfield pairing (and, crikey, there’s Kevin Stewart skulking on the bench), but there’s David Meyler too, and the ever-eager Irishman levels the game on 37. It’s deft. After Wolves waste possession in the centre of the pitch, Meyler gets across his man to receive a ball played into the box, and, as the defender grabs at his arm, he crumbles under the challenge. Clumsy defending – rank stupid defending. Unlike the earlier award in favour of Wolves, a penalty this certainly is. Meyler himself allows John Ruddy to commit to his right and calmly strokes the ball straight down the middle.
One each. As we deserve.
Half time comes and goes, but the pattern of play doesn’t alter. We have more of it. Toral sets up Aina at the back post, he is crowded out by a combination of goalkeeper and defender.
Wolves are frankly terrible. Do they think they have already done enough this season? Does their very oddly shaped squad, thick with short term mercenaries (including, on this occasion, one Alfred N’Diaye, looking every bit as ordinary as he did for us during his last loan spell prior to rocking up at Molineux), treat Hull City as beneath their dignity? Doubtless they miss injured playmaker Ruben Neves. Whatever the reason, they look droopy, and as the second half develops, they prove astonishingly poor at retaining possession.
Irvine for Toral, and then Grosicki for Dicko, who makes a point of applauding all corners of his former home ground and, as far as I can tell, gets a decent and appreciative response. Dicko’s looked livelier than most of the Wolves team. Grosicki plays briefly through the middle, but then Kingsley, leg weary, is swapped for Fraizer Campbell, so we revert to a more orthodox set-up but one which, quite rightly, fancies not only one point but maybe even all three.
On 70 a deep cross from Grosicki reaches Hector towering at the back post, and he really should score by planting his header back across the face of the goal and inside the far post. But he goes near post instead, and the ball strikes the outside of the woodwork. But shortly afterwards we do seize the lead. Neat passing supplies Grosicki, and the Pole shows great strength to retain possession and then great skill to slide his way past covering defenders, and he tops off the preparation with sublime execution as he slides a savagely beautiful low cross towards the back post. Campbell hunts it down like a stoat preying on a bunny, but defender Bennett gets there first, and slithers the ball apologetically into his own net.
2-1 City, and a wonderful cameo by Grosicki. His attitude stinks, this much we know. But he is a supremely gifted footballer, well able to pick apart defences at this level and higher.
Ten minutes to go, and at last Wolves show some spirit. The equaliser arrives on 84, and it is truly their only impressive piece of football on display all evening. Neat move down their left, our right, chipped cross by overlapping Scottish internationalist Barry Douglas and sub Buur Rasmussen makes full use of the space created by the speed of the move to head the ball past McGregor’s right hand and into the corner of the net. Bah.
There is, in the minutes that remain, which include four added, a level of noise and energy around the stadium which had been sorely and evidently lacking for most of the match. It’s a test – a test our players meet with admirable resolve. The trickiest moment arrives on 89 when the ball runs out of play and is cannily taken into custody by Mr Adkins and his assistants on the touchline. A ball boy runs twenty yards from his designated berth in front of the main stand and dives into the huddle, shoving surprised Hull City staff aside, retrieving the football and quickly transferring it to a Wolves player wanting to take the throw. The ball boy runs back to his post, leaping in the air and clenching his fist in triumph. I’m not sure that is what you get taught at ball boy school, but I admire the lad’s audacity and commitment to the cause. If the Wolves players had been as up for it as the ball boy, they might have won this game.
But they weren’t. And they didn’t.
Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)