Goal-line technology has been such a welcome innovation added to the English game of late. Not only does it guarantee correct decisions, and as we saw at the World Cup, being correct wins every time (!), but it has consequences pleasing on the eye – the eighth-of-an-inch graphics we see on our TV screens, the opportunity for a referee to point to the spot while flamboyantly holding his wrist high in the air, the way some lamebrain footballers still feel no compunction about protesting, after actual science has proved them wrong.
The split-second timing of the technology is also remarkable, just as similar programmes do their job within a hundredth of a second of a tennis ball landing on chalk or a cricket bat scraping its wielder’s pad. During Hull City’s latest instance of footballing slapstick, it was also very obviously in use in the away team goal net.
There could have been no other reason for the extraordinary sleight of hand demonstrated by the unfortunate, friendless individual charged with polluting more than 8,000 pairs of ears with the tedious, classless opening strains of Chelsea Dagger on each of the two occasions Rotherham United got the ball over the City line. Both times the ball literally hit the back of the net; on both occasions those dreaded opening drums were drowning out any natural celebration before leather had actually touched string. Maybe he’s a conjurer in his spare time.
You pity him for the time when a goal is disallowed. Those of us with a decade and more of this kind of nonsense behind us will remember Plymouth Argyle scoring a goal against Phil Brown’s City and the noisy strains of Good Thing by Fine Young Cannibals threatening to blow the ancient speakers to smithereens, only for the referee to disallow the goal, possibly because he never forgave Steele and Cox for disbanding the Beat. To the tune of the opening verse of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, the City fans began singing “Where’s your music gone?”. It wasn’t heard, or required, again.
The issue of music after goals is one which should have been put to bed years ago, as soulless and as needless in a charged football stadium as it is. Like simulation, Jose Mourinho and waving imaginary yellow cards, it’s something football doesn’t want, nor ever did. Like Parisians superglueing wheel clamps and New Yorkers putting bullets into speed cameras, City fans issued a resounding negative response on that occasion Tiger Feet boomed from the Circle’s sound system when the ball went into the opposing bag, and it wasn’t heard again.
There’s also the vividly unanswerable question of the lack of goal music when the away team scores – again, nostalgists of nose-hair vintage will remember the game at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup which ended 4-3 and had the City fans doing their own version of the Pigbag instrumental because it wasn’t on the speakers each time we scored. And, mercifully, we had just cause to enjoy the speaker silence on one extra occasion compared to the Rotherham fans clapping in time to the beat – because City won.
It wasn’t a great performance, and the game as a whole was a low quality affair. Five goal thriller DVDs don’t include matches like this. There was plenty to enjoy, however. Team spirit was admirably high after the weekend’s utter no-show. Some individual performances were good, including from the subs. The support was outstanding. The new third kit was on show, with City wearing shorts that, under the floodlights, were of a similar colour to the urine of someone addicted to asparagus.
Nigel Adkins made two changes from Saturday. He had Shreddies instead of porridge, and covered them in doner meat instead of brambles.
Meanwhile, the team looked like this:-
Kane Burke de Wijs Lichaj
Bowen Henriksen Batty Irvine
It was a fluid version of the above; positively saturated to the point of sogginess, actually. We evidently have a squad, and a collection of reasonably competent individuals, but we don’t yet properly have a team. There is much to work on, assuming our manager is given (or gives himself) the time to shape a team, not to mention the tools still required courtesy of our Instagram-loving, ladies’ shirt-wearing owner, who thinks the fans are crucial, apart from just two specific categories of such: those alive or, as we saw so horribly recently, those dead.
The New York Stadium (so-called, according to one clued-up soul in the pub, because the steel produced in this area of Rotherham was shipped straight to New York) is a pleasant place to watch football. So much nu-stadia built since the start of the 1990s is rendered anaemic by symmetry, among other things, but this place has a few flourishes in its design and, crucially, not a single vertical column of concrete blocking the view. Pleasant venues deserve pleasant football, however. This was not regularly on show, but there were some flashes.
City fans began well – the first Allam Out chant was five seconds in, then there was a rendition of “there’s only one Barry Chuckle”, delivered with heart, and the home fans rose to their feet to applaud it. How very cheering and humanitarian this all was, not necessarily befitting the memory of past Yorkshire derby occasions.
City players began well too. Henriksen’s impudence in shooting from 30 yards almost paid off as the ball arrowed for the top left, only for keeper Rodák to paw it over. From the corner, Batty had a shot blocked, then Burke aimed a second go far too high.
As a defender (witty inverted commas optional), Burke wasn’t going to lose sleep over skying a shot when up attacking a corner. However, at the other end, after he conceded one of the softest corners you’ll ever see when his foot and chest got confused for one another, you could almost hear his whimpering opening words to the nice lady on the graveyard shift at the Samaritans, especially when he and nobody else responded to the resulting kick that allowed defender Wood a free header that hit the back of the net (a split second after Chelsea Dagger started, of course).
Lots of people think we’ll be relegated this season. Were this to happen, the inquest can hear submissions forever about the appalling practices and policies of an increasingly hostile, ham-fisted hierarchy, and rightly so; but it will also need evidence of our ineptitude at defending set pieces. We are presently rotten at it. We were highly fortunate not to concede similarly twice, maybe three times more in this manner.
Chelsea Dagger is such a terrible record, it really is.
City slumped and crumbled, familiarity breeding contempt. Rotherham, however, are just as bad as us and so had neither the ability nor the courage nor the gumption to take more of an initiative. Manning, deliverer of the corner earlier, flashed one shot over the bar, but the goal mainly turned the game into a muddy, vague, directionless non-event.
And then, a beautiful City goal. Out of nowhere, and created as if it were Nicky Barmby and Geovanni themselves with the delicate, intricate, worshipful approach play. Their former team-mate Campbell was involved, mind; cleverly laying the ball back around the edge of the box for Evandro to chip a first timer on to the volleying left boot of Jackson Irvine at the far post. He finished with real style. Perhaps we won’t get many goals this season; we certainly won’t get many better goals than that one.
Confidence is such an unappreciated commodity. As soon as that ball went in, shoulders were raised, chests puffed out. Songs got louder and the manager gave a thumbs-up in appreciation. Although our centre backs still looked scared of anything spherical and leather, the rest of the team began spreading the ball, passing and moving, playing the game that when done simply can still look as breathtaking as it ever has. Maybe we do have the makings of a good team after all.
As the board for added minutes was about to be raised, City got a lovely second. The pressure had been on for a while, but even so we were prepared for a half time stalemate when Lichaj clipped a near-post ball in from the left and Campbell tucked it past the keeper with barely a glance or thought. Whatever limitations we feel Campbell has to deal with today thanks to age and past injury, this was the type of goal the sassy kid learning from Windass would have scored a decade ago. And from not playing well, from defending so shockingly, again, from Chelsea Dagger, to an unexpected and yet not undeserved half time advantage for City. The interval was a nice thing to experience.
City’s third kit is an all-white affair with a fluorescent greenish-yellow Umbro band on the bottom of the sleeves. Newly-launched, it seemed an odd choice for playing at Rotherham, who have not an inconsiderable amount of white on their pleasingly traditional strip. Of course, selling it to fans is a priority and so putting the players in it at the first available opportunity makes marketing sense while it’s fresh in the mind’s eye. The shorts did seem to divide opinion though. Under the lights they resembled the colour of the hi-viz gilets sported by New York Stadium stewards; anyone who thought luminous socks were just the coolest thing ever to wear at primary school in 1982 will have managed a knowing smirk on seeing these rather busy shorts for the first time. Third kits are worn sparingly, usually; now that City have won on this one’s debut, mind, you can imagine someone like Nigel Adkins demanding its earlier than expected return for a suitable away game. And it isn’t pink, or cactus purple, which is a blessing on its own.
City were roared on to the pitch for the second half and any concerns that the break may water down their momentum were quickly shelved when we had the temerity to get a third just two minutes in. It was a splendid break down the right hand side and the hard-working Bowen got his head up at the right time to slide a ball across the area for Irvine, free yet again, to guide a shot into the exposed net as the keeper did one of those thankless scrambling acts around his six yard box.
So, a two-goal advantage, away from home, having not previously won, while in urine-coloured shorts. What a time to be alive.
The next spell of the second half was spent bemoaning the number of occasions Rotherham again and again found themselves with opportunities to head the ball freely in our penalty area. Fortunately, they weren’t very good at it; they’d clearly shot their bolt with the one chance early on that went through the Chelsea Dagger air pocket behind David Marshall. But, again, Adkins will know that tighter marking, better positioning and some proper communication (not easy with a brand new back four) is a must, and an urgent one at that. Let’s remember that Stoke will have Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch charging on to high balls on Saturday.
Still, we were grateful to escape the worst of it, but then Rotherham made a tactical substitution which involved striker Jamie Proctor’s introduction. Showing the attributes of a proper finisher, within a couple of minutes he had directed a header tidily past Marshall, with again the defence asking who was where and how, while those wretched drums kicked in again just as the ball approached the netting.
There were 15 minutes to go.
City had already made a change by this stage, with Keane replacing Campbell. There is something heroic about Will Keane, really. His 25 minutes on the pitch were spent unselfishly running into channels, taking defenders away, shielding the ball, being a nuisance, and generally not being required to do much with a football when in possession of it. His was, genuinely, a brilliant cameo and it slowed the game right down, frustrating Rotherham considerably. He, Bowen and Irvine all did have a chance each to seal it, but the keeper did his job at the near post for the first two, while Irvine’s dreams of a hat-trick were dashed by a rash far post finish in a similar position to his second goal.
Of course, numerous injury time chances were be created by the home side. It’s what City do. All were kept on their toes as corners were conceded and headers won, but second balls fell to City boots and the odd attempt on goal that was managed was not aimed with any degree of accuracy. In the end, even though the game wasn’t a comforting experience, City saw it out comfortably.
So, a win, at last. Despite lustrous shorts and Chelsea Dagger. Heaven only knows if this win will act as any kind of jump lead for City’s flattened battery of a season thus far, or whether we only won because it was Rotherham, the League One play-off winners, by definition relegation favourites and renowned for not sticking around in the second tier for any great duration, irrespective of how they got there. Harsher tests await on the pitch, ever harder battles continue off it. Still, we ought to celebrate while we can, so we’ll see you and little Steven and Joanna round the back of our hotel. Oh yeah.