FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Sheff W 1

Hull City's Jarrod Bowen celebrates his goal

Summer’s comin’, time to dream the day away. Well, eventually. Bumble bees, warm sunshine, lush greenery on the trees. And Hull City fans, as they dream the day away in collective reflection on this football season that will soon be behind us, how will they fill their thoughts?

City fans looking back over these last nine months will have the air of the early polar explorers, hunched in pain, faces creased in agony, heads and minds filled with the grey wastes and colourless void that they have barely survived. Beer in hand, sitting outside the bijou cafes of Withernsea or the baroque wine bars of Keyingham, they are oblivious to the douce arrival of happier days. It’s been attritional, it’s been miserable, it’s been a truly appalling season. They are scarred.

One lad looks at his wan chums. ‘Right’, he says, ‘it’s been bad all season long, but which game d’you reckon was the worst, the very worst?’

Cheeks are puffed out, pain is etched across every rough-hewn face. We really gotta choose?

Well, if you insist … the gutless Friday night surrender at Derby, the spitefully don’t-care second half performance at Bramall Lane, not bothering at Bolton, the drab incident-free 0-0 at home to Reading, not bothering at Sunderland, tamely surrendering the points at home to Millwall, chucking in the towel in the snow storm away to Birmingham. A parade of grisly infamy.

But make no mistake, this latest horror at home to Sheffield Wednesday deserves to be bracketed with the very worst of this season’s festering dungheaps.

This was a truly dreadful game.

Max Clark was awarded the man of the match bauble. I don’t care about such awards, because it is a team game, but when your left back gets pinned as your best player, you know you’ve been watching a dismal flair-free ninety minutes of footballing poverty. So it was.

We card:

McGregor
Aina  Hector McDonald Clark
Larsson
Wilson Henriksen Toral Grosicki
Hernández

Looks lightweight? Was lightweight. Too many players with poor attitudes, willing to shirk the need for 100 per cent effort? Check.

It’s a dreadful opening quarter, with both teams serving up convincing impressions of sides ready to slope off beach-bound on their holidays at the earliest opportunity. The first moment of note arrives on 5, as McGregor stops a header by Jordan Rhodes, who’d been gifted far too much time and space at the back post. The second moment of note arrives on 14 when a ball in from the left is met by a Toral header at the back post, sending the ball back square into the danger area. But it rolls apologetically wide of the back post. The third moment of note arrives on 17, and Sheffield Wednesday score.

Ball played in from the wing, Rhodes leaps, flicks his header beyond fellow Scottish internationalist McGregor, and that is 0-1.

Simple as it gets. Appalling defending out wide. Appalling defending in the middle. Several players are guilty of letting the game drift by rather than getting to grips with their immediate opponent, but it’s Hector, left hopelessly flat-footed, who is closest to Rhodes and who puts no pressure on Rhodes at all.

On 26 Hector is caught dithering once again, and Adam Reach whips the ball off him, before firing a shot wide of McGregor’s far post.

Rhodes is going down far too easily on a regular basis, and play is held up for too long on the half hour mark for another of his swallow dives. In receipt of scornful abuse from East Stand he eventually climbs to his feet and pulls up his shorts to point to a fetching long bloody scar the length of his leg, as if it to seek understanding and sympathy from his tormentors. He gets none.

On 44 Clark and Wilson combine well down the left and, with Hernández lurking predatorily, the ball is eventually scooped over the bar for a corner. Which comes to nothing. Most of the half has come to nothing. It’s been awful. Two minutes are added, there’s a brief penalty box melee, and then comes the mercy of half time.

Sullen players, stripped off any long-term commitment to the club by our owner’s short-term stupidity and malice, but, even so, still unable and unwilling to put in a basic acceptable shift. It’s horrible to watch. Grosicki’s the most culpable, of course, but it’s not just him. Fecklessness pervades the whole bunch. The second half begins, and it continues to serve up appallingly poor football.

There are just two hints of creativity on the whole pitch. One is Barry Bannan, and when Barry Bannan, part Orc part Tupperware box, is the only source of a decent touch and a quick pass, then you know you are watching a grotesquely awful game of football. The only other glimpse of trickery and ambition comes from a grey squirrel, which shows a turn of foot and an eye for goal when it introduces itself to the play on 67 minutes.

On 72 Hernández has an opportunity to equalise but he is crowded out, and overall the quality of the play is shockingly low. Grosicki’s off for Bowen by now, but there’s no improvement visible.

Just in case I am not making myself clear, could I confirm that this is a diabolically bad game.

On 86 Aina gives the ball away in completely pathetic don’t-care fashion. McGregor rushes to the rescue, but Hector then does his best to put the loose ball into his own net not once, but twice, but with the Wednesday attack watching on, awed by the sheer incompetence of it all, McGregor eventually retrieves the ball.

There are eight added minutes, and in the first of them we equalise. The ball is played across the face of the goal from left to right, and bundled into the Wednesday net by Hernández at the far post. It’s a messy goal, and it is deserved only in the sense that although we are worth little or nothing from the game, nor are the deeply unimpressive visitors. Our players celebrate, trot back to their own half, and the referee seems to be following them. Only  …  what’s this? He’s invited by the Wednesday players to talk to his linesman. He does so. Said linesman apologetically and half-heartedly raises his flag, and the goal is chalked off for offside. It was at least a minute between ball entering the net and the linesman showing any interest in intervening. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Royal cheatery, and the only consolation is that it really didn’t much matter. Draw, loss, whatever. Get this season terminated.

Bah. On 97 McDonald has a completely free header in the middle of the penalty area and contrives to send his effort over the top of the goal.

Let’s leave the final word to one of those glum City fans sitting, beer to hand in the summer rays, reflecting with pain on the garbage we’ve had to endure this season.

‘Aye, but it’s going to be even worse next season.’

Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Burton 0 City 5

GrosickiK

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:-

                            McGregor

Tomori            Dawson        MacDonald        Kingsley

Wilson             Henriksen        Meyler           Grosicki

                            irvine

                           Campbell

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)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Wolves 2 City 2

MeylerDNo, 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:

McGregor
Aina Tomori Hector MacDonald Clark Kingsley
Henriksen Meyler Toral
Dicko

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)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Birmingham 3 City 0

AdkinsN2In the last week we had shown the bottle to come back from two down against Norwich and the maturity to go to Ipswich and dominate the game in a n easy win. So why did a trip to Birmingham, stuck in the bottom three on the back of seven successive defeats – fill us with so much trepidation? Because this is Hull City we’re talking about, of course. Patron Saint of gifting three points to those in need.

It snowed on and off all morning without settling but just before kick-off, St. Andrews was battered by wind and snow leaving the pitch white and requiring the use of a yellow ball. Spring is sponsored by Southern Rail this year. It’ll be along at some point.

City reverted to the side that impressed against Norwich last Saturday meaning Hector and Campbell dropped out. Nigel Adkins subs bench bingo meant no place for Nouha Dicko while Jon Toral got a slot.

McGregor
Aina Dawson Mazuch Clark
Larsson Henriksen
Bowen Irvine Wilson
Hernández

The first half was shambolic. Again. Everyone I said was good last week was useless. It was freezing and City didn’t fancy it one little bit. We were lucky not to be behind early as we lost the ball in midfield and Che Adams went clean through in front of the 1700 City fans but McGregor charged out to save with his left hand. Harry Wilson was taken down by a poor challenge from Wes Harding that earned the right back a booking. It was a clear yellow but not quite a red – but a stupid challenge to make in the conditions. Of course, we didn’t force him to make another tackle all game. And then we were behind. Adams beat Dawson to a ball on their right, raced in behind and crossed for Jota to score. Aina was left in a tight spot by the break but had to choose between closing down the ball or marking in the middle and did neither.

Kieftenbeld shot over after Birmingham passed around us and the snow game down heavily making visibility awful and raising hopes of an abandonment. Our only chance of getting out of St Andrews undefeated. Wilson shot wide powerfully as City got a brief foothold then the useful Craig Gardner was forced off for Cheik Ndoye who we were assured by the blue nose we travelled with is absolutely useless. It’s true, he was. And he was still only the sixth worst midfielder on the pitch.

The five on our side were incapable of stringing two passes together. Every one of them along with both full backs looked terrified of the ball. Birmingham pressed us well, like we did to Norwich last week, but our lack of composure was inexcusable. Aina was appalling. Back to the very worst we’ve seen of him. Henriksen anonymous again. Larsson’s legs looked as old as we feared they were in September. Irvine looked like he’d run three marathons in the last fortnight. Bowen tried to make things happen but ran into trouble. Wilson didn’t fancy another whack.

The only saving grace was that we went in at half time only a goal behind. McGregor saved from Jutkiewiscz after he’d beaten Mazuch easily on the left, pushed away an overhead kick from Adams (after Bowen was dispossessed) and then charged from his goal to save from Adams from the resulting corner – albeit after a blatant push went unpunished. A shot from Kieftenbeld was deflected wide and then they turned Aina inside out and crossed for Jota to head over. Half time. It could have been five.

We made no changes. You can’t blame Adkins. On recent form, his best eleven were on the pitch. I like Che Adams. A lump of a striker but with a turn of pace and a willingness to make runs time and again without reward. He was foiled by the brilliant McGregor three times in the first half but his hard work was rewarded straight after the break when he ran away from Dawson embarrassingly and sent over a cross that flew into the net inside the far post. Needless to say it came from City giving the ball away again.

Michael Dawson has been a top defender but he’s slower than a broken Milk float these days. Is it time to build for next season? I’d say so but with Mazuch being made of glass, Hector ours only temporarily and MacDonald the only player Adkins has singled out for criticism – I don’t see we’ve any choice but to stick with him.

Aina gave Jota the ball to force another save from McGregor before Campbell replaced Irvine. If this was an attempt to go for it, it was rendered pointless within two minutes. A city boot attempting to win a tackle on the edge of the box played Jota through on goal and he finished neatly.. Lovely little player, Jota. I thought we should have been interested last summer when he left Brentford but he was too pricey for Ehab Allam’s new “Buy cheap, ruin, release for free” transfer policy.

The game died right there. There were a load of subs. Toral Replaced Hernández and was by far our best outfield player in his cameo. Grosicki came on for Wilson and may as well not have bothered.

So ended an afternoon of cowardice in the cold. Despite the last forty years telling us the law of “Typical City” meant we’d turn up and lose, it wasn’t any easier to take. Even less so after a scary drive home at two miles an hour in the snow.

The only positive of half our squad leaving in the summer because of poorly managed contracts and too many loan deals is that this team badly needs a major overhaul. Grosicki needs to go for whatever he’s worth these days. Marshall is doomed here so cash in on him too. Coming in, it needs legs and leadership in defence and midfield. It needs brains at right back and pace at left back. It needs options up front rather than four of the same player. And a goalkeeper too I guess.

That’s not a reaction to this game. It’s been obvious for most of the season. But it was driven home on a day when this team showed they’ve no interest in fighting for Hull City.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Ipswich 0 City 3

HenriksenMAnd 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:
McGregor
Aina  Dawson  Hector  MaxiClarkiguez
Wilson    Larsson   Henriksen  Bowen
Irvine
Campbell

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)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 4 Norwich 3

IrvineJSimply put, this was the best match of the season..

Our bipolar squad has been pummelled this season. They’ve let their guard slip time an again and have spent a lot of time on the canvas. None more so than on Tuesday when Millwall delivered a near-knockout blow (imagine that?) When Norwich took an unassailable two-goal lead at the KCOM, our already wobbly legs were shaking like a Turkey’s knees on Christmas eve.  But from somewhere they showed grit, intelligence and maturity that no one knew they had and produced a thrilling response that brought cheers and smiles to a ground that has been steeped in misery all season.

Marshall
Aina – Dawson – Mazuch – Clark
Larsson – Henriksen
Bowen – Irvine – Wilson
Hernández

Other than an enforced change in goal, City started as they finished on Tuesday. And they started well. They pressed and harried Norwich in midfield with Irvine pushing right up without the ball and setting the tone. Norwich arrived in great form but their ten outfield, dressed as Tinky-Winky, looked a bit Dipsy under pressure and were soon in La-La land (Sorry.) Bowen split their defence early but Henriksen passed straight to the keeper. Then Irvine crossed for Hernández, who’d lost both centre halves, but his header on the stretch went straight to Angus Gunn again. Then came the breakthrough. City passed well again, Wilson slid the ball down the left and Irvine made an excellent run across and behind the defence and tucked the ball home with his left foot despite the tight angle and the desperate attempts of a defender.

We could have had a penalty when Irvine was blatantly pushed in the back, Irvine tried to pass to Hernández when Bowen slid him in on the right, Dawson headed an excellent Larsson corner over and Wilson brilliantly shimmied through them on the left but shot straight at the keeper again. It could have been 4-0. It should have been. City were utterly in control of the “fight”. So best avoid any gut-wrenching punches to the abdomen, eh, boys?

They knocked the ball into the right channel, Marshall raced from goal and took the lad down on the corner of the penalty area. The linesman thought it was a free kick, the Norwich players strenuously pointed out the markings inside the box and after some deliberation the ref guessed it was a penalty – and guessed right from my viewpoint. James Maddison slid the penalty home. Before the seething could even get out the words “Bloody Marshall” we were behind. Maddison turned Aina inside and out, found a stupid amount of space in the box and lashed a shot that went right under Marshall at the near post. Poor defending, awful keeping. And Maddison doesn’t need any help. He’s a slight player with a poxy haircut but he’s outstanding. I saw him play for Coventry against our U21s at North Ferriby a few years ago and he was the best player on the pitch by miles. With his unerring confidence, intelligent use of the ball, set piece delivery and eye for goal – he’s going places.

To their credit, City responded well to that massive setback when you could have hardly blamed them for collapsing so fragile is our confidence. But despite taking the game to Norwich again we fell further behind in ridiculous circumstances when Mazuch clumsily felled Onel Hernández in the corner of the area where he was going absolutely nowhere. A ludicrous decision from a player who always improves our defence hugely but a soft one nonetheless. Maddison found the other corner with this penalty and you could have funded the Northern powerhouse if you harnessed the heads shaking in the KCOM Stadium.

City responded again though and the ref awarded a third penalty of the half. Bowen was fouled in the box. It was a really soft one but a foul anywhere else on the pitch so why not? Hernández tucked it away inside the right hand post and after five minutes added, the craziest half of the season ended 2-3.

I fancied us to get something out of the game. I was worried that our key players like Hernández and Wilson wouldn’t last long enough for us to turn it around but the way we’d played justified confidence and the players came out after half time looking like they thought the same. Larsson delivered a free kick from the right that was headed clear by the first man but the ref immediately whistled and pointed for a penalty. I think it was for some holding on Irvine but no-one really knew what was going on. Perhaps Andy Crosby’s little chat with the ref as they came onto the pitch affected his conscience, who knows? Hernández didn’t worry about that, he just smashed the penalty into the roof of the next for his sixth goal of the season. In minutes, he’s played less than four games this season.

The game swung both ways at 3-3. Irvine deflected a Wilson shot goalwards and Aina brilliantly raced 70 yards down the pitch and crossed to find no-one had gambled on it. Then Norwich controlled the ball for a spell with City chasing them around midfield as Maddison tried to make something happen. We defended the balls in well and their was little drama but there’s no doubt they were in the ascendancy as Campbell replaced Hernández on the hour.

Campbell’s introduction helped City find a second wind and Bowen and Wilson came into their own. Irvine continued to chase everything. Gunn spilled a shot from Bowen poorly but Campbell couldn’t get to it and Wilson’s follow-up was blocked. Wilson then ran at them and found Bowen whose shot was pushed wide. They found Hernández on the counter and his shot squirmed wide possibly via the bar. And then we only went and won it. Campbell broke down the right and found Henriksen, he beautifully passed to Bowen who gave it to Wilson, he cut inside the defender and curled a shot past Gunn with his left foot. It’s a long time since that much joy has erupted from a crowd at this stadium.

We were fairly comfortable on the lead. Campbell nearly stretched it when his volley at the near post was saved and then Aina broke from his own half again but got giddy and shot straight at Gunn. They headed straight at Marshall as stoppage time approached and Adkins used his last sub (Toral had replaced Bowen) to put Hector on to defend balls into the box. There were none.

So ended a breathless encounter. I’ve tried to work out when City last came back from two goals down to win. Any advance on the 5-4 win at Orient in November 1984? It’s certainly a rare feat. West Ham at home in November 2009 is the only time I can recall it nearly happening since.

The team and manager deserve huge credit for producing a performance like this after the week they’d had up too about 15:44. Their attitude and tactics were spot on. Who knows if they could have carried it off against Millwall if not for the first minute goal seriously altering their plans?

We’ve always known there is ability in this squad. It’s far greater than the sum of it’s parts. Hopefully we’ll see that now. Hernández didn’t just score but battled against their centre halves to get hold of the ball. Wilson looks a fantastic prospect who is enjoying his time here. Bowen has a new lease of life after struggling under Adkins’ demands for more defensive effort. Henriksen has had two fine games this week despite being a target for everyone’s discontent. Mazuch is our best defender all-round despite the very odd braindead decision. Larsson was back to his best. Aina had his best game for us. Irvine is outstanding. Clark and Dawson stuck their heads and feet in were needed.

Don’t get carried away yet though. Every time we get a performance from this squad and the league table starts to look rosy, a setback is on the way. But until Tuesday at least, we can enjoy a thoroughly brilliant performance and a comeback not seen for many a year. Knockout.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 1 Millwall 2

HernandezA

It’s always a struggle when penning these match notes to come up with original new introductions which easily convey the rank awfulness of a Hull City performance, and I’ll admit I’m in trouble here so I won’t bother. Simply to say that last night’s performance was one of the worst seen in an Allam-induced wretched season – or indeed, many seasons – and it’s impossible to think of a babber first half than our shower of shit put in at the KCOM versus a limited yet confident and combative Millwall.

The evening started with bright news that Hernández returned on the bench after six long months out – oh how we’ve missed him – with two changes to the starting XI being Henriksen (trains well) and Grosicki (suddenly realising his World Cup place at stake), replacing Toral and Diomande.

In a less than half full KCOM the best run football club in the country carded:
McGregor
Aina  Dawson MacDonald Clark
Bowen Larsson Henriksen Grosicki
Irvine
 Dicko

Millwall kicked-off and City immediately put the ball out for a throw-in. This was pegged down the line – Dawson missed a tackle on the left which seemed to draw the defence across – giving Lee Gregory plenty of time to backheel across the face of the City goal finding two ‘Wall free in space – Saville easily slotting home. 51 seconds, and the match was effectively over. It wasn’t so much that the team had momentarily switched off, it could be argued they hadn’t actually yet switched on. An unbelievable lack of concentration from a so-called professional football team. Dawson’s lunge completely threw the rest of the defence, whose positional sense was schoolboy standard.

On six minutes City played a stupid ball across their own penalty area, intercepted by Elliot whose shot was palmed wide by McGregor. Four minutes later another shot from the right – this time from Gregory – saw McGregor save well.

The only bright spot of an otherwise desolate half saw a good City interchange in midfield allowed Bowen the space to crash a volley against the bar. A chance! Irvine heads wide when he should have done better – but it’s generally extremely poor fare from City.

Just after the half hour Dawson slips on the halfway line allowing Elliot to break against MacDonald, but his shot is deflected wide for another visitor corner. The corner is chucked across and Jake Cooper loops a header into the top corner amongst virtually non-existent marking. This is abysmal.

For the rest of the first half City were not even as good as second best; Gregory and Elliot were tearing Dawson and MacDonald a new rectum each time they ventured in their direction, and the passive nature of the crowd suggested there was absolutely no confidence that this team of bottlers would turn it around.

You can’t imagine Adkins bawling anyone out, so I imagine the half-time team talk was sprinkled with positivity, meaningless statistics and instructions to “go out there and earn the right to play”, or some other bollocks.

Mazuch on for MacDonald on the restart, and the defence immediately looks more solid – although he always appears one tackle from a booking or a fight (or both).

Before the hour mark Wilson and Hernández come on for Grosicki and Irvine (not a player I would have subbed to be honest – Markus Henriksen I’m looking at you), and the City performance actually improves; Wilson’s dribblery seems to unnerve Millwall’s midfield lungers, and Hernández looks to be making intelligent runs into space.

With twelve to go, Wilson’s quick footwork sees him clattered, and the resultant free-kick is hit low behind the visiting defence to allow prowling Hernández to easily slam home at the far post from 6 yards. 1-2. Game on?

But the game fizzled out with plenty of City possession and no chances and Millwall recorded their fifth consecutive away win. Boos rang round the KCOM amongst the 8,000 desolate souls who remained to angrily gesticulate at the final whistle.

In the post-match press conference Adkins uncharacteristically hung MacDonald out to dry saying he could have subbed him in the first minute. What’s that going to do to the player, and the players in general? A sure sign he’s losing the team when public admonishments are all he’s got. Saturday’s team selection and response by those playing will be very interesting. As will the use of Hernández and, to a lesser extent, Wilson; after that performance they would both be shoe-ins to play but Adkins will have to be careful that he doesn’t bring Abel back too quickly. Gamble or stick?

In the first half Millwall won every ball in midfield. I’ll pick out Grosicki as one of the main culprits – as usual he looks interested going forward, but one we’re on the back foot his sprints turn to a disinterested gentle jog. Larsson was announced MoM and he did ok, as did Irvine but whose substitution baffled me.

So City’s long unbeaten home run stretching back to November is gone, destroying one of Adkins stock media replies when asked what makes his team good enough to stay up.

As we’ve seen all season this Hull City team are mentally weak, and any teams that come at us from the KO and score the first goal would probably see them home.

Favourable results from the other evening games meant the defeat wasn’t ultimately damaging in the league table, but it’s a dangerous game expecting the failings of others to preserve out Division Two status.

So to Saturday’s home match with Norwich where incredibly there are tickets still available in all stands. On last night’s performance you better get there early.

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 1 Sheffield United 0

AdkinsN2

Blimey, that was a successful evening for City. And thoroughly enjoyable at that. A lot that’s good about our club was on display. We won too.

This match will be remembered as the one where much of the fanbase —out of deep-rooted feeling for the club and frustration at the way it has been run down and its supporters ignored, insulted, and incited to action— stepped up to the televised plate with that combination of anger and good humour that Hull people can do so well.

That the team managed to craft a win made a big difference. Victory seasoned the evening with celebration, when, had we lost by a hatful, protest could have tipped into bitterness. It put to bed the idea that the determination of supporters to do right by their club off the field somehow stops the team doing well on it. The team win or lose because of the normal stuff like luck, referee’s decisions, managerial choices, and above all, whether they’re better at football than the other lot. That’s it, and the rest is marginal.

But my job here is match reporting. I’ll leave it to others to dissect in detail the ball-throwing, whistling, chanting, and banner-parading. I’ll concentrate on the football. In any case, my East Stand vantage is brilliant for watching the game, whereas it was the North Stand that provided the best spot for the off-field action. And of course the telly gives another perspective of both football and fans.

Polishing up Nigel Adkins’ unbeaten home record as City Head Coach were:

McGregor
Aina             Dawson               McDonald      Clark
Irvine                    Larsson
Bowen           Evandro        Diomande
Dicko

After our confident win at Forest a couple of weeks ago, Adkins had inexplicably messed with personnel and formation for the next league game, at Middlesbrough, by playing three central defenders with advanced wing-backs either side of that central defence. This time he reverted to a back four. The erratic Hector was dropped, as were Tomori, Toral, Campbell, and the injured Keane. Aina played on his favoured right. Max Clark returned as left full-back.

Did you know that Max Clark has played in every one of City’s league wins this season? Admittedly he’s played in plenty of defeats too, but tonight he looked like the increasingly assured player that he is becoming.

Another player coming into his own at the moment is City’s Brazilian midfielder, Evandro Goebel (I love writing ‘City’s Brazilian midfielder’), who opened his account for the club with a sweetly struck shot from a training-ground routine corner at Boro on Tuesday. In a pretty uninspiring first half tonight, it was Evandro who stood out. He’s got skills beyond your standard second division midfield player, and the confidence to receive the ball under pressure, turn his way out of trouble, and take the ball past lunging opponents.

Early doors, as City attacked the North Stand end of the ground on a bitingly cold Hull evening, Evandro received the ball in a crowded penalty area. He managed to make space for the shot, but too close to Blades’ netminder Blackman, and the chance is gone.

Throughout the game, until his substitution, Evandro showed his skill and calm presence. He could turn into an important player for us in the closing months of the season, bringing experience in addition to his ability to keep the ball and find a teammate.

Although having more of the ball than Sheffield, City struggled in the first half to make much of it. There was a cheeky free kick about 35 yards out that looked to be just outside Larsson’s shooting range, but he surprised the opposition by taking it on anyway and curled the ball only just wide of the upright.

Mostly though, we were poor as a team. There was a lot of passing the ball safely around our own half, and back to McGregor, as if we were the away team waiting to play on the break. The trouble was, Sheffield United, as the actual away team, did the same, making for a fairly dull spectacle.
When City did want to go forward, two glaring problems stood out.

First, we kept playing the ball in the air, up towards our non-existent centre forward. Dicko, for all his qualities, is a nippy inside forward not an imposing number nine. And being isolated on his own up front, a quick ball played high from the defence was never going to cut it. Even when he did get near it, the gap between Dicko and the rest of the team was so wide that he could do little with it.

Second, too many of our players have a tendency to work as individuals rather than concentrating on the team. When fans argue that our squad looks too good to be in such relegation danger, they see the individuals, and some good ones at that. But they have to be moulded into a team.

On 15 minutes, Dicko got the ball, for once, at his feet, where he could run at the Sheffield defence. To his left, galloping forward in space were both Bowen and Diomande. But Dicko kept the ball, put his head down, and ran into a cul-de-sac in front of the away fans.

On 20 minutes the match was interrupted by the balls-on-the-pitch protest. On 30 the fairly constant vuvuzela-esque sound of whistles that had accompanied the match from the start, turned into the concerted and planned one-minute whistling protest.

All off-field issues aside, I was beginning to hope that these things would affect the players, so poor were City at that time.

Half-time came. It was 0-0. If it hadn’t have been for the off-field action, that first half would have been entirely unmemorable.

During the interval, I fell to musing about what listening to a Nigel Adkins half-time teamtalk must be like. May be I’ve been reading too much of the @TheNigelBadkins parody Twitter account, but I reckoned it might be quite trying. Full of ‘healthy zen’ and #StayPositive. Not so much the Alex Ferguson hair-dryer treatment, more motivational speaker at a company staff away day?

Well, I reckon I might need to rethink. Because when City eventually came out for the second half, a good few minutes after the Blades, it seemed that there had been more than positivity preached in the home dressing room. The tactics had changed.

All of a sudden, City were playing it more on the ground.. We were less prone to by-passing the midfield. As we attacked the South Stand it would have been easy to look the other way and be distracted by the parade of stewards, followed by a procession of police officers, who lined up in front of the North Stand, backs turned to the game, staring at the home support.

But City were playing better, despite Sheffield —no doubt fresh from having their ears bent by Chris Wilder— having a bit of a go in the first ten minutes. At the back, Angus McDonald, whose reassuring displays are making that coveted number 50 shirt his own, snuffs out a good move by the Blades.

About 10 minutes in, Nouha Dicko finds himself just outside the Sheffield area, back to goal. He swivels and slams a hard shot goalwards, only for Blackman to push it round the post.

From the resulting corner, swung in from the left by Larsson, Sheffield’s defenders struggle to clear the ball and it eventually falls again to Dicko, who wellies it into the net.

We’re actually winning. That goal injects more confidence into the players, may be adding force to the argument that somewhere in that squad of disparate individuals we do have a semi-decent team waiting to be found.

Bowen, who has been relatively quiet so far, bursts into life a little more, making a couple of surging runs, one down each flank. Aina —having one of his skilful and confident games, untroubled by the need to do much serious defending— follows Bowen’s example and manages to get a cross into Diomande, who, as is his wont, can’t get the header right.

Grosicki replaces Diomande. The sort of no brainer preference that leaves me scratching my head as to how we ever started with the Norwegian ahead of the Pole.

Soon after, Kevin Stewart comes on for Dicko, and then Fraizer Campbell comes on for Evandro.

I can’t be bothered to think too deeply about these swaps, because I assume that they stem from what Adkins seems to say about too many of our players, namely, that they can’t manage the full 90.

All I’m thinking about is how City are going to turn a precious lead and three potential points into a draw or even a defeat.. It’s not that I’m a pessimist, just that I’ve watched City a lot this season.

I mutter: ‘Remember, we were one up at Bramall Lane. We lost 4-1.’

Grosicki, the scorer of the worldy that give us that 1-0 lead in Sheffield in November, is looking lively but too often ignored, or not spotted, by teammates. Well, he’s been in and out of the team so much, it’s no wonder they’ve forgotten him.

There is though a lovely little cameo between Larsson and Grosicki, who play a tippy-tappy bit of close passing by the left touchline to bewilder a lunging United player. These two are both harbouring realistic ambitions of playing in the World Cup in a few months time. For now they play for us. It’s a little incongruous.

Talking of cameos, Sheffield bring on Clayton Donaldson, an ex-Tiger who is so ex that his last game for us was a league fixture away at Boston United. Yes kids, Boston United.

It was good to see him. Especially as the Blades now fielded a not-very-sprightly three up top of Donaldson, Billy Sharp, and Leon Clarke; combined age 99.

Even City’s notorious late-goal leaking defence can keep this veteran trio at bay, and we duly saw out the final few minutes plus three added on.

And it’s good to go into the weekend feeling pleased with the team. We can enjoy the rare luxury of sitting back and saying to our relegation rivals, match that.

Then in a few days time, such is the relentless nature of this league, we go again. Another night match. Again taking on Yorkshire rivals. The weather is forecast to be colder still than it was tonight. For all the success of tonight’s events, we’re still a club that has fallen very far, very fast, and is in real danger of plummeting yet further.

But for now, there’s a bit of lively optimism around. Enjoy it.

Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Forest 0 City 2

AdkinsN2

This season has served up plenty of surprises.

Granted, they’ve mostly been of the fall-down-a-manhole, open-a-box-and-get-punched-by-a-boxing-glove-on-a-spring or bloody-horse’s-head-in-the-bed type. But surprises galore there have been, as the vindictive Allams continue to vandalise our sorry football club.

Yesterday was a different kind of surprise. For we won a game of league football.

I didn’t see it coming, you didn’t see it coming, no one saw it coming except possibly the irrepressibly cheerful Nigel Adkins, but come it did, and much needed it is too. It was a peculiarly bloodless performance by the home side, as Forest’s players spent most of the game mooching around half-heartedly and the sum total of their attacking was so meagre that they forced Alan McGregor to make precisely no saves at all. They are an appallingly badly run club, and their players appeared yesterday to have caught that mood. We too are an appallingly badly run club, anchored to the spiteful Allams, but in contrast our players spent most of this match looking full of vigour, purpose and confidence. It could hardly have been more different from the dross we’ve viewed across most of the last few months.

Will Keane, willowy physique, loping gait, gets the nod to do the hard yards up front on his own, with Jon Toral handed the brief to supply a link between Keane and the midfield four. So we card:

McGregor
Aina Hector MacDonald Clark
Bowen Irvine Larsson Wilson
Toral
Keane

Off we go, a raw, damp and blustery afternoon by the banks of the River Trent, a collision of two clubs that between them have won the European Cup twice. We have taken bigger supports to the City Ground in the past, and we’ve been given better accommodation too – today we are tucked into the southeastern corner of the ground instead of behind the goal, but the City support is boisterous, and the mood develops positively as it quickly becomes plain there’s little to fear from an anaemic home side.

The first moment of note, seven minutes in, is game-changing. A glorious pass is curved round the back of the Forest defence by Seb Larsson into the path of young Harry Wilson. He is marginally baulked, but, scarcely credibly, the referee, Oliver Langford, points to the penalty spot. Soft as melting snow. Jon Toral takes on the responsibility, but his left-foot shot is placed at comfortable height for any goalkeeper, and Pantillimon blocks it, and Forest shovel the ball away for a corner. Bah. Big chance, wasted. So in comes the corner, Toral is left unmarked at the near post, and he is allowed time to head the ball home from close range.

1-0 to us. Rarely does football permit such instant redemption, so well done Jon Toral, but kudos too to an abysmal piece of defensive inattention by Forest. Aitor Karanka working his magic there.

Ten minutes later Matthew Cash strolls through our midfield and defence with effortless ease – Nigel Adkins working his own magic there, with the assistance of the alarmingly ineffectual Michael Hector – and strikes a low mudskimmer of a shot that seems destined to level the scores, but it cannons back off McGregor’s left hand post and away to safety. Forest will get no closer to scoring before the sun goes down.

Both midfields cancel each other out now, and the game becomes scrappy and disjointed. But we are winning it, and the limited moments of flash and flair belong to us too. On 28 Bowen and Keane combine well, flustered Forest concede a corner. Then a glorious pass from left to right frees Bowen in space to advance into the box, but he is uncharacteristically feeble and imprecise, and the ball spins out for a goal kick.

On 38, a vision of joy, a shimmer of glitter. Ball inside – ping – ball back out wide – ping – ball low and hard across the face of the goal – ping. Beautiful fast slick football by Irvine, then Bowen and then Keane, Forest defence shredded, young Wilson surges into the box and bludgeons the chance into the roof of the net. 2-0, and that is as good a piece of football as we have served up all season.

It could have got better still, as Keane duffed a free shot straight at Pantillimon on 42 and Toral plonked the rebound haplessly wide, but the half time whistle signals a two goal advantage, which is in part certainly down to an astonishingly subdued display by Forest but also recognition of a complete team performance by our own side. There’s not been a hint of the stench of relegation that’s been hanging over this side for weeks now.

Question is, what happens if Forest get back into the game – will our evidently fragile self-belief drift away into the chilly breeze blowing across West Bridgford? Forest want to test that, and, presumably in receipt of some well-chosen Basque curses from Mr Karanka, they come out for the second half looking briefly more purposeful. On 46 they howl for a penalty, a frankly silly claim, but more dangerous is a stramash in our box on 48 during which a whirl of feet fly fearlessly before the ball is finally hoofed to safety by Clark.

On 52, Toral, limping, is replaced by Stewart – like for like, one feckless shadow of a midfielder for another – and by now Forest’s initial gusto has subsided. Even at this early stage of the second half they seem resigned to their fate. Why so meek? They are almost introduced to the risk of a proper hiding. Wilson slides a cute pass to Larsson, who surges past a static back-line to reach the by-line, from where he strikes a superb hard low cross direct to the feet of Will Keane, inside the six yard box, unmarked and with the goal yawning in anticipation in front of him. Keane reacts as if his shoelaces are tied together and misses the ball completely. Bowen is standing behind him and, understandably startled by this fiasco, he collects the ball but shoots wildly over the crossbar from close range.

Will Keane. Needs to do better than that.

Forest enjoy a decent slice of possession, but do nothing at all with it. Zero creativity from the home side, though praise too for our defensive shape, which is secure and rarely stretched even remotely.

MacDonald (a fine cricketer incidentally, known for farming the strike) is on the evidence of two games a solid acquisition. He doesn’t do fancy. He just defends. That will do me. Our bench, by the way, shows sign of either Michael Dawson or Kamil Grosicki. Dawson would be entitled to a brief sulk after being denied a lucrative move ten days ago, but, given the character of the man, I hope and expect it is but brief. Grosicki? I have no faith in his commitment or professionalism. I don’t know if we will see much, or any, more of him (in case you have forgotten what he looks like, here is a picture). Much probably depends on what the manager of his national team is telling him. If it’s ‘You need to get some game time if you’re going to force your way into the World Cup reckoning’, then I expect our Polish wingman will deign to show up a few times come the Spring. If it’s ‘Kamil, you’re in the squad come what may, just don’t get injured’, then not so much. (A similar story likely attaches to Abel Hernàndez, except in Spanish).

Wilson, who played very well, is replaced by Diomande, who did his usual eager running with no end product schtick, and Keane comes off for Campbell. It is a measure of Forest’s feeble lack of menace that Mr Adkins dared to field two (two!) attackers in tandem against them as the clock ticks down. A curio is that we didn’t play Forest at all between 1977 and 2010, as they conquered Europe under the immortal Brian Clough and we plummeted through the Divisions in disgrace and misery under the entirely mortal stewardship of Terry Dolan and that ilk, but today we are making it five wins out of the five visits to the City Ground that have taken place since the broaching of that desert. Remember Paul McShane’s handball, remember a fine strike by the likeable Aaron McLean. But none of the four previous recent wins was as comfortable as this one. Late on Aina boots a shot clear with McGregor flat-footed, but I think the effort was dribbling past the far post anyway, so Forest didn’t spoil their spotless record for the afternoon of zero (0) shots on target.

It’s an error strewn finale to proceedings, charmless football played out against a golden sunset in the West behind the ageing main stand at the City Ground. Forest gave this one up long ago. Three minutes are added, nothing happens, and the game is over, won by us.

After the trinket of a trip to Chelsea, we resume League business at Middlesbrough a week on Tuesday. We play 6 games in the space of 18 days, and four of them are at home. I fully appreciate that on-field activity pales into insignificance when contrasted with the harm inflicted off the pitch by the malicious Allams, but I still would like not to be relegated. Play like we did yesterday, and we won’t be.

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Preston 2 City 1

BowenJ

Right at the death we pressed again, this time in numbers. Urgent East Lancashire shouts rent the air and this time, finally, as we surged towards them, success and a seemingly impossible goal were attained. Yes, the pies that were noisily flogged off for just a pound were acquired and scoffed against the hunger and cold. The best pie-related action since the never-to-be-forgotten League Cup night at Chester where they plonked the tray of unsold pies down on the away terrace in front of the 200 or so of the faithful, gratis. So I enjoyed my first ever potato and butter pie, and I kid you not, reader, it was rich and glorious. You take your pleasure where you can at my age.

I didn’t take much pleasure from the game. We lost again, we deserved to lose again, against a good but far from imposing side. We didn’t play terribly, but neither did we play terribly well. Not enjoying themselves in contractually required Lancastrian pissing rain conditions were:

McGregor
Aina Hector MacDonald Clark

Bowen Meyler Larsson Irvine

Dicko

Campbell

So, newbie Angus MacDonald debuted in defence, other newbie Harry Wilson started on the bench. Equally noteworthy were the absences of Grosicki and Dawson from the squad. Grosicki, who knows why, Dawson, presumably a Soviet-style response to his wanting to go elsewhere.

Anyhoo, they set off attacking the far end with the faithful massed – at least a medium sized mass – directly behind McGregor’s goal. And, rather to my surprise, we did actually do a bit of attacking. Aina was always keen to get forward and his work led to a cross which begat some ping-pong heading between four players before the ball went behind, Aina then slung in a longish throw, Bowen crossed and MacDonald who had stolen forward headed wide.

After this first 15 of modest progress Preston got more control of the game and we saw more of MacDonald in defence. And he looked ok too. It’s a curious story, as related to me; a mysterious illness laid him low for months so he lost his place at Barnsley before his malaise was diagnosed as – anaemia! Oh. It doesn’t surprise me that his diet in Barnsley was so poor that this can happen – the lad’s lucky he avoided scurvy and rickets – but I hadn’t realised healthcare was so poor they couldn’t spot this. Frankly, he’s lucky to have made it to Hull, where we turn out top quality healthcare practitioners by the shovelful (nursing, ODP and paramedic places still available for September’18).. Anyway, he’s a big unit, his positional sense looked good and, whether this was coincidental or not, Hector had a far more assured game than I had previously seen.

After a spell of Preston pressing in which McGregor had to save sharply, we scored, on the break, unexpectedly and rather sweetly too. A nice passing move down the left, a ball that encouraged Bowen to run on and delay his shot as the ball ran into his stride to perfection and he slid it home succulently. I’ve since read it took a deflection, but I confess I didn’t notice that at the time. 1-0. To us!

it didn’t last long. We held the lead for seven minutes, 17 minutes after we scored we were behind and there was a self-inflicted element to both goals. Firstly MacDonald did well to win a header that was running over the deadball line. Did it get a touch off their striker? It was hard to tell. I thought not, more importantly, so did the referee and he gave a corner. This was to the huge disquiet of Campbell who had shepherded the ball out in the left back position, waving actual left back Clark away from the ball. The corner came over, curled outwards and their left back – as tall as left backs tend to be, which is not very – somehow out jumped David Meyler, despite him being the height David Meyler tends to be and headed home. 1-1.

There’s more. Sadly. Encouraged, they came onto us, and we wobbled. Striker Bodin is direct and he unsettled us. But happily the ball ran beyond him. But who’s this, arriving late on the scene into the left back position? Why, once again, it’s Fraizer Campbell! Of course it is! Bodin waits. Campbell bumps into him. Bodin falls over, the referee gives it. That decision is officially designated ‘soft.’ Bodin shrugged as he stood up in a ‘just doing my job, mate’ way. These shouldn’t be given, but they often are. The thing to do is not to allow the ref to make decision. What Campbell was doing – and doing there – I can’t imagine. The penalty is buried by Browne past a clearly furious McGregor and that is 2-1 and half-time. Cuh.

Second go and they came out determined to finish us off. At this point they looked a good side. They are very fast upfront and they disconcert us. Aina is skinned by Robinson, MacDonald is dispossessed by Browne. McGregor does well twice. He does even better a few minutes later, again from the predatory Browne, getting down really quickly to a sharp strike.

We aren’t doing anything at this point. Preston look quick and strong at the back too and they are bloody hard when they want to be and a few times we get crunched and look discouraged. More discouraging is how lacking in threat we are. Our strikers roles are mystifying to me. Dicko works hard, but drifts to the left most of the time. Campbell, when he’s not running his left back masterclass, plays as an old-fashioned centre forward getting no service at all. He and Dicko are seldom within 30 yards of each other. I was closer to my second wife. I’ve no more idea what they are suppose to be doing together than I understood that unhappy union. But that is how we play them throughout the game. It eludes me as much as it clearly eluded them.

With 20 to go Adkins seems to realise it isn’t working – astute work from a man who reads the game as acutely as you’d expect a physiotherapist would. Anyway, he takes off Campbell and Meyler, both of whom had been dreadful throughout. It’s a shame to have to write that; Campbell is part of the legend and Meyler is the last of Hull’s fighting Irish. They’re authentic heroes, but they looked lost yesterday and part of the problem rather than the solution.

And, eventually, as Preston failed to kill us off and they resolved to hold the hard won ground, we crept back into it. Harry Wilson came on and showed some nice touches. Bowen threatened. as he was twice free in the area but was foiled by a ball that wouldn’t quite run and a brave defender’s block. In truth, we never looked like we believed we could do it and, duly, we didn’t.

The gloom post-match in the pub was considerable, the view that we would be relegated was widespread. It’s not inevitable. We’ve only garnered one point this week but were the better team against Leeds and were never over run by Preston and both of these sides have authentic top six hopes. There is enough in this squad to compete and the new players made competent starts. If Dawson is gone, good. He’s been past his best as long as he’s been here and for the last year both his legs and his positional sense have let him down far too often, The Tricky Trees are welcome to him.

But we look woefully lacking in confidence. And tactics, too. Getting some of both of those would probably be a good idea. Over to The Physio, then.

I had an eventful journey home. The 9.05pm train from Leeds to Hull was pullulating with East Yorkshire’s finest female teenagers who had been on the batter all day and were not for finishing soon. One group of six sat adopted me, explained that two of them were daughters of notable Bransholme ‘faces’ and offered me a half drunk bottle of Italian rosé which they encouraged me to neck in one. To their evident delight I duly obliged and then I sat back and watched contentedly as they put to the verbal sword various drunken men two and three times their age. At my age, you take your pleasure where you can.

Mark Gretton (via Tiger Chat)