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)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Leeds 0

AdkinsN2

The week preceding this evening’s Keystone Cops encounter with the pride of the M621 provided much mirth amongst the Tiger Nation as the result of their six month long consultation on a new crest design was triumphantly revealed to pretty much no acclaim at all. I have never seen Leeds fans doing that chest-fisty thing, they are usually too busy twirling their scarves, but anyway, why would you put it on your badge? Truly baffling, but genuinely very, very funny. I was also amused by the metadata tag under the crest, namely #MOT. I have a bit of a thing about hashtags – their whole point being to unite to a common cause, to identify an entity and preferably to be unique. In this respect #lufc, like #hcafc, are lucky. Their hashtag is, well, THEIR hashtag. Tap in #MOT and the search returns include, unsurprisingly, Exminster Garage, Car Repair Plan and Castle Point Motors. I guess it would give the West Yorkshire dwellers the opportunity to crayon in ‘Due <insert date here>’ every year but I’d suggest that one of those little stickers on the inside of your windscreen would be more helpful. Admittedly it’s not as much of a problem as the alternatives to our actual hashtag. I’m as much for declaring “Up the Tigers” as the next Black and Amberine, but all #UTT does is place us somewhere between Ipswich (Town), Huddersfield (Terriers) and Bolton (Trotters) and trust me, that is not a triangle of golden virtue you want to be ensconced in. Granted the Universities of either Trinidad and Tobago, or Technologie de Troyes hold a more enticing appeal, and some train types amongst you may put forward a persuasive case for the attributes of Uttoxeter railway station but we are Hull City AFC. #hcafc Unique.

The latest attempt by our increasingly strangulated club to pump some passion through the veins of its dwindling crowds saw a return of THE LIGHT SHOW [sic] and the bemusing addition of a couple of flame-spewing patio heaters next to the tunnel. A crack team of pyrotechnicians trotted across to the East Stand touchline with two pieces of astroturf enticingly loaded with a small battery of firecrackers and the odd underwhelming rocket. The Leeds fans rightly mocked; the City fans rightly reflected that the way to create fervour in a football stadium is to fill it with united (with a lower case ‘u’) fans by offering fair concessionary prices, treating them and Hull City AFC’s tradition and name with respect and maybe even demonstrating some ambition by buying a few playing reinforcements in the transfer window. Those ideals have irrefutably gone up in acrid smoke until we find a new Messiah, naughty or nice, so we might as well just get on with enjoying the football…

Promisingly the social media suggested plans made for Nigel following the Forest frolics were seemingly heeded as he dispatched the lads onto the pitch via some intense cone drills, with a whole two strikers and a right-sided Bowen thus:-

McGregor
Tomori    Dawson    Mazuch    Aina
Bowen    Henriksen    Larsson     Irvine
Campbell    Dicko

Promising.

Really promising. Until we kicked off and it soon became apparent that the fireworks may well have actually been the highlight of the evening.

Still, Fraizer Campbell’s second minute miss showed promise and his Huddersfield/Manchester United upbringing seems to have infused him with a creditable amount of anti-Leeds spirit and fight which he pretty much carried throughout his first full 90 minutes in a fair while. This application won him the official Man of the Match award; it was almost just like the good old days, though of course in the good old days his name would have been spelt correctly on the scoreboard.

The only other events of note in the first 20 minutes, apart from the stretchered departure of Leeds’ youthful number 35, are a relatively thundering tackle from Henriksen and a succession of appallingly incompetent throw-ins, handballs, clumsy fouls and adverts for hydroponic lettuce. No, me neither.

What is it with City and throw-ins? It appears to be a fairly simple skill, yet decades watching them have indicated to me that I must be missing something regarding the level of complexity required to execute it. As an unusually ebrious gent on row P sagely suggested – “it’s in our DNA.”

I note that our forward pairing is disappointingly less dual-pronged than initially perceived and Fraizer is dropping deep quite frequently. However, in the space of minutes 21 and 23, Torwart Wiedwald finds shots pinged at him from Bowen and Dicko and he does well to preserve the stalemate. City keep up the pressure with a corner taken by Bowen who seems to have contracted Dowellitis with his deliveries. By the second half I had dispensed with all notion of the need to place my hot drink safely under my seat at set pieces for fear of unbridled celebrations causing third degree burns from shite, overpriced coffee. In fact this was fast becoming a shite, overpriced game of football. The errors continued to overshadow the rare moments of skill or fluidity to the extent that I found myself applauding rather too enthusiastically when Dawson managed to win a ball from a sitting position and Henriksen trebled his header count for the season.

This was scrappy stuff but at least we were scrapping. Tormann Felix denied Irvine with his legs again; our Aussie looking sparky and determined enough throughout, minus the sorely needed attribute of not just removing the blue touch paper from the battered Family Circle tin but of actually igniting it. The heroically named Pontus Jansson is the first of the cast of this footballing tragedy of almost epic Greek proportions to see yellow during a foul and free kick strewn five minutes which yield no joy for either side. The gloom is momentarily lifted on 31’ as Tomori performs an elegant ‘lollipop’ but we are soon reminded of the inadequacy of the description of this encounter as a Category A match with a Dawson shanked clearance and another lettuce advert.

Both Tomori and Aina are industrious enough as full-backs advancing with the ball and our captain has obviously been advised that not every ball he kicks is obliged to take a looping diagonal flight path but it’s still scrappy, it’s still error-strewn and it is increasingly apparent that we are marginally the more enterprising of two very non-enterprising Championship teams. The fact that an international footballer of the undoubted, whilst fading, class and astuteness of Seb Larsson is sharing a pitch with some of these merchants of inelegance and inadequacy is as baffling as it is frankly rather pitiable. Campbell and Dicko show flashes of a partnership which seems unlikely to ever flourish properly, as the half is played out with Henriksen being booked and subsequently hobbling off. There are four minutes of injury time which we could honestly do without, although Larsson did at least manage to target Torhüter Wiedwald’s torso accurately but tamely. The half time coffee is still overpriced and shite and the outpriced youngsters who benefitted from their cheap and ultimately cheerful match-day Cup experience on Saturday are missing precisely nothing.

There’s a second half. From the offset the plan appears to be to avail our Flying Pole of the ball at every opportunity in his role as the hobbling Henriksen’s replacement. Initially City look vaguely inspired and lively with some good movement down the left, mainly at Larsson’s behest and Bowen becomes a bystander who continues to deliver Marneyesque corners. Leeds look genuinely bored by the whole affair and are restricted to lazy, long range free kicks primarily gained through feckless fop Alioski hurling his bleached blonde locks to the turf. Leeds’ crowd seem pretty non-plussed too; they can see their troops marching through treacle with a dangerous lack of unity and scarfs are invariably secured tightly around chilly necks rather than twizzled with any degree of optimism. A City corner on 51’ results in a Germanic fresh air punch and a clear opportunity for Dicko which was impossible to miss. Except inevitably he did miss because we haven’t scored a single League goal this year and we are not going to start now. Instead the roof of the net rippled and Leeds respond with another attempted effort failing to be on target, a pattern they were unable to break as the remaining minutes of the 96 unfolded without McGregor being troubled, at all. I mused, as I’m sure young Jarrod must be prone to doing, how sweet it would be to see Moses Odubajo back in the fray with his poise and accuracy but instead we are treated to Captain Hernández amusingly chesting the ball out of play for no apparent reason whatsoever. An incident only surpassed in its pitiful comedy value by Aina’s inexplicable trip over a ball he received in acres of space on 73’. O, how we laughed!

By this time Irvine had bent it less like Beckham and more like a post-Brexit banana with the goal at his mercy, albeit from well up the field as Felix temporarily took up a centre-half’s position. Mazuch receiving a yellow was pretty much his last action of the match whereas Hector’s first was to pick out referee Harrington with a neat pass. Keane made more of a positive impact from the bench on 71’ but by this juncture, the game was drifting as aimlessly as Leeds’ goal attempts. The numbers 1 and 7 and 2 and 3 and another 7 adorned the big screen temporarily as briefly did Jarrod Bowen as our elected Man of the Match, swiftly to be replaced by that man ‘Frazier’ – who knows, maybe they couldn’t spell Jarrod? We are treated to a whole five minutes extra of this spectacle during which there’s short-lived joy in the North East corner as the ball clearly does not bounce over McGregor’s goal line. City manage to muck up a couple more corners, Campbell picks up a very daft handball booking and we are released from our recurring torments into the chill January night.

Come May this year, Leeds’ chances of being back where they arrogantly believe they belong seem dismally slender. City’s chances of being back where the recent years’ hideous mismanagement deserve to condemn us to seem hideously plausible.

Kate Ogram (via Tiger Chat)

featCup

REPORT: City 2 Forest 1 (FA Cup R4)

Hull City's Jarrod Bowen celebrates his goal

Would Hull City be “up for the Cup”? With an apathetic fanbase and a squad lacking in ability and desire in recent weeks, it looked doubtful. The opposition being a Nottingham Forest side who turned over Arsenal in the last round and Wolves on their own patch last week backed by 4,000-odd fans in the North Stand added further doubt.

Nigel Adkins said the other day that he fancied a cup run. And then made eight changes from his last selection. That could have gone either way but he was rewarded by a committed performance from players who looked eager to impress in a well-balanced line-up.

Marshall
Aina – Hector – Mazuch – Clark
Stewart – Henriksen
Bowen – Irvine – Diomande
Dicko

Mazuch was the biggest difference maker. He’s a calm, no-nonsense defender who doesn’t take chances and doesn’t panic. Hector, who moved to the right side, looked much better alongside him. Aina was more comfortable on the right and Max Clark had an excellent game on the left. Going forward, Bowen also looked much happier on the right, Irvine’s effervescence has been missing and Diomande worked hard in front of Clark.

Forest weren’t as good as they showed on the telly in the last round or as they were at the KCOM in the league earlier this season. That might have changed had Carayol’s effort from distance not gone just wide after only 3 minutes. City worked their way into the game and Marshall was untested for the next 70 minutes or so. The ball was worked out of defence far better than recently with little drama. Aina was a good out ball and Stewart and particularly Henriksen offered a route into midfield while a big diagonal towards Diomande or Irvine presented a good alternative.

Henriksen had a low free kick pushed away by Smith and then Bowen just failed to get onto a Hector pass with the keeper out quickly. Smith and Worrall then got in a right mess from an Irvine flick on and Bowen instinctively shot first time towards the empty net but hit the post. Only a minute or two later, Dicko slid Bowen in on the right, he drove at Mancienne who deflected his shot onto the top of the post and it dropped over the line [1-0].

City were well on top with Stewart and Henriksen winning the midfield, Irvine irritating the life out of them and Dicko making intelligent runs wide to drag defenders around. We didn’t have much to show for it other than a tame Aina shot until five minutes before half time when Irvine looped a cross to the back post, Bowen won the header well and nodded it back for Dicko to beat Mancienne in the air and head it in, off the post again [2-0].

Other than ref Stuart Attwell being as inconsistent as ever, there hadn’t been much to worry City. Carayol did miss a good chance before the break though, running off Aina to head wide but not wide enough for it to become a tap-in for Brereton. In stoppage time, Diomande missed a golden opportunity of our own. Bowen slid him in, he turned down a shot with his left and when he cut inside, everything closed in on him and Mancienne kicked his effort away easily.

Forest were booed off by their 4,000 fans at half time. They’d clearly thought it was going to be a cakewalk and showed their anger at it being anything but. There was a lot of the Sheffield Wednesdays about them.

Despite a double change by Aitor Karanka, Forest remained second best. Dicko was foiled by a good save from Smith after a slick passing move as City dominated territory but consistently failed to pick the right pass or cross around the box and turned down numerous shooting opportunities. Dowell hit the outside of the post with a free kick from nowhere and there was a goalmouth scramble after Marshall got caught under a corner.  Speaking of corners, we saw one of the worst ever from Dowell who whipped a corner low and hard and it went out of play almost before it reached the penalty area. It was hilarious.

City introduced Keane for Dicko and then Grosicki for Diomande. Both got generous applause for an afternoon of hard graft. Within minutes, Grosicki had found Keane twice but both times Smith saved tame efforts. Marshall saved superbly from Cash’s backpost header before Grosicki and Bowen had chances to shoot and made things easy for Smith in their goal. Bowen’s was a great chance. We could have been five or six up easily at that point but ended up clinging on after Cash’s superb cross dissected our entire defence and sub Vellios volleyed in [2-1]. We did so without much drama, in truth.

The win was very much deserved and the performance a dramatic improvement on last week. Hector and Aina both looked different players in a defence marshalled superbly by Mazuch. That will give Adkins a huge selection dilemma against Leeds on Tuesday night. It’d be hard to justify any team that doesn’t have these four in it.

Midfield will also give the manager a headache. Stewart and Henriksen were mobile, worked well off each other and moved the ball well. Henriksen couldn’t tackle a crossword in the Beano but this was possibly the best I’ve seen from him and did a god job of being in the right place at the right time at both ends of the pitch. Stewart still lacks something. Everything good he does is followed by something not-so-good. He turned brilliantly on the edge of their box and then passed to them. He made a superb interception on the edge of ours and then trod on the ball. It just seems to happen to him. You’d think Larsson would come back in with him having been our outstanding player in the last six weeks but dropping anyone is harsh.

To complete the set, there are decisions up front too. Dicko scored and lead the line brilliantly. Diomande protected Clark far better than Grosicki ever has but Grosicki’s cameo showed he’s a far bigger threat than Dio. And we just look a better side with Irvine in it.

I can therefore comfortably predict Tuesday’s team will be: Someone – Someone – Someone – Someone – Someone – Someone – Someone – Someone – Someone – Bowen – Someone.

Beyond that, we’re still in the Cup and can eagerly await Monday’s draw (probably away to Wigan).

A good day.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Sunderland 1 City 0

AdkinsN3

The talk in the understandably sparsely-populated pre-match pub circulated around the worst City game you’ve ever seen. It was a typical Hull City fan default gloomy convo rather than one suggesting hope of a swashbuckling afternoon’s display ahead. One wise old Tiger Chatter proffered Doncaster Rovers away, April 1998, lost 0-1 against a team that conceded 113 that season on the way to 34 defeats. That match which saw a disconsolate Donny fan chain himself to a goalpost. We agreed that today’s match surely couldn’t come close to that defeat; Sunderland were supposedly also a shambles – maybe even bigger than us – and today look to be carding a team half full of kids. And just look at the experienced names on our 2pm announced teamsheet. But such was the calamity surrounding both clubs if both teams could lose it they would.

We lined up:-
McGregor

Tomori          Dawson  Hector          Aina

Meyler          Larsson
        Toral           Evandro

           Bowen          
         Campbell

So that’s Campbell in for Dicko and Evandro – making his first start for nine months – in for Irvine.

But. Still. Only. One. Up. Front.

Sunderland started with a team including four Academy graduates and only five league goals between them. You know what’s coming.

Unsurprisingly the Stadium of Light was sparsely populated at kick-off, in a situation mirroring our own.

However a very healthy 1,000 Tigers had made the trip further north, impressive given the both the league circumstances and wintry weather.

The scene was set early as the movement of Sunderland’s two kids up front (Asoro and Joel Maja having a combined eight league appearances between them) had Hector and Dawson all over the shop. Meanwhile at the other end 80 year old John O’Shea was blootering everything that entered his postcode into Row Z.

My notes record that the first 19 minutes was utter dross from The Tigers. In fact, as I was writing it Sunlan duly scored, 19:04 minutes, #TypicalCity.

Honeyman broke down the right to feed Sweden U21 international Asoro whose shot from 10 yards drilled into the bottom far corner past McGregor. If I can read my writing it says “Goal. Dawson, for f**k’s sake”.

Their kids understandably gained immense confidence from the lead. After all, like us, it’s not something they do that often. That first half an hour from City was probably the worst I’ve seen for a fair while, given the team’s experience and position we’re in. Sunderland are winning tackles, they’re winning all the second balls. The Wearsiders are up for this in exactly the way we’re not.

It’s been noted several times recently that Hull City have this curious tactic of hoofing the ball long and high up front towards a single forward, with inevitable failure if you’ve only Campbell or Dicko up there. It’s just not their game. City looked a far better team when working the ball on the deck – we have the quality of players that can do this – but it’s a measure of the lack of our confidence that we go long ball far too often.

As if to prove my point on the half hour Dawson pumps a long high free kick into the Sunderland area, whilst Hector stays back. It makes absolutely no sense to have free kicks into the opposing penalty areas without your two tall centre halves there. But this is Hull City 2018 – we’re a basket case club and nothing is making any sort of sense.

On 34 minutes and 50 seconds I write that Hector successfully passed to a player of his own side. It might have been his first of the game.

As a flock of seagulls circled menacingly above McGregor’s goal, we were all wishing for a leader figure. The sad sight of Dawson and Meyler’s careers petering out in front of us isn’t pretty. Ethan Robson dispossesses a dilly-dallying Meyler for the fourth time. Toral bottles a couple of challenges. Aina passes straight to an opponent when under no pressure. Larsson is putting in a decent shift against his old club – of course – but he was really the only one emerging from that first half with any sort of credit.

On the stroke of half-time a long boot forward from McGregor takes one bounce and as Campbell jumps for the ball with the keeper he appears to be slightly held back. It would have been a very generous penalty, but the first half was that bad it was the only positive note I could scribble.

Surely Adkins will give his team a mighty boot up the arse in the interval and we’d go 442 at the restart? But no. He obviously didn’t and he definitely doesn’t.

But the second half didn’t actually plumb the depths of the first, and at least City learned some lessons – keeping the ball down more to their strengths, but it was still well below acceptable for players of their experience and how good some of them think they are.

As we looked around the pitch this team of City players should be doing so much better than the sum of their parts. Aina, for instance, is an interesting case study. He has bags of ability when haring forward down the wing, but once he reaches the final third his sack immediate fills with brown stinky stuff.

Absolutely no end product from someone who fancies himself as a more attacking player. Toral – who I’ve previously called out – had another anonymous game, and should be kept a mile away from any relegation threatened team. No bottle for the fight.

The home side could have gone two-up when Honeyman easily shrugged off Larsson deep inside our box to get on the end of Bryan Oviedo’s pass, but his shot from a ridiculously tight angle rolled along the goal-line.

On the hour Campbell wins a free kick 25 yards out, and the players spend an anxious few seconds looking over to Adkins for advice. What? Why? Eventually Larsson slides it wide of the post. Five minutes later Dawson looks to be screaming something across to the bench from 40 yards away. We look a disorganised shambles. No leader out there.

But – lo – a chance! On 67 minutes a corner is cleared to Evandro whose fine strike from 25 yards is deflected for a corner. A fantastic hit which deserved more than another weak corner.

Irvine enters the pitch for the criminally ineffective Toral. This substitution sparks City a little as twice within three minutes our scampering Aussie races into the left side of the box before drilling into the arms of the keeper. But the pace of our play was certainly better. Meyler even thuds into a crunching – but fair – tackle which holds up play for several minutes whilst Sunderland limbs are counted.

A Sunlan kid’s pace and trickiness embarrasses Dawson on the edge of our area; a clear free kick and yellow card as he’s desperately brought down.

Fifteen minutes to go and City have at last realised the magnitude of potential defeat. Aina breaks clear down the left wing then…..well, you know the rest.

Will Keane then comes on for Campbell and the fans’ dream of two up front is once again dashed.

Dawson is again embarrassed by a debutant teenager, and clearly brings him down right in front of the City support. It’s a penalty all day long, and most likely a red card. But inexplicably the ref books the Black Catter for diving. We laugh! Dawson escapes the scene of the crime whilst berated by much angry homester finger-jabbing.

With five to go, Aina races clear down the left wing….

Four minutes added time are played which include a goalmouth scramble, Hector’s shot being blocked, and Torami pulling off a fantastic tackle when Sunderland break two-on-two.

Cattermole clatters Larsson, settling an old training ground score no doubt, and our Swede finishes the game with worrying limp with all three subs already used.

The final action sees a Meyler thunderbastard being blocked by keeper Ruiter.

It finishes 1-0 to the home side and “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” rains down from the high away end.
Given the magnitude of our situation it’s once again an abysmal performance, and one which nails us on for relegation. I have little sympathy for Adkins – he was obviously hovering around like a smell in the final weeks of Slutsky’s tenure so he knows what a basketcase club we are – and he fully knew what he was taking on.

In his hilariously bizarre post-match presser with Radio Humberside our manager picked out the positives from the day. Yes, you’ve guessed it, it was the best warm-up he’s seen in his time in East Yorkshire. I’d hate to see what happens if we have a bad one. And he repeatedly pointed out that Will Keane getting game time is like a new signing. When pushed about possible transfer targets and available budget he very obviously steered the conversation back to getting players like Keane back from injury. In other words, he has nothing to spend. Ehab Allam, you couldn’t give a toss about this club.

That Doncaster match all those years ago was memorable for the number of records surrounding Donny of the Ken Richardson era. Here’s a few from today:

·       Sunderland were ahead here for longer than in their last 25 home league matches put together
·       This is first time Sunderland have been ahead at half-time in a home league game in 14 months….in fact since the last time they played Hull City at home.
·       Sunderland have won once at home all season before yesterday
·       No wins in seven for City, scored in only one of them. One win in 15.
·       Hull City have had three “six pointers” already in 2018 and taken only one point

If the Chairman will not sanction spend in this current transfer window – and hearing that Adkins has no plan to turn this around – this team are going down in bottom place. Let Division 3 be your legacy to the city of Kingston-upon-Hull, Assem Allam. I hope you’re proud.

Andy Medcalf (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Reading 0

McShanePaul

January brings greyness. The sun is lost, forgotten behind a forbidding blanket of low damp cloud, the air chill, the rainspots intrusive. The fields and hedgerows want for colour, grey and brown, listless and sullen. The land is dead.

January deserved this match. This match deserved January.

It was probably the dullest game played at the Circle in the fifteen years since it opened.

It was possibly the dullest game played in Hull since our club emerged into the light over 110 years ago.

It would need to be ranked high on any Sunday supplement’s list of Dullest Events ever to take place in human history.

If you spent your afternoon not at the Circle but instead in a sealed room with only looped old episodes of Crossroads to watch on television and a stock of reading matter confined to back issues of The Dalesman, then you had a pretty similarly tedious afternoon to those of us who suffered, mostly in silence, through this completely dismal game of football.

So, your executive summary to this match report is – you must surely have something better to do than read about this tosh.

OK?

Well, if not, and if perhaps you derive enjoyment from leafing through the faux apolitical smug nostalgia and casual Tory shire bigotry of The Dalesman, then on we go, and I shall serve you up a few words of explanation and comment. But don’t blame me if it turns out that tips about dry stone walling would have been more entertaining.

We line up:

McGregor
Tomori Dawson Hector Aina
Meyler
Toral Larsson Irvine Bowen
Dicko

A 4-1-4-1, roughly, and if, at three o’clock in a half empty stadium, you had predicted “Well! This leaves us with good protection provided by David Meyler for the back four, but little scope for a platform on which to build attacking creativity, so I expect Dicko will run around willingly but rarely touch the ball, and no way Jose are we going to score a goal in this game even if we played until midnight”, then you would have pretty much nailed it.

On 13 Toral plays a good ball to Bowen, who slips it back inside to Toral, who makes a complete mess of the chance. A lazy football scribbler would observe that this illuminates Jon Toral in an instant, a flash of promise and then disappointment. I content myself by observing that this illuminates Jon Toral in an instant, a flash of promise and then disappointment.

On 18 Aina plays a decent ball in from the right, Dicko puts the opportunity over the crossbar. But most of the time nothing is happening. Largely formless? Worse than that. Formless, full stop. No one would watch football if it was normally like this.

Reading are struck by two injuries mid way through the first half. Damage to Swift allows the entry of Sone Aluko, who is well received, and rightly so, and who goes on to produce a touching reminder of much of his time as a City player – good attitude, nice touch, rarely looks likely to upset a hulking and well-organised defence. A few minutes later Paul McShane – the wonderful Paul McShane, the mighty Paul McShane – goes down in pain and cannot continue. From what we know of McShane’s granite durability, it must be two broken legs and a rinse of dysentery, because pain is not a word that the man even recognises, but he limps sadly and slowly off the pitch, to tumultuous applause. Football needs men like Paul McShane, even if it often doesn’t deserve men like Paul McShane.

We score on 40, and exult briefly, but the goal is chalked off. It’s a slick move, Dicko feeding Bowen who advances into the box and shoots low across another welcome visitor, Vito Mannone. He spills the ball and Toral nips in to lash it into the back of the net. Referee Darren England immediately points towards the centre circle, but after being surrounded by Reading players and fiddling with his earpiece, he changes his mind and gives a foul instead. Presumably the conclusion was that Mannone had sufficient purchase on the ball when Toral kicked though it. I think Reading got lucky on that call.

Three added minutes. They add nothing to the entertainment.

The second half opens, and shapes up as even worse than the first. Nothing is happening. Formless joyless football. Thoughts wander. I have spent all this season so far hoping patiently that one of our opponents would sign Yank centre back Jonathan Spector to play against us, so I could channel my inner Mark E Smith and describe Spector Vs Hector. But reluctantly I now concede it is not going to happen. Drudge nation.

On 58 Dicko does well down the middle and transfers the ball out to the right, from where Toral floats in an enticing cross which just eludes Dicko but runs through to Bowen unmarked at the back post. He has time for a touch but this allows Mannone to charge off his line and effect a decisive block. There’s room for arguing Bowen was a bit dithery here, there’s room too to praise Mannone’s speed of thought and of action. The game plods on. We have slightly more of the play, but never dominate. On 62, a free header at the back post from a corner for Liam Moore, McGregor manages to save it with his toe.

Campbell replaces Dicko, so it’s still just one man upfront, a sure sign that we are not going to take risks in search of victory. And then Irvine, who’s been hobbling for a while, comes off in favour of Evandro.

On 66 Aina drives powerfully down the left, but crosses straight to the goalkeeper. Aina played well enough yesterday, and in fact was anointed Man of the Match (an award would more fittingly have been made to no-one). He is the only one of the three Chelsea lads who seems to have improved as the season has progressed.

Meyler off now, and one comes Markus ‘Hammer of Thor’ Henriksen. Larsson slips back into the holding midfield role previously occupied by Meyler.

On 71 Bowen wins a free kick on the edge of the box, but Larsson strikes it wide. On 78 Bowen crosses, Toral heads, Mannone saves, linesman offsides. Poverty of football. This is desperately pale stuff. The clock ticks down with the minimum of interruption from on-field activity. On 89 one of theirs tries a shot which is deflected past the post and then, after three more added minutes, it finishes and we can go home.

We are in trouble. I am not telling you anything you don’t know. We have won one out of our last 14 League games, of course we are in trouble. The squad is thin. The defence, though clearly better organised since the arrival of Mr Adkins, is still far from commanding. The midfield has its moments, but is ultimately too lightweight. We are horribly short upfront. Add in too an atmosphere of sullen resignation among the fans who are even troubling to turn up, and apathy is expanding. The return of players from injury should help with some of these problems, with Hernàndez surely the most important figure as a genuine goalscorer, and maybe the manager will be granted some cash in the transfer window, though it might need the sale of Grosicki to ensure that. What we really lack are leaders. There’s an international break in late March and when we return from that, with a home game against Aston Villa on Good Friday, there are just eight games left to play, some of them against seriously strong opponents. Do you see Kevin Stewart, Markus ‘Vengeance of Wodin’ Henriksen, Seb Larsson and a bunch of kids getting down and getting dirty and saving City in those circumstances? I know I don’t. If we enter that final run-in with the table looking as it does now, and the Hull City squad looking more-or-less as it does now, then it’ll take more than a feature on “Emmerdale star Frazer Hines takes us on a tour of his favourite Dales village greens” to save us.

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

featCup

REPORT: Blackburn 0 City 1

facupclose

Apparently the gate yesterday was 6,777. The presence of a feisty 858 City fans notwithstanding, the expansive tracts of empty blue seating at Ewood Park suggest that the doctrine of Allamonomics is alive and kicking not just in Hull. But whatever the accuracy of the crowd reporting, the paucity of spectators does make you think back to how things would have been in previous years, when the phrase “the magic of the FA Cup” struck a genuine chord in the hearts of all proper football supporters. In 1966, my first year of Tigerwatching, a City 3rd Round Cup tie at Ewood would probably have attracted a crowd north of 25,000, with very probably 3,000 or so Tigerfolk having crossed the Pennines in a fleet of charabancs and a couple of special trains. Even until the early 90s this would have been a big game, a special occasion. Third round day (although it’s actually four days now) was one of the most exciting and eagerly- anticipated days in the football calendar, and for those of us who remember that excitement and anticipation it is genuinely saddening to see the knock-out format subordinated the way it has been to the league format by managers, supporters and football powers-that-be.

This could all be reversed at a stroke by the FA ruling that one of the Champions’ League places should go to the FA Cup winners (or better still informing UEFA that henceforth only two candidates will be entered for that competition, namely the winners of the Premier League and the FA Cup, as the only clubs that could properly be regarded as “champions”), but we have to be realistic enough to accept that that would never be accepted by the rapacious and influential owners of the clubs at risk of missing out on the European place to which they believe themselves entitled at the hands of some less well-resourced outfit.

To be honest, however, only those watching the game through the most amber-and-black tinted of glasses would venture that the football was worthy of a packed-out Ewood Park or indeed provided the kind of heart-stopping drama or absorbing contest that makes old farts such as myself such staunch supporters of the FA Cup. Au contraire, whilst it cannot be denied that the last twenty-odd minutes were something of a nail-biter, the football as a whole was what the great Doug Baillie (who incidentally hails from the same Scottish village as the even greater Jock Davidson) would have described in the Sunday Post as a “gey dreich affair”.

But does anyone care about that? Hell, it was a win. Away. In the Cup. With a clean sheet duly kept. In a game which, although against a team from the division below, we were probably (forgot to check the odds) not favourites to win, hence a bullet dodged, potential banana skin safely side-stepped. Which will do no harm for confidence or morale if nothing for our League plight. And in which there were the first tentative signs that the debilitating injury crisis which has dogged us all season might just be starting to ease.

So, all in all, a decidedly satisfactory afternoon from where I’m sitting. And one for which, my travelling companion and I agreed as we emerged from the stand into the bitterly cold Blackburn night air at the end, we would gladly have snatched off the hand of the offeror two hours previously.

Credit to Adkins for fielding a relatively strong side. If we are to build the cohesion, spirit and (dare I say it) fitness to see us safely through what promises to be a very challenging second half or so of the League season, this lot need to be playing together as much as they reasonably can. The temptation to field an inexperienced side must have been significant but the manager made the right choice whereas the under-fire Mr Bruce, to pick a name not at random, did not yesterday (who’d have thunk it, eh?) and came very badly unstuck.

So we lined up as follows:-

                                  Marshall

Aina                 Hector                Tomori            Clark

Toral       Stewart      Evandro       Henriksen        Bowen

                                   Diomande

In the first half City defended the end populated by the raucous Tigerfolk, producing the only noise emanating from the stands. The game started in familiarly formless fashion, the monotony of it broken after 11 minutes when a ball from their left is deflected across the City box and the number 16, Caddis, decides to thwack the leather first time from the corner of penalty area. Marshall is nowhere near it and we’re all mightily relieved to see it thud off the crossbar. A let off for sure, but it does seem to jolt City into action somewhat and we start to thread together some decent passages of play and even to cause the home defence a few headaches, with Dio having an effort blocked on 26 and Bowen (who still seems to be getting himself back up to speed) shooting wide a minute later. Then on the half hour mark Stewart ought to do better when finding himself in space following a free kick but fails to connect properly.

Not much more to report on the rest of the first half, the highlight being a lusty chorus of “Your support is worse than ours” from the City fans until we win a free two minutes before the break and this is headed across the face of the goal (not sure by whom) with nobody in amber and black able to supply the finishing touch. About this time, Corry Evans, who seems to have taken a knock, is subbed and receives a generous ovation from the City support.

And that’s about as much as can safely be said about the first period. A bit like the famous Sunderland game in 1974 (the John Hawley goal one), when YTV showed no first-half highlights at all apart from a clip of potential penalty shout when Chris Galvin was felled.

At half time there’s a bit of discussion about how the predictable rituals of the transfer window are there again, in the guise of a statement in the HDM during the week about City hoping to get their business done early followed by rumours of City having entered into a NDA with a potential suitor. We get this every transfer window. Do the people who write this, and more particularly those who put this stuff out on behalf of the Allams, really believe that City supporters are that gullible and stupid? Or maybe some of them are: the number of people on Twitter solemnly pronouncing of late that “it’s now time for the Allams to be thinking about selling” as if they’ve had some kind of miraculous Eureka moment just makes you want to bury your head in your hands, doesn’t it?

Anyway, the abiding impression from the first half, that City appear to have more quality but compromised by a big question mark over whether they can do anything with it, seems very much to be applicable to the second period too, as our heroes advance towards the City support in gentle waves reminiscent of a benign incoming sea tide lapping the shore on a calm day. After almost ten minutes of this, however, we finally cause some genuine panic in the Blackburn box, although the threat is eventually nullified more by an inability on our part to weight the final pass correctly or summon the confidence to have a dig than by the Rovers defence actually appearing to have got some sort of grip on the situation.

But when someone finally decides to direct the leather in the direction of the net, guess what? On 57 Toral whips in a corner from the right and Aina, who seemed to have been floored during the pushing and shoving that preceded the corner, rises to nod the beautifully-weighted leather just inside the diving Leutwiler’s right-hand post. A goal so clinically executed that you could be fooled into thinking that we did this sort of thing all the time.

We continue to press, and two minute after the goal Bowen rises at the far post to head another Toral corner. Leutwiler clearly gets a hand to it before it strikes the side netting but referee Langford awards a goal kick.

But from that point onwards the whole complexion of the game changes, as starkly as if someone has flicked a switch. Whether it’s down to panic, complacency or the increasingly-palpable lack of fitness goodness knows, but, relative to what has gone before, we go rather to pieces. This first manifests itself most worryingly on 63 minutes when some appalling sloppy defending allows Conway acres of space only for him to fire straight at Marshall. A let-off. Six minutes later and an equally poor defensive effort sees Danny Graham given far too much space, but he spoons wastefully over.

But hang on. The opposition hitting the bar. Danny Graham missing for them when it looked easier to score. Didn’t both those things happen in the Southend Cup-tie in 2014? If you believe in omens and can remember how we fared in the Cup that year, best get your money on us (and your hotel booked) pronto.

We get a bit of respite on 78, when Bowen flashes one just wide, but it’s a rare breather: we’re really under the cosh now, not helped by some cynical stuff from the home side which seems perpetually to fool the referee, although personally I have always been suspicious of referees in games against outfits below us in the pecking order ever since the infamous Hednesford game.

83. They get a corner. Two of our defenders get in each other’s way trying to clear it. They must score, but Mulgrew (I think)  fires over the bar.

With five minutes left we attack again and a neat move is finished off by Toral blasting home powerfully from about 18 yards. The linesman’s flag is however raised for offside, although that’s probably just as well to be honest, given our recent track record at hanging onto two-goal leads.

Mercifully, we are then spared any more goalmouth scares in the 90 minutes, and then receive an unexpected stroke of luck when a mere three minutes’ stoppage time are added, despite six substitutions and a goal in the second half.  There’s still time though for one final piece of foolery which would have been quite amusing had the potential consequences not been so serious, when a free kick is floated into the City box. The leather bounces and its course is only halted when it makes gentle contact with Marshall’s nads, with the City netminder so apparently mesmerised by the approaching sphere as to render him incapable of actually remembering to put his hands round it.

Soon afterwards the ref brings an end to the proceedings and we are in the hat for the next round.  Which made it an enjoyable journey home, even if most of it for me was spent in the company of two very drunk and loud Chesterfield fans who had been to see their team lose 4-0 at Accrington. For are there really many finer things in life than spending the weekend speculating about who you’re going to get in the next round?

Millwall at home it is, then.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 2 Fulham 2

BowenJ
“Urgent – order some updated headed notepaper. Stuff trifling matters like festive bin collections or pothole repairs. The stationery is out of date! And while we’re at it, those auto-responses on email need updating too. Three letters need adding. An important three letters!

“And once you’ve done it, you ought to write on my behalf to that nice Allam chap, the one at the top of the family. No, I don’t know why, I’m sure you can think of a reason. Tell him his chauffeur has driven in a bus lane or something. Put in those lines about a gold Rolls Royce from Sex Dwarf by Soft Cell. That’d be funny. Marc got three letters too, you see. We’re going to be big mates now. While we’re at it, does one know whether these three extra letters need adding to my handwritten signature?”

Some of the stream of consciousness lines the great cynic of Hull can imagine is going through the mind of the leader of Hull City Council right now. He might not be a man who feels any schadenfreude. If he is not a bitter person, he’s the better person. Even if he is a bitter person, well, he’s still the better person. Because he got the OBE and Assem Allam, after all his hard work sucking up to the establishment while swatting aside the unwashed, did not.

The honours system is at best outdated and at worst irrelevant. You only have to look at the photos of the council leader that accompanied news of his decoration to see that; surrounded by good people in the turquoise uniform of the 2017 volunteer, none of whom (presumably) came close to any kind of recognition, though the gratitude towards the volunteers of those at the top of the magnificent City of Culture experience seemed genuine and heartfelt as they too accepted their array of gongs. And it has been a phenomenal year, and therefore a phenomenal success for those tasked with running it, prolonging it and maintaining interest in it and publicity for it. To that end, it has been a phenomenal year for Hull, and not a phenomenal year for the Allams.

Can you imagine what the reaction was like at Allam HQ when the news of the council’s monopoly of the honours list was revealed? It doesn’t bear thinking about (but it’s still quite amusing to do so). Heaven knows there are lots of people with a love for Hull City Council not particularly greater than that held for the Allams, but it’s hard to imagine too many falling on the Allam side of the argument that he started, pursued and continues to have in his own head all the time.

On her recent stopover, Assem Allam remembered to call the Queen by her correct title, bowed, explained his position and benevolence clearly, tried to remember that humility was an attractive quality in a person, didn’t do the Maxwellian thing of putting his arm around her, and likely mentioned how much he loved corgis and thought Philip was a marvellous chap, a jolly old cove, a dab hand with a rifle, all that. And all good. But when he met her recently, the famous Spitting Image sketch of the Queen meeting a line of celebs after some gala performance came to mind, with Donald Sinden reappearing every three or four guests, sidling along the line to remind the sovereign over and over again that he really, really, deserved a knighthood.

You have to remember, always, that nobody tells the head of state how to run her honours system. You are irrelevant.

Anyway, having three letters added to your name only makes it longer. Plus, we have a resourceful peoples supporting our club. The letters MBE, OBE or CBE can easily be re-interpreted.

So, HCC 1, Allams 0. Actually, make that 2-0, as they still own the stadium. Bravo.

And 2-0 was a scoreline we would have loved against Fulham. At half time, we had it. At full time, we didn’t. New year imminent, old issues prevalent.

With auld acquaintance duly forgot, because he was out through injury and replaced by Jarrod Bowen…

McGregor
Tomori Dawson Hector Aina
Stewart Larsson
Bowen Toral Irvine
Dicko

And Evandro was on the bench! He really is still, like, a thing. It’s notable that while we’ve had semi-regular updates on Odubajo, Hernández and even Keane since they picked up their long-term injuries, Evandro’s recovery has been in pretty much entire silence. He’ll almost certainly play in the FA Cup next week.

Fulham contained the chewed string, pattern-shaved presence of Tom Cairney in midfield. Steve Bruce wouldn’t build a team around him, whereas Fulham have done so impressively. Neither were wrong in their actions.

City started the game superbly, dominantly even. It was remarkable that Fulham, who had won five in seven, seemed wide open at the back, with the likes of Bowen and Toral given plenty of room on the ball and try to get the tireless, excellent Dicko through on goal. Yet up front Fulham didn’t have an awful lot chasing down the clearances either. They seemed to have ten outfield players purely on a wandering brief, and City took full advantage.

Under Nigel Adkins, the Tigers seem to be more organised at the back but this game showed that, finally, a blueprint for the way the team should attack had been set down. We didn’t have one of those under his predecessor. And, given that this is a team lacking Grosicki, Hernández and Campbell, although the latter was fit enough to go on the bench here, it’s an achievement to get any cogent attacking play from the bare bones left over.

But creativity is all very well. Finishing matters too. You can’t win a Test match without taking 20 wickets and you can’t win a darts match without hitting a double, no matter what your averages show. And City can’t win football matches because they can’t score goals.

Or so we thought.

The preface to a long-awaited opener had been inspiring. A counter attack that started with Aina and involved Larsson and Toral ended up with Tomori, of all people, haring through on goal. He chipped the onrushing keeper, struck the bar, held his head in disbelief, took a few encouraging words from team-mates, gave a thumbs-up to his manager. Only then did the linesman flag for offside.

But it was a cracking move, edge of seat stuff. Emotions ran high among sections of the crowd, it was good to feel the wintry crackle and the territorial needle of a proper sporting occasion again. Fulham were unhappy and started breaking up City’s play unlawfully, with both Bowen and Dicko winning free kicks in positions that could have been more dangerous than eventually proved.

Then the breakthrough. And it was a goal borne out of perseverance, twice over.

Toral showed the first bout of it by closing down Sessegnon near the byline as a City attack momentarily broke down, forcing an unlikely and, from the visitors’ viewpoint, soft corner. The in-form Spaniard took it himself and, again, City persevered when Fulham only partially cleared. Tomori made one giant leap to return the ball to the six yard box, from which Irvine aimed a second header across goal for Bowen to lash in the volley.

This may be insignificant, but as Bowen celebrated near the north west corner flag, every outfield player joined him. Collectiveness is going to be a big contributor to City’s progress under the new head coach, and his non-negotiable stance on team spirit seems to have been passed on to the players.

And individual players are starting to look the part. Toral is one, Dicko another. In the absence of actual victories, the biggest source of cheer during a long period where the cupboard has been bare has been the visible improvement of players as they settle properly into their surroundings. These two were very good against Derby and tremendous in this one, embodied by their combination for the second goal just four minutes on from the first.

Toral turned almost full circle in the centre of the pitch to get the ball doing what he wanted, and the through pass between two half-paced defenders was perfect for Dicko, who wasted little time in seizing up the opportunity and blasting it into the net as the keeper came out.

Fulham, absent in defence, absent in attack. Their manager courageously made changes and shoved on two forwards including the heftily-built, pink-booted Kamara. The travelling support sing his name, imaginatively, to the tune of September by Earth, Wind and Fire. Unfortunately, they would have cause to do so frequently in the second half.

City could have had three before the break, with Hector reaching the ball on a stretched volley after Bowen’s set-piece went over everybody else, but it was off target.

And so to half time, 2-0 up. Wow.

This guff that 2-0 is a “dangerous” scoreline. It was overheard a few times during the interval. Who is it more dangerous for? The ones with nil, obviously. They’re the ones losing, they’re the ones who need to take risks and up their game. The ones with two, they’re winning, they’re comfortable, confident, buoyant.

It really isn’t a dangerous scoreline. It’s an absurd thing to say.

Unless you are Hull City. We have our share of exceptions that prove the rule.

Fulham clearly wanted more from the game when it resumed, though in truth their first half display was so vapid they couldn’t have showed they wanted less from the game short of lying on their backs on the pitch for the whole second half, or refusing to come out of the changing room altogether because it was too cold. But it was up to City to control and contain their opponents’ inevitable daisy-fresh approach.

Be sensible, careful, professional. Don’t do anything daft.

Ah.

The foul by Hector on Kamara just inside the corner of the penalty area could be the most ill-advised challenge in the history of the game.

We’re not talking Battiston and Schumacher here. Malice and violence were not present when Hector decided, in his infinite wisdom, that Kamara needed to be stopped despite being in a comparably safe part of the pitch, going backwards, not having the ball under full control and not having an obvious target to pass it to.

So no malice, no violence. Just rank stupidity.

One leg, one Kamara-shaped crevice in the pitch, one blast of a whistle.

The decision taken by the referee was correct, in sharp contrast to the decision taken by Hector. What do they teach them about defending in these Premier League academies?

Kamara’s pink boot aimed the ball high to McGregor’s left. The keeper guessed correctly but to no avail.

“Do you remember; the 30th night of December…”

They didn’t really sing that, but it would have been innovative if they had.

So, deficit halved early in the second period and the game was on. It was markedly a different Fulham, more so now their fairly mild commitment to playing football had been rewarded so meekly. They knew we had a soft centre, that we could still panic and concede, that under the previous regime we’d already let one two-goal lead turn into defeat at home.

Tom Cairney knew. His effect on the remainder of the game was key.

Does anyone think Cairney was given a raw deal by Steve Bruce? It’s a discussion worth having, though ultimately it’s hard to argue, and probably unwise to try, when you note that Cairney didn’t start a league game all season in 2012/13 as City won promotion to the Premier League in Bruce’s first year in charge. With new players and a new coaching regime, it would have been easy for Cairney to wipe away the damage his reputation took in his earliest days as a senior player thanks to his mother’s self-serving valuation of him and Jimmy Bullard’s poisonous influence. But maybe that stuck, a bit. When City got promoted under Bruce, the other central midfielders included Robert Koren, Corry Evans, Stephen Quinn and David Meyler. All different to Cairney, not all better footballers, but all reliable and, the brainfreeze in April and May aside, consistent. When the players gather around the camera to await that late result at Watford which would confirm promotion, Cairney was the only one in a suit. Ultimately, his skills weren’t backed up enough, it seems, by either a good enough attitude or a strong enough presence and maybe his failure to build on his nascent teenage promise was overplayed by the fact that he came through the City system, meaning the hope for him to do well was greater and the disappointment when he didn’t do well was greater still. Now 26, he’s approaching the peak of his powers and his touch remains absolutely delightful. He’d have thoroughly enjoyed dictating the pace of the game and being the mainspring of the plot to earn Fulham at least a share of the spoils. Few outside of the north east corner of the Circle would have enjoyed witnessing him do so.

Every ball went to Cairney whenever Fulham had possession, which was quite a lot of the time. Intricate triangles, pass and move, it would have been enthralling for neutrals but, with a hellish acknowledgement of the inevitable, it was awful to watch as a City fan. That it was specifically Cairney orchestrating the revival became less relevant as time went on; that it was happening at all was enough.

When City did get the ball, it didn’t stick very often. The odd chance was created; Dicko couldn’t react to a wicked Toral corner when everyone else missed it, and the ball rebounded the wrong way off his thigh, then Aina cut in from the left and hit one through a vision-blurring array of white shirts but it was too close to the keeper, who trapped it with a combination of knees and gloves. But the atmosphere was different, even though City were still winning. Everyone knew. Probably even the players.

Adkins shuffled the pack, the tired Stewart made way for Henriksen, who always looks tired even when he’s just come on. Fulham now had even more room for Cairney to probe from, and one pass found Kabano whose shot was well tipped over by McGregor.

Getting closer.

Then the chance came to seal it. Toral switched play with a superb back heel that allowed Dicko to twist and turn in the box and hit a deflected shot that fell perfectly for Bowen. He only had the keeper to beat from six yards, but smacked the ball straight at him. That was it, the moment the game seemed to go.

Campbell came on for Toral, which briefly suggested Dicko would get a strike partner, but eventually Adkins wobbled and sent on Clark to play in midfield while withdrawing the terrific Dicko. True, there is a game to consider in 48 hours, but withdrawing City’s two best players on the day with the game still in the balance felt like something of a come-on to Fulham.

There were five minutes remaining when Fulham, after incessant possession of the football, finally got what was always coming. Time and again, City’s efforts to clear were feeble, and eventually a patient passing sequence left City with stars circling their heads. Hector’s bad clearance found Cairney on the edge of the box, and three passes later Kamara was unforgivably allowed to stand on the ball to control it before guiding it effortlessly past McGregor from eight yards.

Five minutes were added and though City forced a late corner, it was obvious that no last-ditch heroics were on the cards here. Fulham, perhaps surprisingly, didn’t go all out for the winner, even though they would have been given every chance to get it. A point within a good sequence of results, especially from two goals down, represented an excellent afternoon’s work and put the tin lid on an excellent December. Like last season, they seem set for a second half to the campaign that will take them to a sniff of promotion back to the Premier League.

You can’t say that about City.

There is a current obsession about calendar years. Our 2017 makes grim reading. Of 44 league games, we won 11 and lost 21. Any obsessing about this calendar year, needs to be exclusively on the basis that we cannot afford to let it happen again.

If Bolton, a team bereft of ideas and footballing aptitude for much of this season, win on New Years Day, they will go above City in the table. All of the bottom three before play started were winning while City were chucking their lead away. It seems that sometimes, when you are accused of too much negativity, it’s because there is too much to be negative about.

Still, all three of the next league games are winnable, by dint of the Championship’s madcap unpredictability, City’s structural improvements under Adkins and, more through hope than expectation, the prospect of reinforcements to the squad through healed injuries and the January window. There has always been an underlying belief that as bad as City are, there are three in the Championship that are worse. January is the time to make sure of that and our gregarious head coach knows it.

Meanwhile, happy new year. That includes to you, Assem. And if you really are so desperate to have a little badge pinned to your lapel, there are one or two knocking about that City fans are wearing. You’re welcome to one of those. And to do as it asks.

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Cardiff 1 City 0

McGregorA

Sigourney Weaver gasps in horror, and retreats further, pressing her back hard against the wall of the ship.

The creature moves forward, remorseless. Acid drips from its gaping maw, its menacing cylindrical head rears up and sizes up its prey, a double set of slimy fangs prepares to feast.

Alien.

But what’s this? The beast halts its advance. A look of alarm crosses its obsidian features. It groans. Its chest lurches, its flesh ripples … suddenly, with immense percussive force, its very body splits asunder, and out from the ghastly depths of its upper body emerges a man with a stupid lop-sided grin and ill-fitting false teeth, a bulbous nose and all of it topped off with the most absurdly unconvincing wig you’ve ever seen in your life.

Neil Warnock: Genesis.

The franchise now stretches to 17 outings, from ‘Scarborough: Warnock Rises’ through ‘Sheffield United: Evil Comes Home’ and ‘Palace: Premier League? you’re ‘aving a laff’, past ‘Leeds United: Dystopian Horror’, ‘QPR: My Last Job in Football’, ‘Palace: My Last Job in Football II’ and ‘Rotherham: My Last Job in Football III’, and here we are now in South Wales watching the early rushes of ‘Cardiff: can’t we ever get rid of this moron?’.

Warnock. Functional football, a man whose grim resistance to flair makes Sam Allardyce look like Beau Brummel. Strategic touchline tantrums, unleashed only when his team’s losing. Paddy Kenny. Joyless murderously dull teams. Clint Hill. Drool-mouthed sneering pundit. Warnock.

He also has a formidably good record in beating Hull City teams, and so it was again yesterday. This was a rotten game, for which the word ‘forgettable’ was minted, but Cardiff nicked it, and, as any admirer of the life and times of Neil Warnock would appreciate, they nicked it with a goal that should never have stood had the officials been doing their job properly. The black arts, the deployment of evil, the subversion of goodness, truth and beauty. Warnock. Yet again, Warnock.

A minute’s impeccably observed silence marks respect for Keith Chegwin. It’s tea-time in a sparsely filled and somnolent Cardiff City stadium, cold and getting colder as the last hints of the winter sun are extinguished in the west, and we line up just so:

McGregor
Tomori  Dawson  Mazuch  Aina
Hector
Toral    Irvine      Larsson     Grosicki
Dicko

Hector patrolling the area directly in front of the back four makes sturdy sense. Asking Dicko to run about hopefully on his own up front also makes sense, not least to ensure our Malian internationalist gets to keep warm. Grosicki, granted a roaming brief, is asked to do whatever it is he fancies doing today, which turns out to be precious little. But the overall impression is that this team is set up to defend and to grind out a point. Fair enough probably, given Cardiff’s elevated status in the League table, but it doesn’t hold out promise of much entertainment over the next ninety minutes.

So it proves.

15 minutes in, and we are all wondering what we’re doing here. It’s horrible. Nothing happens. Nothing. Anyone watching this on television who isn’t a committed supporter of either team will be long gone. In truth, anyone who supports either Cardiff City or Hull City would be forgiven for scanning the listings in search of a re-run of the Vicar of Dibley or maybe an old Doctor Who (the one where Tom Baker sends the Cybermen fleeing in terror by telling them he’s got Neil Warnock to come and coach their five-a-side team).

On 17 Grosicki serves up the first shot of the match, and it sails twenty yards over the crossbar. Dreadful stuff.

But it starts to improve. Dicko cuts in and drives a low shot, but it’s easily saved by home goalkeeper Etheridge. On 23 there’s a stramash in their box consequent on a free kick, and Hector, in space, screws a shot wide. He had more time than he knew. Dicko then fires across the face of the goal and the effort grazes the post. That’s been a mildly encouraging spell of admittedly unsystematic pressure.

Doesn’t last. Cardiff have shown nothing at all going forward so far, but it’s their turn to push on now. On 29 McGregor saves well. Our goalkeeper has been quietly excellent this season, and now looks as good as he used to before that gruesome kidney injury sustained at West Ham over three years ago which has so inhibited him mentally, if not physically. A few minutes later Cardiff poke the ball past McGregor, but the ‘scorer’ is trivially offside. More dangerous, on 39, Lee Tomlin is left in far too much vacant space near the penalty spot, but he helpfully blats his shot over the top. And then, as the minutes tick down
towards the break, McGregor offers up another good stop, this time with his knees.

Just the one added minute, just the zero moments of note during it, and the half comes to an end.

It’s scoreless, it’s drab, it’s charmless, it’s football to put a satisfied grin on the face of Neil Warnock.

If the first half was poor, the second half is plain dreadful. It’s hard (and thankless) to try to remember the last time a game was so sterile. Both teams cancel each other out. Had we extracted a point for our pains, we’d be just about satisfied. But we don’t, and it’s frustrating, as well as a long slog home afterwards for the travelling support of 300 or so.

On 47 one of theirs heads wide at the back post. He should have done better, but our inattentive defending is a source of concern. Then, on 57, the game is settled. Ball played in from the left, flicked on and Sol Bamba, arriving towards the back post, thunders a meaty header past the exposed McGregor. 1-0, and it immediately feels terminal.

The goal is scored up the far end from us, and it’s impossible to form any judgement on its validity. But texts and tweets quickly ping the dismal truth – Bamba was offside. Warnock grins, Warnock leers, Warnock sneers. Larceny and crookery, just the way he likes it.

Bah. We are heads down dismal now. Game’s gone, spirit’s weak, leaders are invisible. The bench, largely warmed by youngsters, offers little promise, but Mr Adkins makes the changes he can, more in desperate hope than expectation. Toral, anonymous throughout, is replaced by Bowen, and then Dicko comes off for the willing but o-so-limited Diomande.

Minutes tick by sloppily. Drudgery. Football without shape or flair. Warnock’s world. The home fans serenade Sol Bamba to the tune of Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’. They’ve had Bobby Gould and Sam Hamman, they’ve got Neil Warnock and Vincent Tan. They’re entitled to enjoy the glimpses of success they currently possess. Proper fans, Cardiff.

Our players offer up a brief flurry late on, but it’s not enough and it never looks remotely likely to be enough. Four added minutes tick by fruitlessly, and the points are gone.

Move on.

Cardiff lie second in the table, so you might suppose that defeat here was always a likely outcome. True enough, but at no stage did Cardiff look even remotely like a side with pace, poise and purpose. They were well organised and physical, and ruthlessly basic. Neil Warnock, the orthodox routine. Mr Adkins seems to be imposing a better defensive shape on our players than the admirable and likeable Mr Slutsky ever managed, and that is doubtless essential if we are to plod our way into midtable and banish the fear of a second successive relegation. But the absence of references in this report to Irvine, Larsson and (his substitution aside) Toral are no accident. Cohesion and quality was there none, and our midfield was on the back foot pretty much throughout this fixture. In those circumstances a scoreless conclusion is only to be morosely expected.

I have now forgotten about this game entirely.

Move on.

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 3 Brentford 2

Hull City's Seb Larsson

The headlines are written. “Adkins revives Hull’s fortunes”. The new manager bounce kicked in on cue as City won their first game in eight, and their first at home since September (as well as continuing this season’s weird run of only beating teams beginning with B) in a Jekyll and Hyde performance under our new coaching team.

That’s all true, and what turned into a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon at the Circle started Nigel Adkins’ reign as manager with a much needed victory. A victory moreover that ought to provide at the very least a psychological boost to management and players alike as we begin a run of games against third, fourth, and seventh placed teams, entering the hectic Christmas schedule. In fact, anything less than a win today at home against Brentford could have been massively problematic.

Good news then, and happy faces all round. But I would be failing in my duties as match reporter if I just covered the riveting last 40 minutes or so and ignored the combination of tedium, lack of focus, and shockingly poor play that preceded City’s Grosicki-inspired second-half revival.

Adkins began his career as City boss carding the following starting 11, lining up in a seasonally appropriate Christmas tree formation:

McGregor
Tomori                    Dawson                  Mazuch               Clark
Aina                          Meyler                 Larsson
Irvine                       Grosicki
Campbell

We knew before the game that Jarrod Bowen was out injured. Ditto, I think, Evandro. Less publicised were the apparent injuries to Kevin Stewart and Markus Henriksen. And quite where Michael Hector was, I don’t know. Our bare-bones squad had been stripped down further than usual, leaving a trio of under-23 team players (Batty, Clackstone and Luer) to join Marshall, Diomande, Dicko, and ex-Brentford man and eventual second-half hero Jon Toral in occupying the bench.

On a bright and bitterly cold December afternoon, City began the Adkins era attacking towards the North Stand of a half-empty stadium. And I sat there, for the umpteenth time this season, despondent at what has been wrought upon our club this year. I had half expected that — Arctic temperatures and Christmas shopping notwithstanding — the arrival of a new manager might have tempted a few more than usual into the stadium. Not so.

Or perhaps that the more vocal amongst the support would have been inspired to get a little bit more behind the team than usual. May be even some chant-mongers would have come up with something to welcome the new boss? No chance.

But anyway, in the world of ‘football as business’ so beloved of our club’s owners, we are the paying customers; if anyone should have been putting out the metaphorical welcome-to-a-new-era bunting, it should have been the players, the paid performers looking to entertain us and impress our new supremo. Well, if that was the idea, you certainly wouldn’t know it in a shoddy and uninspiring first half that largely carried on just where Leonid Slutsky left off.

First-half City played with the lack of pattern and passion that has been our hallmark this season, against a skilful and well organised Brentford team. We were slow, verging on reluctant when it came to tackling. In possession, we were too often a bunch of individuals, dwelling on the ball too long as if having no knowledge of where, how, and perhaps even why, to find a teammate.

After prodding and probing for the first quarter of an hour or so, Brentford began to realise how poor and uncombative City were, particularly down our right-hand side where the only barrier was two young Chelsea loanees  — Aina playing in front of Tomori — who have spent too much of this season looking out of their comfort zone.

On 25 minutes, Aina breaks down our right and falls down under a tackle, winning a free kick. Max Clark —whose main contribution to being noticed by the new manager thus far has been to boot a ‘cross’ about 50 feet in the air— floated an aimless freekick into the Brentford box. They headed clear and broke forward at pace. Within 20 seconds of our freekick, Brentford’s number nine is through on McGregor’s goal in front of the South Stand.

Happily, Brentford’s number nine is young Frenchman Neal Maupay, whose main claim to fame since signing for the Bees has been to produce ‘the miss of the season’ against Cardiff a couple of weeks back (well worth a giggle on YouTube). True to form, Maupay drags his shot wide of the post, but it’s a let off for City.

We stumble towards half-time, with the mildest flicker of encouragement coming from the impressive Fraizer Campbell. Despite the Christmas tree formation, the aim of which is to fill gaps between defence and attack, Campbell has been isolated on top of that tree for most of the first half. Then, around the half-hour mark, our new manager calls him over during a break in play and gives him some urgent instructions, after which Campbell plays with more energy and freedom to roam, fired up and chasing down the ball.

The nearest we come to a first half goal is from an Aina long throw, flicked on by Mazuch (wearing a McEnroe-esque headband), to Campbell, back to goal and ten yards out, who spins and takes a smart left-footed shot that is palmed round the post by Bees keeper Bentley.

Half-time. If you can excuse Adkins from too much blame for the first half shambles on the grounds that he’s inherited a poor squad replete with injuries and has only worked with them for a couple of days, well now it’s time for him to make his first in-game impression.

Whilst the fans mutter about the performance and stamp our feet against the cold, whilst our poorly run club’s hierarchy thinks that watching a bunch of camouflage-wearing squaddies boot the ball at the crossbar somehow merits the term ‘half-time entertainment’, surely deep in the bowels of the KCOM, holed up in the home dressing room, Nigel Adkins is weaving his rhetorical and tactical magic?

Maybe so, maybe not. But whatever happened in the dressing room, the second minute of the second half produces one of the shoddiest passages of play I’ve seen from a Hull City team in many a year.

Brentford clear the ball after a City attack, towards Max Clark, standing unchallenged around the half-way line. He swings a lazy leg at it, missing completely. Appalling. All of a sudden Brentford are attacking towards the north end of the ground. One of theirs makes rapid progress down their right wing, in front of the Bees’ enthusiastic away support, and looks up for support. There is a teammate arriving at pace at the far side of the area, but — I note with relief — at least two City defenders are in front of him in the area. Undeterred, the cross is played in low, only for David Meyler to let it cannon off him from five yards out, into the back of McGregor’s net.

And a poor performance has reached its nadir. Adkins hauls off Max Clark and replaces him Jon Toral, who slots into midfield with Aina taking over the left back berth.

Right Dr Jekyll, drink this potion. Right, you miserable match-reporter, we just won a thrilling game under our new manager, lighten up, will you? Absolutely. You got it. After all, the whole point of a nadir is that the only way after that is up.

The rest of the match, the rest of the afternoon, the rest of this match report is a flowering of skill, passion, excitement, goals, stomping on the late collapse hoodoo, and at last winning at home.

Stop moping, get off your seat, and enjoy the ride.

The man who sparked City’s second-half revival was the enigmatic Pole, Kamil Grosicki. To my mind the best player in City’s squad, perhaps the only one left of Premier League class in terms of pure ability, which goes some way to explaining, but not justifying, his regularly displayed petulance at the inadequacies of his teammates and his evident frustration at still being at the club. He will be gone by the end of the next transfer window.

I don’t know whether Grosicki’s return to the team today was a stroke of managerial genius on the part of Adkins, or merely a result of Jarrod Bowen being injured. But I’d have him in the team every week.

On 54 minutes Grosicki equalises. Jon Toral —the other player gaining particular kudos for our second-half revival — lifts a free kick from right to left, to Grosicki who cuts inside on the edge of the Brentford box and wellies a ferocious shot beyond the flailing arms of Bentley.

Grosicki’s goal was quality. But he scored an even better one away at Sheffield United a few weeks back and we still got tonked, so will this be any different?

Yes, is the answer. The goal lifts the crowd a little, but more importantly seems to lift the team. Inspired by equalising, prompted by Toral’s skill and attacking mindset, and perhaps taking on board whatever was said at the interval, City are all of a sudden pressing forward with purpose.

The next goal isn’t long in coming, and when it does it’s another cracker. A free-kick on the left edge of the penalty area, in classic Seb Larsson territory. And he doesn’t disappoint, curling the ball into the bottom corner of the net with pace and accuracy. Beautiful stuff.

So now City have the lead with 20 minutes to go. But we’re not sitting back. A couple of minutes after Larsson’s strike, the vibrant trio of Torral, Grosicki and Campbell combine again, with the latter’s shot hitting the post.

And still we come forward. On 74 Toral forges forward through the middle again, delaying the pass as Campbell and Irvine curve their runs ahead of him to stay onside. At the last moment, the ex-Barcelona academy man plays the ball through, Irvine takes it just ahead of Campbell, surging into the box before hammering it into the net.

It’s the Australian’s second goal at the KCOM this season. And his first for City.

All of a sudden, City are playing with speed and skill, and a direct attacking intent that we’ve not seen for some time. We haven’t just scored three goals, but we’ve scored three well-crafted goals of some quality.

Then the flow of forward play is interrupted with about 10 minutes remaining as a clash of heads sees David Meyler receive lengthy treatment on the pitch before being stretchered off. Adkins immediately makes two substitutions. Dicko for Campbell was being planned before Meyler’s injury. Meyler himself is replaced by Greg Luer. It’s no slight at all on Luer to point out that bringing on an Under-23 team forward to replace a holding midfielder says a lot about the paucity of the City squad. Luer did OK.

As we enter the final ten minutes, with the certainty of substantial time added for the injury delay, one stat keeps entering my head, however hard I try to forget it. Brentford have scored more goals in the last ten minutes of a game than any other team in the division. Given City’s recent propensity to concede late, this is no time to relax.

Sure enough, with five minutes of normal time remaining, Brentford get a free-kick, swing the ball into the box, McGregor makes a sharp save, but the ball rebounds straight to Bees’ captain John Egan, who scores from close range.

Here we go again?

With the fourth official showing eight minutes time added, and both sides clearly aware of their respective qualities and failings in the dying embers of games, this is no time to relax. It’s good to see Adkins urging City forward, aware that for this current squad, attack is the best form of defence.

And it’s City who come nearest to adding to the goal count during the time played over the 90. A fast attacking move involving Irvine, Luer, and Toral ends up with the ball coming to Dicko about five yards out. Reminiscent of his glaring miss against Bristol City, in almost exactly the same far post spot in front of the South Stand, Dicko fails to hit the back of the net.

But this time, the 3-2 score is in City’s favour. Eventually, after nine minutes of added time, Nigel Adkins’ first game as manager of Hull City ends with a victory and three points. We leave the KCOM with memories of the second half putting the dour opening 45 in the shade. But let’s not dismiss that shaky start, as I hope the management won’t also. City’s strengths and weaknesses were once more on display. Getting that win was vital, and whether it was down to Grosicki and Toral, or to an Adkins-inspired change in approach, or to both, there’s still a huge amount of work to be done to turn this season around.

Just after the monumental balls-up that gifted Brentford the lead, I jotted down a quick ‘to do’ list for the new manager. Our subsequent impressive victory does not change what needs to be done. Adkins needs to build a team from this disparate set of loanees, youth players, and fading Premier Leaguers; he needs to identity a clear pattern of play and instill it in the players; he needs to restore or create team spirit; and he needs to be more ruthless with underperforming players and staff than his smiley niceness suggests.

Oh, and he needs to manage the owners as best he can to improve the squad and prevent further damage being done to relations with the fan base. Needless to say, this last task is far easier said than done.

For now though, nice one Nigel.

Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)