FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 2 Liverpool 0

SilvaMarco

Probably mentioned it before, but I work among a large number of Leicester City supporters, and left for the game yesterday morning from a Leicestershire hotel, where our firms’ partners’ conference had taken place the previous day. On coming down for breakfast in my City shirt ready for a swift departure north, I sensed a certain nervousness among the Foxes supporters present, a far cry from the euphoria which oozed seemingly out of every doorway, shop window and pavement crack of the city just eight short months ago and which, as anyone familiar with the place will testify, has perceptibly retreated whence it came. Maybe it was just imagination, but were the good wishes for the forthcoming game proffered by my partners not quite as heartfelt as they might have been earlier in the season?

Whatever the answer to that question, they’ll definitely be rather more nervous this morning, thanks to a combination of several factors: their own team failing to produce, so far this season, anything approximating the scintillating form they maintained for the whole of the previous campaign culminating in yet another tonking today, the fact that Sunderland are starting to pick up points, the increased resilience injected into Swansea by Paul Clement….but, probably most of all, the arrival of Marco Silva at Hull City A.F.C.

I mean, let’s face it, with the obvious exception of the hapless Derby side of 2008, Hull City at the turn of the year were as much of a basket case as the Premier League has ever encountered, easily on a par with the awful Villa side of last season or the wretched Sunderland team of 2002/3 under the stewardship of Howard Wilkinson. Scroll forward a month, however, and the transformation that has taken place at the Circle is the subject of almost as much column space and airtime among the national media as any other footballing topic in this country.

Remember how we just had to get through the run from Hell with as little collateral damage as possible before starting on the relegation battle proper, with the visit of the Dingles at the end of this month? Ha!

Now, of course, we’re all too long in the tooth and too scarred by our regular exposure over the years to what some wryly refer to as the phenomenon of “Typical City”  to entertain even the most fleeting thought that Premier League survival this season is a given, or even that it’s more likely than not. But what we can be sure of is that, if we are to go down playing like we have been, those who do survive will have richly deserved it.

Exhilarating times, but intriguing ones too. We’ve all seen the transformation on the field, but can anyone actually put their finger on how Silva has done it? Stories abound of how the players have not been given a day off since his arrival and the banning of puddings from the squad’s diet, and no doubt most of us have seen that clip of a City training session where Silva can be seen physically dragging Michael Dawson to the spot on which he wants him to stand, so it’s clear that we now have an authoritarian man at the helm and that the players are going along with it. But there is palpably much, much more to it than wielding the metaphorical big stick.

To give probably the most visually apparent example of that, nobody could have failed to notice that Tom Huddlestone has played the finest football of his City career in the past month. Granted, his form had picked up since December but he’s kicked on even from there since Silva came. On the way home last night we were faced with a tiresome procession of pundits’ observations prefaced with the words, “No disrespect to Hull City, but….” because, as you would expect, it was all about Liverpool. The one which did catch my attention though went on to inform us that “no Hull City player out there today would have made the Liverpool team. One can only presume that whoever it was who offered that pearl of wisdom didn’t actually watch the game.

But it’s not just about one player, as the manager is frequently at pains to point out. The whole team yesterday was organised, committed and resilient, despite the fact that nearly half of them were virtual strangers. it’s been the same story throughout January, with the dishonourable exception of Fulham. Hull City has – for now – had its credibility restored.

And so the story continued yesterday. Despite the “statistics” which purport to demonstrate our visitors’ superiority in every conceivable respect in yesterday’s game, this was no fluke neither was our victory in any way undeserved. We battled, we thwarted them, we frustrated them, we ground them down. In short, we did a job on them.

Sending out a stark message to the bottom third of the Premier League were the following:-

                                        Jakupović

Elabdellaoui        Ranocchia            Maguire                Robertson

                                    Huddlestone

Grosicki            N’Diaye                  Evandro               Clucas

                                       Hernández

Substitutes:    Tymon (for Evandro, 61 minutes), Niasse (for Hernández, 65 mins), Meyler (for Grosicki, 80 mins)

So, a late and unexpected change to the line-up, as Dawson, it emerged, had injured himself in the warm-up and had to be hastily replaced by Andrea Ranocchia. Not the ideal start, and it seemed from the off as if Liverpool wanted to get their mark stamped on the game from the off, but in truth all they have to show for it is Mane clipping the leather high and wide. We warm up a bit after a somewhat pedestrian start, though and manage our first effort on target after ten minutes, Abel Hernández’s effort being without power and straight at Mignolet. There follows a further injury scare on the quarter hour, though, as Omar Elabdellaoui takes a smack in the chops (and, it later emerged, a broken nose in the process) but returns after a brief visit to the touchline and a change of shirt (did we really only have one No.14 shirt? Sort it out Johnny Eyre!).

Whilst it’s mainly them in terms of possession, when we do advance it’s with purpose and mobility, and you can sense that the Reds’ famously-flaky defence doesn’t really look all that comfortable.

Not as uncomfortable as we look on 21 though, when Eldin Jakupović, possibly impeded by Harry Maguire, flaps at a cross and the leather drops to Coutinho who scuffs it wide when he ought to have done much better.

Then five minutes later, with Andy Robertson out of position there’s more danger as the ball is played out to Mane, in the inside right channel. Maguire spots the danger and move across to cover. “You’re going to have to deal with this, Harry”, I exclaim, and he certainly does, magnificently scything his opponent down in a manner of which any of the legendary hard men of the 60s and 70s would most certainly have approved. Referee Mason, unsurprisingly, brandishes his yellow card.

But how are the new boys doing? Very encouragingly, it has to be said. Ranocchia shows his class and pedigree with a solid, uncompromising display and – according to my neighbour, who was counting – a 100% success rate in the aerial duels (the fact that the defence performed so convincingly without either of its main organisers on the field was an especially-pleasing factor throughout the afternoon), Elabdellaoui looks very competent despite having his proboscis spread across his features early on, but the one who really catches the eye for me, until he started blowing through his arse about midway through the second half, was Kamil Grosicki, who looks as though he’s going to be a real asset on the attacking side, especially when he gets himself fit enough to keep going for an entire match, skinning Milner twice in the first half hour. Our new Polish recruit is then involved in our most dangerous foray so far on 33, taking a sweet diagonal ball from the Huddster and firing in  a low cross which Mignolet does well to smother at the feet of Hernández.

Three minutes later and we are a bit naughty at the back, allowing Matip a free but thankfully wide header from a corner. More problems on 38 when they get a dodgy free on the edge of the box and attempt a laughable “training ground routine” which results in the ball being slammed into the wall and eventually we scramble it away.

The official attendance of 24,822 inevitably includes a fair number of tourists (as well as several hundred so-called Liverpool supporters from East Yorkshire, readily visible dotted about the home enclosures) and, as half-time approaches, going to the kiosk evidently becomes more important than actually watching what has become a quite absorbing -if not exactly stirring – game of football   They probably don’t give a monkeys but, their warped priorities deprive them of witnessing a quite sensational development.  After Abel is outpaced by Matip as he chases a through ball from – yet again – Huddlestone, we eventually win a corner on the right a minute before the half is up. It’s headed down and goalwards and should be Mignolet’s ball, but the away custodian, distracted more than a keeper at this level ought to be at this level by Hernández’s perfectly lawful jump, fubles the ball at the feet of Alfred N’Diaye five yards out, and our Alf will not get an easier chance if he plays till the age of 100. Scruffy goal, but who cares? Total Tiger Mayhem.

Half-time, then, and time to reflect on Ehab’s recent “interview”. Many Tigerwatchers seem to have approved – some in quite breathless tones – of this cynical little bit of PR, so for them a question: have you learned absolutely nothing at all about the Allams? It would be a happy day indeed if owners and fans were able to bury the hatchet and work together in order to take the club forward in a responsible and constructive manner, but it’s going to take much, much more than that to generate any kind of optimism that such an outcome would be possible. Like henceforth referring to the Club solely as “Hull City” in all publications and communications. Like scrapping the current pricing arrangements and introducing genuine and fair pricing concessions for senior and junior citizens and the disabled. Like paying whatever it takes to keep Silva at the Circle for at least a couple of years if he keeps us up. Like setting transfer and salary budgets for next season which will enable substantial team and squad strengthening. Like agreeing those budgets unconditionally by the final game of this season (for the summer window) and by Hogmanay (for the January window) and then just leaving the manager to get on with the recruitment. Like coming clean that they do not have, and never have had, any serious intention of selling the Club.  Like a total and irreversible end to any further acts of sabotage of the efforts of manager and players. And by an admission that they have been wrong about all the things that they have been wrong about. Chance of getting all of those (most of which other clubs just take for granted, by the way) are minus nil. Getting one of them would be a true miracle.  So please excuse me for not being convinced just yet that Ehab’s actually an all-round good egg.

Anyway, unsurprisingly the ‘Pool (do people still call them that?) come out with all guns blazing, Herr Klopp’s invective doubtless ringing in their ears. They force a succession of corners but during this spell the only shot they manage to get on target comes when Milner hooks one straight at the Jak. They go a whole lot closer on 55, though, when the City net man does brilliantly to tip away a Mane header which bounces off the top of Robertson’s head and looks to be sailing in. Think Banksie’s save from Denis Law, England v Scotland, Wembley 1967.

Their diagonal balls are causing us problems, but we keep them at bay despite now-constant pressure, amidst an atmosphere which is now starting to jump as the the clock ticks. Respite on 62 minutes when Hudd (yes, again) feeds Abel but the angle is a bit tight and he succeeds only in finding the side netting.

Then, bizarrely, it starts raining feathers from the roof (shades of rust from the Best Stand roof at the Ark whenever the ball struck it). Puzzled spectators raise their eyes to the rafters and identify the culprit, in the form of a hawk which has nabbed a pigeon and had now set about methodically plucking it prior to consumption. Sometimes you think you’ve seen everything at a football match, and then something else surprises you. This process of wild game dressing continues for the rest of the half, but at least we were spared having giblets dropped on us.

Attention quickly switches back to the pitch though as Hernández is sent haring away in space by Grosicki. A second now will probably, and sensationally, kill the game, but his first touch is over-eager and Mignolet is able to smother.

66 minutes. An almighty scramble in the box. Mane must score. He doesn’t: the leather flashes across the goal. “Can we really hold out?” I write.

71 minutes. Jak saves from Milner. A minute later and we attack, but Grosicki’s cross is just out of Alf’s reach. But we are struggling to keep possession, frequently hoofing clear and waiting for the next attack.

This is proper pressure. But Liverpool just seem to lack that bit of nous, of ingenuity, of skill or even of luck that they need to pierce the City rearguard and in fact for maybe ten minutes they don’t seriously trouble the goal for all the ball that they have, a fact borne out by the fact that they only managed five shots on target to our four.

No, they have to be shown how it’s done. Six minutes remain on the clock when Mane cuts in menacingly from the right. Robertson times his tackle to perfection. The leather finds Ranocchia, who curls an irresistible ball through to Oumar Niasse, on now for Hernández, who times and directs his run impeccably between the two defenders left at the back. Suddenly he’s away, and shows great composure to fend off the challenge of Matip and steer the leather under the advancing Mignolet and into the centre of the goal. Not the work of a man who’s a shit as Everton seem to think, if truth be told. Bedlam in the stands.

And that’s it. Jakupović plays to the gallery with a fine acrobatic save from Milner with a minute of normal time left, but we see out the 90 minutes and the five added on for a famous and well-merited victory which augurs very well for the rigours of the forthcoming relegation dog-fight. Or was it that famous? After never besting the Scousers (as they largely were for many of those days) at the Ark we have now sent them away with their tails between their legs (to say nothing of their Hull-based “fans” who turn up dutifully for their ritual humiliation) thrice in a row at the Circle.

It’s been a torrid and difficult January and early Feb and now only one game of that run from Hell remains, with four more points than we thought we’d get already chalked up. Probably asking a lot to expect anything at the Arse next Saturday, but they are definitely not in a good place at the moment, and we have nothing to lose. After a proper week’s rest for once, we might just be looking forward to this one more than they are.

Football without Fear, City.

Ian Thomson (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-FACUP

REPORT: Fulham 4 City 1 (FA Cup fourth round)

SilvaMarcoConf

The FA Cup brings in many differing memories for Hull City fans.  The moment that Alex Bruce’s header is cleared off the line that could have put City 3-0 up against Arsenal.  How about Billy Whitehurst and Keith Edwards giving City a 2-1 advantage against Liverpool at half time back in ’89?  Maybe you like to recall Duane Darby’s double hat-trick against Whitby Town.  All games that long suffering Tiger fans look back on fondly.

There is of course the other side of the coin.  The 2-0 defeat to Hednesford thanks to some criminally inept refereeing.  The fact that in the first place Whitby had taken us to a replay and was within a minute of knocking us out.  Or even the drunken Roary The Tiger stumbling around the away end at Hayes as another non-league side could have considered themselves unlucky to have not taken the Tiger scalp.

Fulham was very much in this latter group of games.  A 4-1 defeat to a side in a lower division is not what you expect of any team.  Yet that’s the fate City suffered.

Prior to the game, a pre-match pub was in buoyant mood.  Fulham is usually found to be a gentile ground to visit – given the presence of a ‘neutral section’ Fulham is probably the ideal club for the much hated half and half scarf brigade.  In our past five meetings with Fulham, we’d won four and drawn one.  So not a bad record to go into games.  However the pre-match mood turned rapidly to confusion as the various Twitter feeds sent news of the day’s team.  In much like a newspaper Sudoku, you’re given a bunch of numbers, so trying to predict their correct positions could be anybody’s guess.  But taking up the challenge, City lined up:-

Jakupović
Elabdellaoui Davies Huddlestone Robertson
Meyler Clucas
Marković Evandro Diomande
Hernández

I’m currently catching up reading the list of books I received for Christmas, so recently made a start on Ian Brunton’s rather splendid 46 and Counting book, where he recalls his family’s efforts to make it to all Hull City fixtures last season.  I’ve just passed part of the book which recounts the Bolton home game.  At the time Michael Dawson has come back into the side, having been out injured for a few weeks.  My recollections of the time that he was a fear that he’s been rushed back was confirmed when he limped off in the 85th minute to be sidelined for another period.  Against Fulham this happened to Curtis Davies.  The stand-in captain had one week earlier been withdrawn from the Chelsea match with a hamstring strain.  Back in the side a week later and within ten minutes, the injury had flared up and he was off back into the Cottage, with big Harry Maguire his replacement.

As City fans pretty much all love Big Harry, it’s easy to forget the limitations in his game.  His recent high profile performances have brought his name to the national stage.  Unfortunately whilst Big Harry is showing to be a wonderful defender, he’s not a captain or organiser.  So with the loss of Davies, the defensive organisation out on the pitch went to pieces.  Massive gaps were appearing around the City back line allowing Fulham the opportunity to exploit.

My Monday morning welcome into the office was by the Fulham supporting security guard.  His first comment was that he couldn’t believe we let that big donkey Martin score.  Yet it was Martin’s running at our defence that was causing the most panic.  It was also Martin that Tom Huddlestone brought down to concede a free kick which lead to Fulham’s opening goal.  The free kick was passed to Martin at the back post for him to nod down to Sone Aluko, with no City defender near either player, the former Tiger had plenty of time to pick his spot and powerfully volley past Jakupović.

City did have chances of their own, but with Lazar Marković and Evandro drifting in and out of the game, most of the shots are coming into the Fulham goal from a distance.  The Fulham keeper Bettinelli seems to like pushing the ball out, but with nobody following up these shots, City are not really looking to get back on level terms.

Most of City’s pressing comes from Omar Elabdellaoui’s overlapping runs.  He’s attacking Fulham well, but with Abel Hernández isolated up front on his own, frequently crosses are firstly met by Fulham defenders.  The play is then quickly shifted back to the opposite end of the pitch with Elabdellaoui not getting back to his defensive position quick enough, Fulham are exploiting further defensive frailties in the City side.

A wild challenge from Big Harry on Aluko has referee Tierney rightly play advantage as Sone keeps going.  After shooting wide, Tierney calls the big defender over giving the first booking of the game.

City do play some good attacking football whenever Adama Diomande’s allowed to advance up front to play alongside Hernández.  The Fulham keeper doesn’t hold onto many shots, still insisting on palming them out, but neither Hernández or Diomande have sufficient composure to get resulting shots on target.

Fulham’s first booking comes as a result of McDonald’s late challenge on Evandro, but predictably, City are unable to do anything with the free kick.

Elabdellaoui’s continued lack of defensive positioning allows Fulham to get the ball in the Tigers net for a second time after Sessegnon scores, but fortunately the linesman’s flag is raised against the right-back.

Soon after the half time break City manage to get themselves back on level terms.  Andy Robertson and Sam Clucas work well together up the left before Clucas crosses too deep for the inrushing Hernández, but there’s Evandro diving in head first to firmly head in the equaliser.

City then had a chance to turn the tide very much in their favour as Diomande is played in by Clucas only for Kalas to nip in and clear.

Unfortunately at the other end, the defensive organisation problems are still obvious.  First Sessegnon flashes a cross across the goal with nobody able to poke the ball home, then Sessegnon again sees a static City defence before passing to Martin to tap into an open City goal.

Hernández’s isolation is soon remedied with David Meyler being replaced by Oumar Niasse, but that doesn’t help the biggest problem in the side, as once again Sessegnon runs at the static City defence to score past Jakupović, putting Fulham 3-1 up.

With the forwards on the pitch, City do create a few good chances, but neither Niasse, Hernández nor Diomande are able to exploit.  The tiring Evandro is also replaced by Josh Tymon in the middle of City’s midfield.

Yet once again at the other end of the pitch, the static defence is nowhere near Cairney as he passes in to Johansen.  They’re also nowhere near him as a scores Fulham’s fourth.  This goal did momentarily rouse the near silent home crowd, but they soon settled back to watching the entertainment laid out in front of them.

Fulham replace Aluko with Ayite, with the former Tiger getting warm applause from all sides of the ground, including the 1,200 travelling City fans.

City are then gifted a chance to put some respectability to the score line.  Robertson attacks up the left before being brought down in the Fulham box and a penalty is awarded.  Hernández places the kick low to the keepers left, but the keeper does well to get down and palm the ball out.  Hernández charges down the loose ball before being brought down by the Fulham keeper and another penalty is awarded.

I have to admit that I didn’t think it at the time, but as I type this up weren’t both penalties denials of goalscoring opportunities?  Shouldn’t we have seen red cards for these?

Hernández is given a second opportunity to correct his earlier saved penalty, this time he strikes the ball firmly to the keepers left, but this time the keeper gets a strong arm in the way, deflecting the shot high above the bar.

Cairney is next to be substituted by Fulham.  A few applause from the away fans, but not as many as Aluko.

A final chance sees Tymon try a shot from range, which is well saved by Bettinelli, before Huddlestone’s shot from the resulting corner is straight at the keeper.

The full time whistle is soon blown to bring an end to City’s dismal day.

It’s hard to pinpoint the exact issues in the side.  The lack of defensive organisation is certainly an issue.  The loss of Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass in the transfer window is a much bigger problem to the team spirit in the squad.  As is bringing in four new faces and trying to integrate them into the side with potentially more to follow.

The season was always going to be tough with Ehab Allam repeatedly shooting the collective club in its foot.

The old adage of ‘concentrating on the league’ comes to the fore now.  But the Fulham performance has shown there’s plenty to be concerned about if the side is to achieve 17th place this season.

LeagueCup

REPORT: City 2 Manchester United 1 (League Cup semi final, 2nd leg: 2-3 on aggregate)

SilvaMarcoConf

So, this Marco Silva fella. I was starting to warm to him. I’ve seen enough from the changes he’s made to the way we play and the signings he’s made in the face of the club imploding (further) in the last fortnight to think we might just have someone who can work that miracle he spoke of. And then he goes and names a near-second string side for a cup semi-final. The joker.

We lost the first leg 2-0 at Old Trafford and our hopes of a historic first ever League Cup final were in tatters but the team selection said the manager didn’t think we could do it and had no interest in burning out his precious resources to even try.

City 4-2-3-1
Marshall
Meyler – Dawson – Maguire – Tymon
Huddlestone – Clucas
Bowen – Maloney – Diomande
Niasse

The team selection said nothing. If you pre-judged it, like I did, then Silva made a mug out of you. There was nothing between the sides early on and as the half went on, City dominated the ball more and more and carved out the better chances. Even with all the changes we’d made and two rookies in, Silva’s influence was obvious. I’ve never seen a Hull City team play anyone with our centre defenders in the opposition’s half, let alone Manchester United. Tom Huddlestone and Sam Clucas as the base of the midfield are always available for a pass and sweep up nicely in front of the back four. The movement from Jarrod Bowen from the wide areas looking for the ball in behind was outstanding and Shaun Maloney worked between their defence and midfield nicely.

Clucas forced the first save of the game, firing a free kick straight at De Gea (who punched it away in stereotypical foreign keeper fashion) after Oumar Niasse had stumbled his way past several United defenders before being fouled by Phil Jones. During the warm applause to show solidarity with Ryan Mason on 25, the ball was looped back into the box from a cleared corner. Michael Dawson controlled the ball, dropping over his left shoulder, brilliantly but was slow to shoot and Smalling recovered. Niasse fired the rebound into those foreign keeper’s fists. Niasse won another free kick around the box and Maloney curled it over.

They’d done nothing of note. Huddlestone was dominating the ball in midfield with Paul Pogba buzzing around him like a fan who’d won a game in a charity auction. Rashford had the beating of David Meyler for pace on their left but Meyler was dogged and tuck with him. Adama Diomande did the dirty work, as he generally does, and was underneath the crossbar to boot an Ibrahimovic cross clear from their best attack. With 5 minutes left in the half, we got fed up of toying with them and scored. Harry Maguire was trying to meet Maloney’s left wing corner when Rojo sent him flying. I was in a terrible position to see but TV replays showed clear shirt pulling. The ref pointed to the spot and Huddlestone buried the penalty in the bottom right hand corner.

We gifted the ball to Ibrahimovic soon after and the defenders backed off and backed off as he strolled into the box but Marshall got down to his left to save brilliantly as the whole ground awaited the inevitable net ripple. It was freezing, our most dangerous players were on the bench or off negotiating with West Ham but we were leading one of the most expensively assembled teams in football history.

The visitors started the second half strongly and forced four corners in quick succession. They were desperate to get back into game and it showed as Pogba threw himself down in the penalty area with Huddlestone not even close to touching him. Jon Moss rightly told him to get on with it but didn’t produce the deserved yellow card. From one of the many corners, the ball is played back in and Smalling finds himself with a sight of goal but Huddlestone recovers. Smalling is livid and wants a penalty. Huddlestone tells him he’s a cheat. Incessant whiner Herrera hounds the ref. Nothing is given and rightly so. There was hardly any contact. I’d like to think Pogba’s blatant cheating added doubt to the ref’s mind too. Karma’s a bugger.

City start to regain their composure but only after Bowen caps a fine evening’s work, on and off the ball, by refusing to back down when Rashford gave him some stick and the two went chest to chest. Meyler and sub Rooney stepped in to make sure the feisty youngsters didn’t do anything silly. There followed a period of City possession with the ball being worked in to midfield and back before springing an attack on the right that most have seen 30 consecutive City passes.

Serb Lazar Markovic, on loan from Liverpool, came on for Bowen for his debut and Evandro replaced Maloney. The advantage of fielding a weakened side meant there were plenty of options from the bench. Neither Bowen nor Maloney did their prospects any harm having had fine games. While City were getting used to the adjustments, United killed the tie with a soft equaliser. An innocuous move down our right saw the ball fed into the box. Huddlestone fended off Rashford but looked off balance and could only prod the ball to Pogba who stuck it under Marshall.

Despite being a historic occasion, it was obvious the attendance was going to be well down. United had most of the North Stand and the West Upper wasn’t open at all. When it was announced (not in the stadium), there were 13,088 City fans in a crowd of 16,831 – and that doesn’t include away fans in the home end. Are the Allams embarrassed by this? I’d love to think so but that disgusting pair seem utterly shameless. I’m embarrassed by it and it’s not my fault.

Abel Hernández is chucked on as City go in search of a winner. Two goals in the last 20 minutes was probably too much to ask though. Both teams hit the bar with good headers. Rojo nods Lingard’s corner onto the woodwork in front of those United fans in North and then Niasse meets a cross from the right and is equally unlucky. Hernández puts the rebound wide. With time running down, City press them again. Our centre halves are regularly in their half. There are a lot of forward passes and great movement from the lively subs. We’d run out of time to win the tie but we did win the game and it was sealed by a truly beautiful goal.

First Maguire, who continues to carry the ball out from the back superbly and who’s defending, particularly one on one, and composure are going to see him capped by England, and then Dawson stepped into their half with the ball, bouncing it off Huddlestone and looking for the forward pass. It comes to Josh Tymon on the left, is worked into the middle where Markovic floats it wide to the right, Meyler volleys it calmly across goal and Niasse sticks it in at the far post. We continued to have a go in the remaining minutes but couldn’t create the last opportunity.

City deserved the win. They were outstanding. Even with a second choice look to the side. There’ll be no trip to Wembley and no silverware (not that we care!) but there was a whole lot of pride in the manager and the players.

I don’t want to get carried away by Silva, especially when he’s about to lose his most effective attacking player, but it’s hard not to be seriously impressed by what we’ve seen so far and to wonder what he can do with a bit of backing in the transfer market with the £20m the club have just about raised selling Jake Livermore and Robert Snodgrass. If he can get this team playing like they did in this semi in tense home games against the likes of Burnley, Boro, Sunderland and Swansea then Marco’s Miracle is on.

Rick Skelton (report first appeared on Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Chelsea 2 City 0

HuddlestoneTh

4:30pm on a cold winter Sunday.  The perfect time to settle down in front of a roaring fire and gradually fall asleep to then soothing tones of Songs of Praise and Countryfile.  Or you could travel to London Town to watch Hull City play at Stamford Bridge, a ground where the limit of our aspirations through the years has been the occasional draw (and the occasional goal).  Chelsea welcomed back Diego Costa to the fold, recovered from his “back injury”.  Presumably he has hugged and made up with Antonio Conte (the latter has still not noticed his missing wallet).  We had our own tactical injury with Robert Snodgrass, absent through a slight strain.  This could well have been the rapid neck movements as he chooses between the various suitors that are vying for his attentions.  The glass-half-full brigade will see his absence as an indicator of an impending move whilst the glass-half-full proponents will see it as being kept out of the shop window until the prospect of transfer has passed by.  I just want to know why I didn’t get a glass.

We line up with Eldin Jakupović in goal, a back three of Michael Dawson, Harry Maguire and Curtis Davies flanked by Andy Robertson and our debutant Viking fullback Omar Elabdellaoui.  Ahead of them Sam Clucas, Ryan Mason and Tom Huddlestone form the core of midfield with Evandro (on his full debut) and Abel Hernández further forward.  From the kickoff Chelsea storm forward.  Within seconds Costa rampages forward like a bull in a China shop and lashes a volley that skitters wide of the Jak’s right hand post.  I resigned myself to recording a litany of Chelsea attempts on goal and (hopefully) defensive heroics.

For the first few minutes that is certainly the case.  Dawson gets an early yellow for running in to Pedro whilst Cahill doesn’t for a worse looking foul on Clucas thus setting the tone for Neil Swarbrick’s refereeing strategy.  On our first serious foray towards the Matthew Harding stand Huddlestone plays a one-two but drags the shot wide.  The game is evening out.  And then there is a sickening injury to Ryan Mason.  He rises well to head clear a corner microseconds before being knocked cold by the arriving Cahill.  The latter is on his feet quickly but groggy.  After about nine minutes of attention – including oxygen – Mason is stretchered off.  We learned this morning that he has a fractured skull but stable.  We all wish him well.  Mason was just starting to show flashes of why we paid a record fee after a difficult start.  It is a blow for him and the club.  David Meyler gets an earlier call to action than he might otherwise have expected.

Mason’s injury has galvanized the team.  Evandro and Hernández link well but are repelled then Harry storms forward to fire in a shot that deflects into the side netting.  From the resulting corner it is that man Maguire again but his header is straight into the grateful arms of Courtois.  Chelsea come storming back with a series of corners and we are under the cosh.  Davies becomes the second booking before Jak tips over a deflected Alonso shot.  The pressure is almost continuous at this point.  It appears that Elabdellaoui bundles over Hazard after some neat interplay.  Nervous glances are thrown towards the referee and it is with some relief that we see him pointing towards the corner and not the penalty spot.
Fifteen minutes of incessant pressure come to an end when Hazard contrives to fall over about five feet from the nearest Hull City player.  Costa does put the ball into the net but he and at least one other Chelsea player were yards offside despite the plaintive appeals otherwise.  It is at the end of this period of pressure that Maguire has another rumble forward.  His 30 yard piledriver is turned aside by a flying Courtois.   Nine minutes are added at the end of the period for the Mason injury.  Some neat Hull City passing opens up Chelsea but Meyler’s attempt to find a wide open Robertson goes straight into touch.  My neighbour in the crowd posits that Meyler is the “crappest player on the pitch”.  I will be kinder.  He is the least technically gifted but contributes through his effort and doggedness.

The contest between Maguire and Costa has been particularly fun to watch with the former outmuscling the latter into several hissy fits.  Kante goes close but the ball runs through to Jak.  Davies is lucky to escape a second yellow when clattering Pedro outside the area and then the added time almost inevitably brings a Chelsea goal.  It started with a clearance to Hernández who appears to be holding the ball well before being thrown to ground by Cahill (yes, him again).  Chelsea come forward and Pedro’s cross is met by Costa, who, with china in his hands, slides the ball into the net via Jakupović’s foot.  It is inevitable but cruel on City side who have kept the Chelsea goalkeeper busier than ours has been.

The second half is more of the same.  It is a very even game and difficult to pick out who is top of the league and who is (almost) bottom.  Maguire lets fly with another shot that is just wide before Clucas sees an effort deflect off a defender and loop behind for a corner.  Hernández is clipped in the area but no penalty results.   Perhaps Swarbrick is balancing things out for the Hazard incident in the first half.  Whatever, he is a rubbish ref.  Meyler is the next to force Courtois into action and the game is mostly being played out in front of the visiting supporters in the corner of what used to be the old Shed End.  Clucas is then flattened by Sideshow Bob but the resulting free kick comes to nought.  We are definitely missing Snodgrass’ dead ball skills: a series of unthreatening corners are slung over by Clucas and Evandro.  We then lose a second player to injury with Davies limping off.  He is replaced by Oumar Niasse and we go to a back four.  Bringing a forward on shows (a) a lack of defensive cover on the bench and (b) intent that we can still effect a result.  Hernández appears to be fouled on the edge of the box by Luis but the former is penalised for grabbing the ball as he falls to the ground.  Still we are pressing and win a corner via Moses’ hand but as I said, we are lacking quality on the set pieces.

Huddlestone – having an effective game in midfield – plays in Abel but the latter’s touch is heavy and gathered by Courtois.  At this stage Chelsea have to resort to breaking up play with a series of fouls.  We can’t take advantage, being caught offside from a couple of set pieces before Maguire drags one comically wide.

Adama Diomande replaces Hernández who has ploughed a lone and fruitless furrow up front all afternoon.  We continue to look more likely to score but don’t.  And Chelsea do, giving us a lesson in how to take a quality set piece and how to score from it.  Willian’s trickery on the left draws a foul.  Fabregas spits on his hands (and not Horton’s shoes) and lays up a perfect cross for an unmarked Cahill to bury the header.  Chelsea 2-0 up, somewhat undeservedly and Jak is alert to prevent Costa getting an even-less-deserved third goal.  There is still time for Niasse to sting Courtois’s palms with a quick turn and shot to the left of the box but that turns out to be our last chance while Chelsea play the game out with ease.

Another goalless, pointless visit to The Bridge.  It was an even game and one could make a very convincing case for us deserving better.  We matched the league champions elect in all aspects other than the one that counts: putting the ball in the net and we know how much of a problem that has been this season.  If nothing else it augers well for upcoming fixtures with teams that are less clinical than Chelsea and that are not going to win the league.  A lack of quality in set pieces without Snodders is worrying: we are going to need a few goals before the end of the season.  Anyway, onwards to Craven Cottage for a 12:30 Sunday kickoff (after the second leg of the league cup semi).  I hope the concession stands are doing Sunday roasts.

Rob Kaye (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 3 Bournemouth 1

HernandezA16

The visit of Bournemouth was my first opportunity to see Marco Silva’s Hull City in person. The short version of the report is that we won and I was impressed with the new gaffer and the bottle shown by the players. It was a far cry from the lack of mental strength on display in the reverse fixture where we collapsed to an embarrassing 1-6 defeat and, if nothing else, today went some way to putting that right.

Thanks to the recovery from injury of Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies, Jake Livermore overcoming his illness and the signings of Brazilian Evandro from Porto and Senegalese Oumar Niasse from Everton – Marco Silva actually had options to pick from for the first time as City manager. Nothing runs smooth this season though, David Meyler and Shaun Maloney were new absentees.

Jakupović
Maguire – Dawson – Davies – Robertson
Diomande – Mason – Huddlestone – Clucas
Snodgrass
Hernández

Eldin Jakupović was picked in goal and the roar from the crowd told us that was a popular decision from Silva. Abel Hernández who’d clearly fallen out with Mike Phelan and has miraculously recovered since his departure started for the first time since early November. Harry Maguire and Adama Diomande took up unfamiliar roles on the right-hand side.

Maguire is a great lad and is growing into an exciting central defender but he looked as comfortable at right back as Phelan did in the TV studio at Old Trafford on Tuesday night. With just a couple of minutes gone, he conceded a penalty when he jumped into a tackle with Fraser with the wrong foot. It’s the tenth penalty we’ve conceded in the Premier League this season. We only need one more to tie the all-time (since 1992) record. Here’s hoping. One of the arguments I’ve heard a lot for playing Jakupović in goal is that he’s good at saving penalties. He wasn’t saving this one, Stanislas smashed it into the (in)side netting of Jak’s right hand post [0-1].

A dreadful start and it didn’t get any better. City showed absolutely nothing in response and Bournemouth passed the ball about like the side who destroyed us on the South coast in October. Harry Arter smashed a shot just wide and then Dawson got caught underneath a high ball and Benik Afobe went through but was met by a smart save from the chest of the Jak.

Bournemouth are remarkable in Premier League terms. They’re on the fringes of being a top half team but apart from Jack Wilshere, they’re a Championship squad. Every other player involved today either won promotion with them or was purchased from a Championship club. Tin other hands, they’d be out of their depth but they continue to improve as individuals and as a group under Eddie Howe and are a great model for clubs aspiring to establish themselves in the “big league”.

They do lack some big game experience though and when that Afobe miss gave City a kick up the arse, our big-time players started to drag us into the game. Tom Huddlestone was the best player on the pitch, Robert Snodgrass picked up the ball in key areas and Davies and Dawson troubled them from set pieces. Silva’s desire to push the full backs high up the pitch was evidenced by Andy Robertson flying down the left and once we’d started to dominate the ball, Maguire got into great positions on the right. We picked up a head of steam and worried them from a Snodgrass free kick and a neat ball in behind by Huddlestone when Robertson advanced on the left and delivered a magnificent cross that Hernández could do nothing with except head it into the net from close range [1-1].

A trio of corners came and went before the break as City dominated. It was great to see further evidence of the new manager’s influence in the set pieces. Earlier, Snodgrass had delivered a ball to Davies while feigning, convincingly, that he was going to shoot. Later, we piled everyone in at the near post for a corner only for Snodgrass to cut it back for Sam Clucas to shoot. We’ve not seen invention at set pieces since Peter Taylor left!

The start to the second half was night and day from the first and a few minutes in, City took the lead. We won the ball in midfield, worked it nicely to the right side through Snodgrass and then Hernández took over. He cut into the box, backed up Tyrone Mings and unleashed a great low drive into the far corner [2-1]. The defender will have been kicking himself, Hernández was busy soaking in the adoration of his audience. By, how we’ve missed his goals.

Despite bringing on Callum Wilson and ex-City loanee Josh King, Bournemouth weren’t really at the races. Diomande crossed nicely for Hernández to head wide after Huddlestone and Maguire had worked an opening beautifully. Then Ryan Mason, who had his best game for City by many country miles, worked his own opportunity, showing good feet and better strength in possession, but shot wide. Then Adam Smith, recently booked for a crude foul on Clucas, fouled Mason. The crowd were looking for a second yellow. Instead, justice was served by Huddlestone whose controlled volley from the cleared free kick beat Artur Boruc. Will the small matter of a massive deflection off Mings [3-1].

It was great to see Huddlestone score – if it’s given to him. City are trying to play football all over the pitch and he’s in his element. He’s working ridiculously hard too and made more than his fair share of tackles and interceptions. On 66 minutes I genuinely wondered to myself who Bournemouth’s #32 was. It took me a few seconds to work out it was Jack Wilshere. He’d had so little impact as Huddlestone ran the midfield. In fairness, Wilshere did come to life in the closing stages and had a couple of efforts at Jakupović. One of them a stinging shot after sub Pugh had gone down looking for a penalty (nearly the record!) that Jak saved brilliantly.

City were a threat on the break and Hernández’s last input before he went off was to latch onto Huddlestone’s lovely pass as Mings looked like he was running in treacle. Abel never got the ball under control though and could only shoot weakly eventually.

Hernández picked up the man of the match award in the stadium and he was the difference maker. Unsurprisingly, I’d have gone for Huddlestone. It was a solid team effort though. The two centre halves who looked far from fit put in a great shift. As did the oft-derided Diomande. He’s technically deficient and makes odd decisions but he works incredibly hard for the team in the wrong position and he was crucial in the second half, protecting the ropey Maguire time and again. I love big H but he’s no right back.

Snodgrass and Hernández gave way to the debuting Evandro and Niasse. Evandro covered a lot of ground and flew into some tackles but spent a whole lot of time on the floor and almost made as many fouls (one) as passes. Niasse looked like he might prove a useful option off the bench. He was quick, his first touch was decent and he has a strong build. It’s way too early to judge but he didn’t look the complete fraud some Everton fans have suggested he is. A couple of very incorrect looking offside flags denied City the chance to put some gloss on the scoreline while ref Martin Atkinson, who hates us, turned down the chance to give Adam Smith a well-deserved second yellow card.

It was a great and much needed win for City and a good start for Silva in the league. There are plenty of examples of his early influence from City’s attempts to play out from the goalkeeper to the discipline being shown without the ball. Perhaps most impressive though is the ambition on display when we’re in possession. To get men in the box, to get crosses and shots in and to keep going forward when leading. I think he can keep us up. It’s not going to be easy. We’ve still got a threadbare squad, a lack of depth and a pathetic away record. But he’s got some winnable home games, he’s already instilled some confidence in the squad and he’s got incessant drive on the touchline.

It wouldn’t be the greatest escape but it’d be a pretty bloody unlikely one.

Rick Skelton (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

LeagueCup

REPORT: Manchester United 2 City 0 (League Cup semi-final, 1st leg)

JakupovicE

Let me ask you for a stat. Since Steve Bruce took us back to the Premier League in May 2013, how many Cup ties have we played?

That’s three and a half seasons of football. How many Cup ties?

Furrowed brows and muttered comments along the lines of ‘umm, quite a few’ greeted this inquiry in the pub before yesterday’s match.

I won’t detain you further.

The answer is that this match at Old Trafford was the 31st Cup tie in that span, embracing Europa League, FA Cup and League Cup, and there are at least two more games in Cups to come before this season is out. That’s a lot of Cup ties. I haven’t gathered the detailed statistics but I imagine that in the club’s history there have been full decades of grimly unsuccessful Cup football that have fallen short of the number of games we have accumulated in just three and a half seasons. And it’s not simply a matter of quantity, it’s quality too. We played plenty of Cup matches in the 1990s, and the vast majority were utterly miserable affairs, played out before sparse crowds, especially in the case of two leg League Cup ties, and featuring regular defeats to the likes of Rotherham, Macclesfield and Lincoln. Our recent exploits include not only Europe, but also an FA Cup Final plus a trip to its Fifth Round, a League Cup Quarter Final last season and now this, the club’s first ever League Cup Semi Final. There have been some genuinely magnificent occasions, and not only in victory. Last night doesn’t quite have the glitter of the Cup Final, but it was a very positive experience.

In fact this was about as uplifting as a defeat can get.

Even if Marouane Fellaini’s goal, the second of the game, just three minutes before the end probably means that our chances of rescuing the tie and returning to Wembley are realistically negligible, Jose Mourinho will still not be given the luxury of being able to select a bunch of reserves and juniors for the second leg in Hull. And that is a tribute to the commitment and skill that our players (and manager) invested in this intriguing match.

On a dark damp Manc of an evening we carded a 4-5-1, evidently designed to flood midfield and deter the home side’s ability to attack our frankly flimsy back four with pace:

Jakupović
Meyler     Huddlestone   Maguire    Robertson
Snodgrass  Henriksen  Mason  Clucas  Tymon
Diomandé

That’s a line up that wouldn’t have surprised you had it been chosen by Mike Phelan, so our new manager isn’t attempting anything radical yet. To be fair, he’s scarcely got the personnel to get a feasible side out on the pitch, never mind work some tactical wizardry, and in fact we were able to name only 6 rather than the permitted 7 on the bench. United managed to find the full 7 and, Fosu-Mensah aside, they were all big name internationals too. The main point of note in our selection is Josh Tymon picked for midfield with the more experienced Andy Robertson tucked in behind him at full back. I’m not sure if that counts as a huge vote of confidence in Tymon or a reflection of concern that the lad might get ruthlessly exposed at left back in such surroundings, and I suppose Mr Silva himself is still forming preliminary judgements on how best to play and who best to pick.

Off we go, and we might have expected an opening salvo featuring controlled passing, calmness in possession and the sheen of confidence, but we might not have expected it to be supplied by Hull City. It is, however, a delightfully encouraging beginning, snapped only by loss of the ball, a fast break and a superb right-handed save from Juan Mata’s shot by Cup goalie supreme Eldin Jakupović.

When he’s good, he’s very good. It’s the other times that worry me.

Sir Harforth Maguire was described in a recent national newspaper report – on the Everton match, I think – as Beckenbauer-esque. Not, I hope, a nod to his creative tax ‘planning’, but rather a generous comparison to our mountainous defender’s ability to bring the ball upfield with pace and intent in the manner of the greatest ballplaying defender the game has ever seen. On 9 he does just that, and the self-styled Theatre of Dreams is left in awe of the power and presence of our boy’s glorious maraud to the very edge of the home penalty area.

The home patrons are so impressed that we can almost hear them.

Almost.

Well, hello, we’re playing with poise and ambition here, and it’s terrific stuff. Markus Henriksen foolishly tries to impose his physical presence on Pogba, but Henriksen has none, Pogba has plenty, and once our Norwegian bantamweight is finally scraped off the turf and ushered towards the sideline, it is clear that his evening is over, courtesy of a shoulder injury. Long term, we can ill afford the loss of any of our meagre pool of available players but on this occasion the enforced change – Abel Hernàndez up front and Adama Diomandé to drop back to cover the right side of midfield – is clearly an improvement for the purposes of this particular match.

On 18 Mata sets up Mkhitaryan who sidefoots wastefully wide. United, however, are not putting us under sustained pressure. Mata is terrific, incessant energy, readiness to look for the ball and do something constructive with it. But the rest of this lavishly expensive and grotesquely over-praised line-up? Not impressive at all. Their main aim is to isolate David Meyler and in that quest they have some success, and Meyler never looks positionally certain at right back, which is after all far from his preferred position. He sticks in, however, like the excellent pro he is. But our defensive duty is eased by some pretty thin performances from men in red. Pogba looks disinclined to get forward, committed to policing deep midfield. Maybe he’s following instructions, but for 90 million or whatever absurd price was paid in the summer, I’d want a bit more attacking adventure. Mkhitaryan looks, well, OK, no more than that. Better than our players? No, not noticeably. The team sheet tells me Herrera was playing, but he competes with Jeremy Corbyn as the UK’s current Mr Invisible Man. Rashford up front looks in need of a burly partner in the mould of Andy Lochhead, while then there’s also Wayne Rooney. This is some kind of slightly off colour joke, no? Man who for five or so years has been demonstrably too unfit and slow to play serious professional football at the top level, still allowed to trot on to the pitch and wander around like grandad joining in a teenagers’ kickabout? His sole role, judged on last night, is to whine at the referee, and had Kevin Friend applied the rules properly he would have whipped out a yellow card at least once. (Apply the rules properly? To Manchester United? At Old Trafford? I know, I know, dream on, theatregoers.)

On 27 the Jak saves from the temporarily advanced Pogba, and a minute later Rashford shoots over the top. Up the other end and for a moment United look undone as a delicate Dio header is directed back across De Gea towards the far post. But it hits that far post. And anyway the offside flag is raised.

We’re sturdy here. It’s not backs-to-the-wall, it’s far more convincing than that. Compared to the relentless and at times terrifying pressing intensity imposed on us by Liverpool at Anfield earlier this season, the Manchester United experience is a great deal less demanding.

Four minutes added, half time, nil nil.

On 50 Rooney collects the ball in space and shoots past the far post. Pitifully poor.

Our shape looks good. Ryan Mason is having – by far – his best game for us, neat touches, ready movement. Tom Huddlestone is showing tremendous application and calmness at centre back, even though I’d worry if he comes up a bruiser of a centre forward who’s good in the air. Dio has moved to the left side, and Robert Snodgrass to the right, to protect Meyler, and United need to step it up if they are going to harm us.

They do so.

It happens at the far end from us, and it all looks a bit messy from a distance, but our defence has been stretched by a decent move, the ball is crossed, and Mata converts a chance from close range. The scorer has certainly been by far the best player in red.

Rooney is promptly subbed off – presumably referee Friend is thought by Mourinho to need no further nagging – and on comes Martial. The pace increases with the sluggish Rooney’s departure, but Harry is not perturbed: he injects not one but two massive interceptions to break up hopeful attacks. The colossus that is Harry Maguire will never be accused of a lightning turn of foot, but, properly coached, he is well capable of a good top Division career, and wherever he ends up he will deserve the respect of the fans for his truly excellent attitude.

We’re enjoying it, despite the deficit. We’ve been given much better seats than normal, high up behind the goal opposite the Stretford End instead of shoved into the poky corner we get allocated for League games, and the City support, enjoying the team’s resilience, is in full voice, in contrast to the home support, which has no voice. And we have got a new hero. His name is Marco Silva. We like him. We have a song for him too, to the tune of Glad All Over. It’s great. He’s great. If only the club had owners who are not spiteful, stubborn and vindictive, you could start to imagine a couple of weeks in which Mr Silva brings in four or five key reinforcements, a couple of months in which he learns what is at its disposal and places his imprint on the side, and then a glorious March, April and May in which we swing through a relatively kind run of fixtures and rise confidently to 17th place in the table.

Don’t think about it. Not going to happen. The Allams will not let it happen. But we like Mr Silva so far, though he needs to attune his ear and understand when we are asking him for a wave, and then give us one.

On 65 a fine move involving Snodgrass and Meyler allows Dio a shot at a bicycle kick at the back post, but the acrobatics are too demanding and the ball clears the crossbar. Ten minutes later, another chance, as Shaun Maloney, replacement for Dio, is provided with a shooting opportunity with his very first touch after a terrific surge down the left inspired by Robertson, but he slices his effort well wide.

In truth we are struggling by now, as United dominate the possession in a way that they had been unable to achieve for the first hour of the match. Lingard is on for Mkhitaryan – extra pace. Pogba hits the post with a free kick. We hang on.

United’s final substitution removes the excellent but tiring Mata in favour of cheap elbow merchant Fellaini. And, painfully, this criminal of a footballer adds a second goal. Again, it’s down the far end, so hard to get a clear sight of what occurs, but it’s a ball to the back post, looping header, tired defending.

There’s time enough for the flattered home side to flatten our hopes definitively, but our boys hang on and repel attempts at a third goal. But it comes at a cost. Tymon is injured, and has to come off, looking very sore.

All to play for in the second leg? Mmm. Sort of. We are in truth highly unlikely to come back from this two-goal deficit, despite Hull City’s recent reinvention as Cup kings. But we played good football last night and, even if it is the Allams that will always have the last word while they remain in charge, Mr Silva looks well able to serve up some watchable football for us between now and the end of the season.

Steve Weatherill (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: West Bromwich Albion 3 City 1

SnodgrassR16

“The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want;
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by.”

The first verse of Psalm 23, emblazoned across one side of The Hawthorns. They’ve been singing it there for more than 40 years since a power cut during a Sunday game prompted the adherent churchgoers in the Brummie Road End to find their own entertainment. Maybe we have West Brom fans to thank for Sunday games happening at all, as in 1974 there were still Christian protesters outside of stadia appealing to supporters not to venture into their footballing cathedral on the Sabbath. Psalm 23 blaring out across the Black Country either side of odes to Tony Brown and Len Cantello and unflattering songs about Mike Bailey’s parentage may have just acted as a steady compromise.

City fans could have done some work with Psalm 23 in 1974, not least by altering the lyric slightly to showcase the odd relationship between Bunkers Hill and Malcolm Lord, who to many during that era was a midfielder they shall not want. Future generations could have adapted the opening verse to give Stuart Green or, at a push, Jon Walters, a bit of ecumenical serenading. At the Hawthorns on January 2nd 2017, however, no form of gospel-based caterwauling could have helped City. We’re going down.

There is a fetid stink of repetitiveness we recognise now at City games. We will play well in the first half. We will give everyone hope that we have the right players, the right tactics, the right plan. We will put most of those hopes at the feet of Robert Snodgrass, through whose own personal form the team tends to be efficient and bullish. We will lead, and deserve to. We will predictably spurn a glut of chances to increase the lead. We will lose a marker at some point and concede a goal effortlessly. We will collapse. We will make baffling substitutions that bring the manager accusations of favouritism and one-dimensional cluelessness. We will do it all again next week.

And we will hear nothing from the ownership about anything whatosever, something that seems to put us in common with a head coach who, while obviously out of his depth in this job and proving harder by the week to forgive, is being hung out to dry on a clothes line almost as strong as the one Daniel Cousin used to flatten Kamil Zayatte on this same ground nine – crikey, yes – nine calendar years ago.

City of Culture, we know what we are. But we are other things too. And they’re nothing to be proud of.

Walking in death’s dark vale, in presence of my foes…

Marshall
Maguire Dawson Davies
Elmohamady Livermore Huddlestone Snodgrass Clucas
Diomande Mbokani

Three, five and two. Tried and trusted, except when someone puts a cross in. More on that to come.

Two changes from the side that chucked away two points against Everton, with the return of Tom Huddlestone to the midfield welcome and expected. The absence of Andy Robertson from the left flank made the cynical tongues a-wag, though – resting after an arduous Christmas? Or have West Ham bid for him again?

City settle down quickly. The midfield trio have entire control of the pace of the game. Huddlestone is in “lit cigar” mode, spraying the ball purposely yet nonchalantly to wherever he chooses. Sam Clucas, in an alien position, is not deterred from getting forward. The put-upon Ahmed Elmohamady is similarly forward thinking on the other side. This system just works, when City let it. And they are letting it.

Adama Diomande, followed by Huddlestone, both fizz shots straight down Ben Foster’s throat, then Michael Dawson – the Premier League’s top scoring defender this season, let’s just drink in that utterly crackpot stat once again – aims a left footer just wide after Snodgrass has a corner cleared back to him. It’s good, resourceful, enjoyable stuff from City, and the travelling fans – lots of whom paid on the day, it seems – respond throatily.

Then we score. And it’s a lovely goal indeed.

Harry Maguire wins it, Jake Livermore plays it and Elmohamady, in truly hectares of room thanks to a weirdly unobservant West Brom back four, has room and time to glide the ball to the edge of the box where the fast-arriving Snodgrass is able to slide in and steer the ball into the corner. Foster has no chance.

Just over 20 minutes gone, and a deserved lead has been attained. But can we keep it, to half time?

West Brom manage to tighten things up after Jonny Evans suffers an injury and the change prompts a like-for-like switch. But the home side are taking their time getting into the game, and their deafeningly quiet supporters don’t like it. Meanwhile, City want two.

Snodgrass with another dig, from further away. Blocked. Dieumerci Mbokani, chronic workaholic up front, heads a tame one straight at Foster. Diomande shoots wide, Huddlestone then goes closest with a low left-footer that Foster shovels up well.

In between, ironic cheers from the City corner of the Smethwick End as both Salomón Rondón and Matt Phillips aim headers goalwards, but David Marshall clings on comfortably. Then Maguire nearly removes a Throstle head with a shot of hysteria-inducing venom, though the ricochet allows West Brom a counter attack that ends with Curtis Davies making a goal-saving block. Real defending, this. We have cohesion, pace, innovation. It’s a splendid half of football and the City players trudge off satisfied.

In the eventual context, a half time lead is nothing to shout about, even away from home. But it represents progress. Of a kind.

As darkness falls, we see the first evidence of the crescent moon and Venus having a bit of a gossip in the sky. The nearest planet to earth is eerily bright, and you can understand why social media’s most ardent amateur photographers were hard at work for the next couple of hours. It twinkles, flickers and, as any astronomer will tell you, offers next to no gravitational pull whatsoever. It is so slight it is literally immeasurable and the cumulative effect is nil.

So we can’t use that as an excuse for the second half.

Mike Phelan must have known that Tony Pulis would rely a bit more on bodies in the box. Thy rod and staff comfort Pulis still – and his staff tend to be six-foot plus blunderers who can climb above constructions dimensionally similar to bungalows in order to meet leather with forehead. Very comforting indeed, for him. Especially when the opposition is plainly unaware and unprepared.

On 49 minutes, a corner. Chris Brunt heads in unmarked. On 62 minutes, a corner. Gareth McAuley heads in unmarked. The second took a while to be confirmed as Mark Clattenburg took a break from his ‘Basic Mandarin for Beginners’ app on his wrist to consult the goal-line tech, which eventually said goal.

Two corner, two unmarked headers, two goals. This merits relegation on its own, never mind some of the other harebrained, incompetent things City have done this season.

Let’s add another to an ever expanding list (we’ll be needing more A4 soon). Mbokani, tireless, selfless, forward-thinking, about to relinquish his club duties for the ACoN, withdrawn from action. On comes Ryan Mason, a midfielder whose collective contribution to the City cause since a ludicrously expensive transfer from Tottenham has been a goal in the League Cup and otherwise a series of displays that have been somewhere between vague and feckless.

The formation alteration sees Diomande operate alone up top with Snodgrass theoretically doing the work in the hole behind him. Mason is no improvement either directly or by association. City barely see the ball. And within another eight minutes, a third goal goes in.

Not a set-piece this time, but still the City rearguard struggle to find its collective bum as a counter attack allows James Morrison a sliced left-foot volley into the corner past Marshall, who is blameless for all three goals but is still questionable when it comes to organising a defence.

Phelan tries another novel substitution in removing Davies (to mocking from fans of West Brom, for whom he used to play) and bringing on Markus Henriksen. The number of bodies in the midfield now was bordering on greedy, but still City had little knowledge of what was going on and certainly no inclination to find out. It was a galling, devastating exercise in ruining something you’ve got and earned for yourself. It was really, really horrible.

Robertson was also on the bench, so was David Meyler, so was the forgotten man of the senior squad, Shaun Maloney, who has plainly more to offer than the two wastrels who have taken up too much of our time as tactical martyr figures already. Why Maloney isn’t getting a game is anyone’e guess, but then he wasn’t a purchase on Ehab’s list in August, of course.

Afterwards, Phelan claimed he couldn’t defend the corners, which gives him something in common with his players. He is now without Elmohamady as well as Mbokani throughout January, while Snodgrass applauded the fans quite lengthily, as if to signify an imminent parting of the ways. Phelan is also without the goodwill of most City fans, and indeed the physical presence of an awful lot of them due to the much-vaunted boycott of this Saturday’s FA Cup tie versus a similarly bedraggled, virulent Swansea City. Though even without the boycott, why would anyone, from either side, want to go to that?

Cups will take our attention for much of January, especially if our rancid owner, within the paths of righteousness e’en for his own name’s sake, continues to play cat-and-mouse with the head coach over funding for new players. The Premier League is unlovely at the best of times, but it is especially so when you feel like the unloveliest presence within it. That’s where City are right now and it is difficult to imagine being anywhere else before May. And the blame will always lie squarely, firmly, unequivocally at the top.

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Manchester Hunter 3

RobertsonA1415

Yesterday ought to have been quite a big day for me. It was the fiftieth anniversary of my very first City game. On that day back in 1966 Huddersfield were the visitors to a Boothferry Park positively heaving with 35,630 East and West Riding folk, the seething atmosphere enhanced by the sense of anticipation and optimism which was very much the hallmark of the Club at that time, not only locally but within the football world at large.

The most up-and-coming club in the English game at that time was Coventry City, managed by Jimmy Hill and destined at the end of that very season to take the Second Division title and, for the first time, their place in English football’s top flight. Hull City, however, were not that far behind, it seemed to many. Like Coventry, we had an ambitious, visionary chairman who had invested heavily and – to a point – wisely, both on and off the field of play, and this was clearly playing dividends back on Boxing Day 1966 as the most famous of the Club’s signings of the era, Ken Wagstaff, put City in front in the first half and local boy Chris Chilton, the other half of one of the most deadly striking partnerships in the English game, made the game safe in the dying moments, the 2-0 victory keeping us well in touch with Coventry and the other front runners.

One of the abiding memories of my days as a fledgling City supporter was not only the perception that City was destined for Division 1, but that the Club and the community positively ached for it. And if, back in December 1966, that rather precocious six year old, tightly clutching his father’s hand and agog with excitement as part of that monster crowd filing out of the ground, could have seen 50 years into the future to the day when Hull City would be hosting title contenders Manchester City in a top-flight game at home on Boxing Day, it’s hard to articulate the feelings of excitement that that would have generated in such a young and impressionable mind.

What a terrible shame, nay an absolute scandal, therefore, to make that 50-year journey and find something that something so coveted, so yearned for, so seemingly snatched from our grasp only to be restored, should be made light of in such a contemptible way by the successor custodians of that ambitious and visionary chairman.

For although the atmosphere at the Circle yesterday was significantly better than it has been on the whole at home games this season, and although the performance was on the whole a creditable one, the eventual scoreline flattering our visitors to an extent way beyond parody, and although no blame should be levelled at the players or (not in the wider sense) the manager, the whole mood and experience yesterday was way short of what it should have been for such a fixture on such a day.

Sadly, there is no prospect of that changing any time soon. It’s looking increasingly likely that those of us who declared that the Allams do not have, and never have had, any intention of selling the Club in the short term have been proved right. Furthermore, the attempts to register some kind of effective supporter protest have gained no traction whatsoever, partly because the owners have not the slightest interest in or concern over the dissatisfaction among the supporters, partly because those currently attending City games still includes sufficient tourists, with bugger all interest other than to gawp at Wayne or Theo or Diego or whoever, to dilute the mood and intensity of those supporters who actually do love and care about the club and partly because those supporter organisations who should be spearheading the opposition to the Allams have, it is very persuasively arguable, the wrong people in charge.

As if all this is not enough, one high-profile member of the Tiger Nation made an observation to me yesterday that I had not considered but which is entirely plausible, namely that it might take not just the inevitable relegation this season but a second one to rid us of the Allams, since next season’s parachute payments could be used, as they arguably were last time, to fund a promotion push only for another season of underinvestment and ultimate failure in the Premier League to ensue. Of course, this has no hope of becoming an indefinite cycle, as recruitment of players and management and backroom teams of the requisite quality will become increasingly difficult as the word of the Allams’ poison becomes more widely known around the football world (a process that could be speeded up considerably if the local media showed a bit more gumption and the national media actually bothered to investigate and report on what was happening in the way that we all know they would if this wasn’t happening to Hull City but instead to the likes of, say, Everton, Spurs or even Stoke), but even so the prospect that Ehab might continue to toy with Hull City for a number of seasons to come in the same way that a cat toys with its prey for some time before finally putting it out of its misery, is potentially a very real one.

I don’t even know why I’m writing all this: after all, it’s not as if I or anyone else has any effective solutions that would not involve a serious breach of the criminal law. But in a way it’s cathartic, and might actually save me some therapist’s fees in the future and prevent me from drawing a line under my support for City and either going to watch my second favourite team, St Mirren, instead, or giving up on football altogether.

So, turning to the game itself, which after all is what I am supposed to be writing about,  it was no surprise, after the creditable but ultimately fruitless performance at West Ham, to find an unchanged line-up:-

                                                                Marshall
Maguire                               Dawson                                                Davies
Elmohamady      Livermore           Huddlestone      Clucas   Snodgrass
Mbokani

Night had long fallen and a crisp evening atmosphere set in , courtesy of the later kick-off time for television purposes, by the time the game kicked off  with City playing towards the North Stand and free clackers for all (thank you Mr Allam, sir) .

After a largely formless first few minutes Citteh win a free kick within shooting distance but Tourė’s effort was palmed away by David Marshall. With far too many of their players sporting gloves, they seem content to push the ball around but to no real purpose and certainly limited real threat to the City goal. This goes on until about the quarter hour mark when, in the space of a couple of minutes, a couple of good passages of play from City suddenly has the visitors looking not at all comfortable, although the shooting opportunity fashioned from the second of these is wasted when Jake Livermore balloons the leather high over Bravo’s goal. Then on 20, Dieumerci Mbokani, who worked tirelessly and effectively all night and surely must have run Harry Maguire close for Man of the Match,  combined with Ahmed Elmohamady, whose cross was headed a foot over by Livermore.  The City number 14 then gets one on target, again after a decent build up, but fires straight at Bravo after another decent build up.

It would be wrong to say that City were all over Citteh at this point, but the visitors were certainly not having it all their own way.

For the rest of the half there isn’t a great deal to report, the main talking point being the incorrect award of a goal kick to Hunter by referee Madley when an Elmo cross is put behind by one of theirs. I was quite surprised by the possession count of 67/33 to Citteh posted by the BBC because the visitors did not appear to be dominating to anything like that extent. Maybe it was simply yet more of the fake news to which the BBC has been subjecting us over the Christmas period and previously.

Half-time arrives without real incident and City can look back on the first-half showing with quiet satisfaction. What is needed now is a motivational team talk from Mike Phelan.

What we actually got was yet another inexplicable substitution. But not before we continued to show that we were capable of causing discomfort to our much-vaunted opponents. We force a couple of early corners, and from the second of these there seems a credible shout for a penalty although it was too far away for me to be authoritative on just how credible it was. Then on 51, a training ground move from a free kick sees Maguire loop the leather over on the full volley. Almost immediately a narrow escape follows, when De Bruyne hits Marshall’s near post with a low effort, which would have been harsh on us. Mbokani is then pulled down twice without any sign of a card, before we go agonisingly close to taking what would not have been an undeserved lead, Michael Dawson’s header from a Robert Snodgrass corner being headed off the line by Sagna.

And then, THAT substitution. At West Ham we were looking comfortable and good for at least a point when the manager makes an unnecessary substitution which disrupts our flow and eventually we lose the game. So, scroll forward nine days. We’re looking comfortable and good for at least a point, so what does Phelan do? Takes off Tom Huddlestone, who has performed with authority and application throughout the game, who shows no sign of injury or tiredness, for Ryan Mason on whom perhaps the kindest thing that can be said is that the jury is still out. OK, it might be said that this substitution did not weaken us or cause and it is, of course, impossible to disprove either of those statements with empirical evidence.   But why on earth take the risk when there is no need? It’s almost as if Phelan made the substitution for the sake of it or – as I think was suggested on here yesterday – had made a decision that he was going to make a substitution on the hour regardless of whether the pattern or balance of play demanded it. Not impressed.

Of course, a few minutes later we trail. And it’s down to yet another penalty, Andy Robertson being the culprit, not for the first time, clumsily downing Sterling. We have the odds stacked us in any event this season – Mr Allam has seen to that – and then to be giving away no fewer than nine penalties as we have done so far this season is criminally irresponsible, frankly. Granted, there are a lot of cheating bastards in this league and this idea that seems to have taken root that any kind of physical contact warrants a penalty is both wrong and perverse, but we have been incredibly naïve and reckless around our own box this season and that is a coaching issue, I’m afraid. My irritation was not, at all, assuaged by Robertson’s tweeted apology this morning: insincere weasel words from a player who has been as foolish in the past and has therefore clearly learned nothing.

Anyway, Tourė smacks the leather home (and Marshall doesn’t save penalties) and that’s us well and truly fornicated. The Citteh fans, disgracefully silent for virtually all the game, unlike their neighbours from across the self-styled centre of the universe, suddenly find their voices.

It’s really a matter now of whether they will score again. And indeed we don’t have to wait more than six minutes to learn the answer to that particular question, when Iheanacho scrambles the leather over the line from Silva’s cross.

In fairness to City we rally a bit after this but never really show enough incisiveness to raise any hopes of getting fully back into the game. We do however manage our third attempt of the game on target in injury time when Snodgrass curls a free kick round the Hunter wall and into the arms of Bravo. Almost immediately they break down our right and Sterling’s low cross is turned into his own net by Curtis Davies. The whole thing was symptomatic of a player and team shorn of luck, confidence and concentration.

Davies’ intervention proves the last kick of the game. Two games from which we might easily have plundered four points actually garner a zero return and our position looks more hopeless than ever, the more so because the sort of investment that would see us so much as stand a chance of retrieving the situation in the second half of the season isn’t going to be forthcoming unless Ehab’s polo pony stamps on his master’s head.

Not all doom and gloom, though. If we continue to play like we have since the Palace game and can cut out the naïve silly penalties and careless own goals we can at least go out with our heads held high, with a points tally in the 20s and possibly not, in view of how dreadful Swansea are at present, bottom of the Premier League. The spirit is there on the whole and in players such as Sam Clucas, Robertson and Snodgrass, we have a few credible Premier League players.

Small comfort, to be sure, but in our situation you have to take what positives you can concoct.

Ian Thomson (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: West Ham 1 City 0

PhelanM

“The best team always wins, the rest is just gossip.”

So said buck-toothed Notts County legend Jimmy Sirrel. And generally speaking, I’d agree with him. If your keeper has a blinder to give you a 1-0 win, then you’ve earned your win – he was your keeper. I’ve been attending football matches since the early 80s and I’ve very rarely seen a game to disprove Mr Sirrel’s theory.

Saturday was one of those days. And it was a horrible one for Hull City AFC.

Lining up against The ‘Ammers in that stadium from the telly were the following:

Marshall
Dawson Davies Maguire
Elmohamady Livermore Huddlestone Clucas Robertson
Snodgrass
Mbokani

It was harsh on Adama Diomande, one of our better attacking players this season. It remains harsh on Eldin Jakupović – palpably a better goalkeeper for Hull City than David Marshall. But the formation was correct and we had a couple of promising displays to build upon. And build upon them we did…

It was – as it almost always is – a formless first 10 minutes. Andy Carroll was to worryingly brush Michael Dawson aside a couple of times, Payet wasted a promising free-kick for the home side, Marshall looked to be badly injured but managed to carry on – standard fare for a game we’re going to lose 1-0. Except the standard was about to be raised. And how.

As an attacking force, West Ham’s afternoon had essentially peaked by this point, save for a few unthreatening corners and an intervention from a friendly official. After this it was to be all Hull City in our finest afternoon’s work since the opening day of the season. After this, we’d be bottom of the table.

On 13, Robert Snodgrass – majestic all afternoon – gets in a decent cross that no amber and black shirt can get on the end of. On 15, Dieumerci Mbokani – a handful all afternoon – puts through Snodgrass whose tame shot is blocked. Eyebrows are raised among the City faithful. We’ve done something good; a small mercy we should be thankful for. Except there’s more.

On 18, Mbokani is played in nicely and shoots wide. He should have done better but he’s clearly got the home defence rattled in a way that Carroll isn’t managing at the opposite end. On 20 Mbokani gets an even better chance. A Cresswell backpass falls kindly to him leaving him with only the keeper Randolph to beat. Sadly, the Congolese shoots to the keeper’s left only to hit the side of the post. We should be 1-0 up. We really, really should be 1-0 up.

But we keep coming. Snodgrass and Mbokani are linking beautifully, Jake Livermore and Sam Clucas are running the midfield, Tom Huddlestone is stroking the ball about nicely, enjoying the security blanket of three centre halves being behind him. Andy Robertson and Ahmed Elmohamady are enjoying their football in a manner in which I don’t think they have for some time. On 23, the majestic Harry Maguire heads a corner goalwards, only to see Randolph pull off a spectacular save. How are we not winning? On 29, Snodgrass plays in Mbokani, whose throughball to Clucas running down the right channel is a thing of beauty. Sadly, Sam’s composure in front of goal leaves a lot to be desired and another chance goes begging. On 35, Mbokani makes a meal out of some scraps and volleys just over. We’re good. We’re really, really good. But it’s still 0-0.

We’re not finished though. Maguire shoots from distance on 37 only to see his shot saved. On 42, Snodgrass plays in Livermore only to see Jake spanner the ball high and wide. Aaarrrggghhhhh!!!!! Then Maguire – in full Beckenbauer mode – brings the ball out of defence, finds Robertson on our left but continues his run. Robertson finds Harry, who’s crowded out by a couple of defenders whose intervention still finds the side netting. Half time falls just after Snodgrass wastes a promising looking free-kick won by Mbokani. There’s been one team in it. But it’s nil f*cking nil.

Mindful of the battering his team have taken, Bilić makes two changes for the home side at half time. But it doesn’t matter. We’re still the better team. And by some distance. On 55 a counter attack falls to the energetic Clucas advancing on the West Ham goal but sadly the home defence make up the ground to clear for a corner. From the corner, Maguire – who won every header he went for – nods it across goal but no one’s there to finish it off. On 57, closer still. Snodgrass sends Robertson – who visibly improved as the game went on – off down the left. The Scotsman bore down on goal and sent in a cross that Mark Noble dived towards and diverted beyond the hapless Randolph. Sadly, the post was still to be beaten. It stood firm. Two minutes later the post is to stand firm again as Huddlestone plays through Robertson only for the left wingback to hit a wonderful shot against the far post. Clucas then makes another counter-attacking break that was only snuffed out at the last ditch for a corner. From the corner, a Maguire header is cleared off the line.

A goal had to come. It just had to. We just needed no one to do anything silly.

Let’s take a break from the match report to play ‘You’re the Manager’ for a second. Your team has been struggling but has recently shown some promising form. You’ve tweaked the formation, and away at a side that will probably be in a relegation battle with you, your team is in the ascendancy. Your centre-forward, fresh from not playing for a couple of weeks and soon to be heading to the African Nations Cup, is battering their defence and winning pretty much everything. Your midfield has beaten theirs, to the point where their star centre-forward seems to be playing right-back for some reason. There are more than 20 minutes left. So, do you:

A) For the love of god just leave things the f*ck alone.
B) Tell the centre-forward and one midfielder that they’ve got another 10 minutes left so to leave it all out there.
C) Take off said centre-forward for a player with half the physical presence, and one of your most industrious midfielders for a player who’s done the square root of f*ck all since joining in August.

If you chose A or B, you are a sensible person who’d probably have left the Olympic Stadium with at least a point on Saturday. If you chose C, you’re an idiot.

Look, I really want to like Mike Phelan. I want it to be an us – ‘us’ being the manager, the players, the fans – versus ‘them’ (the opponents, the officials, our owners) situation every week. But when he does stuff like take off Mbokani and Livermore for Diomande and Markus Henriksen when he did on Saturday, it’s hard not to fear that he’s out of his depth. In one crass move, the initiative was surrendered. West Ham – through no action of their own – were handed the game.

Well, they needed a bit of help. And that’s where Lee Mason comes in. Mason is just a poor ref. And I get the impression that he likes giving decisions. I’m not going to lie, the melée that led to West Ham’s penalty was so far away that I could barely make anything out. But I could see that Mason was hunched down looking for something. And when Huddlestone made minimal contact with a player in claret and blue, he couldn’t blow his whistle quick enough. Lee Mason is a cock.

Mark Noble – an overrated player if ever there was one – sent Marshall the wrong way and grand larceny was on the way to being committed.

In truth, from thereon in, West Ham were ever so slightly the better team as they exposed the holes left by a City side chasing the game. Payet wasted a couple of dangerous free-kicks but in truth we were cooked. All the impetus was gone from our game. Jarrod Bowen was introduced late on and showed a few nice touches but we’d raised the white flag in the 68th minute with our substitutions and West Ham had meekly accepted the gesture. The final whistle was blown by the man in sherbet lemon and for the second time in four days we were leaving London empty-handed.

We’d played well – really well in places. Mbokani may not score goals but he does create mayhem. Snodgrass is a class act, too good to go down. Clucas and Livermore ran and ran and ran. Huddlestone looked more like the Huddlestone we fell in love with in 2013. Elmo and Robertson had their best games in ages. Curtis Davies and Dawson were solid and Maguire was simply majestic. But we’ve played ‘well’ for three games on the trot now, and we’ve got one point to show for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is relegation form. And it’s no less than the hateful Allams deserve. The fans, however, deserve better.

Richard Gardham (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Spurs 3 City 0

LivermoreJ1415

Football’s all about sequences sometimes.  Look hard enough and you find pattern.  A team regularly following the pattern of winning, will more than likely win the league.  Particularly in the Premier League, a team following a pattern of defeats will see the league ruthlessly take advantage and heap more despair on the teams run.

And then there’s more subtle patterns.  Details that somehow keep repeating.  Thanks to fellow match reporter Rob Kaye in spotting this, the run of Premier league results at White Hart Lane follow a pattern.  Starting with Geovanni’s winner in the 0-1Boaz Myhill’s goalkeeping master class in the 0-0Ahmed Elmohamady harshly penalised seeing us lose 1-0, then last time losing 2-0.

Yes there’s a Premier League pattern happening when City visit White Hart Lane.

Following the weekends much improved performance, Mike Phelan cards the same starting 11…

                            Marshall
Maguire  Dawson  Davies
Elmohamady                                Robertson
Livermore  Clucas  Huddlestone
Snodgrass
Diomande

December’s not a great month for a mid week fixture.  Companies are holding Christmas parties, seeing staff wander in the next day with stinking hang-overs, barely able to function whilst drifting out of a slumber.  The collective parties of Tottenham and Hull City must have had an effect on the pitch as the two sides dozed through the early exchanges.

Tottenham are very much playing within themselves, keeping tight possession at the back and occasionally playing forward.  The ex-Spurs contingent in the City side are clearly stepping their own personal performances at their former footballing home.

The first action of the game sees Sissoko break clear, but as he shapes to shoot, Jake Livermore gets a block in.  Soon after another Spurs break after they defend Tom Huddlestone’s free kick with Wanyama releasing Eriksen up the right, Huddlestone covering his defenders well to get the clearing block in.

It’s not long before Spurs take the lead.  A long ball forward sees Rose charge up his left wing, to be faced by the backtracking Elmohamady.  He cuts inside the Egyptian, before passing into Eriksen to side foot past the exposed David Marshall.

Fired up by this Spurs attack with more purpose, Alli trying a long shot that’s easily collected by Marshall.  Sissoko also runs at the City back line before being felled by Curtis Davies, whose name is taken.  The resulting free kick is put wide by Eriksen.

With the ex-Spurs players putting in the more eye catching performances, one who stands out in these early exchanges is Huddlestone.  Tracking back to help his defence, driving forward to try and create something.  This however comes to a very sudden stop, as he blocks another Spurs attack, before going down, screaming out and holding his hamstring.  He was soon back up and ran this injury off, bur from that point in the game he very much became a shadow of his former self.  However whilst Huddlestone was down, City managed their first attack.  Maguire had put in a typical firm challenge and cleared the ball to the advancing Livermore, unfortunately his weak effort was easily claimed by Lloris.

By now, City are dragging themselves back into the game.  Perhaps given more space by Spurs only pressing when we’re deep in their territory, the Tigers are passing the ball about with more confidence.  However the one failing of the line-up is time and again exposed. Adama Diomande is expected to single handedly lead the front line.  Whilst he does this, frustratingly he’s never given enough support to make this count.

Whilst City are enjoying more of the play, Spurs are playing with more purpose.  Attacking with greater speed than we offer.  Maybe that’s their game plan, try and draw out the back three before hitting City on the break.  And it works, a long ball up finds Alli who initially wrong foots Marshall, before he contorts himself back to palm the shot wide of the post.

One feature of Harry Maguire is his once per match rampage up field, a sea of opposing players lay behind the young centre back as he powers through.  Spurs have a player of their own doing this. Vertonghen tries his own ‘Maguire run’, turning the City side inside and out, until he reaches the past master of this art.  Big Harry sticks out a firm boot, stopping the Belgian in his tracks.

Half time allows me to reflect on the match.  Spurs are very much trying to pin City’s two wing backs back, yet are still in first gear.  City for all their passing endeavour are still too deep and offering Diomande no support.  As a result, City rarely threatening the Spurs goal.

Looking around, White Hart Lane is changing.  The trip into the ground sees the skeleton of the new ground taking shape. Inside the corner opposite the one housing City’s away following has been demolished ready for the new stadium.  Apparently the new stadium will be the biggest Football ground in London (Wembley aside).  They also have plans to make this the most connected ground in the country, in a bid to aid the fan experience.  Can you imagine that, a football club trying to improve a supporters match day experience.  Now why would they want to do that?  Do Tottenham not know how supporters should be treated?  This does lead to a question for you Ground Tickers.  Once Spurs start to use the new White Hart Lane ground, am I allowed to claim it as a ticked ground, or will I lose my Spurs claim until such time we visit the new layout?  I guess this question has only really been posed once before when Bournemouth rotated Dean Court

The half time break also offered the usual chance for the substitutes to warm up on the field.  Conspicuous by his absence, Ryan Mason is not taking part with his colleagues, offering a suggestion he may come on at half time.  Spurs are taking this opportunity a little differently.  Either their substitutes are extremely short, or they’ve just dragged out a bunch of local kids to have a half time pass about.  As the teams returned to the field of play, City’s starting 11 lined up.  Maybe Mason spent half time collecting his old belongings from his locker.

City start the second half well.  A strange goal kick tactic from Spurs sees them pass the ball short, allowing Andy Roberson to nip in and win a corner.  The corner is headed by Maguire off a Spurs head, winning another corner, this one finding Michael Dawson at the far post, going behind for a goal kick. Again Spurs try the short kick routine, giving Diomande a chance to catch them out.  Soon after, Spurs abandon this tactic.

Other than the ex-Spurs players, the other stand out in the City side is Sam Clucas.  Defensively he’s providing an effective shield to the back line, up front he’s a willing runner trying to support Diomande up front.

Robert Snodgrass’s newly acquired reputation precedes him after Wanyama concedes a soft free kick. Wanyama is clearly enrages at the Scot, claiming it wasn’t a foul, but the ref still awarding it.  With this being one of the games that passes Snodgrass by, his woeful freekick is easily cleared.

Within minutes, City are offered a chance to get back on levels terms.  A Spurs player is felled just inside the box, with them appealing for a penalty and the referee waving play on, City break with Livermore bursting through into the Spurs box.  His first shot is blocked, before rebounding back out to him.  His follow up shot is again goal bound before Vertonghen clears off the line.

After Alli is replaced by Winks, the match is up for City.  Walker gets up his wing far too easily, playing the ball along the edge of the 6 yard box.  With the static defence unable to clear, Eriksen pokes in at the back post.

This goal has knocked City’s confidence.  Spurs are starting to step up a gear and take the game to the Tigers.  Even Walker’s having pot shots from a distance

Despite his good performance, Clucas is removed for Mason to give our midfield trio a complete Spurs reunion.  Whilst I’ve recently tried to defend Mason, claiming he’s playing out of position, he came on in his preferred position, hopefully fired up against his former side.  He then proceeded to spend the next 24 minutes emulating the final appearance of Ben Arfa at Old Trafford.  Rarely have I seen a player come on and offer so little.  In effect, City may have played the rest of the match out with 10 players.

Topping this off, Spurs soon get their third.  Whilst an amber tinted view may suggest Maguire cleanly tackles Rose, a free kick was given on the edge of the area.  With Eriksen sensing a hat-trick, he positioned himself with a very angled run-up.  As a result the City wall looked badly out of position.  Eriksens shot looped over the bar and Marshall got his finger tips to the ball, but it crashed off the post and dropped down for Wanyama to tap in.

With City well beaten, Spurs started to rest players withdrawing Kane for Son.  City did similarly, ready for the weekends trip to the Olympic Park with Livermore withdrawn for David Meyler.

Spurs tails are really up now.  The City defence and midfield are lines up on the 18 yard line, leaving Diomande further isolated up front.  Shots are still coming in and Marshall’s having to do well to save through the sea of legs in front of him.

The few times Diomande does get a chance, the Spurs defenders are able to double up on him, so his continual attempts to trick past them are very easily defended.  Jarrod Bowen did come on in place of Snodgrass to at least give Diomande someone to talk to.  However with the rest of the team so far back, even using semaphore wouldn’t get the message “Kick the flipping ball to me” would struggle to get the message to the rest of the team.

By now, Spurs were happy to see the game out.  Onomah replaced Sissoko and their players finished off their job well done.

Leaving the ground on the train north from White Hart Lane, I was talking to another City fan.  He’s remained in attendance this season, whereas I’ve given up funding the ghastly two at the head of the club.  His view was that this was a good City performance, at least compared to recent matches at Middlesbrough.  I saw this as a poor performance, not referencing other games.

And so the highlighted sequence continues.  0-1, 0-0, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0.  Is it worth putting money down now on a 4-0 defeat for our next visit to White Hart Lane?  Or is it too optimistic to suggest City will return to a league fixture there any time soon?

James Lockwood (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)