FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2 Rotherham 2

Grosicki KIt’s been a titled a make or break couple of weeks for City in terms of their playoff ambitions, which began with a more ‘break’ outlook after defeat at FLD last Saturday. But the next couple of home fixtures would surely see a return to winning ways and the tickling of the top six’s bums with a City feather. Right? Hmmmm.

The match stats for our opponents Rotherham looked ominous for the visitors. The Millers had not won away on a Tuesday night in the second tier for 25 games, shipped 49 goals this season and sat 21st above the bottom three by one point. You have to go back to when George Michael’s god awful ballad Jesus to a Child was number one (I’m more an A Different Corner man myself) for the last Rotherham win here. City’s form at home since December speaks for itself: WWWWW.

Looking to make it six home ‘W’s in a row City lined up a 4-2-3-1…

Marshall

Lichaj.  McKenzie Ridgewell. Kingsley

Irvine Henriksen

Bowen Evandro Grosicki
Campbell

After the epilepsy inducing light display and a minutes applause for Gordon ‘Banksy’ Banks, City kicked off towards the north stand. And before many had sat down or finished their bovrils and pizza pods City go one up. A lovely through ball by Evandro finds Bowen in acres of space on the right and riding a challenge unleashes a shot into the bottom left. 1-0. Hurray!

City really start off they way they mean to begin by dominating challenges, smartly passing and making general mugs of the Millers. Evandro brilliantly tackles and dribbles. Henriksen shields the ball well and helps cover the back four. Irvine pace causes problems but his distribution is sometimes poor. At the back we look comfortable and wise to Rotherham’s threat of crosses, long balls and Delap-like long throws into the box. Up front for them alleged City target Michael Smith rarely sees the ball and cuts a forlorn figure; a bit like Paul Chuckle does these days. All things looking reasonably comfy.

Millers boss Paul Warne lamented earlier this week that both Grosicki and Bowen hadn’t been sold in the transfer window making his job harder tonight. By 60 minutes he would be happy to see our Polish winger still on the field, but for now it’s us who are on the front foot and it’s no surprise when we score again. Campbell pokes in after some comical attempts by the Rotherham defence to clear the ball when Grosicki crosses. 2-0 and thoroughly deserved. This is heading for another tanking surely? Four, five, even a six goal thrashing? Pa!

Recognising that something needs to be done Warne replaces Yates for Forde and changes the formation to a 4-3-3 (I think). This appears to bring a reaction to Rotherham who press forward and look a bit more of a threat. Looking back I think it is the real turning point of the game. On 35 Vaulkes unleashes a piledriver which stings Marshall’s hands, then Smith should do better after a spooning a cross into the south stand. But City are equal to it with Grosicki and Bowen both spurning decent chances.

Then referee Duncan blows his whistle for HT and I can enjoy a lemon drizzle cake; one of the fruits of my wife’s new vegan regime. Whilst I was munching away, Adkins will have been giving his half time talk. I would imagine it would not have involved much Warnock style language or throwing of tea cups, more a praising of the positives of such a dominant first half display perhaps finishing with a namaste. Well whatever Adkins said it certainly had an effect – just not the desired one.

From the off Rotherham continue to press but appear more of a threat as City retreat into their own half. On 48 the impressive Vyner spins and clips a pass to sub Taylor whose shot is spilled by Marshall into the path of Forde. 2-1. OkayCity, take a breathe and keep possession for a bit. The massacre is still on. On 54 Vaulk throws long but instead of heading out City decide to miss a clearance to which Taylor juggles the ball then unleashes a grass cutter which hits the unfortunate McKenzie and changes the trajectory of the ball past Marshall. 2-2. Christ on a bike! This is not meant to happen.

For the next 15 minutes the Millers pummel City onto the ropes by cross, long throw and general bullying. Marshall tips over two point blank headers from Robertson. Lichaj appears to be battling on his own out on the left. Where’s Grosicki you may ask? Upfield I may answer politely. Where are the “holding midfielders”? Outbattled or on the bench. In his one effective contribution to the 2nd half Grosicki shoots from a wide angle after Marshalls direct kick to him, but it is saved well by Rodak.

We make a couple of subs introducing Pugh and Milinkovic. This is to some effect as the game starts to even out a bit and City create a few chances but the feeling that the game is petering out is confirmed when Adkins goes for the nuclear option and brings on Marshall for Campbell. There’s just time for City to almost snatch it when Kingsley crosses to an unmarked Irvine, who in keeping with his second half display heads wide with the goal gaping. The match finishes with the ball firmly in City’s half to a chorus of boos.

So there ends City’s unlikely accent towards the playoff places. Yes, it’s still mathematically doable but we all know that this result has put the kibosh on that. The battle is now on to stay in the top half with much tougher matches on the horizon.

Two things spring to mind when thinking about this game before it deserves to be kicked into the dustbin of Tiger history. Firstly the phrase ‘throwawayability’. Secondly, that the thought that football is not fun. In fact most of the time it’s agony. But give me agony over apathy any day, because the danger of fixtures with nothing to play for by mid March in front of 5000 fans is not a pleasant thought.

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Derby 2 City 0

MarshallDWhen you come to think of it, this season could have been a lot worse. Despite the ritual lack of pre-season investment, the alarmingly dreadful first three months or so of the campaign which resulted and our owner in one of his rare media interviews giving what some might describe as a most passable impression of being a pathological liar there has been much cause for quiet satisfaction at the way that things have been turned round. On the whole, it’s probably fair to say that, wherever we end up in the final reckoning, it’s all turned out better than expected.

But not yesterday which, frankly, was something of a shitshow.

Derby, for all their investment in players, were not honestly any great shakes. They were in fact not really any better than Sheffield Wednesday or Stoke, and not as good as Leeds, all of whom have of course received a summary swatting aside at our hands in recent weeks. More about our hosts later, but this was a game which we were eminently capable of winning but in which we looked decidedly off-colour throughout. The problem didn’t seem to be the tactics or formation but rather some very below-par individual performances, particularly among those who have been instrumental in our surge up the table.

There was a bit of talk, en route from pub to ground, about how this game would likely to be a pointer as to where City would find themselves come the season’s end, in some ways akin to the West Brom away game in 2008. And you probably have to conclude that, certainly on yesterday’s showing and in light of the relative stutterings of the last three weeks, making up the ground that presently lies between us and sixth place is looking too tall an order.  Some might say though that that’s not necessarily a bad thing, lest it result in the largesse bestowed upon us in the event of a successful play-off campaign not disappearing into the trouser pockets of the Allams – because they have never taken a penny out of the Club, oh no – but mysteriously not finding its way into the playing budget either.

So, not quite managing to whelm the Tiger Nation were the following: the same starting XI, in fact, as had so summarily dispatched Stoke:-

Marshall

Kane                McKenzie            Lichaj            Kingsley

Irvine            Henriksen            Stewart
Bowen                                                                    Grosicki

Campbell

The high winds which had battered the East Midlands all night and morning (I live about 12 miles from Pride Park and was most amused that my next door neighbour had chosen yesterday to replace his garden fence) had subsided to an extent by kick-off time and we got under way with City playing towards the corner in which the noisy away contingent of, I would say, 1,200 or so were encamped.

The early stages seem pretty cagey, both main talking points in the first few moments surrounding Tom Huddlestone, namely the elegance and accuracy of his distribution (you do wonder why top-flight clubs have never been tempted to take him on if his performance yesterday was representative of how he’s been doing all season) and the fact that he seemed to be wearing the sort of shoulder pads that were beloved of female power-dressers in the 1980s.

With seven minutes on the clock, though, comes a moment which contributed as much as any to the eventual outcome of the game. Henriksen dispossesses a Ram as they try to play out of defence, the leather moves like quicksilver from him to Stewart, Campbell and into the path of Grosicki with most of the goal to aim at and home keeper Roos scrambling to get across. We’re hugging ourselves with the joy of taking an early lead as all Grosicki has to do is caress the leather into the bag, and from where we are it looks as though he has succeeded, only for the ball to clip the outside of the post. No excuse for him to have missed: he even had time to have taken a touch and buried it. Had we scored at that point, it might well have been a very different game.

For the moment the atmosphere remains tense. Pride Park, a joint usually jumping except when we are busy ripping them a new one in the play-offs, seems under strain. The home side, aided at times by the rub of the green around refereeing decisions, have plenty of the ball and even a few shots but without ever really putting us under threat, Marshall only having one easy save to make from a Tomori header.    The first real scare arrives on 24 and even that is courtesy of an effort from Holmes which takes a wicked deflection, but Marshall reacts well and saves. Shortly afterwards we go close again when Campbell, attacking down the inside-left channel, flashes one across the face of the goal.

I note on the half hour mark that our shape is good but we’re hampering ourselves by coughing up possession too cheaply too often, Grosicki and Irvine being the main offenders at this stage.

For fully ten minutes there’s barely a threat to our goal except when we make a horlicks of dealing with a through ball and Marshall has to race out of the box and head clear from Harry Wilson. Five minutes before the break though and we trail. Holmes threads one into the box and suddenly Waghorn is eight yards out in splendid isolation with the ball at his feet and our defence manifestly away with the fairies. The ground falls silent as though he’s offside, but in fact he’s very much on. Marshall blocks the first effort but with his back to goal Waghorn tucks the rebound on the turn inside the far post. Lichaj has had the presence of mind to cover the goal line and might regard himself as unlucky as the second shot went in the one place where he couldn’t reach it, and from where the shot was hit it’s unlikely that that’s exactly what Waghorn meant. The rest of our defence is still conspicuous by its absence, though.

Music after the goal. Dearie, dearie me.

It could have been worse three minutes later, as well, when Derby win a free kick about 23 yards out. It’s a soft one, conceded by Stewart, but given Harry Wilson’s well-known deadliness in such situations he should have been more careful. Of course Wilson’s going to score. He doesn’t.

So, half time, and a chance to take a closer look at the goal as well as Grosicki’s miss on the concourse screens. Not happy viewing. Changing the subject, why do I always get stuck behind the bloke in the kiosk queue who takes three or four minutes to conduct his transaction and then walks away clutching a single pint of beer?

The second half offers no immediate sign of improvement. We’re lively enough but there’s no consistent ingenuity or flair: our play is effective only in flashes. A couple of borderline offside decisions against us don’t help. We nearly get punished for this on 52 when Tomori wastefully plants a free header wide from a corner. They really aren’t that much better than us though, and that is frustrating.

Suddenly it all clicks together on the hour, when Stewart feeds Grosicki, who gloriously skins Keogh and delivers a peach of a cross onto the head of Irvine, whose glancing header is maybe three or four inches wide of the far post with Roos beaten. Some of my companions opine that he should be hitting the target but that might be a bit harsh as he was clearly trying to place the leather in the right spot.

Unfortunately we don’t retain the initiative and the game enters a rather scrappy phase. Again we concede a soft free-kick outside the box on 66 (Stewart again, this time on Waghorn) and this time surely Wilson must score. He doesn’t.

We’re looking bereft of ideas, and the constant chanting of the names of some of the subs from the more prattish sections of the City support isn’t helping (and I know he wasn’t a sub yesterday, but does anyone else find that Jackson Irvine song piss-boilingly inane?). This is all only going in one direction, and it’s not really that much of a surprise when Dorrbeh, as the locals refer to it, double their advantage with twenty minutes left. A Kingsley clearance is blocked and he’s chased down into the corner. Nobody comes to help him until Stewart arrives belatedly on the scene after Kingsley has been dispossessed, and Bogle’s low cross is drilled in at the near post by a not-very-closely-marked Waghorn.

More goal music. For the first time the home fans seem able to let their hair down.

A rash of substitutions – too little too late, ensues. In the midst of them we manage what proves to be our only on-target shot of the afternoon, Grosicki’s low drive being pouched by Roos. Irvine’s volley on 82 is too high.

This is early-season rather than late-season stuff, and that’s all the more regrettable because Derby look decidedly lacking in resilience: it’s a game that we really, really should not be losing.   Not that there’s any chance of matters being rectified as we deteriorate from being merely careless and lacking inspiration at key times to falling apart completely. Thankfully Derby aren’t good enough to capitalise on this and the game peters out to its drear and disappointing conclusion. The applause that the City players receive at the end of a second half that increasingly, as it wore on, looked, smelled and felt like an end-of-season dead rubber was rather more than they deserved, in all honesty.

That said, it really wasn’t the putting to the sword that some organs of the national media would have had you believe. Yes, Derby deserved their win because they took full advantage of some sloppy defending, but to suggest that the scoreline hugely flattered City as certain reports did is redolent of some quite nauseating brown-nosing of the home manager.

Which brings me nicely onto my concluding observations. I’ve had a soft(ish) spot for Derby for some years, as I worked there at a previous firm, during which time I acted for the Club on a number of occasions going back to when Adam Pearson was running things, and Derby is clearly a proper football town with loyal and knowledgeable supporters. For that reason I always pay a bit of attention to how they’re doing, and their present situation is most intriguing. They aren’t really doing any better than in recent years, in that they might or might not make the play-offs and on yesterday’s showing don’t seem to have the quality required of credible promotion candidates. Furthermore, their owner is an ambitious and demanding fellow, whose reaction to exactly the same situation in previous seasons has been to change the manager. What’s different this time is the current manager is a figure clearly regarded by a sycophantic media as one who can do no wrong. This places the owner in a real dilemma if things don’t improve, as any attempt to remove the present incumbent is likely to unleash unprecedented opprobrium upon him and by association his club on a grand scale. A very delicate situation, potentially.

Nevertheless, I’d swap our position for theirs, any day of the week.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2 Stoke 0

Grosicki KI hate playing Stoke. I’ve only seen us beat them once since 1992. There was another very memorable win in the league but given I didn’t go and missed Myhill’s brilliance that day, it doesn’t count. After a quiet end to the transfer window and a disappointing end to our unbeaten run last week, the visit of a bit of a bogey team and the absence of three centre halves made this one hell of a test.

Marshall, Kane, Kingsley, Lichaj, McKenzie, Henriksen, Stewart, Bowen (Milinkovic), Irvine, Grosicki (Pugh), Campbell (Martin).

The first half was drab. And that might be an over-statement. A real scrap between a team lacking the confidence to commit to attack given the makeshift defence and one looking confused by their change of manager and changes in personnel.

Stoke signed Sam Vokes for £7m on transfer deadline day and that put the fear of God into some City fans with our stand-in centre halves but Adkins countered it by pushing Lichaj and McKenzie up high – to halfway at times – accepting that Vokes wouldn’t run them and he wouldn’t then be a target for long balls. It came undone once, when McLean ran off Kane early but otherwise, it worked beautifully although it contributed to the scrap in midfield with a lack of space and time.

As I found myself getting annoyed by the linesman’s inability to tell if the ball was in or out of play in front of the West Stand, I realised sod all was happening in the game. Lichaj and McKenzie were doing a great job of standing up to their threat and the midfield harried and blocked led by Kevin Stewart who has undergone the biggest transformation since Eric ate a banana. He’s physically stronger, he’s making quick decisions and he’s passing the ball like the player I saw running games for Liverpool’s U23s three years ago.

City improved as half time approached and Stoke were warned as Bowen met Grosicki’s brilliant deep corner and headed into the side netting. On 43, Kane was tripped by Martins Indi. The free kick was just outside the area, ten yards to the right of the D. It was just too wide to hit and the wall wasn’t far enough back. It needed something miraculous and it got it as Bowen stepped up and whipped it over the wall and inside the post. Magnificent. 1-0.

Typical City time as half the crowd rushed off to get the beers in and the rest stood basking in the glow of Bowen’s brilliance. Kingsley fouled Vokes innocuously and handed Stoke an immediate equaliser. Or he would have if David Marshall’s trailing foot hadn’t booted away Vokes soft penalty. I’m pretty sure that’s the first time a City keeper has saved a penalty against Stoke. Bound to be.

This was a depleted City team in defence facing a side who’ve just spent over £10m this week on Danny Batth and Vokes.. If the quality they possess wasn’t obvious, their subs warming up at half time included £12m signing Afobe, £12m signing Berahino, £10m signing Ince, £6.5m signing Ryan Woods (a player I really like) and long-serving captain Ryan Shawcross.

For all that investment, they only threatened once in the second half. Lichaj was penalised for a good tackle. The free kick was chipped into the box, Henriksen went up with Batth and the ball looped off one of them, over Marshall and back into the keeper’s arms off the post. A deserved let off. At the other end Grosicki wasted a very good break and then led another charge lofting a cross up that Campbell volleyed into the side netting. The value of Grosicki and Bowen became obvious as the game stretched with their pace exploiting the space behind Stoke. Campbell was a nuisance for the whole game too. He ran himself into the ground, chased lost causes, battered defenders, upset the keeper and annoyed the ref. We’ve missed him.

Stoke put Tom Ince on for Bojan whose key contribution had been his little signals before corners. I could only decipher that holding two arms aloft means “put it on Bowen’s head” and holding the ball in the air means “play a short one that Kingsley will intercept”. My favourite moment for the visitors though was when Etebo, who might be the worst player I’ve seen all season, sprinted to get the ball so they could take a throw-in quickly only to pass the ball into the front row of the West Stand with his mate looking on aghast.

Ex-Tiger Ince had no impact on the game but got himself a great view of City doubling the lead. A nice move out from the back, left to right, eventually found Bowen, he put his foot down and burst at them, slid the ball in the channel for Campbell and he squared for Grosicki who just cantered into the box and knocked the ball in off the far post. 2-0.

Stoke made two more subs and needn’t have bothered. City made three to kill time. Ashley Williams got a booking for getting fed up of Campbell and slamming an arm in his face. Kane got the stadium MOTM award. It was Kevin Stewart for me closely followed by Lichaj and McKenzie. All three were tremendous.

This was the best result of the season in the circumstances and given the opposition. A tactical challenge won and a midfield battle conquered. It leaves City four points off the play-offs. It’s going to be extraordinarily hard to break into the top six. Not only do you have to overhaul the expensively assembled sides like WBA, Middlesbrough and Derby but there are other teams like ours, Bristol City and Blackburn, who are giving it a real go and are in tremendous form. Last week was a reality check. We just need to enjoy being closer to the top than the bottom, enjoy the improvement in our players and the trust placed in young players by our manager. Then what will be, will be.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Blackburn 3 City 0

MarshallD

Here I go again, I thought, as I journeyed towards my goal of Ewood Park on a reporting double header; a goal that at one point seemed to be disappearing as Northern Rail cancelled all train services between Manchester and Blackburn. So, after two buses and a taxi I carefully negotiated a slippery when wet concourse and took my seat in the lower Darwen End. There I joined around a thousand away fans who, buoyed by recent form, were expecting nothin’ but a good time. But City were headed for a heartbreak. On Skid Row we lined up:

Marshall
Kane Mazuch McKenzie Kingsley
Henrik Stewart
Bowen Evandro Grosicki
Martin

It is no trade secret that successful sporting team sides tend to be built on solid defences. De Wijs injury at Villa Park last week immediately signalled the end of a miserly period of ten unbeaten games conceding just seven goals to one and a half games conceding 5 goals. Burke becoming the latest casualty meant that we were getting a tad light on players at the back.

But the City’s makeshift defence was not the only area that was shown suspect today. With the ball we were ponderous, mistake prone, unimaginative. Without the ball we were uncombative, outmuscled and outfought in all areas by a hardworking Blackburn side.

After the sixth one minute silence/applause of the season City kicked off towards the Ronnie Clayton stand and started quite brightly for a minute or so passing around a bit and letting the ball do the work. But every rose has its thorn, and Tony Mowbray had presumably told his players to hold a high line and press the opposition, guessing correctly that City would fold under such questioning. On 12 minutes Armstrong shins Kane and unleashes a real cherry pie of a shot past Marshall. 1-0. On 19 Dack’s shot gets deflected over Marshall and luckily over the City goal. But unluckily the resulting corner sees an unmarked Rodwell head in. 2-0. It’s so easy.

Blackburn have adapted to the wet weather playing clever long and short passes and pulling our back five all over the place. But then I thought that they would adapt to weather inclemency- it rains for 360 days here. Dack and a bulky Graham (and that’s not ‘bulky’ in a Lukaku sense) have touched the ball around 40 times each. Martin has had a couple. Rodwell is not afraid to dribble through midfield. City are not afraid to ignore him unchallenged.

One thing inevitable as the rain in Blackburn was an injury to Mazuch. Lasting nearly a whole half the Czech warrior finally slumps to the turf and hobbles off replaced by a slightly more robust Lichaj. Then a chance to get a toe hold in the game! A free kick in a decent position is struck goalwards by Grosicki forcing a good save from Raya. Our first shot of the game. Then that’s it for the half, the worst half City have played in 21 halves to be exact.

Chewing on a balti pie I reflected on my admiration for Blackburn and its many mill town neighbours. The town is like a Beamish style museum to post industrial heritage with a scattering of phone unblocker shops, pizza takeaways and offies. And while some of the towns so called football-fans have decamped to the bright lights of Old Trafford and the Etihad, there are still enough who have maintained their pride in Blackburn Rovers FC to still see it as the main attraction in town.

But Blackburn have had their fair share of recent glory, namely the Jack Walker team of 1995 that pipped Man Utd to the Premier League. The steel magnate allegedly plowed an incredible £60 million of his fortune into that side. Now £60 million may get you the man who irons the kits at Man City- chump change indeed. The Venky brothers bought Rovers while they were still a Premier League outfit but allegedly not realising the club could be relegated. They got two relegations under their stewardship. Still this current side may get two promotions, though I suspect Blackburn may not have quite enough for that this year.

A far lesser promotion prospect are City, based on the first half. But talisman striker Campbell coming on for Evandro signals more intent and we briefly step up a gear as a few balls find the front two before they are crowded out. We even enjoy a period of possession as Rovers sit a bit deeper and both Campbell and Grosicki have half chances. We also get to look at new boy Marc Pugh who shows one or two good touches and crosses well during this purple patch of the game.

But we descend back through the gears after more monkey business at the back. Poor Will McKenzie has had a torrid time though bravely he keeps going. After Stewart misjudges a long ball the bounce finds Graham (I think) who passes to Reed who then out foxes McKenzie and fires in from close range. 3-0 and I want to close my eyes forever.

There is still enough time for Rovers to compound the misery after a nasty looking challenge by Rodwell on Bowen sees the Herefordshire Arjen Robben hobble off. I think that should warrant a red but the ref thinks otherwise. Playing with ten, City are livin’ on a prayer. The final whistle can’t come soon enough.

So that’s the end of the remarkable unbeaten run. A glass half empty position would look at this as inevitable, that this performance was from the dark days spent at the bottom, indeed we are not yet out of being pulled back into the relegation scrap. But come on! This is the Hull City of 2018. We will stay up and take some scalps on the way to mid table mediocrity. And from what could have transpired this season that could be just like living in paradise.

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Villa 2 City 2

BowenJ

Eating my way through some sugar mice on the way down to the raintown that is Birmingham I pondered if City could maintain their incredible run of form and keep the promotion dream alive and kicking or would they melt like a chocolate girl and, in terms of the playoffs, kiss this thing goodbye. Hoping to avoid another lost weekend we lined up a 4-2-3-1 .

Marshall
Kingsley De Wijs Burke Kane
Stewart Henrikssen
Grosicki Evandro Bowen
Martin

The return fixture last August had demonstrated the gulf in class between the sides. Steve Bruce’s Villa were workmanlike and efficient and dangerous in attack with tiger tormentor Grealish running the midfield and Hutton scoring a worldy. City played decently, but another summer of malaise meant that competing against the better sides in this division was always going to be a tough ask.

How times have changed! Bruce has gone and Villa find themselves a point and two places below the most in form team in the big country.

City attacked the Holte End in the formation that home or away has suited them well. But it is Villa with a point to prove who start the better and cause Marshall to make a proper save for the first time in 180 minutes of football. Villa and City are determined to use both wings – Villa pressing, City on the break. All good fun.

As the match meandered for a few minutes I decided to look away from the pitch and survey the stadium. Villa Park can be best described as ‘traditional’; almost enclosed by terraced housing with four more or less separate stands that would house up to 70,000 back in the day when everyone went to watch football. Whilst the ground can hold just over half that, the days of Villans packing it out and making a noise akin to an aeroplane taking off are long gone. Mismanagement by the Lerner regime, poor player recruitment and a failure to recognise that Villa were not a top six Premier League side led to relegation and not even Steve Bruce could get them back to that wonderland. Plans are apparently in place to extend the North Stand to house another 8,000 if Villa get promoted. I advise a temporary ‘Ekaterinburg’ extension if you do, fellas!

Though Villa Park still returns a sense of history that other grounds have lost. Memories of league titles, cup wins, classic FA cup ties. Billy Graham clutching a hand upwards bringing thousands of Brummies closer to Heaven, Ally McCoist wheeling away from the Swiss goal during Euro 96 bringing thousands of Scots temporarily closer to the second round, a teary Jimmy Bullard hobbling off the pitch and bringing a life of punditry and fishing closer to him. Yes, Villa has hardly been a happy hunting ground for the Tigers. I’ve spent many a time wishing I was lucky to witness a City win here. Then as I am lamenting that nothing ever happens here, City score.

On 23 Grosicki is released and makes a run down the left but shoots wide for a corner which Martin heads over. Then after more City pressure the ball pings around the box falling to Bowen who finds space and shoots low past Kalinic. Cue Tiger bedlam in a well loaded lower Deadly Doug stand. Another goal by the number 20. What a starman he is. I hope he looks back at this time with us as a happy one when he is marauding down the right for one of the top sides for surely that is where he will end up soon. Like Robertson and Maguire, Bowen is made in Hull.

City really have their tails up at this point. On 38 minutes Grosicki decides to rip it up again down the left combining well with Martin who 1-2s it then lays it on a plate for Evandro to acrobatically fire into the roof of the net. Cue mauling chants to unhappy punters in the North Stand. I could be happy watching this until the end of the season.

The noise from the home fans seems come to more berating their own players then of genuine support. Surely they are used to seeing dispiriting losses? And us? We are bossing it looking comfortable at the back and dangerous if we broke away. As the half drew to a close I thought see it out and don’t do anything daft. On 45 Abraham decides to barge into De Wijs which the referee, rather than seeing it as soft as fuck and booking the diving forward, awards a free kick. Worse our defensive Titan Jordi goes down holding his ankle. Drat! Then from the resultant free kick Chester heads in with a De Wijs hole in our defence. Double drat! At least he didn’t celebrate.

Then onto some light hearted comedy. A dropped ball in midfield is uncontested by City who have to do some emergency defending as Villa attack instead of politely passing back. An incensed Markus, thinking the ball would surely roll to me, decides to barge into Hourihane and gain a yellow for them both.. All as fruity as one of Adkins porridges.

I enjoyed the half time break as I ate a sandwich as big as a small amazon delivery box. All the more entertaining was watching the new generation of City Hulltra’s posturing at the Villa youth like strutting peacocks. I’m sure it was only the fact that they desperately needed a wee wee and a coke that saved the stewards some serious bother.

The second half began with Villa again on the front foot, with City looking a little bit less assured at the back but potent up front. Bjarnason spoons wide when a pass looks a better option. Grosicki spoons wide after a lovely cross field pass by Bowen. Several Villa balls to their front two are nullified as little nudges by McKenzie and Burke put them off.

I wrote on 57 that I did not fancy Abraham to do much today. I was left eating those words as Hutton found some space out on our left to plant a cross to Abraham whose shot was initially blocked by our two defenders but rebounded kindly for him to rifle past Marshall. Cue mauled by the Villa chants. What a pathetic chant that is.

Expecting City to cave in at this point? Nope, that’s the City of six months ago. Villa press and cross but we resolutely defend though often long clearances find no one. Martin stays forward but is not really contributing much in the way of attack. Batty for Evandro suggests that Adkins sees holding on more realistic then rampaging back in front.

However we nearly do score at the death. Bowen manages to pass from a tight angle which foxes Elphick but not Martin whose connection is not the best but angles the ball goalwards before Kalinic toe pokes it out of danger. Martin staying on the field was a little odd as the temptation must have been to bring Campbell whose pace would worry any defence. But Adkins was oblivious to it. The four minutes extra time signalled a fire drill in the home stands which strangely I could not hear from where I stood.

Then that was that. A draw signals the end of the winning run but not the unbeaten run. I would not call myself the seer, but if we can get to February without losing, then who knows where we could find ourselves. And that we are doing this with dignity under the current ownership is astonishing.

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 3 Sheffield W 0

AdkinsN2I had a right shock on Saturday lunchtime. Sinking pints with abandon, the assembled group’s conversation turned to football. Ehab’s statement, the recent run of gleaming form, the unlikely ascent of the league table. ‘It won’t last’ we growled, ‘foundations built on the shifting sands of Allam malevolence’. But one of our number was already wrapped in reverie. His eyes are sparkling, his gaze is towards the distant horizon – ‘y’know lads, I think promotion’s on again, I really believe it’s going to happen’. What? The wide-eyed innocence, the sheer lack of realism? You’ll have come across the half-full gent in question if your life includes reading about programme collecting in the Hull Daily Mail. He’s a kindly soul, generous of spirit and always wanting to think the best of his fellow human beings, and in that he has precisely zero in common with any of my other friends, but he also possesses over fifty gnarled years watching Hull City under his belt as well as half a decade and more of observing close up the cruel pantomime that is the Allam stewardship of his and our club, and I would have expected him to be inoculated against the toxin that is hope. Yet, no. Just as there are still starry-eyed idealists in the Labour Party who believe that if they just wait patiently for long enough Uncle Jeremy will show his true colours and halt Brexit, so too, it appeared to me in a rush, there are seasoned Hull City supporters that are still willing to buy into the idea that Ehab is going to fund, or even permit, a serious assault on the upper reaches of the table. The triumph of hope over experience and cold calculation. I want to be able to hope. I really do. But at best Ehab is going to expect the current squad to continue to work miracles, at worst he is going to sell off Bowen and Grosicki and we are going to tumble back into the relegation fray.

And yet …

No, no, behave, this is not an ‘And yet  …’ that is going to lead to me dreaming of the Play Off places. It is an ‘And yet …’ that commands me and you to pause and marvel at what’s going on at Hull City. I’m not going to talk anymore about Ehab, I’m certainly not going to reflect any more on the shapeshifting machinations of the ghastly Corbyn, but I am going to talk about football, Nigel Adkins and the entirety of the current Hull City squad.

Sheffield Wednesday were swept aside yesterday. The visitors scarcely had a touch in the final third, and David Marshall will have had more energetic afternoons out walking his dog Waverley. We controlled midfield, we whisked the ball energetically down both flanks, we pierced their threadbare lumbering defence at will and smacked three delightful goals past hapless netman Keiren Westwood. Don’t feel too bad about it, Wednesdayites! You’re in good company, or at least you’re in company. QPR couldn’t handle our attacking verve, Brentford were suppressed with ease, Swansea ultimately downed by a flurry of pace and belief, Preston beaten, Leeds smashed, Bolton plastered across the brown waters of the Humber and flushed out to sea. And now a 3-0 cuffing of Wednesday. That’s six wins in a row, and seven wins and a draw in eight League games since the beginning of December.

Look, this is historic stuff. There was a six week spell as winter turned to Spring in 2008, bookended by the 2-1 Okocha-illuminated win at West Brom and a 3-0 horsing of Watford at home, in which we won 7 times – but we also lost twice; there was the glorious run early in 1989 which took us via four wins in the League and two in the Cup to the fifth Round tie with Liverpool – but there was a loss too, 4-1 at Manchester City, and of course we went out to Liverpool; seven wins and two draws in the Spring of 1985, but a winning sequence of only five in a row. You need to go back to fabled 1966 to find a spell demonstrably superior to what we are enjoying right now, a ten match winning run in Division Three wrapped around the immortal quarter final games against Chelsea.

Football as vibrantly good as this comes along once in a generation. It usually culminates in promotion, but won’t this time. This Hull City side is currently magnificent. Don’t worry about the future. Just relish this.

Because it won’t last.

Off we go!

Marshall
Kane Burke De Wijs Kingsley
Bowen Henriksen Stewart Grosicki
Evandro
Martin

Minute one, a shot flies past the far post, it’s been deflected, corner to us, comes to nothing. On 9, Grosicki combines well with Martin, Westwood in the Wednesday goal produces a good stop. On 17, Martin is pulled back clumsily but a penalty is incorrectly denied us by referee Eltringham. 21, Grosicki squares the ball to Henriksen, whose shot is saved. A corner flashes across the penalty box, and out for a goal kick. We are whisking the ball around with immense confidence, there’s a lovely flow to our play.

I haven’t mentioned any of our defenders yet. That is not an error. Sheffield Wednesday, who have just exchanged one manager with an oddly shaped head and an erratic approach to the English language for another, look clueless. They are an ageing side, with George Boyd still able to illuminate the play with an occasional deft turn and a gorgeous flick (of his hair), but I’d be worried about surviving a relegation scrap if they have to rely on the creaking likes of Steven Fletcher and Barry Bannan. Going forward, they have virtually nothing to offer. At the back they card dear old Michael Hector, whose bid to appear on loan for all 92 League clubs is well on its way to completion, but is likely soon to be confined to ticking off the ones he’s missing from the bottom two divisions.

Rain blows across the pitch on a mild but grey and blustery day, and as half time approaches the only nagging doubt is that we haven’t managed to put the ball in the back of the net yet. As the board flashes an addition of two minutes, that changes. Grosicki cuts inside and belts a heavily weighted pass square to Bowen. Our star man is technically good enough to deal with the pace, a couple of touches tame the ball, he shifts inside on to his left foot and caresses a shot across Westwood and inside the far post.

It is really a gem of high quality football and, on the balance of play across the first half, the bare minimum we deserve.

Into the second half, the blusters get a bit more blustery and the rain increases in intensity, but there’s no change at all to the pattern of the game. We are smooth and impressive. Sheffield Wednesday are clunky and feeble.

More attacks! On 49 a delightful move down our left shreds the visiting defence, Grosicki sets up the marauding Kingsley, but he spanners his shot wide of the near post. Wednesday’s poor right back, one Liam Palmer, is having a miserable afternoon, spending most of it having Grosicki breeze by him at will, reduced to scanning the horizon in bewilderment, like Chris Grayling looking for ferries. And soon afterwards our second goal is created down that same left-side channel. Grosicki plays in Chris Martin, he cannily holds his position and anticipates a clumsy intervention from keeper Westwood which duly arrives, Martin crumples to the turf and the penalty is awarded. Ha! Outplayed and out-thought, goodnight loser Owls. Bowen whips the spot kick into the corner of the net with a disdainful air.

The joy is supplemented by comedy. On 54 Wednesday bring on a sub. At first it really does look like a sub – a rusting hulk of ugly shapeless metal, ponderous, slow to turn, in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is in fact a man by the name of Atdhe Nuhiu, and he makes Jon Parkin look like Olga Korbut. Nuhiu is the classic Sunday morning fat lad footballer who’s put away twelve pints and a couple of kebabs the night before. And here he is, tasked with rescuing Sheffield Wednesday from the pit of gloom into which their morose support has slumped.

There’s no rescue for the travelling support.

But there is more gloom.

Evandro, excellent throughout, is replaced by Fraizer Campbell, who quickly scores. The Wednesday defence appears to have packed it in, and Campbell, eager and alert, is able to wrest possession from Lees, streak clear of the shredded cover and thrash a ferocious shot past Westwood, who does a pretty good job of diving fearfully out of the way. That’s 3-0, and that is not in the slightest bit flattering: we’ve ripped them apart.

Chris Martin comes off for Toral, who picks up Evandro’s role linking midfield and attack, and on 83 we come close to scoring as fine a goal as the stadium has ever witnessed. A long ball is played out wide to Campbell on the right, in front of West Stand. He produces a quite astonishing piece of skill, cushioning the ball, bringing it instantly under his control and, in the same movement, turning inside to pick out a magnificent defence-splitting pass to release Grosicki with only Westwood to beat. A defensive foot snakes in at the last moment to deny Grosicki and send the ball spinning out for a corner, but, my o my, that is proper football.

Milinkovic for Bowen as the time ticks down. Wednesday have given up. They have showed precious little fighting spirit since the game kicked off, and there’s nothing to see from them now. There are three added minutes, and they are lit up by a quite outrageous piece of trickery from Kingsley, whose backheel and feint leaves his opponent dazed, confused, and wanting to go home and drink alcohol on the sofa in his pants. Stephen Garrincha Kingsley! I think our players are enjoying their football just now.

Sometimes a manager stumbles across a formation that suits and brings out the best in the available resources. In Autumn 2012 Steve Bruce seemed to arrive by accident rather than design at a back five, but he was wise enough to stick with it once it because plain that the central defenders at his disposal (Chester, Faye, Bruce, McShane, Hobbs) were far happier in a trio than duo and that the set up permitted the full backs, Elmohamady and Rosenior, sometimes Brady, to bomb forward rather than defend deep, thereby to play to their strengths. We were still playing that formation eighteen months later in the Cup Final (with Curtis Davies added). It has taken Nigel Adkins time to work out how best to arrange his players, but what we have been watching these last few weeks suggest we have underestimated him all along. Because this is terrific. Yesterday was terrific. The system is fluid, proper fluid, but it is crucially built on two central midfielders who right now look incomparably better than we might have expected last August (in the case of Henriksen) and last month (in the case of Stewart), two fast and genuinely dangerous wide men, the sublime footballing intelligence of Evandro and, ah, Chris Martin. Keep this squad together, add a striker, and well …

What, my programme collecting friend, could possibly go wrong?

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Millwall 2 City 2

AdkinsN2Another Saturday, another trip to the capital. It wasn’t to prove to be as euphoric as the weekend prior, but the feeling upon leaving the New Den – which does music after goals – was one of satisfaction.

The reasons for this were many. A late(ish) equaliser, a makeshift starting XI (including a full debut for the impressive Brandon Fleming), a feeling that things on the pitch might not be so bad after all, even if our off-pitch dreams are being dashed as every day without a sale passes.

City lined up with Marshall in goal, Kane at right-back, Fleming at left-back, Elphick and De Wijs the centre-backs, Henriksen and Batty just in from of them, Grosicki on the left, Bowen on the right, Irvine advancing from midfield and Campbell up front on his todd. Millwall’s sole tactic early on seemed to be to try to exploit Fleming’s nerves, but the young man coped admirably, looking the part from the off. Bowen and Grosicki tore into the Lions, and it was the two of them who combined to put City ahead on six minutes. A cross from the right seemed to have come to nothing. However, a clearance landed at Bowen’s feet. And when the ball is at Bowen’s feet, good things invariably happen. He put in a delicious pass – the type that looks deceptively simple but few can execute properly – from the edge of the D into the run of Grosicki. The Pole had a touch and twatted it in inside Archer’s near post from about eight yards. The game was young but the goal was deserved.

And we continued in that vein for the next 20 minutes or so. Batty and Henriksen owned the midfield. Campbell worked tirelessly up front. Bowen and Grosicki tormented their full-backs. Somewhat pleasingly for those of us who attended the 4-0 destruction in Nigel Pearson’s early days, Jordy De Wijs – in one of his better games – was happily handing out a bit of a battering to Steve Morison. As with Loftus Road a week earlier, the game’s second goal only looked likely to come from City. Then Millwall scored.

Meredith broke down their left, was allowed to get his cross in with too much ease, the ball floated over Marshall for Gregory to tower over Fleming to level the match. Then came the goal music. Millwall – the team of Barry Kitchener, Tom Wilson, Terry Hurlock, Harry Cripps – has music after goals. FFS.

Then Millwall gained the ascendancy. No major chances, but they had our number. Elphick and De Wijs stood strong for the most part, and Kane got in some pleasing challenges but all told when the half-time whistle was blown, we were happy to get in at 1-1.

Then came the massacre. Millwall spent the next 25 minutes battering us. Absolutely destroying us. De Wijs cleared the ball off the line quite magnificently. Campbell did the same not long after, though his task was easier. They’d out-thought us, were outbattling us. We couldn’t keep possession. All we had was long, high balls up to Fraizer Campbell, who battled on gamely. Only when the ball was with Bowen did we get any respite. What a talent he is. Enjoy him while you can. If he’s still a Hull City player come Valentine’s Day I’ll be both surprised and delighted. Anyway, Millwall got the goal their dominance warranted on 54 minutes when Morison fed O’Brien, who was given the freedom of the pitch by Kane to smash home from about 25 yards into the bottom left-hand corner. There was only one winner after that. We had nothing. We couldn’t lay a finger on them. A third goal for the home side was a matter of when, not if. Our possession retention was pathetic. But our defence, however makeshift or maligned it may be, stood strong.

Millwall showed no sign of relenting when City won a corner thanks to hard work from Bowen and Campbell in the 73rd minute. Millwall’s set-pieces had been threatening, ours had almost all been overhit. However, this one found the head of De Wijs, who looped the ball goalwards. On the line – probably offside – was Henriksen, who capped a good shift by reacting quicker than the two defenders in close proximity to nod home. No music, just manic celebrations from a commendably vociferous away crowd.

Suddenly Millwall looked scared. A game that they couldn’t possibly lose was now losable. They looked less assured on the ball, while City – led magnificently by the hard-working Campbell – attacked with more vigour. Martin replaced Batty, Stewart came on for Groscki, but still we held the slight ascendancy. De Wijs picked up one injury too many and couldn’t complete what had been a fine game for the Dutchman. He was replaced by Mazuch. Could the Czech see out the last 10 minutes without getting injured, getting sent-off or giving away a needless penalty? Dear reader, he could!

Neither side looked likely to find a winner, and none was found. This was, without doubt, a point gained in a match in which we saw the best and worst of Nigel Adkins’ Hull City. But for the first time this season, when perusing the table on the way home, I allowed myself a glance at the teams above us, rather than fretting about the form of those below us. For that, Nigel deserves credit. We just need to bring this form and goalscoring prowess to the atmosphere-less KCOM now. That will be the acid test.

Richard Gardham (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: QPR 2 City 3

Hull City's Jarrod Bowen celebrates his goal

Twenty years is a long time.  It’s almost half my life ago.

Twenty years ago, City were about to have one of the rare highlights in the extremely depressing first half to a season.

As supporters we’d seen the back of Needler and Fish running the club into the ground as the family owning the club looked to reclaim their investment in the club.  Thankfully those days are over.  Oh, wait a minute…

As supporters we’d seen the back of David Lloyd running the club, where he frequently attacked supporters every time he didn’t get his own way.  Thankfully those days are over.  Oh, wait a minute…

As supporters we’d seen the new regime of Belton and Buchanan (with the mysterious Hinchcliffe lurking in the background) take over the club stuck rock bottom of the league.  They’d removed former England international Mark Hateley as manager and had a young caretaker manager in Warren Joyce take over.  But the club were in desperate trouble.  A trip to Luton in the FA Cup second round gave a small highlight with young Ken Morley and a towering Master Butcher header giving the travelling support a rare opportunity to cheer their side.

Moving twenty years on and City travel to QPR.  QPR have had a reasonable run of form of late, so the most optimistic City fan would have felt a tinge of apprehension in hoping of coming away from Loftus Road with three points.

Lining up for City
Marshall
Kane Elphick Burke Lichaj
Henriksen Batty
Bowen Irvine Grosicki
Campbell

City started the game very much on the front foot and delighted the travelling fans taking the lead in the fifth minute.  A long ball finds Campbell who passes right to Bowen.  He cuts inside before his shot from the edge of the area passes Lumley and nestles into the back of the net

It was suspected that we’d also experience quite a lenient referee for the afternoon as a high City boot appears to catch QPR’s Leistner near the edge of our area, but referee Simpson plays on.

Burke is soon down for lengthy treatment with the match barely 15 minutes old after a high challenge, but the young centre back manages to last until the half time break.

On the 21st minute, City’s afternoon looks even better.  Bowen wins a corner with his direct running at the home defence.  The whipped in ball sees Campbell go for the header which seems to wrong foot the entire QPR defence, offering Henricksen the space to score.

Within a minute, however, QPR are back in the game.  The wonderfully named Angel Rangle, whose running up the right caused the City defence plenty of problems all afternoon, advanced before a low cross to Wszolek tapping past Marshall.

Throughout the afternoon City appeared to be using a rather effective tactic.  Basically, all City players looked to pass to Grosicki who would then run at the home defence.  Kamil in return would always look to pass to Campbell, thus seeing quite an effective partnership forming in our two attacking players.

At the other end of the pitch, QPR are imposing themselves more on the game, but City’s Custodian of the Leather produces several fine saves to keep the home team out.  When they do find a way past, the ball crashes off the woodwork.

Following his earlier injury, Burke is replaced at half time by de Wijs with Lichaj also withdrawn in favour of McKenzie.

Henriksen’s really becoming a battling midfielder in the centre of the park.  Okay so he’s no Ian Ashbee but does show much greater aggression that when he first joined the club.  Partnering Batty the two do provide an effective screen for the defence and allow the attacking 4 a foundation to build attacks.  Perhaps it was harsh on Stewart after his Norwich showing to find himself back on the bench, but Henriksen and Batty are proving to be the first-choice central midfield pairing.

QPR are getting much more of the play in the opening 20 minutes of the second half with Eze particularly guilty of spurning chances to get the home side back level.

Not long after QPR replace Cameron with Hemed, the Tigers further extend the lead.  Bowen robs a QPR midfielder before playing a 1-2 with Campbell.  His shot is well saved by Lumley, but before the keeper can collect the loose ball, Bowen’s back up and stroking the ball home.

Batty’s the first to see his name taken by the ref.  Contrary to my earlier suggestion that the referee seemed lenient, this booking appeared very harsh, having just challenged for a loose ball.

Trying to protect the 2-goal lead, Adkins withdraws Grosicki in favour of Mazuch.  At the same time QPR withdraw Rangel in favour of Smith.

Within ten minutes of the change, Mazuch still isn’t injured, so possibly clocking up a record for his season so far.

Soon after QPR replace Wszolek with Osayi-Samuel, Lynch is the next to see his name in the referee’s book.  Bowen, running up the right is felled by Lynch, with the two players ending up head to head.  As Lynch was very much the aggressor (Bowen appeared to just laugh in his face for his efforts), the card is brandished in his direction.

After 4 minutes of time are added on, QPR get a goal back.  A cross into the area sees several players diving in at the ball from either side before Freeman pokes it over the line to set up a very nervy last few minutes.  The nerves in the away end are not helped as soon afterwards the referee awards QPR a free kick on the edge of the area, fortunately Freeman’s shot is narrowly wide of the top corner.

So just like twenty years ago, City are having a bright spell in the first half of a season of struggle.  This time the bright spot seems us move out of the bottom three to the heady heights of 19th.  But unlike 20 years ago, I don’t think the club will be investing in a second-hand bus any time soon.

James Lockwood (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Birmingham 3 City 3

GrosickiK“They came from Birmingham, which is not a place to promise much, you know, Mr Weston. One has no great hopes of Birmingham. I always say there is something direful in the sound”

So wrote Jane Austen in Emma. And it’s probably a view to which the Tiger Nation, doubtless setting off for St Andrews more in hope than expectation (and not too much hope if truth be told), might justifiably have subscribed. Small Heath hasn’t been the happiest of hunting grounds for City as a whole over the years, and not even the heady heights of the past couple of weeks would have done much to change that view. At half-time, with City trailing by a couple of goals courtesy of defending (I use the term loosely) that would have graced a Laurel and Hardy film and the Blues’ supporters unable to believe their luck, that view had become even more entrenched. After a mini-revival we were now back to the error-strewn, uninspiring, aimless farrago of mediocrity that had pretty much been the first fifteen games of the season, right?

Er, no, actually. Supporting City for any length of time has always been a bit of a roller coaster, and among the most memorable times have been the periodic realisations that, unexpectedly, we have stopped being shit. It would probably require a bit too much of leap of faith to conclude that we’ve reached such a stage just yet but boy, after much of the tripe that we have been forced to witness so far this campaign, the last three games have been a very welcome surprise. OK, so we might not have won yesterday, and in fact failed to win from a winning position, but it seems pretty, but for the aforementioned comedy defending, we would have won this fixture convincingly too, against a team who are notoriously difficult to beat at home. It’s also hard to deny that this wouldn’t have happened two months ago, especially after having been 0-2 down at half time.

So why has our spiralling plunge down the plug hole been – for now – halted? Hard to say, really: it’s been as inexplicable as it’s been unexpected, and it’s not as though the manager has hit upon a system or game plan to which he has religiously stuck. Most probably it’s just that the bunch of journeymen, misfits and children foisted upon him have just started to crank up a bit of a head of steam and a measure of understanding. There were glimpses of it against the Blunts, Preston and Bristol but it now seems to have flowered. We were decidedly Not Shit in this game (well, if you don’t count some of the defending) and, while we are far from out of the woods yet, if this improvement is maintained to any extent we ought to be picking the twigs out of our hair before many more weeks have passed.

Making us dare to hope were the following:-

                                    Marshall

        Burke            Elphick            De Wijs            Lichaj

Bowen         Batty         Henriksen          Irvine            Grosicki

                                    Campbell

Subs: Martin (for Batty, 45 min), Keane (for Campbell, 78 min), Kane (for Grosicki, 81 min)

After a rendition of the Last Post, with the beginning of the minutes’ silence that was supposed to ensue being disturbed by some individuals applauding (what is it about people these days that everything has to be treated as though it’s a broadcast of the X-Factor or something?), the Blues attack the end at which the possibly 600 or so City fans were gathered and start much the livelier. Jota ought to do better on 6 minutes when Elphick backs off instead of attempting a challenge but his shot lacks direction or conviction and goes behind fir a goal kick. We trade corners as City slowly work themselves up to cohesion and the home side’s early vim and vigour start to fade. In this opening spell we don’t seem to be getting a terribly square deal from referee Ward and Elphick’s name is unlucky to go into the book when similar challenges from the home side go unpunished.

When Bowen fires just wide at about the the 20-minute mark we start to anticipate a spell of City ascendancy but soon regret that when Elphick, shepherding a harmless-looking through ball, flicks the ball far too nonchalantly instead of steering it back to Marshall with conviction and Adams nips in, rounds the City custodian and makes a bit of a meal of tucking the leather away, but in it goes. Adams then hares away to the corner and kicks the corner post in twain in celebration, causing a delay of some minutes while a replacement is found and goes unpunished, prompting me to go off on one, telling anyone around me who cares to listen that any City player finding the net should snap the corner post across his thigh and openly dare the ref to book him.

This setback fails to knock us out of our stride and we press forward with conviction, flair and purpose. Bowen forces home netman Camp to go down low to push his fierce low drive past the post and Henriksen fires wastefully over just after the half hour. Brum have their moments, though, especially on 37 when Dean’s teasing cross from the right evades the City defence but Jutkiewicz’s header from a narrowish angle only finds the side netting.

Five minutes are added to the 45, largely due to Adams’ antics with the corner and, as if to rub it in, in the fourth of those five minutes de Wijs plays a square ball right into the path of the Birmingham number 9. Elphick again backs off and Adams advances unchallenged into the box and gently strokes the leather past Marshall’s right hand. A horrible piece of football from de Wijs, to be sure, but the situation was hardly irretrievable at that point. Inexcusably rank poor defending, and behind me the Goole contingent are justifiably apoplectic.

So that’s it. or so we think. Bubble burst, another false dawn, City flattering to deceive again. The cooling afternoon air as darkness beckons just exacerbates the chill in our hearts.

Not for long, though. Five minutes into the second half Campbell nods the ball out to Grosicki on the left. Our Polish internationalist crosses low and Fraizer, haring to the corner of the goal area, stabs the leather high into the net.

OK, so that’s the one we conceded just before half time chalked off. But our tails are up now and we are after the Blues’ blood. As the hour mark approaches Grosicki chases well to prevent the home defence from breaking up a City attack and fires a shot in the crowded box. The defence fails to clear, the ball falls to Bowen whose shot from five yards out is blocked by Camp but Campbell, following up, makes no mistake. Scenes.

Our hosts are spurred on by this and we find ourselves soaking up a bit of pressure, nearly falling behind again when Jutkiewicz again gets onto a cross at the far post and Marshall fubles the ball against the post before it is hacked to safety.

The pressure only eases when Grosicki cuts inside and fires powerfully a foot or so over.  Jutkiewicz once more heads wide but we are soon heading back up the field when Gardner fouls Burke in a central position getting on for thirty yards from goal. Grosicki lines up to take it, I’m wishing that Stan McEwan was playing, my neighbour and fellow TigerChat reporter Paul Atkin assures me that this is Grosicki’s perfect distance from goal. And Paul was proved right as our Kamil hits an absolute belter into the top right-hand corner. Even wilder scenes.

That made it a trio of City goals in 23 minutes. Who’d have thought a month ago that we’d ever say anything like that again in the foreseeable future? If we scored with that prolificity all the time we’d score 12 goals a game. So think on, world of football.

For a while we press forward and Bowen shoots over after more fine work from Grosicki on the left (Birmingham really didn’t know what to do with Grosicki yesterday: what a revelation he is when he’s interested), but inevitably, when Campbell and then Grosicki himself are subbed in quick succession and replaced by Keane and Kane, the sting is really drawn out of our attacking play. It did seem an odd decision to remove both the guy who is scoring most of the goals at the moment and the one who had caused Brum the most problems all afternoon, as it was obviously going to lead to the home side putting pressure on us at the other end, although there was some suggestion afterwards that Grosicki had tweaked a hamstring. Unless that issue manifested itself for the first time in the three minutes after Campbell had gone off, you do still have to question the wisdom of Adkins in removing Campbell, especially with no game for a fortnight.

It’s probably wrong to say that the Birmingham equaliser on 83 minutes was inevitable: we had coped well with their attack on the whole and given them very few chances (well, apart from the ones with which we had chosen to present them on a silver salver and bound with only the best purple ribbon, of course) but it was kind of inevitable from the way things panned out on the day that the home side’s third came from another supreme act of generosity. It should have been a routine clearance for de Wijs as the ball is knocked down in front of him – indeed, had my dear old nana been alive and playing I would have been sorely disappointed in her had she not dispatched the leather 50 yards up the field in her carpet slippers – but all he can offer is a fresh air shot which allows Adams to scramble the ball over the line to complete the easiest hat-trick he’ll ever get even if he plays till he’s a hundred. For genuinely the first time all game, the home supporters (well, those who hadn’t sodded off after Grosicki’s goal, to the unbridled glee of the City support) awaken from their torpor.

In the remaining six minutes plus six of injury time – one more than the advertised five – the home side have the initiative as you might expect but don’t really cause us any problems, and it’s in fact City who come closest to bagging all the points as Keane works his way to a defender’s left and fires powerfully from 20 yards bang on the end of the 90, but he hasn’t got a totally clear view of the goal and the shot goes maybe a couple of feet high and wide of the angle.

So, a lot to think about and work on in terms of the concentration of individual defenders, although you have to remember that, had we been resourced properly over the summer, it’s most unlikely that either of those particular individuals would have found their way into a City shirt: as I saw someone comment on social media during the week, Adkins really has had the last pick in the playground. Despite that, we are one of the most improved sides in the division over the last month and if that kind of form can be maintained then we should easily be alright, and if the supposed takeover happens (still a massive “if”: don’t want to bang on about this but there really isn’t any kind of different feel about this: all that’s being said about the likelihood of it happening this time was all said in pretty much identical detail on the previous occasions we were supposed to be getting sold) there might even be some money for players in City’s stocking come Christmas and we might even be genuinely decent over the second half of the season.

But, whatever will be will be, and none of it will detract from an immensely enjoyable game of football yesterday afternoon.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Bolton 0 City 1

AdkinsN2Even while you’re lying in the gutter, cast your eyes upwards, yearn for the stars. Sound advice, if slightly touchy-feely American kitsch. What would be in those stars for the optimistic Hull City fan, if any such creature exists as the clocks go back in October 2018? The disappearance of the Allams from our club and the avoidance of relegation this season. That’s all. There’s no more to it. The stars will twinkle and the sun will shine if we reach next summer still a Championship club and under new ownership. That, small mercies, will do me.

Yesterday’s victory at whatever Bolton’s ground is called this season will do nothing to shake off the bad smell of the Allam family, but it is a helpful shove towards the coveted position of 21st in the table and ultimate safety. This was another forgettable game in a season stuffed as full of forgettable games as an avaricious trick or treater’s bag of swag, but it delivered a welcome three points, and so we will forget it with a little more relish than that with which we have mournfully dismissed the serial humdrum cuffings we’ve suffered since August.

With injuries blighting our pool of central defenders, Mr Adkins was forced to play four at the back and to select young Robbie McKenzie. So, with young Dan Batty protecting the back four and not quite so young Fraizer Campbell asked to put in the unenviable solo frontman shift, we lined up like this:

Marshall
Lichaj Elphick McKenzie Kingsley
Batty
Bowen Henriksen Irvine Groscki
FraizerCampbell

It’s a bright day, it’s a chilly day, it’s a sparsely filled stadium. Burnden Park was not a thing of beauty, but it was a bearpit of a football ground, hard by the historical heart of the town and the walk towards it, along the Manchester Road under inspection by grim-faced locals peering out from dingy boozers unchanged since cotton was king, was not to be undertaken with amber and black colours on show while offering gay entreaties to let the best team win, hurrah! No. The out-of-town shopping centre at which Bolton currently reside has more architectural grace than identikit new build stadiums of the dull unimaginative type we visit in Leicester, Swansea and Southampton, but the plain fact is that it is not where a football stadium should be located, which is within walking distance of the bulk of the club’s fans and within easy spillage of plenty of pubs. And Bolton Wanderers Football Club, a name etched deep and proud in the nation’s football historical consciousness, is lessened by its expulsion to these pastoral and plain surroundings.

Football, tell us about the football, Steve!

OK. It wasn’t very good. Sorry.

But before it became transparently obvious this was to be a doleful scrap between two low-rank sides, we scored a goal, the only goal, and won the game. Slick build-up too. Bowen and Henriksen are instrumental down the right, the ball is pulled back a little haphazardly across the face of the box, where Campbell, forced to work solo, does extremely well to dart into the box from deep, squirm free of the defenders and reach the loose but inviting ball first. His connection is not powerful but that seems to help, because goalkeeper Ben Alnwick misjudges the ball as it rolls along the ground towards him and he lets the daisycutter bobble straight through his legs and on in to the centre of the goal.

On 25 the Bolton player widely described by the astute judges near me in the stand as ‘that little Turkish bloke’ released ex-Tiger Clayton Donaldson with a deft through ball clipped with the outside of his left boot, but the shot was wastefully punted over Marshall’s crossbar. Erhun Oztumer is the fella’s name, it turns out, and we muttered about ‘that little Turkish bloke’ quite often during the first half, as the relatively few promising moments created by Bolton’s play commonly involved his skilful attentions. Oztumer is a Londoner of Turkish extraction, as revealed by my research fused with a brief channelling of Ted Lowe, and he looked better than most of the other footballers on the pitch throughout.

It’s not a good game, with incidents in the final third precious rarities. On 32 a swift break by City is almost halted as a stray but wilful plastic bag attempts to bring down the fleet-footed Jackson Irvine, but the Australian World Cup star (as I understand he likes to be called, and who wouldn’t) skips clear of the attentions of the planet’s ecological scourge and supplies Grosicki with an inviting opportunity. But Irvine’s missed the plastic bag and Grosicki misses the onion bag. Shot hoofed wildly over the bar.

The most striking aspect of the vista was how narrow the pitch is. Bolton have pulled the touchlines on both sides in a long way from the stands, leaving a wide expanse of grass between whitewash and the perimeter fence. Ha! Stoke used to do that to sharpen still further the danger of Rory Delap’s immense long throws, but Bolton’s motivation is purely defensive. They fear the searing pace and tricky wingman sorcery of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki!
It’s possible they haven’t seen Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki play this season.
Grosicki and Bowen swap wings after half an hour. I now appreciate that this is simply what they routinely do. It’s nothing to do with reaction to the state of the game. It is pre-ordered. It is Nigel Adkins and His Managerial Tactic. And for that we should be grateful. Humble too.

One added minute, half time, not very good, but we are winning. To the concourse, which is a great deal quieter than it has been for previous visits to Bolton. And no wonder. Looking up at the stars? There are two fat heads, belonging to Assam and Ehab, blocking the view.

The second half is modestly lively, but lacks any real hint of quality throughout. It ends with us winning the game. That’s pretty much the size of it, and all that you need to know.

On 55 a fine move down the left culminates in a Kingsley pass allowing Bowen to scythe deep into their area, picking out a cute cutback to Grosicki enjoying plenty of space near the penalty spot. Bowen watches aghast as the Pole makes true connection but directs his shot straight at Alnwick’s ample gut. A scuffed shot off his shin would have served better. Grosicki is enlivened, and bursts down the left, but his low cross across the face of the goal finds no takers. Then that little Turkish bloke, tricky fast feet, dinks his way through our defence, but places his left foot shot just wide of the far post.

These are moments of activity, but a lot of the second half is dedicated to harmless scrabbling and babbling across the midfield. Thoughts turn to life’s eternal verities, and in particular the large sign adorning the stand at the far end from us – ‘Carrs Pasties North Stand’. That is surely lacking not one but two apostrophes, but it is not so clear where they should be inserted. A conundrum for the ages, even if not quite as obscure as the claim emblazoned on the roof of the home end at Field Mill that ‘More people choose Sankey than for any other reason’.

Bowen comes off for Mazuch half way through the second half, and the Czech stopper hares on to the pitch and immediately stations himself on Clayton Donaldson’s shoulder, if as if Mr Adkins has informed him that Donaldson is tearing our defence apart and now requires firm and attentive man-marking. I have to confess, I hadn’t noticed Donaldson doing any such thing so I’m not sure that the switch was really needed. But hey, I’m no football manager, and, to be fair, Donaldson caused us no problems at all in the minutes that remained. Astute stuff by Mr Adkins! I am told he was seen this morning squeezing lemon juice on to his lawn in order to keep the pandas away and, to be fair, there are no pandas to be seen on the Adkinses’ lawn.

We are five at the back when Bolton have the ball, but more ambitious when we take possession, with Lichaj in particular asked to be flexible, shuttling between defensive duties at right back and a more expansive role marauding forward. I’m still a bit sore at Lichaj’s fragility in failing to stop Preston’s equaliser last week, but that’s near enough the only error he’s committed all season. USA!

It’s quite open, it’s quite fun, it’s quite low quality. But we are winning.

Grosicki off, Dicko on. Which seems right. Batty off, Stewart on. Which seems wrong. But Bolton simply do not possess the ammunition to upset us. On this evidence they look highly likely to finish below us, which in turn, given that I doubt we’re going to be finishing any higher than 20th or 21st, is highly likely to mean they will be relegated.

On 90 Dicko and Stewart combine well to create a chance for Irvine, but his shot is blocked. The board is showing an added five, but there are no alarms, and the clock ticks down to victory.

Over seven hours and 18 innings the Dodgers and the Red Sox played on Friday night through into Saturday morning in the longest game in the history of the World Series. I think I’d have been searching for sharp objects to jab into my eyeballs had this game between Bolton Wanderers and Hull City lasted any longer than it actually did. I like most American sports, but they fail to grasp the integrity of the honourable draw and the grimly gritty satisfaction of the dishonourable draw. An hour and a half’s football is quite enough, that’s what we got yesterday, and throw in a full three points, not just a solitary one, and we headed home content though the gathering twilight. Good performances by Batty, who is shaping up as a sensible and well-organised holding midfielder, McKenzie who, helped by the experienced Elphick alongside, was quietly effective, and Markus Henriksen who is never going to be mistaken for a top-level ball-spraying tough-tackling midfield commander but who is never going to shirk or hide.

Onwards and, who knows, upwards. The stars await.

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)