FEATmatch

REPORT: Swansea 2 City 2

HenriksenMIn days of Tiger Chat yore, I would imagine that the assignation of ‘The Swansea Report’ was not one fought over by your intrepid team of match reporters. Times have changed from those Vetch ventures of violence and vitriol and as a soon-to-have-too-much-time-on-his-hands Lancashire bloke respectfully pointed out prior to proceedings, “they even let girls do it now”. Said girl has, mind you, endured over 15 hours of Transport for Wales ‘luxury’ and TransPennine Express cancellations, without so much as a loaf of bread under her arm to deter random attacks from the locals. The Heddlu have so little to do on the hooligan front these days, that they have taken to stalking out Welsh Spars post-match to intercept 15 year old scallies with 6 packs of Carling and pin them forcefully to the grass on the central reservation outside the Liberty, presumably as entertainment for the queue at the bus stop.

Anyway. The football. Sam Clucas is not Gylfi Sigurdsson. Seems an obvious enough statement as those of us who rely on the Icelandic FPL points magnet will testify to, however, a pre-match chat with a couple of Swansea fans over a plastic glass full of warm rosé under a Frankie & Benny’s gazebo answered a long-mused question as to why our earnest ginger Lincs link man was not held in the same acclaim in these valleys as he was on the banks of the Humber. The Swans cleared this up in no uncertain terms; he was sold to them as the new Gylfi Sig, the new messiah. Except he wasn’t and so, as is the fate of many a naughty boy before him, he was unceremoniously dispatched to Stoke. They seemed particularly aggrieved that all three of the goals he scored in the Jack white were against Arsenal, as if he really couldn’t be bothered to put any effort in against any other opponent. I couldn’t help musing that three goals against Arsenal in Tiger stripes would have made him an instant hero, but simply assured them that their  winning home run didn’t seem in much peril this afternoon and wished them well in their pursuit of FLD. Nobody was more surprised than the giddy City contingent when this did not come to pass and in fact the Swans’ play-off dreams were left in tatters, definitively nailed to their perch.

Having remembered at 15.03 that I was supposed to be writing a report, a hurried check of the match preview revealed that our Tiger lads were lining up thus:

Long
Lichaj    McKenzie    de Wijs
Irvine    Batty    Stewart    Henriksen    Kingsley
Bowen    Grosicki

Quite frankly, more formless than a formless formless thing. A series of informed guesses amongst the away support ranged from a 5-5-0 to a 7-1-2 including the astute observation that if Henriksen plays any deeper this season, he will actually have to make a start between the sticks. Of course, we have no need for that as we have Agent Blade Long in there for the foreseeable future and I for one am relishing the prospect of his appearance at Elland Road next season once the conspiracy theorists’ appeal to the EFL has failed. After all, you can rely on the EFL to uphold standards of righteousness and good sense can’t you? O. Wait. What’s that? City have been awarded a silver medal for excellence in family engagement? Don’t be daft. The KCom nowadays has an air of Baron Bombast’s Vulgarian Castle. Full of toys and balloons but with no actual children to play with them.

In contrast the Liberty scoreboard proudly informs us that the waiting list for 2019-20 Season Ticket applications is now open. A WAITING LIST. For season passes. In a stadium a similar size to ours, in the same league, in a city with 100,000 fewer inhabitants. Astonishing stuff. I do hope our marketing team identified the error of their failed ticketing model ways to them before heading for the M5 with a point in a bag marked ‘Loot’.

Swansea started with a spark in their step and an organised intention and purposeful ambition that we looked like we had long since stopped dreaming about. Their number 12, who turned out to be tricky winger Nathan Dyer had a very tricky winger air about him and of course, Daniel James, formerly of this parish, or at least that of Beverley, maybe still has a point to prove to his former paymasters. It seemed that a couple of our Tiger lads may have had a point or two to prove back to him, as after a promising opening, he seemed to shrink back into his shell a little following one or two tasty nibbles at his feet by City youth products Batty and McKenzie. McKenzie.

Kamil Grosicki could be forgiven for deserting his purposeful ambition recently on account of his impending departure to *insert second tier European side here* this summer. As we await the much-vaunted Hull City AFC Supporters’ Survey ( Club Really Annoys People 2019 Edition) my mind drifted to a few alternative questions we could be presented with to take our attention off the matters that actually, you know, matter. Question 1) You are a Polish international hugging the touch line at the Liberty Stadium when the ball floats over in your general direction – do you a) chase it down determinedly? b) ‘phone your agent? c) shrug your shoulders and walk the other way?

On seven minutes the likely outcome and pattern for the afternoon on this matter became clear and when Irvine shot high, right and decidedly not very handsome five minutes later, the Swans’ late play-off surge looked very much ON. Comment was passed around me that they were ‘getting behind us too easy‘ and by the time ex-Swan Kingsley had planted a tackle on current and still tricky Swan Dyer, who managed to get a cross in regardless, it seemed more than likely that the valleys would be in full voice come 5pm. Fortunately, in a week which deprived us of one of our finest defenders to wear the black and amber, the Dutch half of our central pairing stepped in to intercept a goal bound shot on 24’ and was not left to his own devices. McKenzie.

Agent Long played his part in neutralising the ensuing corner and considering he’s only been given a starting berth at City to sabotage West Yorkshire promotion pushes, he had an accomplished and confident-looking attitude throughout the match. Breaking wind news to my left revealed a drop in speeds to a mere 44mph per gust which seemed to bode well for City’s first corner of the match on 26’ but Grosicki failed miserably to keep his high balls low and as is so often the way, we managed to immediately turn attack into defence and the Swans won a corner ball of their own which George the Blade handled cleanly.

At this stage Grosicki presented option d) to question 1), namely ‘pull out of the challenge and claim an entirely spurious handball’ and on the half hour mark, after McBurnie had contrived to take a shot which ended up behind him, the bright lights and delights of scoreboard sponsors Castle Bingo seemed a fairly attractive alternative to the football fare on offer. McKenzie.

And then the inevitable happened. Bastard goal music. And not just one cheery ditty. O no, a veritable medley of over-enthusiastic and unnecessary banged out tunes to enhance the wholly over-enthusiastic and unnecessary drum-banging we had already been subjected to. In fact one would have been forgiven for thinking that not only had Swansea City AFC reached the Championship play-offs, but had also kicked West Yorkshire arse so comprehensively in the Wembley final that Bielsa’s Boys had pleaded for mercy and an instant relegation to League One. Had New Year style fireworks shot into the encroaching Welsh gloom and a couple of monster trucks pre-empted the lap of honour, it would have hardly been a surprise. McBurnie scored by the way. Once again an attempted City attack thwarted as Irvine’s through ball found Grosicki offside and the next thing you know, Routledge has put the ball on a plate for the Scottish former Leeds youth player, added a garnish and a twist of pepper and Swansea are suddenly cooking, presumably in conjunction with the Energy Check Family Stand which is bouncing with actual families being charged £12.50 a head. To the utter credit of the Mexican-themed travelling support the constant rendition of the Tequila song just intensified the longer the game went on and young Robbie must have been bursting with pride even by half time to hear his name chanted so faithfully for so long. Well played Tiger Nation, well played. McKenzie.

We perked up a bit after the goal, no, really, we did. Kevin Stewart even had a shot on target. They were winning more free kicks than us, prompting repeated disgruntled cries of “The ref’s giving us nowt” from part of the formation dance trio to my left but in all honesty nowt was pretty much what we deserved as we sloped off towards the interval refreshments. And don’t even get me started on the practice of pouring soft drinks from plastic bottles into plastic glasses so that you can kick your Coke Zero over and instantly waste £3 before you’ve had chance to consume any of its zero calories…

Kingsley’s final action a) of the half? b) of the season? c) ever? had seen him momentarily lose sight of the fact he was now tigery, not swany, and pass the ball usefully backwards to netminder Nordfeldt. Nigel duly replaced him with Brandon Fleming who has all the attributes of being a mainstay in next season’s team, that is to say, he is young, cheap and puts in decent performances, which he duly did. The half-time assessment in the stands ranged from a desire to see us “more dominant in attack” to being “a little less shit”. In truth, we were both, eventually. McKenzie.

On 50’ the a) dream b) deadly c) doomed duo of Bowen and Grosicki combined dreamily with a deadly ball put through by Jarrod for Kamil to punish. He didn’t. Irvine got in on the act with more non-devastating finishing and Captain Markus showed his frustration by hammering into McBurnie and picked up the first of 4 City yellow cards. He obviously didn’t hammer him anywhere near sufficiently hard enough though as following a niggly period of fouls, substitutions and a random helicopter fly-past, Swansea and McBurnie made it 2-0. Game over? McKenzie.

I did wonder whether the helicopter was due to be part of the next Goal Celebration Extravaganza and had just chipped up a bit early but despite now having an actual striker on the pitch in the shape of Dicko (Do widzenia Kamil), the mood of inevitable surrender blackened to complement Storm Hannah’s sky. But wait! On 69’ Swansea took a comically hit corner that went out for a throw-in on the far side and the realisation dawned that the screw that they could and should be turning on us, was coming loose. Hurrah, enter Jon Toral! Not quite the swash or the buckle of a Spanish matador but a fine footballer nonetheless and we genuinely started to swash rather than buckle. We had corners, we had shots and then on 77’ we had an actual, proper, only slightly offside goal as Bowen slotted home a De Wijs finely-weighted header. The crowd went wild as the virtual Tequila flowed.  McKenzie!

George Bramhall Long reminded us of his bravery under pressure, saving at Routledge’s feet, but City weren’t done yet. Irvine rose superbly to win the first header he had won all afternoon, knocked the ball down for a perfectly placed cross and a close range equaliser. Toral to Dicko – gamechangers. The beat went on…MCKENZIE!

We had six minutes plus five to see out this unlikely state of parity but see it out in fine voice we did. A very late Swansea corner left Dan Batty in a heap on their goal line but the team that had a habit of losing two-goal leads this season had reversed the trend and snatched a point from under Welsh noses.

A final word, if I may, for that finest of defenders, men and City Hall of Fame heroes, who died so heartbreakingly on 23rd April – Peter Skipper. On page 55 of Rich Gardham’s superb tome ‘The Decade – Ten Years that Transformed Hull City AFC’, Captain Skipper describes his feelings at the end of his City career in 1988. “I had a few tears in my eyes when I left.” Believe us, many of us had more than a few tears in our eyes when you left us last week Skip, RIP.

Kate Ogram (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 0 Sheffield United 3

AdkinsN3

For some City fans today’s penultimate home game of the season was a stark choice in terms of who they would rather go up automatically: Leeds or Sheffield United. A punch in the face or a kick in the balls. But for most fans today was primarily about City and how they would perform with enforced changes now there was little to play for. Beat what is in front of you and let others worry about short term alliances, going easy or score permutations.

This is Hull City though. The gift that keeps on giving to teams that need something when we are over the line and on the beach. We lined up:

Long
Kane McKenzie JDW Lichaj
Irvine(c) Batty
Bowen Pugh Grosicki
Campbell

Marshall has been told by Adkins that he is unlikely to play again this season so this back five may have a look of the next season about it. Oh dear! Still going back to three o’clock, things were reasonably optimistic.. The teams came out onto a lush green pitch, despite the recent RL derby, in sunny weather conditions that you would find at the Camp Nou – without the £110 ticket price (There’s an idea for next season, Ehab). Both teams were backed by a vociferous following. City in the four home stands. Blunts in the away end and in the home ends. And City start brightly. Pugh spins Fleck and gets pulled down for a free kick. The resultant kick just fails to meet Irvine’s head. On three minutes, Pugh again dribbles through and finds Bowen who releases a shot that can be termed as tame. But we are on top with a smattering of corners and blocked shots in this purple patch. In a rare Blunts attack the ball is smothered by Long who kicks long to Campbell. The future Terrier is pulled down for another free kick which is fired at Henderson to punch wide.

I wrote in my notebook at this point that both Batty and McKenzie are ‘doing well’. To be fair they did OK for 93 minutes. It’s said that successful youngsters learn from bad experiences more than good experiences. I’m hoping that this is true for these two academy products as the pendulum swings towards Sheffield United. On nine minutes Lichaj puts out for a corner under pressure with a hint of fowling which is let off by referee Scott. In swings the corner and there rises an unchallenged McGoldrick to head in. Cue Blunt celebrations in the away end and cue aggro in the North Stand. For the rest of the first half the Blades seem to be everywhere they should be and City appear to be everywhere they shouldn’t. On 21 the ball finds McGoldrick on our left who cuts inside McKenzie to curl a shot in past Long. It was a goal similar to Neves last season. The Irish captain should not score from there but there you go. 0-2 and the Tigers are looking ragged. Still we soldier bravely on. Whilst the quick, incisive passing we are capable of has deserted us, City slowly work the ball upfield through Pugh, Grosicki and Irvine. The Polish captain even manages a shot into Row Z after a couple of corners.

But it is the Blunts who still look more likely to score and they nearly do when Baldock’s goal bound shot hits McKenzie’s back – well defended lad! But then City decide to shoot themselves in the bollocks once again when Baldock floats a hopeful ball to where Kane is covering. Kane decides to wait for the ball to land on his head rather than going to meet it. In nips a thankful Stevens who powers another header past Long. 0-3.

Could there be a more welcoming place for a visiting team with playoff ambitions than the KCOM? Sunshine, wonder goals and playing a team that makes you look like Ajax. For Blunts like Chris Wilder – a man so Sheffield United if you cut him with a blade he would bleed red – games like this send you up and live long in the memory. Not great when you’re on the other side of it though.

Perhaps realising this contest was over Adkins told the players to ‘go out and win the second half’. At least we drew it. Still we do a bit of attacking, occasionally getting the ball into the Blunts box. On 46 Lichaj throws long to Irvine who controls well but shoots badly. On 53 Bowen shoots well as we observe a collectors item of a genuine Henderson save. Adkins decides to bring on some fresh legs so on come the perma crocked Toral and perma useless Dicko for Pugh and Campbell. Toral does well for the remainder I thought. On 76 a cross finds the Frenchman’s head but unlike McGoldrick this one sails over the bar. On 80 Toral bombs down the right to cross to Dicko who then directs the ball to Bowen. The Hertfordshire Robben strikes first time but straight at Henderson. On 88 Batty smashes the ball over after some good work by Grosicki. But the overall feeling is that City could be playing now as you read this and not have scored.

So that’s that for the Easter games. I never make predictions and I never will. But if City get anything from the last two games it will be a minor miracle. And then it is onto the tricky business of rebuilding a squad for the next campaign and potentially looking for another manager. This, coupled with the news that Siobhan has left Bananarama for the second time, means that City fans are shaping up for a cruel summer indeed.

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-TWTWT

REPORT: City 2-1 Wigan

DeWijsJ

After shaking hands with their opponents, the victorious players trudged off the muddy field at Post Office Road and went into the stand to collect the U18 Northern Schools Rugby League Cup. After mauling St Johns Rigby, Hull’s Wilberforce 6th Form College sat proudly on top of the RL U18 pyramid in 1992 proving for once that a Hull team was superior to a side from Wigan. For, like their Lancashire mill town neighbours Burnley, Wigan have usually come up trumps against this City’s three professional sides; (I’m not sure about including Hull Pirates in this) be it Challenge Cup wins, FA Cup knockouts, 5-0 PL home drubbings, 2-2 losses sending City down. Wigan have usually been around to administer a coup de grace kick in the balls. Bogey town, bogey teams.

Keen to make sure that Wigan A don’t do a horrible double over us this season City lined up:
Marshall
Kane JDW Burke Lichaj
Irvine Henrik
Bowen Pugh Grosicki
Campbell

We kick off to the half full North Stand and begin brightly with some neat interplay between Grosicki, Campbell and Irvine on the left. I am firmly of the opinion that for all of the front four’s headline grabbing displays it is the dreamboat Aussie midfielder who is City’s most important and effective player. Jackson’s colossal work rate and energy levels just mean we are more likely to win with him in the side then any other midfielder. That said I’m not sure the added bum fluff makes him look older – he would still struggle to get served in Empress.

For the first quarter it is all City. We just see to have one pass in front.. Good work down the right by Bowen results in a cross that meets no one but is headed out for the first of roughly 100 corners. A reverse ball finds Irvine who has a shot blocked. The resulting corner sees DeWijs head over-bloody rubbish in the air he is! On 9 only a last ditch tackle stops FC after a mazey run by Grosicki. On 14 Bowen’s strike forces Walton to parry wide. The resulting corner then is cleared to Windass jnr who runs upfield to be stopped by a kneeling Kane who is adjudged to hand the ball and duly receives a yellow from referee Webb. The first time I encountered Josh Windass was when he was a mascot for Bradford City in our 2-0 at Valley Parade. When asked who his favourite player was he said “daddy” – aww bless. There may be a player there but I did not see much last night. But to win City need to score otherwise it is not worth getting out of bed at the end of the day.

On 21 we almost do score as we run Wigan ragged at the back. After some tidy footwork the ball finds FC wide of the post to knock to Pugh who loops a ball onto the bar. On 27 a Grosicki rocket goes wide. On 35 Henriksen dribbles towards the box but unleashes a meek shot. Wigan decide to start utilising the space behind Bowen and Grosicki by knocking it long to Robinson and Byrne but City remain the more likely to score. So, of course, I view with dismay the ball passed into our box, become stuck under DeWijs left foot and into the path of former City ‘striker’ Nick Powell who shows why City signed him to rifle past Marshall’s right hand into the net. Howl Howl Howl. 0-1 and the 150 Latin fans celebrate with a hardly apt ‘You’re fucking shit.’ I thought you will be eating those words, me laddos.

HT 0-1

City kick off towards the sparse South Stand again on the front foot. Paul Cook’s thinking was that if they frustrate City by time wasting they could sneak a second away win in 20 and ease their mighty relegation worries. Duly Wigan began with all 11 behind the ball but without Nick Powell who shows why City sold him by not returning for the second half. It would take a superhuman effort or a calamity to get past this lot. City prayers were answered when Pugh strikes a long shot which can be described as bread and butter to most goal keepers. But to Walton it is a veritable slippery cannon ball to which the Wigan number one kindly spills towards an oncoming Campbell who pokes home. 1-1 and back in it.

Shortly after Walton continues to wreck whatever chances the Latin’s have by sliding outside the area clutching the ball. After a short pause Webb inexplicably produces a yellow instead of red. Pugh shortly comes off for the youngster Batty who proceeds to do very well I thought. A various array of corners and free kicks rain down on the Latin’s defence but they tend to hold firm with occasional forays upfront. On 75 Wigan nearly shit the City bed when a corner finds an unmarked Massey whose bullet header is stopped by Marshall’s thigh. Henriksen and Kane come off for Evandro and Martin. Now that’s positive play Adkins. In mind of the mauling Leon Clarke gave City at Bramall Lane last season Cook brings him on and sticks him up front looking for a winner.

But cometh the 89th minute cometh the man. After the ball is poked out again by Dunkley, Grosicki takes another out left. Seeing as the last 99 had come to naught my hopes were not high. In it swings. Defenders rise to meet the ball and clear. Strikers ready to pounce and nip it. But, like a salmon, JDW rises up and powers past everyone to head the ball past the hapless Walton and into the roof of the net. 2-1. And the 7000 City fans go wild. Suck on that, Latics! There is just enough time for City to waste time and boot the ball in the air and then that’s that.

Wigan face Leeds and Norwich in their next 2 games but let’s not rely on them to do us a favour. City then have done what they needed to do and dispatched three teams who they should beat. Now we face 5 teams with still possible promotion dreams beginning with the despicable Pulis at the dispiriting Riverside on Saturday. A game I wasn’t bothered about has suddenly become pivotal – so a ticket has been quickly bought. Get something from this and things could become very really interesting.

Dominic Fellowes (first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2 QPR 2

Bowen JDon’t know how many of you listened to the interview with Adkins on Humberside after the game but, for those who didn’t catch it, it – or in particular Adkins’ general mood and tone of voice – was remarkable, in that for once there was none of the trademark happy-clappy optimism: here was a genuinely angry man. On the face of it the anger was directed at yet another pissing up the wall of a two-goal lead: the third in 2019, and had we won each of those games we would now be level on points with sixth place, you might be interested to learn. And yet, listening to his bitter criticism of the players after yesterday’s showing, you couldn’t help wondering whether his malaise might perhaps be rather more deep-rooted, perhaps the frustration of a man who, unsupported by his lords and masters and for a long time unwanted and unloved by the Club’s ever-dwindling support, faced with the challenge of trying to restore his reputation against that background and getting very close to succeeding, suddenly finding that the relentless running up a downwards-moving escalator has finally got to him. And if that’s correct, could there be any link between the timing of it and the recent revelations in the local media about the slashing of playing budgets and the now-ritual lack of progress with contract renewals?

This might all be off the mark, but it all genuinely felt like more than just a rant about a team of players who had to an unacceptable extent performed quite ineptly. Perhaps Nige is actually feeling our pain. For, although most rational Tigerwatchers would have happily settled for where we are now at this stage of the season it all seemed very despondent as we filed out of the Circle, and that despondency felt as though it was more about what lies ahead than what has gone before, a state of affairs which, paradoxically, could actually have been made worse by our making the play-offs and getting promoted.

This is not a good time to be a City fan. In fact so not good a time is it that my pal and I were discussing yesterday, with completely straight faces, whether we should go to a Showaddywaddy gig instead of a forthcoming City game, something which would have been unthinkable until quite recently. That’s what we have been reduced to.

Anyway, the football. Well, it was pretty crap for the most part. I would even opine that, notwithstanding that an error in front of goal stood between us and a 3-0 lead around the hour mark, we were when you look back on the game as a whole arguably lucky to get a point.

Failing to whelm us were the following:-

Marshall

McKenzie                Burke                Ridgewell            Kingsley

Stewart

Bowen                  Irvine                    Pugh                Grosicki

Campbell

City, as is their habit, set off brightly, kicking towards the North Stand. It wasn’t long before visiting keeper Lumley was tested by Bowen’s angled drive following a great through ball from Irvine. And not very long after that before the scoring was duly opened, when Grosicki finds Bowen out wide, and the star man playing on the right, cuts inside and drills both the leather into the far corner and himself into the annals of Tiger history by scoring for the eighth consecutive time in home games. What a fine talent this young man is: enjoy him while you can.

For a spell then it’s all Hoops. They go close within a minute of our scoring and then on 13 an overlap with width of the M62 appears on our right – don’t ask me where McKenzie was – and Bidwell whistles one across the face of the goal. As if that’s not enough, three minutes on and the visitors once again stroll through our defence and the pace of a through ball is slowed down by a deflection, taking it right into the path of a Ranger, with Marshall – who had left his line in anticipation of the through ball – in no man’s land. In probably the best defensive play of the afternoon from City, though, Kingsley gets in a fine tackle to save a certain goal.

The game takes on a formly largeless air for much of the rest of the half. There are a couple of bookings, Lynch for chopping Fraizer down and then Ridgewell for a clumsy challenge on Wells, but the only other thing about which to write home was an underhit backpass from Ridgewell which prompts my neighbour and Tig-Chat regular to instruct me to write down, “Fucking Ridgewell, fucking idiot”. Have to say that my chum has a point here: I suppose he made a couple of clearances and square balls to Burke and Kingsley, but really, what is the point of Ridgewell? I found myself idly wondering whether there’d be a market for a cartoon book entitled “101 used for a Liam Ridgewell, with drawings of his stubbly chin being used as an alternative to a Clag-Gone (Google it if you don’t know) or that sort of thing.

The game, as you will have gathered, is actually quite rubbish, albeit played at quite a brisk pace as if in an endeavour to reassure the onlookers that oh no, missus, this really isn’t a dead rubber. it comes as a bit of a surprise therefore when we double our advantage a minute before the end of the first half. Surprise, surprise it’s the old double act with a peach of a ball from Grosicki finding Bowen again in the inside-right channel, who flicks the leather inside and powers it in through a forest of blue-and-white-clad defenders.

Not altogether sure we deserve that, but we’ll take it.

So, half-time, and thoughts turn to the crowd. The attendance was given as 11,227, but it did not take more than a modicum of functioning eyesight and the most basic grasp of mental arithmetic to establish that there were well fewer than 8,000 souls inside the stadium, including about 300 reasonably spirited West Londoners.  Whilst it’s fully appreciated that the local media have to tread on eggshells with the Club over so many things it would be pleasing to see a bit more made of the over-reporting of attendances, as that is the most graphic testimony to our Club’s demise and malaise currently available.

Anyway, off we go again. We’re lucky not to see our lead halved after more comedy defending eight minutes into the half, but Wszolek fires wastefully over from close range, but then come close to increasing the lead a minute later when Bowen fires just wide after being set up by McKenzie (who started dreadfully but seemed to get going as the game went on). On 58 minutes, another poor backpass from Ridgewell.

Then comes what with hindsight was the turning point. The sweetest bit of football of the afternoon from City’s midfield sees Grosicki released on the left and a deep cross duly delivered to the feet of Bowen in splendid isolation at the far post. Maybe he even has time for a touch, but we’ll never know exactly what his intentions are as the leather gets caught underneath his feet and Fraizer’s attempt at a follow-up is cleared off the line.

3-0 then, and we would surely have been home and hosed. But with teeth-grindingly frustrating predictability we concede soon after in bizarre fashion. Scowen strokes the ball gently into the box from easily 30 yards out. it’s not meant as a shot but everyone in a busy box contrives to miss it and the leather nestles gently just insider the far post with Marshall – who admittedly might have been unsighted – rooted to the spot. The only similar goal I have ever seen in my life was scored by me in the mid 70s during a kickabout behind my uncle’s house in Paisley, when I attempted a similar ball to my cousin who was playing centre forward, but instead of controlling and shooting he leapt over the ball, which eventually bobbled an inch inside the post with my brother, who was playing in goal for the other side, flat-footed and mouth agape.  On that occasion my cousin and I collapsed into helpless laughter, but that was fine because our game was being played by a bunch of spotty teenagers, not a highly-paid team of professional sportsmen. This really wasn’t funny at all.

We’re thrashing around badly now and it’s not hard to work out where this is heading. Grosicki tees up Pugh (why don’t we chant “Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble, Grubb” when he gets the ball? I’d pay to get in just to be able to do that) but the Bournemouth man’s shot, from optimistically far out, is a shade too high. Wszolek is booked for a foul on Kingsley, there’s more Ridgewellitude, this time in the form of needlessly giving away a corner (this all sounds terribly mean and the poor chap is no doubt doing his best, but really?) and then in a rare moment of cohesion from City on 78 minutes Martin, who has just come on for Campbell (what, by the way, are we to make of the stuff on social media last night about the lack of any contract talks with Fraizer?), feeds Bowen whose effort is saved by Lumley.

And then the moment we’ve all been waiting for, on 83. The ball is hoofed out of midfield towards the by-line on the right, Scowen chases, is allowed to cross (Adkins was insistent afterwards that the ball had gone out of play, but even so….) and sub Hemed bundles over the line at the near post with scant resistance from the City rearguard. Just shocking.

Predictably, the Tiger Nation is then treated to a flurry of faux-urgency for a few minutes (the sort which would have prevented both QPR goals) but the reality is that we have fallen apart. Again. It actually comes close to getting even worse with two minutes left, as Irvine unnecessarily fouls Scowen near the edge of the box and Eze’s free kick clips the outside of Marshall’s left hand post. Stewart is then booked for a foul on Eze.

Into the generously-short three minutes of added time, and QPR’s claims for a penalty are waved away by referee Martin. Marshall then gathers the leather and promptly rolls it out straight to one of theirs.

The final whistle comes as a relief, even though it takes us back out into the rain which has persisted through the afternoon. Cue the aforementioned disconsolate filing out.

Well, surely that’s it now as far as this season is concerned. Some tasty away trips for the fans but more in the sense of good days out than bona fide footballing contests. With eight games left we can at least hope that City will turn on the style in the way in which they sometimes do in dead rubbers, Burton being a fine recent example, and it might well be a case in that event of our taking our pleasures when we can because, treating any takeover fairy-stories that might be out out over the summer with the contempt that they deserve, the one thing that looks certain at the minute is that next season looks destined to show this one a very clean pair of heels in the bleakness stakes. Which takes us back to our manager’s mood post-match.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2-0 Birmingham

HenriksenM

O, this was good. Unexpectedly, borderline astonishingly so. But good, really good.

Birmingham arrived with a Spring-tinged sniff of the Play Offs in their nostrils, and left chastened. Harried to perdition, outperformed all over the park, beaten and subdued.

At the end of November, 19 games into this wildly uneven season, we sat morosely marooned in the relegation places, with just 17 points. Right now, having gobbled up 33 points from 16 games since the start of December, we’re tenth (eighth equal, if you prefer to set aside goal difference) and already up to 50 points. Safe from relegation and, absurdly, just four points shy of the Play Off places.

Lots of players deserve credit, but I am going to limit myself to one name alone in allocating praise for this remarkable upturn in not simply the team’s fortunes but in the whole mood and spirit of the squad (if not the club more generally). Nigel Adkins. I’ve had harsh words for him in the past. I don’t care for the needy salutes the very instant his name is chanted, and I can’t warm to the torrents of maniacal exuberance he conveys to press and radio. Most of all, I spent most of 2018 with no faith that he could improve an admittedly thin squad. I was wrong. The formation he’s chosen works, every player looks better now than he did at the beginning of the season, some immeasurably enormously refulgently so, and Mr Adkins, for sure, is doing a Very Good Job. Bless.

Off we go, on a mild afternoon though one unadorned by the glorious Spring sunshine of earlier in the week:

                      Marshall

Kane   Burke   de Wijs   Lichaj

          Irvine       Henriksen

Bowen          Pugh           Grosicki

                        Martin

That’s the same side that began against Millwall on Tuesday, and confirms the removal of Ridgewell, McKenzie and Kingsley from the defence that operated with such sullen lack of distinction at Brentford last week. That 5-1 thrashing could have been season-ending. Two subsequent games, two subsequent wins, and the season is still very much alive.

The game begins in an appealingly open fashion. I like our formation. I don;t trust all of those deployed within it. Pugh is a quick-thinking mobile player who I already like a lot, and he fully grasps the importance of bringing our two speedy wide men into the game as quickly and as frequently as possible. This trio would be enough to lay waste to most Championship defences if, ahead of them, a moderately mobile Championship-level striker was able to pull defenders out of position, hold the ball up and release it. Fraizer Campbell, for example. Chris Martin, a willing if limited professional for a decade and more, could have been that man a few years ago. He’s still willing. But he just can’t run, can’t lose a man, can’t run a channel. I don’t blame him – I blame Ehab. But it’s a toil and a trial to watch Chris Martin doing his best, yet struggling in a formation that is almost destructively incisive, but, for want of a better front man, isn’t quite as exciting as it could be.

We’ve still got enough to best a competent Birmingham side. On 19, Pugh shoots, deflection, saved by Lee Camp. 21, Bowen on the break, left foot shot, stopped. And then we score. It’s an intricate bit of play following a free-kick awarded deep inside the Birmingham half, and Pugh’s quick feet do brilliantly well to claim possession and  switch the ball inside for Bowen to carefully lift the ball up and over the advancing Camp and into the roof of the net.

The subsequent play is largely in our half as Blues seek to assert themselves, but there are no serious alarms anywhere near Marshall’s net, except for a scary moment on 34 when Harlee Dean, monster central defender, is left in space at a set piece but contrives to send an inviting free header high over the crossbar. The City defence was entitled to look mutinously in the direction of Chris Martin, who should have been back covering aforementioned Harlee Dean – who sounds as if he should be doing the full Easy Rider thing across the plains of Wyoming while downing hooch and tripping on acid, but a little research advises me that in truth he was not born to be wild, he was born in Basingstoke and once played for Braintree Town.

Grosicki, haring down the left, sets up Pugh, who shoots low but straight at the ‘keeper, but the finest moment of the half, outshining even the goal, is an astonishing lofted crossfield pass from Markus Henriksen which condemns the defence to irrelevance as Grosicki is able to scoot free of its collective attention. A goal is deserved as a result of Henriksen’s touchingly crafted tribute to the sublime passing range of the late great Bobby Doyle, but the Pole is a little clumsy in bringing the ball under control and ultimately he screws his shot wide of the near post.

The people of Norway seem to be transfixed by their favourite son and his slightly wobbly vowels taking charge of Manchester United this season, but they should come take a look at the Sword of Trondheim. Henriksen has been consistently outstanding this season, on the ball and off it, and in his leadership capacity too. Birmingham City, your boys, like so many others these last three months or so, took a hell of a beating.

Half time. 1-0.

Birmingham begin the second half with a little more vigour and application. On 47 a ball spins away dangerously in our box, corner. On 51, a stramash, we survive. Lively football, though largely broken football, as both sides strain in vain to take command.

Next goal is crucial. And, on the hour, we get it.

Not in entirely satisfactory circumstances, I confess. A slick passing move involving Henriksen, Bowen, Martin and Irvine permits Bowen himself to drive powerfully forward through the heart of the visiting defence and into the box, but he pushes the ball just a bit too far in front of him. The goalkeeper’s challenge is a bit clumsy, but Bowen goes down under it with practised (and understandable) ease. I think that Lee Camp got his gloves to the ball in the same instant as Bowen’s boot, and Camp protests his innocence. Over to you, referee Harrington. He is very well positioned, has a clear sightline, but, surprisingly, gives it.

A pleasing outbreak of resentment, outrage and protest and, from our side, derision and glee interrupts proceedings, and a good old-style set-to develops.  A couple of yellow cards are waved, but eventually the fury abates and Bowen has the ball on the spot. He sweeps the ball calmly into one corner of the net while Camp leaps like a young salmon towards the other corner, and that is 2-0.

We’ve squandered two goal leads twice of late (at Villa and at home to Rotherham), so the matter is not yet settled. But we take a secure grip on this one. After the hubbub surrounding the penalty award, a subsequent red card or two seems a safe bet, but the heat quickly dissipates. Birmingham are not exactly resigned to their fate, but they’re second best and appear to know it. Their main man is burly free-scoring frontman Che Adams, who sounds as if he should have emerged from the South American jungle with a grimy bandana round his head and a knife between his teeth, but was in fact born in Leicester and has played for Oadby Town. But Adams is dealt with by stopping his service at source. Our defenders don’t have a lot to concern them because our midfield spends most of the game making sure Birmingham’s never gets chance to supply Adams with bullets or, for that matter, knives. There are some decent larkers in that Birmingham midfield  – Gary Gardner, Kerim Mrabti (who sounds as if he should be a handsome Turkish prince on horseback but is in fact an anagram) – but they’ve been schooled by Irvine  and the sublime Henriksen today.

On 65, Burke is unusually reticent and Marshall is pulled out of position, and Adams, for once, has a glimpse of our goal, but the shot slices wide into the side-netting. The same fate at the other end on 78, when a quite brilliantly deft pass by Martin frees Bowen beyond the central defence, but here too the side-netting is the recipient of the ball. Then Pugh weaves through a static defence with absorbing skill, only to fire his shot straight at ‘keeper Camp. Lots of pleasing football.

Ridgewell on for De Wijs. McKenzie replaces Lichaj.

On 87 Marshall makes a fine save to his right and then, shortly afterwards, an inviting opportunity is spooned harmlessly high into the air. Nothing for you today in Hull, Bluenoses.

Four added, a deflected corner which draws a save from Marshall and the game is done.

So. The stadium was barely one third full yesterday. The Allams remain in charge, and the babble about a takeover, always a rust-stained polluted trickle, has dried up and evaporated. We are stuck with the gruesome twosome for the foreseeable, and I suspect that even now Ehab is planning a summer of sales followed by last-minute loan signings and hauling in vaguely remembered out-of-contract plodders which he will expect Nigel Adkins to convert into a presentable Championship squad. The miracle is that Mr Adkins might well be able to do just that. I yearn for a post-Allam Hull City, but for the time being I don’t ignore what a remarkable job Nigel Adkins has done and is doing in such forbiddingly difficult circumstances.

Steve Weatherill (first posted on the Tiger-Chat mailing list)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2 Millwall 1

Bowen JThere were some big decisions to be made at the KCOM tonight. Mainly would the unseasonably warm weather give way to a bitingly cold evening meaning should one or two socks be worn. Adkins also had some decisions to make after been mauled at Brentford. Namely in finding some decent form from an increasingly crocked or couldn’t be arsed squad. Not wearing gloves except for Marshall we lined up:

Marshall
Lichaj De Wijs Burke Kane
Henriksen Irvine
Bowen Grosicki
Pugh
Martin

So 5 changes from Saturday but no place for Long as City’s number one. Yet. Martin comes in for injured Campbell up front. Behind him is an attacking triangle of Pugh, Grosicki and Bowen. At the back the defence sees a welcome return for stalwarts De Wijs and Burke.

Both teams enter the pitch to a ripple of applause that is more in keeping to welcoming a speaker at a conference for bankers. City then kick off to a sparsely populated North Stand. In fact all stands are sparsely populated these days but on the 70th anniversary of City’s biggest attendance the KCOM witnesses its lowest crowd since 2002. Whilst most weekday games across the Championship have seen a rise in empty seats since Sky introduced the red button we all know there’s another reason why City would be lucky to hit 5 figures tonight. Today marked the day when the Oystons were finally removed from the Blackpool board showing that fan power combined with principled protest can win through.

On my previous visit to the New Den in December the attendance was roughly the same so I guess both teams are used to playing in front of 1/3 full grounds. But it’s City who are generally on top in the opening period with the thinking that if we dictate we can get away with an absence of ‘tacklers’ in midfield. The new Holy Trinity of Pugh, Bowen and Grosicki are causing Millwall problems. On 4 Pugh’s shot is blocked after finding space on the edge of the box. On 8 the Polish winger charges down the wing and finds Henriksen whose shot is parried into Bowen who finishes well amongst a sea of slate grey Millwall bodies. 1-0. As an added plus Wallace goes off not long after due to an injury in the goal build up.

On 12 we get to see Bowen win a tackle, charge down the right, evade one challenge, then another, then loose the ball, win it back and cross to Grosicki. Later he dances through three Lions as if he were Roy Castle doing a tap dance world record. Goals, dribbles and a genuine off field attitude. That should add another few million Mr Pochettino. The 15000 who are not here are missing some smashing football played by the Tigers – it’s such a shame. On 24 Grosicki finds space again in the middle and attempts to curl a shot into the top left but goes wide, despite Archer diving acrobatically in a vane attempt to make himself look good.

Millwall don’t seem to be able to get going with all defenders plus Irvine and Henriksen spoiling their offensive play. Millwall certainly don’t look like Brentford away. They don’t even look like Millwall away. But, of course, as goals change games, they also change the tone of match reports. And so on 33 a free kick picks out the elderly Morrison who finds room to swing in a cross that evades both central defenders but not Hutchinson who tees up then fires in from close range. Bah! 1-1. The 50-odd away fans go wild but thankfully leave the seating intact during their celebrating. No bushwackers here tonight then. Though the Lions board have done a good job in eradicating hooliganism from the New Den, trouble still tends to follow that team at either away games or around the stadium as Everton found out recently. I’m sure some ‘fans’ may argue the toss that football has lost its soul compared to the hooligans heyday of the 70s and 80s when the Union Jack meant exactly what it meant and you could buy a copy of Bulldog outside a ground but on choice I’ll probably take today’s sanitised product. But onto the game!

Buoyed by equalising Millwall start running at City a bit more not realising we are good on the counter. On 42 the Lions loose possession in our box and Kane waltzes down the right, swings in a peach of a cross to Pugh who takes a touch then rifles in from just outside the box. 2-1. A real peach of a goal. It appears our players can be arsed after all. But if 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline, 2-1 is even more dangerous. But to be honest any marginal lead is dangerous for City given the last few games.

After the break Millwall attempt to get back on level terms. Marshall keeps City in the game by making two saves in quick succession firstly from Tunnicliffe’s volley then from the other Marshall. But it’s not all one way traffic. Grosicki who is a constant thorn on the Lions right cuts inside and shoots hitting the post rebounding onto Archer but unluckily out of play. Not long after our Polish rakieta twists Marshall and crosses to the newly introduced Dicko but it hits the Malian’s standing leg. What we have gained in Dicko’s chasing the ball around we have lost in goal scoring ability with Pugh off. That we are going to try and hold on is confirmed when Ridgewell is introduced for Martin on 78.

Recognising that route one to his forwards is not working well Neil Harris introduces the lanky Tom Elliott and instructs his team to go route one to him. This is effective and Millwall start winning headers. City now have to start defending like beavers. ‘Defence, Defence, Defence-Defence-Defence’ the home crowd don’t sing but should as this will see us over the line. On 83 Bowen somehow gets his body in the way of Marshall’s pinpoint shot. More Lions pressure follows but City start to waste time and waste space as on comes Milinkovic. Wearing gloves. 4 minutes extra time bring little of note and referee Bond, Darren Bond blows for full time.

So City climb to the heady heights of 11th and are still in with a shout…..no let’s not go there. But what is important that is that City can win, play well and look generally enthusiastic about doing so in this mini mid table league. And much more important is that I have broken my winning reporting duck. Hurray!

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Brentford 5 City 1

MarshallD
It’s impossible not to enjoy Brentford. That’s the theory. The actual, proper terracing, the low roof over the terraces, the largely amiable opposition fans, the plethora of pubs within the vicinity, the happy memories of Bob Dewhurst’s thunderbolt, the match of the 90s in which the Great Escape became a reality, the wonderful 2-0 win under Steve Bruce (and under the floodlights). You can’t not enjoy Brentford away. You just can’t…

Testing that theory to the maximum on Saturday afternoon would be: Marshall, Kane, Kingsley, McKenzie, Ridgewell, Henriksen, Irvine, Bowen, Evandro, Grosicki and Campbell. Benched were Lichal, Burke, Pugh, Dicko, Milinkovic, Long and Martin. Each sub has a story, none of which reflected well on the club come 5pm.

We started off in barnstorming fashion. Literally every good thing about the game for the first 20 minutes involved someone in a black and amber shirt. Campbell was doing the work of two men up front, Grosicki’s pace was terrifying the home defence, Irvine was dictating the midfield with Evandro’s silky touches causing further bedlam for the Bees. They couldn’t touch us. That second half against Rotherham was an aberration. We. Were. Back. We were all jab and no knockout blow however. As good as our approach play was – and it really was – one-time City target Bentley in the home goal was untroubled. In fact, the first keeper to be troubled was Marshall, who parried a shot back into play. The Scotsman retrieved the ball safely only for Maupay to go in unnecessarily late, much to the disgust of the Tigers defence. Maupay was rightly booked, Marshall was slightly crocked.

No matter, because we’re ace. We’re in the ascendancy. And in the 24th minute we score. Grosicki and Kingsley combine on the left for the former to send in an inch-perfect cross for Fraizer Campbell who heads into the top corner. It had been coming. Brentford had nothing. We were all over th… ah fuck they’ve equalised.

Benrahma – more of him later – runs at our ‘defence’. No one is interested. He finds Mokotjo who slides the ball slowly and methodically to Marshall’s left. Marshall doesn’t move. He doesn’t move twice more before half-time when the ball hits the back of the net, either. The first of these incidences occurs five minutes after Brentford equalise. Benrahma does one of those horrible twisty mini-runs in the box – think Osvaldo Ardiles in the 1981 FA Cup final; think Alex Dyer against Villa at Boothferry Park in about 1987 – and then curls a ball into the postage stamp of the postage stamp. The goal is in many ways a thing of beauty. Except all I can focus upon is our defence’s inability to get anywhere near Brentford’s forwards.

Benrahma shoots narrowly wide on 40 minutes, because we’d obviously not been paying attention before, but then on 43 minutes really turns the screw. Kingsley is pathetically dispossessed on the half-way line. Brentford break. City havethree or so decent chances to clear. Each is spurned. It falls to Benrahma. You know the rest. 3-1. Three goals that have cut through our defence as if it wasn’t there. That’s because it wasn’t there. Three goals in which Marshall has been rooted to the spot. He had reason for the second but not the first and the third. If he was injured – which it seems he was – come off. If he wasn’t – and he seemed to be able to do most other things required – then at least make a fucking effort.

Half-time comes. We’re all a bit shellshocked. Marshall is a bit more than that and goes off injured, with Long replacing him.

But then comes the second half. If we score next, who knows? Nigel’s masterminded a few comebacks. And we’re all over them again. Evandro had a brilliant volley tipped over, Bowen is only prevented from scoring by a last-ditch tackle. Grosickiis causing all sorts of problems. This is more like it. We’re looking great again. We can do th… ah, they’ve scored. One of our many long, stupid, loopy corners doesn’t do anything, we commit too many men in their half, they break, Watkins gets a shot in that Long parries. Watkins is the first to react. He’s the only one to react in truth. He nods the ball over for Maupay to tap in. And  that’s the game. 4-1.

Want me to continue? Really? OK. Irvine goes off injured. This is a bad thing, because Jackson’s a very good player. But it might solve a headache for Nigel. You see, we offer no protection to our defence from midfield. Don’t get me wrong, our defence is shit – the full-backs can’t tackle and our centre-backs have been recruited from a nursery and a retirement home – but the quartet would fare much better with a Stewart or Batty in there. Irvine and Henriksen want to play similar games. And they don’t  want to get ugly. Their positional sense isn’t what it should be at the base of the midfield when they play as a duo. It should really be Irvine or Evandro in that false number 10 position or whatever the fuck they’re calling it these days. I hope Jackson’s OK. I hope Nigel rethinks his midfield.

Anyway, nothing of note really happens for a while now as Brentford toy with us. Grosicki makes a few decent runs with no end product. Long pulls off a few decent saves. But the game’s gone. All that’s left is for more piss-weak defending to usher in a Benrahma hat-trick. Fair play to him too. It’s one of the more memorable attacking displays against City. Think Fitzroy Simpson for Swindon in the early 90s; think Marcus Stewart for Bristol Rovers in the mid-90s; think Jo Kuffourfor Torquay in 2005. He was simply too good for us on Saturday. That said, it doesn’t take much to be too good for this defence.

Milinkovic and Burke get a run out but thankfully Brentford declare at 5-1 and our misery is at an end. You want an autopsy? You’re going to get one.

Marshall has been one or our best performers across the whole of this season, but on Saturday he showed why various managers were right to prefer Jakupović and McGregor to him. He’s a good shot stopper but his command of his area and his positioning can be poor. The injury doesn’t excuse that. The defence we’ve covered. I feel for McKenzie. Young defenders have the toughest of introductions and he’s obviously a bright talent. He just gets little protection and guidance.  I’d like to see him play alongside Elphick. I have no desire to see him play alongside Ridgewell ever again. You’ve read what I have to say about the centre-midfield, which leaves the front four. Bowen was quiet by his standards, while Grosicki wasn’t, he just wasn’t particularly effective either. Evandro only fancied it in spurts, while Campbell was his typically effective self.

Which leaves the subs. How would Lichaj and Burke not improve this defence? The former in particular and the latter to some extent have shown that they actually can defend, and we didn’t see a lot of that on Saturday. Why have we signed Pugh? We have a plethora of wingers. Why weren’t those wages allocated to another defender?  The Pugh signing makes even less sense with Milinkovic falling back into favour. Or if we weren’t signing a defender with that money, why not a forward? Martin and Dicko are not really options to replace Campbell. They are men who wear Hull City shirts and run about a bit but don’t do much. Nigel’s done a lot of good things this past few months, but when your recruitment is sparse you have to make it count. He hasn’t made this count. We didn’t need Pugh. We urgently need strengthening in other areas. God I miss Elphick.

The players stopped trying yesterday too. They seemed to care as little about the future of this football club as our owners do. We travelled a long was for this. We paid a lot of money for this. We deserved much better. We won’t go down and we won’t go up. But if the players are so disrespectful as to already have their heads on a beach somewhere in the Caribbean, they could at least tell us that before we embark upon these journeys.

You never know when you’re going to stand on a terrace for the last time. If the Allams keep hold of Hull City it is unlikely that that occasion will have been Saturday. But if it was, it was a horrible way to see out such a wonderful way to watch football..

Richard Gardham (via Tiger Chat)

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)