FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 3 Brentford 2

Hull City's Seb Larsson

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

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

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

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

McGregor
Tomori                    Dawson                  Mazuch               Clark
Aina                          Meyler                 Larsson
Irvine                       Grosicki
Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here we go again?

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

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

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

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

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

For now though, nice one Nigel.

Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Millwall 0 City 0

SlutskyPensive

The overnight rumour mill suggests that the 0-0 draw against struggling Millwall will be Leonid Slutsky’s final act as Hull City manager.

Whether the rumours come to fruition and the Russian is replaced by Scunthorpe’s former manager Nigel Adkins, it can be understood when looking from the outside why Slutsky is on the brink.  A team relegated from the Premier League should always have the financial clout and quality of player to take this second tier by storm.  If a manager cannot motivate a squad of players who six months ago were battling the likes of Tottenham and Manchester City, to a league position well above City’s current 20th position, surely he deserves to go?

But for Slutsky, those close to the club know the hand he’s been dealt.  Supporter unrest with the club owners.  Large numbers of the relegated squad sold with vastly inferior replacements brought in at minimal cost.  All of this will take its toll on a person who only began to learn English in the hope of getting a job a year ago.

With the pressure firmly on, Hull City take to the dragon’s lair of the New Den, lining up in a traditional 4-4-2…

                McGregor

  Tomori Dawson Hector Aina

Bowen Stewart Henriksen Irvine

            Dicko Campbell

The opening ten minutes of the game saw Millwall take the game to the timid Tigers.  Often playing neat triangles down the channels, the City back line struggled under these attacks, led by the initially impressive Elliott.

Having survived that initial onslaught, Elliott’s impact on the game rapidly diminished and with it, so did much of the threat posed by the home side.

Even in this early stage, one player was starting to stand out from the rest of the Hull City side.  Much maligned in recent weeks, the additional space in the middle of the pitch seemed to galvanise Henriksen.  Dropping back to head clear an early soft free kick, working hard to try and build an attack going forward.  This is not to say his performance was the reincarnation of Maradona, often his passing would seem timid or some of his movement was very slow, but on this performance much of the recent criticism would be excessive.

On the left, Aina often tried too many slight passes that none of his team read.  He certainly has quality, but needs to work better with the rest of the team. When he does get his head up, he can get forward really well, spins past markers with ease.  Once such move saw him combine with Irvine to create the best chance of the half for Bowen, only for him to shoot over.

The left side proved to be City’s key in the attacks.  Too often the right sided pairing of Bowen and Tomori either played far too narrow to stretch a limited home side, or particularly in Tomori’s case, he seemed rather loath to advance too far forward.  Perhaps this is understandable as he’s a centre back being played out of position, but isn’t helping City’s cause too much.  So another City attack up the left finds the impressive Henriksen whose long range shot is tipped over by Millwall’s keeper Archer.

Whilst City were enjoying most of the play, Millwall still posed a threat with Saville turning Bowen before cutting inside Tomori and teeing up Gregory, only for his shot to be tipped over by McGregor.  The resulting corner causes further confusion in the City defence as O’Brien’s goal bound shot is cleared off the line by Hector.

A final attack of the half sees Bowen’s cross field ball find Aina, but his mishit shot bobbles to Dicko.  His drive is well saved by Archer and City have no other players following up to apply the finishing touch.

Clearly the first half of the game is going to plan.  No panicked half time substitutes are deployed as City return to the pitch.

City start the second half much as the finished the first.  Campbell breaks forward and has a clear sight of goal, but another mishit shot sees the ball screwing parallel with the goal line.  Dicko is on hand to follow up, but can’t get a good connection

The first substitution comes five minutes after the break as Morison replaces Elliott for the home side.  A quick break then offers Saville a sight of goal, but his shot is wide.  At the other end, Campbell and Dicko combine before squaring to Henriksen, but he opted to take a touch when the shot was available allowing the Millwall defence to get back.

Millwall are certainly playing with backs to the wall, with eight outfield players crowding out any chances for City.  McLaughlin is also the first to see his name taken after tripping Stewart on the half way line.

On the hour mark, shortly after Millwall replace O’Brien with Onydinma, Grosicki replaces Dicko.  This had a very negative effect on the City side with the Pole taking a position on the left of the pitch and City reverting to a 4-5-1 lineup.  Suddenly where the forward pairing of Campbell and Dicko were stretching a home side, the revised line-up began to isolate Campbell up front.

Also noticeable in this change in formation was that Henriksen became less influential than during his impressive start to the game.  He seemed to no longer revel in the midfield.  Overall City play became congested, chances started to become rarer.

Soon after also came Millwall’s best chance of the game.  A cross into City’s box sees Dawson deflect Gregory’s shot over.  From the corner Cooper heads goalwards, only for a fine reaction save from McGregor to keep the clean sheet.  City defenders are throwing themselves in front of the ball just in time for Morison to shoot over.

Campbell is next to have is name taken, after a firm challenge on McLaughlin leaves the defender rolling around as if shot from a sniper behind the scoreboard.  From then City did seem to suffer a string of soft free kicks against them from a rather fussy referee.

Another Millwall chance sees Gregory pulling wide, before unleashing a shot that has McGregor at full stretch to catch.  But it’s not all one way traffic now.  Grosicki makes a cross field run, playing a one-two with Irvine, but just as he finds space, he elects to chip a shot wide, when a firm drive would have caused much greater threat to the home goal.

By now, Campbell had pulled up injured, so was replaced by Diomande.  Millwall also used the last of their substitutes with Ferguson replaced by Twardek.

As the clock entered those final dangerous last five minutes for the recent Hull City defence, Bowen is replace by the enigma that is Evandro.  Some may have thought it’s not possible, but the Brazilian does in fact still exist.

The away end certainly expects the inevitable final five minutes, watching through parted fingers as both Aina and Irvine slip to allow Gregory a shot that’s saved.  Then another Gregory chance is blasted over.

City do end the game with a final chance as Diomande passes wide to Grosicki and his cross finding Evandro, only to shoot wide.

The final score 0-0 gave the first clean sheet in a month.  Perhaps a draw is the best City could hope for in a season where victories are only gained in matches against teams whose name begins with a ‘B’.

Next team up?  Bristol City.  But who will be the Tigers manager?

James Lockwood (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 2 Ipswich 2

BowenJ

Another late goal denied City a win we barely deserved in a battle of two mediocre Championship teams who can’t defend to save their lives. Sound fun?

The pre-match atmosphere was dead. The pub – once buzzing with anticipation before matches – barely hummed. The announcement of a game of dominoes or a meat raffle would have taken the excitement up a notch. The walk to the ground was desolate. Inside, it was understandably sombre given this was the game chosen for remembrance but we were 35 minutes into the game before anyone realised the minute’s silence was over.

McGregor
Tomori – Dawson – Hector – Aina
Stewart – Larsson
Bowen – Henriken – Grosicki
Dicko

Max Clark bore the brunt of the recent calamities leaving Daws to nurse the three from Chelsea. It didn’t solve the problem. Hector gave away three free kicks in the first quarter, Aina developed a Shaun Smith-like talent for slicing the ball into the West Stand and Tomori’s dreadful header lead to the opening goal. McGregor has brilliantly pushed away a shot from the irritating Joe Garner when David McGoldrick punished Tomori’s gaffe with a low shot from the resulting corner [0-1].

The response took half an hour to come. City being lucky that Ipswich are a limited mob whose interest was in breaking up the game with cheap fouls. We displayed the same flaws we’ve seen all season. We’re wide open at the back, we’re riddled with errors all over the pitch (unforced errors they’d call it in Tennis) and we’ve got the wettest midfield imaginable. For various reasons, this was the first time I’d seen Kevin Stewart since the Nantes friendly. He was unimpressive. Larsson wasn’t a patch on the player who was so brave in a Yellow shirt last week. Henriksen is comfortably among the weakest (physically) players I’ve ever seen in our colours.

Out of nowhere we equalised when Grosicki turned nicely in the box and crossed, slightly deflected, for Bowen to poach at the far post. That was Bowen’s ninth league goal of the season. In any other season, a home developed player scoring nine goals in sixteen games would be more lauded. Against the tide of grief this season and with the inevitability of his departure when a bigger club shows interest, it’s being lost somewhat. It shouldn’t be – he’s tremendous.

City improve with the momentum from the goal. Henriksen is tripped on his way to goal and the ref decides it’s a yellow card rather than red. From the free kick the ball is played of the City player standing in front of the wall to create a shooting opportunity for Grosicki (blocked) which I the first sign of a bit of creativity at set piece we’ve seen for ages. Dicko’s touch is heavy when he races into their half after a mistake by Webster. Despite the last few minutes, it was a wretched half.

The start to the second half is as slow as the first and McGregor is called upon again to palm away a shot from Celina. But it quickly turns after good pressure on the right hand side. A ball over the top has them struggling at the back and Dicko and Aina dart in front of them. Dicko take control and slides nicely past Bialkowski. It was a composed finish from Dicko who had a decent game doing the hard graft up front and holding up the ball well. Too often he was asked to compete in the air when there was no-one near him even if he won it but he was always willing.

Grosicki should have made it three when he cut in from the left and dragged a shot wide. Dicko shot wide when Henriksen played him in – though Grosicki on the left was the better pass. Ipwich were racking up the yellow cards at this point. Their breaking up the game tactic turned into pettiness at losing. Dirty bastards. Garner got a yellow for a raised arm and almost immediately threw Hector in trying to retrieve the ball. The ref bottled the decision but was probably helped by Hector spending a minute on the floor pretending he’d been hurt by it. Dicko then just fails to pounce on an under-hit back pass and Bowen heads in the wrong direction form an excellent Larsson delivery.

Out of nowhere, they get a penalty. Stewart coughs up possession and then runs into the back of their man while trying to correct his error. Really poor play. Whatever “wor achilles heel” was under Steve Bruce, under Slutsky it’s our ability to be the opposition’s best attacker. The penalty is taken by McGoldrick and is poor but McGregor reads it and pushes it away. Our player of the season is him or Jarrod Bowen by several million miles. I hear a little kid behind me, probably aged five or six, sing “He dives to the left, he dives to the right…” but sadly I couldn’t hear the rest.

All that’s left is for us to see the game out. Slutsky had already taken off Grosicki for Irvine. I found that one puzzling. For his many faults, Grosicki is still one of our best weapons, particularly on the counter. Meyler then replaced Larsson when Stewart was having a mare. We looked pretty comfortable though and Irvine brought some energy to the wide areas and we threatened to break several times. Then Hector conceded the cheapest of free kicks to Garner, they took it while everyone was getting organised and crossed it in. The header looked utterly harmless but took a nick on its way through and squirmed in beyond McGregor.

We should still have won. Diomande replaced Dicko straight after the equaliser and after Bowen had kept Henriksen’s pass alive, Meyler crossed for Dio, unmarked at the far post with half the goal open, to head wide from five yards.

It was another poor result, though it does stop the run of defeats. Everything wouldn’t have been rosy if we’d won. We’ve only beaten poor sides this season and Ipswich were another terrible outfit. They do have some bottle though and got a point they merited on account of us also being rubbish.

I don’t know what the answer is. The manager is constantly under question but I still maintain that he’s shuffling a deck of duff cards. What he’s been left with defensively is a bloody travesty. Elsewhere, another manager might get more out of some talented players but he’d still have a lack of leadership, no balls in midfield and three strikers who are talented but all too similar. Defensively we don’t look like improving. Some of that is the manager’s responsibility. Other things, like a lack of composure, you don’t coach. It will either come or it won’t from playing games. You can carry some inexperienced players and they’ll develop. We’ve got too many. Regardless of age, they’re rusty, they’re learning and they’re everywhere. Mistakes are inevitable. But they’re making key ones every week. Not for the first time this season – I’ll just be happy if we stay up.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Sheffield United 4 City 1

GrosickiKSo, imagine this for a minute. One day you get a call from Kim Jong Un’s office, informing you that the Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea is to honour you with his presence at dinner chez vous. Aware that nothing is too good for the great socialist leaders of our time even though they prefer a more proletarian lifestyle for their subjects, you opt to rustle up a Beef Wellington. As you are about to set off for the shops, you are then informed that the Supreme Leader’s Head of Procurement will source the ingredients for you, so you sit and wait and finally, at quarter to six in the evening, a hamper is deposited on your doorstep containing a dented tin of chicken supreme, a torn packet of mung beans, a couple of fermenting peaches, two eggs, some manky-looking celeriac, a tub of dried parmesan ( the sort that smells like sick) a small carton of whipping cream past its “use by” date and a slab of margarine.

Not having the faintest idea how to conjure up a Beef Wellington from this list of goodies that you were not allowed to source,  you whisk the whole lot together and roast it in beef dripping. The results aren’t too sound, so you stick it all in the steamer. That doesn’t help, so you dump the whole mess into the food processor and give it a good beating before deep frying it. That tastes even worse than the first attempt, so you put the mix into a bowl, microwave it and hope for the best. Needless to say, even the dog whimpers, more in sorrow than anger,  when confronted with this final offering.

Still with me? Good, because the above is pretty much a fair representation of the challenges with which our manager has been faced and the manner in which he has attempted to meet them as at the present moment.

A cursory perusal of social media after this most recent debacle suggests an increasing feeling, if not yet a groundswell of opinion, that the manager should fall on his sword. There really isn’t any reason to suppose that The Idiot Son is going to sack him (despite the clear hints from the manager that such a move would not surprise him), but there is clearly a growing view among the City support that, given the appalling hand that has been dealt to him in terms of the timing of our recruitment and the fact that he seems to have had little if any influence over it (a fact that that our owners would no doubt deny, but they have long since forfeited the right to be trusted or believed), Slutsky falling on his sword would not be a bad thing. If nothing else, it would create untold turmoil at Allam Towers, to say nothing of dropping The Idiot Son in the plop and landing this unholy mess well and truly back at his door where it deserves to be, with no cause for anyone to believe that an effective solution would be within his capability.

This is not to say that Slutsky is blameless, but one would feel more comfortable about sitting in judgement on him had he at least been given the opportunity to choose the tools with which to work. Anyway, The Idiot Son won’t sack him because it would cost the club more money than he mistakenly thinks that he has saved by delaying recruitment as late as he did.

Whether Slutsky stays or goes, he is not the main part of the problem. But he is part of it.

Let us just for a moment though go back to the players. OK, so they might not have been the ones that Slutsky would have chosen had Ehab simply handed him the cheque book on his appointment and told him to get on with his own recruitment. OK, so there are possibly a couple of crocks in there. OK, so we are perennially unlucky with injuries (or incompetent at protecting players from them and rehabilitating them when they do get them). But man for man we can and do still field an XI which is capable of doing decidedly better than the 20th spot in the table in which we currently find ourselves, and the attitude of the players has surely been a bit of an elephant in the room here as we debate over whether Ehab or Slutsky is the more guilty party. It was clear at the final whistle yesterday that the City support, often infuriatingly complacent and naive (if I see anyone on Twitter today gravely intoning that “perhaps it’s time for the Allams to consider their position” or some such guff I swear I’ll go and wire my fillings up to the mains), are finally getting this, as they really let the players know what they thought of them, gesturing to them just to get off the field and not to bother approaching the City end.

And whilst jeering your own team is seldom the thing to do, it wasn’t hard to see why the mood of the supporters yesterday was so especially vituperative. The first 45 minutes yesterday was as creditable a stint as the team has put in for quite a while away from home. Yes, we were under the cosh for periods and McGregor made a couple of important saves, but we gave as good as we got and more, taking the lead with a fine goal, having a near nailed-on penalty appeal turned down, the Blunts looking uncomfortable every time City crossed the halfway line, the midfield in fully functioning mode, Tomori and Dawson looking composed at the back and all of that underpinned by 45 minutes of tireless graft. Right from the start of the second period, though, it was clear that everything had evaporated, and when it took our hosts a mere seven minutes to get back on terms it all just collapsed completely, and we could neither do anything right nor apparently summon up the will to do so. The half was a bad as the first had been good, and more.

Now you could argue that maintaining the correct mental attitudes is the manager’s job, and no reasonable observer would argue with that. However, these players have a responsibility too. It’s inconceivable that the farrago of slackness and half-arsed commitment that we saw in the second half was served up on the manager’s instructions, so why did it happen? And no, not because the players are distracted because the fans are at the throats of the owners, even though you might argue that Slutsky has not perhaps been as successful at shielding his players from the strife as some of his predecessors were. The City players need to examine their own role in our poor start to the season a little more searchingly.

With Slutsky’s hand forced to an extent, selection-wise, by injuries and suspensions, City lined up as expected:-

McGregor

Aina                Dawson                Tomori                Clark

Larsson                Meyler            Grosicki

Irvine            Bowen

Campbell

Subs:    Stewart (for Larsson, 63 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 69 min), Henriksen (for Irvine, 82 min).

In classically-autumnal conditions, the game kicks off with City, in all white, defending a Bramall Lane end whose lower tier was very well filled with Tigerfolk. McGregor makes his first save on four minutes, while at this very early stage in the proceedings City seem content to go sideways or backwards at a leisurely pace, even when a break looks on. When the Blunts are allowed two or three unopposed touches in our box it’s beginning to look as though the ghastly predictions of the outcome of the game that peppered the conversation in the pre-match pub would be bang on the money.

Then on nine minutes we apply a bit of pressure, culminating in a Grosicki cross-cum-shot flashing across the face of the goal. Suddenly we don’t look as uncomfortable, and up for a fight. And on 12 we attack again. It looks as though Campbell is fouled but referee Bond waves play on. Larsson’s shot is blocked and when he gets a further go home keeper Moore saves.

Suddenly this looks more like a contest, even more so on 18 when Clarke is allowed a free header at point-blank range from Duffy’s cross but McGregor saves magnificently.

A little later I write, “We seem to be competing. You wouldn’t back us, but…”. “But” indeed. For just before the half-hour we take a not-undeserved lead. Our fully-functioning midfield work the leather out to Grosicki on the left, who cuts inside and hits a curling effort from just over 20 yards. Sadly it’s straight at Moore…..except that suddenly it’s in the back of the net. My initial reaction was that the keeper had blundered. My companions insisted that the swerve on the ball foxed him, and looking at the goal on Channel 5 last night I think they were right: it was a very fine strike. Oh, and one of theirs nobbled Irvine in the confusion.

Seven minutes on and we should have had a penalty. it looked at though Campbell’s flick past the last defender was stopped by a flailing arm and once again Channel 5 settled the issue: the arm in question had no need to be where it was. So that’s another entry for the book I’m writing, to be entitled, “The Lost Penalties of Bramall Lane”.

McGregor tips over from O’Connell, but we’re soon roaring back up to the other end, where Aina is felled and promptly booked for simulation. He didn’t seem too cross about it, so fair enough, and we aren’t subdued for long. Grosicki feeds Tomori, whose cross is fubled by Moore and the leather rebounds out to Grosicki who only has time to snatch at it. It nevertheless looks goalbound from 120 yards away, but soars just wide of the far post.

The rest of the half is spent under sustained Sheffield pressure, which begins when Tomori concedes a silly foul and only ends after four corners in succession which we defend heroically, bodies being thrown in the way of the leather with gay abandon, players clearly pumped up but with the situation always looking under control. And so we see out what was really a most commendable half, which showed exactly what these players are capable of.

As I made my way to the somewhat-congested (and highly riotous) concourse at half-time I caught up with TigChatter Julian Daniel, whose first observation was, “We need that second goal”. Yeah, and, unbeknown to us at the time, the third, fourth and fifth. It’s still well nigh impossible to work out what the hell happened in the second half, and in particular how we managed to deteriorate so alarmingly after having the measure of the Blunts in the first period.

Straight from the the start you could tell that something was wrong. Aided by a referee who seemed to be giving them everything (not that I’m pinning the blame for yesterday’s loss on it, but why do we never seem to get a fair crack of the whip at Bramall Lane?) the home side take the ascendancy from the off. Two minutes in and McGregor is called into action, saving a header from a dodgy free kick. It’s a short-lived respite, though, for five minutes later and our hosts are on level terms. Carter-Vickers drills in a cross, Tomori fails to get tight enough on Clarke and the Sheffield number 9 curls the leather into the far corner. A similar goal – except that it was from the other side – to Proschwitz’s in the famous Cardiff promotion game.

A rare City break sees Aina put his cross too close to Moore, and this heralds a brief spell during which we actually steady the ship. We don’t actually create any proper chances, but neither do they and indeed, to coin a random expression, one might have said that the game had entered a bit of a formless phase.  Normal service is resumed on 68, though, when the City defence is completely asleep as Sheffield attempt a short corner and Clarke misses an open goal from Fleck’s unchallenged cross, shooting straight at McGregor.

It gets worse. On 73 Clark prevents a certain goal by diverting a Sharp effort for a corner, from which O’Connell plants his free header wastefully wide.

It then gets even worse still. After Irvine fires over, Clarke is sent haring into the box in the insider right channel and dinks the leather over McGregor.

It then gets even worse than that, Clarke getting his hat-trick after waiting virutally unopposed by the far post to nod home a Sharp cross. We really have gone to pieces now.

The fourth Sheffield goal rally does put the tin lid on it: it’s a veritable microcosm of the second half. Dawson falls over on his bottom as if someone has laced both his boots together and the ball runs loose to, inevitably, Clarke, who nonchalantly passes the leather into the unguarded net. Pure slapstick. Proof, if it were needed, that City really have given up all pretence of defending now. The gloating tone of the PA announcer, and the triumphalist brayings of a home support who had sweet FA to say for themselves during the first half, don’t do a great deal to lift the mood among the City faithful, if truth be told.

The last goal came with two minutes of normal time on the clock, and you really wouldn’t bet against our hosts adding to their tally. In the event, we spend it and the three minutes (bit of pity taken on us by the ref there) of added time passing the ball backwards and sideways, and committing the occasional foul.

And that’s it. The away section reverberates to a thunderous chorus of “What the fucking hell was that?” and it’s made clear to Meyler (now, incidentally, shorn of his facial fungus) that the fans are in no mood to show any kind of appreciation to the players. Mercifully, we are then free to leave.

So, where do we go from here? Safely back in the warmth and comfort of the pub, I overheard another prominent Tiger Chatter observe to a home supporter, “Well, at the moment we have our problems, of course…”.  A delightfully understated remark. For is not the truth of the matter that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss with the sound of the ground crumbling beneath our feet? The other complacent utterings at the top of the City fan soundbite charts and that make we want to dance with exasperation every time they are sounded are “We are too good to go down” and “This is a season of consolidation”. OK, so it’s still very early doors, but we’ve still passed that point in the season where the table has become a fair reflection of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the teams in it.

Maybe Ehab’s chickens are now properly coming home to roost, and if they are there’s no sign of any respite at all, Slutsky’s insistence that he will “find the answers” notwithstanding. All that a resurgence in form will do is increase the likelihood of more cashing in by the owners come the next transfer window. This looks a proper downward spiral now, and not one that will be reversed unless and until not just the supporters, but the community as a whole, turn their back on the Allams and make it clear that they and their money are not wanted around here. However, enough people and organisations are already beholden to Allams, by virtue of having already taken their shilling, to ensure that that is a most fanciful outcome.

For all (in my view) his lack of tactical prowess and fondness for communicating with the media in tiresome cliches, you have to commend Steve Bruce for his prescience and wisdom in getting out when he did.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 1 Middlesbrough 3

SlutskyPensive
A little over half a year ago, City tonked Middlesbrough 4-2 in the Premier League, our second Premier League win in 5 days, taking us out of the relegation zone and setting us up nicely for what would turn out to be a narrow defeat in the next fixture away at Manchester City. Pep Guardiola’s team had incidentally been the last to beat us at home, several months earlier on Boxing Day 2016. Things were looking good. The clocks had just gone forward, summer was approaching, and pundits and fans alike were talking up Hull City’s Premier League future under our bright young Portuguese manager.

This lacklustre performance against Boro bore little resemblance to what we witnessed less than seven months earlier. We’re in a different league, we had an entirely different starting eleven, and performance-wise things looked so different that it might have been a different sport.
Emphasising how far and how rapidly our club has plummeted were:

McGregor
Tomori        Dawson         Hector     Clark
Meyler           Stewart
Bowen        Larsson          Campbell      Irvine

So, a pretty adventurous looking 4-2-4 at kick-off. No surprise to see Henriksen benched, ditto Grosicki. Tomori for Aina was more surprising, but turned out to be like-for-like in terms of performance. They’re both alright, they’re both borrowed from Chelsea and can control a ball well. May be Tomori tackles a bit better, but he can’t throw the ball as far as Aina. As with most of this City squad, you can take one off and put the other on, and you’re not really changing much in the way of quality. Game on game Leonid Slutsky drops some, put some others in, but is changing nothing for the better.

The first few minutes it seemed as if Slutsky — or perhaps our recently appointed Head of Strategy (whatever that is), Oleg Yarovinsky — had at last decided that booting the ball high and long would no longer do as a tactic, and we played some neat and penetrating possession stuff on the ground, as we attacked the north stand end.

But playing two holding midfielders, Meyler and Stewart for now, only works if they hold position in midfield.  After a dozen minutes both of them were higher up the pitch than they should have been, leaving a gap to the central defenders. Stewart lost the ball, it went back towards Hector on the edge of the box, who couldn’t – or wouldn’t – get to it before Braithwaite hit it cleanly into the bottom left corner.

Quarter of an hour gone, one down; City are losing and it’s all their own work.

The lack of top division quality in this City team is striking, given how many of them have either played there or are borrowed from Chelsea. Apart from the obvious stuff about wanting to see my team do well, and liking the profile that it gives to the city of Hull, the main thing I miss about the Premier League is watching quality footballers play quality football. Last time we were relegated, we mostly looked like a Premier League team in the Championship, and we still played reasonable quality football most of the time. Not this time round, so far at least.

We seem to have a lot of players who can see the game in their heads but whose ability to do what they see is less obvious. On 20 minutes, Max Clark does the marauding full-back thing, powering down the left. He looks up, sees teammates running into the area, and blooters the cross about 60 ft up in the air. Here’s to you, Andy Robertson.

In midfield, David Meyler bustles about, and to his credit is often on the ball. Time and again though he sees a short and incisive pass, but can’t execute it and gives the ball away.

On the half hour, enthusiastic young Aussie Jackson Irvine bursts into the box with the ball. He looks like he should nip past the defender in front of him and be through on goal. He tries to nip past the defender in front of him. He can’t nip past the defender in front of him. Once again possession is lost.

The one bit of ball retention City can consistently do is along the back four. Dawson, square to Hector, back to Dawson, a short ball to Tomori, who advances a couple of paces, then back to Dawson, then square to Hector. You get the picture. There’s no pressure from Boro, and who can blame them, one-nil up away from home, it’s up to City to attack. But the home crowd is getting restless.

I’m all in favour of possession football when it’s a matter of patient probing to find a way through. I get that having the ball means the opposition can’t score. I admire it when teams frustrate opponents who can’t get the ball off them. But we’re not seeing those scenarios here. City are losing. The passing along the back line stems from lack of options or plan. Impatient shouts and groans come from frustrated fans.

To be frank, City are offering little and looking bereft of spirit and ideas.

Then on 35 minutes, we get a free kick just in our half. Bowen’s hopeful delivery soon bounces back and Boro advance down our left, in front of the West Stand. With little in the way of challenge, Christie sweeps in a deep cross.

In the penalty area, Boro’s record signing Britt Assombalonga strolls towards the six yard box. Noting the ball heading his way, he has time to check his reflection in the mirror and straighten his tie, before standing unchallenged a few yards in front of McGregor’s far post and nonchalantly heading the ball home.

However often the pundits might try to tell you that two-nil is the most dangerous score to hold onto, we’re not coming back from this.

For the final ten minutes of the half, there’s more “see it, can’t do it” stuff from the Tigers.
Campbell advances towards the Boro area. Campbell sees Irvine sprinting alongside, he sees the pass that would put him in on goal, but he can’t execute it.

A minute later, the ball breaks to Meyler after a free kick, he sees the 5 yard pass back to Larsson on his left. He can’t do it, and gives the ball away.

On 45, Tomori cuts inside, advances menacingly to the edge of the Boro area, sees Larsson breaking through the middle, sees the pass that would split the defence. But his pass doesn’t make it.

City are booed off at half-time, and the feeling of malaise is palpable. It’s not as if our besuited Russian manager has many options. The obvious ones are to try something different in attack. May be bring on Dicko or Grosicki . But again, we’ve got a squad and a selection policy that seems to consist of ‘pick any 2 from 4’ in most positions. If it ain’t working, pick the others. We all love Slutsky, as the song nearly goes. We all know that the problems at City are not of his doing and any manager would struggle with the hand he’s been dealt. But Slutsky is not proving himself an inventive or influential manager. If we carry on in this vein, he’ll be gone before long.

At the start of the second half, Dicko is on for Stewart. We retain the 4-2-4, with Larsson dropping into the 2 with Meyler. Stewart has been OK-ish, apart from giving the ball away for their opener. But one game he’s in, then he’s subbed, then he’s dropped, then he’s in again, then he’s subbed.

Five minutes or so into the half, Slutsky brings on Grosicki  for Larsson. This time it’s Irvine who joins Meyler in the holding two. Grosicki  plays on the left, showing that combination of petulance and skill that we’ve come to expect from a player who may well consider himself – probably rightly – a cut above most of his teammates ability-wise, and yet finds himself by some combination of fate, timing, and the shortcomings of agents stranded in the wrong league playing for a club unrecognisable from the Premier League team he signed for.

The changes give City a momentary lift in terms of zip and adventure. After ten minutes or so, Meyler in his deep-lying midfield position sees a fantastic through ball and this time executes the pass to perfection, down the middle to meet the curving run of Bowen, who sets it up for Dicko through on goal. Dicko has time to take a touch and place it. Instead he pokes it tamely first time at the advancing Boro keeper, Randolph. If you want to excuse him, you could point out that that he’s not been on the pitch for long. Like a number of his teammates, he’s been picked, he’s been dropped, one minute he’s not good enough, the next he’s brought on because his replacement is not good enough. Confidence and consistency are not the watchwords that spring to mind.

Meyler’s classy pass proves to be the aberration, and he’s soon back to giving the ball away, seeing Clark breaking down the left wing, his execution of the intended pass results in Boro possession.

City’s renewed spirit isn’t amounting to much, other than an argument between Tomori and Grosicki in front of my East Stand vantage point. It doesn’t seem to be a happy camp.
Campbell is taken off for Diomande — probably the most whole-hearted Norwegian on our books at the moment. I turn to my neighbour and mutter, more in hope than expectation, “if we can get one now, you never know …”

And as if he can hear me, on 70 minutes, almost out of nothing, Grosicki meets a ball from Dicko on the volley outside the area and hammers it home. A fine goal.

Game on.

Suddenly the home crowd wakes up, and it’s all City, for a few minutes at least. We start getting corners. The more nervous Boro fans wonder if they’re about to be robbed of the three points.
They needn’t have worried.

On 82 minutes, Boro sub Ashley Fletcher — a summer signing for £6.5 million from West Ham, who had just replaced Assombalonga minutes earlier — breaks into the City penalty area in front of the Boro fans in the north-east corner, with just McGregor to beat. Michael Hector, not the speediest, brings him down from behind.

It’s a penalty. And surely a red card, as Hector was the last defender and his foul prevented a clear goal-scoring opportunity?

Apparently not. At first the ref busies himself organising the taking of the penalty, as if it’s some complex logistical task that has never before confronted him. Hector wisely moves away, like a guilty schoolboy edging to the back of the group. Then after what seems a minute or so, but was no doubt shorter, the linesman calls the ref over, the ref calls Hector over, a red card is brandished, and our loanee centre-back is sent off.

All very weird, and cause for the lino to get roundly abused from then on by the City fans. And by Grosicki who amazingly goes unpunished despite running 15 yards or so to shout in the face of the assistant referee.

Meanwhile, Boro score the penalty; as McGregor dives low and right, Leadbitter strikes high and left.

Maybe it’s going to be a repeat of Saturday, and we’ll get a pointless second?

Nope, not even that. City are even worse than on Saturday. All that’s left is for the temporary hate-figure running the East Stand touchline to give a foul when Irvine dives into one of theirs from behind. Irvine is booked. Grosicki again harangues the lino, and this time he too gets a yellow.

And that’s it. At the moment City look like a club unstoppably nose-diving on and off the field. Two home defeats in 4 days, 6 goals conceded, and little sign of a plan from a likeable manager struggling to settle on system and selection from an uninspiring squad. To force optimism, the difference between the playing side and the rest of the club, is that a victory on Saturday would go a little way to lifting the gloom with regard to the former. But on tonight’s display, getting anything away to the high-flying Blades is not likely. And changes in the boardroom seem even more unlikely.

The clocks have gone back, winter is approaching, and Championship consolidation is more pressing than any idea that Hull City could dream of a return to the Premier League in the near future.

Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 2 Nottingham Forest 3

BowenJ

This report won’t be long, as this match doesn’t deserve anything more than a cursory recollection of the simple facts.

Slutsky recalled Meyler (for Stewart) and Campbell (for Dicko) from last week’s Oakwell smash & grab.

In front of 15,780 (yeah, right) and after a justified minute’s applause for City legend Les Mutrie the Tigers carded:

McGregor

Aina Dawson Hector Clark

Larsson Meyler Grosicki

Bowen Henriksen

Campbell

Although to be honest I’ve no idea where Henriksen was actually supposed to be playing, as he wandered in a free role behind Campbell without ever really getting his foot on the ball or win a tackle.

One of the rare bright spots of the afternoon – and indeed the season – was the energy and inventiveness of Jarrod Bowen, and I’ll be surprised if Ehaw hasn’t cashed-in on our top scorer come January. On four minutes he skipped through four Forest challenges before seeing his shot cleared, and a few minutes later he setup Grosicki to blooter wide.

Shortly after Forest took the worst ever corner kick in English professional football, 19:04 on the clock triggered the release of a few hundred bright yellow tennis balls raining down on the visitors goalmouth from a baying North Stand. The game was held up whilst stewards kicked them all from the
KC sward whilst an admirable tirade of abuse echoed around the half empty stadium. And behind me in the East Stand dimwits shouted their view that the protestors should be “banned for life”. We truly have a club that some of our supporter base deserve.

And so on the half hour Forest take the lead. City’s defence stand-off and Dowell rifles past McGregor from 25 yards. Should our Scotch keeper have done better? It was at a nice height and looked like he had a good sight as it arrowed past him.

At this point my notes suggest City’s forwards were not showing for the ball from midfield, and Henriksen was having another stinker. Indeed, our entire midfield looked lightweight all afternoon, bar Meyler who always appears two tackles from a red. Half-time 0-1.

At half-time Henriksen was shepherd-crooked by Toral, and Irving brought ponytailed light to replace Grosicki’s hovering dark cloud.

All the positive stuff from City was coming through Jarrod Bowen, and on 48 he skipped down the right, beating two Forest before his cross was snaffled by the keeper. Two minutes later Toral goes down in a hamstring-tweaked heap, and is replaced by Dicko. City’s quickest-ever substituted substitute?

On 71 more crass defending from City allows Dowell the freedom of the park and he pings one in off the post. The City players look a sad sight, heads-down and seemingly accepting game over. But no-one told young Jarrod as he curled a superb shot into the top corner from 25 yards. Game back on?

But, of course, it wasn’t. Dowell completes his hat-trick via the penalty spot after Larsson coughs up cheap possession and Meyler trips goal-bound Walker, though it looked a soft decision.

Hector reduced the arrears after drilling through a crowded penalty area on 87, but it was too little and far too late. Five minutes added saw plenty of Forest timewasting (who could blame them) and loud boos accompanied the final whistle.

Most of the post-match media attention focused on the tennis ball protest and deflected from the rank awful City performance. The Tigers looked a shell of the side fielded by Marco Silva less than a year ago, and now look every bit a lower mid-table Championship team bereft of confidence and, perhaps more worrying, leadership. Our defence is as shaky as an Allam Employment Tribunal. Even Richard Sneekes would add steel to this current midfield. City’s forwards are feeding on scraps, and are so playing deeper – Dicko should be playing on the shoulder of an opposing centre half, not hunting in the centre circle for the ball.

If this continues we’d all do well to start mentally attuning to preparing for a relegation scrap, as watching Sheff United beat the White Shite on Friday night clearly demonstrates how far off a promotion team we are. We have some talented players, we have some journeymen and some not-fully-committed loanees, and Slutsky needs to somehow mould this lot to at least match the sum of its parts, which it currently nowhere near is.

Andy Medcalf (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Norwich 1 City 1

MeylerDIt’s a little over seven years since that cathartic day when we won at Carrow Road to record a first away victory after thirty or more futile journeys. We haven’t won there since but that is largely down to both teams yo-yoing between the top two leagues.

On a sunny Norfolk Saturday we travelled more in hope than expectation of a repeat to end the current winless streak.  Campbell had picked up a knock and was not available so we fielded, hoping to cut the mustard: McGregor, Aina, Hector, Dawson, Clark, Meyler, Bowen, Henriksen, Larsson, Grosicki and Dicko.  With the home team in fluorescent yellow and green we sported our anaemic white kit.

Norwich kicked off and had the best of the early exchanges. We were muscled out of several challenges and with the notable exception of Meyler appeared more lightweight in most areas. It took us a few minutes to mount any kind of threat. Grosicki and Dicko combined but the latter dragged a tame effort wide. Not for the first time I had to shield my eyes against the low October sun: it’s hard to take notes, watch a game and try to shield one’s eyes simultaneously.

Our front line had little physical presence against a strong Norwich defence and most of the aerial challenges were lost. Norwich were giving both Aina and Clark a hard time down the flanks and it was no surprise when Aina committed a foul. For a moment it was heart in mouth expecting the fussy Keith Stroud to point to the spot. It was just outside the area however, McGregor punched clear the resulting cross-shot. We didn’t clear the ball, it was recycled, Maddison advanced unchallenged and his shot clipped the outside of the post on its way out of play.

The game was quite evenly balanced at this point. We had a couple of shots blocked and Bowen put one straight into the keeper’s arms: the son of a Gunn. A quarter of an hour in Norwich broke the offside trap and Wildshut found himself clear through, one on one with McGregor. The latter kept his composure better and saved with his feet. A couple of minutes later our keeper saved well low to his right. The resultant corner cleared everyone and drifted out of play harmlessly on the opposite flank.

The game was quite open at this stage with both sides creating chances. Meyler picked up a yellow for an innocuous challenge. Stroud was probably influenced by the theatrics from the Norwich player: not the first time this happened, and it wouldn’t be the last. The card reduced Meyler’s effectiveness and was to prove decisive in the second half.

Just before the half hour mark we opened the scoring. Hector won the ball in midfield with a strong challenge and played it to Henriksen.  The latter released Dicko with a defence-splitting through ball that left him one on one with the keeper. The flag stayed down, correctly. Dicko calmly drew the keeper, kept his composure and swept the ball into the net for his maiden Hull City goal. The lead was just about deserved on the balance of play.

The rest of the half saw Norwich start to dominate. Wildshut was giving us plenty of trouble on our left flank: Clark didn’t get much support from Grosicki on that side.  Deep into added time – mostly for a clash of heads that left Jerome groggy – Henriksen was wiped out by Wildshut.  With Grosicki clear and heading for the penalty area Stroud decided not to play an obvious advantage so he could book the Norwich man. This was the latest in several strange decisions from a referee who obviously wants to be the centre of attention rather than enabling a decent game of football.

We finished the half with ten men whilst Henriksen was off getting attention. He was fit to resume at the start of the second period, neither team making any changes at this point. Norwich seemed to have had the proverbial rocket during the break and started with more intent. We were pushed back for several minutes and there were inelegant scrambles around our box that didn’t yield any decisive chances. The pressure was finally broken by Bowen who ran forty or fifty yards unchallenged before the resultant shot was saved. We then enjoyed the ascendancy for a few minutes before the turning point of the game.

Norwich broke at pace. Meyler tangled with an advancing canary and both went down. From my viewpoint it was a fifty-fifty at the worst and possibly a foul by the Norwich player trying to run through our Irish vice-captain rather than around him. Stroud saw it differently, handed Meyler a second yellow and dismissed the player that was holding our sometimes fragile midfield together. Larsson was booked as well for protesting too vehemently. There was still well over half an hour left, the majority of which I spent staring into the sun as Norwich were camped in our half. The rest of the game fell into a repeating pattern. Norwich pressed, we repelled with Hector and – in particular Dawson – throwing their bodies in the way of chances.

There was the occasional break and we could have snatched a second goal on more than one occasion.  Slutsky tried to shore things up. Dicko went down in the centre circle and went off injured to be replaced by Stewart. Later Grosicki and then Larsson were withdrawn in favour of Diomande and Tomori. Larsson had put in a good shift, Grosicki less so. This was best summarized by the sage next to me who commented that Turbo had “given up a bit early, as in, right from the start”.

Norwich continued to press, ably assisted by Keith Stroud who seemed determined to give Norwich every opportunity to score with more decisions that could charitably be described as iffy. A series of Norwich chances went begging and the game entered five (5) minutes of added time following a final foray forward by Bowen and Henriksen.

Just when it looked like our heroic defence would yield an unlikely win we conceded an equalizer. That this happened in the seventh (7th) minute of added time was galling. Stroud had presumably invoked the well known “we’ll play until they score” law. A long throw resulted was flicked on at the near post and Oliveira (a late Norwich sub) steered it home.

There was just enough time to kick before full time when the ten of Hull sank to the ground in disbelief. We didn’t end that winless streak. But there was enough quality, and enough determination on show, to suggest it won’t be long before it does, perhaps next week at Oakwell.

Rob Kaye (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 6 (Six) Birmingham 1

GrosickiKHull City six. But it would be no less apt to have written “Hull City sex”. For this at times was as close to the genuine article as you could get: it was proper pulse-accelerating, breath-shortening, cheek-flushing, pupil-dilating stuff.

Granted, it wasn’t the finished article and there’s clearly work to do – if all else fails when the transfer window next opens – with the defence (and a special mention here for the Blues’ late consolation, the defending for which would have graced a Laurel and Hardy film) but overall yesterday’s performance represented an immense improvement on recent home showings, in a fixture which had all the makings of a real banana skin against an opposition who had done much better than us in recent weeks and to my eyes were not as hopelessly poor as many have suggested. Particularly pleasing was the fact that City performed over the full 90 minutes, to which the scoring of three goals in each half bears witness, along with the emergence of clear indications that our hastily and tardily assembled squad is now showing signs of developing a shape and understanding.

Slutsky did observe rather pointedly a couple of weeks or so ago that he was effectively still in pre-season mode and that the team would not be functioning as he wanted until October, so was yesterday a sign that things are coming together as the manager said they would? Well, I guess that we’ll know the answer to that by the time the Forest game in four weeks’ time comes to an end, but at least for now we can enter the pivotal month of October, when the season is well and truly into its grind phase and the League table starts to take a bit of shape, with more cause for optimism than we dared have imagined after a decidedly underwhelming September, to put it mildly, to date.

Of course, and whilst not deliberately setting out to pour cold water on what will prove to be a memorable afternoon, the Slut might well have it all to do again in a couple of months as anybody who might command a fee to swell the Allam coffers is offloaded in the next window. I mean, come on, there are some gullible and naive individuals following Hull City, but does anyone seriously believe that Bowen’s new contract has been put in place for any reason other than to increase the fee for which we can sell him? Is anyone still that trusting of Ehab?

That’s enough negativity for now. The only thing that looked on the wane yesterday was the weather, with the fine, perfect-for-football conditions that prevailed at lunchtime steadily giving way to autumnal gloom as the afternoon progressed, none of which dampened the purpose or tempo of our play or the delight of the majority of the 13,000 or so (officially 15,608, yeah right) who saw City line up sort of as follows:-

                                McGregor

Aina            Dawson            Hector        Clark

Larsson                    Meyler                    Toral

                 Bowen                Grosicki

                            Campbell

Subs:    Henriksen (for Toral, 68 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 68 min), Weir (for Bowen, 81 min)

And so off we go with City attacking the North Stand and “attacking” being the operative word, as we show a pleasing tempo and purpose right from the off and monopolise possession in the early stages, albeit with a little less assurance when the back line have the leather than in the days of those lengthy backwards-and-sideways periods of possession so beloved of Steve Bruce. And barely have we settled down when we have the lead. Meyler gets a foot in to block a Birmingham pass in midfield and the ball breaks towards the Brum goal. Campbell, showing alertness and anticipation that would be a lesson to any aspiring striker, is onto it before the defence realise what’s happening and romps away to slide the leather under the advancing Kuszczak.

There are seven on the clock, and by the time it reaches ten we have doubled the lead. Campbell turns instigator, chasing a loose ball to the by-line and going to ground under the challenge of Nsue. Referee Duncan unhesitatingly points to the spot. Nsue doesn’t look too pleased and you have to say it was a bit soft: Fraizer took his tumble much too easily. But hey-ho, that’s football, and Meyler gets his reward for setting up the first goal by firmly and accurately planting the leather to Kuszczak’s right.

As is often the case when sides go two down, the Blues rally for a while, and to be honest our defence still does not look massively comfortable, with Birmingham having too much space to play in, especially the wide men, and we have to be grateful for the fact that they really aren’t very good at crossing; arguably worse even than Elmo. You do feel, though, that the next score is going to be crucial, a feeling hammered home on 14 minutes when Campbell really ought to have done better with a free header from the excellent Grosicki’s cross, but the striker’s instinct that he showed when scoring deserts him, and he looks more like the kid at school who’s always last to be picked, heading the ball over the bar with the top of his head and very probably with his eyes tight shut.

So we go back to defending alarmingly, Hector living up to the reputation of his cartoon namesake (ask your dad, anyone under about 50) by failing to cover properly and he and Dawson both guilty of giving the leather away when under no pressure. We’ve thrown away leads to teams much more inept than this Brum outfit and this is a testing time for the nerves of the City support.

Until Jarrod Bowen rides to the rescue on 26 minutes. receiving the leather in the inside right channel from Aina and firing low from outside the box just inside Kuszczak’s left-hand post. All the more impressive for being a goal out of nothing. The away support, maybe 1,000 strong and defiantly boisterous, must now know how we felt at Derby. it’s hard to see how we’re going to hang onto this admirable young talent, and i was about to observe at this juncture that maybe we have to resign ourselves to his departure in three months’ time and just hope that he attracts the attention of the type of Premier League outfit that has more money than sense, before remembering that it matters not one jot to us, since any revenues will ultimately be spent on Lamborghinis or yachts, with maybe a loanee to replace Bowen an hour before the end of the transfer window if we are lucky.

For now, though, we are rampant, and after a Birmingham foray on 29 which forces McGregor into a save from Dean, Grosicki, enjoying himself enormously (and, it has to be said, instilling a bit of confidence into young Clark, deputising for the injured Kingsley, in the process) goes on a tremendous run before cutting inside and rifling in a low drive, saved by the custodian. Two minutes later and Turbo is at it again, curling one just over.

The last ten minutes of the half are rather formless, although we survive a scare when McGregor has to charge out of the box to block an attack. Otherwise we see the half out. What was noticeable though as the ref draws the first half for a close was the decidedly reserved ovation that the team received as they trooped off. Under normal circumstances, a City side 3-0 up would be cheered to the rafters at the interval, and the fact that they weren’t really yesterday was another example of how the antics of the owners have relentlessly dampened the zest and fervour of the Tiger Nation. it wasn’t much better at the end.

During the half-time interval, a massive roar is heard from the concourse. What could it be? Leeds losing? No, they weren’t playing. Ehab has fallen off the West Stand balcony and been savaged by a police dog? No chance: he was as usual nowhere to be seen. Maguire, Clucas, Jakupovic and Huddlestone have come onto the pitch, pledged their undying and eternal allegiance to Hull City and begged forgiveness from the fans for even harbouring thoughts of playing for any other club? Not really. Apparently some cove had won the crossbar challenge and relieved Deano of £20 in the process.

Anyway, we’re off again, the Tiger Nation wondering if it’s going to be 5-0 or 3-3, and for a while early on we are a bit under the cosh, outgoing Birmingham temporary manager Carsley no doubt having reassured his charges that there are still goals in this for them. Clearly, though, Mr Slutsky, for his part, has had words with his defence at the interval and Hector in particular has a better half, making a couple of vital blocks. We do have a real let-off though about 20 minutes into the half when Vassell nips in behind a flat-footed City rearguard to connect with a cross, but somehow manages to put his header wide when he really ought to have scored. Evidence, though, that it’s going to be our day, perhaps.

By now most of the game is being played out in their half, but we seem quite content not to take any risks. We win a couple of free kicks but too far out for Larsson to have a go. This all changes though with the double substitution on 68 minutes: not so much the replacement of the much-improved Toral with Henriksen, but more the subbing of Campbell, who seemed to have taken some sort of knock, with Dicko. It seems that the ex-Wolf has taken to the field with instructions from the manager to up the attacking tempo – quite possibly because Slutsky could see more goals in the game for City too – and if true it had the desired effect almost immediately, as Dicko picks up the leather from a City break, cuts inside and hares off towards the Birmingham goals. As he reaches the box he’s crowded out by a brace of defenders, but the leather runs loose in the direction of two City men, the first of whom is Grosicki, who without breaking his stride cracks it fiercely into the bottom corner to make it 4-0. Just reward for an impressive performance.

The game is settled now, but we’re not done yet, and indeed the move of the match on 76 minutes brings a fifth for City. Henriksen starts the move, Meyler and  Larsson combine and feed it back to Henriksen, who has continued his run into the box and slides home. Sumptuous football, absolutely sumptuous. If Barcelona had scored that goal the pundits would have been purring. If Chelsea or Man City had scored it it would have been shown in every Sky Sports ad break and trailer till kingdom come.

Amidst a background of increasing rancour in the North-East corner, with the Brummies getting a touch feisty and missiles being visible on their passage from one encampment to the other as the police and stewards intervene (apparently they went for a gallop round the hockey pitches as well after the game) Vassell again goes close, steering the leather low past McGregor only for it to come back off the post.

But it would only have been a consolation at this stage, and after Grosicki sees his free kick pouched by Kuszczak with five left the despondency in the beleaguered visiting defence is laid bare when none of them bother to track Larsson, who runs unchallenged onto a fine cross from Grosicki following another silky passing move, and pokes the leather under the exposed Kuszczak.

The ref signals three minutes’ injury time, and in the first of those minutes Brum finally get the consolation goal that only the hardest of hearts would have denied them for their endeavour. Again Vassell is behind the danger. His low shot is kept out by McGregor’s outstretched right foot, it arcs up into the darkening sky and is headed, none-too powerfully, towards the corner of the goal by Gallagher who is following up. Gregsy has got back to his feet by now and – judging by the TV footage – looks likely to make the block……until Dawson sticks out a foot and the leather ricochets off it at a wicked angle – as a cricket ball might do if played with the wrong side of the bat – into the centre of the goal. Surprisingly Gallagher is credited with the goal, because it was a clear miskick by Dawson and it probably would not have resulted in a goal without his intervention.

“How shit must you be, we’ve scored a goal” yelled the away fans. “How shit must you be, we scored it for you”, chorus the North Stand faithful.

Nothing else of incident occurs, the victorious Tigers troop off to that same oddly-restrained applause and Slutsky delivers his trademark bow. We should be as pleased for him as anybody, not least because Peter Swan’s idle speculation in the HDM this week over how long Slutsky would last was frankly disgraceful. Our manager has not just had his hands tied behind his back by the Allams, he’s had his legs shackled, a ball and chain attached to his ankle, duct tape slapped over his chops and a hood made of blackout curtaining tied over his head, and is still expected to produce credible performances. Well, yesterday’s showing was two fingers in Swanny’s face, and no mistake: let’s hope he has the self-awareness to  understand that.

But it would be wrong to end such a fine Tigerday on such a negative note, so it’s pleasing to report closure on a personal matter that’s been bugging me for over 50 years. For it was in September 1967 that Birmingham showed us our arses to the tune of 6-2, when I was a City fan of some eight months’ experience.  By an odd coincidence six different players – Fred Pickering, Geoff Vowden. Barry Bridges, Johnny Vincent, Malcolm Beard and Bert Murray (Brum had some bloody good players in those days) – found the net for them that night. Nowadays we would shrug off such reverses, but when you’re seven a loss like that pierces your heart and the hurt can never quite be shrugged off. Today though I have peace of mind.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Reading 1 City 1

SlutskyPensive

To the Madejski, dull and unimaginative, the most colourless of the stadiums newly built round the country these last twenty years. Outside they sit in the September sunshine on friendly wooden benches, laughing and joking, shoving down burgers on the concourse, gulping chemical lager, tasteless and bland as the out of town concrete landscape. Inside they blare out Sweet Caroline over the tannoy – Sweet Caroline, what in God’s name has that to do with the football? What has any of this to do with football? A day out for the kids, ice cream and chocolate biscuits, and fixed glassy grins whether the team wins, loses or draws.

Passion and emotion are strangers on the pitch too. This is a dull game, a game full of players of limited ability and contested by two teams frequently cancelling each other out. The only excitement of the afternoon features our stubborn attempt to hold on to a lead that would have delivered the relief of a first away win in the league for fully thirteen months. But Reading equalised late, as they (as a minimum) deserved to on the overall balance of possession.

Casting a humdrum shadow over a bright blue day in Berkshire:

             McGregor

Aina Tomori Dawson Hector Kingsley

    Bowen Meyler Irvine Larsson

               Campbell

 A 5-4-1, then, with a sturdy looking pairing in the centre of midfield, and Campbell preferred to Dicko for the thankless task of running around hopefully up front on his own. No place for Kamiel Grosicki, who’s not on the bench either, and rumoured explanations for his absence ranged from ‘tweaked a muscle playing subbuteo’, through ‘interviewing for a new agent’ to ‘poring over Mrs May’s Florence speech to see if it gives him an excuse to flee the country’. Meanwhile the hooped home side carded the indomitable Paul McShane, the reliable and well-liked Vito Mannone, and the resurgent Sone Aluko, plus another eight folk ranging from the gnarled (Chris Gunter, Gareth McCleary) to the tyro (Tyler Blackett and a diminutive midfielder name of Liam Kelly – sounds Irish, may be so, born in Basingstoke – whose demeanour and stature immediately put the drooling away fans in mind of the sublime Paul Wharton). Football time! And off we go!

Crikey this is poor fare.

The game is congested, with no space at all in the cramped midfield, and the quality is low low low.

It would be unfair to say nothing happened during the opening 27 minutes of the match, because a lot of passes were misplaced, a lot of touch was found, Stephen Kingsley wasted possession several times (on this evidence we’d be better off with Charles Kingsley) and quite a few people went to the toilet. What was not on show was any hint of footballing creativity. Until, all of a sudden, what’s this? It’s Seb Larsson playing a delicate and exquisitely beautiful through ball which splits their defence, allowing Fraizer Campbell, making an intelligent run, to hare into the created space. He doesn’t even need to break stride before sliding a confident shot past Mannone for the game’s first goal.

I’m going to confess here that, in the ground, with this moment of sorcery taking place at the far end of the pitch from the watching City support, I convinced myself it must be Jarrod Bowen who had delivered the killer pass, because I simply didn’t think Larsson capable of such joy and magnificence. But Larsson it was, and more of that skill and dash will have him firmly in our good books.

On 33, Reading advance, a slick move down our right, their left, opens us up calamitously, the ball is transferred inside and crossed to the back post, where Aluko must score.

But doesn’t. He shovels it wide of the post from close range, and turns away ruefully.

Thanks Sone. I’d like to think he did that specially for us. Except he did, when he played for us, from time to time do that sort of thing specially for us. Admirable player. No predator.

The first half has offered little, but we lead 1-0, and a dour Reading side look unlikely to hurt us. In fact the most alarming aspect of the play has been a profoundly erratic linesman, who appears to be attending his first ever football match. At one point he signalled that the ball had gone out of play (which it certainly had) and indicated that it was a Reading throw (it was ours, in fact), but, after a couple of seconds during which the ref failed to notice the raised flag, the lino simply lowered it and carried on scooting up his touchline. I would’ve been quite cross had Reading scored after this moment of bizarre behaviour.

Second half.

And it begins with a fizz.

Aina, marauding with intent (he’s no Harry Maguire, but I like this lad carrying the ball forward a lot, and much more than I like his defensive positioning), draws a foul just outside the box, in the inside left position. Tempting. Larsson hovers over the ball, and so, peculiarly, does Stephen Kingsley (on this evidence we’d be better off with Ben Kingsley), but Larsson it is that takes it. Up and over the wall, and  WHUMP  the ball crashes off the angle of bar and post, and bounces back into play.

Do it again. A couple of minutes later Bowen surges forward thrillingly, plays in Campbell, who can’t get a shot away and is tackled, the ball spills to Meyler who is fouled on the edge of the box, this time in the inside right position. Larsson again. A scuffed low shot which takes a wicked deflection which, for a moment, seems likely to squirt it past Mannone’s left hand as he is moving to his right. But Mannone’s footwork is swift and agile and he adjusts to stop the ball just before it crosses the line.

Did we fear that our chances to seal the deal had come and gone? O yes, we did. We are, after all, Hull City supporters and we know despair like a pair of comfortable old shoes. It fits.

The game unfolds now with Reading in possession most of the time, yet unable to show any spark of creativity in midfield and incapable of creating space up front. The defensive shape fashioned by Mr Slutsky is strong and it is sturdy. Five across the back, four suffocating midfield. Dawson is commanding, Irvine committed, Meyler tireless. Come on, Reading, show us what you’ve got. Not much, it seems.

But you can’t help thinking we’re being too submissive. It only takes one error, and the win is squandered.

Campbell is replaced on solo patrol up front by Dicko, while Larsson gives way for Toral. Toral, again, offers nothing at all. Stephen Kingsley, meanwhile, is getting his head down and working hard and effectively, which is fortunate because I have run out of people with the surname Kingsley with which to berate him. The lithe and pacy Tomori produces a brilliant crossfield run on 84, culminating in a left foot shot that slips just beyond the far post. Deal not sealed, again. But the clock is ticking, as referee Michel Barnier notes, and we’re gonna hang on here, yes?

No.

As above, only takes one error. It’s Dicko’s, and it arrives on 87.

He receives the ball inside the Reading half. His job is clear. Hold possession. Wait for team mates to arrive in support. Pass to one of them. Retain possession in the Reading half, and squeeze the life out of their thinning hopes.

Dicko loiters and lingers, dawdles and dangles. Team-mates are arriving in faithful support, but he doesn’t feed them. He clumsily coughs up possession. Reading break, our defensive shape has been stretched, and all of a sudden the home side find a bit of space that has previously been ruthlessly denied them. Sub Bodvarsson races through the inside right channel and flays a low shot across McGregor and just inside the far post.

Bah.

Two more minutes are left and then an added three, but a stalemate descends. A melee in our box is the final moment of action, and the referee blows the whistle on a draw that had its quirky and lively moments but was largely forgettable. The clubs on show were, remember, in one case, in the Premier League last season and, in the other, just a penalty shoot-out away from reaching it. Neither looks likely to trouble the upper reaches of the Championship table this season.

Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

 

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 1 Sunderland 1

MeylerD

If ever you want to know what makes a touchline different from a goal line, or what materials football pitches have to be made of, then read Law 1 of the rules of association football. It’s not racy, nor is it unputdownable, and there are nopictures, but it’s handy. Especially if you’ve just watched a game played on a field with no penalty spots.

No penalty spots. Can you imagine? Actually, you don’t need to. Back in 1977, Derby County were giving Manchester City something of a seeing-to at the Baseball Ground when a bearded Archie Gemmill was fouled by Gary Owen in the box. Penalty given, no penalty spot located. The usual April deluges in the East Midlands had turned the pitch into a quagmire, and as such the gluey mud had managed to scrub away any previous evidence of a penalty spot.

A bloke with a tape measure, a bucket of whitewash and a brush walked on to the pitch (in suit and brogues) and repainted the spot. Gerry Daly then scored the penalty, 4-0. A very good win for a struggling side against title challengers that season, and yet the game only has infamy because there was no visible penalty spot.

City didn’t have the excuse of a sludgy pitch to account for the lack of penalty spots for the visit of Sunderland. They also didn’t require any, as no penalties were given in a decidedly average 1-1 draw between two sides still licking their wounds and rediscovering themselves after their mutual awfulness of the previous season.

But, you know, no penalty spots. Who’s responsible? Well, we could ask why the referee, the underwhelming and diffident Darren England, didn’t notice their absence during his warm-up or, indeed, any time during the match.

Just to check this, we asked Keith Hackett.

“It’s the responsibility of the officials to check field markings. Penalty mark is part of that. Amazing if no one noticed. Had they done so they wouldn’t have allowed the game to proceed without the mark (correct term in law). Potentially the referee could face a suspension for failing to apply the laws.”

(We really did ask Keith Hackett).

So, the ref could be carpeted for this, but he’s not the painter, just the foreman.

Now, far be it from me to suggest that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this, but I think it’s possible that the recent unjust sacking of some loyal ground staff at the Circle is related to this.

Either their replacements are incompetent, or they are supporting their predecessors by not doing their own job properly. Like a protest. See if anyone notices. And if they do, Ehab Allam can be blamed. Because like it or not, be it incompetence or solidarity, even something as trifling as the absence of penalty spots can be pinned on the hierarchy being utterly unable to look after staff, recruit properly and generally act with competence and care.

Law 1 includes the line “within each penalty area, a penalty mark is made 11m (12 yards) from the midpoint between the goalposts.” City broke the law.

Wonder if Ehab can sew mailbags?

Meanwhile, there was a match, and not a very good one, really. Law 3 is about the players; maybe there’s a sub-head in there, covered in Tippex, that says “no manager of Hull City is allowed to play Jackson Irvine or David Meyler from the start of the game”. It could be the only reason why neither were in the team. Markus Henriksen, devoid of confidence. Sebastian Larsson, devoid of interest. A Scandinavian axis of ghastliness.

Sunderland, meanwhile, brought their usual noisy lot to fill up E1 while we continued to pretend nigh on 17,000 were in attendance, with a straight face. West Upper shut, west lower half empty, pockets of space everywhere else. And no Jackson Irvine nor David Meyler. And no penalty spots. We embarrass ourselves on a daily basis.

Booking their 5.15pm taxis to get to the ballet on time were…

McGregor
Tomori Dawson Hector
Aina Henriksen Larsson Bowen Kingsley
Dicko Grosicki

… ish. I’ve no idea, really. 3-5-2 at times, 3-4-3 at other times, 5-3-2 when we were defending, which was often. It was disorganised and shambolic in the first half. Dicko was far too isolated up front and the central midfield was in a very sorry state. Nobody really had much of an idea what was going on.

Henriksen made just the one tangible contribution to the half, when a smart move within the inside right channel allowed him to deliver a venomous cross shot that Ruiter managed to parry away as Dicko closed in. What further attacking there was seemed to happen spontaneously, with few of the City players knowing where to go irrespective of whether the ball was theirs or not.

Sunderland, with the acidic Lee Cattermole still in their midfield (it genuinely shocked me when I saw the teams that Lee Cattermole is still a thing), were quite tidy in the first half. They had passers, runners and creators, they were putting the challenges in, they seemed quite well drilled and positive. Any number of things could have gone wrong to make them as despondent as City in these early weeks, but it could just be that they are bruised and cautious following their travails last season.

And they scored early. Shocking goal from City’s point of view. Possession coughed up, cross from the right, James Vaughan heading in. Sunderland fans reacted like any self-respecting fans who’ve known nothing but hardship for the last few years would; they hollered and capered and gestured as if they knew they might never score again.

Vaughan, the dolt, kicked the corner flag clean out of the ground in the south east corner in celebration; referee Mr England told him like a naughty schoolboy to go and put it back again or, presumably, risk a booking for sabotaging the pitch apparatus.

“You made the mess Vaughan, you can clear it up. And look at me when I’m talking to you.”

Still, good of the official to notice on this occasion that the pitch wasn’t fit for purpose.

City tried to get back into the game, but the planned use of Grosicki’s talent on the left wing was constantly foiled by Sunderland’s ploy, crafty as it was, to stick two men on Grosicki and boot him in the air a lot. In the absence of any other method of attack, this became a depressingly frequent occurrence, and Grosicki cut a thoroughly exasperated figure by the time the whistle went at half time.

The interval began with boos and ended with cheers, thanks to the introduction of the People’s David who has always, frankly, been a good footballer, despite what that gruesome chant says. Meyler replaced Henriksen, who is probably still refusing to come out of a toilet cubicle at the Circle even now. Hector also went off as Slutsky simplified the formation and brought on Toral. In between, someone in each stand won a season’s worth of pies in the half-time draw. Classy outfit, us.

We didn’t really showcase any class on the pitch in the second half, but it did seem that boots had been forcibly applied to fundaments and City were at least a good measure more urgent. Sunderland dropped, soaked up the collective pressing and relied on the break to pursue a second and, likely, clinching goal.

They nearly got it when McManaman hit a shot that McGregor did very well to palm away, with Vaughan’s rebound well blocked by the buttocks of Kingsley. Escape complete, although Meyler’s prompting and general positivity was nearly ruined when he was robbed in his own half, only for Tomori to get across and swipe the ball and accept the thankful apology of the Irishman as he cleared the danger.

Sub number three was Fraizer Campbell, on with 20 to go for Dicko, meaning three ex-Sunderland players were now on the pitch. Campbell immediately did a bit of heel toe conjuring round the edge of the box before lifting his left foot shot a tad too high, but his instant willingness to go for a goal seemed to up everyone’s game, including the City fans. From this moment on, it was all in the Sunderland half.

Often, when you go a goal down at home, you can tell quite quickly afterwards whether a game is going to finish with that scoreline. This felt like a 1-0 defeat from the moment the ball went in up to about the 80th minute here, then the hope – that dreaded, toxic, malign thing called hope – took over. It felt possible.

Grosicki shot wide, Bowen headed one which the keeper palmed away acrobatically. Chances. Not necessarily getting nearer to scoring, but the ratio was growing. Sunderland looked panicky and tired. If they held on it was as much to be despite themselves as anything.

Then, on 82, the leveller. And it was a combo of subs that did it. Campbell played an inside ball to Meyler who stabbed it goalwards, aiming at the near post. Did it get a flick off a Sunderland player? Possibly. Not that any hoots were given. It was in. 1-1, eight to go.

And a player we really wanted to do well had, well, done well. Well done.

Meyler had another effort well saved and in injury time, both Meyler and Dawson had chances blocked from corners. Though a winner couldn’t be found, City were chasing it right to the last second and that bodes well for future encounters. We acknowledged the plan hadn’t worked, we restructured, we fought back, we didn’t lose.

Slutsky has had a raw deal but he seems to be the only one who doesn’t see why Meyler should be in the starting XI. The team is inexperienced, both in aggregate games played and with one another. By having Meyler ahead of Dawson and McGregor, we have club stalwarts who can organise. And Meyler looks like he’s playing properly, too. Unappreciated he may have been for too long, but currently we are a better club for his presence, and that’s not something we can say about everyone in the employ of Hull City.

Reading (a) next, then consecutive home games against Preston and Birmingham. Hopefully by then we will have Jackson Irvine and David Meyler in partnership in the middle of the team, and penalty spots in chiffon white near the middle of each 18 yard box.