FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 1 Tottenham 7 (SEVEN)

SilvaMarco
They scored seven (7).
Coulda been more.
We scored one.
Woo.
Make no mistake, this was dreadful stuff, and even though it was the heaviest home defeat in the history of our club, overtaking the 1-6 Cup reverse against Chelsea when at least we could field the excuse that three Divisions separated the two sides at the time, it was a small mercy that Spurs didn’t add more. They strolled through our set up at will for most of the first half and for all of the final quarter of an hour or so, and we really could have shipped ten or a dozen goals here. It was ghastly, though some ‘fans’ in amber and black still felt able to applaud the visitors’ centre forward as he was subbed off after crashing a hat-trick past us. What do you think this is, a teddy bears’ picnic?
I draw a veil over the footballing bloodshed. Spurs are very good. This was a grotesque mis-match, like putting Dave ‘Boy’ Green in against Antony Joshua, though I fancy the Fen Tiger might have shown a bit more mobility and resilience than did the Hull City Tigers [sic] yesterday.
Who to blame? Relatively few of the players. Elmo has been feckless, N’Diaye has squandered his chance to impress, while Elabdellaoui will fill in alongside Gary Gill in the “o yeah, I’d forgotten about him” hall of fame, but over the course of the season most of the rest did as much as could be expected until injury or superior opposition brought them up short, and at least two, Sam Clucas and Harry Maguire, deserve to progress to proper long-term top level careers plus international recognition. Neither of the managers should be hammered either. No one would dream of criticising Marco Silva of course, despite the collapse suffered across our final three fixtures, but Mike Phelan too deserves credit for creating a viable squad for at least a few weeks during the Autumn after the utterly ruinous summer he was forced to endure. So, who to blame? I think you know. Yes, the owners of the club.
And not only the Allams. We were promoted in 2008 in the company of West Brom and Stoke. Look at what proper management and ownership can do for a football club. Two football clubs with which we can fairly aspire to compete on level terms – two clubs that have left us far behind as they have consolidated the advantages  of Premier League status while we have wasted every single morsel of success. It was only in 2011 that the Allams took over. It’s not all down to them. But last summer’s crimes are down to them, most of all to Ehab. To allow a Premier League club to approach a new season scarcely able to fill eleven shirts, never mind a subs’ bench, is inexcusable incompetence or pure malice. And we could never overcome that leaden handicap. But relegation is something that we can endure, it’s no stranger. What is intolerable, and immensely damaging to the long-term health of the club, is Ehab’s utter indifference  to the interests of the fans, most of all the younger fans, the future of the club yet actively driven away from its stadium by a vindictive pricing scheme. He delights in alienating the local community, he sneers at the attachment we have to our club, he is accountable to no one. And he is not going away.
Valiant deeds and shrewd management provided us with much to treasure from January through April, but May has been catastrophic. Beginning with that inexplicably limp outing against Sunderland, our team has resembled the cartoon character that keeps running even after it has left the cliff edge until it suddenly looks down and realises there is no solid ground beneath its feet. Reality hits. And so begins the long, long fall to the bottom of the valley.
Question is, how deep is that valley, how long is that fall.
Stephen Weatherill (report first appeared on Tiger Chat)
FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Crystal Palace 4 City (R) 0

SilvaMarco
Hard to know where to start, really. Today was, of course, not only about an (even by Hull City’s standards) inexplicably supine capitulation against a side whom we could, had we won the match, have placed in genuine peril of relegation. Today was a day on which chickens came home to roost, when we were finally exposed, when the cracks could be papered over no more, when it was finally rammed home to us, like a stake through the heart, that Marco Silva is an honest man who did his very best with the squad of misfits, slackers and great-hearted triers that he inherited but was not a flaming magician.
Generally speaking, it’s lazy to fill column space in match reports by simply quoting others at length, but there was this quote from Dave Burns on Twitter (which I’m not sure was actually a tweet), which sums up the state of things about as succinctly and eloquently as it’s possible to do:-
“Without taking anything away from Palace, Hull City have made it easy for them. If this game was a bank job, [City] would have left the front door wide open. They’ve been absolutely clueless. Marco Silva had the plates spinning but they’ve crashed to the ground. And who on earth would buy this club now? Dear oh dear”.
Some of this will be revisited shortly, but we’ll deal with the match facts first. it’s tempting just to list the scorers and recall that City failed to get a single shot on target during the entirety of a match upon which our very survival depended, but even the elongated, full-form version won’t trouble us much more massively .
On a fine (and, towards the end, knee-blisteringly warm if you were sat near the front) early afternoon, the condemned men lined up kind of as follows:-
                                    Jakupović
     Maguire             Dawson       Ranocchia       Robertson
 Elmohamady        N’Diaye            Evandro        Clucas        Grosicki
                                     Niasse
A challenging task became well-nigh impossible as early as the third minute, when Andrea Ranocchia allowed a simple ball to roll under his foot and Zaha scampered away unchallenged to slide the leather past the exposed Eldin Jakupović. A more abject start to the game could barely have been conceived: maybe, if such witlessness could have been avoided, things might have been different, but it wasn’t and they weren’t. The relief around all bar one corner of Selhurst Park was palpable. The City fans sang on stoically, bellowing “We’ve got Marco Silva” as a counter to “Glad All Over”, the adoption of which as a Palace anthem I have never understood, the DC5 (who recorded it) being from Tottenham, which last time I looked was in North London.
For a bit, we rally and get in behind them. Our patient passing game gives sight of the goal to Sam Clucas, who shoots narrowly wide. Shortly after we attack again and when a deep cross is not cleared and falls to Harry Maguire on the right side he wastefully fires high and wide. But even early in this game a pattern is developing. This was a day when we needed to be going out with all guns blazing, but instead we persisted throughout with a laboured, overly-patient approach which never really had Palace on the back foot and with which they coped comfortably on the whole.
They don’t actually threaten much after Tomkins flashes a header across goal from a Puncheon cross, until just after the half-hour, when Benteke rises unchallenged at the near post to head home. Zonal marking, y’see. More importantly it now feels as though we are being picked off at will.
Our top-flight status is now palpably seeping away from us, and the unspoken thought among the City support is that, if there is one final last chance for City, it lies in not conceding again before the break and, just possibly, regrouping. Well, we did indeed avoid falling further behind before the break, and we emerge for the second half with a couple of substitutions which might have been tactical but were more likely intended to prevent further punishment to both Ranocchia and Andy Robertson, who took bad knocks in the first half.
The second period can be summarised even more briefly than the first. We continue in our earnest but predictable and unavailing fashion, and over the half create even less than we had managed in the first period: a match stat of no shots on goal in a game of such monumental importance is a telling testimony to our lack of quality which ultimately brought us crashing in the end, the heroics of the last four months notwithstanding. Kamel Grosicki and then sub Jarrod Bowen fire wide either side of the hour mark, Clucas had one blocked and Grosicki wastefully tried to go for glory from the corner of the box when he had both Bowen and Clucas square and unmarked, but it was increasingly apparent that there was to be no comeback and that the curtain was about to fall. If anything, you felt that Palace would maybe turn the screw a little more, especially after Benteke fires one across the face of the goal on 79, and so it proved with five minutes to go. Schlupp is given far too much space on our right (this was a constant feature of the second half) and as he bears down on goal Michael Dawson, who I am sorry to say has been a crashing disappointment since his return from injury, clatters him down from behind. As stonewall a penalty as you will see, and no St Mary’s-style heroics from the Jak this time, as Milivojević strides confidently up and plants the leather into the corner.
And it gets worse when, in injury time, sub Van Aanholt is given far too much room to slide the leather under Jakupović. We might even concede more as we are totally spent now and Palace are looking up for it. but the whistle of referee Atkinson spares us any further humiliation and, unless you count next week (which you had all better enjoy because it could be quite a spell before we’re back, if indeed we ever are), we are a Championship side once again.
Silva and most of the team come through the L-shaped cordon of stewards to acknowledge the support, and even Ahmed Elmohamady, at the back, manages grudgingly to place his hands in contact with each other a couple of times, showing about as much effort as he has done all season, and, after the current fashion, several hundred of the 2,000-strong City support stay put and sing, while the less resilient (or more seasoned) of us melt away into the streets of North Croydon in search of some much-needed sorrow-drowning.
So, a relegation that seemed nailed on before a ball was even kicked is eventually confirmed. That it took as long as until the penultimate game is quite remarkable, and testimony to the fine work undertaken by Silva with a fairly wretched (and that’s not meant as a dig at the players, or at least not most of them) collection of resources and a seemingly irretrievable League position. If there’s any criticism of Silva it’s that he didn’t creak a few out more points on the road, which in the end would have seen us safe (quiz question- which Hull City manager won more away points this season?) but of course that has to be offset against a string of quite remarkable home performances: it was especially gratifying to see West Ham and Liverpool slink out of the Circle with their tails between their legs. Ultimately, it seemed as if the efforts of manager and players since January had finally taken their toll, with the last couple of games creating the very distinct impression that we were simply running out of steam.
So where does it all leave us? Obviously, it would be marvellous if Silva could remain in charge next season, which is probably not as fanciful a notion as some of the national papers seem to assume, with reports abounding that the likes of Watford and Southampton are waiting to pounce, for is there any real evidence that Silva will give either outfit more than they currently have in managerial terms? No, if Silva wants to realise his ambition of establishing himself as a Premier League manager, his best launching pad for that might well be to get City back up. It might be the best offer he will get, and the best hope for him as much as us.
But, whipping off the amber-tinted specs for a moment and contemplating the hard light of day, would he really want that himself? The answer is, as Patrick Moore might have said, “We just don’t know”. Silva has been commendably discreet regarding his views on the Allams, with only a hint in the last few days that a frank exchange of views might be forthcoming as he tells the son what is wrong and what needs to be done in order to correct it. Clearly, and even if he gets no offers from elsewhere that he would even consider taking, he is going to want some cast-iron assurances about the extent and the timing of the investment that will be available to him, because it’s clear that the Hull City team that kicks off the 2017/8 season will bear no resemblance to the one which was fielded at Selhurst yesterday. The vultures, cheered on by their media sycophants, are already circling around Maguire and Robertson, it’s eminently foreseeable that the likes of Jakupović, Clucas and Tom Huddlestone could be snapped up as squad players by bottom-half outfits and there’s a string of loan players who won’t be here. The return of Moses Odubajo and (hopefully) Ryan Mason will be a bonus but the whole thing is going to need rebuilding almost from scratch. Are assurances of money going to be forthcoming? and if they are, can Silva trust Ehab to honour them? Breath-holding not advised.
In the end it all comes back to the Allams. For make no mistake: they are going nowhere. The line dutifully trotted out by the media (the generally-excellent Philip Buckingham was at it again yesterday, and the BBC are serial offenders) that the family has been trying to offload the Club for the last three years just does not wash. Whenever a deal looks to be in the offing it falls through for one reason or another, and word of these deals always seems to emerge when the family is under pressure. It’s likely now that that pressure will resurface as, after a truce while Silva sought to rescue the desperate situation created last summer, the Allams’ stewardship of the Club will once again come under scrutiny from supporters and media. That means that there will be talk of deals before too long, as sure as eggs is eggs, and it would be for the better of all concerned if, the next time some random Chinese bloke conveniently happens to be photographed getting off the London train at Brough or some Eastern European-looking cove is filmed on somebody’s phone stepping out of a Bentley and heading into the back of the West Stand, people could please, please, please restrain themselves from hyperventilating and just reflect on the fact that we’ve seen this all before multiple times.
My own prediction is that the Club will not be sold unless and until Ehab runs out of money, which given the family’s wealth is either never going to happen or is likely to be many years in the future. I sincerely hope that’s wrong, but I have yet to see any cast-iron evidence that they are genuinely serious about selling. Of course, confirmation of our relegation has just made a sizeable hole in the aforementioned wealth and it gives Ehab two choices: either make proper investment and do what it takes to keep Silva, because if both of those things happen I for one wouldn’t bet against our stay in the Championship being a brief one, or use the parachute money to pay off the loans and starve the playing side of funds. The former would make the most commercial sense by far and would put £100M back on the value of the Club at a stroke if we were to go straight back up, but that said it’s hard to escape the conclusion, based on past form, that doing what is best for City commercially is the very last thing on Ehab’s mind. So again, breath-holding not advised.
In the meantime, while we wait to see whether it’s bounce-back time or a Blackpoolesque freefall through the Leagues, there are going to be some tasty away fixtures to drool over when the fixtures come out in about five weeks. Be even better if we were in any fit state actually to win some of them.
Ian Thomson (report first appeared on Tiger Chat)
FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Sunderland 2

ElmohamadyA16

Marco Silva’s impressive unbeaten home record stretching back to March 2014 was shattered in 90 disappointingly tepid minutes at the KCOM – pressure on the players finally told as they bottled it and undid all the good work since Silva’s arrival.

City could have finished the day five points clear of Swansea but now find ourselves potentially four points (five, considering goal difference) behind by the time we kick off at Palace. The Swans have hit a patch of form at the right time, and we can’t win away. Selhurst could have been a party next week, but it now feels like a grim day out to a funeral. It’s a whole new magnitude of TypicalCity-ness.

But lest we forget our impending relegation can’t and should not be blamed on yesterday’s result alone, but squarely on the Allams’ incompetent, idiotic and downright vindictive refusal to sanction summer recruitment which ultimately saw Steve Bruce walk in disgust.

In front of a nowhere near full KCOM (slow handclap, Ehab) for this crucial penultimate home game saw Silva plump for two up-front:

Jakupović
Elmohamady      Ranocchia       Maguire         Robertson
Marković        N’Diaye         Clucas          Grosicki
Niasse          Hernández

It was a bold attacking selection – in truth one called for by many home supporters this season – and probably with an eye on the ponderous and porous nature of Sunderland’s back line. No doubt the pace and guile of both Oumar Niasse and Abel Hernández were sent out to give the beleaguered Wearsiders a thoroughly torrid afternoon.

Sunderland had an early chance as young Mackster Honeyman headed a Jones cross just wide following good work by Defoe.

Not for the first time this season City looked far more menacing down our left wing than our right; Andy Robertson and Kamel Grosicki combined well and had a real understanding; their attacks largely had some sort of end product. But it’s hopelessly unbalanced on the right as Ahmed Elmohamady and Lazar Marković fail to combine with any degree of fluency. Marković undoubtedly has ability, but is sometimes undisciplined and goes hunting for the ball around the pitch leaving us oft exposed.

Sam Clucas was once again pivotal to City’s play, and on 19 mins he was unlucky to see his fine low volley being palmed away by Pickford at full stretch.

City had a penalty shout waved away by ref Swarbrick as Niasse’s overhead kick hit O’Shea’s arm, raised high above his head but hardly deliberate.

But a largely turgid first half was exactly what our visitors wanted. Our recently fluidity had completely drained as the dullest of first halves passed without many incidents of note. City had plenty of possession and obviously the first goal would be key – if we could net it, there was confidence we’d win – but the longer the game went on the more nervous the players, and the crowd, got. For the first time since Silva’s arrival the City players seemingly appeared aware of the enormity of their precarious league position – several froze or didn’t put in anywhere near an acceptable shift (Elmo, I’m looking at you mate).

Goalless at the break, and we reassured ourselves that City are a second-half team….
Jakupović did well to block Defoe’s effort after a fast Sunderland breakaway, and Pickford saved Alfred N’Diaye’s header from a fine Grosicki cross.

Marković saw his header saved acrobatically by Pickford (again) following Elmo’s cross. Jordan Pickford had a fine match as Sunlan leather custodian and surely one of the few visiting players to be still plying his trade in the Big League next season.

A turning-point as Marković limped-off to be replaced by Tom Huddlestone, switching Grosicki from left to right in a move that appeared to suit Sunderland more than it did El Tigres. Pickford was again the hero, superbly pushing the ball away one-handed as Hernández shot sweetly from eight yards.

But on 69 minutes Sunderland score. O’Shea flicked on Honeyman’s corner, and Billy Jones powered a diving header in off the post. He was only six yards out, utterly weak defending from City. Zonal marking my arse, as Joe Royle used to say.

And if the players were nervous before, the goal increased arse twitching all round. Silva threw on Dieumerci Mbokani in place of N’Diaye and the side increasingly had a whiff of desperation about it. Evandro came on for Elmo (to a chorus of boos from both sets of fans).

In added time Harry Maguire gave away a soft foul wide on our left, and Larsson swung round a low free-kick and bundled home by Defoe, who looked at least a yard offside. Maguire’s positioning to defend the free kick was utterly odd – standing yards away from the potential flight on the ball, nearer to the touchline. Final twist of the knife, and the KCOM understandably empties.

So the math is now simple enough. If Swansea win at Sunderland (more than likely) and we fail at Selhurst (again, probable) we can all look forward to that tasty Burton Albion groundtick next season, and save Sky the trouble of having one of those tortuously-hyped “Relegation Showdown Sunday” shows the following week.

Clucas put in another impressive shift (I suspect next week will be his last away match in a City shirt – and he won’t be the only one – final-whistle shirt-collectors note). Robertson and Grosicki generally looking connected and bright. But Elmo stank out the KCOM, and a fresh start with Moses Odubajo next season is long yearned. The Niasse/Hernández forward partnership wasn’t that – they appeared total strangers; forwards generally hunt in pairs, building a relationship, but yesterday ours looked miles apart – making totally the wrong runs, with virtually no-linkup between them during the entire ninety minutes.

The post-match news the Allams sacked the volunteer pitch divot-replacers (mid-shift!) after 20 years dedicated service gives Ehab another final negative PR pop on a season which was ultimately destroyed by him before it even began. The tit.

Andy Medcalf (report first appeared on the Tiger C

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Southampton 0 City 0

JakupovicE

The clouds were grey, flecks of blue streaked around the sky, the wind swirled around St Mary’s Stadium, but it wasn’t until 2.45pm that the sun finally broke through. My first ever visit to this ground, but momentous for the fact that it completed the set of all 92 Premier/Football League grounds for me, hence my wish to volunteer for writing this report.

Marco Silva decided continuity was the key and so no changes to the starting line up were made to the side that started against the Hornets last Saturday, the red card for Oumar Niasse rightfully being rescinded to keep the momentum going. Baffling that Mr Madley’s performance last week should earn him the Crystal Palace v Burnley battle later on….and yet more controversy!

Jakupović
Elmohamady Ranocchia Maguire Robertson
Marković N’Diaye Evandro Clucas Grosicki
Niasse

The first few minutes set the trend for most of the game and it was a joy to see as the relegation battlers took the game to Southampton. As early as the fourth minute, Niasse chased down a backpass to Forster leading to a hurried clearance, fed to Lazar Marković, a free kick being drawn 25 yards out which Kamel Grosicki bent superbly over the wall leaving Forster admiring it, but the ball cannoned off the post. Very unlucky.

Our football at times was slick, fast, accurate, defence to attack, spreading play. It was a joy to watch. How is it we struggle for consistency away from home? The answer almost came when a moment’s lapse in concentration saw a ball played behind Andrea Ranocchia and Gabbiadini had a clear sight of goal but screwed the ball embarrassingly wide when faced with Jakupović.

Our first half performance was excellent, apart from being level at 0-0. The chief reason for that was the willingness for every player to battle and lay their bodies on the line and, with reference to Andy Dalton’s superb report from last week, having the class act on our team in Evandro. His performance in the first half was a masterclass of midfield supremacy. His calm control, clever movement and timing was exquisite to watch.

My one concern was that 0-0 scoreline because this season away from home has seen so many errors that have cost goals that the net normally needed to bulge at the other end for something to hold on to. Added to which, surely Southampton would come out with more purpose having been booed off by their own supporters.

The second half saw Southampton forcing us back more and a few hearts started pumping faster when Shane Long was introduced for the Saints after an hour. Not another former player to haunt us? Memories of Stoke two weeks ago flooded back when Crouch and Walters came on and changed the game.

We were made of sterner stuff today and Long never had a sniff, thanks yet again to the imperious Sir Harry Maguire. When will Mr Southgate finally recognise his talent? Only if/when he leaves the club? Like Livermore.

Anyway, the half meanders along. We’re comfortable, apart from a dodgy punch from the Jak, which he redeemed himself by saving the follow up shot. Substitutions are made. Markus Henriksen for the excellent aforementioned Evandro (71 mins) and Tom Huddlestone for Grosicki (82 mins). That substitution must have been interesting as the fourth official was Paul Tierney, who’d sent Huddlestone off only four weeks earlier. The final substitution was going to be Abel Hernández for Niasse. However, Sam Clucas went down injured and after treatment, it was decided Michael Dawson should appear instead, for Marković.

Enter Mike Dean, a referee I can’t say I rate highly, or even lowly for that matter. He always seems to want the limelight. I have to say that today his performance had actually been very good, though it was a quite sociable game, with no nasty tackles. A shirt pull it seemed, against N’Diaye led to a penalty award for Southampton, with 90 minutes up and injury time being played. From our end it was hard to tell. Paul Clement must have been punching the air in delight. Step up Dušan Tadić, not Shane Long, thank goodness. A low shot towards the Jak’s left post, but our hero gets a strong left hand to it and puts it past the post. Pandemonium at our end and on the pitch. The corner comes to nothing, we break and win a corner ourselves. It’s played across, flicked on and Niasse, despite HIS shirt being held, has a stab at the ball but it is headed off the line. Mike Dean didn’t notice that though. Cue the final whistle and maybe a few thousand Welsh voices being muffled ahead of Swansea’s trip to Old Trafford tomorrow.

Overall, a great away performance, the team ethic and mindset perfect. Was this the day Hull City finally put the nail in Swansea’s coffin? We’ll know soon enough.

Final word is for our unassuming hero Jakupović. He hasn’t had the greatest career at Hull City but has never moaned. He’s got on with his task of being substitute often enough and also being loaned out. Everyone remembers the calamity against Sheffield Wednesday not many seasons ago and not all have forgiven him. He has had his good moments too, like last season keeping Arsenal at bay at the Emirates with a record breaking eleven saves there in a 0-0 draw in the FA Cup. However, under Silva he is now our recognised No.1 keeper and he deserves all the plaudits he’s getting, even the recent transfer speculation, which shows he’s being noticed elsewhere too. I’m really pleased his perseverance has paid off and with Hull City and the penalty save today will lay the ghost of Sheffield Wednesday to rest, especially if Hull City do finally stay in the Premier League.

Tim B (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL

MATCH REPORT: City 2-0 Watford

 MadleyWatford2017

What do the best stories contain? Perhaps it depends on the type of tale, but some elements frequently recur. A nefarious baddie bent upon destruction, a handsome and dashing hero, an improbable twist in the tale and satisfying victory for the good guys against daunting odds.

Clocking in at just under two hours, you’d struggle to suggest that Hull City v Watford qualifies as a full length story. No sweeping Wilbur Smith epic this; but it was sufficiently laden with incident to deserve greater consideration than merely a chapter in a longer drama. Let’s file it under “novella”, an engrossing stand-alone that makes up a worthy part of a longer story arc.

Summoning up another implausible adventure were:

Jakupović
Elmohamady Maguire (c) Ranocchia Robertson
Grosicki Clucas Evandro Marković
N’Diaye
Niasse

Approximately, anyway. It surprised plenty that Tom Huddlestone was benched, for his form had sparkled lustrously prior to his unjust suspension, while many more anticipated Marco Silva opting for a front two for a must-win winnable fixture. But no.

Watford reached 40 points last week, the much-vaunted mark whereby another season suckling at the television’s teat is usually guaranteed. Might they accommodatingly phone in a performance for us, with their primary objective obtained before St George’s Day? Or might they play with vigour and freedom, unshackled by pressure and unnecessarily denting our ambitions of similar suckling?

And what of Stoke, similarly safe and carrying the East Riding’s hopes in south Wales? We’re at the stage of the season where examining scorelines elsewhere is no longer a way of passing time during the interval but an integral part of the afternoon. And so we kicked off on an attractive spring afternoon with minds full of permutations – five clear by 5pm, one adrift come the evening, or maybe just somewhere in the middle. Whatever a relegation battle is, we’re deep into it in a way Teessiders and Wearsiders alike will envy, and it’s been a while since a season ended up a series of numbing dead rubbers.

City began attacking the North Stand, something I’ll never understand (why not attack your most partisan support in the second half and oblige the away team to kick away from their own fans?), but there was initially little for those patrons to see at close quarters as a palpably nervous City were pressed back by Watford. Resplendent in all-white, the Hornets looked as though they may indeed be here on business rather than pleasure, however their early promise faded without them creating anything and the first opportunity of the afternoon fell Sam Clucas’ way when a cross was partially cleared to him – however his half-volley was ill-timed and sailed well off target.

The mere sight of goal saw City improve, and while the overall quality was poor from both sides, the Tigers began to show signs of winning the arm-wrestle.

Enter the baddie.

On 25, a ball breaks loose in midfield, slightly in the Watford half. Milan loanee M’Baye Niang pounces first and narrowly beats Oumar Niasse to the ball, before collapsing to the turf in confected discomfort. From E5, there’s time to process each of Niasse’s reactions in order – first, contempt that such a soft collision (a foul, but nothing more) has prompted such histrionics, then bafflement when he sees referee Bobby Madley reach for a card, and then complete incomprehension when he registers its colour.

The stadium rises in bewildered anger as the distraught Niasse leaves (Niang was still pretending to be hurt) and the anger towards Mr Madley was long and loudly projected. Anyone who’s watched a reasonable amount of football knows the approximate sequence of events when a red card is widely considered to be possible. The foul happens, the opposition react with horror (whether real or feigned), one set of fans screams for justice and a weird sort of anticipatory murmur involuntarily escapes the entire crowd as they wait to see whether the potential dismissal will be realised. It’s like a thunderstorm – you can just FEEL something in the air.

None of this happened. None of the usual sensations were felt. Instead, an innocuous midfield foul was punished with a red card. You need to go back a long time, down several divisions and grades of official to recall a more appalling decision. Coddington? Laws? Those hazily-remembered names from a grim and distant past floated to mind as we tried to make sense of it. Needless to say, in the smartphone era it wasn’t long before City fans could be seen watching a replay to confirm the injustice. But if you know anything about football, and how to read its signals, you’ll have needed no replay. It was a rancid, rotten, foul decision from an abysmal referee plainly out of his depth.

How it stung. News of Swansea’s lead had already reached us, and Watford resolved to seize their unwarranted advantage by again pushing City back. They ought to have led too – a real threat from set pieces, only a fine reaction save from Eldin Jakupović denied Prödl and minutes later Britos headed wide under worryingly little pressure.

It didn’t get much better. Mr Madley must surely – SURELY – have begun to wonder whether the relentless invective from the stands was in fact justified, and he responded by, err, making some more terrible decisions. Irksome as they were at the time, with hindsight they probably had the useful effect of turning the game into a bitty affair, allowing City to hang on to reach the interval goalless. It came via Mr Madley’s decision not to caution Niang for a ridiculous dive in injury time that raised the temperature even further. The referee was escorted off by stewards, with a torrent of dismay conveyed by all areas (including the one Ehab Allam dopily wants to close).

Bloody hell. This was winnable, and now we were only drawing while a man down and uncomfortably aware of Swansea’s lead. In that fractious 45, the whole season had taken a real jolt.

Enter the dashing hero.

After all, does anything jolt Mr Silva? At the break, he withdrew Evandro for Hernández, the Brazilian having begun well but declined rapidly following the red card. Meanwhile, shorn of the lone striker we’d started with, Hernández’s introduction was plainly necessary. It wasn’t the change in personnel but the change in mindset he can engender that we should most admire, though. Rather than letting an inept official dictate to them, Silva used the break to calm his players, and it was quickly obvious that deep breaths had been drawn and minds refocussed. Whatever the Portuguese for dusting worselves down is, we’d done it.

Hernández had an early shot following his arrival, directing a fairly soft attempt at Heurelho Gomes – though perhaps he was attempting an audacious chip? Watford were again becalmed, but could/should have taken the lead when defensive blunders from more than one in black and amber saw Capoue stab the ball goalwards – fortunately it hit Jakupović’s foot before he could even react and bounced to safety, although Jakupović’s endearing attempt to take credit for the save with the North Stand was raised a half-smile.

Enter the plot twist.

On the hour, a Watford free-kick fizzled out and was cleared. Suddenly, the realisation dawned that the visitors had overcommitted and for a thrilling moment we had a three-on-one advantage on the right wing. Robertson had collected possession and was spoilt for choice as Marković darted forwards centrally and Grosicki provided a second option further down the flank. Momentarily it seemed as though Robertson had called things wrongly by keeping the ball wide when transferring it to Grosicki, but the Pole’s cross to his Serbian teammate was beautifully judged. Marković’s effort struck the underside of the crossbar and bounced downwards. In? Not in? The stadium held its breath, but there was no such hesitation from Marković, who responded first and blasted into the empty goal.

Euphoric pandemonium. As always happens with the best and most unexpected twists in the narrative. The goal celebration was as good as it gets. Underdog status, venal injustice and even the heightened anticipation from watching a threatening break unfold combined perfectly and the stadium was rocked by convulsive joy. 1-0.

Meanwhile, Swansea went 2-0 up. Well, you can’t have everything.

Amrabat went off for Watford, Marković and Prödl were both cautioned and we steeled ourselves for a gut-wrenching final twenty minutes.

Did I mention that was a really BIG plot twist, staged over ten minutes and featuring two separate incidents?

Enter Samuel Raymond Clucas.

On 70, a Grosicki corner was cleared to the edge of the area, where our unheralded midfield organiser was stationed. He instantly controlled it with his chest and sent a gorgeous looping left-footed volley over Gomes to win both the match and Goal of Month. Not surprisingly, the stadium dissolved into further feverish capering. 2-0.

On the pitch, that was about it. Watford’s stomach for a fight fled entirely, and even a man down there was little suggestion that a devastating comeback was likely. Huddlestone replaced Marković with ten left, but even that precautionary measure seemed unnecessary. There was time for Robertson to be cautioned for ill-advisedly kicking the ball away as Mr Madley continued his quest to remain wholly friendless, and by the time Dawson replaced Grosicki with the fourth official readying his injury time board, the match was finished.

And what a match, and what an outcome. This breathless afternoon may not have made a material difference to the battle to avoid the final relegation place that’s still largely between City and Swansea, though Crystal Palace will have had better non-playing afternoons. However, it made for a wonderfully uplifting viewing, and took us another round of games closer to the most remarkable of escape acts.

Well done City, and Marco Silva. The heroes of our little story. Any chance that the sequel will be called “An Away Win”?

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Stoke 3 City 1

JakupovicE

As always, we travelled hopefully. As so often, we didn’t arrive anywhere near a result. This has done us no real harm, as the other teams in our own particular circle of hell in the Premier League showed why they are where they are by not managing to win games they could have done. It is one of football’s truisms that good teams find a way to win matches. It is less often pointed out that crap teams find a way not to win them, but it is equally so. We aren’t a good team at this level – even ignoring the fact that we’re not really a team at all in the sense we used to understand this, merely a collection of individuals brought together by a skilful manager to attempt a very short term fix to keep our owners in the money – and so we duly found a way to lose an eminently winnable game against a side who had been anxiously looking down at the maelstrom below them wondering whether they would be sucked into it, but are now free to soar and swoop like eagles, in the mid-table mediocrity that is the highest aim of 12 of the 20 teams in the division. Failing to get the job done were:

Jakupović
Maguire Dawson Ranocchia Robertson
Marković Huddlestone N’Diaye Clucas Grosicki
Niasse

So, Harry Maguire on the right of defence with presumably a licence to advance, eh? Interesting, but would it work? With the threat of nuclear conflagration hanging over us, there is far too much stress in the world at the moment, so I will not add to it by unnecessarily prolonging suspense; no, it wouldn’t.

Anyway, some football. In the sort of watery sunshine and coolish weather that everyone calls a lovely spring day on this Brexit benighted isle, City began defending the goal in front of the City faithful, a good turn out considering many people were probably still feeling a bit miffed about the death of Jesus the previous day (Stay strong, kids. MUCH better news on that to come later today!). But defend it we didn’t, as a fairly desultory passing movement in our half between Maguire, Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone broke down when Dawson gave it away to Shaqiri, a skilful and well-balanced player who did what such players do, immediately spotting and finding a fine ball to a striker to discomfit the defenders. The beneficiary of this was Arnautović, who had much to do, but was aided by a defence that slid across as reluctantly as the door on a 1970s conservatory. Maguire didn’t get to him, Andrea Ranocchia and Dawson didn’t seem to know where they needed to be, Arnautović finished with aplomb. And also with his right foot, belting the ball past a throughly-cheesed off Jakupović. 1-0 after 6 minutes. Bugger.

We saw more of the Shaqiri/Arnautović axis in the first half – another fine ball from the former allowed the latter to blast a volley wide that he should have scored and then a typical bit of Shaqirian trickery was part of a move that allowed Arnautović to break free and screw one just wide of goal with Jakupović again aghast at the lack of protection. It didn’t really look like we were going to do much defending so, sensibly enough, we started to push forward. And this worked after a fashion too. Lazar Marković was lively and moved well bringing a save out of their netman which led to a corner that wouldn’t quite fall for Maguire. Another raking move from a Sam Clucas ball should have produced more if Andy Robertson hadn’t made such an arse of the subsequent cross. We ended the half with a series of corners that didn’t produce much more than a OumarNiasse effort that was gang-blocked by their defence but, come the end of the first forty five, we were having enough of the ball to suggest we were controlling the game. Which is correct, if you ignore the facts that they were creating the better chances and had scored an actual goal.

Second half, we started strongly and, I kid you not, we scored a goal too. We did! It had a pleasingly comic genesis as their left back, under no pressure at all, managed to stumble over his feet so effectively that he turned a Clucas cross going nowhere into a corner off the corner flag. Silly fellow, as we pointed out happily from right above him. From the corner Marković and Clucas combined, the cross eventually found it’s way to Maguire who flailed a leg at it and it did a strange sort of superball-type bounce as it evaded their keeper. 1-1 and how Big Harry larged it in front of the cavorting City goers!

We were doing well at this point, the goal seemed to settle us further and we looked the more likely, but chances remained hard to come by. But Maguire continued to move forward with purpose and link with Marković and Robertson and Kamel Grosicki, perhaps more sporadically did so on the left. I started to get that unexpectedly comfortable feeling that we were going to get a draw out of this and may be nick the win, and Swansea were losing and, O, you should never think like that, should you? it all started so innocently, with Saido Berahino and Charlie Adam withdrawn, my notes gleefully reporting this as ‘Adma – thoruoghly Pissed off!’ (spelling courtesy of the locally-based Titanic Brewery’s excellent ‘Iceberg’ ale, partaken of enthusiastically pre-match). And who should replace them but lovable beanpole Peter Crouch and former Tigerish division four rampager Jon Walters? And, rather surprisingly, they won the game.

Walters began to attack us down our right flank, which looked flaky every time we were put under any pressure, Big Harry looking comfy enough with the ball at his feet but not at all when on the retreat. Shaqiri got away, twisted and turned and produced a telling cross that Walters headed powerfully, but not enough so to defeat Jakupović, who reacted elastically to paw it away from goal and the in-gangling Crouch. Custodian of the leather! But the tide was by now undoubtedly on the turn and sure enough, our sand castles were about to be washed away. Walters again marauded down the left, with the cover blown and he plonked the ball over onto Crouch’s head who did what he’s done for the last dozen years at the top level and headed it home. I couldn’t help but wonder why, given that this was about as complicated a ploy as distracting a predator by pointing and saying ‘Isn’t that a unicorn over there?’ before running in the opposite direction, why Ranocchia seemed so utterly bemused by it and didn’t stick closer to the Premier League’s leading Ian Ormondroyd impersonator. 2-1.

We were in retreat now. We still had a threat moving forwards, but got no closer than a Grosicki shot-cum-centre that produced a decent save with Niasse unable to hasten onto the loose ball. All the action was at the other end as the grizzled warrior Walters again got free and headed against the bar. The belief had now drained away completely and once again our right side melted away. it didn’t seem to matter as we cleared it and it fell to Shaqiri, well covered by Robertson on our left. Robertson for some reason didn’t bother to close him down, Shaqiri, once he had got over his surprise, lashed a beautiful dipping effort over and past Jakupović. 3-1, game very much over.

It’s unclear to me why we are so poor away from home, so imperious in Hull. We could have done so much better today and had by far the better of what we might call the middle half, either side of the interval. Once we had done the hard part and drawn level, it seemed that we were the most likely to win, before we wilted at the sight of the iron grey head of Jonny Walters. Marco Silva has organised us so much better defensively that it was a surprise how poor we were today; every Stoke goal was well-wrought and beautifully executed, but each was very poorly defended by players who should do better.

Then again, look at Stoke. Berahino, Arnautović and Shaqiri are all impressive on the ball, Adam, Crouch and Walters have all done their thing at this level now for a lot of years. That seems to me to be a good hand of good players for a team which will breathe a sigh of relief if it finishes 13th. If we do get relegated, as we may, it might be because we are not good enough. We’ll see.

Mark Gretton (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Man C 3-1 City

ElmohamadyA16

Manchester City   3  Hull City  1

This was the calm after the storm, and the calm before the storm too. We showed resilience in beating West Ham, whereas shimmering excellence was on show in the dismissal of hapless Middlesbrough and, looking ahead to the five games that begin with the visit to Stoke next Saturday, expect plenty of thrills and combat as we confront opponents with which we can realistically compete. There was none of this frenetic joy on display yesterday. We were well beaten in East Manchester, sternly subdued by a palpably superior home side. Mr Silva has moulded his players in a way that has on occasion come close to bridging the gap that opens between the rich six and the rest, but in this match the billions dominated.

It was, in truth, a bit mundane.

A glorious bright Spring day and, still blighted by injury and suspension, City card:

                    Jakupović
Elmo  Dawson  Rannochia  Robertson
Marković  Clucas  N’Diaye  Grosicki
Evandro
Niasse

Doesn’t really look strong enough, does it? It wasn’t.

John Stones, the future of English football, succeeded in running down the tunnel without banging his head on it and was promptly rewarded with a new and improved contract, and the game was underway. Yaya Touré, David Silva, Leroy Sané and Jesus Navas … you would imagine we are not going to see a lot of the football, and so it proves. Midfield is theirs. Even the presence of second rater Fabian Delph, a delicate-looking physique in his Leeds and Aston Villa days who now looks to have been spending a lot of quality time in the company of his pharmacist, yields little to our hopes.

Meanwhile John Stones, the future of English football, saunters across the grass without tripping over his own feet and is promptly rewarded with a new and improved contract.

The Jak has saved impressively from willowy Sané after just three minutes and, a brief Grosicki adventure notwithstanding, the pattern of the play in the first quarter an hour is plain. Manchester City have the ball, cascade forward. We hang on. Grimly. And yet, as their collapse to Monaco in the European Cup demonstrated, Guardiola’s side is a great deal more impressive on the front foot than the back, and we glimpse a couple of chances. Robertson surges forward thunderously on 16, but a slack touch by the Scot brakes the momentum in a promising attacking position. Then, a minute later, Grosicki gains a good position to deliver a cross, but he too is let down by a sloppy touch.

Are we getting into this game? A bit. Possession will come only in crumbs, but that is wholly foreseen. As the half hour mark approaches, and our formation, founded mainly on the hard running and commitment of Clucas and Evandro in the centre of the park, looks relatively secure, there is room to nurture a sniff of optimism.

Which is brutally trampled underfoot.

On 28 a vicious free-kick from Touré is tipped over by the Jak, but two minutes later our gallant netman is beaten. It is a routine move down the right, a hopeful high ball towards the back post by Navas, and Elmo, serving up his all-too-familiar dopiness under pressure, simply allows the ball to cannon into him and back into the net.  Sigh. The man is just not a full-back. How we’ve missed, how we miss, Moses Odubajo.

The home side’s goal celebration is slightly sheepish, but John Stones, the future of English football, makes an imaginative contribution to it and is promptly rewarded with a new and improved contract.

A response is immediate, and we almost crash through the sky blue defence courtesy of an intricate passing move, but it’s blocked, and play is whipped at frightening speed up to the other end. David Silva blasts a shot over the bar, but in fact the football is transferred via Silva more often than not. In a team of high-class skilful ballplayers he stands high above all his team-mates – hugely gifted, but always aware of the play around him, never dwelling on the ball, always moving, always thinking. This generation of Spanish midfielders has given us so much to admire. It is not possible to be better than Iniesta, nor can you improve on Xavi, but it is in that exalted company that David Silva belongs.

One added minute, and the clock ticks down to half time.

John Stones, the future of English football, pours the tea with an elegant flick of his chiselled wrist and is promptly rewarded with a new and improved contract.

The second half is just the ninety seconds old before Man City score again, and place the game far beyond our reach. Raheem Sterling races aggressively down the right, penetrates deep inside the box, crosses low and hard. Jakupović pushes the ball out but it trundles loose to Agűero at the back post, who has time for a touch before he forces it over the line from six yards out. Flailing defensive limbs are to no avail. There is not a trace of glee from the scorer. Agűero stalks sullenly away, looking as if he had the winner of the Grand National but has lost the betting slip. Did poor diddums get dropped by the nasty manager? Boo hoo.

Sterling has lately been the subject of an industrial strength campaign in the printed media designed to persuade that he is not in fact the spoiled sneering brat of popular imagination, but in truth a fast maturing young man of dignity and respect. It almost seems like a carefully engineered plot to induce plutocrat sponsors and advertisers to court him with immediate effect. The modern game! I hate it. There are, however, few things in football more thrilling than an exocet-paced winger stripping a full back bare and supplying crosses to his strikers, and Sterling showed enough ability in that vein during this game to explain just why so much cash is shovelled in his direction.

‘I can do that too’, thinks John Stones, the future of English football, as he displays international-class languor in taking a quick swig from a water bottle, and he is promptly rewarded with a new and improved contract.

Sterling rips clear down the right once again and squares to Sané, whose shot is saved by the Jak’s legs. Tough going now. We are struggling even to get a touch.

Clucas and Evandro, both surely leg weary after an afternoon chasing the ball and rarely finding it, are subbed, replaced by Henriksen and Hernandez, as we switch to a more orthodox 4-4-2. But damage limitation is the target now, and damage there certainly is that needs limiting.  Decent preparatory work from Sterling again pulls our defence out of shape, and Delph is given an inviting amount of time to pick his spot and drive a shot across the Jak and inside the far corner of the rippling net.

John Stones, the future of English football, runs up breathlessly and tells his team-mates ‘That’s three goals we’ve scored now, I can count lads, I did it at school and once I did some sums with crayons as well’ and is promptly rewarded with a new and improved contract.

Curse me for over-praising the ghastly Delph – or for praising him at all – but there was an echo in his thumping strike of Falcao’s goal in the Brazil v Italy game in 1982, albeit that Delph was left side of the box, whereas Falcao was right side when he smites the cross-shot. (Highlights here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3th82ZfFsUg – but find the whole match if you have some time to spare, there has never been a better one).

With half an hour left we are staring in dismay not only at defeat but also at malevolent harm to our goal difference. But Man City kindly remove David Silva, and immediately the pace of the game drops several notches. Should we stay up, level on points but a goal or two better off than Swansea, then this is the moment it was secured. So, thank you Pep. You are by no means the only top six manager who looks like a close cousin of the Addams Family, but here you showed us welcome mercy.

So the game drifts towards its conclusion in suitably half-paced style. And yet, what’s this, we’ve scored! It is at the far end from the cheerful City support, but it’s deft stuff: Grosicki down the left finds Maloney, on for Niasse, and his cut-back is rolled first-time beyond Bravo by Ranocchia.

3-1. Five minutes left, plus added time. Now, if we could somehow nick another goal Mr Guardiola will be urgently flicking through the rulebook to find a way to get Silva back on the pitch. A mask perhaps: ‘no ref, honest, it’s Vincent Kompany coming on, he’s lost a lot of weight, err vertical weight’. I would suppose that John Stones, the future of English football, would be the man to come off, and in my view the talent so evident in the way he waves to the crowd should lead to the prompt reward of a new and improved contract. However, as it turns out, there is no need for panic measures. We are not able to damage the home side again, and, with three minutes added at the end, the game cruises serenely to its conclusion.

So it goes. We never seriously expected this fixture to offer a route to salvation from relegation, and in the event it never seriously looked like doing so. More manageable tests await us now, beginning next week with the trip to the Potteries. Happily, all being well, we will be able to welcome back Tom Huddlestone from suspension and Harry Maguire from injury. Harry Maguire! A considerably better young English centre back than some I could mention.

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

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 4 Middlesbrough 2

MaguireH

Half an hour to go. City are still 3-2 up in what feels like a season-defining game. Three hundred miles away in south Wales, Swansea are winning too. If it stays like this, then we’ve at least won two crucial home matches in five days, even if we would remain in the bottom three.

Half an hour to go. I’m more nervous than I’ve been at a match for ages. Middlesbrough, for all their limitations, are not lying down yet. Our manager has changed the tactics so that we’re no longer pressing forward, but are deliberately holding on. This makes some sense. We don’t need to score another. But my nerves are being frayed.

Half an hour to go. If every match stays as it is then the league would look like it had been ordered by a mildly OCD geography teacher working her way down the east coast. Newcastle top of the Championship, then Sunderland bottom of the Premier, then Middlesbrough, then Hull.

Twenty minutes to go, City – kicking towards the North Stand in the second half – have a freekick about 35 yards out, left of centre. Andy Robertson swings in a deep cross. Harry Maguire, running in unmarked behind the Boro defenders, directs a header from a tight angle just inside the opposite post. It’s 4-2.Middlesbrough have already surprised themselves by scoring two goals in a league game for the first time. They’re not going to get another. We can relax, revel in the win, and wait for Spurs to score 3 goals in the last couple of minutes to beat Swansea.

Easing City at long last out of the relegation zone were:

Jakupović; Elmohamady; Ranocchia; Maguire; Robertson; Marković; N’Diaye; Clucas; Grosicki; Hernández; Niasse

This game had it all –  the atmosphere of a night match at the Circle boosted by a capacity away section, controversial refereeing decisions, a scoreline that ebbed and flowed, and a stylish performance that ranks as City’s best since Marco Silva got off the plane from Portugal some three months back.

From the off there was no time to catch your breath. Attacking the South Stand, City won a corner in the first minute. A couple of minutes later Lazar Marković is through on goal but elects to play in Oumar Niasse, who slots the ball home but is flagged offside. A relieved Middlesbrough break at pace, the excellent  Adama Traoré twists Robertson this way and that before whipping in a low cross that is swept home by Negredo at the far post.

And Boro have matched their 2017 average of one league goal a month already.

But it’s only 4 minutes in, and City under Marco Silva have turned the Circle into the proverbial fortress.

Boro have scored too early. They’ve rattled our cage, and we respond with calm precision. By half time, City have put three goals past Valdés in the Middlesbrough goal.

First the superb Marković gets his first City goal, slamming home a loose ball from a couple of yards out following a goalmouth scramble involving Abel Hernández, two of their defenders and the keeper.

Then City get two more, one either side of the half hour mark, one each for our two centre forwards. On 26 minutes, Niasse latches onto an Alfred N’Diaye header and slips it past the keeper. A few minutes later a classic Maguire forward run sees our captain play a smart ball through to Kamil Grosicki who advances into the box before knocking it across for Hernández to score.

And we are playing with pace, commitment and skill. This is a barnstormer of a game, it’s passionate, tackles fly in, and we have fast, forward-looking players capable of breaking at pace.

Nor are Middlesbrough just here to play the victim. Especially after our third goal you can sense their realisation that Premier League survival might well depend on not losing this match. They are fighting for their top-flight lives, and in the latter part of the first half, it shows. Eldin Jakupović tips the ball over impressively as Boro press. If they can get one back before half-time, then the second half begins to look more difficult.

Thanks to the officials, particularly assistant referee Mick McDonough – of Northumberland, no less –  Middlesbrough do pull one back on the stroke of half time. Following a corner, City’s defenders move forward leaving at least two, may be three, Boro players offside as the ball is played back in for one of them to head home. The offside looks obvious from my East Stand vantage. Referee Michael Oliver is in enough doubt to consult at length with his assistant, perhaps mindful that the same official had been widely berated for missing an offside when Manchester United equalised against Liverpool in January. But the goal stands. Happily for City, and Mr McDonough, the officials’ error didn’t prove decisive in the end.

The East Stand welcomes the linesman back to his beat with a chorus of boos as City start the second half with a precarious 3-2 lead. Cue Boro pressure, and City’s more defensive tactics as we hold on to what we have. Hernández goes off injured early doors to be replaced by Evandro, but this could as easily have been a tactical move as the manager tightens up our play and the Brazilian’s busy confidence suits a more compact formation.

For 20 minutes or so, we hold on but the lead remains just one goal. Then comes Robertson’s free-kick, Maguire’s first ever Premier League goal, and a two goal cushion that always seems enough.

To cap it all, with the final whistle nearing, there’s a rising crescendo of cheering, starting in the North Stand, as word comes through that Spurs have equalised at Swansea … no, hang on, they’ve only gone and got a winner. You what? It’s 3-1 to Spurs? You having a laugh? This is almost last-day-of-the-season stuff, as mobiles are checked and sums done, to confirm that City are at last out of the bottom three.

Post-match, there are two particular takeaways from this terrific evening’s football. One celebratory, the other cautionary.

The celebratory is how well every City player played. Trying to think of anyone who had a bad game, the best I could come up with was that Robertson looked a bit shaky for ten minutes or so after being beaten by Traoré’s trickery for the opening goal, and that Grosicki is looking a little too desperate to score, blasting over a couple of times when a simple lay-off might have proved more fruitful. But this is nit-picking. From front to back everyone had a good game.

I’ll pick out Marković because he’s been startlingly half-hearted in some earlier performances. Today he chased, he roamed freely across the front line, he scored, he even won the odd tackle. Credit must go to Silva for persevering with Marković and sorting out his attitude.

Maguire and Andrea Ranocchia continue to look an assured centre half pairing, and a goal each in the last couple of games adds to their contribution. Worryingly, Maguire limped off towards the end. But at least he was replaced by the returning Michael Dawson (best defender at the club in my view).

Man of the Match deservedly went to Sam Clucas, an absolute revelation this season in the midfield holding role, and stepping into it with aplomb while Tom Huddlestone is suspended. His close control is a joy to watch. I’ve not counted up, but he will surely have clocked up the most performances of any City player this season so far? There’s a measure of the man.

But let’s dampen the mood a little to finish. The other thought that I had leaving the ground was how much tonight’s match reminded me of the night two years ago when we beat Liverpool at the KC. Like tonight, it was the second of two games in five April days. Like tonight, City had won the first one, knocking two goals past a London club too as it happens. Like tonight, the crucial goal came from our captain, a centre half scoring his first Premier League goal for the club. Like tonight, City fans streamed away from the stadium confident that we had what it would take to secure our top flight future. A few weeks later we were relegated.

It’s been a great few days for City. The victory against Middlesbrough was massive, and this midweek round of fixtures went well as far as other results are concerned too. But we’re not safe yet.

Ed Bacon (report first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

MATCH REPORT: City 2-1 West Ham

SilvaMarco

Hull City’s home games feel like a knockout competition at this stage in the season. If there is any hope of avoiding “Prexit” then any slip-up is unaffordable. With three minutes left of normal time, hope was fading fast but then we delivered Article 87. From the boot of Kamil Grosicki to the head of Andrea Ranocchia and lived to fight another day.

Marco Silva made two changes from the defeat at Everton before the international break. Elabdellaoui was injured and Tom Huddlestone, wrongly, suspended. Clucas dropped deeper to replace Tom with Niasse returning after missing the game against his parent club.

Jakupović
Maguire – Ranocchia – Davies
Elmo – Marković – Clucas – N’Diaye – Robertson
Niasse – Hernández

Feeling all home games are “must win” brings great pressure and that pressure was too much for City in the first half. It weighed on the players who could barely make a pass at times and looked uncomfortable playing three at the back against one centre forward limiting options further up the field. Niasse worked hard to run the channels and, despite his clumsy first tough, was effective while Clucas put in his usual incredible shift but the rest rated from abysmal to anonymous.

West Ham had already spurned a great chance when Robert Snodgrass, who was booed heavily throughout the half, headed straight at Jakupović when he was in acres of space (because he looked miles offside) when Andy Carroll gave them a lead. Carroll was the best player on the pitch by a mile. He met everything tossed forward, turned every cross into the box into a worrying situation and headed every corner and free-kick we put into their box. They were a pretty average side but Carroll and our generosity in allowing them time and space to put in each cross improved them immeasurably. On 17, they chucked in another cross, Davies completely misjudged it in the air and Carroll pulled off him, controlled it and smacked it past Jakupovic [0-1].

No response came from City. Move broke down in midfield too often to sustain any pressure in their third. There was a fair shout for a penalty when ‘keeper Randolph dribbled out under pressure and then appeared to kick Hernández who’d nicked the ball away from him. Clucas made a great run from deep and exchanged passes with Niasse who just failed to get on the end of his clever backheel. That really was the sum of our efforts.

The full backs were poor. Davies didn’t recover from his costly error. N’Diaye wasn’t effective in or out of possession. Marković was floating about taking the odd nice touch but generally avoiding anything that looked like hard work. We were in trouble.

Half time: Hull City 0 West Ham 1

Marco Silva doesn’t always get his team selection right but he’s quick to accept it and looks for a solution to problems. He hooked Davies at half time and introduced Grosicki to make a 4-4-2 formation. It didn’t suddenly change the game and we were grateful to Ranocchia for two crucial challenges early in the half but it did give us pace on the break and balance across the midfield and that game in handy as we levelled on 53.

Marković broke superbly into their half and found Grosicki with a nice ball across the field, Grosicki looked to come inside the defender, his touch was slightly heavy and Robertson who’d not stopped supporting raced onto the touch, steadied himself and finished low across Randolph [1-1].

Chances followed at both ends. Carroll rose to meet Cresswell’s high cross but headed straight at Jakupović. A huge let off. Niasse and Hernandez then combined nicely to send Marković racing into the box but he just couldn’t decide what to do and ran out of pitch. We kept the pressure on from the goal kick and Niasse worked his way into the box and forced a challenge that diverted the ball to N’Diaye who lashed a shot against the near post. The rebound fell for Grosicki who beat a defender, steadied himself, gave the ‘keeper the eyes and then missed.

Mike Jones, who’s surely the worst referee in the Premier League, then took centre stage as the game became a slog. He waved away our appeals for a penalty after Maguire fell under a challenge from a corner. Maguire had a great opportunity to shoot inside the six yard box on an angle, I’ve no idea why he’d fall if not fouled. A blatant handball by Kouyate outside the penalty area was missed while Niasse and Carroll were booked for very little.

The ‘ammers looked the most likely side to find a winner. We’d lost all ability to pass the ball to each other again and handed them the initiative. We defended well from a myriad of set pieces and long throw ins. Silva responded by introducing Henriksen and Maloney for N’Diaye and Hernández. Henriksen looked as rusty as you might expect but the subs refreshed City and we were able to build a little momentum in their half leading to some opportunities to deliver a ball in.

Grosicki wasted some of those opportunities, most obviously from one of the worst free kicks you’ll ever see. But in the 87th minute, he whipped a corner into the near post and Ranocchia stopped to power a header past Randolph [2-1]. Bloody foreigners. Coming over here, saving our season!

The six minutes of added time was uneventful save for Ranocchia killing Feghouli under the nose of the Ref who waved play-on. That cemented Ranocchia as man of the match for me.

Full time: Hull City 2 West Ham 1

It might seem over-dramatic to relegate City as soon as they fail to win a home game but it’s very hard to see any other scenario. With Spurs to come on the final day, winning the next three home games would take us to 36 points. That’s got to be the minimum required to have a chance of finishing above three other teams. Unfortunately, away points have not been forthcoming and that doesn’t look likely to change.

Marco Silva’s been dealt a poor hand with his fixtures away from home. He’s already taken City to Chelsea, Man Utd, Arsenal, Leicester and Everton and has Man City, Stoke and Southampton to follow. Crystal Palace away in the penultimate match of the season will be his only trip to a bottom half side – if they’re still in the bottom half by then.

So we cling to Marco Silva’s remarkable record of six wins and a draw from seven games at the KC in all competitions. Given where we were when we arrived I’m grateful that we have anything to cling to at all.

Rick Skelton (first posted on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Everton 4 City 0

HuddlestoneTh

Quarter of an hour to go in an absorbing game of football, and City, a goal down, are pressing eagerly for an equaliser, only for demented referee Paul Tierney to interpret a tackle by Tom Huddlestone that is clumsy, but no worse than that, as instead a straight red-card. Off troops Tom, dejected, up perk Everton, grateful, and a second goal against our depleted ten men follows shortly afterwards, compounded by two cruelly unnecessary additions to the scoreline in added time by burly Geordie frontman Lukaku.

Ah, the injustice!

No.

NO NO NO.

No injustice. Sad to report.

True, the sending off was harsh and, who knows, maybe we’d’ve scratched our way to a point had Huddlestone been spared. But we played feebly yesterday. Shredded frequently in defence, despite the return of Curtis Davies having allowed Mr Silva to card his preferred trio of centre backs, second best from start to finish in midfield where N’Diaye was useless (again) and Markovic little better (again), and shorn of any threat up front where poor Hernandez was forced to skulk around on his own with not a scrap of service.

No, there was nothing absorbing about this game. Just as at Leicester two weeks ago, we were visibly the inferior side and had no evident idea about how to compensate for it, from start to finish. We played like a sullen and moody side destined for relegation. It’s a good job our home form has been so strong since Mr Silva’s arrival because make no mistake, we are going down if we play as meekly as this through April and May.

A grey and drizzly afternoon on Merseyside brings us a 5-4-1 (ish):

Jakupovic
Rannochia   Maguire  Davies
Elabdellaoui                                                 Robertson
Markovic  N’Diaye   Huddlestone  Clucas
Hernandez

You might think that is asking a lot of the midfield if anything other than hanging on desperately is on the agenda. And you’d be right. Though we didn’t hang on, desperately or otherwise.

It only takes the home side 8 minutes to open the scoring. We are prised apart at the back with practised ease down our left as Robertson waves in vain for an imaginary offside, the ball is squared by Tom Davies, the breaking midfielder, to the back post where one Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who sounds as if he should be a showjumper, bundles the ball home gleefully from close range.

We manage a break of our own in response, and then another, but it leads only to a Markovic shot patted high over the bar. It’s poor fare, and we give the ball away repeatedly. That can’t be the plan, and although Everton are a decent pressing side, we’ve survived in much better style than this recently at Old Trafford, the Emirates and at Stamford Bridge. The cohesion and confidence of Silva 1.0 has gone woefully adrift. In truth, and depressingly, this looks like a Mike Phelan team today – worthy enough, but horribly limited and devoid of any flair or creativity.

In midfield Tom Davies, a floppy faired fop of a youth baited mercilessly in Hull over Christmas for his frailities and petulance, appears in the space of two or so months to have been converted into a mobile pass-and-give midfielder of immense promise. Burly Geordie frontman Lukaku is a menace, strong and willing, while even Ross Barkley, the very model of the modern footballer, all flash and cash and no application, looks better than ours.

Clucas has a sniff of goal on 37 but shoots too high, and the half drifts to a close with the one crumb of consolation lying in the fact we’re just the one goal behind.

Second half, and more shapeless broken play. What a poor match.

On 52 we win two corners in a row and Robertson’s delivery is atrocious for both of them. Our performance all afternoon summed up in one brief passage of play – sloppy, inattentive and just not good enough. Why do we insist on giving away possession? The support play for the man on the ball is poor, but so is the simple business of passing. N’Diaye? Hello? Mr N’Diaye? You’re getting paid for this, I believe.

Lukaku shoots over the bar on 54. A fast paced break soon after allows the burly Geordie frontman another opportunity, hurtling in at pace from the right, but this time Jak saves, tipping a fierce shot over the crossbar.

Grosicki gets his chance, replacing Davies as we switch to an orthodox back two in central defence, but the pattern changes little. On 72 Robertson, in an advanced position inside their box, stretches for a cross but can only divert the ball into the near-side side-netting. This is so very scrappy.

Then Huddlestone gets sent off.

It is harsh. It’s yellow at best. It is also a daft challenge. It invites the referee to make a mistake.

The ten men hang tough and dogged for all of three minutes, before Valencia sweeps through a static defence, exchanges passes with burly Geordie frontman Lukaku, which sets up Valencia for a too-easy finish past the exposed Jak.

Bah. 2-0. Done. Dusted.

Abel, entitled to feel thoroughly fed up at his wasted and solitary afternoon, comes off for Dio, Markovic is replaced by Elmo.

Ball boys and home fans slow the game down by refusing to return the ball when it leaves the pitch, and City players and fans protest at the mischief. We should be protesting at ourselves. In a sense, we are.

There are four added minutes at the end of the 90 and burly Geordie frontman Lukaku scores in the first and the fourth of them: the first courtesy of a defence that has given up and simply lets him run through the middle, the second the result of a quite brilliantly weighted and directed defensive-splitting crossfield ball by, err, Elabdellaoui.

Bah. We’ve had some bad ones at Goodison in the Premier League. 2-0 when Fellaini played exclusively with his elbows, unpunished throughout, a 5-1 horsing notable for a superb Tom Cairney strike and 89 minutes of tame surrender, and now this. Bah. We trudged damply downhill from the ground to Lime Street feeling pretty morose about our prospects of staying up this season.