FEATmatch

REPORT: Blackburn 3 City 0

MarshallD

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

Marshall
Kane Mazuch McKenzie Kingsley
Henrik Stewart
Bowen Evandro Grosicki
Martin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Villa 2 City 2

BowenJ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dominic Fellowes (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 3 Sheffield W 0

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

And yet …

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

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

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

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

Because it won’t last.

Off we go!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s no rescue for the travelling support.

But there is more gloom.

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Millwall 2 City 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Gardham (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: QPR 2 City 3

Hull City's Jarrod Bowen celebrates his goal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Lockwood (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Birmingham 3 City 3

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

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

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

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

Making us dare to hope were the following:-

                                    Marshall

        Burke            Elphick            De Wijs            Lichaj

Bowen         Batty         Henriksen          Irvine            Grosicki

                                    Campbell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: Bolton 0 City 1

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

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

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

Marshall
Lichaj Elphick McKenzie Kingsley
Batty
Bowen Henriksen Irvine Groscki
FraizerCampbell

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

Football, tell us about the football, Steve!

OK. It wasn’t very good. Sorry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

ParkinJon

NOSTALGIA: City 1 Leeds 0, 2005-06

TaylorPeter830

In readiness for tonight’s game, we look back at City’s first victory over Leeds United in 18 years, which took place on April Fool’s Day, 2006. It’s an apposite example of the fixture to remember, as a) City won; and b) the scorer of the winning goal was Jon Parkin, who is currently flogging a very well-received autobiography, and who mentions the game fondly in the chapter about his time with the Tigers. The match report pre-dates this version of the Amber Nectar website and appeared solely on the Tiger Chat mailing list. It was written by Stephen Weatherill.

So, 77 minutes into an absorbing and frequently thrilling game of football, and Craig Fagan picks up the ball and wheels into space, looking for a pass. Stuart Green has made a supremely intelligent run into space down the right and Fagan transfers the ball skilfully to the sunny Cumbrian. His touch is sure, and his cross is a delicious looping invitation to a man sliding into position at the back post with the predatory instincts of a panther and the physical presence of a tyrannosaurus rex: it is the Beast and he leaps high, hangs in the air as if borne on the wings of an angel and thuds a perfectly judged header into the sodden turf, whence it bounces past the exposed Sullivan in the visiting goal, and wins us the game.

Wins us the game! Wins us all the three points, and completely banishes relegation fears as our club’s dizzily progressive ascent up the league continues.

And sends evil Leeds whimpering homewards like a whipped cur.

There will be more on the richly well-deserved fate of the vile Wessies. Much more. But though the essence of football is usually that the joy of witnessing the opposition cowed, tamed and defeated exceeds the pleasure of victory – and never more so than on derby day – I will dwell for a moment on the excellence of our team. We have improved so much through the course of this season. From the team that began the season, fresh and lively but looking out of its depth against the stronger sides well established in this division, we have moved on and re-shaped into a team that is convincingly at home in this standard of football, solid at the back, awkward in midfield, and dangerous up front, and heading more-or-less for midtable. This victory was thoroughly deserved: we were the stronger, more effective side from start to finish, and Sullivan had to work a great deal harder than Myhill. And roll on 2006-2007: we haven’t stopped improving yet.

WEEEEEEE!!!!!!!

Myhill
Thelwell Cort Delaney Rogers
Green Welsh Andrews Ellison
Fagan Parkin

And on 2 minutes we were treated to a reminder of just what dark forces were ranged against us. Unpleasant bullboy Rob Hulse committed an outrageous shove, right in front of the linesman. This was ignored, but moments later, when Hulse himself was tripped, the whistle was promptly blown and we were facing a free-kick on the edge of the box, invitingly located for sly Leeds. A firm strike, a sprawling Myhill save. Game on: but it won’t be a fair one. It never is with wicked Leeds.

We scored on 8, a sumptuous left-foot Beast volley leaving an awestruck Sullivan clutching thin air as the ball whistled past him, but the linesman had flagged for offside early, and correctly. But the signs were already encouraging. The Leeds back four looked creaky. Butler and Gregan made a thuggish but one-paced pair of centre-backs. Fagan, fizzing with energy and ideas, was already showing speed enough to terrify them, while the pattern of play on New Year’s Eve, when we’d got outmuscled and ultimately grew
dispirited, had no chance of being repeated. Because now we’’ve got the Beast. Leeds had as much joy in taming Parkin as has everyone else since he joined us from Macc. No joy at all.

I wouldn’t know how you do stop the Beast. Try and climb all over him and he just absorbs the pressure and holds the ball. Stand off, and his first touch is so confident that he simply turns and passes. A superb player.

On 16 a defensive shambles allowed Ellison to turn and shoot. The ball was deflected but lost its pace and Sullivan had time to adjust and make the save. We are the better side.

Disgusting Leeds are playing some sort of a 3-4-3, with Hulse alone up front, the initially impressive Eddie Lewis, of the land of the free and the torturing, wide on the left and fatso Robbie Blake on the right. Lank-haired Sean Derry as the notional playmaker. And they look poor. They do create a serious moment of alarm on 25 when Lewis and the feeble Liam Miller combine down the left and a low cross lays on an inviting opportunity for Blake in the middle, but his effort is woeful and flies high and wide. It’s their best chance of the half.

On 35 Fagan touches the ball on to Parkin, who executes a breathtaking backheel into the path of Green surging into the box …. A powerful shot, a leaping save. This is seriously good football. On 38 the bustling Ellison feeds Fagan, whose cross reaches the Beast … he heads goalwards, but the ball is defected wide. We’re well on top. At the end of the half there are two added minutes and the closest call of the whole first 45 arrives right at the end of them. Cort, marauding forward, wins a throw-in in an advanced position. Fagan takes possession, turns deftly and fires in a powerful low cross which Parkin meets six yards out and, under despairing defensive pressure, he shoves the ball goalwards. It would be past Sullivan if it were not for the pure bad luck that it’s hit straight at him;– the ball cannons off Sullivan’’s knees and out to safety before the bemused Londoner realises what’s hit him.

Half-time. 0-0. Cracking stuff.

Gets better.

But not initially. Grey clouds and rain showers blow in from the west, and the second half begins with a degree of passivity from our team which offers a worrying reminder of how we surrendered so meekly at Elland Road in December. Happily it doesn’t last. On 52 Fagan does well down the right but his cross is mis-hit by Green. No danger to snide Leeds. Oo but it’s lively now. Derry shoots – just wide. Fagan races forward, tries to dribble through three of them. Can’t quite manage it.

The game is terrific now. On 63, Blake shoots – just over. 64, Fagan shreds grisly Leeds down the right but when the ball reaches the Beast in a crowded goalmouth he is momentarily nonplussed and the chance is gone. Immediately after, Cort soars and heads goalwards, only to suffer as Sullivan swoops on the ball down low by his own feet. Then, on 68, Ellison is clearly fouled in the box, but no penalty is given and smelly Leeds whisk the ball clear and upfield at high speed, deep inside our half and then our box, Blake sets up Miller, but he screw a dismal effort well wide of Boaz’’s goal.

Crikey, this is good. And we’re besting them without any help from referee Ilderton. Fussy, prancing, and inclined to prefer the away team in case of doubt. Gah. I like Mr Howard Webb but otherwise refereeing is a dying art. Graham Poll to the World Cup? Come on. Still, I’’m pleased to see that nice German dentist on the list. I like him too.

Back to Mr Ilderton. He booked the Beast for Being Tall, and at that moment I feared our talisman might be withdrawn. He was getting frustrated with the absence of refereeing protection from the increasingly desperate attempts of the thieving Leeds players to hound him, harry him and generally foul him. It looked as if Butler could have taken a machete to assault the Beast and Mr Ilderton would have smilingly waved play on.

Of course, the machete would have finished up hopelessly out of shape.

And the Beast stayed on. And he scored the winner. Talisman, genius, goal-maker, goal-scorer. Ours.

Elliott had replaced the doughty Ellison on 70, and now, one up, our job was to keep a grip on the game as the increasingly eager Leeds players threw everything into a desperate late surge designed to keep the flickers of their automatic promotion aspirations alive. Or so you would have thought. In fact, Leeds had looked poorly-led and lacking urgency all afternoon, and that didn’t change even after they’d found themselves a goal down. We remained the superior side in the time that remained. Cort, bloodied, had
been off for treatment, but he returned to dominate aerially and resist malicious but futile Leeds attacks. The visitors could do with a player of Cort’’s ability and honesty. But playing it straight has never been the Leeds way.

On 82, Sullivan tipped a chipped Andrews free-kick around the post. Paynter came on for Green, and we approached the 90th minute looking more in control than you would have expected. Ha! Not so easy, my friend, we are Hull City after all. And we dropped deep, and we wasted possession, and Andrews tripped one of theirs on the edge of the box.

Urgh. Don’t fancy this one. But David Healy, on as a sub, hit a useless shot wide, and we were into the final added-on 4 with our lead intact. C’’mon City! 4 became 6 as referee Ilderton adopted a strategy of giving resentful Leeds every opportunity to level the scores, but, aside from a Hulse shot on the turn that flew two feet too high, they were simply not good enough.

Or we were too good. We are getting steadily better, I’’ve said that already, but it is so deeply, warmingly true. Rancid Leeds offer a reliable benchmark: we competed with them for 45 minutes three months ago, but then fell away. This time, we beat them and deserved to, and this at a time when you would suppose sneering Leeds had far greater incentives to tuck into the game aggressively than we did. There were excellent performances all over the pitch from the Tigs, but I think Stuart Green deserves special mention. Six or so weeks ago and you couldn’t imagine him ever looking worth a regular place in this Division and yet now he is an obvious pick: committed, skilful, determined. Young and getting better.

Final whistle, exultation on three sides of our ground, save only for those sad souls who scurried away head down in dismay, revealed as sporadic cancerous Leeds infiltrators by their failure to celebrate when City scored. Misery is your reward, and a righteous one. Leeds United Football Club is a vindictive pit of hate, but they haven’t got any more points tonight than they had at the start of the day. Cos we’’ve got ‘’em.

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 1 Middlesbrough 1

Hull City's Jarrod Bowen celebrates his goal

It was a poor game! We didn’t lose it! Break out the bunting, crack open the champagne, put on your dancing shoes! A point at home, the very summit of our haunted ambitions nowadays.

Mr Adkins once again shuffled both formation and personnel – he clearly has no sense of his preferred starting eleven, though, to be fair, none of the starting elevens he has chosen to field so far this season has made any sort of compelling case to be treated as the real and consistent deal – and so we lined up as a 5-3-2. Sort of.

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

That looks dangerously stretched across midfield, but I think the idea was that Grosicki would play on the front foot when we are in possession but that he would drop back and help the midfield when Boro have the ball. Occasionally he did. But mostly he wandered around, once again looking like a man eager for his agent to call and say ‘I’ve landed a loan deal at Nantes/ Trabzonspor/ Vitesse Arnhem, pack your bags Kamil’. Chris Martin, by contrast, would never be accused of indolence, but would equally never be mistaken for a player with the extravagant gifts that Grosicki possesses (but largely hides). I always thought that if it had been possible to combine the power and athleticism of Jozy Altidore with the first touch, hold-up play and profound footballing nous of Jan Vennegor of Hesselink, then we’d’ve had a worldbeater. Similarly a meld of Martin’s willing attitude and Grosicki’s sublime touch would be a sight to relish, but as Jeff Goldblum in The Fly reminds us, we don’t yet quite have the perfect technology to achieve this metamorphosis. All of which is a roundabout way of telling you that, one, we didn’t offer much of a goal threat in this match and, two, I am in no rush to trouble you with any information about the actual football. Because it was dross, especially across a careworn first half.

But off we go, on a lovely bright sunny afternoon and Middlesbrough in all white, to avoid that always unfortunate amber versus red colour clash. We start well. Ball down the left, neat interplay and pressure, headed over by Bowen. On 9 a low shot by Henriksen, just past Randolph’s right hand post. Middlesbrough shape up and improve, and the game settles into a pattern of equality.

It’s pretty dull, to be honest. Not much happening. The stadium is largely silent, a few squeaks from the visiting fans in the northeast corner aside. But we’re used to that, aren’t we? The decline of our club is unavoidable reality, and any sense of anticipation or glee of a matchday has long since been crushed under the Allam boot. Well done, Ehab, you really have won.

De Wijs limps off, and is replaced by Kingsley. He goes to left back, so Lichaj is pulled inside to play as the left sided centre back. That, I think, means that Lichaj has played in both full back positions as well as centre back already this season. Impressive versatility. He is by far our best acquisition of the summer.
Three added minutes, half time. 0-0. A few people applaud. I can only imagine they had backed the winner of the Cambridgeshire or were perhaps celebrating a Rory McIlroy putt. That football deserved no applause.

Into the second half, and on 46 George Friend runs inside, cuts on to his right foot and shoots over our bar. The visiting fans celebrate with delirium and gusto, and I wonder if they, like so many before them at West Brom, Palace and Stoke, have learned that Tony Pulis sides don’t do joy, don’t do width, don’t do intricacy, in fact don’t do anything at all that a normal fan wants to watch, and so pleasure must be taken on the rare occasions it is glimpsed – here, a shot off target.

On 49 Lichaj’s run feeds Grosicki, but his cross is poor. And then Middlesbrough score.

It’s a Pulis kind of a goal. Ball lumped in from wide on the right by Howson, sails all the way to the back post, and it’s turned in by Assombalonga. Marshall could maybe have been quicker off his line, but it’s Burke who seems to lose Assambalonga. It probably looks worse defending than it actually is – it’s not so easy to defend these lofted crossfield balls when they travel right over central defence and all the way to the back post – but not for the first time I worry that Burke just doesn’t have the instincts of a proper defender. If that had been Peter Skipper, both football and Mr Britt Assombalonga would have been transported at high velocity in the general direction of Swanland. You’ve got to attack the ball and get there first. Burke didn’t, Burke doesn’t.

A minute later it’s almost two, as the ball is given away wastefully, but Marshall rescues the situation with a good save. Soon after, a monster throw by the impressive Ryan Shotton, a chance from a header, but Aden Flint’s effort sails just over the top, kissing the woodwork on its way.

Anyone who’s tuned in to this dismal Hull City season so far has at this point closed off their expectations with a resigned sigh and a dispirited shrug. We are losing. So we will lose.

And yet …  Middlesbrough impress not at all, and offer us a way back into the game. On 63 a Grosicki free-kick is saved low to Randolph’s right. Then on 67 a decent shout for a penalty is turned down only, a moment later, to be followed by a scarcely credible shout for a penalty, as Martin, shielding the ball well, then throws himself at the nearest defender and collapses to the turf. Referee England gives it. I wouldn’t have.

Randolph dives westwards, Bowen whisks his shot southeastwards, and the game is level.

It is quite a lot better than the dismal first half. Grosicki is removed in favour of Campbell, who runs on very fast in approved sub-making-an-entry manner, though he never quite manages to run as fast again and he has little impact on the game. For ten minutes or so Middlesbrough press forward, but with little guile, and it is not difficult for City, tucking in, to repel them. Then, as we enter the last ten, tide turns, we are slightly the better side. The game seems to be ticking down remorselessly to a draw, but on 89 a cross is stood up invitingly inside our box and a firm header looks likely to win for the visitors, only for Marshall to conjure up a quite superb save, diving full length and low to his right. Man of the season so far, by a distance, is Scottish internationalist David Marshall.

Three minutes added, and we are indebted to a sturdy block from Lichaj as Boro look for an undeserved winner. 1-1 it is.

So it finishes. There’s the Championship for you. A team skulking around the lower reaches brings an opponent aiming at automatic promotion to a standstill. It is, we are frequently told, such a competitive league, and therein lies its appeal. Well, it didn’t feel very appealing yesterday afternoon as two dour and limited sides plugged their way to a stalemate. Not a hint of joy or wit. But that really is the Championship. Just occasionally a side with flair and energy emerges, usually as a result of the availability of unfeasibly large injections of resources (Wolves last year), but most of the time there is not much to choose between the lot of them, and recent seasons have regularly seen limited but well drilled and effectively managed sides lurch unconvincingly to promotion (Cardiff last year, Huddersfield the year before and, err, Hull City the year before that). Middlesbrough may make it this year. We won’t, of course, but the frustration of yesterday was the reminder that all you need to make an impression on this Division is a modestly well organised club with stability and owners who do sensible things, not stupid things. If only …

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)