FEATmatch

REPORT: Rotherham 2 City 3

IrvineJ

Goal-line technology has been such a welcome innovation added to the English game of late. Not only does it guarantee correct decisions, and as we saw at the World Cup, being correct wins every time (!), but it has consequences pleasing on the eye – the eighth-of-an-inch graphics we see on our TV screens, the opportunity for a referee to point to the spot while flamboyantly holding his wrist high in the air, the way some lamebrain footballers still feel no compunction about protesting, after actual science has proved them wrong.

The split-second timing of the technology is also remarkable, just as similar programmes do their job within a hundredth of a second of a tennis ball landing on chalk or a cricket bat scraping its wielder’s pad. During Hull City’s latest instance of footballing slapstick, it was also very obviously in use in the away team goal net.

There could have been no other reason for the extraordinary sleight of hand demonstrated by the unfortunate, friendless individual charged with polluting more than 8,000 pairs of ears with the tedious, classless opening strains of Chelsea Dagger on each of the two occasions Rotherham United got the ball over the City line. Both times the ball literally hit the back of the net; on both occasions those dreaded opening drums were drowning out any natural celebration before leather had actually touched string. Maybe he’s a conjurer in his spare time.

You pity him for the time when a goal is disallowed. Those of us with a decade and more of this kind of nonsense behind us will remember Plymouth Argyle scoring a goal against Phil Brown’s City and the noisy strains of Good Thing by Fine Young Cannibals threatening to blow the ancient speakers to smithereens, only for the referee to disallow the goal, possibly because he never forgave Steele and Cox for disbanding the Beat. To the tune of the opening verse of Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep, the City fans began singing “Where’s your music gone?”. It wasn’t heard, or required, again.

The issue of music after goals is one which should have been put to bed years ago, as soulless and as needless in a charged football stadium as it is. Like simulation, Jose Mourinho and waving imaginary yellow cards, it’s something football doesn’t want, nor ever did. Like Parisians superglueing wheel clamps and New Yorkers putting bullets into speed cameras, City fans issued a resounding negative response on that occasion Tiger Feet boomed from the Circle’s sound system when the ball went into the opposing bag, and it wasn’t heard again.

There’s also the vividly unanswerable question of the lack of goal music when the away team scores – again, nostalgists of nose-hair vintage will remember the game at Middlesbrough in the FA Cup which ended 4-3 and had the City fans doing their own version of the Pigbag instrumental because it wasn’t on the speakers each time we scored. And, mercifully, we had just cause to enjoy the speaker silence on one extra occasion compared to the Rotherham fans clapping in time to the beat – because City won.

It wasn’t a great performance, and the game as a whole was a low quality affair. Five goal thriller DVDs don’t include matches like this. There was plenty to enjoy, however. Team spirit was admirably high after the weekend’s utter no-show. Some individual performances were good, including from the subs. The support was outstanding. The new third kit was on show, with City wearing shorts that, under the floodlights, were of a similar colour to the urine of someone addicted to asparagus.

Nigel Adkins made two changes from Saturday. He had Shreddies instead of porridge, and covered them in doner meat instead of brambles.

Meanwhile, the team looked like this:-

Marshall
Kane Burke de Wijs Lichaj
Bowen Henriksen Batty Irvine
Evandro
Campbell

It was a fluid version of the above; positively saturated to the point of sogginess, actually. We evidently have a squad, and a collection of reasonably competent individuals, but we don’t yet properly have a team. There is much to work on, assuming our manager is given (or gives himself) the time to shape a team, not to mention the tools still required courtesy of our Instagram-loving, ladies’ shirt-wearing owner, who thinks the fans are crucial, apart from just two specific categories of such: those alive or, as we saw so horribly recently, those dead.

The New York Stadium (so-called, according to one clued-up soul in the pub, because the steel produced in this area of Rotherham was shipped straight to New York) is a pleasant place to watch football. So much nu-stadia built since the start of the 1990s is rendered anaemic by symmetry, among other things, but this place has a few flourishes in its design and, crucially, not a single vertical column of concrete blocking the view. Pleasant venues deserve pleasant football, however. This was not regularly on show, but there were some flashes.

City fans began well – the first Allam Out chant was five seconds in, then there was a rendition of “there’s only one Barry Chuckle”, delivered with heart, and the home fans rose to their feet to applaud it. How very cheering and humanitarian this all was, not necessarily befitting the memory of past Yorkshire derby occasions.

City players began well too. Henriksen’s impudence in shooting from 30 yards almost paid off as the ball arrowed for the top left, only for keeper Rodák to paw it over. From the corner, Batty had a shot blocked, then Burke aimed a second go far too high.

As a defender (witty inverted commas optional), Burke wasn’t going to lose sleep over skying a shot when up attacking a corner. However, at the other end, after he conceded one of the softest corners you’ll ever see when his foot and chest got confused for one another, you could almost hear his whimpering opening words to the nice lady on the graveyard shift at the Samaritans, especially when he and nobody else responded to the resulting kick that allowed defender Wood a free header that hit the back of the net (a split second after Chelsea Dagger started, of course).

Lots of people think we’ll be relegated this season. Were this to happen, the inquest can hear submissions forever about the appalling practices and policies of an increasingly hostile, ham-fisted hierarchy, and rightly so; but it will also need evidence of our ineptitude at defending set pieces. We are presently rotten at it. We were highly fortunate not to concede similarly twice, maybe three times more in this manner.

Chelsea Dagger is such a terrible record, it really is.

City slumped and crumbled, familiarity breeding contempt. Rotherham, however, are just as bad as us and so had neither the ability nor the courage nor the gumption to take more of an initiative. Manning, deliverer of the corner earlier, flashed one shot over the bar, but the goal mainly turned the game into a muddy, vague, directionless non-event.

And then, a beautiful City goal. Out of nowhere, and created as if it were Nicky Barmby and Geovanni themselves with the delicate, intricate, worshipful approach play. Their former team-mate Campbell was involved, mind; cleverly laying the ball back around the edge of the box for Evandro to chip a first timer on to the volleying left boot of Jackson Irvine at the far post. He finished with real style. Perhaps we won’t get many goals this season; we certainly won’t get many better goals than that one.

Confidence is such an unappreciated commodity. As soon as that ball went in, shoulders were raised, chests puffed out. Songs got louder and the manager gave a thumbs-up in appreciation. Although our centre backs still looked scared of anything spherical and leather, the rest of the team began spreading the ball, passing and moving, playing the game that when done simply can still look as breathtaking as it ever has. Maybe we do have the makings of a good team after all.

As the board for added minutes was about to be raised, City got a lovely second. The pressure had been on for a while, but even so we were prepared for a half time stalemate when Lichaj clipped a near-post ball in from the left and Campbell tucked it past the keeper with barely a glance or thought. Whatever limitations we feel Campbell has to deal with today thanks to age and past injury, this was the type of goal the sassy kid learning from Windass would have scored a decade ago. And from not playing well, from defending so shockingly, again, from Chelsea Dagger, to an unexpected and yet not undeserved half time advantage for City. The interval was a nice thing to experience.

City’s third kit is an all-white affair with a fluorescent greenish-yellow Umbro band on the bottom of the sleeves. Newly-launched, it seemed an odd choice for playing at Rotherham, who have not an inconsiderable amount of white on their pleasingly traditional strip. Of course, selling it to fans is a priority and so putting the players in it at the first available opportunity makes marketing sense while it’s fresh in the mind’s eye. The shorts did seem to divide opinion though. Under the lights they resembled the colour of the hi-viz gilets sported by New York Stadium stewards; anyone who thought luminous socks were just the coolest thing ever to wear at primary school in 1982 will have managed a knowing smirk on seeing these rather busy shorts for the first time. Third kits are worn sparingly, usually; now that City have won on this one’s debut, mind, you can imagine someone like Nigel Adkins demanding its earlier than expected return for a suitable away game. And it isn’t pink, or cactus purple, which is a blessing on its own.

City were roared on to the pitch for the second half and any concerns that the break may water down their momentum were quickly shelved when we had the temerity to get a third just two minutes in. It was a splendid break down the right hand side and the hard-working Bowen got his head up at the right time to slide a ball across the area for Irvine, free yet again, to guide a shot into the exposed net as the keeper did one of those thankless scrambling acts around his six yard box.

So, a two-goal advantage, away from home, having not previously won, while in urine-coloured shorts. What a time to be alive.

The next spell of the second half was spent bemoaning the number of occasions Rotherham again and again found themselves with opportunities to head the ball freely in our penalty area. Fortunately, they weren’t very good at it; they’d clearly shot their bolt with the one chance early on that went through the Chelsea Dagger air pocket behind David Marshall. But, again, Adkins will know that tighter marking, better positioning and some proper communication (not easy with a brand new back four) is a must, and an urgent one at that. Let’s remember that Stoke will have Ryan Shawcross and Peter Crouch charging on to high balls on Saturday.

Still, we were grateful to escape the worst of it, but then Rotherham made a tactical substitution which involved striker Jamie Proctor’s introduction. Showing the attributes of a proper finisher, within a couple of minutes he had directed a header tidily past Marshall, with again the defence asking who was where and how, while those wretched drums kicked in again just as the ball approached the netting.

There were 15 minutes to go.

City had already made a change by this stage, with Keane replacing Campbell. There is something heroic about Will Keane, really. His 25 minutes on the pitch were spent unselfishly running into channels, taking defenders away, shielding the ball, being a nuisance, and generally not being required to do much with a football when in possession of it. His was, genuinely, a brilliant cameo and it slowed the game right down, frustrating Rotherham considerably. He, Bowen and Irvine all did have a chance each to seal it, but the keeper did his job at the near post for the first two, while Irvine’s dreams of a hat-trick were dashed by a rash far post finish in a similar position to his second goal.

Of course, numerous injury time chances were be created by the home side. It’s what City do. All were kept on their toes as corners were conceded and headers won, but second balls fell to City boots and the odd attempt on goal that was managed was not aimed with any degree of accuracy. In the end, even though the game wasn’t a comforting experience, City saw it out comfortably.

So, a win, at last. Despite lustrous shorts and Chelsea Dagger. Heaven only knows if this win will act as any kind of jump lead for City’s flattened battery of a season thus far, or whether we only won because it was Rotherham, the League One play-off winners, by definition relegation favourites and renowned for not sticking around in the second tier for any great duration, irrespective of how they got there. Harsher tests await on the pitch, ever harder battles continue off it. Still, we ought to celebrate while we can, so we’ll see you and little Steven and Joanna round the back of our hotel. Oh yeah.

FEATmatch

MATCH REPORT: City 0-1 Blackburn

AdkinsN2

You’re probably expecting a “W passed to X, who laid it off to Y, who crossed for Z to head home “ kind of report. Well, although some of the more mundane stuff will be ticked off in due course, that’s not what you are going to get today, I fear. The reasons for that are twofold: firstly, despite 90 plus minutes of what might generously be described as honest endeavour from the men in amber and black, one would honestly be struggling badly to find much incident of note about which to write; secondly, and in the scheme of things more importantly, it is a very long time indeed since there was so much cause to fear for the future of our beloved Club as there is now. And that is more important at this juncture than the matter of who passed to whom.

The loan window may change things (although we all know it won’t) but otherwise the expression “long, hard season” comes very much to mind.

The indisputable fact is that, quite simply, there’s nothing there, or at least not enough in terms of quality, to enable us to come anywhere near holding our own. This situation is exacerbated by the Club’s owners having no objective or ambition other than to amass enough bodies to ensure that we fulfil our fixtures for the season and keep the Club functioning, and specifically to spend no more money than is necessary to achieve that, despite receiving considerable wealth in the form of parachute payments.

Now, of course, the gruesome twosome will doubtless aver that they are simply trousering the money in order to offset the loans that they say that they made to the Club. Whether a forensic accountant with access to the books would disagree with that proposition I do not know.  But what is beyond doubt is that our football club is being wilfully, systematically and ruthlessly sabotaged. And for what?

Should you still, after all that has happened in the last four or so years, doubt that, then it’s a damn bloody shame that you weren’t at the Circle yesterday, because that would have convinced you.

The manager and team were roundly booed at the end of yesterday’s woeful display. Whilst the frustration of the long-suffering City support (official attendance 12.233, reports on social media say a shade over 10,000, with probably just over 1,000 Lancashire folk inside the ground: up to you which you believe, but check out photos and footage of the game if you weren’t there and then decide) is entirely understandable and justified, the ire of the Tiger Nation actually attached itself to the wrong target. One can try to identify the positives – young, fit enthusiastic squad, still time to coalesce (“gel” has become too hackneyed to use, and is even more irritating when spelled, “gell”), will probably improve as the season goes on if they don’t have the spirit thrashed out of them first – and you immediately have to concede that this is a blend of wishful thinking and straw-clutching. It is, sadly, an inescapable truism that we have a squad of players who, through no fault of their own or, once suspects, that of the manager, look completely ill–prepared for a Championship season.

This was made even more stark when you looked at our visitors yesterday. They’ve had as rough a ride as pretty much anyone in recent years but you would scarcely have known it. Maybe that’s a reflection on us as much as anything because these things are all relative, but whilst not looking likely to pull up any trees they were organised, enterprising and did the simple things well. And that was enough to see us off at a canter.

It’s often the case that, after a Saturday defeat, the mood of gloom still lingers on Sunday and then, to use an expression beloved of a former manager, we “dust worsels doon and go again”. We can usually all sympathise with that, too. But this all feels very, very different. In my 52nd year of Tigerwatching I am genuinely struggling to remember a time that ever felt so bleak. Even in the darkest days of the Dolan/Fish era, or during the travails of the malign, kleptocratic stewardship of the Sheffield Stealers, there was always that feeling, buried deep in some remote recess of the mind, that things would not always be that bad, that there would be some kind of modest recovery (far more modest than it actually turned out to be, of course) from the dire straits in which we found ourselves.

Not now, though.. For whilst you always thought that Needler would eventually see sense, or that Buchliffe would sling their hooks once they had stripped the Club of everything they could lay their hands on, there is no such prospect where the Allams are concerned. Some City fans still exclaim. “they’ve got to sell”, as though they have had some kind of Eureka moment, and we needn’t concern ourselves here with such naivety. Other more thoughtful types opine that the Allams will be off once the parachute payments have all been milked. Whilst this is a credible scenario, ask yourself two things. Firstly, where is the evidence that the Allams are actually capable of seeing a sale through, or that a buyer will be found with the energy and persistence to withstand the strain of dealing with them and the inevitable hardballing.. re-valuations, renegotiations and endgames? Secondly, if that’s what you think will happen, have you factored in their now well-documented petulance and malevolence? They could string this along for the next ten years and more if they wanted, just because they can, and there’s no evidence that they are minded to do anything but exactly that, assuming that you are not taken in by the press stories about movement on the sale front that appear every few months, Groundhog Day-style.

And then, something new came into the mix post-match, in the guise of Adkins’ extraordinary interview with David Burns. Our manager has acquired a reputation for positivity so unrelenting as to be profoundly irritating, and to hear him so downbeat after the game was certainly a new and unexpected development. Adkins in fairness to him was at pains to point out that he was speaking in the heat of the moment. but nevertheless the comments he made were startling. Time will tell whether he becomes the second City manager in succession to have his positive spirit broken by the Allams, but this is not sounding good. Some fans are unsympathetic towards Adkins because of his allegedly naked coveting of the job while Slutsky was still in post, but, whatever the truth of that, nobody can fairly say that he has not given the job his all and, whilst he was clearly naive in thinking that he could make the Club prosper on the field in spite of the constraints under which he would be expected to work, he deserves better. A failure by the Club to fund any decent loan signings might well push Adkins over the edge, but far from this bringing the chickens home to roost, there’ll be a queue of sufficiently desperate, over-confident or irrepressibly-optimistic candidates outside Ehab’s office bursting to step into his shoes.

Casting the slough of despond yesterday at the Circle were the following:-

                                                     Marshall
Lichaj                            MacDonald                        De Wijs                    Kingsley
Bowen                           Henriksen                        Irvine                        Kane
Evandro
Campbell

Subs: Toral (for Kingsley, 29 min), Dicko (for Campbell, 72 min), Milinkovic (for Bowen 72 min)

 As already promised, I’m not going to dwell on the detail of the match: it’s of secondary importance.. Blackburn had the better of the first half, with a succession of efforts on Marshall’s goal. The warning bells were starting to ring as early as a quarter of an hour in, when Armstrong, who had already forced Marshall into one save and headed over, missed an absolute sitter. Marshall was called into further action to defy Armstrong again and then Dack, before Kingsley had to leave the field following a nasty-looking clash of heads with Palmer.

We had threatened only sporadically, with MacDonald’s angled effort being pouched by Raya early on, a Bowen (what on earth has happened to him?) effort being blocked and Henriksen firing wide just after the half-hour.

The first half seemed to be drifting towards a goalless conclusion when we duly conceded. Rovers worked the ball quickly out to the right and Bennett’s pinpoint cross was swept home by Dack from close range with the City defence looking on in admiration.

After half time we passed the ball around nicely for spells, but without conviction, intensity or putting the visitors under any kind of pressure. We actually managed a shot on target about ten minutes in when Irvine (about the only City man who deserved to be exempted from criticism) saw his effort saved by Raya.

Dack went off after an hour to be replaced by Danny Graham, and the fact that he looked quite a handful while he was on is very telling. Rovers – and Bennett in particular – ought to have made the game safe with twenty to go when he pokes wide with the goal at his mercy after Marshall spilled an Armstrong effort.

We press, after a fashion. Evandro (twice) and Dicko have efforts blocked, and then the inevitable one good chance to rescue the game comes in the 87th minute, but Raya’s flying save keeps out De Wijs’ header from an Evandro cross.

That same curious lack of urgency persists into injury time (six minutes flagged, seven played) and the away side, who had had chances themselves to make the game safe in the last fifteen minutes (maybe I was too generous about Graham) , see the game out with apparent ease.

And that’s it. An afternoon of going through the motions, aptly reflective of the management of Hull City off the field. One really does wonder where this is going to end, and absent a significant improvement at Rotherham on Tuesday we might well be a significant step nearer to having that question answered, for this season at least.

Ian Thomson (via Tiger-Chat)

FEATmatch

MATCH REPORT: City 1 Aston Villa 3

AdkinsN2Was it nice to be back at the KCOM Stadium for one of the warmest nights of football I’ve ever seen in this country? To welcome Aston Villa to our 2/3 empty mausoleum? Eh, no.

Villa have had a torrid few months since their play-off final loss but already have new owners, a squad full of very good footballers and an experienced manager and are making plans to spend big money on new arrivals. Meanwhile City are 4 years into the Allam nightmare and showing no signs of waking up.

This game was never going to define our season but unfortunately did expose many of the weaknesses that everyone already knew we had. It’s going to be a tough old campaign until those weaknesses are overcome by the players learning and learning quickly. I wouldn’t say that the bubble of optimism has burst because, honestly, I don’t think there was any in the first place.

The City players started the game well and lead early on when the Villa keeper, Steer, could only punch a free kick to Evandro and he somehow lobbed it into the corner with Villa defenders looking up into the bright sky accusingly [1-0]. It was lovely that the goal came during a minute’s applause for Stanley Metcalf, the young fan sadly killed recently at just seven years old.

Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long as Tommy Elphick headed in unchallenged by Jordy De Wijs at the far post – exposing the city back line and not for the only time in the game [1-1].

That back four contained three new signings and you could almost make that four with Stephen Kingsley, who played so little football last season. Burke and De Wijs did work hard together to try and build understanding and some of the basics were there in their positioning and work off the ball to manage Kodjia but De Wijs is a big clumsy oaf with the finesse of a bulldozer who is far less capable a footballer than he thinks he is. Lichaj had a very solid game right back but Kingsley made Elmo look like the sprightly flying wing he was about 5 years ago. Some City fans weren’t fussed by Max Clark’s departure. Idiots.

Despite Villa shading possession for the rest of the hald, City created the best chance when Campbell slid Bowen in behind but Steer was quick off his line and smothered. That was about as good as it got at either end. City went into the break having looked comfortable and having played some neat football particularly through the classy Evandro, Batty and Todd Kane. Kane was a very lively although neutered by playing on the left. Evandro is just head and shoulders above the rest of ours. He’ll take possession of the ball anywhere, under any pressure and look after it. The others need to follow his lead, particularly Henriksen who disappointed.

The second half followed a very similar pattern for the opening quarter of an hour with Villa dominating the ball but City offering occasional threat on the counter attack. Sadly mistakes began to creep into our performance with De Wijs failing to control the ball on a couple of occasions- presenting it to them – and then Henriksen racing towards his own goal in a flutter and being very lucky to avoid gifting them a goal.

Just after City made changes to try and take the game to Villa with the arrival of another debutant in David Milinkovic and Nouha Dicko for Todd Kane and Fraizer Campbell, Villa were gifted a lead. David Marshall chipped a goal kick straight to Elmo and he slotted the ball into the bottom corner [1-2].

It gets harder and harder to defend Marshall whose City career has been a disaster since day one and this was another calamitous episode. The guy is absolutely cursed, I’m  convinced. It’s hard to see how he can possibly turn around such a faltering career here. It’s sad because the guy has been a fantastic goalkeeper at times in his career but we’ve never seen it. It’s also extra frustrating because City matched Villa, for all their “names”, to that point with some comfort. Individual errors have crippled us for the best part of three years now. Something has to change.

However, conceding 2 abysmal goals was not enough for City so of course the defence stood and watched as Alan Hutton of all people ran through our defence like Maradona breaking apart Reid, Butcher and Co in Mexico and slipped the ball beyond Marshall (who was present in body but not mind after his gaffe) [1-3].

There was no coming back from that. You cannot concede such pathetic goals at this level and expect to get anything out of games. Milinkovic put in a spirited performance but the game had long gone.

Positives: Evandro is our brightest hope. Batty was assured. Kane is lively. Lichaj had a very solid game. Burke shows promise. Campbell was better than he’s been all pre-season. Milinkovic was bright. Not every team has individuals the quality of Villa.

Negatives: We already look like we need to make changes when chopping and changing killed us last season. Marshall already. Kingsley has never shown anything. De Wijs is nowhere near. There is no sign of the 2/3 more signings we clearly need.

We should have stayed in the Gemmell.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Brentford 1 City 1

AdkinsN2And so a season that seems to have lasted for several years finally comes to an end. It’s been a forgettable one littered with unforgettable matches. More players from this squad will be heading to a World Cup than any other since we stopped being rubbish. Yet the squad remains lacking in heart, cohesion and, in some places, effort, even if the ability is there. The Hull City vintage of 2017/18 looks good on the supermarket shelf, but when you get it home it tastes like chip shop vinegar.

The XI announced was a disappointing one. We were denied to opportunity to say a fond farewell to triers such as David Meyler, Allan McGregor, Michael Dawson and maybe Max Clark, along with the only player on our books (permanently) likely to scare Championship defences in Abel Hernandez. There was no Moses Odubajo, either. Worryingly, given the ridiculous Allam-induced turnover we’ve had over the past two seasons, there’s probably no one left at the club to tell Nigel just how good Moses was before his injury. A Wayne Jacobs for the new millennium? Let’s not make that mistake again. This left a line-up of:

Marshall

Tomori Hector Mazuch Kingsley
Batty Larsson
Wilson Toral Bowen
Campbell

Things started out pretty much how you’d expect a post-season friendly to go. Brentford – a skilful, energetic side – quickly gained the ascendancy. City looked like strangers randomly strewn together. And it was the home side who should have gone one up after eight minutes when Marcondes goes one on one with Marshall but puts it wide when he really should have scored.

That attack marked the end of Mazuch’s afternoon. The big defender tweaked a hamstring and was replaced by Aina, with Tomori going to centre-back to partner Hector. This led to our ‘Chelsea defence’ being aired. Now I’m not much of a chess player, but if there is a manoeuvre called ‘the Chelsea defence’ in the game, I’d imagine it involves recklessly thrusting your Queen at the mercy of a pawn while leaving your King hopelessly exposed to being checkmated. And sure enough, minutes later hesitancy among our Chelsea trinity, combined with an inability to clear the ball, leads to Canos glancing a header past a blameless Marshall. It all looked far too inevitable.

City barely threaten, save for a long shot that goes miles over from a strangely muted Harry Wilson. Indeed it looks like Brentford will be the ones to score the next goal. Macleod forces an excellent save out of Marshall while Egan heads over. Wilson hits a tame shot at the opposition keeper, while Tomori does well to stop Marcondes scoring and a tepid game shows no sign of anything happening. Then something happens. Harry Wilson sends a deep cross over to Jon Toral, who heads the ball into the path of Jarrod Bowen. Bowen doesn’t miss them and duly scores his 15th goals of the season – a terrific effort given how kack we’ve been. Half-time comes and a vociferous away end wonders how the hell that happened.

City start the second half with a bit more urgency and penetration to their play. Larsson is at the centre of all the good things coming from our midfield and Bowen has shown that if we create the chances, he’ll take them. So Adkins takes off Bowen for the lesser spotted Evandro, and Larsson makes way for Kevin Stewart, a standout disappointment in a season of disappointments.

It shouldn’t work, but it kind of does. Brentford fanny about in their defence and gift the ball to Campbell. Fraizer runs at Daniels in the Brentford goal and wins a clear penalty. Wilson steps up to take the spot kick, mullers it and brings out a decent save from Daniels. Bah.

City are largely on top now. Evandro gives us another frustrating glimpse of how good he is, and Campbell’s intelligent probing, along with debutant Batty’s rather impressive possession retention, affords us a few decent breaks. Sadly, they keep ending up with Aina, who is utterly clueless as to what to do with the ball on the rare occasions he manages to get it under control. City have a decent shout for another penalty turned down for handball, while Daniels saves very well at Campbell’s feet. What chances Brentford do carve out they either spanner comically over the bar, or Marshall – composed and calming on Sunday – deals with matters effectively. In truth neither side looks much like breaking the deadlock and the 1-1 draw – which is how it finishes – is a fair reflection of the .
balance of play.

There were some promising signs for City. If Marshall is to be our number one next season, this was a display to build on. Batty looked good in central midfield. I look forward to us making him an insulting contract offer next summer and essentially forcing him to look for a club other than the one that’s nurtured him. Campbell tired towards the end but played up front on his own for 90 minutes and gave the Brentford defence plenty to think about. We’ll be a better team next season for not having to accommodate Hector, Aina and – to a lesser extent as he was OK on Sunday – Tomori. Keeping Larsson would be a good bit of business too.

However, the most pleasing aspect of Sunday was the Hull City fans. On the way to the ground, I got chatting to a couple of Brentford fans. Brentford fans are terrific – every last one of them is knowledgable, magnanimous and passionate without being a nob – and they kept talking about the 2-0 win in the Great Escape. They said – and I believe them – that it was the loudest away following they’d ever heard at Griffin Park. I loved that game. In spite of everything that’s happened since, it’s still in my top five City games. But their mentioning that game was bittersweet for me. Walking to the ground with my five-year-old son, attending his first ever game, I couldn’t help but feel a level of annoyance that he wouldn’t be getting to experience that togetherness within the club that we had back then, that ribald passion, that sheer wall of noise. The Allams, I thought, had killed that with their crass mismanagement of the club. And yet the volume that emanated from the City fans was incredible. To have gone through what we have been through of late, to turn up in those numbers and make that much noise was brilliant. When I asked my son if he’s enjoyed his first game, he told me that he had, that his favourite bit was all the singing, and he asked when he could come back to his second game. So thank you. As long as Hull City fans keep on behaving in the manner in which we have been doing for a long time now, the club will be enjoyable to support. The Allams can’t kill that off, as much as they’d probably love to. You gave a wide-eyed five-year-old the best possible introduction to watching football. Though if you could keep the swearing to a minimum over the next five or six seasons, I’d appreciate it.

See you all in August, anyway, when England will have a new manager, Yorkshire will have the County Championship wrapped up, Andy Murray will be Scottish again, and the Allams will still have a festering grip on what’s left of our club. The 2018/19 season promises only to be a shitter version of the 2017/18 effort. And yet, because of atmospheres like the one created on Sunday, I’ll be there (in away matches at least). As will you. Because we can’t let those bastards win.

Richard Gardham (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Cardiff 2

McGregorA

We try to be at least a little bit objective in these match reports, but this is definitely one that would be radically different if I supported the other team. Were I a Cardiff fan, I’d tell of a tense but ultimately rewarding match taking the team one step nearer to a Premier League return, and of a raucous and joyous celebration as songs from the away corner filled a largely silent, even sullen, home stadium. From our recent history, watching the Cardiff team and fans put me in mind of our win at Derby as we bounced back to the top division only a couple of years ago.

But I’m not a Cardiff fan. The result meant little to me. For once in our recent history, City are running down the season with nothing left to play for. It would have been good to win, of course, but we’re not that good. It would have been acceptable to play a bit of decent, optimism-inducing football. But we’re not all that good.

Running down the season (and in many cases their careers in Hull) were:

McGregor
Aina          Dawson  McDonald        Kingsley
Henriksen           Meyler
Wilson     Keane      Campbell         Grosicki

Despite what manager Nigel Adkins said pre-match about picking a team with next season in mind, I reckon more than half of that 11 won’t be at the club next season. Noteworthy too was the absence even from the bench of multi-million pound striker Abel Hernández. Though of course without Abel up top, we had no one who looked like they could put the ball in the back of the net. Of the two ex-Bluebirds playing for City, Alan McGregor made some decent saves, but Fraizer Campbell looked a shadow of the cheeky and dangerous player who scored for Cardiff against City in that final day promotion game at the KC in 2013, when both teams went up.

Cardiff are a strange team. The table doesn’t lie. They’re obviously at the head of the not-Wolves ordinariness that is this season’s Championship. They don’t have the flamboyance of Fulham, even manager Neil Warnock was reported as calling his team ‘limited’ in his post-match interview, but they do the job. They’re a Warnock team —well-organised, good at ‘game management’, and a strong unit.
Within a couple of minutes of the kick-off, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing made a determined run down Cardiff’s right flank, heading towards the south-west corner at pace. City’s Scottish left-back Stephen Kingsley rugby-tackled him; literally put both arms round him and wrestled the fleet-footed winger to the ground, preferring to take the inevitable yellow card rather than let him past.

The first half was very bitty as a combination of lengthy injury breaks, and a ref who seemed to take an age to get anything organised meant that no one was surprised at the 8 added minutes by the end of it.

As for first-half highlights, well, let’s go with points of note, rather than highlights. In patches City weren’t that bad. On ten minutes there was a neat little one-two between the lively Ola Aina and young Harry Wilson, ending up with Wilson bursting into the box in front of the away fans. Trailing a leg, he fell to the ground and claimed a penalty, but the ref was having none of it…

A minute later came City’s best chance of the game, as another decent passing move, this time down our left flank, saw Kingsley cross the ball low and hard. It reached Campbell about ten yards out, but his scuffed shot was blocked. As the young lady sat next to me pointed out, on the odd occasion we were ‘nearly good’.

Within the first quarter of an hour both teams had lost a player through injury, Aron Gunnarsson (a rare survivor, along with David Meyler, of that promotion party game five years ago) went off for Cardiff, and then Angus McDonald limped away from lengthy treatment to be replaced by Ondrej Mazuch.

About midway through the first half though, Cardiff seemed to noticeably step it up a little. Both technical areas had seen agitated management trying to stir up their players. Andy Crosby rather than Adkins was to the fore in shouty arm-waving for City. Kevin Blackwell and Warnock took turns for the Bluebirds.. Cardiff’s pressure was archetypal Warnock in approach. When they had a throw-in on the half-way line in front of the West Stand, Warnock took their season’s (and this game’s) key man, Sean Morrison, by the arm and issued forceful instructions. After which Morrison put the ball under his shirt, gave it a good clean, and hurled it 30 yards down the wing, and off a City defender for a corner.

That corner came to nothing, but soon after, another Cardiff corner at the junction of the South and West Stands brought their opening goal. It was swung in expertly and that man Morrison met it with a strong and clean header to score, with McGregor hindered by bodies in front of him.
0-1.  Cue Welsh revelry.

Half-time eventually arrived at nearly 4 o’clock. Some blokes came on and kicked the ball at the crossbar while Dean Windass watched on. Then Steve Jordan tried to interview some monosyllabic City youth players. It was the sort of half-hearted half-time effort that has become the norm at a club that has too often looked like it can’t be that arsed to try too hard this season.

When the teams came out again at just before quarter past four, Cardiff resumed where they’d left off; on the front foot. Danger-man Junior Hoilett came into the game increasingly, helped by the fact that we seemed to pass to him even more than his own teammates did. He was soon given loads of space to take the ball 30 yards out, advance a few strides and strike a decent shot just wide of McGregor’s right-hand post.

Just like in the first half, City did a bit of the ‘nearly good’ stuff, but never seriously threatened. Meyler, who had some decent moments, strode forward from the halfway line and unleashed an excellent shot just wide. The largely anonymous Will Keane produced a neat backheel into Wilson’s path, and the Liverpool loanee’s trademark curling left-foot shot was blocked by one of theirs.

‘Nearly good’ was the height of City’s achievement today, and even that was rarely reached.
In a repeat of the first 45 (make that first 53), these faint flickers of footballing flair were soon snuffed out, as our superior opposition went up a gear again. Some awful Mazuch defending saw the substantial but skilful Kenneth Zahore turn our Czech defender and shoot with such power that McGregor could only palm the ball away.

City, and the home crowd, were beginning to get a bit antsy with the ref, partly because he was slow to deal with Cardiff time-wasting, but also because a few decisions didn’t go our way…

Michael Dawson got more agitated at a meaningless throw-in being awarded to the opposition than I think I’ve ever seen. He was wrong and it was pointless. Then, on the back of another Meyler surge forward, both Kamil Grozicki and Campbell fell to the ground under Cardiff challenges in the penalty area. Nothing awarded. Again correctly to my eyes. A couple of minutes later Meyler pushed Cardiff’s Craig Bryson right in front of the East Stand. He got a yellow for that.

Cliché would have me say that at least this showed the team were up for it. Meh. I’d rather that they showed how up for it they were by playing some decent football.

Keane was replaced by Jarod Bowen, whose Leonid Slutsky-inspired success has melted away since Adkins took over. Then Jon Toral came on for the limping Grosicki. The occasional boo could be heard from those who think Grosicki’s attitude stinks.. The group of Polish City fans in front of me gave him a standing ovation. Kamil should soon be tormenting defences in the World Cup. Here’s hoping that his obvious injury doesn’t interfere with that.

The introduction of Toral represented a key turning point. Within minutes he had been instrumental in the build-up to the game’s second goal. A shame it went to Cardiff.

City won a corner in front of the West Stand. Toral took it, even though Bowen strikes a better corner. The Spaniard’s effort didn’t get past the first man. Thanks a lot, said Cardiff, and raced up the pitch. Our not-exactly-speedy defenders, having trundled upfield in anticipation of at least getting a go at heading the ball, were left in the Welsh wake. Within seconds of Toral’s corner, Cardiff were three against two and advancing on the City goal. No messing, they passed it quickly to the teammate with no defender near him. It was Morrison again, and he calmly and impressively shot past McGregor.

Cue even more Welsh celebration, bare chests, and choruses of Land of my Fathers. Like I said at the outset, if I’d been writing this report from the perspective of the north-east corner of the ground, it would have been very different. I might even have dabbed a tear from my eye. I’d have had this down as a massive game, marking a key moment in the fight to return to the top division.

As it was, I wrote ‘we are poor’ in my notes, placed the match reporter’s leather-bound notebook in my pocket, and put the lid back on my fountain pen..

After the match, and after a decent interval, City’s players and management came back onto the pitch to say thank you to the crowd. The vast majority of that crowd had long gone. To be honest, I was only still there because I take a long route round the stands on my way out. Still, I applauded the players down the tunnel. I took time to think that I’d likely not be seeing several of them again. Hernández was there, as was Seb Larsson. A few of them had their children with them. Those fans left in the South Stand clapped, those in the North Stand sang a few songs. Leaving today’s game aside, perhaps glad to see the back of this underwhelming season as a whole, we can acknowledge at least that the job of saving the club from a second successive relegation has been accomplished quietly and with occasional flashes of style and excitement. We’re no Sunderland, and I’ll leave you to decide how much consolation that is.

Ed Bacon (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: City 0 Sheff W 1

Hull City's Jarrod Bowen celebrates his goal

Summer’s comin’, time to dream the day away. Well, eventually. Bumble bees, warm sunshine, lush greenery on the trees. And Hull City fans, as they dream the day away in collective reflection on this football season that will soon be behind us, how will they fill their thoughts?

City fans looking back over these last nine months will have the air of the early polar explorers, hunched in pain, faces creased in agony, heads and minds filled with the grey wastes and colourless void that they have barely survived. Beer in hand, sitting outside the bijou cafes of Withernsea or the baroque wine bars of Keyingham, they are oblivious to the douce arrival of happier days. It’s been attritional, it’s been miserable, it’s been a truly appalling season. They are scarred.

One lad looks at his wan chums. ‘Right’, he says, ‘it’s been bad all season long, but which game d’you reckon was the worst, the very worst?’

Cheeks are puffed out, pain is etched across every rough-hewn face. We really gotta choose?

Well, if you insist … the gutless Friday night surrender at Derby, the spitefully don’t-care second half performance at Bramall Lane, not bothering at Bolton, the drab incident-free 0-0 at home to Reading, not bothering at Sunderland, tamely surrendering the points at home to Millwall, chucking in the towel in the snow storm away to Birmingham. A parade of grisly infamy.

But make no mistake, this latest horror at home to Sheffield Wednesday deserves to be bracketed with the very worst of this season’s festering dungheaps.

This was a truly dreadful game.

Max Clark was awarded the man of the match bauble. I don’t care about such awards, because it is a team game, but when your left back gets pinned as your best player, you know you’ve been watching a dismal flair-free ninety minutes of footballing poverty. So it was.

We card:

McGregor
Aina  Hector McDonald Clark
Larsson
Wilson Henriksen Toral Grosicki
Hernández

Looks lightweight? Was lightweight. Too many players with poor attitudes, willing to shirk the need for 100 per cent effort? Check.

It’s a dreadful opening quarter, with both teams serving up convincing impressions of sides ready to slope off beach-bound on their holidays at the earliest opportunity. The first moment of note arrives on 5, as McGregor stops a header by Jordan Rhodes, who’d been gifted far too much time and space at the back post. The second moment of note arrives on 14 when a ball in from the left is met by a Toral header at the back post, sending the ball back square into the danger area. But it rolls apologetically wide of the back post. The third moment of note arrives on 17, and Sheffield Wednesday score.

Ball played in from the wing, Rhodes leaps, flicks his header beyond fellow Scottish internationalist McGregor, and that is 0-1.

Simple as it gets. Appalling defending out wide. Appalling defending in the middle. Several players are guilty of letting the game drift by rather than getting to grips with their immediate opponent, but it’s Hector, left hopelessly flat-footed, who is closest to Rhodes and who puts no pressure on Rhodes at all.

On 26 Hector is caught dithering once again, and Adam Reach whips the ball off him, before firing a shot wide of McGregor’s far post.

Rhodes is going down far too easily on a regular basis, and play is held up for too long on the half hour mark for another of his swallow dives. In receipt of scornful abuse from East Stand he eventually climbs to his feet and pulls up his shorts to point to a fetching long bloody scar the length of his leg, as if it to seek understanding and sympathy from his tormentors. He gets none.

On 44 Clark and Wilson combine well down the left and, with Hernández lurking predatorily, the ball is eventually scooped over the bar for a corner. Which comes to nothing. Most of the half has come to nothing. It’s been awful. Two minutes are added, there’s a brief penalty box melee, and then comes the mercy of half time.

Sullen players, stripped off any long-term commitment to the club by our owner’s short-term stupidity and malice, but, even so, still unable and unwilling to put in a basic acceptable shift. It’s horrible to watch. Grosicki’s the most culpable, of course, but it’s not just him. Fecklessness pervades the whole bunch. The second half begins, and it continues to serve up appallingly poor football.

There are just two hints of creativity on the whole pitch. One is Barry Bannan, and when Barry Bannan, part Orc part Tupperware box, is the only source of a decent touch and a quick pass, then you know you are watching a grotesquely awful game of football. The only other glimpse of trickery and ambition comes from a grey squirrel, which shows a turn of foot and an eye for goal when it introduces itself to the play on 67 minutes.

On 72 Hernández has an opportunity to equalise but he is crowded out, and overall the quality of the play is shockingly low. Grosicki’s off for Bowen by now, but there’s no improvement visible.

Just in case I am not making myself clear, could I confirm that this is a diabolically bad game.

On 86 Aina gives the ball away in completely pathetic don’t-care fashion. McGregor rushes to the rescue, but Hector then does his best to put the loose ball into his own net not once, but twice, but with the Wednesday attack watching on, awed by the sheer incompetence of it all, McGregor eventually retrieves the ball.

There are eight added minutes, and in the first of them we equalise. The ball is played across the face of the goal from left to right, and bundled into the Wednesday net by Hernández at the far post. It’s a messy goal, and it is deserved only in the sense that although we are worth little or nothing from the game, nor are the deeply unimpressive visitors. Our players celebrate, trot back to their own half, and the referee seems to be following them. Only  …  what’s this? He’s invited by the Wednesday players to talk to his linesman. He does so. Said linesman apologetically and half-heartedly raises his flag, and the goal is chalked off for offside. It was at least a minute between ball entering the net and the linesman showing any interest in intervening. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Royal cheatery, and the only consolation is that it really didn’t much matter. Draw, loss, whatever. Get this season terminated.

Bah. On 97 McDonald has a completely free header in the middle of the penalty area and contrives to send his effort over the top of the goal.

Let’s leave the final word to one of those glum City fans sitting, beer to hand in the summer rays, reflecting with pain on the garbage we’ve had to endure this season.

‘Aye, but it’s going to be even worse next season.’

Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Burton 0 City 5

GrosickiK

Just close your eyes for a minute and imagine that you had been part of the away support the last time that City won an away fixture by five clear goals. The venue was North Road, Glossop, and although played on a Tuesday, the match would presumably have kicked off mid-afternoon so as to finish before nightfall. As the game drew to a close you would probably have been contemplating the long, slow journey back across the Pennines, possibly by charabanc but more likely by steam train, in either case with a rather late (or possibly early, depending on how you look at it) arrival time back in Hull. You would not have greeted City’s fifth goal by bellowing “‘Oo are yer?” at the disconsolate home support, or breaking into some inane song to the tune of “Sweet Caroline” (mainly because the writer of the tune wouldn’t be born for another 26 years), but rather with an approving twirl of your waxed moustache or maybe, on pain of being derided as uncouth by your fellow supporters, by tossing your bowler or flat cap into the Derbyshire air.

For while five-goal away performances do come along every few years, a five-goal winning margin outside the city boundary is a much rarer beast. In fact the 5-0 win at Glossop was chalked up a whole 103 years ago. Then, as last night at the “Pie-relleh” as the locals are sometimes wont to pronounce it, the victory was achieved against a team at a very low ebb (the Glossop game took place on 16th March 1915 and they were voted out of the League at the end of that season) but that should not detract in any way from the sense of history that the Tiger Nation – especially one of the 1,400 or so who were there to witness it – should be experiencing today. This result was something that you were lucky to witness and may well not see again.

Of course, looking at it more pragmatically, we should also be very mindful of the significance of the result in terms of its likely influence upon our fate come the end of the season, to say nothing of the fact that a genuine potential banana skin – think Bolton, think Birmingham – was safely negotiated in such consummate fashion.  It would have to take a collapse of which even City are probably incapable – along with four of five other teams all to have an improbable run of form – over the last few games for Championship football not be on offer at the Circle next season.  It could easily have gone very wrong last night, so all credit to the players for ensuring that it all went very right.

What next season will bring is another matter, though it probably doesn’t take a crystal ball to conclude that it might well involve inadequate replacement for the numerous players out of contract in a few weeks, kicking off next season with barely enough bodies to put out a team and a continuing dripfeed of lies, contempt and vindictiveness from our dear owners for the long-suffering support. But hey, we’ve got all summer to worry and fulminate about that: let’s think of the positives for now

The first of those has to be the manager. Now, whilst I was not exactly whelmed by Adkins’ appointment and do find his manner more than a little grating, you would have to be pathologically ill-disposed towards him not to give him the credit for finally getting City functioning like something approximating to a proper football team. The St Andrews debacle apart, we have on the whole looked the genuine article since half-time in the Norwich home game. Of course, this could well all be wrecked soon for the reasons cited in the preceding paragraph, but that won’t be his fault.

The second positive – doubtless the result to some extent of the first –  is that the supporters seem in much better heart of late. The City following was of course swelled last night by the professional ground-tickers but from my vantage point behind the City dug-out the away end was noisy and bouncing throughout, even before it became apparent that our hosts were in for a proper shoeing. Genuinely good to see after what we have had to put up with and proof that the Allams will not succeed in breaking our spirit.

Anyway, onto the football itself. The coolish night air heavy with damp, the manager again opted to ring the changes:-

                            McGregor

Tomori            Dawson        MacDonald        Kingsley

Wilson             Henriksen        Meyler           Grosicki

                            irvine

                           Campbell

From the off it’s clear that this is going to be a lively affair. Although struggling quality-wise the home team are a spirited bunch and you realise very quickly that we had better be up for this. Fortunately Tiger minds are soon set at rest in that regard, for in an opening phase about as unformless as you can get, Campbell should do better with a free header that he plants wide from Grosicki’s cross before Tomori feeds Wilson out wide on the right and the youngster speeds inside and curls the leather just inside the far post from near the corner of the box. There aren’t five minutes on the clock yet.

The following 25 minutes or so are not always comfortable ones for our heroes, it has to be said. The game is being played at a daunting tempo with very few opportunities for players to dwell on the ball and you sense that we are going to need more than the one goal. Boyce fires and Bent (apparently Dorrbeh are paying £30k per week towards his wages) heads wide. After the second of these there is a vociferous shout from the home fans for a penalty when McGregor tackles Boyce with his feet. Referee Bankes, though, is having none of it, ruling – quite correctly, it later emerges – that our custodian got a touch on the ball. Seen ’em given, mind you.

Shortly afterwards and we are properly in the ascendancy. A sumptuous 60-yard ball from Dawson finds Grosicki near the left-hand corner of the box. The right-back gets nowhere near close enough on him and Turbo has time and space to bring the leather down and whack it on the half-volley just inside Bywater’s left-hand post.

We haven’t really had much in the way of chances since the first goal and to punish the opposition so ruthlessly when we do get the chance is very gratifying. It also emphasises the essential difference between the teams: Burton are short of quality and we have it in abundance. Clough maintained after the game that the scoreline was harsh on his team but, whilst it’s true that our two late goals give the score a bit of a lopsided look and that there wasn’t that much disparity between the teams in the possession and shot statistics, 5-0 arguably did reflect the difference in class pretty accurately. There wasn’t a weak link in midfield, with Henriksen and Meyler (the latter after a couple of early bloopers) rock-solid, the wide men a tireless and constant menace and Irvine, clearly anxious to impress on his old stamping-ground, acting as link between the midfield and Campbell. The full-backs put in a decent shift, supporting and defending as required, and Dawson and MacDonald did what they had to do with calm efficiency.   Yes, you can argue that this was all against limited opposition, but isn’t that precisely when City are all too often found wanting?

Nothing else of note occurs before half time apart from Wilson and then Dawson shooting over in positions from which they really ought to be testing the keeper, but 2-0 at the interval is very satisfying.

As you might expect Burton come out for the second half with all guns blazing and we have to endure quite a testing fifteen or so minutes. Greggsy has to make a couple of saves, in addition to which the home side might have benefitted from some steadier finishing on a couple of other occasions, our only reply of note during this spell being an Irvine effort, pouched by Bywater. As with the Burton purple patch in the first half, though, we show – almost – just how ruthless we can be when Irvine breaks up Burton’s play 35 yards or so from their goal and Grosicki takes control of the leather and ghosts through the home defence like a hot knife through butter. He cleverly takes the ball wide to make the target bigger and sets himself up for a seemingly-certain goal, but the shot rebounds off the post.

We don’t have long to wait for our next strike, though, as the home heads drop. Wilson dances across the box from the right and is gloriously scythed down by Flanagan. Grosicki bangs home the loose ball but the ref is already pointing to the spot. Meyler sends Bywater the wrong way, the Tiger Nation exults and we’re home and hosed.

Not before the screw is well and truly turned, however. Burton plug away but you can see that their hearts are not really in it any longer and thoughts are maybe turning to their Derby derby game on Saturday. Bent goes close to getting a consolation with about ten left but it’s City who carry by far the greater menace.  And so it proves on 85, when Irvine feeds Grosicki a through ball and the number 7 hares away from the defence, rounds the exposed Bywater and slides the leather home in front of the delighted City support.

He then stupidly gets himself booked for diving in injury time (I mean – why?), but there’s more to come as Tomori gets to the by-line in the dying seconds and his hard, low cross is turned into the roof of the onion bag by sub Keane, in what was pretty much a carbon copy of Wilson’s effort at Forest.

And that, as they say, will have to do. Hopefully we can relax now and the team will put on a bit of a show over the remaining four games, starting with The Biggest Team In The Known Universe on Saturday. That would be nice, as the likelihood of the same group of players being together to take up where they left off in August is not looking promising, to put it mildly. The Burton Mail opined today that City are surely destined for a much higher Championship position next season: if only they knew…

Ian Thomson (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Wolves 2 City 2

MeylerDNo, I didn’t expect this either. I didn’t expect a point, I didn’t expect a committed performance, I didn’t expect our team to more than match opponents who’ve been sauntering to promotion ever since the warmth of last August. Yet that’s what was served up – a really admirable display by Hull City.

Such is the confused mess that is the current Hull City, I suppose. There’s ability in this squad, but too often rank poor organisation and absence of commitment has undermined the season. Consistent inconsistency. The gloating malevolence of Ehab Allam looms large over every aspect of our club, and we all grasp that survival this season is likely to open up nothing more palatable than another close season with minimal transfer activity, sale of anyone that another club wants to buy (err, Bowen) and a grim grind from day one onwards beginning in early August. But better to suffer in the Championship than in Division 1.

We lined up, a shade apprehensively:

McGregor
Aina Tomori Hector MacDonald Clark Kingsley
Henriksen Meyler Toral
Dicko

Lightweight? I’ve seen more convincingly brutal cotton buds. I can assure you that there were plenty of murmurings of dismay among the travelling support when that chosen line-up pinged our way in the approach to kick-off. That’s a team set up to fail, we supposed, and one designed to spare other players from exertion ahead of the immensely more winnable fixtures that arrive on Saturday at home to QPR and next Tuesday at Burton.

And yet …

And yet we played really well, in short. What looked like a petrified rabbit-in-the-headlights shambles of a back six evolved into a stubborn but fluid formation, flexing between the demands of defence and the pressure of midfield, in which both fringe players, Kingsley and Tomori, looked entirely adequate to the needs of a tough fixture, while Aina seems to have put his St Andrew’s nightmare behind him. Max Clark has almost a season of toil behind him now, and is a much more convincing performer now than when he first appeared at Villa Park back in August. And, it gives me no pleasure to share with you, our centre back partnership looks a great deal more mobile and suitably equipped without Michael Dawson in it.

Hector was pretty good last night, yet it was he who conceded the penalty that gave Wolves the lead after 17. Diogo Jota, tricky frontman, turns sharply in the box and, with the lurking Hector poking an indolent toe in his direction, Jota collapses to the ground in a comically incompetent attempt to win a penalty.

He wins a penalty.

Referee Darren England can never have played the game of football, nor watched it on the telly. No one with any feel for the rhythm and pace of the game could give a penalty for that, it’s as soft as a Mr Whippee ice cream that’s been left melting an hour in the summer sunshine.
Jota himself strikes the penalty past McGregor.

Wolves have been pretty sloppy so far, but that gift will presumably lift them, and quell our sprightly beginning. Not a bit of it. There is a tangible feel around a well-populated but largely mute stadium that this game is a trivially simple distraction for a side intent on the title and Premier League lucre, and that sense of complacency infects the Wolves players. Quite the reverse among our boys. There is no sense of submission, only of defiance and determination to show we’re worth more than the current League position suggests – and we are worth more, only not consistently.

A combination of McGregor’s feet and a heavy touch by the attacker rescues us as a fast break opens up the defence, but we are giving as good as we get in an increasingly open game. Toral and Henriksen is a candyfloss midfield pairing (and, crikey, there’s Kevin Stewart skulking on the bench), but there’s David Meyler too, and the ever-eager Irishman levels the game on 37. It’s deft. After Wolves waste possession in the centre of the pitch, Meyler gets across his man to receive a ball played into the box, and, as the defender grabs at his arm, he crumbles under the challenge. Clumsy defending – rank stupid defending. Unlike the earlier award in favour of Wolves, a penalty this certainly is. Meyler himself allows John Ruddy to commit to his right and calmly strokes the ball straight down the middle.

One each. As we deserve.

Half time comes and goes, but the pattern of play doesn’t alter. We have more of it. Toral sets up Aina at the back post, he is crowded out by a combination of goalkeeper and defender.

Wolves are frankly terrible. Do they think they have already done enough this season? Does their very oddly shaped squad, thick with short term mercenaries (including, on this occasion, one Alfred N’Diaye, looking every bit as ordinary as he did for us during his last loan spell prior to rocking up at Molineux), treat Hull City as beneath their dignity? Doubtless they miss injured playmaker Ruben Neves. Whatever the reason, they look droopy, and as the second half develops, they prove astonishingly poor at retaining possession.

Irvine for Toral, and then Grosicki for Dicko, who makes a point of applauding all corners of his former home ground and, as far as I can tell, gets a decent and appreciative response. Dicko’s looked livelier than most of the Wolves team. Grosicki plays briefly through the middle, but then Kingsley, leg weary, is swapped for Fraizer Campbell, so we revert to a more orthodox set-up but one which, quite rightly, fancies not only one point but maybe even all three.

On 70 a deep cross from Grosicki reaches Hector towering at the back post, and he really should score by planting his header back across the face of the goal and inside the far post. But he goes near post instead, and the ball strikes the outside of the woodwork. But shortly afterwards we do seize the lead. Neat passing supplies Grosicki, and the Pole shows great strength to retain possession and then great skill to slide his way past covering defenders, and he tops off the preparation with sublime execution as he slides a savagely beautiful low cross towards the back post. Campbell hunts it down like a stoat preying on a bunny, but defender Bennett gets there first, and slithers the ball apologetically into his own net.

2-1 City, and a wonderful cameo by Grosicki. His attitude stinks, this much we know. But he is a supremely gifted footballer, well able to pick apart defences at this level and higher.

Ten minutes to go, and at last Wolves show some spirit. The equaliser arrives on 84, and it is truly their only impressive piece of football on display all evening. Neat move down their left, our right, chipped cross by overlapping Scottish internationalist Barry Douglas and sub Buur Rasmussen makes full use of the space created by the speed of the move to head the ball past McGregor’s right hand and into the corner of the net. Bah.

There is, in the minutes that remain, which include four added, a level of noise and energy around the stadium which had been sorely and evidently lacking for most of the match. It’s a test – a test our players meet with admirable resolve. The trickiest moment arrives on 89 when the ball runs out of play and is cannily taken into custody by Mr Adkins and his assistants on the touchline. A ball boy runs twenty yards from his designated berth in front of the main stand and dives into the huddle, shoving surprised Hull City staff aside, retrieving the football and quickly transferring it to a Wolves player wanting to take the throw. The ball boy runs back to his post, leaping in the air and clenching his fist in triumph. I’m not sure that is what you get taught at ball boy school, but I admire the lad’s audacity and commitment to the cause. If the Wolves players had been as up for it as the ball boy, they might have won this game.

But they weren’t. And they didn’t.

Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Birmingham 3 City 0

AdkinsN2In the last week we had shown the bottle to come back from two down against Norwich and the maturity to go to Ipswich and dominate the game in a n easy win. So why did a trip to Birmingham, stuck in the bottom three on the back of seven successive defeats – fill us with so much trepidation? Because this is Hull City we’re talking about, of course. Patron Saint of gifting three points to those in need.

It snowed on and off all morning without settling but just before kick-off, St. Andrews was battered by wind and snow leaving the pitch white and requiring the use of a yellow ball. Spring is sponsored by Southern Rail this year. It’ll be along at some point.

City reverted to the side that impressed against Norwich last Saturday meaning Hector and Campbell dropped out. Nigel Adkins subs bench bingo meant no place for Nouha Dicko while Jon Toral got a slot.

McGregor
Aina Dawson Mazuch Clark
Larsson Henriksen
Bowen Irvine Wilson
Hernández

The first half was shambolic. Again. Everyone I said was good last week was useless. It was freezing and City didn’t fancy it one little bit. We were lucky not to be behind early as we lost the ball in midfield and Che Adams went clean through in front of the 1700 City fans but McGregor charged out to save with his left hand. Harry Wilson was taken down by a poor challenge from Wes Harding that earned the right back a booking. It was a clear yellow but not quite a red – but a stupid challenge to make in the conditions. Of course, we didn’t force him to make another tackle all game. And then we were behind. Adams beat Dawson to a ball on their right, raced in behind and crossed for Jota to score. Aina was left in a tight spot by the break but had to choose between closing down the ball or marking in the middle and did neither.

Kieftenbeld shot over after Birmingham passed around us and the snow game down heavily making visibility awful and raising hopes of an abandonment. Our only chance of getting out of St Andrews undefeated. Wilson shot wide powerfully as City got a brief foothold then the useful Craig Gardner was forced off for Cheik Ndoye who we were assured by the blue nose we travelled with is absolutely useless. It’s true, he was. And he was still only the sixth worst midfielder on the pitch.

The five on our side were incapable of stringing two passes together. Every one of them along with both full backs looked terrified of the ball. Birmingham pressed us well, like we did to Norwich last week, but our lack of composure was inexcusable. Aina was appalling. Back to the very worst we’ve seen of him. Henriksen anonymous again. Larsson’s legs looked as old as we feared they were in September. Irvine looked like he’d run three marathons in the last fortnight. Bowen tried to make things happen but ran into trouble. Wilson didn’t fancy another whack.

The only saving grace was that we went in at half time only a goal behind. McGregor saved from Jutkiewiscz after he’d beaten Mazuch easily on the left, pushed away an overhead kick from Adams (after Bowen was dispossessed) and then charged from his goal to save from Adams from the resulting corner – albeit after a blatant push went unpunished. A shot from Kieftenbeld was deflected wide and then they turned Aina inside out and crossed for Jota to head over. Half time. It could have been five.

We made no changes. You can’t blame Adkins. On recent form, his best eleven were on the pitch. I like Che Adams. A lump of a striker but with a turn of pace and a willingness to make runs time and again without reward. He was foiled by the brilliant McGregor three times in the first half but his hard work was rewarded straight after the break when he ran away from Dawson embarrassingly and sent over a cross that flew into the net inside the far post. Needless to say it came from City giving the ball away again.

Michael Dawson has been a top defender but he’s slower than a broken Milk float these days. Is it time to build for next season? I’d say so but with Mazuch being made of glass, Hector ours only temporarily and MacDonald the only player Adkins has singled out for criticism – I don’t see we’ve any choice but to stick with him.

Aina gave Jota the ball to force another save from McGregor before Campbell replaced Irvine. If this was an attempt to go for it, it was rendered pointless within two minutes. A city boot attempting to win a tackle on the edge of the box played Jota through on goal and he finished neatly.. Lovely little player, Jota. I thought we should have been interested last summer when he left Brentford but he was too pricey for Ehab Allam’s new “Buy cheap, ruin, release for free” transfer policy.

The game died right there. There were a load of subs. Toral Replaced Hernández and was by far our best outfield player in his cameo. Grosicki came on for Wilson and may as well not have bothered.

So ended an afternoon of cowardice in the cold. Despite the last forty years telling us the law of “Typical City” meant we’d turn up and lose, it wasn’t any easier to take. Even less so after a scary drive home at two miles an hour in the snow.

The only positive of half our squad leaving in the summer because of poorly managed contracts and too many loan deals is that this team badly needs a major overhaul. Grosicki needs to go for whatever he’s worth these days. Marshall is doomed here so cash in on him too. Coming in, it needs legs and leadership in defence and midfield. It needs brains at right back and pace at left back. It needs options up front rather than four of the same player. And a goalkeeper too I guess.

That’s not a reaction to this game. It’s been obvious for most of the season. But it was driven home on a day when this team showed they’ve no interest in fighting for Hull City.

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEAT-BALL2

REPORT: Ipswich 0 City 3

HenriksenMAnd so it continues, this blossoming of our team of majesty, drawn upwards towards glory by the coming of the Spring. Shrewd tactician Nigel Adkins smooths a path to the manager of the month award for March. Hull City, limber yet pacy, teak-tough yet elegant, swagger past yet another bunch of East Anglian losers, and it strikes me that provided we can ensure that our next foray into the Europa League involves being drawn principally against opposition from Norfolk and Suffolk – I’m thinking a qualifying group placing us alongside Benfica, Diss Town and Wisbech St Mary – then a long and fruitfully entertaining campaign beckons. Such a thing it is, to see a team forged in wintry adversity emerge from its cocoon as a swaggeringly lethal butterfly.

None of the previous paragraph has even the remotest connection to reality, except only that there truly was a pleasant hint of Spring in the late afternoon sunshine as we strolled the Ipswich docklands in search of beer. Our team is flawed, our club still more so. But following Saturday’s topsy-turvy dismissal of Norwich, tonight it was the turn of their local rivals Ipswich to suffer defeat. And Ipswich, did they suffer. In silence mostly – Portman Road has long been among the more peacefully drab of the stadiums we regularly visit, but last night it resembled a whist drive in a graveyard. Ipswich play the same trick as we do – a crowd that cannot have touched more than 9,000 was absurdly announced as exceeding 13,000 – and the majority of those who did show up uttered not a single word all night long, though many tutted and fretted in irritation now and then. They watched, stupefied by their team’s complete capitulation. We, the travelling Hull City support, announced as 290 strong (which seems about right), watched with an air of mounting incredulity as we dismantled opponents in a way that we haven’t seen in a very long time. Our last 3-0 away win is (I think) the Play Off semi final destruction of cocky Derby, and last night, even if more low key than that sunny lunchtime extravaganza, carried the same scent of thoroughly unexpected and burstingly enjoyable footballing superiority.

On a pitch that showed signs of heavy going through the middle that would not have been out of place at Cheltenham racecourse, we carded:
McGregor
Aina  Dawson  Hector  MaxiClarkiguez
Wilson    Larsson   Henriksen  Bowen
Irvine
Campbell

No sign of Hernández, not even on the bench, so he was presumably rested ahead of Saturday’s crucial – though now, thanks to this victory, slightly less crucial – trip to Brum. Campbell leads the line, presumably ahead of being rested himself for the next two and a half weeks, and Jackson Irvine is asked to put in the vital shift shuttling between sturdifying the midfield when required and offering periodic support to the solo frontman. And he did it well – Irvine was dutiful and hard-working throughout.

After a minute’s silence in memory of Ken Dodd, regrettably spoiled by a few folk disrespectfully flicking through their tax returns, we’re off. On 7, an Ipswich corner, headed on, a second header by Spence, the ball strikes the outside of the far post with McGregor beaten and it bounces out. Had that gone in, how different things might have been. We might, for example, have heard a peep or two from the Ipswich fans. Mick McCarthy, Easter Island statue, might have emerged from his dug out and showed animation, instead of sitting down glumly and grimly, hot and cross. But the ball didn’t go in. And Ipswich Town Football Club, prepare to feel the wrath of our merciless bombast.

On 9, Wilson plays in Bowen, blocked. On 11, Bowen plays in Irvine, saved. On 14, Wilson plays in Wilson – o, this lad has some tricks, and plenty of power and confidence too – and draws another rescuing save from the busy home keeper Bartosz Bialkowski (playing for a place in the Polish World Cup squad, the programme advises me).

City fans are loving this, the home support not so much. Atmosphere on three sides of the ground? None. I’ve heard people get more excited on being told they’ve got cholera.

We do, however, need a goal to confirm our preening dominance. It duly arrives on 17. Come the moment, come the man, and it is the giant that is Markus Henriksen. Ipswich give him time and space in an advanced position in central midfield. What!? Give time and space to Markus Henriksen – the Markus Henriksen!? It’s hare-brained crazy stuff, and it is punished with maximum severity, as our serene ballplaying colossus breezes forwards and strikes a beautiful daisy-cutting cross shot into the far corner of Bialkowski’s net. It was hit with the right foot rather than the left, but nevertheless, in its insouciant confidence and demonstration of supreme footballing technique, it put me in mind of Gerson’s goal in the 1970 World Cup Final  – and yes, young people, that is how commentators used to enunciate in those days). Who, among our players, would deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as the extraordinarily gifted Gerson? Well, a Norwegian would, and Ipswich crawled off to sleep in the bath.

On 27 Bowen hits the post. We are the better side all over the park, and this is turning into an unexpected treat of an evening. Henriksen. Rangy, upright, confident on the ball. I’m loving this. I believe we have now found the key to the prowling Norwegian virtuoso. Just make sure his immediate opponents play as if struck by nerve gas and young Markus, freed of the fear of an intervening tackle, can conduct the game with panache. That above-mentioned Europa League campaign could go with a real swing if we get through to the knock-out stages and draw teams that have got on the wrong side of the Russian government.

On 38 Ipswich require McGregor to save a header, the first moment in a long while that they have popped up anywhere near our goal, but, as if to emphasise the futility of their gestures, the points are wrapped up moments later. Wrapped up in glitter and gold, wrapped up in ermine and sable. 2-0 it is, but what a glorious, searing scimitar of a goal. Marvellous interplay down our right, Aina scoots free with glee, delivers a magnificent cross low into the box, and Wilson, much as he did at Forest, arrives with perfectly judged timing to caress the ball into the net.

Truly a gem.

Referee Simpson adds to the joy by booking their man Bersant Celina for a quite absurdly unconvincing dive, and the first half ticks away on a tide of complete comfort. One added minute – though in fact, since play was never interrupted, there should have been none added – and that, as the whistle is blown, is as satisfactory as it gets, a long way from home against opposition who, at least according to the League table, should be awkward.

‘Get out there lads’ snarls Mick McCarthy during the half time break, ‘and hit them hard, show ’em what you’re made of’. OK, boss, thinks the bedraggled Ipswich eleven, and they promptly begin the second half by ushering Jarrod Bowen, in receipt of a deft Henriksen pass, past and through the left side of a defensive trainwreck, whereupon he blats a low shot past Mr Bialkowski. No World Cup for you my Polish friend, if you’re going to let goals in at your near post from an angle as narrow as that, but credit Bowen with the nerve and verve to cash in with an ambitious but perfectly executed strike.

3-0, and 44 minutes left on the clock. The Ipswich fans will have enjoyed better 44 minutes picking at verrucas.

On 54 Hector blocks a shot, and for a while Ipswich have most of the possession. But there’s a not a hint that they have a comeback in them. I credit our players for that. This was a committed display. We looked well-organised too, and seemed to have worked out how beat Ipswich by putting on plenty of numerical and physical pressure in midfield, so maybe Mr Adkins has a bit more about him than we’ve been idly suspecting so far.

Keane replaces Campbell. Keane’s wearing gloves. It’s about 9 degrees above. And Keane’s from Stockport. Gloves.

Larsson off, Meyler on. David Meyler is not wearing gloves. David Meyler does not possess any gloves. David Meyler does not possess any clothes or other items that suggest he finds weather challenging. David Meyler challenges things. He doesn’t get challenged. He is the boss. I love David Meyler.

Wilson plays in Irvine on 77, but the shot is easily saved. That’s an isolated moment, though. The game is completely dead now. Suits us. We’re winning. Ipswich have neither zest nor flair, and are lamentably poor. On this evidence Mick McCarthy’s backside is not simply in the baconslicer, it’s being rapidly sheared into rough-cut Irish prosciutto.

Grosicki for Irvine. I imagine we’ll see neither Grosicki nor Harry Wilson in a Hull City shirt next season, but if I had my choice on which of the two I’d prefer to see haring down the left side into the Hull City future, his nationality certainly would not be Polish.

Three added. It’s done.

That was terrific. City being City, we will now go and throw on a horror show on Saturday at St Andrews. The season so far consistently promises only inconsistency. But at Ipswich we looked a solid and inventive football team. Well played, City.

Steve Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)