FEATmatch

MATCH REPORT: Wigan 2-1 City

HenriksenM

The startling rise through the Divisions. The ascent to the Premier League and the surprisingly impressive ability to compete once in it. The journey to Wembley and the Cup Final. The European campaign. The slither back out of the Premier League and the stark prospect of decline. The revival, the heartening resurgence back to prosperity and to success.

That’s Wigan Athletic.

And it’s Hull City too – excluding the last bit.

Wigan have halted their slide and are on the progressive march forward. Hull City? Ach, well you know the grim tale as well as I do. The slide’s greased, and we are hurtling recklessly down it. Last night’s match was a contest between two football clubs that are currently heading in very different directions. And that was visible too on the pitch, as the limited home side took a deserved win from even more limited visitors.

Off we go on a mild mizzly evening in front of the sparsely populated DW stadium, and we card:

Marshall
Lichaj Elphick De Wijs Kingsley
Bowen Henriksen Stewart Irvine
Martin
Dicko

Which has an expansive, ambitious feel to it. When we have the ball Bowen and Irvine are on the front foot, pushing high up the pitch; they tuck in when Wigan have possession. The opening minutes are highly promising. On 4 Dicko robs a defender and bursts clear down the right, crosses, the ball is shovelled away for a corner. On 6 Stewart sets up Dicko deftly, Dicko powers a shot over the crossbar. On 13 Bowen bustles through, and is blocked at the expense of a corner.

This is appealing slick football from our team. No prizes for guessing what happens next.

Wigan score.

Sam Morsy advances from midfield with the ball, gets to within sight of the goal and, from outside the box, blats a low shot into Marshall’s right hand corner. The absence of any mention of Hull City outfield players is no accident. Morsy was permitted far too much freedom as he brought the ball forward.

Morsy, an Egyptian internationalist, takes his team-mates congratulations and then carefully lines himself up in a southeasterly direction, kneels and kisses the turf. It is, I suppose, roughly the right alignment for Mecca. For heaven’s sake. Seriously? During a football match? Even the Rev Allen Bagshawe didn’t inflict religion on us during the game.

Shortly afterwards Dicko scoots free behind the Wigan defence, but his effort is saved.

Nouha Dicko. I like him. You can’t not. Puppy dog enthusiasm, pace, strength, an ability most of the time to make runs that disconcert a defence. What he lacks is coldly predatory finishing ability. It is not his fault. He is what he is – a Championship striker. If he could add regular goalscoring to his other gifts, he’d not be playing for Hull City at the lower end of the Championship, he’d be playing for a middle ranking Premier League club and he’d be priced at around £30 million. And he did at least get a couple of shots away last night, which is more than poor old Chris Martin managed.

Marshall is forced to make a fine save low to his left from Jacobs, and, as we move towards the later stages of the first half, it is Wigan that look the stronger, attacking with pace and intent. Runs in the channels, movement out wide, decent interplay. On this evidence they have the makings of a solid mid-table side, which is ambition enough for most newly promoted sides. A second goal looks imminent, but when it arrives, in the 37th minute, it’s a bit of a freak. Lee Evans shoots from wide right, just inside the box, the ball deflects off Kevin Stewart, attempting to intervene, and flies across the face of the goal towards the back post, where Josh Windass, unmarked, is able to crunch a firm header into the net. Windass looks wildly offside, but presumably the fact of that touch of the ball on Stewart spared him the flag. 2-0, sad to say, is not unfair overall, and we are in some danger of being overrun.

Within five minutes it’s 2-1. This is very much a goal of the ‘up the other end from us, hard to know what happened’ variety, but it seemed as if defensive howlers gifted Bowen on the right space to advance into the box with only keeper Christian Walton to beat, and he did so courtesy of a left foot shot and a touch of the glove in vain by Walton. This goal was totally unexpected, but it sets up for a decent second half fightback.

So to the second half.

The second half is a bit rubbish.

Not much happens, but – the story in short – Wigan are generally the better side, with the languid Nick Powell the pick of their team. Powell, like Dicko, is what he is – a Championship player. What Powell lacks, what separates him from the Premier League, is aggression and pace. But he’s got a proper old-fashioned lovely touch on the ball. Reminds me a little bit of the young Steve McClaren, maybe even Garry Parker, though that’s over-generous to Powell since Parker belonged squarely in the top flight.

On 59 Martin sets up Dicko with a very good header inside the box, but Dicko shoots straight at the goalkeeper. As above, predatory instinct (lack of). Dicko is promptly removed in favour of Fraizer Campbell.

Marshall then saves well from Powell before the rebound is thumped wastefully wide by Windass, and the game settles into a period of Wigan ascendancy. They look pretty steady and opt for a shape that will protect the lead, rather than one that will look to increase it. Our best chance – near enough only chance of the final half hour – arrives on 74, when Campbell rises to meet a cross at the back post, but his header, though downwards and powerful in the approved manner, cannons into a defender.

Stewart, who has not repaid his manager’s faith and has performed largely listlessly once again, is taken off in favour of Grosicki. The ‘exciting and lavishly talented Polish World Cup star’ (as he is described in the brochures Ehab is currently hawking round midtable top flight teams in Turkey, Portugal and Russia) takes up the left wing position, while Jackson Irvine moves inside to pair with Henriksen in central midfield. And soon after, with the pattern of play level but Wigan still leading 2-1, De Wijs is hooked for Evandro, and we punt on three at the back, with Grosicki (‘a real fans’ favourite, and available at a price to suit your pocket’) switching to right wing, Bowen to left.

The most notable incidents of the closing minutes feature Fraizer Campbell’s increasingly frantic attempts to get himself sent off for wild lunges. But Wigan finish the stronger side, and they see out the added five with little anxiety.

Backed by meagre resources, leading a thin team lacking real talent or insight, faced across the table by peers with far greater power to their elbow, promises broken by the barrowload, and answerable to a boss who appears increasingly deranged, Mr Adkins might as well be in charge of Britain’s Brexit negotiations.

He might prefer it. Hull City aren’t a lot of fun to watch just at the moment, and I doubt they’re much fun to manage either.

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

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2 Ipswich 0

IrvineJ

Hurrah, a City home win! The Tigers bested feckless Ipswich after six successive home defeats in all comps going back to Sheffield Wednesday in April and ended our worst run at home since 1992.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way. The crowd was further evidence of the decimation of our football club. At just £9 (with a Match card) and £12 (without) in the North and South stands, there can be no suggestion that anything other than the hateful, hostile environment that has been deliberately fostered by our hideous owners is to “credit” for the lack of support. Officially the crowd was 11,650. Realistically, its going to be our first home league crowd under 10,000 since 9,460 saw Damien Delaney fluke a winner against Boston at Boothferry Park in November 2002.

On the pitch, the middle third of the game where City ceded control to a limited, naïve Ipswich team was a worry – as was the weekly gaffe as Kingsley chested down beautifully to set-up Jon Nolan in our box but, for once, we got away with it. Overall though, things looked brighter and, if nothing else, we’ve found another team who are worse than we are.

City: Marshall, Burke, Kingsley, De Wijs, Elphick, Batty, Henriksen, Bowen, Evandro, Kane, Campbell.

Despite the three centre halves, it was a flat back four for City with Burke at right back. The addition of Tommy Elphick was an excellent one (as Stevie Wonder could have told you three months ago to be fair) and his influence was obvious as he improved De Wijs dramatically and picked up the Dawson role of smashing diagonals towards the left wing admirably.

City came flying out of the blocks and the first half hour had much to admire. Batty and Henriksen were assured in midfield, won balls in their half and passed nicely. Kane was a bundle of energy on the left and Kingsley was unrecognisable as an attacking full-back. Campbell pressed high, they had no answer to Bowen’s pace and runs off the wing and Evandro showed off his outstanding touch and ability to hold the ball under any pressure.

An early goal settles most teams and it came on five mins as Campbell robbed Downes in midfield, slid through for Bowen and he dinked the ball over the advancing Gerken and beyond the attempts of the covering defender on the line. Campbell led the line admirably and his cushioned header should have put Kane through on goal but the ref saw a push while Fraizer’s attempted acrobatic volley turned into an air shot after Kingsley brilliantly wriggled free on the left and lofted up a nice cross.

The game started to swing after Batty tweaked his knee blocking a clearance and after he succumbed and was replaced by Stewart, Ipswich took control. They were camped in our half, moved the ball well from wing to wing and put in crosses that caused mild stress but City generally dealt with. The lively Graham on the left wing gave Burke a tough test and he did OK but no better. After his earlier cock-up, Kingsley blocked well Edwards goal-bound half-volley and City went into half-time ahead.

The first ten minutes of the second half were as dull as I’ve ever seen. It did help City regain some composure although all Ipswich threat came from our inability to keep the ball. Stewart’s 20-yard 5-yard passes weren’t what was needed. City were dangerous o the break though and Campbell headed wide from Burke’s cross and then forced a save from Gerken after Bowen turned down a better opportunity.

At the other end Graham’s shot was saved by Marshall after De Wijs had made a great tackle to dig out Kane who made a rare error. Kane looked like he was tiring but any chance of him taking a breather ended when Kingsley suffered a little knock and was replaced by Irvine with Kane going to left back and doing well against their sub Kayden Jackson.

There was definitely going to be another goal and it could have come at either end. Bowen went through on goal twice, found beautifully by Evandro and then Henriksen, but was denied by Gerken while a defender headed Evandro’s volley off the line. In front of the North Stand, Campbell met Graham’s corner at the near post and headed inches wide of the far post. Everybody breathe!

And breathe easier we did as Evandro chipped a pass through on the half-volley, Irvine raced on to it, held off Spence and slid home to clinch the game. The six fans in the East Stand ecstatically greet Jackson’s knee slide and there is pandemonium in the Upper West stand.

I’m jesting, of course. This was a good day. There were small positives all over the pitch and on the bench which looked well-stocked with options for the manager, for once. It wasn’t ground-breaking, it doesn’t mean we won’t be in a battle with the bottom six or eight in this division but while we wait these horrible bastards out – enjoyable afternoons at the KCOM are rare.

I said to the bloke next to me “HERE, DID YOU ENJOY THAT THEN? WHAT? SORRY? I CAN’T HEAR YOU, YOU’LL HAVE TO WALK CLOSER”…

Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 1 Derby 2

AdkinsN2The sun shines beatifically out of an azure East Yorkshire sky.

‘Daddy, daddy, it’s Saturday, what shall we do today?’, ask Dean and Turgoose, clambering out of their pyjamas and bubbling with excitement and anticipation about the fun to be had on this late bloom of summer.

‘Well’, smiles the tots’ proud father, ‘what would you like to do?’

‘Flamingo Land!’ screams Dean eagerly, ‘Sewerby Park!’ counters Turgoose, ‘no, no, Withernsea, let’s go to the beach’ suggests Dean intrepidly, ‘or what about going to see Full Circle at the Freedom Festival” offers Turgoose, who even at the age of six is showing artistic inclinations.

‘Ho ho’ chuckles Daddy, his eyes bright as he surfs the waves of youthful glee. ‘I’ve got something even better!’  And he draws from his pocket tickets for the afternoon’s Championship fixture between Hull City and Derby County.

Lips tremble, eyes moisten. ‘D-d-daddy … what have we done wrong?’ asks Dean plaintively. Turgoose dissolves into helpless sobs, his fresh-faced enthusiasm now a crumpled mess of stolen dreams and greying misery.

It’s no fun watching City any more.

A generation, the Circle generation, has revelled in unprecedented triumph, as the club has played at Wembley, romped to promotion, competed in English football’s top tier, played in the Cup Final and participated in the Europa League. For the first time in my lifetime supporting Hull City had become the simple and natural choice of the youth of the city. All gone, all torn apart, all trashed, and wilfully so.

So, those of us eschewing the delights of Full Circle trudged towards the mostly empty Circle. The announced crowd was 12,285, but it was smaller than that in reality and, taking account of a decent away following, there were certainly a lot fewer than 10,000 Hull City fans in the ground. The sun was hot. The mood was chill.

We lined up in a 4-4-1-1:

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

A bit lightweight, especially down the spine of the team? O yes. No hindsight needed for that insight.

The game opens in orthodox largely formless fashion although, surprisingly, we are slightly the better side. The first moment of note arrives on 12 when a free-kick awarded to Derby is taken by Chelsea loanee Mason Mount, Peggy Mount’s grandson. You remember the terrifying way that Didier Drogba used to take free-kicks, running up without giving the ‘keeper any clue which side of the goal he’s going to aim at and then whipping an unstoppable shot into one corner or the other? He put one past Myhill in this style in the first game of the season in 2009 at Stamford Bridge. Mount has been working at this. But Drogba didn’t usually thump it miles over the bar and then look rueful. You gotta lot to learn, young Mount, a lot to learn!

Woo! Ha!

You take your pleasures where and when you can find them in this wintry ground zero of a Hull City season, and an opponent blootering the ball over the crossbar is as joyous as it gets. All the more so as ten minutes later Derby take the lead.

It’s comically poor defending. One of theirs runs at De Wijs just inside the box, out wide. De Wijs should be shepherding him away from danger, but he lunges in recklessly, and referee Brooks, well positioned, points to the spot. Simple as that. Clumsy as that.

The penalty is rolled past Marshall by Martyn Waghorn, who was so briefly a Tiger that he’s probably forgotten all about it. Don’t worry Martyn, we’ve forgotten about it too, that file of ‘ordinary journeyman’ has got better than you bulging its sides.

Graciousness and respect? From me? I think not.

On 37, a corner played in by Mount, and a header by David Nugent hits our bar.

There’s legitimate moaning to be done about referee Brooks and his unwillingness to show cards in the face of a calculated barrage of spiteful fouls by Derby players whenever there is even a slight hint of danger to their lines (which is admittedly not that often). Super (sic) Frankie Lampard has very much got his charges playing the Premier League way. But the honest truth is that Derby’s team is a huge amount better than ours.

I don’t really blame our players. We know that a stream of footballers who are far superior to the current lot has left our club lately and, in the case of those who contracts were coming to an end, it’s clear enough they’ve been offered new deals on vastly reduced terms by the Allams. Perfectly sensibly, they’ve gone and found another employer. I don’t know our current wage bill, but I have a strong sense it will look more like a Division One budget than a competitive Championship budget. Which is to say that we have a number of players who do not look good enough for the Championship to me, but I don’t think they are being paid as if they are Championship players. They aren’t Championship players, though they do happen, by footballing mischance, to be playing in the Championship. I like Lichaj, a solid and committed performer, but I see little merit in the rest. We’d have a decent centre-back if we could combine Burke’s athleticism and pace with De Wijs’s animal energy and aggression, but as it is we have one centre back, Burke, who isn’t tough enough and another, De Wijs, who clomps around clumsily like a Shire Horse asked to try dressage. Oh, and we used to have a promising young wide player called Jarrod Bowen. Does anyone know what happened to him?

Two added minutes to conclude a dispiriting half, but we finish on a high note, as a slick move from left to right culminates in a shooting opportunity for Henriksen, unmarked on the edge of the box. He thrashes the ball high over the bar. I can’t and don’t dislike Markus Henriksen. He is trying his best and, though I don’t suppose he particularly wants to be captain, he is doing all he can to lead by hard-working example. I just wish he was better at football.

Second half. More misery? Well, not quite. We play pretty well from here on in.

On 49 David Nugent, who, young people, once played for England (at football), sprints clear of our defence – yes, I’ll pause there, we do have a defence that allows David Nugent to sprint clear of it, that’s how grim things are at the back. Nugent has only Marshall to beat, but he punts the shot wastefully over the bar.

And within a few minutes we are level. Yes, level! That means we scored a goal. It really does. Not only that. It’s as peachily elegant goal as you could feasibly expect to witness.

Evandro spins a glorious through ball into space beyond the exposed Derby back-line, Todd Kane, making an intelligent run free of any defensive cover, receives the beautifully weighted pass and strokes a confident right-foot finish across and beyond Scott Carson. Miraculously we have scored, and even more miraculously we have done so with a flash of glorious improvisation. This was Football As It Is Meant To Be Played. For The First Time In A Long While.

Derby are rattled. This feisty comeback is not what they anticipated and, to be fair, they are not alone in their surprise at the shift in the pattern of play. The home support is, if not agog, then beaming with wholly unexpected glee. We are playing really decent stuff now. On 58, astute combination between Bowen and Campbell, a stramash, Evandro bundles the ball wide of the back post. A minute later, Kane flashes a ball across the box, but no one is able to apply a finishing toe-end. Derby repel the threats and enjoy a good spell themselves after the hour mark, but they create no chances, and on 70, after a lovely move, we come mightily close to taking the lead before we are finally crowded out by massed defence.

Will Keane for Campbell, and then Dicko for Evandro and Toral for Kane, but we are the better side during this second half. And, should you not yet have had every last smidgeon of hope malletted out of you by our owners, you might want to argue that this second half performance, by far our best of the season, combined with the acquisition of solid old pros Chris Martin and Tommy Elphick (o, how we need a proper commanding centre back), might be enough to let us squeak our way to 21st position come May. Well, I hope so. The gloomier among us will note that we did play pretty well against Derby, but we still lost, and in doing so recorded our sixth straight home defeat, stretching back to last April. That stinks of relegation. Sure, objectively, it’s been worse than this – six points adrift at the bottom of Division 2 worse than this, the crookery of the Sheffield Stealers worse than this. But it all feels so hopeless now, we are so powerless now. It seems more personal too. The Allams, Ehab in particular, give every vindictive indication of taking profound pleasure out of damaging the club and a spiteful glee in doing the precise opposite of what the fans want. They take targeted malice to a new level. I find it hard to truffle my way to any spark of optimism, or even hope.

Meanwhile, we give up a winner to Derby with just three minutes remaining. It’s rank poor defending. The ball is worked down the left, our defenders are pulled out of position and when the ball is pulled back towards the penalty spot absolutely no one has been alert enough to track Jozefzoon’s run. Under minimal pressure, he rams a low shot into the net, and Derby lead.

Five minutes are added and there is a moment after four of them where we create danger in the Derby box but a combination of resolute defending and uncommitted attacking leads to the move petering out.

Bah. Another loss.

I don’t know whether Dean and Turgoose enjoyed their day, but I fully appreciate that you are asking why their sister Woodmansey wasn’t also threatened with a trip to watch City. What’s she meant to do, stay at home with her dolls?

Yes. This Sunday morning little Woodmansey is sitting on her bedroom floor with her dolls. She picks up one made out of wax. It is a figurine which bears a precise resemblance to Ehab Allam. Woodmansey, freckled brow furrowed in rapt concentration, picks up a knitting needle. She slowly brings it into place, targeting a spot between the doll’s eyes.

Youth supplies the future of our club. Woodmansey, we need you to cast your spells wisely.

Stephen Weatherill (via Tiger Chat)

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)