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REPORT: City 2-1 Wigan

DeWijsJ

After shaking hands with their opponents, the victorious players trudged off the muddy field at Post Office Road and went into the stand to collect the U18 Northern Schools Rugby League Cup. After mauling St Johns Rigby, Hull’s Wilberforce 6th Form College sat proudly on top of the RL U18 pyramid in 1992 proving for once that a Hull team was superior to a side from Wigan. For, like their Lancashire mill town neighbours Burnley, Wigan have usually come up trumps against this City’s three professional sides; (I’m not sure about including Hull Pirates in this) be it Challenge Cup wins, FA Cup knockouts, 5-0 PL home drubbings, 2-2 losses sending City down. Wigan have usually been around to administer a coup de grace kick in the balls. Bogey town, bogey teams.

Keen to make sure that Wigan A don’t do a horrible double over us this season City lined up:
Marshall
Kane JDW Burke Lichaj
Irvine Henrik
Bowen Pugh Grosicki
Campbell

We kick off to the half full North Stand and begin brightly with some neat interplay between Grosicki, Campbell and Irvine on the left. I am firmly of the opinion that for all of the front four’s headline grabbing displays it is the dreamboat Aussie midfielder who is City’s most important and effective player. Jackson’s colossal work rate and energy levels just mean we are more likely to win with him in the side then any other midfielder. That said I’m not sure the added bum fluff makes him look older – he would still struggle to get served in Empress.

For the first quarter it is all City. We just see to have one pass in front.. Good work down the right by Bowen results in a cross that meets no one but is headed out for the first of roughly 100 corners. A reverse ball finds Irvine who has a shot blocked. The resulting corner sees DeWijs head over-bloody rubbish in the air he is! On 9 only a last ditch tackle stops FC after a mazey run by Grosicki. On 14 Bowen’s strike forces Walton to parry wide. The resulting corner then is cleared to Windass jnr who runs upfield to be stopped by a kneeling Kane who is adjudged to hand the ball and duly receives a yellow from referee Webb. The first time I encountered Josh Windass was when he was a mascot for Bradford City in our 2-0 at Valley Parade. When asked who his favourite player was he said “daddy” – aww bless. There may be a player there but I did not see much last night. But to win City need to score otherwise it is not worth getting out of bed at the end of the day.

On 21 we almost do score as we run Wigan ragged at the back. After some tidy footwork the ball finds FC wide of the post to knock to Pugh who loops a ball onto the bar. On 27 a Grosicki rocket goes wide. On 35 Henriksen dribbles towards the box but unleashes a meek shot. Wigan decide to start utilising the space behind Bowen and Grosicki by knocking it long to Robinson and Byrne but City remain the more likely to score. So, of course, I view with dismay the ball passed into our box, become stuck under DeWijs left foot and into the path of former City ‘striker’ Nick Powell who shows why City signed him to rifle past Marshall’s right hand into the net. Howl Howl Howl. 0-1 and the 150 Latin fans celebrate with a hardly apt ‘You’re fucking shit.’ I thought you will be eating those words, me laddos.

HT 0-1

City kick off towards the sparse South Stand again on the front foot. Paul Cook’s thinking was that if they frustrate City by time wasting they could sneak a second away win in 20 and ease their mighty relegation worries. Duly Wigan began with all 11 behind the ball but without Nick Powell who shows why City sold him by not returning for the second half. It would take a superhuman effort or a calamity to get past this lot. City prayers were answered when Pugh strikes a long shot which can be described as bread and butter to most goal keepers. But to Walton it is a veritable slippery cannon ball to which the Wigan number one kindly spills towards an oncoming Campbell who pokes home. 1-1 and back in it.

Shortly after Walton continues to wreck whatever chances the Latin’s have by sliding outside the area clutching the ball. After a short pause Webb inexplicably produces a yellow instead of red. Pugh shortly comes off for the youngster Batty who proceeds to do very well I thought. A various array of corners and free kicks rain down on the Latin’s defence but they tend to hold firm with occasional forays upfront. On 75 Wigan nearly shit the City bed when a corner finds an unmarked Massey whose bullet header is stopped by Marshall’s thigh. Henriksen and Kane come off for Evandro and Martin. Now that’s positive play Adkins. In mind of the mauling Leon Clarke gave City at Bramall Lane last season Cook brings him on and sticks him up front looking for a winner.

But cometh the 89th minute cometh the man. After the ball is poked out again by Dunkley, Grosicki takes another out left. Seeing as the last 99 had come to naught my hopes were not high. In it swings. Defenders rise to meet the ball and clear. Strikers ready to pounce and nip it. But, like a salmon, JDW rises up and powers past everyone to head the ball past the hapless Walton and into the roof of the net. 2-1. And the 7000 City fans go wild. Suck on that, Latics! There is just enough time for City to waste time and boot the ball in the air and then that’s that.

Wigan face Leeds and Norwich in their next 2 games but let’s not rely on them to do us a favour. City then have done what they needed to do and dispatched three teams who they should beat. Now we face 5 teams with still possible promotion dreams beginning with the despicable Pulis at the dispiriting Riverside on Saturday. A game I wasn’t bothered about has suddenly become pivotal – so a ticket has been quickly bought. Get something from this and things could become very really interesting.

Dominic Fellowes (first appeared on the Tiger Chat mailing list)

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Happy “No to Hull Tigers” Day

NoFlag

Doesn’t time in football race by? For today is the fifth anniversary of the Football Association very wisely rejecting (for the first, but most important time) Assem Allam’s attempt to change our name to Hull Tigers.

This is a significantly reduced football club now; the Allam family’s response has been annually gutting the playing squad and a membership scheme that hurts both the present and limits the future.

But half a decade on from the successful culmination of one of the greatest supporter campaigns in English football history, a time when City fans stood in almost total opposition to an idea that would have denied a century of history and destroyed the identity of Hull City AFC, it’s still worth acknowledging how right we all were – and of course, how wrong they were.

Happy No To Hull Tigers Day.

FEAT-TWTWT

Things We Think We Think #331

TWTWT

1. Saturday was all quite enjoyable, wasn’t it? Providing you conveniently overlook the first half, of course. That isn’t easy to do; after a bright opening City didn’t respond at all to falling behind, and the game drifted from that point until the interval in a concerning fashion.

 2. Still, game of two halves and all that – and the second was impressive for City. As soon as Grosicki equalised, a win always felt possible, and in the end it was delivered in far more comfortable a fashion than we could have expected even at 3pm, let alone 4pm.

3. Kamil Grosicki eh? Perhaps the highest praise he could be offered is that he no longer divides opinion among City fans – we all think he’s playing brilliantly and worthy of inclusion in the side every week. His two goals were very well taken, for the second time in a week, and while his fellow winger Bowen had a rare quiet game, he alone was too much for Reading to handle in an exhilarating second half.

4. Marc Pugh is easy to admire. A lively attacking figure who pinched the decisive second goal, his willingness to always look forward is bracing and his late runs were a menace to the Royals all afternoon. Meanwhile, Fraizer Campbell’s standing ovation when going off late was well-earned for yet another tremendously combative and intelligent contribution, and his two assists for Grosicki were transformative. Just think what we could achieve with an attacking quartet of Campbell, Pugh, Grosicki and Bowen next season…oh.

5. Wigan on Wednesday, and another winnable home game that’ll hopefully have the same outcome. They looked for a while like they’d have a decent season, but Saturday’s creditable draw against Bristol City still leaves them perilously close to the bottom three. However, we’ve seen that they can be handy: their 2-1 defeat of City in September was a chastening, one-sided affair despite the oddly close scoreline. It’d be nice to get a home win to partially ease the still-sore memory of that grim evening on the wrong side of the Pennines.

6. After that, it gets hard. Seriously hard. Middlesbrough look like they’re going to blow their top six hopes, but by the time City travel there on Saturday there could still be enough time and enough points available for them to made a late recovery and nick sixth. Other than Stoke, the pre-season title favourites who now languish in the bottom half and perma-bottlers Derby (who at least had Cup fun), few would be more disappointed at not making the play-offs. They haven’t even missed out in style, grinding along at a goal-a-game under a particularly grisly form of Pulisball. Watch them beat us 6-0 now…

7. Then it’s West Bromwich Albion away, and Sheffield United at home. All of which makes getting six points from Reading and Wigan essential if the most improbable of dreams is to stay alive for another few days.

8. Another week, another reputational evisceration for Ehab Allam. This time it came from the Football Supporters’ Federation, the redoubtable body that was a fine friend to City fans during West Yorkshire Police’s infamous bubble and Assem Allam’s name change farce. So irked were they by the club’s incorrect assertion that the FSF somehow endorsed their vile ticketing policy that they felt obliged to correct them. The club’s own minutes of the meeting, at which this erroneous suggestion was made, hasn’t been altered (or an acknowledgement of their mistake made), so we can only assume the club doesn’t mind misrepresenting the FSF and isn’t concerned about misleading City fans.

9. Which, of course, rings entirely true based upon past experience. We feel for the fans who give up a lot of time to be given inaccurate statements that the club doesn’t feel the need to correct or acknowledge. But that’s all a part of dealing with the Allams. Not that it makes any difference anyway: if you still give them the benefit of the doubt, chances are that you either haven’t been paying attention or have to rely upon them for a job. If you don’t, this is just the latest in a very, very long list of reasons to abhor them.

10. Tomorrow marks five years since City fans were successful in repelling their spiteful name change idea, incidentally. They’ve caused untold damage in revenge; but we should still be very proud of one of the finest fans’ campaigns in English football history.

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Things We Think We Think #330

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1. City’s 2-0 win at Ipswich on Saturday may constitute the single most unTypicalCity thing ever. Away to a side destined for relegation with only three wins all season? Who among us didn’t expect a routine home win? However, City won comfortably themselves, and elevated themselves back into the top half

2. It was nice to see that awful run of form on the road come to an end. These may have been the calmest of waters in which to get the good ship Away Form back onto an even keel, but it still got done. Perhaps it wasn’t the most flamboyant performance, but City did keep a clean sheet and take a couple of chances. Just what decent sides do away from home really.

3. Both of Kamil Grosicki’s goals were enjoyable ones. The first, a rare left-footed effort that had the Pole beaming with self-deprecatory delight, the second a fine low finish on his favoured right. He was only a header away from the perfect hat-trick, but he’ll nonetheless reflect upon a handsome afternoon’s work.

4. City now have two home games in rapid succession: Reading next Saturday, and Wigan the following Wednesday. The 3-0 cuffing at Reading earlier in the season wasn’t quite the nadir of the season, but it wasn’t far off. City were wretched that day, looking every bit a side on the way to relegation. Porous defence, toothless up front, it was awful. And hey, we can’t claim that every problem has been fixed – but enough have been so that only of us is still in relegation bother. Reading haven’t looked up to much all season and it appears they’ll be looking over their shoulder for little while yet. This is one we’d be disappointed not to win.

5. In fact, many will expect six points from those two games, and not without justification. For all of City recent difficulties on the road, we’ve continued to look good at home, and the arrival of two weaker sides (even if both beat us earlier in the season) does look like a very good opportunity to secure a top half position.

6. And if we get six points – does that keep play-off hopes flickering? Perhaps it does. With seven games left, City need to win pretty much all of them, though six wins might sneak us in. Given that two of those games are trips to Middlesbrough and West Brom, it’s an extremely tall order. But the fact that this can still be discussed, albeit as a highly improbable outcome, in the month of April is remarkable.

7. It’s interesting that despite the domestic football season being close to its end, Keane Lewis-Potter and Adam Curry have both been sent out on loan – to Bradford Park Avenue and Alfreton respectively. That isn’t a vauntingly high level of football, but it should mean a few first team minutes for both. With the usual summer cull approaching, those minutes could prove useful next season.

8. Nigel Adkins has been offered a contract! And, err, conspicuously declined to confirm whether he’ll be signing it. Quite sensible too. He’s unlikely to trouble the list of top-earning managers in the Championship, but more importantly, he’s going to want to know just how meagre his resources will be for 2019/20. He seems to be enjoying things at City despite the headwinds his boss routinely provides, and he’s established an unlikely rapport with City fans. That he’s not jumped at the offer suggests it isn’t the foregone conclusion Ehab probably thought it was, and suggests that we may need yet another new manager next season.

9. City, Ehab Allam included, met a delegation of City fans on Wednesday night. The Hull City Supporters’ Trust, comfortably the largest and most representative organisation in existence, were again excluded, because the club is run by people with the maturity of toddlers. Their ongoing exclusion is ridiculous, contrary to government guidelines and in violation of the best practice suggested by multiple national fans’ bodies.

10. But we are we are. The meeting itself saw warm words aplenty in the aftermath, and we know ourselves prior to our own exclusion that the club can actually listen to concerns, even if it has no intention of acting upon them. It does seem that Ehab and Vicki Beercock have listened. But little in the subsequent minutes suggested that the owners have understood, or are prepared to act, as shown by the ongoing refusal to restore concessions next season. Nothing else – including a conditions-laden “family” ticket that’s been the source of much internal wrangling at the club this year – will suffice. Concessions. Nothing else is acceptable.

FEAT-TWTWT

Things We Think We Think #329

TWTWT1. There’s much speculation about Nigel Adkins being made to wait for a new contract from the characteristically inept Allams. But isn’t there a possibility that even if he is eventually offered one, he opts against staying? His public utterances thus far indicate a willingness to stay, but frustration is clearly mounting. He must know he’ll have a reduced budget to work with and a squad once again stripped of everyone saleable. The Allams set City up for a relegation battle this season, and it’s only because of the efforts of the manager and his players that we thrillingly pulled clear of it. But for a long time, that looked unlikely.

2. Next season will be worse. Bowen will be off to the Premier League, while Grosicki will once again want to leave. Fraizer Campbell is making dissatisfied noises about the club’s lack of interest in his retention, while David Marshall is out of contract. It’s clear that anyone of quality who may have the temerity to earn a wage commensurate with that ability is going. So we ask again: the Allams aren’t busting a gut to keep Adkins, or retain any of the tools he’ll need. Why would he even want to stay?

3. Let’s continue our thought experiment and suppose that Adkins does opt against staying. What then? There’s always, ALWAYS someone who’ll want the job, no matter how wretched the owners are and how unpromising the circumstances may be. But that isn’t a prospectus for attracting the brightest and the best. Adkins has proven us wrong when we thought he was something of a bargain basement appointment, and we hold our hands up to that. But next time we go manager shopping, it’s hard to imagine us getting anything close to his quality. It’ll be League two cast-offs, in charge of League one players. And that isn’t how you avoid bottom place. It’s almost as if the Allams’ primary concern is with driving the club into the ground, isn’t it?

4. Markus Henriksen sounds very much like a man weighing up his future options, doesn’t he? Let’s face it, Ligue 1 Bordeaux or preparing-for-a-relegation-battle-to-the-third-tier Hull City? It isn’t an impossibly tough choice to make, and the fact that City opted to extend his contract suggests the club know which way the captain is leaning. We’d certainly miss him if he went.

5. Ipswich at the weekend. They’ve won three times all season, lie an impossibly distant 13 points from safety and will be in League One next season. Even overhauling a stricken Bolton to finish in the top 23 looks a tall order for the Championship’s longest serving occupants. Do we need to brace ourselves for some world-class TypicalCity, or are we finally about to reverse this patch of poor form away from home? Hmm.

6. That leads us into two extremely winnable home matches, Reading then Wigan – 21st and 19th as we speak. They’ll both have plenty to play for, with the final relegation place still open to quite a few teams. At least it’s none of our concern any more.

7. The accounts are out! And they reveal that Allamhouse – City’s parent company owned by the Allams – has seen its profits fall markedly. That’s interesting, but not wholly unexpected. There were no major player sales, parachute payments are coming to an end and club policy is to deter supporters from attending games, so it isn’t a surprise that City’s contribution has fallen. It’ll only get worse. It was interesting to see the engineering division showing reduced turnover, however. Wonder what’s happening at Allam Marine?

8. Tomorrow is the first fans’ meeting with the club of the year, and the first in quite a long time. As usual, plenty of those with the ability to represent fans have been excluded, most notably the Hull City Supporters’ Trust. The club’s infantile approach towards the largest fans’ group is absolutely pathetic, and their attempts to spin this as somehow not their fault last week were pitiful. Until the club invites supporters and supporters’ groups who can genuinely collate concerns and feed back to the fanbase, everyone will rightly conclude that this is a pointless box-ticking exercise.

9. One side City seem certain to finish ahead of is Birmingham. They were deducted nine points last week for breaching new sustainability guidelines, which has taken from the fringes of the play-offs to the fringes of the relegation places – though in truth, they’ll probably do what they were always going to do, and stay in the division. There are also no future penalties – no transfer embargo, or fines, so they’ll start next season with a clean slate. So is that enough? Nine points sounds a lot, and many Championship clubs would suffer their loss considerably. But if you’re stuck in midtable with the season approaching its end, losing them is no big deal. It isn’t clear quite how Birmingham have been punished here.

10. No City at the weekend, so no podcast this evening. Back next Monday to review the Ipswich game.

FEAT-TWTWT

Things We Think We Think #328

TWTWT

1. In many ways, Norwich was a lot of fun. A shot to nothing that ended up with City gamely contributing two of the night’s five goals (while never seriously looking like taking anything from the game), in a vibrant stadium that always looks grand under lights. Norwich is a good trip, and a narrow defeat didn’t harm our enjoyment of it.

2. The gulf between City and the very top of the league was pretty stark, however. Norwich looked a cut above City in every way, with their movement out wide mesmerising a City defence that never looked in control, while we were routinely overwhelmed in midfield. They were good, very good in fact – but there’s a lingering regret that in a game we only lost by a single goal that things weren’t made just a bit harder for Norwich.

3. Most galling was the feel of Carrow Road though. The stadium was fully and noisy, the home support was engaged and enthused and everything felt together. Of course, much of this is the consequence of being in the thick of a promotion battle. But lots of it isn’t. It was impossible not to contrast the upbeat, unified approach of the Norwich fans with ourselves on Saturday – those who aren’t boycotting sullenly trudging to a one-third full stadium that’s had the life and colour drained from it. Norwich are what we were, what we want to be once more, and what we will never be again without a change of ownership.

4. Even if we accept that the season’s probably over and we’re only playing a succession of dead rubbers until we can finally focus fully on an Ashes summer, it’s about time this dip in away form was sorted, because people are still going to spend lots of money following the team in the final few weeks. We’ve lost five in a row on the road, and while some of them were pretty stiff tasks, the fact we’ve only got close-ish in one is a worry. If those five games had yielded even one win, we’d have entered the QPR game knowing that a positive result could’ve seen City breach the top six. It’s all ifs and buts, however it’s definitely been a costly and frustrating sequence of results outside of East Yorkshire.

5. Messing up 2-0 leads is even more costly however. To do it once or twice over a whole season is exasperating, but to do it three times in three months is pretty remarkable. The 2-2 draw at Aston Villa is the most excusable, as City were away and Villa are a handy side. Doing it against Rotherham and QPR is rather less understandable.

6. Villa, incidentally, have quietly crept into the top six. We were ahead of them very recently; one team was always going to make a little run into serious play-off contention as the last six weeks of the season approached, and it’s frustrating that it isn’t us.

7. Jarrod Bowen is now on 21 goals, a truly exceptional return for a player who isn’t even an orthodox centre-forward. He’s up to 35 in two seasons, which has emphatically demonstrated that he isn’t a one-season wonder. His Hull City career surely only has a maximum of eight games left. We’d better enjoy him while we can, and hope that his summer move is a wise one that keeps him at the top-flight level he deserves for years to come.

8. An international break now beckons, followed up by three very winnable matches. It’d have been fun to have spent this interlude discussing what Nigel Adkins needs to tweak in order to make the play-offs, but that wasn’t to be. However, the plausible range of finishing positions for City this season is still quite wide, perhaps as many as eight. A top half finish would still represent an outstanding season.

9. The manager cut a thoroughly exasperated figure after the QPR match, and as the match report speculates, it may not all be down to tossing away another two goal lead. That a manager who’s considerably overperformed this season is entering the second half of March not knowing whether he’s even wanted for next season is totally unacceptable. If he walked away from City in protest at the shabby treatment he’s received, and will continue to receive, he’d probably find that his reputation has been restored enough to get a decent job offer in the summer. And who could blame him?

10. Our hearts hurt at the plight of North Ferriby United, forced out of existence on Friday after 85 proud years. Many City fans down the years will have spent enjoyable afternoons and evenings at Church Road, home of our nearest neighbours of note, and the annual playing of the Billy Bly Trophy was an enduring part of the late-summer ritual for so long. To see them fold is devastating, and however modest their support is and always was, a lot of people will be distraught. We wish their fans well in trying to create a footballing resurrection in North Ferriby, and note with foreboding the appalling consequences that terrible owners can have on a club.

FEAT-TWTWT

Things We Think We Think #327

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1. After the pretty wretched affair at Brentford, it was quite a relief to get back on track so quickly against Millwall. It certainly wasn’t a game that’ll live long in the memory. For the most part, it looked very much like a game between a side still recovering from a weekend pasting and one with every chance of slipping into a lower division. But as we’ve noted plenty of times before, this was a game we’d have lost in October, so a decent parcel of credit is owed to the manager and players for eking out a narrow win.

2. Happily, it proved to be the springboard for even better things. For if Millwall was tense and cagey, the 2-0 win over Birmingham was fluent and assured. City completely outplayed a side who remain above them in the table, creating numerous opportunities to score and restricting the visitors with ruthless efficiency.

3. Pugh’s a heck of a player. His impact is not quite Wilson-in-2018 yet, but he’s definitely making us tick better in midfield. It’s a shame his performance didn’t include the goal it deserved, but otherwise he was a joy to watch.

4. Then again, so were many of his team-mates. Henriksen’s transformation into an inspirational leader continues to astound and delight in roughly equal measure, Bowen is clearly playing his last dozen or so Championship games, Grosicki worked backwards as well as forwards (yes he did), even the much-maligned Chris Martin played solidly well as a target man. It didn’t match the gaudy heights of the 6-0 against Bolton or the epic magnificence of cuffing the Champions of Europe on their own patch, but it was a very satisfying afternoon of football.

5. What now for Nigel Adkins? It was striking that the North Stand sang his name as soon as the match began on Saturday, a loud show of support for the latest victim of Ehabbian contractual idiocy. However this season ends, it isn’t in the relegation that was possible, or even the relegation battle that seemed inevitable. He’s doing a brilliant job, and deserves better than the pathetic prevarication from his bosses.

5a. Just no-one mention the play-offs, yeah?

6. Tuesday night’s attendance against Millwall was officially 10,191. Which works out to around 8,500 when you deduct the customary 20% gate inflation. Except even that figure felt too high. Did even eight thousand souls make it to the Circle last Tuesday? It’s unlikely. The KCOM Stadium, which only a few years ago was the subject of genuine discussion about extension, now stands barely one-third full. One third. One fucking third.

6a. That’s led to some speculation that further stand closures are possible for next season. It already feels like a long time since the Upper West was needed, and with the ground less than half full even when that closed area is taken into account you can see why this would appeal to Ehab Allam. The thought of saving money by closing the ground and saving on stewards will obviously appeal to him, particularly with the added bonus of aggravating City fans. Because the simple answers – restore concessions, sell the club, etc – work only if you’re a man of reason.

7. Of course, that’s only speculation. But what’s becoming clear is that a slow-motion boycott of the club is underway. Boycotting home games until the repulsive Allam family go has long been advocated by many, though (we felt) prematurely. But what was once noisily called for is now de facto happening anyway. Membership cancellations continue to leak into the club, with anyone having acted last week avoiding summer payments. With those cancellations, the possibility of a series of dead rubbers ahead and ongoing distaste at putting money into their pockets, gates will continue falling. The boycott is already happening, and it’s gathering pace.

8. Really, what else can an agonised fanbase such as ours do? Protests haven’t worked – in truth, they could have been better, but when the owners don’t show and don’t care anyway, even a 1990s style insurrection may not have mattered. As we’ve seen from Blackpool recently, this sort of battle can be won, but starving them out may be the only route to success. That isn’t to say you’re wrong to still go to City (we do), but increasingly a wholesale desertion of home matches is going to happen. Who knows, perhaps that’s best?

9. And yes, that isn’t fair on Nigel Adkins and his team, who’ve overachieved admirably this season. But as Adkins himself knows, his employers are an utter disgrace and need flushing from this club as quickly as possible – because the challenge of rebuilding this club from the Allam arson is going to be a long, arduous one; and like every long, difficult chore, it’s best started sooner rather than later.

10. One last time: our condolences to the friends and family of ex-Tiger Bobby Doyle, who passed away last week. If you haven’t yet read our tribute to the elegant Scot, it’s here. RIP Bobby.

FEATmatch

REPORT: City 2-0 Birmingham

HenriksenM

O, this was good. Unexpectedly, borderline astonishingly so. But good, really good.

Birmingham arrived with a Spring-tinged sniff of the Play Offs in their nostrils, and left chastened. Harried to perdition, outperformed all over the park, beaten and subdued.

At the end of November, 19 games into this wildly uneven season, we sat morosely marooned in the relegation places, with just 17 points. Right now, having gobbled up 33 points from 16 games since the start of December, we’re tenth (eighth equal, if you prefer to set aside goal difference) and already up to 50 points. Safe from relegation and, absurdly, just four points shy of the Play Off places.

Lots of players deserve credit, but I am going to limit myself to one name alone in allocating praise for this remarkable upturn in not simply the team’s fortunes but in the whole mood and spirit of the squad (if not the club more generally). Nigel Adkins. I’ve had harsh words for him in the past. I don’t care for the needy salutes the very instant his name is chanted, and I can’t warm to the torrents of maniacal exuberance he conveys to press and radio. Most of all, I spent most of 2018 with no faith that he could improve an admittedly thin squad. I was wrong. The formation he’s chosen works, every player looks better now than he did at the beginning of the season, some immeasurably enormously refulgently so, and Mr Adkins, for sure, is doing a Very Good Job. Bless.

Off we go, on a mild afternoon though one unadorned by the glorious Spring sunshine of earlier in the week:

                      Marshall

Kane   Burke   de Wijs   Lichaj

          Irvine       Henriksen

Bowen          Pugh           Grosicki

                        Martin

That’s the same side that began against Millwall on Tuesday, and confirms the removal of Ridgewell, McKenzie and Kingsley from the defence that operated with such sullen lack of distinction at Brentford last week. That 5-1 thrashing could have been season-ending. Two subsequent games, two subsequent wins, and the season is still very much alive.

The game begins in an appealingly open fashion. I like our formation. I don;t trust all of those deployed within it. Pugh is a quick-thinking mobile player who I already like a lot, and he fully grasps the importance of bringing our two speedy wide men into the game as quickly and as frequently as possible. This trio would be enough to lay waste to most Championship defences if, ahead of them, a moderately mobile Championship-level striker was able to pull defenders out of position, hold the ball up and release it. Fraizer Campbell, for example. Chris Martin, a willing if limited professional for a decade and more, could have been that man a few years ago. He’s still willing. But he just can’t run, can’t lose a man, can’t run a channel. I don’t blame him – I blame Ehab. But it’s a toil and a trial to watch Chris Martin doing his best, yet struggling in a formation that is almost destructively incisive, but, for want of a better front man, isn’t quite as exciting as it could be.

We’ve still got enough to best a competent Birmingham side. On 19, Pugh shoots, deflection, saved by Lee Camp. 21, Bowen on the break, left foot shot, stopped. And then we score. It’s an intricate bit of play following a free-kick awarded deep inside the Birmingham half, and Pugh’s quick feet do brilliantly well to claim possession and  switch the ball inside for Bowen to carefully lift the ball up and over the advancing Camp and into the roof of the net.

The subsequent play is largely in our half as Blues seek to assert themselves, but there are no serious alarms anywhere near Marshall’s net, except for a scary moment on 34 when Harlee Dean, monster central defender, is left in space at a set piece but contrives to send an inviting free header high over the crossbar. The City defence was entitled to look mutinously in the direction of Chris Martin, who should have been back covering aforementioned Harlee Dean – who sounds as if he should be doing the full Easy Rider thing across the plains of Wyoming while downing hooch and tripping on acid, but a little research advises me that in truth he was not born to be wild, he was born in Basingstoke and once played for Braintree Town.

Grosicki, haring down the left, sets up Pugh, who shoots low but straight at the ‘keeper, but the finest moment of the half, outshining even the goal, is an astonishing lofted crossfield pass from Markus Henriksen which condemns the defence to irrelevance as Grosicki is able to scoot free of its collective attention. A goal is deserved as a result of Henriksen’s touchingly crafted tribute to the sublime passing range of the late great Bobby Doyle, but the Pole is a little clumsy in bringing the ball under control and ultimately he screws his shot wide of the near post.

The people of Norway seem to be transfixed by their favourite son and his slightly wobbly vowels taking charge of Manchester United this season, but they should come take a look at the Sword of Trondheim. Henriksen has been consistently outstanding this season, on the ball and off it, and in his leadership capacity too. Birmingham City, your boys, like so many others these last three months or so, took a hell of a beating.

Half time. 1-0.

Birmingham begin the second half with a little more vigour and application. On 47 a ball spins away dangerously in our box, corner. On 51, a stramash, we survive. Lively football, though largely broken football, as both sides strain in vain to take command.

Next goal is crucial. And, on the hour, we get it.

Not in entirely satisfactory circumstances, I confess. A slick passing move involving Henriksen, Bowen, Martin and Irvine permits Bowen himself to drive powerfully forward through the heart of the visiting defence and into the box, but he pushes the ball just a bit too far in front of him. The goalkeeper’s challenge is a bit clumsy, but Bowen goes down under it with practised (and understandable) ease. I think that Lee Camp got his gloves to the ball in the same instant as Bowen’s boot, and Camp protests his innocence. Over to you, referee Harrington. He is very well positioned, has a clear sightline, but, surprisingly, gives it.

A pleasing outbreak of resentment, outrage and protest and, from our side, derision and glee interrupts proceedings, and a good old-style set-to develops.  A couple of yellow cards are waved, but eventually the fury abates and Bowen has the ball on the spot. He sweeps the ball calmly into one corner of the net while Camp leaps like a young salmon towards the other corner, and that is 2-0.

We’ve squandered two goal leads twice of late (at Villa and at home to Rotherham), so the matter is not yet settled. But we take a secure grip on this one. After the hubbub surrounding the penalty award, a subsequent red card or two seems a safe bet, but the heat quickly dissipates. Birmingham are not exactly resigned to their fate, but they’re second best and appear to know it. Their main man is burly free-scoring frontman Che Adams, who sounds as if he should have emerged from the South American jungle with a grimy bandana round his head and a knife between his teeth, but was in fact born in Leicester and has played for Oadby Town. But Adams is dealt with by stopping his service at source. Our defenders don’t have a lot to concern them because our midfield spends most of the game making sure Birmingham’s never gets chance to supply Adams with bullets or, for that matter, knives. There are some decent larkers in that Birmingham midfield  – Gary Gardner, Kerim Mrabti (who sounds as if he should be a handsome Turkish prince on horseback but is in fact an anagram) – but they’ve been schooled by Irvine  and the sublime Henriksen today.

On 65, Burke is unusually reticent and Marshall is pulled out of position, and Adams, for once, has a glimpse of our goal, but the shot slices wide into the side-netting. The same fate at the other end on 78, when a quite brilliantly deft pass by Martin frees Bowen beyond the central defence, but here too the side-netting is the recipient of the ball. Then Pugh weaves through a static defence with absorbing skill, only to fire his shot straight at ‘keeper Camp. Lots of pleasing football.

Ridgewell on for De Wijs. McKenzie replaces Lichaj.

On 87 Marshall makes a fine save to his right and then, shortly afterwards, an inviting opportunity is spooned harmlessly high into the air. Nothing for you today in Hull, Bluenoses.

Four added, a deflected corner which draws a save from Marshall and the game is done.

So. The stadium was barely one third full yesterday. The Allams remain in charge, and the babble about a takeover, always a rust-stained polluted trickle, has dried up and evaporated. We are stuck with the gruesome twosome for the foreseeable, and I suspect that even now Ehab is planning a summer of sales followed by last-minute loan signings and hauling in vaguely remembered out-of-contract plodders which he will expect Nigel Adkins to convert into a presentable Championship squad. The miracle is that Mr Adkins might well be able to do just that. I yearn for a post-Allam Hull City, but for the time being I don’t ignore what a remarkable job Nigel Adkins has done and is doing in such forbiddingly difficult circumstances.

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

FEAT-SEATS

PREVIEW: City v Birmingham

StewartK

City’s flirtation with the play-off race has oscillated more wildly between on and off than the most plainly ill-starred celebrity romance; off after the Brentford humping, but following the midweek win over Millwall, we’re back on. Right?

Probably wrong. A scrappy 2-1 win over a struggling side won’t paper over the cracks revealed three days earlier by Brentford, our third away defeat in a row. It just lifts us back into the top half, and replaced frowns with smiles. Got that? Because if City win tomorrow, there’ll be a quiz, to check we’ve remembered all of this…

And yet, Birmingham are touted as much more authentic play-off hopefuls, despite sitting a slender three points ahead of City; a repetition of the five-goal win we enjoyed on their last visit will lift us above them. But…but a loss would probably see us slip into the bottom half.

City can welcome back Kevin Stewart tomorrow, who’s been missed more than we might ever have expected him to be. However, Fraizer Campbell and Stephen Kingsley will have to sit it out through injury. Longer term absentees Toral, Mazuch, Weir and MacDonald are obviously not going to play any part, though recent recoveree Jordy de Wijs – who again we missed when unavailable – should continue in defence.

Birmingham, the jammy gets, have no-one missing and a full squad available. Imagine that – a squad, properly assembled, that’s all fit. Not for us, such vulgarity.

City paggered the Blues 6-1 last season, the fourth time in a row we’ve bested them in this part of the world. Earlier this season, the sides shared six goals at St Andrews; the omens for goals therefore aren’t bad. Birmingham’s form is patchy of late, with an impressive midweek win at Bristol City getting them back on track after a draw with Blackburn and a surprise home defeat to Bolton ended a decent run of form.

Birmingham can probably survive a draw tomorrow and still be in with a chance, though City can’t really not win and still talk about the top six without sounding a bit silly. You can get 6/4 on City recording a seventh win in eight home games, 21/10 on the Blues and 12/5 on a draw that doesn’t really suit anyone. Two top-half sides both with a shout of the play-offs – surely there’ll be queues for this…right?

FEAT-TWTWT

Things We Think We Think #326

TWTWT

1. That really is that. Let’s not mention the play-offs again this season, and pretend that we never did in the first place.

2. Brentford was chastening. An early lead collapsing into a 5-1 defeat was redolent of the autumn’s dark days, not the bright promise of midwinter. Sad to say, City were awful, and gave this one up long before the end – all the more galling considering that Brentford barely featured in the opening quarter of the game.

3. What’s happened to City away from home? Three defeats in a row, shipping ten goals and not really featuring in any of those games. It’s been such a disappointment after the glittering form of December and January, and a real pity to see things go backwards so rapidly.

4. Pretty much no-one emerged with any credit, with the possible exception of the tireless Fraizer Campbell. You could lengthily dissect this shambles – as the match report starkly did – but suffice it to say, Nigel Adkins needs to give deeper thought to his midfield selections, and his side need to remember that even though the season’s ultimate outcome (a lower-midtable finish) is in no real doubt, people are still paying good money to watch them.

5. Wasn’t the terrace at Brenford great though? We make no apologies for being shameless nostalgics: proper standing terraces are just so much better than all other ways of watching football. Safe Standing is an idea whose time has come, and perhaps one day it’ll make a very welcome appearance at the Circle – but we still like old fashioned terraces, and mourn their increasing scarcity.

6. This being the Championship, there’s no time to rest. Two home games quickly follow Brentford, with the visit of Millwall tomorrow. It’d be understandable if they’re already dreaming of FA Cup glory, with a winnable quarter final awaiting them next month. However, despite their impressive win at Derby five days ago they’re only four points above the relegation zone, so they’d be unwise to neglect League duties in the meantime.

7. Millwall’s proximity to danger underlines the opportunity tomorrow: a side that the table suggests are weaker, with the potential for a wandering mind or two. Pre-Brentford, we’d have been moderately confident about this one; now, on the back of a 5-1 kicking and with our disappointing Cup exit at their hands fresh in the memory, we’re rather less so now.

8. Then it’s Birmingham on Saturday. A side whose play-off aspirations lasted longer than ours, they’ll rightly target a match against opposition who may already have little to play for. But we can rightly hope to bloody a contender’s nose. We shared six goals earlier this season, and given that both sides will probably attack from the off, we’re optimistic for goals.

9. Will the “official” – by which we mean wholly dishonest – attendance for either game drop below 10,000?

10. Holidays for some of the team this week, so no podcast tonight. Back next Monday with much to discuss…