Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Ten Years At The KC Stadium - #10

In December, The Tigers will celebrate 10 years of football at the KC Stadium. Since the stadium was opened in December 2002 with a friendly against Sunderland, The Tigers have climbed up through the football league celebrating 3 promotions culminating in a magical play-off final win over Bristol City at Wembley and two seasons in which the best and biggest clubs in the land descended upon the stadium. In this series of blogs, I'll pick the Top 10 Players, Games and Goals from the 10 years at the KC Stadium and will throw in a variety of top 10 lists and boring facts! So here goes:

Top 10 Players - #10

James Chester

In a list that will obviously be dominated by players who've played a big part in The Tigers three promotion campaigns at the KC Stadium, Chester is a pick from the current squad of players. With just a few exceptions, the current squad has been assembled in the post-Premier League era by Nigel Pearson and Steve Bruce. For the most part, it is a squad of young players full of potential who were bought as a long-term investment for a relatively small fee. James Chester epitomises this approach. One of several players plucked from Manchester United's reserve team by Nigel Pearson, Chester was signed for just £300,000 in January 2011, having spent the first half of the season at Carlisle United. At five feet and ten inches, Chester is small for a centre half but any fears that initially caused were quashed once the fans at the KC saw him in action. Chester is an athletic defender, he makes up for his lack of height with great spring and timing. He reads the game well, covers the ground quickly and is better on the ball than most midfielders I've seen in black and amber.

He settled in well alongside Anthony Gerrard on his arrival from United and scored his first Tigers goal against Leeds United in February 2011. Following the arrival of Jack Hobbs on loan from Leicester City, Chester moved to right-back and played as a holding midfielder to make room. It disrupted his fine start at the KC but following Hobbs' permanent move to the Tigers, they struck up a tremendous partnership at the heart of the Tigers defence; the meanest in the league. Chester deservedly took home a number of the Supporters club's Player Of The Season awards. He's started the 2012/13 season in the same imperious form and has adapted to the team's new 3-5-2 system. He's been linked with several Premier League clubs over the past two seasons, though never strongly, and it's easy to see why. Chester will be a Premier League defender next season, whether than be with the Tigers or with someone else. If someone does buy him, City can expect to see their £300,000 outlay multiplied tenfold. At least. Chester has a fair claim to being the best centre back we've ever had at Hull City. I still think there's one ahead of him but one only. If he stays and fulfills his potential at the KC Stadium, he'll surpass even that big guy.

Top 10 Matches - #10

Hull City 6 Tranmere Rovers 1 - 18/12/2004

After climbing into to League One the previous season, the Tigers were well on their way to a second successive  promotion as Christmas approached. Sitting second in the table, third placed Tranmere arrived at the KC Stadium. Adding to the excitement of a genuine promotion six-pointer was the return to Hull of two beloved ex-Tigers, the reggae boys Theodore Whitmore and Ian Goodison, while Tranmere were managed by Brian Little, the manager who led City to the Division 3 play-offs in 2000/01 season.

There was no sign of the drama to come when long serving Tranmere 'keeper John Achtereburg suffered an injury in a challenge with Delroy Facey after twenty minutes and was replaced by Russell Howarth. On 34 minutes, Howarth was picking the ball out of the net, beaten by Ian Ashbee's long range effort. Howart was then injured in a clash with Stuart Elliott but soldiered on until half time. The Tigers took a single goal lead into the interval.

The Tranmere goalkeeper who came out after the break was a familiar face in unfamiliar kit. Jamaican forward Theodore Whitmore replaced the injured Howard in the visitors goal. From the minute he appeared Whitmore looked like a man who wished he could be anywhere else in the world than Hull on a freezing December afternoon in a goalie kit. Stuart Elliott scored the first of three goals in three minutes, heading in Facey's flick as Whitmore looked on helplessly. Eugene Dadi pulled a goal back for Tranmere but Nick Barmby immediately restored the two goal lead.

Elliott added a second ten minutes later, collecting Danny Allsopp's pass and racing clear before hammering the ball into the roof of the net and then completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot. He rolled the penalty into the corner, Whitmore not even bothering to dive. With a couple of minutes remaining, Danny Allsopp added a sixth goal, creeping past a defence who'd obviously given up the game the second they saw Whitmore with his gloves on and Brian Little attempting to drown himself in the team bath. It was a remarkable second half and saw a promotion rival humiliated in ridiculous circumstances. The only downside came in not exactly seeing Theo Whitmore at his brilliant best one more (last) time. The Tigers completed a league double over Tranmere with a 3-1 win at Prenton Park. Tranmere finished third in the table but lost the play-off semi-final to Hartlepool on penalties. Whitmore wasn't in goal that night though.

Boring stat: The Tigers were in the middle of a run that saw them score 2 or more goals in 15 consecutive games. The one defeat in those 15 games was a 2-4 loss at Swindon Town.

Top 10 Goals - #10

Andy Dawson (Hull City 6 Kidderminster Harriers 1 - 27/09/2003)

This crushing 6-1 win over Kidderminster in the first promotion season included a brace from Ben Burgess, one a remarkably athletic overhead kick, and a debut goal from Ryan France who'd joined the Tigers from non-league Alfreton for £15,000. The highlight of the day however was this thunderbolt from Andy Dawson. He picked up a pass25 yards from goal and unleashed an unerring strike into the far top corner with such pace that the 'keeper didn't even move. If it had been a Premier League full-back, it would have been on the opening credits of Match Of The Day for years!

Top 10 Tedious Matches at the KC Stadium (not including Rugby obviously)

1. Hull City 0 Burnley 0 - 15/04/2006
2. Hull City 0 Portsmouth 0 - 24/10/2009
3. Hull City 0 Bradford City 1 - 31/08/2004
4. Hull City 0 QPR 0 - 06/08/2005
5. Hull City 0 Lincoln City 2 - 28/02/2004
6. Hull City 0 Liverpool 0 - 09/05/2010
7. Hull City 0 Watford 0 - 21/08/2010
8. Hull City 0 Stoke City 2 - 18/11/2006
9. Hull City 0 Crystal Palace 1 - 20/08/2010
10. Hull City 1 Hartlepool United 0 - 08/03/2005

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Leeds United 2 Hull City 3

I thought the “25 years of hurt” stuff was a bit over-played locally today. It may well be 25 years since we’ve won at Elland Road but we’ve only actually been 5 or 6 times. Still, Hull City victories at Elland Road are as rare as rocking horse droppings. We’ve only won there twice in our history and one of those was in 1921 (against Leeds United anyway, we’ve won twice in FA Cup replays played at Elland road as a neutral venue and games against Leeds City). You can make that three times now. The modern-day tigers strolled into Elland Road tonight, bared our teeth and took Leeds apart. And they did it with the odds stacked in favour of our hosts, the uncrowned Champions of Europe. It’s just a pity there were less than 20,000 fans there to see it.

The Tigers were forced into one change from the victories over Bolton and Millwall as Seyi Olofinjana picked up the millionth injury of his Hull City career. It’s to his credit that most fans felt we’d miss him. Corry Evans stepped up in his place and Jamie Devitt filled the bench.

Tigers: Amos; Chester, Faye, Bruuuuuuuce; Elmohamady, Dudgeon, Evans, Quinn, Koren; Aluko, Simpson.

I paid an eye-watering 34 quid to get in the ground, “enjoyed” a grey-brown “cheese” pie and downed a beer with less alcohol content than Mother Teresa’s breathalyser reading before taking my seat approximately 4,000 yards from the pitch. Only in football, eh? Fortunately the couple of thousand Hull City fans were in fantastic voice and the away end was jumping. The home areas, consisting mainly of seats, were not so. Within 8 minutes, the Tigers fans were temporarily muted by a mind-numbingly poor refereeing decision. El Hadji-Diouf beat Joe Dudgeon on the bye-line and Dudge clipped his heels outside the box. Diouf chucked himself into the box and the linesman flagged for a foul. The referee, Roger East, pointed to the spot. The City players and fans were aghast and the players badgered the referee into consulting the linesman. I presume the conversation went something like:

“Was it in the box, lino?”
“No Ref, it was a couple of yards outside”
“Well I’m going to look like a tit if I change my mind and Warnock will never let me hear the end of it so I’m going to give it anyway”

Luchiano Becchio stuck the penalty in the bottom corner [1-0], as if there was ever any doubt, despite Ben Amos going the right way and the home fans made a bit of noise for the only time of the evening. City were shaken by the start and had to hang on for 5 minutes. Corry Evans gifted them the ball in midfield for the second time and Becchio headed Diouf’s deep cross into the back of James Chester before a fabulous block from Faye denied Rudolph Austin. The ball was quickly returned down the right wing and Austin cut inside and hit a low shot that Amos saved well. Stephen Quinn and Sone Aluko started to see a little bit of the ball and it helped City settle. The tide turned as Leeds and the awful referee fired the Tigers up big time. Sam Byram flew at Abdoulaye Faye with a high reckless challenge that could have caused serious damage. To the fury of the City players, there wasn’t even a free-kick awarded (echoes of Cairney at Donny). There probably wasn’t enough contact to warrant a red card but it was a certain yellow. Instead, Mr. East booked Alex Bruce for his protests.

The Tigers realised that they weren’t going to be handed anything at Elland Road. Despite the empty seats and the whiff of faded glory in the air, it’s apparently still an intimidating place for officials. Having a tracksuited troll screaming from the home dugout doesn’t help them. From a rare free-kick in our favour, City worked the ball right. Elmohamady collected on the edge of the box, steadied himself and lashed a shot into the far corner beyond the despairing dive of Paddy Kenny [1-1]. We went mental. It may just have been an equaliser in a Championship fixture but after 20 mins of injustice, it felt great. And it got better. City were in the ascendancy and forced a corner. Koren’s delivery was cleared at the near post. Jay Simpson retrieved the ball, held it up and then found Quinn who fed Elmo. He crossed early with whip and pace and Abdoulaye Faye nodded beyond Kenny. Dream-land [1-2]. Never mind winning at Elland Road, we’ve got a defender who scores goals! Three in three for the big man. And three consecutive games in which we’ve scored a header. I love headers. Headers are great. Someone set off a red flare in the City end. Goals from Egyptians and Senegalese, flares, singing, scoring goals. It’s a bit continental but I like it!

The Tigers were well in control now. Leeds were rocking. They defended like park players, booting the ball up in the air, looking to their coach for a bit advice, hoping their Mam might haul them off home to save them having to chase Sone Aluko again. The ref is still rubbish; he’s giving us nothing but he doesn’t have too, we’re taking it. The Tigers break brilliantly from our area. Dudgeon finds Quinn who plays a lovely ball into Aluko. He sets off like a rocket and races past two defenders. He’s heading into the penalty area when Jason Pearce chops him down in the “D”. It’s a clear denial of a goal scoring opportunity. It’s a red card. Yeah right, dream on. It’s yellow of course. Koren curls the free kick low towards the bottom left corner but Kenny saves well. Aluko picks up the ball again, 40 yards out, goes past Austin as if he isn’t there but drags his shot wide. Michael Tonge, a typical Warnock soldier, is booked for a cynical foul and City lead at half-time. The City fans booed off the ref. Remarkable given that we were winning.

It was an excellent half from the Tigers. I thought it was better than Millwall. It wasn’t as free-flowing or as dominant but we showed such character to haul back a game that was being taken from us and to dominate it. The back three, as usual, stood up to everything that was thrown at them and Leeds front line dropped deeper and deeper to try and affect the game. Only Corry Evans disappointed. He had his poorest half for a long while, possibly a result of him being determined to do well coming into a winning team.

The first fifteen resembled a home game for The Tigers as they dictated the game, had most of the ball and Leeds sat back and looked to counter. Their only scraps came from careless City passes. Stepehen Quinn gifted the ball to Diouf who slid a great ball in behind for Becchio. At least it would have been a great ball if Joe Dudgeon hadn’t read it, raced across and cut it out. That came in between two chances for the Tigers to kill the game. A move up and across the pitch saw Aluko feed the over-lapping Elmohamady, Elmo dummied as if to cross, pushed the ball past White to the bye-line and dinked a cross to the far post that Simpson headed just wide. Then Robert Koren won a challenge in midfield and the ball flew over the top of the defenders into the path of Aluko. He ran in on goal on the right but Aidy White did well to get himself between Aluko and the goal and our man shot wide. Aluko was having one of those games and almost forced a repeat of the Dudgeon/Diouf penalty incident when he beat two defenders with a sublime piece of skill but Austin put the ball out for a corner.

The game started to turn Leeds’ way with the introduction of substitute Dominic Poleon. He was a stout little player with electric pace. He gave them something they didn’t have and lifted everyone in the ground. His excellent run and cross on the right was halted by an equally excellent block by Dudge. Then he raced from half way on the left wing, left Chester (no slouch) for dead and fired a shot that Amos held well. From a short corner, Rudolph Austin found a little bit of space and hit a ridiculously powerful shot that flew just over. You had that feeling that an equaliser was coming. Elmohamady controlled the ball with his nose and fell to the floor. Leeds ignored him and continued to attack. The referee blew up with Leeds on the right wing so that Elmo could receive attention. Warnock was absolutely livid. It was brilliant. To be fair to Mr. East, he was only being consistent. He’d blown up earlier in the half with City on a break when one of theirs was hit in the knackers with the ball. Not that Warnock will remember that one. With Leeds in the ascendancy for the first time since the 15 minute mark and City fans getting a twitchy, a third City goal would have been most welcome. The Tigers broke out of defence. Simpson plays a great ball across field to Evans who carries it quickly down the right, lets Elmo overlap and then slides him in. Elmo’s cross takes a slight deflection and falls perfectly for Koren, arriving at the back post, who controls and knocks it nonchalantly beyond Kenny [1-3]. Pande-bloody-monium.

The chant went out “Warnock, what’s the score? Warnock, Warnock, what’s the score?”. He didn’t seem to know. The Tigers should have strolled home after that and Steve Bruce sent on Rosenior (for Koren) and McLean (for Simpson) to shore things up. This being Hull City though, things are never that simple. The referee indicated a minimum of five minutes stoppage time. Then played about fifty. Leeds sent on Andy Gray. I laughed at them signing a player who Barnsley let go. He scored. Typical. A left wing free kick was conceded by Faye and when they swung it in, Gray was left free at the near post and finished with a simple header [2-3]. City regained their composure quickly and saw out the remaining forty-eight minutes of stoppage time. Ben Amos was booked for time wasting. Of course he was time wasting, stoppage time is infinite at Elland Road!

So there it was. Our first victory at Leeds for donkey’s years. And a thoroughly deserved one it was too. Selecting a man of the match is near impossible again. The back three were magnificent, including Alex Bruce who I had pegged down for the usual nightmare City players experience against their former clubs. The two wing-backs were unerring again. Dudgeon with superb contributions at the back, Elmo the difference maker at the front. Aluko was unplayable. Koren strolled around like he owned the joint. Evans recovered from a shoddy first half to provide a steely resilience after the break. Quinn is irrepressible. He’s everywhere. My MOTM is Jay Simpson though. He didn’t let up for a second in the game. He chased everything, he battled for every ball in the air, he put pressure on them time and time again. And when he had the ball at hi feet, he was excellent. We’ve seen before that he has good vision but his speed of though and speed of feet are new to us. If Sone Aluko wasn’t in the team, we’d be drooling over Jay’s dribbling ability tonight. He’s in excellent shape, he’s fit and sharp and yet he retains a really strong frame. I continue to be seriously impressed with him.

I said after the Millwall game that we look in good shape as a squad and going and winning at a hardened Championship rival only reinforces that. I’ve seen a few quotes in the press from other managers about us having spent a few quid. Warnock mentioned is in his presser and Malky MacKay said it on the radio on Monday morning. However 90% of our summer spending went on a guy who hasn’t played a minute in the last three games. That’s not to write off Nick Proschwitz, he could still be a key player once he’s settled in. What it means is that Steve Bruce has thus far transformed us from a lovely non-threatening football team into a lovely dangerous football team and has done so with players who only cost £400,000 between them. There’s a long way to go yet but it’s suffice to say that Bruce has made an excellent start.

Fortunately for them, Leeds don’t care about little old Hull City. Which should help them this morning as they face up to a humiliating home defeat to those poor relations down the road. And this bunch of clowns still think they are rivals of Chelsea and Manchester United? Ho Ho Ho.

The Starting Stats!

13 points from 6 games is The Tigers best start to a season since 1993/94 (5 wins, 1 draw).

13 points from 6 games only bettered 8 times in our history (points adjusted) and only 3 times post-war. 

Best ever start was 1948/49 in Div 3 North. 6 games, 6 wins. (Tranmere 2-1, Oldham 6-0, Mansfield 4-0, Barrow 2-1, Accrington 3-1, Wrexham 3-0)

Worst ever start was 2006/07 in Championship. 6 games, 1 point. (WBA 0-2, Barnsley 2-3, Derby 1-2, Ipswich 0-0, Coventry 0-1, Birmingham 1-2) 

2012/13 is The Tigers best ever start in the second tier post-war.

The Tigers have hit 11 goals in 6 games. It took 12 games in 2011/12, 16 games in 2010/11 and 13 games in 2009/10 to hit our 11th goal.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Hull City 4 Millwall 1

The Tigers returned to League action with Millwall visiting the KC Stadium this afternoon. Following up our best home performance in years after the unwelcome interruption of the international break would take some doing but do it we did. Millwall were blown away in a breath-taking 45 minutes in which the Tigers hit four goals and could easily have made it six or eight.

Unsurprisingly, given the impressive nature of the Bolton performance, the Tigers were unchanged on the pitch and on the bench:

Amos; Chester, Faye, Bruce; Elmohamady, Dudgeon, Olofinjana, Quinn, Koren [C]; Aluko, Simpson.

The opening ten minutes was bright enough for both teams. City passed the ball nicely and Aluko and Elmohamady struck early shots from distance that showed the confidence that is present in the team at the moment. Millwall were more direct but forced a few corners and kept the City back-line busy enough. With Jay Simpson looking lively again, Koren and Quinn getting around the box and Dudgeon and Elmohamady pouring forward, City started to make chances. A delightful ball from Koren put Dudgeon in behind but he was held up. Simpson turned quickly on the right and put in a low cross that evaded everyone. Dudgeon went in behind again after Quinn stepped over Aluko’s pass and Dudge attacked the bye-line. His pull back found Koren but he shot weakly at Taylor who pushed it away unconvincingly. An excellent James Chester header stopped Andy Keogh’s cross reaching Darius Henderson before City took the lead up the other end. Bruce played the ball out of defence nicely into Dudgeon and then Simpson; he laid it off to Olofinjana whose pass found Koren 25 yards out. Koren hit a stunning shot into the bottom left-hand corner. The ‘keeper didn’t even move. Millwall were shocked and so initially were the crowd but it didn’t take them long to recover and celebrate [1-0].

The Tigers controlled the game without making too many clear-cut chances until Elmohamady curled in a delightful cross that Simpson attacked left footed when it was begging for a header. His shot flew over. Soon after the same two players were involved again. Quinn challenged for a header in midfield and then Elmo won a second header. The ball fell to Quinn whose ball over the top found Simpson who’d pulled off his marker. Simpson controlled instantly and slid a volley into the far corner. He looked slightly offside but no-one in the KC was complaining [2-0]. The Tigers were rampant at this point. Quinn and Aluko were everywhere, Koren was pulling the strings, the two wing-backs were practically wingers and Simpson’s quick feet and movement caused them all sorts of problems. Millwall had had 5 or 6 corners in the first half and despite being the bigger side, were unable to beat City defenders to the ball. From our first corner, we scored. The set-piece was cleared as far as Dudgeon who kept the ball alive on the left and Koren found Chester. He turned the right-back and stood up a cross that Faye, unmarked in the middle, powered down past the hapless Taylor [3-0].

Before we’d got our breath back, Sone Aluko made it three goals in eight minutes. Aluko fed Simpson who skipped past Robinson but was taken out. The referee played a great advantage as Aluko had carried on running. He picked up the ball and hammered it under Taylor [4-0]. Millwall were flailing against the ropes and City searched for the knock-out blow. Maik Taylor, once a very good goalkeeper, is finished. If City hadn’t spent the afternoon hitting shots straight at him, they might’ve scored ten. Even then, he made a mess of half of the shots. With half time looming, Stephen Quinn strode into the box again, picked up Aluko’s pass and hit a shot that Taylor tipped behind himself and then dragged back from somewhere around the goal line. Quinn appealed but the linesman was 6 yards from the corner flag and had no view of it. Half time followed and City walked off to a rapturous applause. Every bit of it deserved.

The second half started with Millwall sub Alan Dunne committing a cowardly foul on Stephen Quinn who looked badly hurt but was alright in the end. Dunne earned himself a yellow card and 45 minutes of boos from the East Stand. City still looked hungry for goals and broke quickly on Millwall. Simpson and Aluko combined to find Elmohamady whose wicked shot from distance was tipped onto the bar by Taylor. Evans replaced Olofinjana and after Aluko played a beautiful chipped pass down the right and Elmo pulled the ball back, he struck a shot straight at Taylor. The Tigers had started to ease off, they were no longer pressing defenders and were content to soak up pressure and break at leisure. Millwall pulled a goal back when an excellent cross was headed in by Henderson [4-1]. Despite the goal, Millwall rarely threatened and the game fizzled out. McShane replaced Bruce in defence and late on Rosenior relieved Aluko. Aluko had the final chance to round off the scoring collecting the ball from Simpson and wriggling across the box holding off defenders but shot straight at Taylor again.

Ten points from the opening five games represents the Tigers best start to a season since Peter Taylor’s side won four of the first five games in League One in 2004/05. It’s our best start at this level since 1971 (points adjusted). When you consider the fact that we should really have won at Charlton and we were unlucky to lose at Blackburn, it could have been even better. The results have been good but the last two performances have been even better. We’ve played some of the excellent football we saw in the last couple of seasons but we’re playing it higher up the pitch and with pace and urgency. The most pleasing aspect of the past two games for me has been the spread of the goals. I was concerned last season that we relied too heavily on Fryatt and Koren for goals and Steve Bruce has sought to address this by adding Aluko and Quinn and a threat from set-pieces.

Quinn was excellent again today working at both ends of the pitch, timing his runs well and showing he’s technically very good. Ahmed Elmohamady also followed up an impressive debut with a strong showing at right wing-back. He produced good crosses again and got into great positions around the box. It’ll be interesting to see if Bruce trusts Elmo at Leeds and Leicester as he hasn’t faced a defensive test yet. Joe Dudgeon had his best game for City, combining his vastly-improved defending with end product in the final third again. The wing back system suits us at the moment and allows us to compete with packed midfields while playing two forwards and not losing any presence out wide. The three centre halves were terrific again and complement each other so well. I thought James Chester was the man of the match today. He was immaculate. He barely made a tackle in the first half; he just read everything and cut it out early.

It’s too early in the season to get carried away, especially with two incredibly tough away trips this week, but it’s hard not to be optimistic. Especially when you consider the talent we have sat on the bench at the moment and the fact we have Fryatt, Hobbs, Cairney and McKenna to come back in at varying points. We look a well-rounded, well balanced side. We’re strong defensively and improving offensively. We’re generally young, fit, quick and hungry but have experience in the right areas. The only real downside is the attendance today. 14,756 is the lowest attendance for a league game at the KC Stadium since we beat MK Dons 3-2 in October 2004 (The only time that season we pulled in less than 15,000). It was an attendance we bettered 22 times when we were in the bottom division. It’s a real worry. It’s even more worrying considering it comes off the back of our best home win for ages. Unfortunately Steve Bruce and the players are paying for a disastrous summer at boardroom level. The players are doing their bit. The owners need to address the ticket prices and the general air of resentment some still feel. This crowd was down 1848 on last season’s LOWEST crowd and down 4034 on last season’s AVERAGE. That’s worrying.

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Hull City 3 Bolton Wanderers 1

How would you define your perfect day at the football? Good pre-match grub? Decent beer? Play well? Win? Score a few goals? Humble a well-fancied rival? Watch a couple of new signings impress? Watch the best defender in the division dominate the opposition the day after the transfer window shuts? If that is the criteria, then this was as close to a perfect Hull City performance as we’ve seen in 4 years. We were much better than Bolton. We were rock-solid at the back, inventive in midfield and dangerous up front. We were so good that the moaning git near me was so impressed; he described the performance as “not bad”.

The Tigers stuck to the 3-5-2 system that was effective in the previous two away games which was mildly surprising as I thought they’d go 4-4-2 at home. That new boy Elmohamady was chosen ahead of Liam Rosenior at right-win back was a bigger surprise. Still, I suppose Steve Bruce didn’t chase him all summer to leave him out. The midfield has been a worry of late and has lacked energy and a player who gets into the box. Steve Bruce looked to address those worries (and cover Tom Cairney’s unfortunate absence) with the signing of Stephen Quinn from Sheffield United. He’d have an eventful debut.

Tigers: Amos; Chester, Faye, Bruce; Elmohamady, Dudgeon, Olofinjana, Quinn, Koren; Aluko, Simpson.

City started brightly with Elmohamady getting forward well but delivering poorly, Simpson heading wide at the near post and Koren firing a free kick a foot or three over the bar. Bolton would take over though. They rarely threatened in open play but played for set-pieces and looked as dangerous as they always have from the deliveries. We needed a strong ref to avoid some soft decisions and when he gave a free-kick against Chester for an excellent challenge in the first minute, it was obvious we didn’t have one. That old warhorse (which is code for cheating b*****d) Kevin Davies won a couple of free-kicks, heading narrowly wide from the first one. Then Mark Davies was caught by Olofinjana 30 yards out. It was definitely a foul but Davies went over Oliy’s leg like an Olympic Gymnast. They should make a film about footballers going about their daily lives. It’s be quite amusing to see them hit the deck in Tesco when someone clips their ankle with a shopping trolley or roll around on a zebra crossing when someone hurrying the other way taps their shoulder. I presume that if Mark Davies stubbed his toe on the coffee table, he’d actually die.

Anyway, the Bolton free-kick. Eagles hit it from 30 yards, James Chester tries to cut it out  and only succeeds in deflecting it into the bottom corner. It’s fluky and not particularly deserved but Eagles still celebrates like he’s just scored from the halfway line in the World Cup final. Prick [0-1]. Bolton had their tales up for a few minutes while City tried to recover from the shock of going behind. Mark Davies picked up on a rare error form Abdoulaye Faye and burst towards the edge of the box with two team-mates haring up beside him but ran into James Chester who made the best tackle of the season. Again. The Tigers regained a little composure and set about finding an equaliser. Quinn was busy in midfield but looked like a guy who’d signed only 24 hours previous. Olofinjana looked the deepest lying midfielder but the three of them interchanged so well that he turned up all over the place. He passed the ball well and opened up the game with nice balls played wide. With three centre halves, Bruce obviously felt he didn’t need a ball winner in midfield and it worked well having three good ball players in there and all three showed plenty of adventure.

It was the ultra-lively Sone Aluko who was the catalyst for the fight back. He turned beautifully in midfield, showed them a clean pair of heels, exchanged passes with Olofinjana and headed into the box. He couldn’t quite get the shot away and Sam Ricketts got back to clear. Not long after, a flowing Tigers move, started by Bruce and Faye, sees Olofinjana spread the play wide to Elmohamady. “Elmo” draws the full-back; Koren provides the option and is slid in down the right. Koren cuts it back towards the penalty spot and Aluko scores. It was a scruffy finish that appeared to deflect of someone but no-one cares. The Tigers are level and deservedly so [1-1]. A large part of the first half battle took place in midfield with moves breaking, or being broken, down, and the stubborn defences refusing to be breached. It was a good half but clear cut chances were rare. There was once each before half time. In front of the sparsely populated North Stand Jay Simpson headed powerfully wide of the near post from Olofinjana’s lovely ball in. Then with half time approaching, Chris Eagles got himself between Elmo and Chester as Bolton counter-attacked, collected a good pass and poked a shot which Amos saved well. Amos had a splendid game. Bolton’s biggest threat came from corners and free-kicks and he was decisive, quick and strong in dealing with most of them, either taking them cleanly or punching clear.

We’ve seen the Tigers start the second half slowly on many occasions down the years but rarely have we seen them come out like they did today. In the first 15 minutes after the break, City played some of the most sumptuous football we’ve seen in years. This wasn’t just “pretty” football either; it was positive, direct and downright sexy football that had the visitors chasing their own tails. Elmohamady forced a corner on the right that Quinn delivered with his left foot. Abdoulaye Faye rose highest and headed it down and past Bogdan [2-1]. The ultimate collector’s item at the KC Stadium: a goal from a set-piece. And it came against a team of giants who live for set-pieces. Ace. We’d barely got the champagne uncorked when the turnaround went from brilliant to bloody brilliant. Jay Simpson, who led the line brilliantly all afternoon and showed excellent ability on the ball, took possession on the right wing. He tormented the defender, looked to have taken too long on the ball, but then fed a ball into the six yard box that was begging for a runner to tap it in. In recent games, there’d have been no chance of that happening. In this one, Stephen Quinn arrived with a perfectly timed run and gobbled up the chance [1-3]. Mobbed in front of the South Stand, Quinn looked a little dumbstruck which was understandable; he woke up yesterday morning as a Sheffield United player and now he’s got an assist and a goal for Hull City.

How the Tigers failed to add a fourth goal, I’ll never know. Quinn hit a shot from outside the box that provoked a terrific save from Bogdan. Sone Aluko, not to be outdone by any debutant, showed outrageous pace and trickery to leave Ricketts for dead on the right. From the resulting corners, Faye rose at the back post to meet another excellent delivery, from Koren this time, but thumped his header against the post before the ball rolled along the line and back off the other post. Unbelievable. Bolton had to respond and sent on big Benik Afobe initially and then Marvin Sordell for Kevin Davies. Once the referee had stopped pandering to him, Davies was as ineffective as I’ve ever seen him. His only involvement in the second half came when he swung an arm at a City defender, turned to find he’d caught Abdoulaye Faye and promptly crapped himself. Mark Davies ran at the heart of the City defence exchanging passes twice and getting into a goal scoring position only to see his shot deflected over by a wonderful lunge from Alex Bruce. Bruce, much maligned a month ago, has barely put a foot wrong in a City shirt. Afobe then stole in on their left but made a mess of his shot, while Sordell’s first involvement was a near post header that flew just wide.

That fourth Tigers goal might have come on the break late on as Simpson chased a long ball forward, Ream had a tug at him but couldn’t hold him back, and Simpson beat the goalie Bogdan to the ball and fired into the empty net. It was an honest enough challenge from Simpson but he was always going to be penalised once he’d connected with the ‘keeper, fairly or not. However asking a linesman to spot a blatant pull is like asking a politician to tell the truth. Simpson and Koren were replaced by McShane and McLean to eat up a bit of time and to allow Simpson to receive a well-deserved standing ovation. That was great management from Bruce. In truth the last 15-20 minutes were pretty dull with City in complete control but not willing to risk the three points for more goals. It’s just a pity that only 15,304 saw such an excellent performance against a team that are, on paper, the best in the division.

The sponsors picked Stephen Quinn as their man of the match. I didn’t agree but on a day like today, anyone in the ground could have made an argument for any player. The back three were excellent. Not only did they defend well but they brought the ball out well and used their number to work Chester free to carry the ball into midfield. Joe Dudgeon was very good again. He’s perfectly suited to being a wing-back. Elmohamady may well face sterner defensive tests but he gave a very impressive debut that will be over-shadowed by Quinn’s goal-scoring antics. He ran well with the ball, attacked space, worked forward and back with ease and defended very well at set-pieces. He doesn’t have electric pace like a Cameron Stewart or Josh King but he’s quick enough and he looks strong over distance. He’s physically strong too. His early deliveries were poor but he improved as the game went on and put in some terrific crosses. It’s obvious why Bruce was so keen to take him.

The three in midfield worked well together. They were more dynamic than our midfield has been recently and didn’t look as rigid. Quinn took a while to get into his stride but once he did, he really made an impression. Olofinjana had his best game for City since, well, ever. Aluko linked midfield and attack brilliantly. He’s just got unbelievable skill and electric pace. I think now he’s got his goal, he’ll get a bundle. Jay Simpson has had a couple of false starts in his City career but looks the real deal now. He’s leaner and stronger than he’s ever been and he’s got back the half-a-yard of pace back. He’s always had a good touch and an eye for a pass and he showed that today along with excellent work-rate and ability to hold the ball up. I thought he was the best player on the pitch. And on a near-perfect day like today, that is one hell of a compliment.

Doubts? What doubts?

Tranmere 0 Hull City 3: Short and sweet match report

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