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?