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.