Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Hull City 0 Crystal Palace 0

The Tigers bounced back from Saturday’s disappointing performance at home to Burnley with a spirited effort against second placed Crystal Palace. In isolation, the point taken tonight would have been a good one but that Burnley defeat means an overall return of 1 point from 6 isn’t really good enough. A three point return would have been acceptable and it should really have been achieved. For 70 minutes, City made a mockery of The Eagles lofty position in the table playing some stunning football, pressing the visitors into giving the ball back regularly and keeping new England cap Wilfried Zaha very quiet indeed.

Steve Bruce made four changes from Saturday’s debacle. He could’ve made nine and they wouldn’t have had anything to complain about. Perhaps controversially he chose to leave McLean, Simpson and Proschwitz on the bench and employ Aluko and Koren as a front two. It worked beautifully with their movement and ability to drop into pockets of space to link play causing Palace all sorts of problems.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, McShane, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Quinn, Evans, Meyler [F] Aluko, Koren.

It was obvious from the start that Robbie Brady was in the mood as he delivered a wonderful, whipped, low cross in between defence and ‘keeper early on. David Meyler made a committed run into the 6 yard box but just failed to get enough on it to divert goalwards. Palace then freed Bolasie in between McShane and Bruce but his shot lacked the power to trouble Stockdale. It’d be their last shot for over an hour. A double injury to Evans and McShane, who came back on sporting a Terry Butcher headband, broke the game up and it struggled to regain its rhythm for ten minutes or so. Sone Aluko got himself in on the right and shot across goal lifting the crowd and encouraging City to crank up the tempo. Koren and Elmohamady got in each other’s way trying to meet another Brady delivery and Koren hit the side netting with a near post header from an Aluko corner. You felt a goal was coming. As the heavens opened, it really should have. Elmohamady skinned Parr on the right touchline, stayed on his feet as the Norwegian tried to pull him back and then crossed poorly from the bye line. Aluko got across the near post causing enough trouble for everyone to miss the cross which fell to Koren 7 yards out, middle of goal. He doesn’t miss those. Well he didn’t used to! Unbelievably Koren lifter the ball over the bar. We wouldn’t get a better chance.

Palace were all over the place defensively. They couldn’t cope with the movement of our front two. Parr, who was magnificent in two games against City last season while playing wide in midfield, was murdered by Elmohamady. When they got the ball into their quick front three, they were immediately closed down by Chester, McShane or Bruce from behind and Evans and Quinn from in front. Bolasie took to running into people and throwing himself down in desperation. To credit the ref, he didn’t fall for it but it happened so often, I can’t believe he wasn’t booked. I also can’t believe he wasn’t booked for a two footed lunge at Chester. The ref signalled that Bolasie has got the ball but he absolutely did not. And even if he had, Evans was pulled up for an earlier foul, when he clearly won the ball, just because he’d gone in recklessly. Consistency eh? Palace’s other strikers weren’t shy of throwing their weight around and Jermain Easter had already clobbered Evans and Bruce before he was finally booked for leaving Bruce laying again. City continued to make chances leading into half time. Yet another quality cross from Brady was cleared to Koren whose shot was blocked by Ward in a weird crouched position. There was a big handball shout from the players but nothing doing from the referee. Elmo tricked his way past Parr again, clipped a cross to the back post where Quinn arrived late and met it on the volley rolling it just wide of the far post. Garvan then coughed up the ball into midfield allowing Koren a run towards the area. He ignored the run of Aluko and saw his weak shot deflected around the far post. Wrong decision. The half then finished as it started; Aluko crossing this time and Meyler arriving at speed but just not getting the contact on his header. This was the best half of football we’ve seen at home for a while. Nil-nil was a travesty.

City continued to make chances in the second half but it brought a dilemma for Steve Bruce. We were playing so well, creating great oppositions, working the ball wide well and dragging defenders around to create spaces to be exploited. However you felt like it was going to take a striker to convert one of the chances. At some point, SB was going to have to stick or bust. David Meyler picked up a booking for a foul on Jedinak in the midfield. No complaints about the card other than there were numerous other instances were cards weren’t handed out for similar fouls. Quinn was brought down around 25 yards out to the right of goal. Aluko hit the free-kick sweetly but it flew a foot or two over the bar. Quinn then made a terrific run into the right channel and was found by a fine ball from Elmohamady. Quinn’s right foot shot was well struck but straight at Speroni. Aluko picked up the rebound and saw his right foot shot deflected. It could have gone anywhere but ended up smacking the South Stand advertising hoardings. James Chester then strode out of defence, played in Elmohamady (with good advantage played by the ref), Elmo curled a ball across the 6 yard line, Koren couldn’t connect at the near post, Quinn slid the ball wide at the far under pressure from Ward.

Palace replaced the ineffective Easter with ex-Tiger Aaron Wilbraham, miraculously still a Championship footballer. Meanwhile another Elmo cross skimmed off a Palace head to find Koren at the far post. He couldn’t take it down cleanly and Speroni narrowed the angle. Shortly after Steve Bruce decided to twist and threw on Proschwitz and McLean for Aluko and Koren. I’m surprised he didn’t drop Koren into midfield and remove Meyler. McLean made a big difference. Proschwitz might as well not have bothered. I don’t want to get on the guy’s back but he’s not improving and he’s not effective. I hope he proves to be a penalty box poacher because his game outside the box just isn’t there. The emphasis on attacking left us more open at the back and we began to fear their counter attacks. Damien Delaney, who had a steady game on his latest return to the KC, came as close as anyone to opening the scoring, heading Stephen Quinn’s corner just wide of his own goal before City received the first of two big let offs. Palace broke quickly and slid the ball to Bolasie who had a clear run on goal. Brady charged across from left back and cynically tripped their whining winger. It was a red card all day long but the referee gave Brady only a yellow. He seemed to initially stand 35 yards from goal which would have been a reasonable explanation for a yellow instead of a red but after he took Brady’s name, he set up a free-kick 25 yards out. Very odd. Ian Holloway put Zaha up against Brady for the next five minutes to try and trick a second yellow out of him. Brady made a terrific tackle back on Zaha in the box before he fouled him on their right wing. Steve Bruce reacted quickly and swapped Brady for Rosenior. Excellent management.

The Palace fans were feeling a little aggrieved about the Brady yellow and their mood wasn’t helped when the ref gave a blatant corner off Chester as a goal kick. Still, this being a modern ref, it wasn’t long before he was upsetting the home fans instead. Bolasie (again) took out Meyler dangerously while our midfielder was in the air. Meyler was lucky to escape serious injury. The punishment? Nothing. Just a booking for Aaron McLean for expressing his disbelief at the lack of punishment. Both teams then had big chances to win the game in a frantic last 7 or 8 minutes. Elmohamady’s suicidal backpass played in Bolasie on the left but he dragged his shot just wide. Elmo then slid a better ball into McLean who spun and shot instantly, hard and low, but saw Speroni tip it up and just over and just wide of the far post. McLean then climbed brilliantly and met Rosenior’s cross from the left with a thumping header that flew straight into Speroni’s arms. Anywhere else on target and it’s a goal. The last (and biggest) chance fell to Zaha. Quiet for most of the game he sprang into life, beating McShane in the area with a sensational piece of skill only for Stockdale to stand up and beat away his shot. It would have been unjust if he’d scored but he really should have.

So ended a really terrific game. City should clearly have been out of sight before Palace had chances to snatch it late on. Unfortunately our finishing didn’t match the excellent build up play. As I said to start, a point from this game in isolation isn’t a bad one but coming off a poor defeat and with a really tricky run of fixtures up to New Year, it’s not really enough. It’s easy to suggest that the manager should have played a striker or chucked them on earlier but the games not that simple. Once Aluko and Koren left the game, we lost a lot of great movement, our build up play was one dimensional and we stopped creating the positions out wide to get the ball in. It’s a much finer balance than some appreciate. There’s no doubt that we are a really good centre half and a top centre forward short of being a top two side. Hopefully Jack Hobbs is the answer in the first instance. The second is trickier. We are an excellent side. In Jay Simpson, we have a guy who has led the line superbly this season. To improve in that position isn’t cheap and isn’t easy. Charlie Austin would be ideal for us but a) There’d be big competition for his signature and b) his strike partner went for £6m in the summer and Austin is arguably the better player. It’d also mean handing over the cash to Steve Bruce. Now I don’t want to be overly critical because he’s doing a great job but he did get the money in the summer to buy a striker and he bought Proschwitz. That always looked a gamble and it’s showing no signs of paying off.

In every other department tonight, we were excellent. Paul McShane was named the man of the match but it could easily have been Chester. Robbie Brady crossed the ball beautifully while Elmo had a fine game himself on the right. Corry Evans picked up every second ball in the midfield and ran himself ragged. As did the under-rated Stephen Quinn. How the hell has he not got a cap for the Oirish? Meyler was better but not involved enough. Koren’s movement was majestic. If it had been Cesc Fabregas in a Spain shirt, we wouldn’t hear the end of it. Aluko was quieter in the second half but excellent all across the front in the first. McLean made a good impression off the bench. David Stockdale had long periods with nothing to do but earned his corn with a vital late save. That it was a point-saving stop really was ridiculous. We should have had two or three by that point.

We’re still handily placed and haven’t lost too much ground on those around us though we have allowed others below to play catch up. We’ve got a tough run now including Forest and Watford away, Huddersfield at home, Derby away, Leicester and Leeds at home and then Blackpool away. If we’re still in the top six on the 2nd of January after that lot and with the transfer window open, I really fancy our chances of doing well this season. We just need that bit of firepower. Finding it is far from easy. Good luck Brucie!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Hull City 0 Burnley 1

To quote Will from The Inbetweeners Movie: “I like football but Burnley? Burnley can f*** off!”

What is it about Burnley? Why do they have this hoodoo over us? Why do they bring out our worst traits? In 2008 we beat them but still lost Folan and Okocha to suspension after they were sent off. In 2009 we were robbed at turf more by a dubious penalty and an even-more dubious disallowed goal. And Geovanni was sent off. In 2010 Iain Dowie’s Tigers were humbled at home and Nigel Pearson’s Tigers humbled away. In 2011 we lost at home to the only goal Nathan Delfouneso will ever score in his life. Almost a year ago they were gifted a win at Turf Moor by a Jack Hobbs error. And then today. Today we suffer the indignity of losing to a goal from Dean bloody Marney. A man who normally finishes like a potter with Parkinsons.

I hate Burnley.

City made one change from last week’s win at Birmingham. Loanee ‘keeper David Stockdale replaced Ben Amos (Amos dropping out of the eighteen altogether). Surprisingly Seyi Olofinjana, rubbish at St. Andrews, kept his place in midfield. Paul McShane was again ruled out through injury.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Faye, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Rosenior, Koren, Olofinjana, Quinn [F] Aluko, Simpson

It was a very good game for the opening 15-20 minutes. The Tigers prodded and probed but gave Burnley the ball enough to make chances at both ends. Aulko had an early shot blocked and Olofinjana’s follow-up was well struck, hard and low, but just wide. Alex Bruce then gave the ball to Ross Wallace who hit a dipping shot, similar to Geovanni’s goal against Fulham in ’08, but Stockdale parried. Chester did well to make the rebound ahead of the lively Austin. Olofinjana then gave the ball away in midfield allowing Martin Paterson to curl a shot wide. Stephen Quinn’s superb cross was headed over by Ben Mee with Olofinjana, Simpson and Elmo all lurking. That capped a breathless opening 11 minutes. It may have been more action-packed if Lee Grant hadn’t started time wasting in the 4th minute. We needn’t have worried though. It only continued for another 83 minutes before the referee spotted it and told him to cut it out.

Cynical tactics aside, Burnley were very good. They retreated very quickly when we won the ball and we spent a lot of time passing the ball in front of ten defenders as a result. They cut out any space in behind and in between defence and midfield meaning Aluko had to go wide to get any possession and Jay Simpson was a spectator. We weren’t good enough to break them down and worse, we kept coughing up possession allowing them to counter on us. Wallace carried the ball well, Austin’s movement, pace and desire to work caused problems and Marney buzzed around as he does. Olofinjana was most guilty of passing to light blue shirts but most of ours had a turn at some point. As a result, Burnley created far more chances than most teams have at the KC this season. We escaped a couple of times before they made the breakthrough. A corner fell to Jason Shackell at the back post but Bruce closed down quickly. Then Wallace picked up in midfield, strode forward and hit a fantastic shot that was arrowing into the top corner before Stockdale stuck out a big right hand and finger-tipped it onto the bar. Alex Bruce was hurt ensuring they didn’t profit from the rebound. Paterson had another effort that Stockdale fumbled and then gathered before the goal came. Another City giveaway in midfield allowed Wallace to run from deep. Marney made a run off to his right, Wallace found him and Marney finished coolly [0-1]. Marney, who’d received a warm applause before kick-off, then ran to the East Stand slapping his Burnley badge and stood looking angrily at the bemused City fans. He was obviously deeply affected by the groans of the East Stand every time he put a shot into row Z. It was pathetic celebration but he can get his kicks anyway he likes. Fair play to him for enjoying the goal; he doesn’t score often.

At half time David Meyler and Robbie Brady replaced the awful Olofinjana and the injured Bruce. City improved after the break but it was deeply frustrating. Burnley gave up attacking altogether and sat 11 behind the ball while wasting every second possible. As a home fan, it was hideous to watch but it was a perfect away performance. Meanwhile the Tigers managed to create several reasonable chances but spurned all of them. Meyler made no difference whatsoever to the midfield. He sat deep, picking up the ball and playing it sideways and backwards. He offered no creative spark or threat at all. He was much better in defending a lead at Birmingham than he was in trying to overhaul one here. We came closest to an equaliser early on in the half and we didn’t have a lot to do with it. Koren received a short corner, crossed poorly, it deflected off one Burnley defender, a second behind him sliced it and it came back off the post. Elmohamady then put in a rare good cross, a terrific cross in fact, and Quinn broke through their defence but headed well, well wide. The run was magnificent, the header quite the opposite. From a rare Burnley corner, Jay Simpson raced away with the ball, hurdled a challenge, evaded an attempt to hack him down and left himself, Koren and Quinn attacking one defender. Simpson slid the ball to Koren and then he and Quinn made runs to the right. When Koren returned the ball, Simpson was offside. Seriously, three on one and he wanders offside. I’m pretty sure Quinn was too. You knew right at that moment that it wouldn’t be our day.

Nick Proschwitz then replaced Rosenior. A fat lot of good that did. There was no system that this point. Burnley weren’t interested in attacking so we left Chester and Faye back, Meyler sat in front of them and everyone else was in attack. A City set piece was cleared to Quinn, Stock then chipped the ball into his own box trying to tackle Quinn, Elmo headed down to Proschwitz 8 yards out but he volleyed way over. The ball was at a difficult height when it bounced up but it was still a massive chance. Proschwitz just failed to connect with an Elmo ball from deep in what was almost a re-run of the winning goal against Ipswich at home. Aluko had two efforts late on, one from distance on the left that sailed wide, the other from inside the box where he turned Marney but shot wide with his left foot. Simpson collected a ball with his back to goal and tried to volley in from a ridiculous position with team mates all around. Awful decision. Simmo then worked himself into a good position on the right wing and crossed into the crowd. Not his best half this. The final chance fell to our German reinfall who had a shot blocked amidst a goalmouth scramble and then snatched at the perfectly presentable rebound and scuffed it way wide.

The ref then checked his watch; seemed satisfied with the 22 minutes the ball was actually in play over 96 minutes and blew his whistle. In his defence, we could’ve played until Christmas without scoring. This is Burnley after all. We might as well accept that we’ll never beat them again and concentrate on the other 44 games a season! This makes 7 consecutive defeats to Burnley. Goals for 3. Goals against 16. In truth, we can have no complaints. Sean Dyche deserves a lot of credit, he devised the perfect plan for playing away from home and his players carried it out to perfection. We passed poorly, moved the ball slowly, invited counter attacks and turned down half decent chances to score.

Not too many players come out of the game with a lot of credit. James Chester played well against the terrific Charlie Austin. Austin is mobile, willing, quick and strong. He worked his socks off for his team. Jay Simpson has had a fine season overall but it’s fair to say we’d be a better team if we had Austin leading the line. Stockdale had a decent debut. He looked very nervous in the first 20 minutes but he made good decisions and once his got over the nerves, his handling was good. He kicked well too from dead balls and under pressure and pulled off one superb save. Robbie Brady had an impact from the bench and got forward well. His weakness is his decision making though and he turned down several chances to put the ball into the box. He hasn’t changed in that regard.

It’s leaders Crystal Palace next and it should be a more open game which will suit us. Alex Bruce went off with a knock for the umpteenth time this season so he may be struggling. Brady must be close to a start too especially as Liam Rosenior has been “doubtful” for the last half a dozen games. Olofinjana has to go from the midfield. I think Bruce will turn to Meyler which would be ridiculously unfair on Corry Evans who should never have been left out in the first place. The front two were quiet today but it’s been proven that they are by far the best combo we have so I wouldn’t change them. Today was still a rarity in our season so there’s no need to panic yet. A win on Tuesday will lift morale and against a potential promotion rival, will be almost priceless.

Now, did I mention that I hate Burnley?

Friday, 23 November 2012

Ten Years At The KC Stadium - #4

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! This is number seven in the series and number four in the countdown:

Top 10 Players - #4

Michael Turner

I re-published the piece below in August, If/when you read it, you'll know exactly why Turner features this high on a list of players who've made such a great contribution to the Tigers. Turner was, in my opinion, the best defender we'd ever had. He still is. It was a pleasure to watch his development. For six months, he was out of his depth. We couldn't have given him away. Two and a half years later we were all up in arms that he was sold for well below his true value which must have been £6m+ at that time. His progress was remarkable. It's a real shame he never picked up an England cap while he was at the KC. We've waited a long time for a proper England international and we continue to wait. Turner's contribution to the promotion season of 2007/08 and the survive-by-the-skin-of-our-teeth season of 2008/09 is probably greater than that of any other Tiger in history over two seasons. There are only two reasons why he isn't top of this list. Firstly, because there are a couple of players who've contributed massively to Hull City over 8+ years. Secondly because he's a defender and everyone knows they're not real footballers!

There's only one Michael Turner!

Top 10 Matches - #4

Hull City 2 Manchester City 1 - 06/02/2010

In many ways, the 2009/10 season was a bit of a disaster for Hull City. What should have been an exciting second ever season in the top flight of English football never really got started and then tailed off badly amidst fears of a looming financial crisis. We had two useless managers, one tending to the team, the other tending to his garden. For our green fingered gaffer, Phil Brown, this was the last great day he enjoyed with the Tigers.

City sat in the bottom three of the Premier League but were within one win of 5 or 6 other teams and were coming off a morale boosting draw against eventual champions, Chelsea. Man City weren’t quite at that level, they’d finish fifth, but featured enough talent to worry most teams.  The Tigers side that day cost £8.8m. Manchester City’s starting eleven cost an estimated £139m (no-one knows what Carlos Tevez cost). That’s more than three times what it cost to build the stadium we’re so proud of. If anyone was scouting the boys in blue that day, they wouldn’t have taken half of them for free. City were magnificent. They didn’t let them settle. Altidore led from the front putting in the only performance of his loan spell that came anywhere close to matching his effort for the USA against Italy that brought him so much attention the previous summer. He bullied Boyata who was lost from the first minute to the last. It was fitting that he opened the scoring on the half hour, collecting Hesselink’s lay-off and curling a low shot into the bottom corner. I hoped it would be the first of many memorable moments for Jozy in a City shirt. Unfortunately, it’s one of only two. The other, headbutting Alan Hutton, isn’t necessarily anything to be proud of!

The expected onslaught from Manchester City never really materialised. Even in the closing stages as they chased the game they failed to really test Bo Myhill. The impenetrable wall of Steven Mouyokolo and Anthony Gardner stood firm in front of Bo, repelling everything and ensuring the £50m+ partnership of Adebayor and Tevez came in somewhere close to the KC Stadium beer in the value for money stakes. It’s not even funny to think that six months later, Gardner would be made to look distinctly second class himself by Millwall and Donny Rovers. Adebayor grabbed Man City’s consolation goal, stabbing in after a corner wasn’t cleared but City held on doggedly for a fully deserved victory.

What turned out to be the winning goal came after a 54 minutes and was another that was thoroughly deserved on the day. George Boateng didn’t exactly set the world alight with the Tigers, never producing the rampaging performances of his time at Aston Villa and falling out of favour with Phil Brown several times. The previous game against Chelsea had been by far his best performance in black and amber and then this game surpassed even that. Not only did he cover every blade of grass, battle for every ball, harass and destroy, encourage and cajole but he produced a magnificent volley with his left foot to, fittingly, win the game for City. This goes down as our finest ever home win in the Premier League and it was earned, and deserved, against a team with money to burn who’d be champions of England two years later. We only one more Premier League game against a second string Fulham side7 weeks later. If the Hull City that took on Manchester City that afternoon had turned up for 38 games, we’d still be a Premier League club now!

Top 10 Goals - #4

Geovanni (Hull City 2 Fulham 1 - 16/08/2008)

This is a super goal but you know that. No Hull City fan will ever forget this goal. Technically it's brilliant, a delightful dipping, fizzing shot into the bottom corner. It's the historical significance which makes it even better. A club has waited 104 years to taste top flight football. The day finally arrives. The excitement  the expectation, the desperation to impress with the eyes of the world watching. Along comes this goal. Scored for little old Hull City by a Brazilian international magician. You can wake up now.

Top 10 Hull City appearances at the KC Stadium

1. Andy Dawson (160)
2. Boaz Myhill (136)
3. Ian Ashbee (117)
4. Damien Delaney (114)
5. Stuart Elliott (102)
6. Nicky Barmby (99)
7. Ryan France 77
8. Craig Fagan (75)
9. Michael Turner (70)
10. Stuart Green (67)

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Birmingham City 2 Hull City 3

Having ended a 47 year wait for a win at Bristol City and a 25 year wait for victory at Elland Road already this season, The Tigers headed to St. Andrews, Birmingham looking for a first win since 1970 on a ground that has yielded just one win in 100 years. Birmingham youth product Sone Aluko and ex-Brum player and manager Steve Bruce were on familiar turf while ex-Tiger Marlon King was in the Birmingham side and looking to score for the 6th consecutive game.

Steve Bruce made two changes from the Cardiff game. Corry Evans was surprisingly left outand even more surprisingly, replaced by Seyi Olofinjana rather than David Meyler. Injury kept Paul McShane out as Alex Bruce stepped back in. Steve Bruce stuck with Ben Amos in goal after his gaffe last week and it proved a decent decision. Amos proved that if nothing else, he’s got the mentality to bounce back from a mistake and go again.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Amos [D] Chester, Faye, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Rosenior, Olofinjana, Quinn, Koren [F] Aluko, Simpson

From the start it was obvious where Birmingham hoped to prosper. Long balls were pumped into Zigic from the first minute. Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham are not one dimensional. They occasionally pumped in diagonal balls to compliment the straight ones. Olofinjana went up against Zigic early on but the giant Serb dwarfed him. There was little chance of City winning the ball in the air so you felt the success of our afternoon would depend on how well we defended his knock downs. At the other end, Birmingham are weak. They may be rugged and experienced but both Paul Robinson and Steven Caldwell are carthorses. In Sone Aluko, they faced a thoroughbred in his prime. It was like watching Frankel vs. some kid on a hobby horse. In the 8th minute Robert Koren advanced, Simpson peeled right, Koren split the defence with a pass to the left that put Aluko through on Jack Butland but the keeper got down well. Aluko should’ve scored though.

Within minutes, he had done. Amos distributed quickly to Elmo who strode forward and found Koren. He slid the ball in on the right this time, Aluko left the defence for dead, calmly rounded Butland and tapped into an empty net [0-1]. Aluko chose not to rub it into the faces of those who used to support him. They never supported us though, so we went mental. Abdoulaye Faye was cut in a clash with Zigic and had to return to the dressing room for treatment. City played on with 10 men, Olofinjana stepping in at centre-half, and survived comfortably until Faye returned. We then doubled our lead in now familiar fashion. Koren cut out a ball in midfield, fed Simpson, he ran at the defence, Aluko cut across the back of them from left to right, Simpson slid him in and Aluko finished coolly [0-2]. We deserved the lead too. We were defending well, moving the ball quickly and Simpson was holding the ball up beautifully. Only Olofinjana was worrying us, losing the ball outside our area trying to hold off their forwards in a dangerous position and then gifting them the ball with a poor attempt to switch play.

Zigic was still their danger man but surprisingly when they finally got him in, it was on the floor, not in the air. Morrison split our defence this time to find Zigic who’d crept in behind Chester but Amos flew off his line to gather at the big man’s feet. Zigic was cruelly yet hilariously taunted with a chant of “Does the circus know you’re here?” With the half hour approaching, City delivered the third knockdown blow of the half. Koren’s deep corner was headed back inside the near post by James Chester, enjoying the freedom of St. Andrews [0-3]. Once we’d stopped celebrating, I commented that if it was any other team, I’d be confident it was game over at 0-3. This is Hull City though, we don’t do anything easily. With the Tigers fans Ole’ing and Birmingham looking a bit lost, some in black and amber obviously felt the game was won. We stopped passing the ball, we conceded the initiative and we sank deeper into our half. Inevitably a long diagonal found Zigic, he headed across the penalty area and Ravel Morrison scissor-volleyed into the net [1-3]. It was a super finish. The nerves then began jangling in the Tigers players and supporters. Another ball to the back post fell between Zigic and Faye. Zigic screamed for handball but fortunately for us, the referee was unmoved. The ball definitely struck Faye on the forearm but he wasn’t really looking at it and I think Zigic touched it first with his hand. That said, if it had been in front of the Birmingham supporters, I think a penalty would have been given. Faye then dived in rashly on Morrison and conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the box. Again, it looked like it may just have been inside. We got the rub of the green again.

We made it to half time with the 1-3 lead and I felt confident that Bruce would calm everyone down and we’d come out and dictate the game again. HA! Within 30 seconds of the restart they punted a hopeful ball forward, Zigic flicked it on and Marlon King found himself in acres of space to shoot past Amos [2-3]. Woeful defending from City, another kamikaze goal. Although the goal meant a nervy 45 minutes for the City fans, it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to the players. It was a real wake-up call. We defended doggedly after that and for all Birmingham’s possession, they rarely troubled us. They looked at their best when they got Chris Burke in behind Rosenior but Steve Bruce quelled that threat by introducing Robbie Brady from the bench. Meanwhile the longer the game went on, the more Faye won in the air against Zigic. Olofinajana played one poor pass too many and was hooked for David Meyler. Meyler is a tall but elegant midfielder, tidy on the ball and with a decent burst of pace. He looks a very good acquisition. He made one crucial block as Birmingham resorted to pot-shots from 18 yards and helped with the collective time wasting effort by clinging onto the ball on the floor despite having his head pushed into the floor twice and the boot stuck into him by talentless scumbag Paul Robinson. Meyler was booked for it, Robinson not even warned. Nice one, ref.

Speaking of the ref, he had a decent game aside from the possible handball. The Birmingham crowd reacted to him giving them a free-kick by cheering like they’d won at Wembley again which was ridiculously over the top. They didn’t get a couple of decisions. We didn’t get a couple of decisions. There’s nothing funnier than a crowd of stupid fans bleating wrongfully about being wronged. The ref didn’t let them sway him which is to his credit. What isn’t is the way he allowed Marlon King to charge at him after every decision he didn’t get waving his arms around. That sort of behaviour might be acceptable in Wormwood Scrubs but it shouldn’t be on a football pitch. The ref needed to flash some cards to show them who was in charge. He was probably afraid of King’s reaction when he asked for his name. “Don’t you know who I am?”

Including stoppage time, we survived 50 minutes that felt like 50 years. We had chances to put the game to bed with Quinn, Brady and Aluko counter attacking in the last 15 minutes. We didn’t commit the players forward to make the most of the situation though. McLean, sporting a new short hairstyle, relieved Simpson and harassed some defenders for those last 15 mins. Birmingham had ran out of ideas so decided to change tactic and lump the ball forward. Zigic was knackered by this point, Faye had his number. Steven Caldwell running at us from deep was the main worry. Luckily he distributes about as well as he defends. James Chester made a super tackle to stop Morrison advancing into our penalty area and that was job done.

It was a fantastic three points. Despite Birmingham’s lowly league position, they have a good squad of players and can hurt teams if allowed to play. We took the game to them from the off and our pace and quality in the final third killed them. We could have done without the fight back but the stubbornness of our defending in the last half hour was very good to see. Alex Bruce had another fine game, particularly in the ten minutes before half time when he met everything they threw into our box while some around him had lost their heads. Sone Aluko will grab the headlines for his two brilliantly taken goals but in general play, he gave the ball up a bit too often trying to over-elaborate. Simpson on the other hand kept things simple, held the ball up well and caused them problems with his running in behind and his quality when he dropped off. Between the two of them, they were excellent. Koren and Quinn were indefatigable again and Koren produced two of his best passes in a City shirt.

In all, it was another very encouraging result suggesting, again, that we are genuine promotion contenders. It’s tight at the top of the Championship. Before today’s game, you could’ve thrown a blanket over 7 or 8 sides chasing Crystal Palace. This result gives us a little bit of breathing space over the teams 7th and below. We’ve now got two massive home games to round out November. Burnley, who’ve won at the KC Stadium in each of the previous three seasons and then leaders Crystal Palace who show no sign of letting go of top spot. Hoping for six points may be being a tad greedy but it would stand us in good stead going into December. It’s been a fine old season so far. We’re still playing attractive passing football but playing quicker passes and playing forward most of the time to get the ball into areas where we have the pace and the guile to genuinely hurt teams. It feels like the sky is the limit for this team. I’m not going to get carried away though. This is Hull City after all. The only sensible thing to do as a Tigers fan is expect the unexpected. Today, that was being 0-3 up in half an hour. I’d take that most weeks!

Friday, 16 November 2012

Ten Years At The KC Stadium - #5

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! This is number six in the series and number five in the countdown:

Top 10 Players - #5

Dean Windass

I still think the Dean Windass story would make a decent film, you know. Released by The Tiger a a youngster, he went off into the real world, grafted on and off the pitch, grew up and returned to make a big impact at Hull City. His eventual sale to Aberdeen helped the club fight off a winding up order from HRMC and possibly saved the club. His stay in Scotland is remembered only for the time he picked up three red cards in the same game but he did well up there and will always be fondly remembered by the Dons fans (as we witnessed at his testimonial game in 2009). He eventually returned to England and made it to the top level, playing for Bradford City and Middlesbrough in the Premier League. He took in spells at both Sheffield clubs on loan before his stay with United was made permanently temporary. After falling out with Neil Warnock, and hopefully chinning him, he returned to Bradford and fell down the leagues with them.

“Deano “ was constantly linked with a return to Hull but it was said that Peter Taylor wouldn’t entertain such a move. The Tigers struggled in the season after Taylor’s departure and Taylor’s replacement Phil Parkinson was fired and replaced himself with Phil Brown. With City in danger of heading back into League One, in January 2007, Brown and Adam Pearson finally brought him home. It was a masterstroke. Windass scored 8 times in his loan spell and was the match winner against Birmingham City and Southend United. Crucially and against all odds, he also scored a winning goal at Cardiff which handed the Tigers a 1-0 victory that secured Championship safety and relegated Leeds United. The fairy tale story of our unlikely hero had reached an incredible and satisfying conclusion. The End.

Of course you and I know that was far from the end. Looking back, I still can’t quite believe what happened next. Even though I lived through every minute. Even though it’s well documented. Even though I can put the DVD in and watch it anytime I wish to, I still cannot believe what happened next. If someone wrote a film about it, you’d say it was an unnecessarily sickly ending and the guy should’ve stopped after the Cardiff game. If someone wrote it, you’d think it unrealistic.

It happened though, we all know it did. Deano had a remarkable season, striking up that partnership with Fraizer Campbell and scoring 15 goals. Even more remarkable when you factor in that he played 42 games that season during which he turned 39 years of age. There’s that script writer again, adding more unrealistic sub plots. Plymouth on the opening day was the only game he scored in that we lost. He had a quite spell in the spring, putting in the hard graft and then letting Campbell and Folan take the headlines but he stepped back into the starring role for the Championship play-offs.  The 2-0 win at Watford when the goals were provided by Hull’s Nicky Barmby and Hull’s Dean Windass might’ve been the proudest day I ever had as a City fan. It was superceded a fortnight later though. Windass hit the winning goal at Wembley to defeat Bristol City and take Hull City into the top flight for the first time in our 104 year history. At the age of 39. With the most magical of volleys. It’s a bloody good job it happened because you damn sure couldn’t make it up.

The only real pity is that the story didn’t end there. No-one could ever criticise Deano for wanting another shot at the Premier League after years in the lower leagues and given that it was his goal that took us there. He wasn’t cut out for it though, it was obvious. And unfortunately it meant he left Hull City through the back door when he should’ve walked out of the front, through the cheering hoards. Hopefully when he makes our film, the director will have the sense to roll titles on Saturday May 24th 2008. Deano’s day.

Top 10 Matches - #5

Hull City 4 Oxford United 2 - 17/01/2004

This is probably the best half an hour of football we’ve seen at the KC Stadium. A duel between the two sides sitting atop Division 3 it was, as you’d expect, a tight game for an hour. A good game but a display of two teams who were as good in defence as they were in attack and two combative midfields who refused to give an inch. The game exploded on the hour mark when Stuart Elliott fed Ben Burgess who looked up and curled a delightful shot around the outstretched arm of Andy Woodman and into the far corner. Within 5 minutes, Danny Allsopp made it two, exchanging passes with Elliott on the edge of the box and hitting a shot that deflected over the ’keeper. When Allsopp took in Elliott’s header, played a 1-2 with Burgess and struck the ball through Woodman to make it 3 goals for City in less than ten minutes, pandemonium ensued. City were on their way to a 5th successive win and moving clear at the top of the division. The crowd was well over 20,000 and 1,200 or so from Oxford sat glumly behind the net City were now hitting at regular intervals.

Steve Basham pulled one back with a tap in from a corner before Ben Burgess presence at our own corner forced Andy Crosby to head through his own goal. City were in such generous mood they allowed ex-Tiger loanee Matthew Bound to smash in a free-kick consolation at the death. It didn’t take the gloss off a terrific victory. A genuine promotion contender vanquished. Three goals of the very highest quality with Burgess, Allsopp and Elliott linking tremendously. The only thing the night was missing was an Elliott goal. He won’t have had many better games in black and amber without scoring. We all fancied promotion all season. From the opening day victory over Darlington we looked like a side capable of winning promotion but this was the night I knew we’d do it. We were superb.

I went to Oxford in August 2003. It was the game Marc Joseph was useless in. What do you mean “which one”? The one were Steve Basham played in a little bubble that stopped Joseph getting within three feet of him. It was all Justin Whittle’s fault if I remember correctly. Even though he wasn’t playing. As we skulked back to the car that day we got a lot of stick from Oxford fans but one guy’s comment always stuck with me. After telling us how we were **** and ******* ******* and ******** *******, he shouted “we’re going up, you’re going nowhere because you’re ****”. This night in January was sweet revenge. I remembered that guys comments when we were in the Premier League. I’m not sure where Oxford were at the time, I didn’t buy a non-league handbook that year.

Top 10 Goals - #5

Ben Burgess (Hull City 2 Scunthorpe United 1 - 13/03/2004)

The cliche "good touch for a big man" was made for Ben Burgess. Despite appearing to be a big, lumbering target man (and perhaps even growing into one) he was a good footballer and preferred the ball to be at his feet rather than on his head. He scored some terrific goals, including the one described above, but none better than this beauty. With the goalkeeper expecting an eyes-closed-teetch-clenched-fingers-crossed-hit-and-hope from the big man,m he produced a deft chip that left the 'keeper looking skywards, the away fans flabbergasted and the KC Stadium alight. Marvelous.

Top 10 Away Days

1. Arsenal 1 Hull City 2 - 2008/09
2. Watford 0 Hull City 2 - 2007/08
3. Sheffield Wednesday 2 Hull City 4 - 2004/05
4. Tottenham Hotspur 0 Hull City 1 - 2008/09
5. Manchester United 4 Hull City 3 - 2008/09
6. West Bromwich Albion 1 Hull City 2 - 2007/08
7. Newcastle United 1 Hull City 2 - 2008/09
8. Northampton Town 1 Hull City 5 - 2003/04
9. Liverpool 2 Hull City 2 - 2008/09
10. Sheffield United 2 Hull City 3 - 2010/11

(Wembley wasn't away, it was neutral!)

Friday, 9 November 2012

Ten Years At The KC Stadium - #6

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! This is number five in the series and number six in the countdown:

FACT: The Tigers have taken on 90 different teams in competitive games at the KC Stadium. We’ve also entertained the likes of Aberdeen, Dundee United, Hearts, Osasuna and Royal Antwerp in pre-season friendlies.

QUIZ: Can you name the 11 current members of the football league who haven’t played at the KC yet?

Top 10 Players - #6

Nick Barmby

Everyone knows all about Nick Barmby. He’s the best footballer to be born in Hull in the last 50 years and arguably ever. He went off to Lilleshall (the St. George’s Park of the day) and signed for Tottenham Hotspur. He’d move on to Middlesbrough (£5.25m), Everton (£5.25m) and, somewhat acrimoniously, Liverpool (£6m), picking up 23 England caps, going to two European Championships, scoring the first goal of Sven Goran Eriksson’s England reign and playing in the 5-1 win in Germany in 2001.

By 2004, he was finished. Leeds United had paid £2.75m for him 2 years earlier, a deal which cost them over £100k per game and £500k per goal from the transfer fee alone, and he’d been on loan at Nottingham Forest while Leeds were slipping out of the top flight. Chortle. That summer Barmby took a pay-off from Leeds United, said goodbye to the Premier League and the public gaze and got himself set for retirement by joining his hometown club, fresh out of Division 3, on a free transfer.

He enjoyed a fine season with The Tigers though Peter Taylor handled him with kid gloves, often replacing him around the hour mark with the job done. Barmby started 38 games and chipped in with 9 goals including the fastest goal in the clubs history (7 seconds) against Walsall in November and a memorable double at Hillsborough in December as The Tigers won 4-2 at Sheffield Wednesday on a night we’ll never forget. It was a season that ended in a second successive promotion and took Barmby a step closer to the level he’d played at for almost his entire career. He’d never make it back to that level of course, not even the most ardent Hull City fan had dreams that ridiculous.

The next two seasons in the Championship were frustrating for Barmby. Both heavily hit by injuries and the second compounded by a sour relationship with manager Phil Parkinson. He still managed to bag another double at Hillsborough to seal a 2-1 win, the third season in a row he’d scored there (Quick quiz: Against which other team did Nick score 3 seasons in a row between 05/06 and 07/08?) and he bagged a late equaliser at Stoke which kept The Tigers afloat in the Championship. He was over-shadowed at times by Dean Windass but had a knack of scoring in crucial games.

The 2007/08 season, our best ever, is well documented. Unfortunately for Barmby, he missed two massive chunks of it between September and December and then February and April. He returned for the business end of the season, scored in both legs of the play-off semi-final and then played 70 minutes at Wembley in the blazing heat as The Tigers secured promotion to the Premier League. 4 years after he was finished, Barmby was a top division player again. He played in 18 league games that season, City lost only 3 (and he was sub in two of them!) As was the case for most of his 8 years at the KC Stadium, we were a better team with Barmby involved.

Unfortunately, injury cost him the chance to be involved in many of the Tigers real glory days in the Premier League. He did clock up nearly 50 appearances in the two top-flight seasons though, more than anyone could ever have predicted. The last two years of Barmby's City career were full of upheaval. Firstly he saw the entire squad ripped to bits following relegation and then watched Nigel Pearson try to rebuild it in the wake of the Allam's takeover. Barmby had a good season himself in 2010/11, scoring 7 goals and being Nigel Pearson's go-to guy whenever a game needed changing. Even into 2011/12, at the age of 37, Pearson continued to call on him to add a bit of experience and quality to his exciting, young side. In November 2012, he took over as caretaker manager following Pearson's departure, later taking the role permanently and hanging up his boots. That meant that his last game for the Tigers was as a substitute in a 2-1 home win against Cardiff, a game in which he fittingly scored the winning goal. Barmby made a good fist of managing the team and put his faith in his young players and the way he wanted them to play football. Sadly, we missed having a plan B at times. Barmby himself would have been ideal. He was sacked in the summer for disagreeing with the clubs owners which prompted outrage from many City fans, so high is that regard in which he's held.

Nick Barmby came home in 2004. Most people thought he was here to play out his last couple of seasons in the comfort of League One. Most people don't know Nick Barmby. He's a winner. He's demanding of himself and everyone around him. He won't let his or anyone else's standards slip. He helped drag the club, kicking and screaming, from it's lifetime of mediocrity into the big time. He's a big game player. Whenever the pressure was on, whenever the stakes high, Nick puffed out his chest and took on the challenge. If not for the injuries restricting his appearances in several seasons, he'd be much further up this list. He served Hull City with pride as player, coach and manager and his "couple of years" turned into 8 mostly wonderful ones. City are flying high at the moment and Steve Bruce is doing a wonderful job. But I'll still be forever sorry that we didn't get to see Nick Barmby lead the club his way. 

Top 10 Matches - #6

Hull City 4 Darlington 1 - 09/08/2003

Opening days don’t come much better than this one. Peter Taylor’s side began the season as one of the promotion favourites, a tag they hadn’t coped well with in either of the previous two seasons. It was to be the first full season in the KC Stadium and on a roasting first day of the season, Darlington came to town. 9 months earlier, they were the party poopers who ruined the last ever game at Boothferry Park. This would be our day.

Four of Taylor’s five summer recruits started the game with Andy Dawson missing out through injury. Right back Alton Thelwell, jack-of-all-trades Richard Hinds, winger Jason Price and Danny Allsopp, signed to form a strike partnership with the deadline busting buy from the previous season Ben Burgess, were all included. The only negatives on the day were the inclusion of Taylor’s buddy Marc Joseph ahead of club legend Justin Whittle and the slightly disappointing crowd of 14,675. It was still a terrific bottom division turnout but down on some of the gates the previous season.

Jason Price was the star turn on the day having a hand in several of the goals and forcing two good saves from Andy Collett in the first half. Midway through the half, the home crowd had something to cheer about as Ben Burgess met Joseph's header from a corner, Collett saved his header and Burgess snaffled up the rebound. We were lifting off. But not just yet. With the Tigers struggling to maintain the tempo in the heat, Darlo came back into the game. Barry Conlon should have equalised but shot straight at Fettis before the same player finished well from 10 yards sending the teams in level.

The Tigers came out with a roar in the second half and banged in two in two minutes to kill the game off. Price struck a deserved goal amidst chaos in the Darlo area before turning provider again, flicking the ball on for Thelwell to race into the area and thump a terrific volley into the far corner. It could easily have been 6 or 7 after that with City playing some easy on the eye football that we’d craved for years. In the end, we settled for four with Danny Allsopp hitting a third debut goal of the afternoon. His shot from 20 yards into the far corner of the net was a real crowning moment.

It would have been just like Hull City to promise much and deliver little but this side were an exception. They fulfilled all of the promise they showed on that August afternoon and were promoted, the clubs first move up the league ladder for 19 years.

Top 10 Goals - #6

Dean Windass (Hull City 1 Sheffield Wednesday 0 - 30/12/2007)

This is a forgotten gem, I think. Great free-kicks have been few and far between at the KC Stadium (though we’ve seen a few corkers on the road) and this is by far the best. It settled a local derby and earned a win that would be crucial come May though we didn’t really know it at the time. 

10 Biggest names to grace the KC Stadium

1. Fernando Torres
2. Xabi Alonso
3. Robin Van Persie
4. Michael Ballack
5. Didier Drogba
6. Carlos Tevez
7. Steven Gerrard
8. Ryan Giggs
9. Robinho
10. Jan Venegoor Of Hesslink



Accrington Stanley, AFC Wimbledon, Aldershot Town, Barnet, Burton Albion, Dagenham & Redbridge, Fleetwood Town, Gillingham, Notts County, Stevenage, Wycombe Wanderers

Quick quiz answer: Watford

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Hull City 2 Wolves 1

Looking to build on a run of 4 wins from 5 games, The Tigers took on “recently relegated” Wolves at the KC Stadium tonight. In summary: City scored two superb goals, gifted Wolves a way back into the game and held on pretty comfortably to claim three points. I’ll try and put some meat on the bones but essentially that was it.

Looking down on the KC from the top of the West Stand is still a fine sight. The ground is very nearly 10 years old but still looks as beautiful as it did the first time I saw it. Apart from a few sun faded seats, it’s in great nick. The pitch still looks fine too. Hopefully it will hold up over the winter and give us the best chance possible going into the spring. It’s starting to look like we may well have something to look forward to when the “business end” of the season comes around. Steve Bruce picked an unchanged team for the third game in a row. And why would he change it? There was one change on the bench were Andy Dawson dropped out and new old boy Robbie Brady took his place.

Tigers: 3-5-2 [G] Amos [D] Chester, McShane, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Rosenior, Quinn, Evans Koren [F] Aluko, Simpson

Two things to note as the players strode out. Firstly the Wolves away strip, supposedly teal but looking more like dried out seaweed, was pretty horrific. Secondly, with some of our visitors sporting gloves, it was nice to see 9 out of 10 Tigers outfield players wearing short sleeved shirts and no gloves. Only Sone Aluko let us down. But he’s bloody brilliant, so he can wear a onesie under his kit if he really wants to. The opening 20 minutes were pretty dull. Both teams passed the ball around well and both shaped up well when they lost the ball meaning a lot of the passing took place in their own defensive third. It was short on action with hardly anything of note in the attacking areas. The Tigers started to come to life when Elmohamady was freed on the right and swung over a super cross that Stearman headed behind. Koren’s corner was equally good and dropped beyond Ikeme but another fine defensive header cleared any danger. Stephen Quinn then played a nice ball into the channel were Simpson laid off to Elmo, he lifted the ball to the far post and Rosenior charged in, leapt above Stearman and headed over.

On the half hour, the Tigers took the lead out of nowhere. Rosenior was fouled 25 yards out, just to the left of the “D”. We all pointed out that the last time City scored from a free-kick, dinosaurs roamed the earth. Up stepped Sone Aluko to curl the ball around the outside of the wall and inside the post with Ikeme sprawling. It was a terrific strike [1-0]. If we expected a Wolves response, it didn’t really come. They started to dominate possession, mostly because City kept giving them the ball back but didn’t ever look like creating anything of their own accord. A slip on our right allowed Doyle to cross low and Amos had to save smartly from Rosenior (!) Doyle then headed over from a set piece he won by throwing himself over James Chester’s leg. It’s cheating but everyone does it so we just have to accept it. Half time came with City threatening to add a second which would have been harsh on Wolves. It was a frustrating last 15 minutes overall. We’re a good passing team but it didn’t show. To many poor decisions, too many misunderstandings and a few downright howlers meant we’d put all the pressure on ourselves. Corry Evans had another fine half, making some great interceptions, and Alex Bruce defended well. Aluko was the man of the half though. It needed something special to breach these two packed defences and he provided it.

I checked the BBC website at half time and its possession stat said 56%-44% in favour of the Tigers. I found that pretty hard to believe. The first half hour was even, the last 15 was all Wolves. I can’t see where they got that from? We started the second half in similar fashion to the way we ended the first, inviting Wolves on to us. Luckily, they are completely rubbish. They’re worse than Barnsley. At least Barnsley can excuse themselves with the fact that they work on a tiny budget. Wolves have got players all over the pitch (and the bench) who were supposedly Premier League players and they create absolutely nothing. They’ve got a central defender who cost £7m who can’t defend, can’t pass and can’t win a header in the other box. He makes Jimmy Bullard look a bit of a bargain. City tired of watching Wolves pass the ball side to side and decided to kill the game. Koren advanced from midfield and tried to slide in Simpson down the left side of the penalty area, about level with the edge of the 6 yard box. He over-hit the pass and Simpson caught it just as it was about to cross the goal-line. He caught it and whipped a shot in off the far post from the most unbelievable angle. It was an incredible finish. It’s no exaggeration to suggest it was as good as any you will ever see [2-0].

Wolves set about reducing the deficit by passing the ball around in front of our midfield. An attempt to hypnotise us perhaps? Trying to see if Corry Evans would die of boredom? Who knows? It wasn’t especially effective. Anthony Forde and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake came on for the visitors. Forde was lively but produced nothing but a bit of heading practise for Alex Bruce. I’m not sure Ebanks-Blake touched the ball. It was all going swimmingly when City hit that self-destruct button we know so well. The ball was played back to Ben Amos in goal. He shaped to hoof it clear, tried to be clever and passed it towards Alex Bruce. Or rather towards were Alex Bruce would have been if he’d moved 10 yards! Instead it fell to Forde whose cross was a bit of a bobbler, McShane slashed at it and missed, Doyle missed it too and it hit James Chester and went in. A calamitous goal [2-1].

That should have been the catalyst for a Wolves revival but in truth, it wasn’t. There was an edginess around the KC Stadium and obvious frustration at the team having let such a comfortable lead slip while the players continued to give the ball back time and again but Wolves didn’t capitalise. There was never a period of sustained pressure. Their crosses were hopeful or hopeless. Bruce headed most of them away easily. The mistake must have been playing on Amos’s mind but they didn’t put in a cross or shot that would cause him any bother. At the other end Ikeme had to be quick off his line a couple of times as Simpson and Quinn sprung their offside trap while Elmohamady put in a couple of decent crosses but we didn’t have the numbers in the box to make the most of them. Robbie Brady replaced Rosenior who’d been carrying a knock since Saturday. Wolves responded by throwing on Jermaine Pennant. He used to be a footballer you know. Pennant ran at Brady a couple of times, got nowhere and buggered off to try on the other wing. Good Luck with that, Jermaine.

The only moment of panic in the last few minutes came when Alex Bruce went down with another injury. Big Faye took an age to get ready to come on which meant Bruce had to limp around for a few minutes while we prayed that they wouldn’t get at him. Luckily Corry Evans stepped in front to cover and Wolves are rubbish. So everything was OK. McKenna and Faye replaced Bruce and Aluko. Wolves saw Faye come on and thought “I know, we’ll take advantage of that little bloke by pumping the ball down the middle”. Faye won everything as you’d expect. Even when Doyle shoved him he managed to simultaneously fall, protest AND win the header. It looked more likely that we’d get a third than they’d get an equaliser but we’ve been around the block too many times to take that for granted. Koren fed Simpson on the counter and he shot a foot or two wide much to the chagrin of the bloke near me who had Aluko/3-1 at 66-1. The 4 minutes of stoppage time flew by. It was over, another vital three points in the bag.

When I saw the Wolves team sheet before the game, I had a little gulp. I tweeted that a win over a side with this much quality (on paper) would be a great one. In truth, the Tigers passed the ball as poorly as we have at home for ages and didn’t create a whole lot besides the chances we scored from. It was more than enough though because despite a few big names, a few big reputations and a load of potential, Wolves are crap. We were in 3rd gear tonight and we beat them comfortably. If we hadn’t have scored for them, they could have played until Sunday and they’d still have nil.

I was delighted on Saturday that we ground out three points without playing well and I’m equally pleased tonight. I wouldn’t want to see it every week though; my nerves couldn’t stand it for a start. I will happily settle for an ugly win at Cardiff on Saturday but I demand the return of free-flowing attacking football at St. Andrews on the 17th! Grinding out a few wins is sign of a strong mentality and a desire to win games of football. You can’t rely on it every week though, not if you think you’re a team that can get out of this division. Your quality has to shine through for that to happen. I’m sure we’ve got that in us.

Corry Evans had another fine defensive game tonight but let himself down with some wayward passing when the whole team went to pot. I think Robert Koren deserves a lot of credit for the shift he put in. He worked hard to close them down in our half and found himself nicking a lot of balls from them. He led by example and defended with an urgency he’s not really known for. Alex Bruce had a solid game but was helped by their lack of imagination and Chester and McShane both had their moments. Simpson chased them tirelessly in the second half doing a really thankless task but hopefully enjoying the fruits of his labour. Elmohamady delivered some terrific crosses and both he and Rosenior worked up and down well. In all it was a comfortable, workmanlike performance that was almost spoilt by 20 seconds of sheer madness.

The real downer on the night was the attendance of less than 15,000. It’s such a shame that the team are performing so well in front of such small crowds. There’s no question now that the issue is money, not dissatisfaction. It needs sorting soon. Forget about gimmicks and promotions. We need to review the prices across the board, the tickets, the food and the beer and do something permanent that will get people in the ground. It’d be a shame if we wait until next summer and 4,000 people miss out on seeing this excellent Tigers side. It’s still early days but this is up there with the best teams we’ve ever had. Don’t let them down.


Thanks so much for reading my ramblings. It's much appreciated.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Hull City 1 Barnsley 0

For a game falling in between Halloween and Bonfire Night the visit of Barnsley to the KC Stadium provided few fireworks but, thankfully, few scares. Sone Aluko provided the real treat for the Tigers who ground out the three points against Keith Hill’s stubborn side. It wasn’t pretty and the second half in particular featured little of the free-flowing attacking football that City have displayed this season but the win is the only thing that matters. Top sides find a way to win when they aren’t playing well. On this evidence, we must be bloody brilliant!

Steve Bruce picked the same team that picked up an excellent win on the telly at Bristol City last week. The only change was to the named substitutes with Big Faye replacing the departed Liam Cooper. It meant sticking with the 3-5-2 system but against a team playing only one striker, who was on the wing, the system was pretty much irrelevant.

Tigers: 3-5-2 [G] Amos [D] Chester, McShane, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Rosenior, Quinn, Evans Koren [F] Aluko, Simpson

I like Barnsley. Keith Hill has just about the smallest budget in the division. They only had three players for whom they’d paid a fee and two of those were small fees paid over four years ago. Hill has to work with free transfers and academy graduates. He’s working like most League Two managers but somehow makes Barnsley competitive in the Championship. He gives opportunities to players in the lower divisions to make the step up and he’s put together a tidy football team. Lads like Golbourne (Exeter), Done (Hereford), Dawson (Orient), Perkins (Colchester) and ex-Tiger Scott Wiseman (Rochdale) are all justifying the managers faith in them.

Barnsley’s system was negative, with midfielder Kelvin Etuhu the lone striker, but not cynical or desperate in the way Ipswich were in the last home game. They couldn’t live with the Tigers in the first half. Sone Aluko in particular started brightly and it looked like an early goal might lead to a handsome home win. After a couple of bright moments including Aluko latching on to Elmohamady’s deflected pass and opting to cut inside into traffic instead of shooting right footed, the early goal came on 15 minutes. Rosenior won a corner on the left that was cleared to Evans who won a second corner on our right. He took it quickly to Aluko whose cross was headed poorly by Cranie back to Aluko on the touchline. He stepped inside and hit a shot from a tight angle that Steele got a hand to but couldn’t keep out and it flew into the far corner [1-0].

The Tigers were always in control after that and Barnsley offered no threat at all. There was something missing though and we didn’t turn the superiority into chances. Barnsley’s defending at times was panic stricken but they somehow got away with it. A poor early backpass had just enough pace on it to reach Steele before Simpson nicked it and a later backpass, played blind from the edge of the area, actually went through Simpson’s legs. Corry Evans has had a poor season by his standards but he was back to his best today and broke up most of Barnsley’s attacking moves. When Chester intercepted a pass, found Quinn who passed to Elmo, Evans turned up on the right, Elmo played him in and his cross eventually found Koren whose shot deflected wide. Another break saw Chester find Koren on the right with a beautiful pass. Koren cut across the pitch and from just outside the ‘D’ curled a left foot shot towards the bottom corner that Steele saved brilliantly.

The game was incident free so not a lot for the officials to get involved in but they still managed to make a mess of it. Jay Simpson chased a through ball with a defender in close proximity and the goalkeeper approaching. As the three came together, the defender gave Simpson a nudge, Simpson touched the ball past the ‘keeper and then they collided. The ‘keeper stayed down and the referee somehow came to the conclusion that it was a foul against Simpson. It was a pretty 50/50 collision so I wouldn’t claim a City penalty but as Simpson was the one who got the ball there was absolutely no way he was the offender. With the Tigers fans already up in arms the ref then produced a yellow card for the City striker. Quite possibly the stupidest decision I’ve seen all season. Mr. Heywood, you sir are a muppet. Just before the break, Koren leapt well at the near post to meet Aluko’s corner but Steele pushed the ball out and it was scrambled away. The ref then signalled the end of a pretty comfortable half. The only disappointment was that City hadn’t stretched the lead.

The second half started as the first had ended with the excellent Tigers midfield pressing the ball high up the pitch and making opportunities. Jay Simpson was the first beneficiary, receiving in their half and running towards the area. He stumbled through a challenge and with a good shooting opportunity presenting itself, sliced the ball into the crowd. At the other end Stephen Dawson shot high and wide too, that was Barnsley’s first shot. Quinn then freed Koren on the left, he laid off to Rosenior whose low cross arrowed towards Simpson with his back to goal. He should have controlled with his left foot and then either laid off to Aluko or tried to turn and shoot. Instead he tried an overhead kick and made a prat of himself. He’s having a great season but he just needs to do things simply at times and we’ll get more reward from his efforts. Robert Koren then won the ball in midfield, didn’t quite know which option to pick as he approached the area and eventually laid off to Rosenior who curled a shot into Row W.

The momentum started to shift after that and Barnsley enjoyed the bigger share of possession. They were rarely dangerous as the Tigers defended well but they controlled the ball and took our creative players out of the game. Alex Bruce took a hefty knock and limped around for five minutes while Barnsley were on top which was worrying. In the meantime Tomasz Cywka shot just wide which was as close as the visitors came all afternoon. Eventually Bruce was subbed for Dawson with Rosenior switching to right back and the system moving to an orthodox 4-4-2. Daws took a while to settle and I had flashbacks to Burnley at home last season. Barnsley were gifted the ball in midfield, Dawson dived in on Dagnall but didn’t win the ball, Dagnall flicked the ball past McShane and headed into the area were Corry Evans came across to make a superb and crucial tackle. Another Barnsley sub Toni Silva then jinked his way through our defence before Evans made another challenge. A lightening Tigers break saw Elmohamady race away on the right, get held up, before digging out a cross for Simpson who’d got himself in front of the defender. Simpson met the ball on the volley but Steele saved well at close range.  

Steve Bruce reacted to their dominance by swapping Aluko for McKenna to shore up the midfield. I’d have left Aluko on to counter and taken Simpson off. By this point though, everyone had accepted that we weren’t playing well and were happy just to escape with three points. Although the last few minutes were nervy because 1-0 is a slender lead, the defence never allowed any real heart in mouth situation. McLean replaced Simpson to little effect and the added time ran out quickly. The Tigers are up to joint 4th in the Championship, 3 points off the top spot and the jittery run of a few weeks ago has been banished with 4 wins from 5 games. I thought the crowd at the KC were excellent today. They didn’t get on the players backs when things weren’t going well. It was great support and it probably really helped.

Corry Evans was the man of the match today. He was excellent. He gave us bags of energy in midfield, read their attacks well, won the ball back and distributed well. He worked box to box too. He was ably assisted by Stephen Quinn who continues to impress and Robert Koren who had his most influential game at home for a while. The defensive unit was solid but Paul McShane in particular deserves credit for his performances. He’s hardly put a foot wrong since he came back into the team.

I didn’t think I’d like Steve Bruce. I always found him a bit of a sore loser when he was managing in the Premier League, always whining on Match of the Day. He’s been a breath of fresh air though. He gives open, honest interviews after the game, he gives credit where it’s due and he doesn’t hide from mistakes of the players and himself. He sees the game in the way we see it. There’s no bull. I like what he’s doing here. Trying to decide which of his summer signings has had the most impact so far is near impossible. Aluko and Quinn have been brilliant. Elmohamady and Alex Bruce have also been terrific. He’s done a fine job of melding his new players with the ones we had here already. I think I’m most impressed by the way he’s given players who hadn’t done well under previous regimes a new lease of life. Simpson and McShane now look un-droppable. That’s some achievement. He also doesn’t play favourites. He’s made it clear that he’s a big fan of Olofinjana but Evans has got into the team, played well and Bruce hasn’t gone back to “his guy” just because he can. He rewards players who play well. That’s the way it should be.

This wasn’t a vintage performance but it was a crucial three points. We’ve chucked away enough points against lesser opposition in the last few years to know that nothing is a given. Sometimes you have to grind it out and move on. So onwards and hopefully upwards. And good luck to Keith Hill and Barnsley. I hope he keeps them up again.

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