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.