Saturday, 29 December 2012

Hull City 2 Leeds United 0

The Tigers closed out 2012 by taking apart Leeds United at the KC Stadium with one of the most complete performances in the club’s history. Unless you were lucky enough to see Cliff Britton’s all conquering side of the mid-60’s, it’s unlikely you’ve ever seen a better Hull City side than this one. Today was a pleasure from beginning to end. The opposition will make it even sweeter for some. Personally, I don’t care who they were. They were an inferior team who came to Hull to kick us about, kill the game and scurry off with a nil-nil draw. They were the epitome of “anti-football”. Fortunately, for football, the team who actually turned up to play won the game.

And what a team this is. We know they can play. We’ve been playing delightful football in patches for the past two years as the team evolved through Nigel Pearson, Nick Barmby and Steve Bruce. Before it was beautiful but one dimensional. Bruce has added several dimensions. We’re now a threat at set pieces. We have the ability to open tight games from corners and free kicks. We score goals from all over the pitch. We’re no longer over-reliant on two players. And then there’s Sone Aluko. He’s a different dimension all by himself. Today, he was utterly magnificent. He moves with the speed and grace of an ice dancer, the ball sticks to his feet like the wingers in old black and white football clips and he turns so quickly and in such small spaces that it’s near impossible to stop him.

Today, we saw the other side of this team. Leeds came to fight us. They had thugs all over the pitch and obviously thought they could kick us out of the game. Was Corry Evans intimidated by Michael Brown and David Norris? Was he heck? How about Stephen Quinn or David Meyler? In your dreams! Any evidence of Robert Koren or Sone Aluko not fancying it against bully boys like Alan Tate or Jason Pearce? Not a bit of it. Leeds came to put themselves about. Then they ran into David Meyler, to Abdoulaye Faye and to Jack Hobbs. And they left complaining that we were too physical. And you know what? They were right. We were too physical for them. We weren’t dirty like they were. We were men. We had bigger bollocks. We stood up and faced them eye to eye. And we beat them.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Chester, Faye, Hobbs [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Meyler, Quinn [F] Koren, Aluko

City were dominant from beginning to end. You’d have been forgiven for worrying a little at half time that the goals weren’t going to come though as we missed chances and received very little from the awful referee. Leeds tried to match us with their own 3-5-2 system. The Tigers have perfected the system this season. Any team who tries to match it with a couple of days practice is going to fail. Miserably. Miserably was how Leeds started. Alan Tate headed poorly back to Paddy Kenny and Robert Koren pounced on the loose ball but his attempted lob drifted well wide. David Meyler then strode into the box, Lees had a big handful of his shirt, Meyler fell like a modern-day footballer and the referee gave nothing. It was a blatant penalty regardless of the exaggeration. A second penalty appeal was waved away when Sone Aluko outpaced Pearce on the right, cut in along the bye line and Pearce brought him down. The ref awarded a corner. Aluko was furious. It was almost identical to the incident at Elland Road earlier this season when Diouf drew a penalty for Leeds despite not actually being in the box. No chance of a homer referee at the KC Stadium. This idiot was deathly afraid of being the subject of Neil Warnock’s post match rant. It wasn’t just the penalty incident. There were pushes and pulls all over the place going unpunished, incorrectly awarded throw-in’s, allowing Leeds to steal yards on throws but refusing to allow City to steal inches. He was a muppet.

If we wanted anything out of this game, we’d have to take it ourselves and as we started to involve Brady and Elmohamady, we created chance after chance. James Chester found Brady in space on the left with a lovely cross field pass, Brady hit the near post and Kenny smothered Koren’s flick. Aluko then dummied Quinn’s pass to free Brady whose cross found Meyler in the middle but he couldn’t control the ball. Elmohamady retrieved the ball and fed Meyler again but he was closed down quickly. A deep Koren corner was then met by Faye but headed into the side netting. It was similar to the chance he missed against Leicester but at a more awkward height and with defenders close by. Leeds stepped up the dirty tactics when under pressure. Norris lunged at Chester’s head as he stopped for a header (fortunately he didn’t make contact) and was only spoken too. Aiden White finally picked up a yellow card for a poor, late lunge on Elmohamady. In between David Meyler gave Tom Lees a dig with his elbow which went unnoticed. That one helped counter the feeling of injustice.

Elmo was booed by the Leeds fans for being hurt by White. Hilariously he walked over to them, put his finger to his lips and told them to shut up. He spent a lot of time getting booed because he was busy skinning Lees and whipping in crosses with great regularity. Lees will definitely know his number tonight. And who sponsors the back of his shirt. And what the back of his head looks like. And how many studs are missing from his boots. Aluko held the ball up brilliantly with three midfield thugs trying to kick him. He then back heeled the ball to Elmo who crossed brilliantly across the six yard box, Robbie Brady ran in from the other wing and smashed a shot wide. It looked easier to score. Corry Evans then freed Elmo with a lovely switch from left to right, Elmo delivered across the 6 yard line again and Koren slid in but couldn’t connect. Leeds ambition was then summed up before half time. Michael Brown was asked to leave the pitch for treatment on a blood injury (Evans and Aluko grassed him up to the ref!). Brown argued that he was fine to continue. When the ref insisted he leave the pitch, he was suddenly so injured he practically had to crawl off. He then stood just on the pitch having treatment. Quinn waited to take the free-kick while the ref asked Brown to get off the pitch. Eventually Mr. Eltrigham grew a set and booked Brown. Brown didn’t mind, he’d wasted 2 minutes. The whistle came soon after. Leeds had what they came for.

City flew out of the blocks in the second half but two or three chances went begging and the nerves began to jangle a little. Nothing would’ve been more frustrating for the Tigers faithful than watching this anti-football mob escape the KC with a point in their swag bag. Aluko had the first effort, cutting in from the right, holding off the rugby tackles, and shooting just past the post. Paddy Kenny was never worried by it but it was close. Stephen Quinn then led a break and found Meyler on the edge of the box. Meyler chose to place his shot but it was too close to Kenny and he saved well. Aluko then ripped them apart on the right of their box and slid a cross through the 6 yard box and just beyond the sliding Meyler. That was the “is this going to be our day?” moment. Minutes later, we had the goal we deserved. We passed the ball beautifully through midfield, Aluko received and squirmed his way past a defender before feeding Koren who held the ball up like a striker and then turned and fed Evans like a playmaker. Evans took a touch and hit a shot low and hard across Kenny and inside the far post. Fabulous move. Fabulous finish [1-0].

Before Leeds could get their breathe back, Koren got into a similar position to Evans on the right but shot towards the near post and Kenny turned it into the side netting. Brady delivered the corner and Meyler rose and thumped a terrific header inside the near post from 8 yards or so [2-0]. If anyone deserved a gal, it was Meyler. He gave a proper box to box performance. He’s always getting himself into the box but works back as well. He passed the ball tidily, he stood up to their dirtiness and made himself available time and again. He gets better with every game. Here’s hoping Martin O’Neill stops pretending he’s going to recall him from his loan and lets him stay to the end of the season or longer. There was an odd hush over the KC Stadium after the second goal. City dominated possession. Leeds gave up. There was a resignation amongst their supporters and a quiet disbelief amongst ours. Where we really dominating such a stubborn old foe in this fashion? Warnock didn’t even try to respond. He threw on Rudolph Austin, a token gesture. He looked around him, wondered what he had on his bench to halt the prowling Tiger and realised he had nothing. So he stood, arms folded, bitter and jealous and watched the Tigers stroll to the finish line. Kenny saved from Quinn and from substitute Proschwitz but otherwise, City passed the ball around, threw in the odd flick and trick and took pity on the sad opposition.  You’ll notice a lack of Leeds chances in this report. It’s not bias there just simply weren’t any. Brown and McCormack shot well over in the first half. And that was as close as they came.

It’s hard to convey just how majestic City were. If you’re doing ratings out of ten, there isn’t an outfield player worth less than eight. Corry Evans produced his best home performance ever. His distribution lets him down at times but it was excellent today. Quinn is the hardest working footballer I’ve ever seen. You can count on one hand the number of times his season that a winger and a full back have doubled up on our left hand side without Quinn being in position protecting Dudgeon/Brady. His partnership with Brady is improving by the game. They link beautifully together. I mentioned Brady last week. He’s unrecognisable from the frustrating little sod we had last season. I laughed when Alex Ferguson tried to make him a full-back. I’m an idiot.

Defensively we had a relatively easy day. Any Leeds threat was quelled quickly and effectively though. Faye won key headers and Chester kept McCormack very, very quiet. Our defence was excellent before. Bruce and McShane have had great seasons. It says everything about Jack Hobbs that he’s come back in and improved us. He’s terrific. Robert Koren’s best position is playing off the striker. He’s a game changer. He showed it again today. You think he’s not in the game and then he pops up with a goal or an assist. He’s the first name on the team sheet every week for me. Which does suggest an impending dilemma? If we’re in the market for the striker we all think we need and we can keep David Meyler, which looks a must right now, how the hell do we fit new striker, Aluko, Koren, Meyler, Evans and Quinn in the same team? I wouldn't leave anyone out. I’m glad I’m not picking the team.

On the subject of strikers, Steve Bruce was quizzed about the plans for January by Burnsy on Radio Humberside after the game. Bruce declared a very real interest in signing Fraizer Campbell and stressed it’s something they will try to do. He also confirmed his admiration for Swansea’s Danny Graham but agreed with Burnsy that it’s a very expensive option given that Swans paid £3.5m for Graham in the summer of 2011. Bruce is also keen to buy David Meyler and Robbie Brady. On hearing he interview, Mr. Allam must have locked his doors, turned off his phone and turned out the lights! I think Bruce can be quiet persuasive. The riches on offer in the Premier League next season are beyond comprehension. We’ve got a real chance of promotion. It might well be a gamble worth taking. Just don’t gamble on the future of the football club Mr. Allam. We’re all excited at the moment, how the hell could we not be? Just make sure you remain calm and keep one eye on the pennies. Because we could do without spending a dime. We’re not just good, we’re bloody excellent. Today proved that.

Have a prosperous 2013 everyone. Here’s hoping it’s another 2008 for Hull City AFC!

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Hull City 0 Leicester City 0

The second placed Tigers took on fifth placed Leicester City in what always promised to be a spicy encounter given the recent history between the two clubs. The 1,500-2,000 visiting fans topped up a Boxing Day crowd of 20,321 at the KC Stadium and were treated to an interesting, if not always entertaining encounter between two very even looking sides who were levelled further by the rain pouring down throughout half time and the second period. Leicester manager Nigel Pearson was hardly mentioned by the KC crowd showing the level of satisfaction there is with the current incumbent. Aside from one phenomenal move being met with chants of “We’re not boring anymore”, Pearson was an afterthought.

Steve Bruce isn’t afraid to change a winning team but on this occasion, David Meyler’s suspension meant he didn’t have much choice. Sone Aluko played for the first time in December with Robert Koren dropping into midfield. Leicester countered our 3-5-2 system with a 4-3-3. Ben Marshall and Anthony Knockaert  played as deep lying wide players to create a barrier of five in front of their back four. Marshall closed James Chester quickly whenever he tried to bring the ball out of defence and James and Drinkwater got very close to Koren whenever he picked up possession. You could never accuse Nigel Pearson of not doing his homework. Leicester were on a run of one win in five and looking to avoid a third successive defeat which seems remarkable given the talent they have at their disposal. You get the feeling that if they put as much effort in in the other games as they did to try and counter-act us, they’d pick up a few more results.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Chester, Faye, Hobbs [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Quinn, Koren [F] Aluko, Simpson

Leicester had the better of the opening 20 minutes despite not showing a lot of ambition. City were jittery, passed methodically and occasionally poorly and struggled to find any rhythm. Leicester knocked the ball long into the channels for Nugent to chase and while most balls ran through, he found a couple and allowed Knockaert to get into the game around the box. The Frenchman has a reputation for scoring goals from distance but fortunately for us, he’s not as effective from 16 yards. He scuffed an early chance from a Konchesky pull-back before he managed to beat Hobbs for pace on their right but dragged his shot across goal. A third let-off came when Evans misplaced a pass in midfield allowing Marshall to release Drinkwater but Jakupovic raced off his line to narrow the angle and beat the shot away.

The Tigers came to life in the second quarter and will rue the chances that went begging. With Leicester defending in numbers and remaining compact without the ball, a goal would have drawn them out for the rest of the game. Sone Aluko had a quiet time on his return to the side but it was no coincidence that when he was able to get into the game, we had our best spell. Aluko dropped off the front, spun a couple of defenders and fed Robbie Brady whose excellent cross was cleared brilliantly by Whitbread ahead of the waiting Elmohamady. Aluko then robbed Drinkwater in midfield but despite being pulled back and then tripped as he approached the “D”, no free kick was awarded. Koren and Aluko were starting to find each other, backed up by the busy Quinn and the tireless Brady. When they forced a corner, Koren’s delivery sailed over everyone to the far post where Faye arrived unmarked and headed down and just wide of the post. He put his head in his hands and he had every reason to. It was a sitter by his standards. Koren and Aluko then linked up again, played a one-two before Koren’s pass slipped through to Simpson. The weight of the ball was perfect for Simpson to shoot first time but instead he went around Schmeichel and his shot from a tight-ish angle was kicked of the line by De Laet. I’m normally an advocate of going around the ‘keeper but I really felt this one needed hitting first time.

We’d regret those two chances and a third that came shortly after. This one though was crafted so beautifully that had it gone in, it wouldn’t just have been a game changer, it would’ve had goal of the season all wrapped up. The Tigers were in possession and under pressure in our own box. Instead of smashing the ball clear, we played several risky looking passes with Chester finding Koren who laid off to Faye who found Evans before Quinn and Elmohamady completed the clearance or so we thought, Elmo then carried the ball into midfield where Koren and Quinn were involved again. The ball fund its way through Simpson to Aluko and he ran towards the penalty area and fired in a left footed shot that Schmeichel tipped wide at full stretch. What a goal that would have been. Koren fired in a free-kick that Schmeichel parried away after Brady had teased a fouled and a yellow card out of De Laet with a run in behind. Half time came shortly after and the team were denied a round of applause by a bizarre corner routine that annoyed every Tiger in the stadium. City won a corner with seconds remaining of stoppage time. The ref allowed it to be taken and everyone in the crowd knew the drill. Once the corner was cleared, it’d be the half time whistle. Koren and Quinn apparently don’t know this because they took the corner short and while Quinn attempted to return the ball to Koren, the ref blew up. There was anger in the air at that cock up!

As mentioned, the rain came down at half time and it put a dampener on the second half. Leicester were well organised again having survived a few scares and happy to let City play the ball around in front of them. Liam Moore replaced De Laet at right-back, probably because Pearson didn’t want to let him go up against Brady while he was on a booking. The first 20 minutes or so of the half ticked by with very little to report. Despite plenty of endeavour, City failed to get in behind Leicester. Aluko drifted out of the game, Elmohamady saw very little of the ball and they worked hard to stop the Quinn/Brady double act opening up space on the left. Leicester had the first opportunity of note in the half when Moore’s cross was sliced by Abdoulaye Faye but flew inches wide of the post with Jakupovic stranded. Tom Cairney replaced Corry Evans, who was disappointing with his distribution all afternoon, but struggled to impact the game. As at Derby on Friday, City were forced to face a succession of corners, probably four or five, but defended manfully. Jakupovic is a little unconvincing but was decisive enough and fought his way through the crowd to meet a couple. He also saved a shot from Ben Marshall but goodness only knows how because he went down low and it ended up looping up and over the bar. The big Bosnian kicks the ball quite well but frustrated all game by not distributing quickly enough. He turned down chances to throw out short and we ended up having to challenge for the ball in the air which isn’t our forte. Jay Simpson battled hard throughout and should’ve won more for the side because Wes Morgan was wrestling him every time. The ref had a grip on it early on but then decided he couldn’t be bothered anymore and let Morgan do as he wished.

Simpson forced the only real save from Schmeichel in the second half when we broke out of defence and Aluko played him in on the left. Simpson used Aluko’s run to create space for a shot but his left-footed effort was at a good height, as they say. City switched to a back four for the last five minutes as Aluko and Faye were withdrawn and Rosenior and Proschwitz thrown on. Neither had a great impact but City did create the last chance to win the game. Quinn crossed superbly from the left, Proschwitz hit the near post, Simpson the far and it was Simpson who met the cross full on and headed straight into Schmeichel’s arms. Anywhere else on target and he probably scored. And that was that.

On the whole, this wasn’t a bad point to gain. Leicester are one of the best sides in the division, despite recent form, and will cause most other teams a problem. While far from our best we coped with them pretty comfortably and carved out several match winning chances. While winning at home is vital to a promotion push, this was a far cry from some of the home games like Peterborough, Blackpool and Burnley and, given our away form, we can be happy with the odd home draw against fellow promotion chasers. What we need to do is follow this up with a win at the weekend. 4 points from 6 at home is a reasonable return. 1 or 2 from 6 really isn’t. If we are to win the next one, we’ll need to improve vastly in the midfield where we were unusually sluggish. Evans and Koren both passed poorly under moderate pressure at times and our football wasn’t slick enough to cause them a problem aside from a short spell in the first half. Sone Aluko caused Leeds all sorts of problems in the reverse fixture but he was too easily marked out of the game because the slow passing meant space was absorbed by retreating Leicester defenders and midfielders. To his credit, Aluko went looking for the ball second half and spent a lot of time on the right wing but was too far away from goal to hurt them. On the one occasion he did give them the slip, Zak Whitbread picked up a booking for a very cynical grab at Aluko’s shirt.

The next game won’t be an easy one. L**ds will smarting from a hefty defeat to Forest today and from their home defeat by the Tigers earlier this season. They have a “combatitive” (e.g. Dirty) midfield and front players who can score from out of nowhere. They are a dangerous opponent and it should be another cracking game. It will definitely require a step up in performance to claim three points but it would bring great reward. We’d go into 2013 in the top two in the Championship, we’d put more points between ourselves and the pack outside the play-off places and we’d complete a first league double over L**ds since 1988. With the transfer window about to open, all that might get Papa Allam’s juices flowing enough for him to finance the striker we look like we need. It’s an exciting time at the KC again. You can tell that by the fact that “Judas” Pearson was in the opposing dugout today and no-one really gave a toss. We’re too wrapped up in our team and our staff to care. Long may that continue! 

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Derby County 1 Hull City 2

Wizzard wished it could be Christmas every day. I wish we could play at Pride ark every week. Three wins in the last three seasons plus a vital point towards survival in the 2006/07 season make it a very happy hunting ground of late. There was a sense of inevitability about this latest win. I’ve never followed Hull City away from home and been so confident of a victory. This is a steely group of players who have a bit of everything, score when it matters and lose only if they absolutely must. It’s now four wins on the spin. Four away wins in a row. Ten wins from the last fourteen league games. Momentum is building amongst the City boys like a snowball rolling down a hill.

Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Jakupovic [D] Chester, Faye, Hobbs [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Meyler, Quinn [F] Koren, Simpson

So a first City start for Eldin Jakupovic in goal after David Stockdale’s untimely return to Fulham. The big Bosnian did well enough, made a couple of good stops and read the ball well around the box. He was occasionally erratic and punches like Audley Harrison’s Mam. He got away with one ludicrous charge from his goal late on to punch the ball away from Robinson but he earned his bit of luck with a fine save to his left to deny Coutts in the second half. Jakupovic was playing behind a defence shuffled slightly again due to Alex Bruce’s suspension. Fortunately we have incredible strength in depth at centre half which means we were able to bring in Abdoulaye Faye ahead of Paul McShane. This was my first look at Jack Hobbs for a while. I missed the Huddersfield game with super-man-flu. The first game I’ve missed at home for 12 years. Jack Hobbs hasn’t missed a beat. He’s as big and brave as ever, he takes responsibility on the ball and he slotted in beautifully on the left side of the 3-man defence. On the other side, James Chester was just utterly sumptuous. Every footballer who’s in contract negotiations needs to watch the tape of this game. Chester’s master-class of sublimely timed tackles, brave headers, last ditch blocks and striding out of defence like Franco Baresi is the sort of performance that will make any club find an extra few quid in the negotiations.

After sitting through the world’s most embarrassing pre-match build up, complete with introductions for the ball boy squad, a sponsored match ball delivery, a tacky 2 minute warning siren, a running commentary on where the players are in the ground (who is currently scratching his balls, who is pulling his socks up, etc) and the cheesiest of pre-match tunes, we finally kicked off with City attacking the away fans. It was a quiet opening. The Tigers dominated possession and pressed Derby into their own half but the football, while neat, wasn’t incisive. It took a while for the home side to get going but they eventually built a head of steam and Chester and Faye had to make important challenges to stop them breaking into the box. The headline act in the Derby side is 17 year-old midfielder Will Hughes. He really is a terrific player. He’s got terrific balance, finds space with ease, passes intelligently and hurts teams running with the ball. I only hope he stays at Derby for a couple of years and continues to progress rather than chasing the big money at the first opportunity. If he comes on in this environment, he can be a top player. He’s similar to Tom Cairney in a lot of ways but more mobile and a better athlete. It’ll be interesting to see if TC’s recent attempts to get into shape help him realise his own potential. When Will Hughes and Michael Jacobs thought they were exerting their influence on the game, their momentum was quickly quashed by the best player on the pitch. Again.

When you’re playing at Pride Park, and the snow clouds make it dark, Corry’s rosy cheeks are gonna light your merry way……

City then went ahead. Evans finding Brady wide, the ball just about staying in play, Brady slid in Quinn down the left, he crossed low across the box and Robert Koren arrived with perfect split-second timing to slot a left footed shot through Adam Legzdins legs [0-1].

“Jingle Bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way. Oh what fun, it is to see Hull City win away, Whey!”

The half continued in similar vein after the goal. Possession about even, midfields playing tidy stuff and chances few and far between. Nigel Clough, who’d been angered by the linesman adjudging Brady kept the ball in before the goal was scored, made a show of himself running off the bench with his arms in the air every time they weren’t awarded the imaginary fouls he was seeing. I like Nigel Clough a lot. I was embarrassed for him. Evans was the pick of the City midfield, breaking up play all over the pitch and passing beautifully. David Meyler was having a mare. He halted any momentum whenever he got the ball, he gave it away time and again displayed a hideous first touch. Almost every time City coughed up the ball, it was him. If this was his last game in a City shirt, it wasn’t one he’ll remember fondly. With half time approaching we were uber-comfortable with our lead. We nearly doubled in when Jack Hobbs hit a dipping volley from nearly 40 yards that fell just wide. Then, as the board went up to indicate one minute would be added, Jacobs spannered a cross badly and Jakupovic had to dash back and tip it over the bar. Big Faye met the incoming corner but headed it straight to Jacobs who controlled and volleyed superbly beyond the desperate dive of Jakupovic [1-1].

City started the second half strongly. With any other City side and at any other time in our history, you’d expect a goal before half time to knock them for six. These boys are just absolutely flying at the moment. There’s a supreme but quiet confidence about the whole group. It only took five minutes for the lead to be restored. Robbie Brady’s right wing corner landed on the head of big Faye at the far post and he planted his header beyond Legzdins [1-2]. A fourth goal of the season for the defender. This makes him the fourth Tiger to hit four or more goals this season. Only three managed it in the whole of last season. In truth, despite forty minutes left for play, this was game over. City defended superbly, the midfield three worked hard to close them down and the time flew by. If the clock runs down so fast on Monday night, Santa will never get all his work done.

I was most impressed with Robbie Brady who has come on so much since his time with us last season. He’s working harder, he’s displaying great upper-body strength, he times his tackles well and he’s still exciting going forward. When he came back on loan, I wasn’t especially bothered. Now I’d hate to lose him. David Meyler had a strong last 20 minutes, carrying the ball forward well to ease any pressure and he got kicked to bits in the second half without any protection from the ref (who I presume someone “won” in a Christmas cracker). Jay Simpson put in another long, hard shift with little reward for his efforts. Stephen Quinn continues to look as good a bit of business as anyone has ever done. What a signing he has been. Elmohamady was short of his exciting best, he seems to hold himself back to allow Meyler to explore the right hand side.

We really do seem to have everything. Some of the inter-play between Quinn, Evans, Koren and Brady in midfield was breath taking. Easily as good as anything we saw from Barmby’s tidy side last season. We play comfortably across the back, we slide the ball into midfield well, we spread play wide well and we get the ball into the channels quickly at times and turn defences around that way. We’re really versatile. To go with all that, we’ve got incredible bottle. We faced five corners in the last three minutes of this game. Steve Bruce had sensible thrown on Proschwitz to relieve Simpson and to lend a hand with any bombardment. Corry Evans headed the first corner off the line and then we met the next four. Faye (twice), Hobbs and Meyler getting to the ball first. It’s impossible not to be impressed by the spirit and balls in our camp. The final whistle came shortly after.

“We are Hull City, We’re top of the league!”

This game marks the half-way point of the season so far. I think it’s fairly safe to say it’s been a terrific half and one that even the most optimistic Hull City fan wouldn’t have predicted. We’ve almost got 2/3 of last season’s total points. We’ve scored ¾ of the goals we scored in the whole of last season. We’re 9 places and 13 points better off than at the same point in the 2007/08 promotion season. 44 points is the same total West Ham had after 23 games last season. Wherever you look, the signs are so positive. At the end of November, I pointed out a run of 7 games that I felt was particularly tough between December 1st and January 2nd. If we’re in the top 6 after that, I said, we’ve got a chance. So far, we’ve taken 12 points from 12 in that run and now have two home games to come. The signs are actually scarily positive. I just pray that everyone at the club sees the work that’s been done, sees the opportunity that has been created and really takes the reindeer by the antlers. We need to get Robbie Brady and Elmo tied down to the end of the season, we need to get Stockdale or an equivalent in, preferably permanently, and we need a front man with broad shoulders. It’s not a massive Christmas list, Mr Allam. If you ensure Steve Bruce’s stocking is bulging this week, he’ll deliver everything we’ve ever wanted.

Merry Christmas Tiger Nation. Wherever you are in the world, have a wonderful time. See you all on Boxing Day!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Ten Years At The KC Stadium - #3

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 eight in the series and number three in the countdown:

Top 10 Players - #3

Stuart Elliott

Pic: PAPhotos

Stuart Elliott arrived at the KC Stadium in the summer of 2002 as one of several players plucked from the Scottish Premier League by City manager Jan Molby. Elliott was a left-winger who’d hit 23 goals in the SPL for Motherwell in the previous couple of seasons and was capped by Northern Ireland. He was also a born-again Christian drawn to Hull by the presence of the Living Hope Church. Next time you’re passing, put a fiver in the collection box, we’ve plenty to thank them for. Elliott hit 68 goals in 211 games for City, a return of nearly 1 in 3 from the left wing. He was the top-scorer in three of his 4 seasons as a regular in the team. In 2004/05 he struck 27 league goals. The joint-second best tally by a City player in post-war football.

Molby paid £230,000 for Elliott making him the third most expensive signing in the club’s history at that point. It was a steal. Molby went up to Fir Park with a swag bag and a very large stripy jumper. Molby’s made numerous fine signings including Elliott, Ian Ashbee and Stuart Green but his man-management skills were non-existent and once he failed to successfully re-produce the 4-3-3 system he played at Kidderminster, he had no other ideas. He was swiftly kicked into touch by Adam Pearson (insert broken foot “gag”) and replaced with Peter Taylor. Elliott scored on his Tigers debut against Southend at Boothferry Park but would only score once more under Molby. He had a better time after Taylor’s arrival and finished the season as top goal-scorer with 12 goals. On January 11th 2003, he scored his first goals at the KC Stadium bagging a brace against Exeter City in a 2-2 draw.

In 2003/04 Peter Taylor put together a fabulous front four of Elliott, Jason Price, Ben Burgess and Danny Allsopp. Despite hitting 14 goals, Elliott was only third top scorer as Allsopp struck 15 times and Burgess scored 18 times. Price also chipped in with 9 goals. City strolled to promotion from Division 3 (League Two) and with Elliott well-established as a regular goal-scorer. His goals were generally split into two categories. Despite being well under six feet tall he was excellent in the air, having great spring, and scored plenty of headed goals while his willingness to let fly from anywhere with his left foot caught out many a goalkeeper. He scored vital goals in tight games and was the match winner against Cambridge, Darlington, Southend, and most famously Swansea City (Greatest KC Stadium Game #8). He was also a useful provider of goals, linking up well with the Burgess-Allsopp front pair and providing a constant threat in the air attacking Price’s right wing crosses. 14 goals is a fantastic return for a winger but it was dwarfed by the events of the following season.

2004/05 will always be known to City fans as “That Stuart Elliott season”. Elliott scored 30 times, 27 in the league, 1 in the FA Cup, 1 in the League Cup and 1 for Northern Ireland. On New Year’s Day 2005 he suffered a broken cheekbone at the hands (or elbow) of Huddersfield thug Efe Sodje. He missed 6 weeks of the season meaning his 27 league goals came in just 36 games. A phenomenal return which included six braces and a hat-trick (Greatest KC Stadium Game #10). If not for the injury, I’m certain he would have set a new club record for league goals in a season. Not only was the number of goals impressive but also the quality as Elliott demonstrated a left-foot strike as true as any in the game and that ability to out-jump defenders 3 and 4 inches taller than he was. Ben Burgess missed the entire season with a knee injury suffered against Huddersfield in the penultimate game of the previous season but Elliott ensured he wasn’t missed. Not in goal-scoring terms anyway. The Tigers clinched a second successive promotion. Although Nick Barmby had a fine debut season and Ian Ashbee and the Tigers defenders made the step-up seamlessly, without Burgess City could’ve lacked a cutting edge up front. Danny Allsopp didn’t perform as well without his partner and the strikers bought to replace Burgess weren’t fit to sign his plaster cast. Simply put, without Elliott, that second promotion wouldn’t have been possible. He was the difference maker in half of the games. He scored goals when we weren’t playing well and won games from nothing. We’ll tell our grandchildren about that season.

There was some debate in the summer of 2005 as to whether Elliott would produce the same form in the Championship. He wasn’t blessed with explosive pace or great dribbling ability, wasn’t technically a great footballer and was due to come up against better defences in well-drilled sides. In truth, he struggled. Never hitting the heights of before but playing a role as City avoided an immediate return to League One. It was Elliott’s magnificent goal at Plymouth that sealed the Tigers first victory in the second tier for 14 years. He also finished the season as the club’s top scorer with 7 goals. The following season, City fought off relegation by the skin of our teeth. A classic Elliott brace against QPR with both goals coming in the last 5 minutes to seal a come-from-behind victory was the highlight of his season. He played 38 games, few were memorable and he fell out of favour with Northern Ireland. His goal against Plymouth on the final day would be his last at the KC Stadium. He was used sparsely by Phil Brown after Henrik Pedersen’s arrival and eventually left for Doncaster, initially on loan. His last great moment in a Tigers shirt came at Wigan as he scored a tremendous improvised winner in a League Cup tie. That would be the last sighting of football’s greatest cartwheel in black and amber. Eat your heart out, Robbie Keane.

Stuart Elliott was a fantastic ambassador for the club, a real gentleman and a humble, gracious footballer. He was a key figure in the club’s rise from the bottom half of Division 3 to being, briefly, one of the top three teams in the country. Unfortunately, he couldn’t make the entire journey but his contribution was vast and will never be forgotten. He’s the leading Tigers goalscorer at the KC Stadium. His goal return for a wide player was outstanding. His record in 2004/05 is the stuff of legend. He’s on the list of the best City players at the KC. He’s on the list of the best goals at the KC. He contributed greatly to some of the best games at the KC. Jan Molby’s reign as City manager was short lived and unfulfilled but thanks to Stuart Elliott and Ian Ashbee, it will never, ever be one we regret.

So here’s to you Stuart Elliott. Jesus loves you more than you will know. But not as much as we do.

Top 10 Matches - #3

Hull City 3 Everton 2 - 06/02/2010

After a stuttering start to what would eventually be a disastrous season, City started to click once Jimmy Bullard returned from his long injury absence. A 2-1 victory over Stoke was followed by an entertaining 3-3 draw with West Ham before Everton came to town. Everton were depleted but despite their complaining about it, they had a side out that cost four times the £10m or so the Tigers starting eleven cost.

For City, Bullard was missing, 3 games in quick succession too much for his glass knees, and Phil Brown made the ludicrous decision to drop Bo Myhill. Despite that and City starting the game like strangers, we clicked into gear and produced the best half of Premier League football at the KC. Kamil Zayatte had his best game in black and amber, Stephen Hunt did likewise, George Boateng had his best game in ages and Dean Marney his best since the win at Arsenal a year or so earlier.

Hunt gave City the lead in the 9th minute, tucking in the rebound after Altidore's effort was saved. The defence stood firm against Everton's considerable attacking threat and encouraged, City pushed on to take the game by the scruff of the neck. On 20 minutes, Andy Dawson curled a magnificent free-kick beyond Tim Howard. Eight minutes later Dean Marney, of all people, scored with a deflected shot and City were in complete control.

Everton came into the game in the second half and were gifted a life-line when Zayatte  turned Heitinga's cross into his own net. A quarter of an hour later, Zayatte clumsily fouled Saha in the box and Saha knocked in the penalty. The situation became nervy but City defended stoutly. Zayatte reacted superbly to his own idiocy and kept Saha quiet. Nick Barmby came off the bench to calm everyone's nerves and Marney and Boateng closed their midfield down urgently.

Home wins were rare in the Premier League years and this was just about the finest. A tremendously spirited effort, quality in front of goal and, despite a couple of mishaps, a solid defensive performance. It will go down as one of Phil brown's finest nights. Ironically the return fixture would be his undoing.

Top 10 Goals - #3

John Bostock

The freshly-relegated Tigers took on Swansea on the opening day of 2009/10 and in truth, no-one at the KC Stadium was expecting big things. That was until Spurs loanee John Bostock turned in midfield and hit a rocket of a shot into the top corner. It turned out to be a massive false dawn, both the 2-0 victory and Bostock's performance but that's par for the course with Hull City!

Top 10 villains of the KC Stadium era

1=. Russell "Who needs an accountant?" Bartlett
1=. Paul "I'm not a criminal, honest" Duffen
3. James "Greedy b*****d" Bullard
4. Nigel "Judas" Pearson
5. Danny "Break yer legs" Guthrie
6. Cesc Fabre-goz
8. Steve "Have a penalty, no wait a second..." Bennett
9. Jon "I'll applaud the Stoke fans and ignore the traveling Tigers whilst being a lazy, fat gut and stealing a wage" Parkin
 10.Adel "Massive baby" Taarabt

And brand new in at 7. Dean "I'm a cock" Marney.

Tranmere 0 Hull City 3: Short and sweet match report

City progressed in the League Cup on a first visit to Tranmere for 14 years since a Craig Fagan inspired win in League One en route to b...