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!