Saturday, 9 January 2016

Hull City 1 Brighton 0: Tigers' strength in depth on display

City progressed into the fourth round of the FA Cup with an utterly dominant victory over Brighton & Hove Albion – a performance not at all reflected by the 1-0 scoreline.

(C) Hull Daily Mail

I can’t say I was particularly looking forward to the game given that the managers of the respective sides were among the many up and down the country considering at the FA Cup a nuisance ahead of midweek league fixtures. I’m a lover of the competition but the scheduling this year has made a mockery of it.

Putting out reserve sides was majorly responsible for the lowly crowd of 10,706. It also wasn’t helped by the club’s desire to drive ticket sales onto the internet making it difficult to buy a ticket. The division between owners and fans over the past few years drove down season pass sales. Relegation decimated them. This season it stopped being possible to pay cash on the gate. Now it’s difficult and more costly to buy tickets in person or over the telephone. Sadly the ticket office is now a shell with a machine in it headed “CUSTOMER SERVICE”. We’re not awash with paying supporters at the moment and we’re making it very difficult to buy tickets. Where is the logic there?

City 4-4-2
Eldin Jakupovic
Moses Odubajo – Curtis Davies – Harry Maguire – Andy Robertson
Robert Snodgrass – Isaac Hayden – Tom Huddlestone – Ryan Taylor
Adama Diomande – Sone Aluko

Aside from the back four, it was a second string City side. Brighton made even more changes with only their centre half Dunk and right back Goldson starting recent league games. The replacements were of far higher quality in the home side and it showed as we proceeded to dictate the game from the outset. Tom Huddlestone pulled the strings in midfield and City’s performance reflected that. It was very watchable, tidy, occasionally inspired but lacking tempo.

Five minutes in, Snodgrass whipped a free kick wide from thirty yards out on the right hand side. The kick was given after one of many driving runs from Issac Hayden who, having been messed about recently by the aborted recall to Arsenal, looked like a young man with a point to prove and he was probably our best player. He stuck his foot in at one end to retrieve possession time and again and supported admirably around, and even in, the box. In the second half he nearly crippled Rohan Ince with a fair but hard challenge that Andrew Crofts was upset with.

Hayden volleyed over after their Finnish keeper Maenpaa had thrown a pathetic fist at a Snodgrass free kick. Ridgewell hauled Snodgrass down for the award of the set piece after he’d been beaten easily on the right wing. How it wasn’t a yellow yard, I’ll never know. The referee was a bit meak throughout but did book Goldson and Dunk for taking down Aluko and Diomande respectively on their way into the box. Diomande’s was centre of goal but a fair way out so was probably just a booking but some refs would have shown red.

Hayden forced a save from Maenpaa from distance midway through the half and then rattled the post supporting the goal net with another smart drive ten minutes later. Hayden also drove into the box, freed by Diomande, and then pulled the ball back across goal only for Dio and Snodgrass to make a complete mess of sticking the ball in the net. Diomande ran strongly with the ball at his feet and looked comfortable receiving the ball with his back to goal and looking for a pass wide. Aluko was probably the brighter of the pairing though showing quick feet and making driving runs in behind. Every time I finally decide he’s useless, he produces a performance like this where you wonder if he still has the quality we saw fleetingly three years ago.

On forty minutes came the decisive moment in the game. A City corner was cleared to Huddlestone who couldn’t create space for a shot but blocked the attempted clearance (to screams for handball from Brighton). The block fell towards Maguire who went down under a clumsy lunge by Dunk and the ref gave a penalty – but no yellow card. Snodgrass smashed the spot-kick down the middle of the goal and ran off to celebrate with the City medical staff on the bench [1-0]. Lovely moment.

Half time: Hull City 1 Brighton 0

The second half was much of the same although Brighton were probably less of a threat than they had been before the break. Andy Robertson murdered them down his left hand side getting in behind many times. He created lots of the dozens of opportunities City had to put the ball into the box in the half but the lack of a real target in the box meant Brighton could cope easily with most of the balls in. Many were daisy cutters across the box but without anyone particularly in mind.

It was one way traffic throughout the ninety minutes. Aluko dropped off the front into spaces out wide and Huddlestone and Hayden were able to easily manoeuvre the ball into him, Snodgrass and Robertson. Luer replaced Diomande and struggled to make an impact on their defence physically but even so, we still made all the running.

Maenpaa saved fairly comfortably from an Aluko long range effort and a controlled far-post volley from Taylor after Akuo’s shot had deflected high into the air. Huddlestone hit a dipping shot side and Hayden struck another low effort that went wide with the keeper frozen on the spot. With ten minutes left, Aluko spurned the chance to seal the win when he was gifted possession and rove clear of the defenders but saw his shot parried away from Maenpaa. It was a good save but a poor finish.

In stoppage time we almost paid for not turning the dominance of territory and possession into goals when Crofts hit the bar from inside the area from a rare Brighton corner.

Full time: Hull City 1 Brighton 0

It may seem like I’ve not mentioned Brighton a whole lot in this report and that’s only fair. Because they were barely a factor in the game. This version of them is easily the worst opponent we’ve had the KC this season including Rochdale and Bolton. You have to feel for the 390 fans who made the long trek to watch that shower. Luckily they were in one of Rough Guide’s top ten cities to visit 2016 so the journey had an upside.

Steve Bruce continues to take a lax attitude to cup competitions but we do progress in spite of it. He’s lead us to an FA Cup Final and a record breaking League Cup run in his reign despite rarely fielding a strong team.

This will be our fifth appearance in the last eight seasons and a fourth in the last five. We’re on the verge of almost taking progression for granted. It’s easy to forget that until 2008/09 we had gone nineteen seasons without a fourth round appearance.

We’ve got one this year. I’m not sure how welcome it is though.

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