Sunday, 31 December 2017

Hull City: The Highs and Lows of 2017

The final blog of 2017 will look at the ten best and worst moment of Hull City's year.


Silva. An outstanding appointment that gave City a fighting chance of staying in the premier League when previously, we had none. Not just a very good coach and tactician but he came with his own staff and little black book of transfer targets, which was desperately needed. Improvement was immediate and obvious and the re-birth of players like Tom Huddlestone, who was in the form of his City career until his sending off at Everton, and the improvement in the likes of Harry Maguire showed Silva’s quality.

League Cup. The run to the semi-finals of the league Cup for the first time ever was the highlight of Mike Phelan’s reign and a credit to him. The second leg against Manchester United was a fantastic night at the KCOM Stadium spoiled only by the tiny crowd. It was by far the most aggressive performance I’ve ever seen from City. We had ten outfield players in Manchester United’s half pushing them back and the second goal was a beauty from back to front.

Liverpool. One of the rare occasions this year when the ground was full, we deservedly beat a very good Liverpool side with goals fron N’Diaye and Niasse. The Niasse goal being enjoyed across the country made it particularly memorable. This win made everyone sit up and take notice of Silva and his side.

Middlesbrough. Just a wonderful game of football and an outstanding attacking display from City. As usual under Silva, going behind didn’t bother us and we ripped into Boro. Markovic and Grosicki were out of this world.

Watford. This was one of our bravest Premier League performances. The (incorrect) decision to send off Niasse sparking a fantastic response from City and Sam Clucas’s world-class volley was the icing on the cake.

Southampton. A fantastic point was earned away from home by Eldin Jakupovic’s injury time penalty save. As we stood celebrating with the players in the away end at St. Mary’s that day, there was no way we were going down. I look back now to that moment and I still cannot quite believe the team that lost the next three games so pathetically was the same.

Bowen. After a tumultuous summer (see lows) watching Jarrod Bowen score his first City goal to seal a point at Aston Villa was a great pick-me-up. He has been the highlight of a shocking season so far and if not for all the misery going on around it – seeing one of our youth players step into the Championship and bag eleven goals in half a year would be far more celebrated.

Doncaster. As a regular watcher of the City “yoof”, I was proud to see a team full of them step up and give a League One side a really good game in the League Cup. Many lads made their debut that night and some will never make another appearance but it was a great moment for them.

Birmingham. The nature of City’s bi-polar team this year has meant that most of the few games we have won have been thumpings. This was a real hammering though as City tore a poor Birmingham side to shreds and the array of attacking players, many signed in the summer, filled their boots for one afternoon.

Brentford. Nigel Adkins first game in charge was a good one and in spite of the flaws in the squad he’s inherited, City showed a lot of character to come from behind to win – and should have scored two or three more goals in doing so. Brentford are the only top half team (and only just) that we have beaten this season so this is not a result to sniff at.


WBA. The end of Mike Phelan’s reign was another hapless away defeat against a rival at the bottom end of the table. The arrival of Marco Silva brought about many changes to the City squad and performances but the god awful defending from set pieces was never resolved.

Swansea. Silva’s first game in charge should have been an occasion. Instead, due to disinterest and fans boycotting, it played out in front of just 6,608. The club’s lowest home FA Cup attendance since the Kettering replay in 2000. Low gates have plagued the club for 18 months now. I wonder why?

Ryan Mason. An obvious one. As scary an incident as I’ve seen on a pitch. Whether Ryan comes back or not - that he’s able to live his life normally is enough.

Aways. In two leagues and three competitions, City’s away record in 2017 has been dreadful. Wretched performances have happened far too often. Fulham, Stoke, Palace, QPR, Derby and more.

2017 away record - P24 W1 D7 L16

Sunderland. One of the ultimate “typical City” days in our history. Coming off the win over Watford and the draw at Southampton, survival was in our own hands. Then came already relegated Sunderland at home and a result that was unbelievable and entirely predictable at the same time.

Spurs. Humiliating relegation the week before at Crystal Palace seemed as bad as things could get. And then our final Premier League game, and there isn’t likely to be another one anytime soon, saw us concede seven to Spurs. It was our heaviest top-flight defeat and our heaviest ever at home outside of Wartime football. A truly embarrassing day.

Sales. Relegation was always likely to see key members of the squad depart, especially as the owners had been so negligent when it came to contracts. However, the amount of departures surprised everyone. Players I’d expected to stay like Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone couldn’t get away quick enough once an offer came in. It was shambolic and made the new manager Leonid Slutsky look a fool day after day. It would have been worse still had Abel Hernandez not suffered a serious injury in August. He’ll likely now walk for free in the summer.

Signings. Losing Marco Silva and half of the squad was bad but it could have been tempered by sensible recruitment. Instead, we almost exclusively signed players on loans and free transfers ahead of the start of the season and then spent only a fraction of the money raised by sales late in the transfer window. By that point, pre-season and several games had gone meaning crucial league games became the testing ground for the new manager and his squad to get to know each other and the environment to try and get players fit. In both cases, we failed miserably.

Sheff Utd. The end of the road for yet another manager. Performances under Slutsky were abject for a while but this was the lowest of the low. A hammering to a rival in a game we took the lead in, and conceding four times to bloody Leon Clarke, was inexcusable. While he’d been let down badly by his superiors, it was obvious that Slutsky couldn’t get anything out of the players he had been left to work with.

Allams. Demolished the squad. Devastated the staff. Decimated the fanbase. The club is going nowhere with them in charge.

Happy New Year, Hull City fans!

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Favourite 15 Hull City matches from 15 years at the KCOM Stadium

I decided on picking my 15 favourite matches from the 15 years at the KC/KCOM Stadium and then immediately regretted it.

Amongst the games that didn’t make it are an FA Cup Quarter Final victory, our first since 1930, a League Cup semi-final win over Manchester United, three wins over Liverpool in the Premier League, Dean Windass’s first City hat-trick in 13 years, Jon Parkin’s televised brace against Sheffield Wednesday, the opening game win over Hartlepool on Boxing Day 2002 and one of my favourite late winners ever – Ian Ashbee’s towering header against Crystal Palace to keep automatic promotion hopes alive in 2008.

15- Hull City 2 Leeds United 0 – 29/12/2012

Steve Bruce’s first season had many highlights and the win at Elland Road was one of them. It was topped off by City doing the double over Leeds with this outstanding team performance. Corry Evans and David Meyler beautifully finished off lovely moves and the two-goal deficit was the least City deserved.

14- Hull City 2 Swansea City 0 – 07/08/2010

This is more memorable for a moment than the game. The newly relegated Tigers went into the game after a tumultuous summer (a now overly familiar situation) and stunned Swansea with one of the best debut goals I can remember as John Bostock, on loan from Tottenham, unleashed an unstoppable shot from 30 yards. Ian Ashbee put the cap on an impressive win which proved a very false dawn. City were in the bottom three by November. We eventually recovered and finished 11th after the Allams bought the club from Russell Bartlett. Swansea won the play-off final and have been a Premier League club ever since – most recently at our expense.

13- Hull City 3 Everton 2 – 25/11/2009

November 2009 was the month Jimmy Bullard returned from injury suffered on his debut at West Ham and briefly sparked City’s season into life. Very briefly. Though after beating Stoke and drawing with West Ham at home, the latter with ten men, he was left out for a midweek game with Everton. That wasn’t a problem as Stephen Hunt and Dean Marney struck either side of an Andy Dawson free kick to give City a 3-0 lead in half an hour. Kamil Zayatte’s weekly own goal and a penalty from Louis Saha – conceded by Zayatte – made it 3-2 but City held on for a first win against Everton since 1952.

12- Hull City 3 Burnley 0 – 26/12/2015

The promotion season of 2015/16 saw City win a lot of games but most unremarkably. We tonked Middlesbrough in a top of the table game in November and then did the same to our “bogey team” Burnley on Boxing Day. Jake Livermore opened the scoring, Abel Hernandez cut in from the right wing to curl in a beauty and Sam Clucas knocked in a third in a very impressive win. Despite being top going into March, we’d fall away and need the play-offs while Burnley ran away with the league.

11- Hull City 2 Leicester City 1 – 03/12/2011

Just two and a half weeks after Nigel Pearson left City to re-join Leicester, the Foxes were the visitors at the KC Stadium in the feature match on ITV’s Championship highlights show (try and get “What a beautiful day…” out of your head now.) Matty Fryatt gave City the lead from the penalty spot after Matt Mills fouled Aaron McLean and was sent off. Paul Konchesky equalised with a daisy cutter and a frustrating second half ensued but revenge was gained sweetly when Robert Koren hit an absolute beauty with his left foot in the dying minutes.

10- Hull City 2 AS Trencin 1 – 07/08/2014

When the KC Stadium opened in 2002, the chances of it hosting European football came down to the possibility of the Anglo-Italian cup returning only for Serie C and D sides or the FA offering an Intertoto Cup spot for sides whose name has no letters you can colour in. Regardless of how aggrieved you feel that City’s run in Europe was too short, the fact that we hosted a Europa League tie, having qualified as runners-up in the FA Cup is still remarkable to me. Goals from Ahmed Elmohamady and Sone Aluko gave City a 2-1 aggregate win after a 0-0 draw in Slovakia but the game was less relevant than the occasion.

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

The first truly outstanding game at the KC Stadium was a top of the table clash in the third division. Oxford would eventually fall-out of the promotion picture but were formidable foes going into the game. City swept them aside with a fantastic second half performance in a game that was 0-0 for nearly an hour. Ben Burgess curled in a sumptuous goal after a brilliant Stuart Elliott dribble and Danny Allsopp scored twice after lovely link-ups on the edge of the box. Steve Basham and ex-Tiger Matt Bound scored for Oxford either side of an own-goal by current City assistant manager Andy Crosby that sealed the win.

08- Hull City 6 Tranmere Rovers 1 – 18/12/2004

A ridiculous game best remembered for Tranmere emerging for the second half with City-great Theo Whitmore in goal. Their keeper Achterberg was hurt in a challenge with Stuart Elliott and sub Howart was injured trying to stop Ian Ashbee opening the scoring. The glee was palpable at the KC as Theo went in goal with no-one knowing how it would turn out but certain it was going to be a “car crash”. Stuart Elliott scored a second half hat-trick while Nick Barmby and Allsopp added to the score-line with Eugene Dadi very briefly making it 2-1 with one of three goals in three minutes. The goal that brought the ground to tears of laughter was Elliott’s hat-trick sealer from the penalty spot. Whitmore looked like a little kid facing a big kid in a school PE lesson as he tried desperately not to get anywhere near Elliott’s thumping pen. A crazy afternoon.

07- Hull City 2 Cardiff City 2 – 04/05/2013

Speaking of crazy afternoons! You all know the story. City need to win or match Watford’s result to seal automatic promotion to the Premier League. Already promoted Cardiff are the opposition and take the lead through former City striker Fraizer Campbell. At Watford, visitors Leeds are also playing party-pooper but an injury to Watford’s goalkeeper creates a massive delay that means their game will finish 15-20 minutes after ours. It’s all irrelevant when goals from Nick Proschwitz and Paul McShane turn the game around and we’re coasting to promotion. We’re given the chance to seal it with a last-minute penalty, as they go down to ten men, which Proschwitz MISSES and then Cardiff get their own penalty in stoppage time, score and leave us on the pitch waiting for the game at Watford to finish. After several agonising minutes, Leeds score a second and we all cheer it (ugh). Only City could win a historic automatic promotion while giving you a heart attack.

06- Hull City 6 Fulham 0 – 28/12/2013

At half time, this was a fairly nondescript game against would-be-relegated Fulham. It was two days after City put in a monumental effort to lead Man Utd 2-0 before we eventually succumbed to a 3-2 defeat and the legs looked heavy. The second half was wonderful though with Tom Huddlestone putting in by far his best performance for the club to that point. He ran the game and there were starring roles for old favourites Robert Koren and Matty Fryatt who both scored, Koren twice, along with Elmohamady and George Boyd and Huddlestone himself who then got a haircut on the touchline having been growing his mop of hair until his next goal. His previous one was two and a half years earlier.

05- Hull City 1 Leeds United 0 – 01/04/2006

The 2005/06 season was City’s return to the second tier for the first time since 1991. It was an enjoyable but unremarkable season for the most part with City bobbing along just above the relegation places for most of it and the really enjoyable games coming away from home such as the wins at Coventry and Luton and the 3-0 win at Stoke in which Bo Myhill saved two penalties. Then came an early kick-off on a gloriously sunny day against Leeds United which drew the biggest crowd of the season. With a quarter of the game remaining, Stuart Green lofted a cross to the far post and Jon Parkin rose like a whale from the water to head home and prompt a roar from the crowd that I’ve never heard beaten.

04- Hull City 2 Leicester City 1 – 13/08/2016

Hosting the League Champions on the opening day of the season after you’ve won promotion, failed to strengthen at all, lost your Wembley match winner, lost your manager and injuries have left you with eleven fit outfield players isn’t a recipe for a good start to the season. In amongst the chaos of the most ridiculous pre-season I can remember, City somehow beat Leicester in the Premier League curtain raiser with the whole world watching. We were unscathed in the first half and scored on the cusp of half-time when Abel Hernandez and Adama Diomande completed the Premier League’s first ever synchronised bicycle kick. Leicester equalised from a Mahrez penalty that never was but ten minutes later Robert Snodgrass swept in a lovely goal and despite not being able to make a substitution – City held on. We beat Swansea away a week later to go top of the table. And the rest isn’t a happy story.

03- Hull City 1 Swansea City 0 – 30/09/2003

Despite everything that’s happened since including wins over most of the biggest teams in the country, this game is still amongst my absolute favourites of this modern era. The KC wasn’t at full capacity with the whole North Stand reserved for the handful of away fans which wasn’t an issue with the gates that season. Then Swansea came to town for an evening game between two sides who’d started the season very well. There were queues outside the ground, people complained that they were locked out, the works. Unseen at City in my time. Perhaps heard of in the bygone days when gates reached almost 50,000 at Boothferry Park. The crowd was up over 7,000 on the previous home game (the excellent 6-1 win over Kidderminster). The game was a good one too - very hard fought. It was settled by Stuart Elliott’s thumping header that sent the majority of the 20,903 in the KC into rapture.

02- Hull City 4 Watford 1 – 14/05/2008

The away leg of this play-off semi-final is right up amongst my favourite ever away days. We won 2-0 and just had to do the job at home to reach Wembley for the first time in our history. It was a nervy KC Stadium though, fearing typical City, and it didn’t get any less tense after Henderson’s early goal for Watford. On the stroke of half time though, Nick Barmby bundled the ball over the line at the South Stand end and worries were eased. The KC was well into party mood when Caleb Folan sealed it and late goals from Richard Garcia and Nathan Doyle, in between premature pitch invasions, just added to a surreal occasion. Wembley. Maybe Premier League. Beyond our wildest dreams.

01- Hull City 2 Fulham 1 – 16/08/2008

Choosing between this and the Watford game is like picking your favourite from your children but today, I’m going with this as number one. I can’t remember a game I’ve ever anticipated more after the release of the fixture lists and the significance of this being our first top flight game ever, coming off the play-off final with that squad of players and the way the game went makes it near-perfect. Only the subsequent fall from grace of Paul Duffen leaves me a little cold in hindsight.

The KC was rammed in the sunshine but fell a bit quite after Seol gave Fulham the lead. Then Geovanni rifled in the fourth best goal we’ve scored at the KC** and it was party time again. A draw would have been fine but Craig Fagan picking a defender’s pocket and sliding across for Folan to slot in the winner was the icing on the cake on a fantastic day.

I can’t think of what could possibly top this. A big night game against a real giant of European football – which we win – perhaps? Or winning a league title, something we’ve not done since 1966. Highly unlikely bit all I can think of that would top this.

** 1. Elliott vs. Brentford, 2. Delaney vs. Rochdale, 3. Bostock vs. Swansea

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Hull City 2 Ipswich 2: A battle of the mediocre at the KCOM

Another late goal denied City a win we barely deserved in a battle of two mediocre Championship teams who can’t defend to save their lives. Sound fun?

The pre-match atmosphere was dead. The pub – once buzzing with anticipation before matches – barely hummed. The announcement of a game of dominoes or a meat raffle would have taken the excitement up a notch. The walk to the ground was desolate. Inside, it was understandably sombre given this was the game chosen for remembrance but we were 35 minutes into the game before anyone realised the minute’s silence was over.

Tomori – Dawson – Hector – Aina
Stewart – Larsson
Bowen – Henriken – Grosicki

Max Clark bore the brunt of the recent calamities leaving Daws to nurse the three from Chelsea. It didn’t solve the problem. Hector gave away three free kicks in the first quarter, Aina developed a Shaun Smith-like talent for slicing the ball into the West Stand and Tomori’s dreadful header lead to the opening goal. McGregor has brilliantly pushed away a shot from the irritating Joe Garner when David McGoldrick punished Tomori’s gaffe with a low shot from the resulting corner [0-1].

The response took half an hour to come. City being lucky that Ipswich are a limited mob whose interest was in breaking up the game with cheap fouls. We displayed the same flaws we’ve seen all season. We’re wide open at the back, we’re riddled with errors all over the pitch (unforced errors they’d call it in Tennis) and we’ve got the wettest midfield imaginable. For various reasons, this was the first time I’d seen Kevin Stewart since the Nantes friendly. He was unimpressive. Larsson wasn’t a patch on the player who was so brave in a Yellow shirt last week. Henriksen is comfortably among the weakest (physically) players I’ve ever seen in our colours.

Out of nowhere we equalised when Grosicki turned nicely in the box and crossed, slightly deflected, for Bowen to poach at the far post [1-1]. That was Bowen’s ninth league goal of the season. In any other season, a home developed player scoring nine goals in sixteen games would be more lauded. Against the tide of grief this season and with the inevitability of his departure when a bigger club shows interest, it’s being lost somewhat. It shouldn’t be – he’s tremendous.

City improve with the momentum from the goal. Henriksen is tripped on his way to goal and the ref decides it’s a yellow card rather than red. From the free kick the ball is played of the City player standing in front of the wall to create a shooting opportunity for Grosicki (blocked) which I the first sign of a bit of creativity at set piece we’ve seen for ages. Dicko’s touch is heavy when he races into their half after a mistake by Webster. Despite the last few minutes, it was a wretched half.

Half time: Hull City 1 Ipswich Town 1

The start to the second half is as slow as the first and McGregor is called upon again to palm away a shot from Celina. But it quickly turns after good pressure on the right hand side. A ball over the top has them struggling at the back and Dicko and Aina dart in front of them. Dicko take control and slides nicely past Bialkowski [2-1]. It was a composed finish from Dicko who had a decent game doing the hard graft up front and holding up the ball well. Too often he was asked to compete in the air when there was no-one near him even if he won it but he was always willing.

Grosicki should have made it three when he cut in from the left and dragged a shot wide. Dicko shot wide when Henriksen played him in – though Grosicki on the left was the better pass. Ipwich were racking up the yellow cards at this point. Their breaking up the game tactic turned into pettiness at losing. Dirty bastards. Garner got a yellow for a raised arm and almost immediately threw Hector in trying to retrieve the ball. The ref bottled the decision but was probably helped by Hector spending a minute on the floor pretending he’d been hurt by it. Dicko then just fails to pounce on an under-hit back pass and Bowen heads in the wrong direction form an excellent Larsson delivery.

Out of nowhere, they get a penalty. Stewart coughs up possession and then runs into the back of their man while trying to correct his error. Really poor play. Whatever “wor achilles heel” was under Steve Bruce, under Slutsky it’s our ability to be the opposition’ best attacker. The penalty is taken by McGoldrick and is poor but McGregor reads it and pushes it away. Our player of the season is him or Jarrod Bowen by several million miles. I hear a little kid behind me, probably aged 5 or 6, sing “He dives to the left, he dives to the right…” but sadly I couldn’t hear the rest.

All that’s left is for us to see the game out. Slutsky had already taken off Grosicki for Irvine. I found that one puzzling. For his many faults, Grosicki is still one of our best weapons, particularly on the counter. Meyler then replaced Larsson when Stewart was having a mare. We looked pretty comfortable though and Irvine brought some energy to the wide areas and we threatened to break several times. Then Hector conceded the cheapest of free kicks to Garner, they took it while everyone was getting organised and crossed it in. The header looked utterly harmless but took a nick on it’ way through and squirmed in beyond McGregor [2-2].

We should still have won. Diomande replaced Dicko straight after the equaliser and after Bowen had kept Henriksen’s pass alive, Meyler crossed for Dio, unmarked at the far post with half the goal open, to head wide from 5 yards.

Full time: Hull City 2 Ipswich 2

It was another poor result, though it does stop the run of defeats. Everything wouldn’t have been rosy if we’d won. We’ve only beaten poor sides this season and Ipswich were another terrible outfit. They do have some bottle though and got a point they merited on account of us also being rubbish.

I don’t know what the answer is. The manager is constantly under question but I still maintain that he’s shuffling a deck of duff cards. What he’s been left with defensively is a bloody travesty. Elsewhere, another manager might get more out of some talented players but he’d still have a lack of leadership, no balls in midfield and three strikers who are talented but all too similar. Defensively we don’t look like improving. Some of that is the manager’s responsibility. Other things, like a lack of composure, you don’t coach. It will either come or it won’t from playing games. You can carry some inexperienced players and they’ll develop. We’ve got too many. Regardless of age, they’re rusty, they’re learning and they’re everywhere. Mistakes are inevitable. But they’re making key ones every week. Not for the first time this season – I’ll just be happy if we stay up.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Derby County 5 Hull City 0: Where are the Tigers' leaders?

I hate football. Again.

A trip to Derby on the telly looked likely to be a solid test of the newly assembled City squad and when asked before the game I predicted a narrow defeat on that basis. Not in my worst nightmares did I foresee the sort of capitulation we made a habit of this time last year.

There wasn’t a player who had a good night and the same goes for the manager. He chose to change the 3-4-3 formation that worked so well against Bolton and left David Meyler out of the midfield for Markus Henriksen. Unless Meyler was literally seconds from death, this was the wrong decision.

City 4-2-3-1
Aina - Dawson – Hector – Kingsley
Larsson – Henriksen
Bowen – Toral – Grosicki

If you’re thinking that midfield looks too soft for an away game in the Championship, you’re absolutely right. Derby’s fans have been downhearted at their start to the season and lack of transfer activity but on paper, they look a decent side. They’re experience at the back with Davies and Keogh, quality in midfield in Huddlestone and Johnson and pace and flair up front and out wide from the likes of Wiemann, Lawrence and Vydra.

City started well and for the first half an hour there was no sign of the horror that was about to unfold. With both sides feeling each other out, we passed the ball around confidently, made the pitch wide and started to assert ourselves on the game, forcing a couple of corners and winning the second balls around the box. Then Henriksen gifted them possession in our half on 15, Aina fouled clumsily and Vydra stepped up to hit a free kick that we knew would go in two minutes before he hit it because McGregor doesn’t save free kicks [1-0]. It was shambolic all round but McGregor’s habit of guessing the wrong way was decisive.

The goal didn’t deter City and we continued to dominate possession but without hurting Derby. Grosicki wandered around looking for the ball rather than staying wide and Dicko had as little affect as Diomande does around the box. From nowhere on 25 mins, Lawrence pulled down Aina at the back post as he tried to meet Grosicki’s cross and City were awarded a penalty. Seb Larsson stepped up to take it and, unforgivably, chipped it over the bar. It was a dreadful effort and the start of a complete collapse. Henriksen jogged around hopefully and passed to them as often as us. Larsson’s impression of Tom Huddlestone was passable against a poor Bolton side but utterly ineffective here. Jon Toral was also in midfield, in theory.

Derby went further in front through a nicely worked goal from their point of view but another hideous one from ours. Hector took himself out of the game, Nugent ran in behind Dawson with Kingsley struggling to cover and laid the ball off for Vydra to smash home untroubled by our midfield [2-0]. Worryingly, it got much worse before half time. Curtis Davies headed in from a right-wing corner after finding himself completely unmarked on the six yard line [3-0]. McGregor made a decent save at his near post and as the resulting corner was recycled, they crossed again from their right and Johnson arrived at the back post to tap in [4-0]. We didn’t stop crosses, didn’t mark properly and didn’t track runners. We’d gone. Shoulders slumped. Faces blank. The absence of anyone with the gumption to tell the rest that they’re a f****** shower of s**** another worry.

Half time: Derby County 4 Hull City 0

The second half was barely worth reporting on. Bowen headed wide after a nice run took him onto Hector’s cross, Grosicki shot wide from close range with his left foot and Meyler curled just over amongst other City chances but Derby rarely looked flustered. Perhaps because they went five up near the hour when Hector twisted, turned, flicked the ball up in the air and eventually smacked it straight down the centre of the pitch where Johnson pounced on it and passed the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot [5-0]. Shocking defending from a player who has started the season brightly but looked way out of his depth against quality opposition.

Slutsky’s decision to wait 66 minutes before attempting to make a substitution was baffling. Irvine, Diomande and Meyler replaced Toral, Dicko and Grosicki in quick succession and Irvine and Meyler will go down as by far our best players on the night. How Henriksen and Larsson evaded the hook is beyond me. I’m getting close to writing Henriksen off. We’ve waited for him to settle and waited through injuries. Now the opposition are worse than last season and he still looks inept.

Full Time: Derby County 5 Hull City 0

I don’t think this game told us anything we don’t already know but it did hammer home just how far this squad has to go. We know it’s been cobbled together far too late and needs time to gel. There is a lack of leadership and know-how. Of the few experienced players we’ve got, too many go missing when the going gets tough and always have.

It’s not all gloomy – we know there is talent in the squad. Even on a terrible night we had the majority of the possession and 18 shots on goal. The game reminded me of the 4-1 defeat at Leeds under Nigel Pearson. With the ball, we looked superior that night, but were punished for mistakes and wasted chances. We grew as a team that season and I think we will this season. We’re not a promotion challenging team though. Nowhere near.

The fans were outstanding. The game just got in the way. I hate football.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Village People: English football's most successful Village teams

I enjoyed researching this article on English football's over-achieving Village based teams for the latest issue of the View From The Allotment End fanzine. You can find out how to buy the fanzine on twitter @VFTAE

The achievements of our own North Ferriby United have been well-celebrated in the last few years. In spite of their setting, a village with a population of less than 4,000 people, North Ferriby have been Wembley winners and gained promotion to within one step of the football league. But the green and whites weren’t the first village outfit to win the FA Trophy nor to reach the national League/Conference. They’ve also missed out on reaching the FA Cup proper along the way – a feat several other “Villagers” have achieved. This is a look at some of the smallest teams in the country and how they’ve punched above their weight.

Forest Green Rovers from little Nailsworth in Gloucestershire (Population: 5,800) reached the football league for the first time in their history winning the 2017 National League play-off final. It’s not quite the fairy story it might appear given it’s been achieved with the backing of Dale Vince and the mint he’s made from renewable energy. Vince wants Rovers to be literally “green”. The club is “Vegan” and plans are afoot for a new wooden stadium. The only thing that is unsustainable is their balance sheet.

Prior to Vince and his money arriving in 2010 though, Forest Green were already punching well above their weight. They won the FA Vase in 1982, reached the Conference in 1998, lost FA Trophy finals in 1999 and 2001 and in 2009 they made it to the FA Cup 3rd round where they lost to Derby County – setting their record attendance of 4,836 in the process.

Bridge Road in Histon and Impington (Pop: 10,600) is the 3,800 capacity home of Histon FC. In the late-2000s, Histon were seen as the prototype for how to run a non-league club but soon became an adjective for “non-league boom and bust”. Extraordinary manager Steve Fallon took over at Histon in 1999 and took them from the Eastern Counties League Premier Division to the Conference where they finished third in 2008/09 and lost out to Torquay United in the play-offs.

They also reached the FA Cup 3rd round that season, famously beating Leeds United 1-0 in a match televised on ITV before Swansea knocked them out. The cost of challenging for promotion to the football league was too much for such a small club to bare and their fall has been as spectacular as their rise. They’ll start the 2017/18 season at step 5 of the non-league pyramid - back in the Eastern Counties League Premier Division.

Twelve years before North Ferriby United’s famous win, another “Green army” won the FA Trophy. West Lancastrians Burscough (Pop: 9,493) were under the management of former Aston Villa defender Shaun Teale when the won the Trophy at Villa Park with a 2-1 win over Tamworth in 2003 – in spite of the fact the finished 18th in the Northern Premier League Premier Division. They went on to reach the second round of the FA Cup in 2005/06 causing the giant killing of League One Gillingham in the first round. Like Histon, they were relegated to step 5 last season and will play in the North West Counties League Premier Division.

The Essex village of Heybridge (Pop: 8,175) has been home to a football club since 1880 – the club who are now the wonderfully named Heybridge Swifts. The Swifts reached the FA Cup first round proper 3 times in 1994/95 (Gillingham H 0-2), 1997/98 (Bournemouth A 3-0) and 2002/03 (Bristol City H 0-7) despite being an Isthmian League outfit. They also made it to the Quarter Finals of the FA Trophy in 1997 where they lost to Woking but set an attendance record of 2,477.

Perhaps more than their FA Cup antics, Heybridge is known for being a place footballers go to die. An endless number of former Football League and Premier League players such as Tony Adcock, Andy Ansah, Karl Duguid, Dean Holdsworth, Alan Kimble, Glen Little, Stuart Nethercott, Paul Parker, Akpo Sodje and Micky Stockwell have turned out for the Swifts at the last knockings of their career. The exception is former top flight goalkeeper Simon Royce who started his career with the Swifts and whose sale to Southend United for £35,000 in 1991 still represents their record sale.

Not to be confused with the club who currently reside in the Northern Counties East League, West Yorkshire’s Emley (Pop: 1,867) were originally formed in 1903 but had their fifteen minutes of fame in the late-1990s. In 1997/98 they knocked Morecambe and Lincoln out of the FA Cup proper and faced West Ham United of the Premier League in a game Match of the Day chose to feature (in the days before they showed every game, kids).

Emley lost 2-1 to goals by Frank Lampard and John Hartson but made the first round again the following season, losing a replay to Rotherham United. They were also FA Trophy quarter finalists for the second time that season. Sadly the club no longer exists. It was renamed Wakefield & Emley, Wakefield-Emley and latterly Wakefield FC in a bid to grow into the nearby town that hosts Super League rugby but finally died in 2014.

13-times Welsh league Champions Ton Pentre (Pop: 1,028) reached the FA Cup first round for the first and only time in 1986/87 but lost 4-1 to Cardiff City in front of the Match of the Day cameras. Fellow villagers Alvechurch (73/74) and Chasetown (07/08) made it to the third round of the FA Cup while Rossendale (71/72) and Bamber Bridge (99/00) made the second round.

Last mention goes to Stansted FC (Pop: 6,011) who flew though to the FA Vase final in 1983/84, made a sound landing at Wembley and ‘runway’ with the trophy after a 3-2 win over Stamford.

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