Would Hull City be “up for the Cup”? With an apathetic fanbase and a squad lacking in ability and desire in recent weeks, it looked doubtful. The opposition being a Nottingham Forest side who turned over Arsenal in the last round and Wolves on their own patch last week backed by 4,000-odd fans in the North Stand added further doubt.
Nigel Adkins said yesterday that he fancied a Cup run. And then made 8 changes from his last selection. That could have gone either way but he was rewarded by a committed performance from players who looked eager to impress in a well-balanced line-up.
Aina – Hector - Mazuch – Clark
Stewart – Henriksen
Bowen – Irvine – Diomande
Mazuch was the biggest difference maker. He’s a calm, no-nonsense defender who doesn’t take chances and doesn’t panic. Hector, who moved to the right side, looked much better alongside him. Aina was more comfortable on the right and Max Clark had an excellent game on the left. Going forward, Bowen also looked much happier on the right, Irvine’s effervescence has been missing and Diomande worked hard in front of Clark.
Forest weren’t as good as they showed on the telly in the last round or as they were at the KCOM in the league earlier this season. That might have changed had Carayol’s effort from distance not gone just wide after only 3 minutes. City worked their way into the game and Marshall was untested for the next 70 minutes or so. The ball was worked out of defence far better than recently with little drama. Aina was a good out ball and Stewart and particularly Henriksen offered a route into midfield while a big diagonal towards Diomande or Irvine presented a good alternative.
Henriksen had a low free kick pushed away by Smith and then Bowen just failed to get onto a Hector pass with the keeper out quickly. Smith and Worrall then got in a right mess from an Irvine flick on and Bowen instinctively shot first time towards the empty net but hit the post. Only a minute or two later, Dicko slid Bowen in on the right, he drove at Mancienne who deflected his shot onto the top of the post and it dropped over the line [1-0].
City were well on top with Stewart and Henriksen winning the midfield, Irvine irritating the life out of them and Dicko making intelligent runs wide to drag defenders around. We didn’t have much to show for it other than a tame Aina shot until five minutes before half time when Irvine looped a cross to the back post, Bowen won the header well and nodded it back for Dicko to beat Mancienne in the air and head it in, off the post again [2-0].
Other than ref Stuart Attwell being as inconsistent as ever, there hadn’t been much to worry City. Carayol did miss a good chance before the break though, running off Aina to head wide but not wide enough for it to become a tap-in for Brereton. In stoppage time, Diomande missed a golden opportunity of our own. Bowen slid him in, he turned down a shot with his left and when he cut inside, everything closed in on him and Mancienne kicked his effort away easily.
Forest were booed off by their 4,000 fans at half time. They’d clearly thought it was going to be a cakewalk and showed their anger at it being anything but. There was a lot of the Sheffield Wednesdays about them.
Half time: Hull City 2 Nottingham Forest 0.
Despite a double change by Aitor Karanka, Forest remained second best. Dicko was foiled by a good save from Smith after a slick passing move as City dominated territory but consistently failed to pick the right pass or cross around the box and turned down numerous shooting opportunities. Dowell hit the outside of the post with a free kick from nowhere and there was a goalmouth scramble after Marshall got caught under a corner. Speaking of corners, we saw one of the worst ever from Dowell who whipped a corner low and hard and it went out of play almost before it reached the penalty area. It was hilarious.
City introduced Keane for Dicko and then Grosicki for Diomande. Both got generous applause for an afternoon of hard graft. Within minutes, Grosicki had found Keane twice but both times Smith saved tame efforts. Marshall saved superbly from Cash’s backpost header before Grosicki and Bowen had chances to shoot and made things easy for Smith in their goal. Bowen’s was a great chance. We could have been five or six up easily at that point but ended up clinging on after Cash’s superb cross dissected our entire defence and sub Vellios volleyed in [2-1]. We did so without much drama, in truth.
Full time: Hull City 2 Nottingham Forest 1.
The win was very much deserved and the performance a dramatic improvement on last week. Hector and Aina both looked different players in a defence marshalled superbly by Mazuch. That will give Adkins a huge selection dilemma against Leeds on Tuesday night. It’d be hard to justify any team that doesn’t have these four in it.
Midfield will also give the manager a headache. Stewart and Henriksen were mobile, worked well off each other and moved the ball well. Henriksen couldn’t tackle a crossword in the Beano but this was possibly the best I’ve seen from him and did a god job of being in the right place at the right time at both ends of the pitch. Stewart still lacks something. Everything good he does is followed by something not-so-good. He turned brilliantly on the edge of their box and then passed to them. He made a superb interception on the edge of ours and then trod on the ball. It just seems to happen to him. You’d think Larsson would come back in with him having been our outstanding player in the last 6 weeks but dropping anyone is harsh.
To complete the set, there are decisions up front too. Dicko scored and lead the line brilliantly. Diomande protected Clark far better than Grosicki ever has but Grosicki’s cameo showed he’s a far bigger threat than Dio. And we just look a better side with Irvine in it.
I can therefore comfortably predict Tuesday’s team will be: Someone - Someone - Someone - Someone - Someone - Someone - Someone - Someone - Someone -Bowen – Someone.
Beyond that, we’re still in the Cup and can eagerly await Monday’s draw (Away to Wigan).
A good day.