Sunday, 23 May 2010

And in the end...

This is where Boyhood Dreams comes to an end, then, a day short of the second anniversary of our victory at Wembley that kicked the whole thing off. I've been following the Tigers for 23 years but only ever intended for this blog to exist for as long as Hull City were in the Premier League. The boyhood dream was fulfilled and now it has, for the moment at least, been extinguished.

I've loved writing the reports and offering my own banal observations for the last two years but ultimately the interest in a blog on a skint Championship club would be comparatively negligible, plus my own finances mean I'm going to have to pick and choose a bit more as far as attending away matches is concerned.

We have a very different era ahead of us now, hopefully one that will restore us, after doubtless a spell of heartache and worry that Hull City always brings, to the Premier League once more. Austerity, integrity and modesty are what we require from all involved in the club now. It's been - oh dear - an astonishing journey to the top, but now we have to try to get there again via slightly less showbiz means and with real football people controlling the club.

I hope Boyhood Dreams remains a worthy read as an archive of all that occurred from the day the Tigers won at Wembley. It will stay on the internet with the intention of being such.

Thank you for the kind comments, the links, the contributions, the tweets and the complaints. See you at the KC.

Monday, 17 May 2010


How to sum up the Hull City career of Bernard Mendy? The Frenchman has today triggered a release clause in his contract and exited the club.

Well, three words should do it.

Frustrating. Entertaining. Barmy.

That about condenses it. He'll be missed, if not quite for pure footballing reasons.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

And the winner is...

The Player of the Year awards took place this week. Here, this blog offers its opinion on who should have received the two biggest awards.

Player of the Season: Stephen Hunt

It is telling as to Hunt's ability and Hull City's overall gutlessness that he still wins this award, by some distance too, despite having his season ended by a foot injury back in February. Signed from Reading in the summer, the chippy Irish winger settled in immediately on the opening day against Chelsea, scoring the first goal of the whole Premier League season and, on a performance level, rarely looking back. It was obvious that he possessed the kind of attitude that makes fans love a player, in that he cared not a jot about the ability or reputation of any opponent at all, and would seek to outwit that adversary both through skill and gamesmanship with equal flourish.

Hunt proved himself, handily, as an able finisher as well as a tidy supplier of crosses and a merciless extra pair of tackling feet when, as did frequently happen, the going got tough at the other end. He was rarely the starter of any fracas but was always a competitor and often the finisher of such skirmishes; his willingness to dive in and protect his teammates from intimidation and made him all the more admirable, and his footballing talent made his off-ball antics worthwhile and forgivable, despite the bookings that regularly followed.

Despite the horror stories of the club's finances that Adam Pearson was revealing in the weeks following his return, the club felt able to fend off repeated bids for Hunt from Wolves, with £5 million certainly nothing to be sniffed at even at a prudent time. Hunt didn't let the speculation trouble him, even scoring against Wolves on the penultimate day of the same window.

He didn't miss a League game until his worsening foot injury finally forced him out of action at Everton in February; six days before he had made the trip to West Ham United but couldn't complete the match. A deafening silence followed which frustrated the supporters as it coincided with a shocking run of defeats, before the grim truth that Hunt's season was over finally emerged from the club.

While there were hopes of Hunt sticking around over the summer due to his injury and helping the Tigers in the Championship until the club could cash him in, the player himself has revealed he had an agreement that would allow him to leave in the event of demotion. Clubs are likely to take a chance on him despite his need for crutches for some time yet, and we have seen the last of him. His recent revelation that he chose to scold certain members of the first team squad for their lack of application suggested that his appetite for being a winner wasn't just for public consumption, and he will leave the club a hero who, briefly, we were privileged to see.

Highly commended
: George Boateng - defied his age to fight and fight some more in the midfield right through to the last game. Steven Mouyokolo - a simple case of class overriding anything else, as he was handed his favoured central defensive role in January and never looked back.

Goal of the Season: George Boateng, v Manchester City (h)

City were a goal up thanks to Jozy Altidore's tidy first half finish against the richest club in the land whose demeanour thus far seemed to suggest they believed it would be merely a question of time before they levelled up and, eventually, won the game. The match was in the early period of the second half when Craig Fagan forced a corner which Hunt swung in towards the six yard box.

Kolo Toure got a strong header on it and it bounced invitingly for Boateng, loitering on the edge of the area. This was a player who hadn't scored for Hull City, and moreover it was landing on his weaker left foot. But it was simply one of those occasions when the 100th attempt after 99 failures would be the one that mattered. He swung his left foot, got the sweet spot of his instep and the ball flew, true and vicious, through the crowd of bodies and beyond Shay Given's helpless left glove.

This made the scoreline 2-0 and although the visitors pulled one back fairly quickly, the Tigers hung on for a victory deemed the most satisfying of the season, because of the performance of the team, the distinguished opposition and the quality of the goal that ultimately decided the outcome.

Highly commended: Tom Cairney, v Everton (a) - a marvellous tee-up and left foot volley from distance that briefly gave the Tigers hope before an eventual thrashing. Andy Dawson, v Everton (h) - a simply superb textbook free kick that combined power with curl, dip and astounding accuracy.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The stats of the season

Premier League:

Final position:

Home Record:
P19, W6, D6, L7, F22, A29, Pts24

Away Record:
P19, W0, D6, L13, F12, A46, Pts6

Longest Unbeaten Sequence:
4 games

Longest Winless Sequence:
9 games

Longest Sequence of Victories:
1 game

Longest Sequence of Draws:
2 games

Longest Sequence of Defeats:
5 games


Dawson 35, Hunt 27, Myhill 27, Boateng 26 (3), McShane 26 (1), Gardner 24, Zayatte 21 (2), Fagan 20 (5), Mouyokolo 19 (2), Vennegoor of Hesselink 17 (14), Altidore 16 (12), Geovanni 16 (10), Kilbane 15 (6), Mendy 15 (6), Marney 15 (1), Garcia 14 (4), Bullard 13 (1), Olofinjana 11 (8), Duke 11, Cairney 10 (1), Sonko 9, Folan 7 (1), Barmby 6 (14), Ghilas 6 (7), Turner 4, Zaki 2 (4), Cullen 2 (1), Atkinson 2, Cousin 1 (2), Cooper 1 (1)


Hunt 6, Bullard 4, Geovanni 3, Vennegoor of Hesselink 3, Fagan 2, Folan 2, Zayatte 2, Altidore 1, Atkinson 1, Boateng 1, Cairney 1, Cullen 1, Dawson 1, Ghilas 1, Kilbane 1, Marney 1, Mouyokolo 1, Olofinjana 1

Red Cards:

Boateng 2 (one straight - later rescinded, one two yellows), Altidore 1 (straight), Fagan 1 (two yellows), Geovanni 1 (two yellows), Mendy 1 (straight)

Yellow Cards:

Dawson 7, Fagan 6, Altidore 5, McShane 5, Mendy 5, Barmby 4, Hunt 4, Marney 4, Boateng 3, Geovanni 3, Olofinjana 3, Zayatte 3, Kilbane 2, Myhill 2, Atkinson 1, Cairney 1, Duke 1, Folan 1, Gardner 1, Garcia 1, Mouyokolo 1, Turner 1

FA Cup:

Third Round

Games Played:

Cairney 1, Garcia 1, Geovanni 1, Ghilas 1, Halmosi 1, Kilbane 1, Mendy 1, Mouyokolo 1, Myhill 1, Vennegoor of Hesselink 1, Zayatte 1, Altidore 0+1, Boateng 0+1, Cullen 0+1


Geovanni 1

Carling Cup:

Third Round

Games Played:

Barmby 2, Cairney 2, Cooper 2, Featherstone 2, Halmosi 2, Ghilas 1+1, Altidore 1, Atkinson 1, Boateng 1, Doyle 1, Duke 1, Fagan 1, Mendy 1, Mouyokolo 1, Vennegoor of Hesselink 1, Warner 1, Zayatte 1, Geovanni 0+1


Altidore 1, Cairney 1, Geovanni 1

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Where can you shove your Premier League?

So the Premier League adventure has reached its end, and many of us are rather relieved. Irrespective of the horrors that the financial situation may force upon us over the summer, there is too much about the top tier of English football that is unattractive to the kind of supporter who wants their team to achieve and compete.

Hull City made up the numbers, and did so quite badly. They weren't alone, and the reality is that while only three teams go down, as many as six probably deserved it. The gap is widening as big, rich clubs get bigger and richer and the smaller, poorer clubs get smaller and poorer. And getting poorer in the name of a meagre 14th place, stagnation, watertreading, free of ambition, simply does not make for football that will earn new supporters and maintain enthusiasm.

If the Tigers had achieved mid-table obscurity for a few years, then everybody from the East Riding who wanted to come and see the club would not have been there to support their local team. You only have to look at the evidence of the post-match pitch invasion on Sunday, as many ignored the likes of Steven Mouyokolo and George Boateng, two of probably only half a dozen players who can say they have performed this season, and headed straight for Steven Gerrard instead. A superstar he may be (albeit one who played with his fitness for South Africa in mind) but, the way football now is, smaller clubs are not able to create their own superstars.

Tom Cairney is a wonderful player, but he will only be a superstar if and when he gets the big move to a top half club that his early promise suggests will happen. Even then, at some clubs he would be a Carling Cup superstar only, and yet being that type of irregularly used player will earn him more money and plaudits thanks to the cockeyed view of the game that the Premier League has created than being a first team definite for Hull City, in either division, would ever manage. Fortunately, right now, it seems Cairney is one who will stick around.

The nature of last season's survival meant it was crucial for Phil Brown to invest wisely with what money we were told we had. It still seemed an adequate sum, for after a worrying delay with next to no activity, he brought in Jozy Altidore and Seyi Olofinjana and then later got Stephen Hunt and Kamel Ghilas. These were exciting signings, and certainly the arrival of Altidore and Ghilas eased a few fluttering hearts given that we were getting closer to starting the new Premier League season without a new centre forward that wasn't inadequate (Caleb Folan) or argumentative (Daniel Cousin).

Mouyokolo, who had been signed in the January but allowed to stay in France until the summer, also reported for duty at his new club and so five new players were in place. We needed a right back, as Sam Ricketts had most regrettably gone to Bolton Wanderers after a daft disagreement with Brown over the promise of a contract extension, and his unkind words about his former manager to Bolton's local paper provided the first of many critical words about Brown's ability to motivate and get on with his own footballers.

August arrived and the television dictated that we would start the season courtesy of a lunchtime kick-off at Chelsea. City were superb throughout, with Olofinjana showing real bite in the tackle and Hunt instantly becoming a hero thanks to his obvious lack of respect for anyone not on his side, and this against a team with more reason than most to dislike him. So there was poetry as well as sheer joy (not to mention surprise) in Hunt's opening goal, which he tucked away very smartly indeed. Chelsea equalised quickly and then, in a motif that would be repeated way too often through the season, robbed City of at least a share of the points thanks to Didier Drogba fluking a cross-cum-shot in injury time. A desolate feeling but my word, such performances would guarantee many an away win...

Tottenham Hotspur arrived at the KC Stadium for our opening home game three days later and played us off the park with an attacking display that could only be described as magnificent. Hunt scored again for City, and as it was an equaliser it was another goal we could count as crucial, but the eventual 5-1 scoreline did not flatter the visitors at all. Bolton Wanderers at home on the Saturday was more important, and indeed the brief but nippy combination of Altidore and Ghilas up front made the eventual difference, with the American teeing up the Algerian for a fine volley that produced the first win, the first points and the first clean sheet of the season.

The first glimpse of Cairney came in the Carling Cup tie against Southend United, and the youngster's touch was divine throughout the game against underwhelming opposition whose lowly status was exploited to the full. Altidore scored his first goal for the club with a smart free kick and Cairney chipped a marvellous second as City eventually won 3-1. But trouble was brewing as the transfer window's time was coming to an end and the speculation about star defender Michael Turner, our hero and talisman and the player whom every single member of the Tiger Nation adored unconditionally, was growing.

Liverpool had taken a look but the big rumour was about Sunderland, and we had the worrying and infuriating combination of City's egotistical chairman Paul Duffen doing all the talking while Brown, presumably allowed to air an opinion, was deathly silent on the matter. Turner had started the season in largely the same impassable form as he had basically shown for the previous two and a half years - Tottenham permitting - but the Tigers seemed almost desperate to sell. Duffen claimed it was about player ambition and Turner's own desire to leave but the reality of both the circumstances, not to mention the fee, would be revealed later in the season. The suggestion that we would get £12 million for him, albeit with a small percentage heading to two London clubs as sell-on payments, could have acted as a minute consolation but ultimately the fee was undisclosed and Turner, after a last hurrah of iconic proportions in a 1-1 draw at Wolves, in which Geovanni's third minute header provided the only period when the Tigers looked capable of winning, applauded the fans who worshipped his every move and travelled straight up to Wearside.

The anger at this sale was further complemented by concern over how short the Tigers would be in the centre of defence. Anthony Gardner was freshly injured again, although there was an option to move Mouyokolo, who had been at right back, into his natural position once Paul McShane arrived from Sunderland in a deal that was entirely separate to that which took Turner the other way. McShane had been very good during his loan spell the previous year and his acquisition was initially proclaimed as good business. The rawness of Mouyokolo was deemed not suitable, yet, for the Premier League and so Ibrahima Sonko, a third choice (at best) defender at Stoke City, joined hastily on a season-long loan.

Days after the window shut, Brown signed Dutch centre forward Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, who had been a free agent since leaving Celtic in the summer. Another goalscorer was now available for selection, although Vennegoor of Hesselink's experience was countered by his lack of Premier League knowledge. The great coincidence of the Turner farce came the following weekend when City travelled to Sunderland. Turner was warmly welcomed by the Wearsiders who won the game at a canter, with Kamil Zayatte's equaliser late in the first half proving little more than a consolation in a 4-1 loss during which, inevitably, Turner scored. To his gentlemanly credit, he offered a gesture of apology to the Tiger Nation as the ball hit the net before rightfully heading towards the Sunderland fans to celebrate, and looking around the Tiger Nation there were almost tears of frustration at the whole sorry business. Craig Fagan's imbecilic concession of a penalty early on put him in Brown's bad books, subsequently renamed his 'naughty step', and it wouldn't be the first time a player would be over-punished by a wayward manager for damage caused on the pitch.

Birmingham City then visited the KC Stadium and won an awful game with a late header, the first of many truly preventable defeats that would stain the Tigers' season as a whole. Everton then brought a far stronger than anticipated team to the KC to demolish City's non-existent Carling Cup ambitions by four goals, though Cairney again was impressive.

A visit to Liverpool followed, and it was a daunting enough prospect without the team news that filtered around before the game that the already struggling Sonko would be partnered by teenage defender Liam Cooper, who had looked tidy and not overawed in the Carling Cup defeat but did not seem ready to face Fernando Torres at his ridiculous best. Cooper, it emerged, was by far the most competent of the two centre backs as Torres ran riot with a hat-trick in a 6-1 win, Geovanni's sumptuous volley bringing only brief respite to the Tiger Nation when still only a goal down.

More 'naughty step' inhabitants emerged from that game, with Cousin's briefly good substitute appearance not being indulged further by Brown, while Boateng - one of several captains already during the campaign thanks to the long-term absence of both Ian Ashbee and anyone even remotely capable of filling the mighty skipper's boots - also took his leave, quietly seething. Wigan Athletic arrived at the KC the following week and Kevin Kilbane had to play at centre back to allow for Cooper's repositioning in the reserves, Gardner's continued absence through injury and Zayatte's deployment in midfield to cover the chastened Boateng. City won 2-1, with second half goals from Vennegoor of Hesselink and Geovanni proving enough as Wigan scored late in the match and threatened an equaliser to the end.

A long rest afterwards was ideally timed as City's trip to Fulham had been put back by 48 hours by television people. In the end it was as unnecessary as you could imagine, with such an abject display angering the supporters whose efforts to get to west London on a school night deserved far more than it produced. Fulham's 2-0 win was one of their easiest and only the sight of Jimmy Bullard warming up, to a mixed response from the fans he had left behind, offered some long term hope. He came on and immediately showed why he was our trump card, whose fitness and influence should turn our season around. But he couldn't get close to earning us a route back into the match.

Portsmouth, already in serious trouble off the pitch, came to the KC Stadium and the two teams fought out a depressing goalless draw. But then big news emerged off the pitch as Duffen, whose role in budgeting the Tigers' promotion had been severely hampered by his many subsequent acts that alienated supporters, announced he was leaving the club. It seemed the ultimate act of gallantry, in that he was taking responsibility for the team's lack of progress and was, in a nutshell, sacking himself in order to avoid having to sack Brown. The news that broke simultaneously was that Adam Pearson, the greatest chairman in Hull City history, had quit his position at Derby County, allowed many an excited supporter to put two and together and get their sums right.

Pearson attended City's game at Burnley amidst strong rumours that upon his official appointment the following Monday, he would dismiss Brown without a moment's thought. Despite the 2-0 defeat at Turf Moor, a game which genuinely went awry for reasons of luck than anything else (Geovanni's perfectly good goal from a free kick being disallowed, and his subsequent plot-losing actions that prompted a red card), Brown stayed put. Stoke City were due to visit the following weekend before a fortnight's break, so if any decisions were going to be made, it was sensible to make them when games were not on the horizon. And it allowed Brown the chance to impress his returning boss with the benefit of preparation.

The alteration was instant. Brown began exercising humility in interviews and some caution in the number of media appearances he gave. His safety blanket had been swiped off him and he knew it. Pearson had made it clear that a win against Stoke would keep Brown afloat for the time being, but behind the scenes the riot act had been read. For the visit of Stoke, Brown recalled Fagan and Boateng from their isolation periods and, as an extra fillip, was able to put Bullard in the starting XI for the first time ever. The transformation was immense, despite Stoke taking a first half lead. Olofinjana curled a stupendous equaliser and then, with Stoke suffering from a sending-off and then a ridiculous re-substitution of their own substitute, City won it in injury time courtesy of Bullard's shot being parried at the feet of Vennegoor of Hesselink. A crucial, deserved, enjoyable and, by now, rare win.

The two-week break brought Brown and his squad back to earth as Pearson's wise, blunt words steadied the ship and made it plain what was expected of the team. The unravelling of the club's finances had begun too, with Pearson immediately declaring the gruesome, depressing truth of the Turner deal, which stated that City received only £4 million from Sunderland in the end, which was further reduced by the sell-on fees that were due to Charlton Athletic and Brentford. Duffen had undersold our finest player and potentially ruined our Premier League hopes in doing so, prior to leaving.

Still, for all the financial issues that Pearson was still trying to understand, things were looking up on the pitch. Political struggles had been eased, fringe players had been sent out on loan and Bullard was, finally, beginning to show just how valuable he was both as a footballer and as an asset. West Ham United came to the KC after the football-free fortnight ended, and although they took a 2-0 lead, a Bullard-inspired fightback gave City a 3-2 advantage after a crazy first half. It ended 3-3 but was a genuinely thrilling game and put a little more character into the team.

Everton, already substantial winners at the KC in the Carling Cup, were next to arrive for a midweek fixture, and for this game Bullard was given a medically-necessary rest. It mattered not, as City destroyed their visitors in the first half to go in 3-0 up thanks to Hunt and first goals of the season for Andy Dawson and Dean Marney. Everton battled back to 3-2 but the Tigers clung on for a genuinely impressive scalp.

So Pearson returns, Brown winds his neck in and Bullard proves his fitness, and suddenly City have claimed seven points from nine, all at home. There was real hope now. A visit to Manchester City loomed, the scene of where it supposedly all began to go the shape of a pear the season before. City battled and scrapped as the hosts showed their overpaid arrogance in believing it to be a gimme, and Bullard's late penalty earned a fine 1-1 draw and prompted the single most memorable goal celebration in football, which drew Brown's approval.

Four games unbeaten now, but form and hope was ripped to shreds at Aston Villa when Bullard fell awkwardly and damaged his other knee. He left in tears with the whole stadium's sympathetic applause, and to the Tiger Nation, that felt like a resounding thump back towards square one. Villa won easily, with a Matt Duke howler leaving James Milner with an open goal for one of their three unanswered strikes.

The diagnosis on Bullard wasn't as bad as previous injuries to befall his knees, but nonetheless he was out until at least the end of January. City battled to a goalless draw against Blackburn Rovers at the KC - a game as chronic as it sounds - and then gallantly performed against Arsenal at the Emirates despite the referee failing to notice Samir Nasri's appalling stamp on Richard Garcia that sent the rest of the Tigers team apoplectic. The Gunners led by just one goal by the time Geovanni saw a soft penalty saved and it ended 3-0.

Christmas came, as did Manchester United two days on. Wayne Rooney was marvellous in the visitors' 3-1 success as City made the best fight of it that they could, and Fagan's penalty offered hope as well as a long-awaited first goal of the season for City's most divisive performer. Better times would come at a below-freezing Bolton Wanderers in the Tigers' final game of the decade two days later, when some bad goalkeeping from the recalled Boaz Myhill put the Tigers two goals adrift, only for the superb Hunt to score twice in the second half and earn a valuable point. It also prompted the dismissal of Gary Megson as Bolton's manager.

The New Year began with a deeply unwanted trip to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup which, despite taking an early lead, the Tigers lost 4-1 while football as a whole spat bile at both sets of fans for not turning up. City still took 2,000 which, considering the austere time of year, the freezing winter and the general unattractiveness of the occasion, was a decent following. Cairney and Cooper again used the necessary evils on the fixture list to impress, and by now many were asking why Cairney had yet to feature in a Premier League game, especially with Bullard out.

A daunting trip to Tottenham Hotspur was next, and we got one of those games that happens sometimes, when you are ritually destroyed and yet escape with a point thanks to a rearguard performance bordering on the insane. How Myhill managed to keep out every single chance Tottenham made for themselves is anyone's guess, but it was a welcome point and, in equal measure, brought out resigned plaudits from a bamboozled Harry Redknapp and dimwitted, spiteful criticism from Spurs fans who believed that a small club's role in the Premier League is to let the illustrious opponent win. No goalless draw, and no goalkeeping performance, will ever evoke the same sort of fond memories.

As valuable a point as it was, it was only the Tigers' fourth on the road all season, and still there had been no wins. The next away game was unlikely to alter that, and Rooney again dominated the proceedings with the full quota of goals in Manchester United's 4-0 win at Old Trafford, though it had been still only 1-0 until the last ten minutes, and we got an all-too-rare performance on the right flank from Bernard Mendy that reminded us just how good he is, and how annoyingly seldom he would choose to show it.

Within all this, the fightback against Duffen's regime, heavily criticised in the national press for its profligacy, was really beginning. A club statement announced that legal action was to be launched against the former chairman, and Pearson followed it up with details of the writ - namely that Duffen had used club funds for personal reasons and taken inducements from agents in return for using their services. The reputation of the man who chaired the club during its finest hour had gone from sullied to destroyed, even though no outcome had been reached. What Pearson says, goes. Simple as. Duffen offered denials but ended up repaying some money and settling out of court, increasing Pearson's star even more.

On the pitch, the game we were really waiting for was the next one. Bullard's return had been earmarked for the visit of Wolves to the KC but beyond that, it was the heavily highlighted 'winnable' game that followed the tough trips that January had given us thus far. Bullard wasn't ready to re-feature and Wolves had certainly failed to read the script, twice coming from behind to earn a 2-2 draw. Vennegoor of Hesselink was paired, for the first time, with Altidore up front and the partnership just clicked immediately, with the American setting up the Dutchman for the opening goal. Mouyokolo finally played in the centre of defence and immediately never looked back, while Cairney was also given the Premier League debut he should have had in September. For all the plusses, there was a big minus to the tune of two points. And now the future looked daunting.

January had prompted the much-needed departures of several fringe players while ex-Wigan striker Amr Zaki was brought in on a short-term basis. Chelsea were on the way to the KC and little expectation was placed on the team's shoulders. As if to prove that pressure might have been welcomed, City fought out a superb 1-1 draw against their mighty opponents, with Mouyokolo scoring the opening goal while his defensive counterpart John Terry, fresh from lurid allegations, had his name chanted for wholly less flattering reasons.

Manchester City's visit four days later was equally as daunting but the Tigers went one better. Altidore, now a popular and strong adaptation to Premier League life, finally opened his Premier League account with a smart goal before Boateng also got his first for the the club with probably the best goal of City's season, his stunning shot from the edge of the box hitting the sweet spot of his left foot and finding the net in the blink of an eye. The visitors hauled their way back into the match but it ended 2-1, and so four points had been gleaned from a pair of games expected to yield none.

Suddenly, there was expectation to go with the hope that blind loyalty brings. If City could produce displays and results like that against the clubs with the real money, then there had to be equivalent displays against teams more comparable to the Tigers. However, in typical manner, the next two matches were calamitous. Boateng was unjustly sent off at Blackburn Rovers but it had little effect on a putrid display as the home side won 1-0, then at West Ham United a rancid, negative Tigers side were completely destroyed while Fagan had another of his red mist days and got a suitably coloured card for his trouble.

A third consecutive awayday followed at Everton, and Bullard's return and Cairney's stunning equaliser offered some forlorn hope before the home side romped to a 5-1 win, leaving City with an 11-2 deficit from two trips to Merseyside. This was unacceptable stuff and Brown knew it, and with Arsenal's trip to the KC next, he realised a change was needed. He ditched the defensive mindset and played 4-4-2, with Cairney's brief contractual struggle providing a timely sacrifice that allowed the still-recovering Bullard to operate in such a system.

Arsenal took a first half lead but City equalised through Bullard's penalty after Vennegoor of Hesselink avoided an offside flag and was fouled in the box. Then Boateng was sent off, this time entirely correctly, for a high challenge and a subsequent spot of eye-poking that was more conducive to the oval ball game. With ten men, a 1-1 scoreline and the fact that it was Arsenal, the second half was hardly anticipated with eagerness. But what followed was a Herculean display of fight and spirit that was only ruined when Myhill misjudged a swerving injury time shot from Denilson and batted it straight to Nicklas Bendtner for a heart-shattering 94th minute winner. Yet even in defeat, the praise for City was long and adulatory and much-deserved. There seemed to be little doubt that this sort of performance against smaller teams, were the motivation in place, would get the points required for survival.

Then on the Monday, Brown was fired.

Put on gardening leave, to be precise. On a national level, the decision was scorned and criticised to high heaven for its dual sense of mistiming, coming as it did with only nine games left of a relegation-threatened season and immediately after a quite stunning act of defiance against Arsenal. Bendtner's goal probably made Pearson's decision easier, as had the game ended in the morally correct 1-1 draw that seemed to be its destiny, firing Brown would have exuded an even more explosively derisory response.

Put simply, Pearson had been researching the dreadful financial state of the club further and knew Brown had to be out of the club before any kind of authority began to do its own research. That was the received wisdom from what was, on the face of it, a baffling decision. Brown's overall record and demeanour since October 2008 had been dreadful, but there did seem to be a change in his attitude and his treatment of the players since his pal Duffen had left the club. Naturally, the media-hungry Duffen declared himself available as a talking head to all and sundry upon the news of Brown's release from duty. Meanwhile, Pearson needed to get his new manager in place.

And so in came Iain Dowie, an articulate and intelligent man but not a coach or motivator with a record that suggested he was a better option than Brown. What he did have was a lack of ego, a realisation that he was fortunate to be asked and no baggage at all on a personal front, though the part he played in a number of relegations in his previous career did not warm his choice to the Tiger Nation. He brought his own coaching team with him, jettisoning the unlucky Brian Horton but keeping Steve Parkin, largely due to Parkin's own dogged refusal to take a pay-off.

Dowie prepared his squad for an enormous trip (and not just in mileage) to Portsmouth, a club long since doomed and playing for sympathy and FA Cup progression only. His first double-take act was to put Folan in the team, a player who had returned crocked from a loan spell with Middlesbrough and whose relationship with Brown was untenable even beyond Pearson's mediating stance. Folan hadn't played for City since the autumn and hadn't scored since the opening day of the whole Premier League adventure, and yet managed to score twice as City led 2-1 with five minutes left. A brilliant free kick robbed us of all three points; a horrific Garcia mistake moments later gifted the home side all three. It was beyond all satire to see City lose from such a glorious winning position.

Feeling let down by everyone at the club, the Tiger Nation contemplated relegation but there was still a game in hand to consider and other teams were still losing with similar regularity, if not as comedically. Fulham, refreshingly chasing European silverware instead of points, brought a second-string squad to the KC and City won 2-0 thanks to Bullard's penalty and Fagan's looping header. Dowie had dropped Folan, despite his two-goal haul, and recalled Altidore, while also bringing back Sonko from months in the cold (deservedly) because of severe defensive shortages. City played cohesively and with some optimism and deserved the win and clean sheet.

That this worried relegation rivals was obvious as West Ham made a self-important complaint to the FA over Fulham's team selection when their own house needed to be put in order first. Dowie had his first win and punched the air for the Tiger Nation to acknowledge it.

A trip to Stoke City was next and Dowie fatefully put the long-underperforming McShane at centre back to account for Sonko's ineligibility and, worse still, dropped Altidore for the wretched Folan. McShane made a child-like error to gift Stoke a very early opener, and although City huffed and puffed through the rest of the game, an equaliser looked most unlikely and Stoke got a second in injury time.

Still, it was only Burnley next. They, like the Tigers, had not won away all season and were in far greater trouble than their hosts although by now all the smart money suggested that both of these sides would join Portsmouth in the Championship the following season. But a City win, widely predicted, would give West Ham and Wigan some real food for thought. Naturally, the team with no away wins came to the KC and won, and won easily too. The 1-4 reversal was the lowest moment by some distance within a season made up of plenty of low moments, and nobody doubted City's fate now. Kilbane had scored after three minutes to give the Tigers the advantage; the subsequent showing suggested that they believed 87 minutes against Burnley when a goal to the good would be a doddle. Burnley walked it.

Dowie's negativity continued at Birmingham City, whose excellent season had rendered them more than safe and despite their own thoughts of a summer holiday, they were able to keep out a City side that stuck with 4-5-1 even with substitutions. It was a glorious chance that was completely squandered. The arrival of Aston Villa and their particularly grotesque cynicism ruined the debenture of City's game in hand that had existed since Villa's appearance at the Carling Cup final had prompted their trip to the KC to be rearranged, and their 2-0 win was achieved at half-pace with some City performances - McShane, Kilbane, Fagan - bordering on the criminal.

So it was all, probably, down to Sunderland, who were next at the KC and would effectively relegate the Tigers if they won and West Ham did likewise. An early Darren Bent goal and a penalty miss from a now scandalously disinterested Bullard made sure that was the case. Goal difference issues were preventing the mathematicians from relegating the Tigers on a technicality, but City were down. And they thoroughly deserved it.

The season ended with a 2-2 draw at Wigan Athletic, with Will Atkinson and Mark Cullen both scoring on their full Premier League debuts but an injury time equaliser robbing the Tigers of their final hope for an away win. The 0-0 draw against Liverpool at the KC that completed the fixture list served merely to show how good Cairney and Cullen could be in the Championship next season, and how much some of the mercenaries needed to be shipped out of the club for ethical as well as financial reasons. Burnley's last day win over Tottenham meant that the Tigers finished below them in a sorry 19th place, with £800,000 or so lost as a consequence.

A lot of players will leave in the summer and a lot of managers will be discussed before Pearson make his decision. He ultimately has to either prevent administration or, at worst, guide the club through a short period of administration before any decision on who will pick the team next season will be made. Instinct dictates that Dowie probably doesn't deserve it but may yet be the best of a bad bunch, and anyone who thinks Brown will return is not appreciating just how much he and Pearson will struggle to work together again.

Many players deserve to go, some because they are worthy of Premier League football, some because they cost far too much for what they (don't) provide, some because they aren't good enough as footballers, whatever their status as human beings or earners. The Premier League adventure is over and there are a lot of people, this blogger included, who simply will not miss it. You expect your club to lose touch with you when things are rough in the lower reaches of football, but when it happens during its most high-profile period, you know the game has gone wrong somewhere.

Bring on the Championship, the seven (so far) local derbies, the gifted kids, the inexpensive clubmen led by Ashbee and backed by Myhill and Dawson, and the chairman (now Head of Football Operations, for reasons of potential administration) who, this time, will know that bankrolling the club is not what he is there for. There is more trouble ahead but even if we are skint and ten points down come the first Saturday of August sunshine, it'll feel far better on that day to be a Hull City supporter than it has for any of the last 18 months and more.

Monday, 10 May 2010

38: Hull City 0 - 0 Liverpool - 09/05/2010

Celebration in defeat and in relegation. Two years in the top tier remains two years more than we had ever managed previously, and despite the poor season and poorer finances, Hull City used the final Premier League game of the season as a cue to remember just how fortunate we have been.

That said, the many who sang unkind words about the experience of top tier have a point. It feels like as much of a relief to go down as it is a disappointment; indeed, a season in the Championship with a team reconstructed on an austere, back to basics policy, filled with exuberant youngsters and older stagers and not riddled with mercenaries who exploited an irresponsible chairman's starstruck ambition to almost bankrupt the club.

It'll start straightaway, with rumours circulating about various players leaving for pastures new, and Adam Pearson claiming in his programme notes that some early business in the summer with both the debts and the squad could give the Tigers a proper footing as far as the start of the new campaign is concerned. The players who wandered slowly, some gingerly, around the pitch to wave to the supporters were saying a real goodbye, not offering meagre wishes for a good summer.

The game? Goalless, obviously, but not guileless. City, unchanged, were very good, Liverpool played like a team who were more anxious than most to get this irritant of a fixture out of the way and think about the future. Liverpool should still have won but City had their moments and thanks to the adolescent triumvirate of Mark Cullen, Tom Cairney and Will Atkinson, the fans had reason to keep alert and maintain their interest and encouragement.

Cairney was fabulous. Cullen also played marvellously. These two will be so important next season. But fortunately there were other good displays from City's establishment too, with Andy Dawson playing his best game of the season and Bernard Mendy having one of those eccentric romps that make you wish, one more time, that he wasn't such an inconsistent waster and headcase.

Liverpool had the first chance in crazy circumstances when Ryan Babel's low ball across the edge of the box was cut out by a backtracking Cairney, whose spooned clearance very nearly beat Matt Duke, striking the stanchion behind the goal and making Liverpool's full compliment of travelling fans believe, momentarily, that it was a rather spectacular own goal. Nabil El Zhar then hit a shot from distance that Duke reached only via a fingertip stretch.

From the corner, El Zhar volleyed a clearance goalwards into the ground and Dirk Kuyt got a flick which beat Duke but was headed over by the bar by George Boateng, sturdy and heroic as the last line of defence. Alberto Aquiliani then hit a low volley inches wide on what was a disappointing day for Liverpool's big enigma.

City made an opportunity when Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink headed a Dawson free kick straight at Jose Reina. Dawson then followed up his delivery with a stunning bit of touchline ballwinning, with his cross cleared to Cairney. His shot took a deflection and went straight at Cullen who, despite his brilliant position in front of goal, couldn't get the ball under proper control and it ricocheted through to Reina. Atkinson then crossed from the right for Cullen to head just wide.

So, chances traded and possession traded equally too. It wasn't amazing football, and neither team were drizzled in enthusiasm, but it was a jolly, spirited occasion nonetheless. Aquilani hit the crossbar from a melee in the City box with Daniel Agger spannering the rebound high and wide as the half petered out. Liverpool had the chances but City matched them for possession and spirit.

City were dominant after the restart, with Vennegoor of Hesselink touching on a wicked Mendy cross and Cullen was a stud's length from sliding the ball in at the far post. Mendy then chose to hit a shot from probably 40 yards out that was bending and well-aimed and would have been the goal of the season had Reina not seen it late and got a full glove on it. It was an extraordinary shot and a fine save.

Aquilani and Kuyt boh missed with distant snapshots and then Geovanni, on for the resourceful Kevin Kilbane, swiped a free kick into the wall, with Dawson also not managing to defeat a wall when another kick was given two minutes later in a similarly dangerous position.

Craig Fagan came on for Vennegoor of Hesselink as City looked to use more pace on the tiring Liverpool defence but afterwards City could create little more as a result, with Cairney slapping one goalwards from long range that Reina chose to double fist away.

Liverpool turned it on in the last ten minutes. Substitute Dani Pacheco's cross was pawed out by Duke and the superb Steven Mouyokolo cleared before a Liverpool boot could finish the job. Steven Gerrard, quiet and yet influential, then put a shot just wide from the edge of the area.

City were distracted by a cloud of pink smoke from some contraption released by a Liverpool supporter as Gerrard broke away but Boateng and Mouyokolo combined with timing and no little desperation to stop him shooting. Cullen then fed off Geovanni's wide ball and hit a fine drive over Reina and also just over the bar, with real confidence and instinct that we should enjoy next season.

Three minutes were added and Gerrard hit the post in that time, with Pacheco also having a cross shot palmed clear by Duke. The woodwork aside, it felt like a goalless draw throughout and that's exactly what it became.

So, season over and the fun and games behind the scenes begin. The chairman has to sort out the finances, attract investment, reduce the asphyxiating wage bill and appoint a manager. He needs to call all of these things correctly to give Hull City the chance to return to the Championship on something close to an even keel.

For the Premier League and all its attractions, there will be plenty who will prefer the more authentic, less cynical world of the Championship, a division that can provide a club with ambitions sprinkled with glory rather than just trying to hold one's own in mid-table in a division that is riddled with cliques, mini-leagues and only entertains those who are neutral or seeking trophies. That rules out a lot of sides. Of course Hull City want to go back there, but next time we will do so in a manner that allows us to progress and glow gradually, sensibly, cautiously.

It has been the best trip we've ever been on. The next one will be even better though. And wiser.

Hull City: Duke, Mendy, Dawson, Mouyokolo, Gardner, Boateng, Cairney, Kilbane (Geovanni 76), Atkinson, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Fagan 84), Cullen. Subs not used: Myhill, Cooper, McShane, Olofinjana, Barmby.
Liverpool: Reina, Agger, Kyrgiakos, Carragher, Aquilani (Pacheco 73), Mascherano, Gerrard, Lucas, Kuyt, Babel (Robinson 87), El Zhar (Ngog 62). Subs not used: Cavalieri, Skrtel, Degen, Ayala.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Money for Marney

It seems peculiar that one of the players who could have been both useful and affordable in the Championship should be the first one to leave Hull City in the summer, but ultimately everyone has their price.

Dean Marney, a perennial underachiever but certainly a fine player when the wind blows correctly, seems set to join Burnley as soon as the transfer window re-opens.

The money quoted is £1 million, which certainly would come in more than useful as Adam Pearson's huge cost-cutting campaign for the summer to cope with the financial madnesses of his predecessor and the shortfall caused by relegation hits home.

Marney has had four seasons with the Tigers and for most of that time he has failed to convince. Yet there was a three-month spell at the start of the Premier League adventure when he formed part of a three-man midfield that seemed, somehow, to click so brilliantly that the Tigers looked capable of conquering the world.

There is energy and passion within Marney's make-up and despite his limitations and some howls of derision from the Tiger Nation, he has also never hidden from his responsibilities and everyone knows that he is a far better footballer than he has mostly shown. That's the chief frustration. He perhaps won't be missed as readily as Sam Ricketts and Michael Turner have been - they are the other two major signings Phil Parkinson was allowed to make in his short period in charge - but getting a midfielder of his virtues, if not his skills, will be harder than imagined.

And with every other midfielder with the probable exceptions of Ian Ashbee and Tom Cairney being almost flaunted in the windows of the KC Stadium for passing clubs to purchase, certainly reinforcements will be needed. Beggars can't be choosers, and in an ideal world other players would have been shipped out before anyone had come in for Marney.

If he does go, he'll be missed by this blogger, if mainly for his brand of honest endeavour and his admirable method of trying to gain and maintain confidence by constantly looking for the next ball.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

The fire sale (part two)

The fire sale is due, so here's our assessment of the worthiness of the rest of the Tigers squad...

19: Steven Mouyokolo
Genuinely sorry to say that he must go, simply because he is way too good for the Championship and has youth and exuberance of the type that half a dozen Premier League clubs would want dearly.
Verdict: Sell

20: George Boateng
Has opened his mouth a fair bit lately, but some of us interpret that as a sign of passion and responsibility, while his recent performances have, in the main, exhibited real desire to succeed. Out of contract in the summer and may not be interested in negotiating downwards, but of the bigger earners he is one who might, might be worth trying to persuade.
Verdict: Keep

21: Jimmy Bullard
Not so much whether to keep him, more a case of whether anyone else will have him. His knees are made of glass, his attitude has been suspect at best and age and ego are not on his side either. He must go, but if he does stay at least he should be the best player by a mile in the Championship, assuming he can be bothered to prove it.
Verdict: Sell

22: Dean Marney

Forever the underachiever and has recently been out of favour but he has workrate, Championship experience and longevity with the club on his side. If he can play in the second tier like he did in the first three months of the Premier League, we'll have a player.
Verdict: Keep

23: Kamel Ghilas
A true waste of everyone's time and Hull City's money, though the lack of real explanation as to why an international player hoping to feature at the World Cup has been so conspicuous by his absence remains baffling. Must have some ability to go with his obvious pace, but his wages and general lack of favour suggests we may never find out.
Verdict: Sell

24: Kamil Zayatte
Could be the biggest sale of the lot. A gifted and popular defender who can play a bit, and only the odd comical gaffe has blotted his copybook since arriving. The agent who has been trying to sell him for months now can actually do so.
Verdict: Sell

25: Daniel Cousin
He could score goals in the Championship but the risk when considering his mighty wage and tendency to strop suggests that making his loan move to the sunshine permanent, or making any other move permanent, would be the best thing for everyone.
Verdict: Sell

27: Nicky Featherstone
Will never be a fully-fledged first teamer and yet, after many years of never threatening to leave the fringes, has just signed a new one-year deal, possibly just to make sure that those who can be afforded long-term are retained first and foremost, but if and when things settle down, he should be allowed to move on.
Verdict: Sell

28: Ibrahima Sonko
He isn't ours, and should never have been. One assumes the haste and carelessness that came with the wretched deal in August did not include first refusal on a permanent move. Even in poverty, City can do better.
Verdict: Release

29: Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink

Earns too much but is a rare example of someone evidently trying to justify the outlay. Could be a brilliant guide and inspiration for the younger players coming through if he can be persuaded to sign a deal on reduced terms.
Verdict: Keep

31: Will Atkinson
Had impressed nobody on his few fleeting appearances in cup competitions over the last three seasons but his recent Premier League introduction will restore interest in him from within the club and will be retained and indulged just for the sake of bodies in the squad, though maybe now he has more hope.
Verdict: Keep

34: Mark Oxley
A goalkeeper we know next to nothing about, but one day one of the two senior keepers will be injured and somebody needs to be available to provide back up.
Verdict: Keep

35: Liam Cooper
Only injury has stopped him replicating the success of other youth products among the City squad, but already has proved his potential and promise to the extent that two or even three senior centre backs could be sold and City would still not need worry.
Verdict: Keep

36: Jamie Devitt
Never played for the first team, but two genuinely impressive loan spells in the bottom division this season suggest he has the ability to perform at Championship level, and certainly he should get his chance.
Verdict: Keep

44: Seyi Olofinjana

Would be a useful and dominant presence in the Championship but international ambitions and his own wages may prompt his departure, while he has never quite proved himself enough to either manager to suggest he is worth clinging on to.
Verdict: Sell

45: Tom Cairney
As much of a no-brainer as anyone else. The best footballer to emerge from City's ranks for probably three generations and even though richer clubs will have spotted him and may even bid, City should hold on to him for dear life and build a team around him until or unless someone offers to clear the debt in return for his talent.
Verdict: Keep

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

The fire sale (part one)

It's well documented that Hull City need to get shut of several big earners, irrespective of their ability or attitude, in order to close just a little bit of the yawning financial vacuum currently threatening to send the Tigers into administration over the summer. So, over the next two days, let's have a look at the whole squad and see where these cuts can be made...

1: Boaz Myhill
Despite some hefty and largely over-the-top criticism of late, Myhill is still as good a goalkeeper as a club of City's standing can expect to attract, and he has experience, love of the club and relative cheapness to his advantage. His current status as substitute goalkeeper will be as temporary as the previous ones.
Verdict: Keep

3: Andy Dawson

Has occasionally looked like the lower division player he was much for his career, but is experienced, low-maintenance, utterly dedicated and more than adequate at Championship level.
Verdict: Keep

4: Ian Ashbee
Providing he is fit, the question about whether to keep the greatest skipper in the club's history is an evident no-brainer.
Verdict: Keep

5: Anthony Gardner
He came from Spurs and therefore can't be on a low wage, but one wonders if his injury record and general level of performance can attract a bidder. If not, then the question may depend on whether he had a relegation clause inserted into his contract. Beggars can't be choosers, however, and if a lower-half Premier League club comes in with a sum of money he must be allowed to leave.
Verdict: Sell

6: Paul McShane
Fits the double negative of these troubled times better than any other player in the squad - earns too much and not good enough. Again, one wonders if anyone would care to bid for him. Could still be useful in the Championship but his wages are a real problem.
Verdict: Sell

7: Craig Fagan
The Championship is his level, at best, and despite the chippiness overriding - and sometimes complete hiding - any genuine footballing ability, he is an inexpensive, committed and useful performer when his head is right.
Verdict: Keep

8: Nick Barmby
Despite his illustrious career he won't be on a fortune, and it's a question that will need to be answered soon as he is out of contract in the summer. His commitment and popularity will never be questioned, but at 36 he is showing definite signs of slowing down, and if he doesn't choose to retire, someone may be forced into a very awkward decision.
Verdict: Release

9: Jozy Altidore
Only gets mentioned as he is still technically a City player, even though he is essentially a dead duck as his red card against Sunderland ended his season and, given that Villareal want £6 million that we have no chance of paying, we are very unlikely to see him again. Fun while it lasted, and if he can work on his anticipation up front he'll be a good goalscorer for someone.
Verdict: Release

10: Geovanni

Tough one. His wages will be high without being astronomical and if he does hang around, the Championship will be his to dominate. But his attitude has been poor in the latter half of this season and there is the obvious danger that could extend into the new season. A club in the lower reaches of the Premier League should want him.
Verdict: Sell

11: Stephen Hunt
If one can assume high wages can ever be justified, then Hunt comes closest to proving it. Brilliant until his foot injury ended his season, that very injury means that few teams will look at him until he is fit again, by which time the Tigers will hopefully get three months out of him before January prompts his departure.
Verdict: Keep

12: Matt Duke
We've had the same two goalkeepers for a long time now, and although Duke is the current first-choice stopper, he isn't the best keeper at the club. But his attitude his spot on and, of course, his background means his wages will be manageable for a good while to come. If a League One team wants him to be first choice then there'd be no harm in letting him go but otherwise there's no urgency at all.
Verdict: Keep

13: Mark Cullen
One start, one goal, one of a few very bright prospects for the future on whose shoulders the revival of the club will be placed. His youth, plus his goalscoring record in the reserves, might prompt a few sniffs from bigger clubs but for now he is very much ours for keeps.
Verdict: Keep

14: Richard Garcia
Out of contract this summer and with little known dialogue taking place about renewal, the Australian may have played his last game for the club. However, he did have bright moments in the Premier League to go with the mainly disappointing periods, and he was quality in the Championship both for the Tigers and previously with Colchester.
Verdict: Renegotiate

15: Bernard Mendy

The great enigma, probably the most naturally gifted footballer at the club but with a stinking attitude that he gets away with thanks to eccentricities and a tendency to applaud the fans for self-aware long periods after games. He will have suitors from the Premier League and abroad, and the Tigers must cash in.
Verdict: Sell

16: Peter Halmosi
An outright failure since the day he arrived, and still has two years left on his contract. Yet he is clearly a gifted winger when circumstances allow, and it was his terrific performances in the Championship that tempted City to buy him in the first place. Home in Hungary on loan now but due back, and preferably to stay.
Verdict: Keep

17: Kevin Kilbane
He has simply never looked remotely good enough while, presumably, picking up a decent wage considering his Premier League pedigree and colossal tally of international caps. Again, one has to ask who would want him but there should be someone somewhere.
Verdict: Sell

18: Caleb Folan
A player simply not good enough for the Premier League but who has cheapness, at the very least, on his side as we drop down. If the more affluent strikers leave and there isn't much in the pot to get anyone in, we may be left with no choice. He did partially succeed in the Championship but was still upstaged by two other centre forwards.
Verdict: Keep

Part two tomorrow.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

37: Wigan Athletic 2 - 2 Hull City - 03/05/2010

Though it merely confirmed what we already knew, this single point was insufficient to at least prevent the big black 'R' from appearing next to the great name of Hull City for at least another week. Relegation is now rubberstamped, and although even the victory by ten goals that the Tiger Nation self-mockingly sang for throughout this game still wouldn't have done any good, it feels like a relief.

Galling, however, was that the Tigers didn't deserve to be relieved of two points in this game, and yet again it was an injury time goal that broke City's hearts. A team with a healthy and positive scattering of young talent therein had played Wigan off the park in the second half and taken a deserved lead, and only when the added time board went up did the Latics suddenly develop any sense of urgency, as if they felt being the only team to lose to Hull City on their own patch was a humiliation too awful to bear.

It was as typical as anything that has depressingly typified City over the generations that the last chance of a win on the road was swiped from their grasp in the closing seconds of the match. A win would also have completed an incongruous double, too. Steve Gohouri's spectacular but eminently preventable leveller after 92 minutes meant that the Tigers ended the season without a single away victory. Not even the really, really rubbish sides that were relegated in 1978 and twice in the 1990s could say that.

But it isn't a badge of honour. Deeply underperforming players on high wages have been our main problem this season, and such was their lack of bite on the road that this game represented the closest, even more so than Portsmouth a month or so ago, that the Tigers had come to ending a particularly bad run. And it was achieved, were a close-but-no-cigar game to be cast as any form of achievement, with two Premier League debutants whose rawness exudes pride and innocence and desire, the type that could have kept us in the Premier League had their well-reimbursed seniors shown even a modicum of it in the last six weeks.

Iain Dowie, not unexpectedly, gave Mark Cullen a start up front. Cullen is just 18 and therefore eligible to cast his vote on Thursday by a matter of mere weeks. He is tiny, slight and red-haired and will not be hard to recognise in the future, hopefully as much for his footballing promise as for his lack of physical stature. Will Atkinson also started a Premier League game for the first time, having enjoyed a good loan at Rochdale and previously been called into FA Cup and Carling Cup squads in the last three seasons without ever getting within even javelin-hurling distance of a chance at the highest level. Perhaps it patronises such players to essentially say to them that the game doesn't matter any more so they can play, but neither Atkinson nor Cullen showed signs of being talked down to. They were excellent. And, beyond that, they both had the nerve to score.

Dowie recalled Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink up front to give Cullen someone to look up to in every sense of the word. Kevin Kilbane earned - well, received - a recall to the left side of midfield and so did Tom Cairney, a peer of Cullen and Atkinson and yet already earmarked as possibly the player who could be the most influential on the team when life in the Championship returns in August.

Big names appeared on the bench but the biggest of the lot (salary, ego, level of expectation and disillusionment) in Jimmy Bullard did not even travel with the squad. There is hope yet.

City struggled to clear a pair of early balls into the area and Jordi Gomez hit a snapshot just wide, then both Anthony Gardner and Steven Mouyokolo threw themselves in the way of Hugo Rodallega after a neat tee-up from James McCarthy, blocking the drive bravely.

Cullen's first involvement came when he intercepted a terrible goal kick from Wigan's third string custodian Vladimir Stojkovic and exchanged passes with Atkinson before crossing towards Vennegoor of Hesselink, who got his head there first but could only guide it wide.

Andy Dawson then fed Kilbane's run down the left and a good pullback was met by a vigorous Atkinson shot which the keeper batted away. Atkinson and Vennegoor of Hesselink, continuing some good City pressure, each made fledgling runs through the Wigan backline and eventually the loose ball dropped to Kilbane, who got power into the shot but not quite the direction, hitting the side netting at Stojkovic's near post.

At the other end, Wigan came very close to opening the scoring when Rodallega found himself in the six yard box with just Matt Duke to beat, but Mouyokolo launched into a stunning block tackle of the type that makes good defenders into great ones, and the applause for this marvellous young player from the Tiger Nation was deservedly long and loud.

It didn't last as far as parity was concerned, however, as Wigan took the lead on the half hour. A set-piece was cleared to George Boateng whose ball down the flank was cut out, delivered into the feet of Victor Moses who exploited the City defence's belief that the danger was over by cutting into ample space around the edge of the box and belting a low shot beyond Duke and in via a post.

It could have been two soon afterwards when Moses missed his kick in front of goal after Ben Watson's corner was nodded back to him from the far post by Rodallega. City, however, re-found their attitude and an equaliser came just before the break.

Boateng broke down the right and crossed dangerously but Stojkovic got some purchase on his punch, though only finding Kilbane on the opposite side. He re-centred and Atkinson made a late and clever run to head firmly past the exposed keeper. Initially a flag went up for offside against Cullen, who had challenged for Boateng's initial ball, but referee Phil Dowd seemed inclined to overrule over the issue of not interfering with play and, after a quick check with his assistant, did just that. "We only want ten more," chanted the Tiger Nation...

So, all level at half time and with an away goal from a young debutant who has waited forever for a chance like this. It seemed promising.

City dominated the early part of the second half for possession but it was Wigan who were creating the opportunities. Duke saved with his feet as Rodallega hit a low one from distance, then both Rodallega and Gomez hit wide-angled snapshots just wide from well outside the box.

City then won a free kick, which Cairney swung in. A half clearance was nodded back in by Atkinson for Mouyokolo to turn and swipe wide, despite the promise of his position in the area. An offside flag gave him a little respite from the disbelief of all in the away end, and soon the Tigers had a genuine goal to savour anyway.

Another Cairney free kick, another clearance, and this time Boateng collected on the right. He delivered a second ball towards the far post and Cullen, showing terrific instinct and awareness that makes one believe he could succeed in the first team, ran beyond the last defender to nod in from five yards, before looking utterly bewildered by his achievement as the Tiger Nation celebrated before him and grown men jumped on his back.

There were 25 minutes left and the Tigers were by some range the better team now. Cairney, quiet in the first half but imperious in the second, pulled the strings in midfield and sent the new hero away after intercepting a bad clearance, but Cullen this time shot over. Caleb Folan came on and, after the customary offside decision against him and the usual search for blame away from his own wretched self, he managed to break clear once but was caught and robbed of the ball as he teed up a narrow-angled shot.

Wigan didn't look especially worried by the situation, which suggested they were either beach-bound or just shockingly arrogant. Then, when the board went up for three added minutes, they perked up. Stojkovic went forward for a corner, despite there being no value attached to garnering a point at all, and when City cleared to Cullen on halfway there seemed an opportunity. Cullen, inexperience aplenty, tried to do something urgent with the ball as he knew there was an unguarded net, slipped on the wet surface, and Gary Caldwell was able to clip it back into the box. It was nodded on at the far post for Gohouri to chest down with his back to Duke's goal and then smack an overhead kick beyond the keeper and into the roof of the net.

Wigan fans came on to the pitch to celebrate the least important goal of their season, which was as bemusing as it was gutting, and the final chance of chalking up an away win was gone. That we deserved to win will ultimately not be crucial when the table is examined at the end of the campaign, it will just show an embarrassing, horrid '0' under the away column headed with a 'W'.

The positives were plentiful in terms of the displays - and goals - of Atkinson and Cullen, while Cairney looks every inch a senior player now and Mouyokolo will benefit the Tigers much if recent performances are an accurate indication, in that he will either be the best defender in the Championship next season or will fetch a princely sum from a Premier League side that will help ease the huge financial burden that the club has to fend off over the summer. However, the overriding negative of yet again failing to win away, yet again conceding late on will remain. As good as City were, the match still showed plenty of reasons why, this season, we are not good enough.

Wigan Athletic: Stojkovic, Gohouri, Caldwell, Melchiot, Figueroa, Watson, McCarthy (Sinclair 65), Gomez (Scotland 79), Moses, Diame (Scharner 82), Rodallega. Subs not used: Pollitt, Boyce, Thomas, Mostoe.
Hull City: Duke, Mendy, Dawson, Gardner, Mouyokolo, Boateng, Cairney, Kilbane, Atkinson, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Folan 70), Cullen. Subs not used: Myhill, Cooper, Olofinjana, Barmby, Geovanni, Fagan.