Sunday, 31 August 2008

03: Hull City 0 - 5 Wigan Athletic - 30/08/2008

And welcome to the real world, everyone. The world of the Premier League. Nobody was under any illusions that we'd be given the odd pasting this season, but to be so mercilessly ground into the dirt by Wigan, a side always scrapping against the drop, was extremely worrying.

It's worth pointing out immediately that the Latics were ruthless when given the chance to be, and it was mainly City's ineptitude which gift-wrapped the points for the visitors. We had our Championship defence out there - fine in the Championship, but with Premier League players chasing and harrying it, the matter was different.

Wayne Brown was playing because our £2.5million record signing Anthony Gardner was injured. I suspect, without any trace of pleasure in saying so, that Brown will never be selected by his namesake manager again, especially now that Paul McShane has joined on a season's loan from Sunderland. It was purely the choice of Hobson which put the one-paced defender back in the City side and the Tigers were ripped up because of it.

Brown - the shiny-pated playing one - will be thanked forever by City fans for a glorious contribution to a fine season, a fine partnership with Michael Turner and a historic conclusion at Wembley. But now he should be allowed to leave.

Also missing was George Boateng, still, after his groin injury in the opening day against Fulham. Ian Ashbee lined up, like at Blackburn, alongside the proactive Dean Marney, but while Marney provided intelligent balls and hard work throughout, Ashbee too looked like his early bubble had burst.

For all this, the first goal was a total freak show. Sam Ricketts, a tremendous full back without equal in City's history, took a wild swing at a grotesque Kevin Kilbane corner and got enough of the ball to fox Boaz Myhill and find the net. It was 0-1, early on, and like against Fulham, we had to react to our own misfortune.

Even prior to this, we'd made a start. Marney's divine long ball was taken down by Geovanni who clipped a well-timed indoor pass on to the heels of the onrushing Craig Fagan, who cut inside but swiped his right footer past the post.

Upon going behind, City tried to settle and remain cool. Marney wanted lots of ball where Geovanni notably didn't, and he became the fulcrum of the game. Sadly, the City players were leaving gaps at the back where Brown, as one-paced a defender at this level than any other you could name, was exposed horribly.

And so it came to pass that City forced a corner which was quickly cleared towards Antonio Valencia, whose speed suddenly meant he only had Brown to go through on his march to the City half and Myhill's goal. Duly he ducked inside Brown and with Ashbee chasing but choosing not to bring him down from behind (selecting from 0-1 with ten men or 0-2 with 11 is a tough call), Valencia had little problem steering the ball past City's custodian.

The City fans kept the faith in the East Stand with louder songs - they know that part of the deal this season is keeping on the players' side when times get rough - but the players were shellshocked, beyond response. Their best hope was to get some luck before half time and make the second half worth pursuing.

Caleb Folan, selected ahead of Dean Windass but not able to stamp any kind of authority against his former club, nodded down a Ricketts searcher on to Geovanni's chest, but Chris Kirkland smothered the Brazilian's shot.

It was a bit better. The encouragement grew when Ricketts and Garcia's interplay made clever progress down the City right to give Marney room for a fine crossfield ball to Fagan, whose clip into the box was just too high for Folan's head.

Towards half time, and City looked more and more likely to respond. Andy Dawson's corner was met by Turner at the far post and the scramble broke for Ashbee, but he mishit his shot and it bobbled away. Marney then crossed for Turner, who had stayed up front, but the tall central defender couldn't quite time his jump.

Half time, two down. Ideally a goal before the break would have been better, but two goal deficits are always retrievable. Yes, even in the Premier League. The crowd, healthy at more than 24,000 considering there was a rugby league match in London that had acquired some local attention, kept smiling through the half time ablutions and ales.

Second half, then. It's a good start. Dawson swings in a free kick and Turner, a little wastefully, heads over the bar. He's got to start getting these on target, like he did in that flurry towards the end of last season. But we're getting closer. The next goal would be ours.

Folan robbed Mario Melchiot to catch Wigan napping; the ball reaches Geovanni who sends Richard Garcia clear, but Kirkland pushes the ball over the bar.

That was the chance. The real chance. The only time we had clear and free with just a goalkeeper to beat. Garcia just happened not to score it this time.

The manager then withdrew Geovanni - a strange one, as he'd been less bad than Folan - and threw on Dean Windass. So now we had our Championship defence and the second and third best strikers of our Championship attack. For a while, not a single new signing was on the pitch. It was last year's team now. And we suffered for it.

Just after the hour, Kilbane sent a long free kick into the City area. The ball dropped, no City player went to it as Emile Heskey - impressive, classy, patient - brought it down and played it dangerously into the six yard box, where still nobody in black and amber wanted it. Amir Zaki did, and he steered a nice shot past Myhill for game over.

Five minutes later, Kirkland punts long, Brown tries a back header which forgets entirely that Heskey can't half shift, and the England striker collects, rounds Myhill and turns in his shot extremely well, though Turner was a little unlucky not to clear as he made for his goal-line.

It's 0-4. Nick Barmby is on for Garcia, and now Bernard Mendy comes on for Dawson. At last, a new player is back on the park, but it's all a bit pointless. We'd like a consolation, but Steve Bruce the manager wants a clean sheet as much as Steve Bruce the defender often got one.

Windass takes a free kick which flops easily into Kirkland's hands. Marney puts in a quick corner which Turner meets, unmarked, but yet again he can't get the header on target as the ball clears the bar.

And so, with ten minutes left, Wigan collect a fifth. Zaki fires a quality shot from 16 yards which hits the underside of the bar and bounces down. The referee wasn't giving it until he was attracted by a flag from his assistant, and Zaki had already resigned himself to missing out, only then to belatedly celebrate a goal. The assistant was spot on, according to the replays. 0-5 now, our first five goal shipping at home in the League since Danny Coles crashed a whole car showroom against Ipswich two seasons ago. Like that day, this was crushing in its one-sidedness.

Mendy was fed by Folan late on and the Frenchman belted the chance wide and high when he should have made Kirkland work, but by now it didn't matter. We'd been totally found out. Still, the final whistle proffered some sporting applause from the home support, despite paying to see their side sliced to bits from start to end.

With a fortnight off now because of the internationals, City have a chance to work on their weaknesses, get McShane up to speed, Gardner and Boateng fit, more bodies in on loan and Campbell back at the KC as a full-time player in a blaze of glory, dancing girls and everything. All of these things need to happen because, as unpredictable as Newcastle United can be, going there on September 13th on the back of a 5-0 cuffing will severely examine the bottle of manager and squad. Still, at least we're still ahead of Wigan in the table. That makes us better than them, doesn't it?

Hull City: Myhill, Ricketts, Brown, Turner, Dawson (Mendy 71), Fagan, Ashbee, Marney, Garcia (Barmby 60), Geovanni (Windass 56), Folan. Subs not used: Duke, Hughes, Halmosi, Cooper

Wigan Athletic: Kirkland, Melchiot, Boyce, Bramble, Figueroa, Valencia, Palacios, Cattermole (Kapo 79), Kilbane (Brown 56), Heskey (Camara 85), Zaki. Subs not used: Pollitt, Koumas, De Ridder, Kupisz