Monday, 17 November 2008

13: Hull City 2 - 2 Manchester City 2 - 16/11/2008

The losing streak is over, the uncertainty curtailed, and it was all jolly entertaining to boot, which is a nice bonus.

Hull City versus the team ubiquitously known in the national media as 'City', which is slightly indecent of them. First meeting for 20 seasons, and worth waiting for.

For all the blabbing and pontificating about the need to adjust the tactics, formation and personnel, Phil Brown yet again kept the faith. His only change was to give Sam Ricketts his first start since the Wigan Athletic debacle, as Andy Dawson had a sore Achilles. Other than that, as you were again. Bernard Mendy was injured; Peter Halmosi was still waiting on the bench; and Nathan Doyle was allowed his first inclusion on a Premier League teamsheet as the defensive cover.

The opposition, similarly trying to screech to a halt a run of three straight losses, had skipper Richard Dunne among two suspensions. Robinho, surprisingly, was made captain for the day. The travelling fans, loud and fabulous, gave their one-season enigma Geovanni a hero's reception as his name was announced.

A chilly Sunday afternoon but a red-hot atmosphere at the KC Stadium. Early exchanges were cagey, with only an early free kick to the visitors providing real danger at either end. Robinho didn't get the connection he desired at all, and it flashed well wide.

Robinho versus Geovanni. The Brazilian battle, as the front of the match programme roughly put it. One assumes that in Brazil, there are levels of technical excellence. The A* versions are the internationals and galacticos like Robinho, the ones who pass with their heels, stand on the ball, and whap in free kicks as if they were penalties. Geovanni, due to his age, lesser profile and paucity of international caps, must a B version, made to look merely superhuman rather than God-like. The two had more of the ball than anyone else, unsurprisingly, and it was great to watch.

So, the Tigers get a chance. Ricketts curls a cross on to Dean Marney's instep, and he touches it back for Ian Ashbee to shoot, only for a last-ditch distracting challenge to force the ball wide. Progress. Both defences are ruling. They look solid, dependable and focussed.


On 13 minutes, Micah Richards plays the ball across his area to Tal Ben-Haim. Joe Hart awaits the pass back, and Richards advances ten yards to give his centre back partner an opportunity to return the ball as Daniel Cousin closes down. One brainstorm later, and the ball is in the net as Ben-Haim mishits his back pass and the Gabonese striker gets a toe to the ball to glide it under Hart. A gift, and it's 1-0, with Cousin opening his account at the KC Stadium.

Further cost to Manchester City comes when it's obvious after treatment that Hart, whose ankle was accidentally trodden on by Cousin, can play no further part. He collapses as he catches the ball after the restart and immediately Kasper Schmeichel is summoned from the bench. Hart, whose injury prompted his withdrawal from the England squad too, got a generous ripple of applause from the home crowd as he hobbled away.

The game refuses to settle down. Manchester City retain a good level of possession as they seek an equaliser, but Robinho is chased everywhere by George Boateng and Shaun Wright-Phillips, a proper danger, is being forced inside a great deal. It's dangerous at times, but intriguing. Cousin nearly gets a second when he aims a header at goal from Marlon King's nod back, but it goes wide.

Cousin's next contribution was to make the first of two grotesque errors which handed Manchester City, wrapped and ribboned, a leveller. His ambitious crossfield ball is underhit and an interception allows a break to be on. However, neither striker anticipates Robinho's through ball and Kamil Zayatte, the flawless, intercepts. He had no need to, as a trundle through to Boaz Myhill was on, but then he took a hideously heavy touch and presented an open goal to Stephen Ireland. Language barrier? Maybe. Zayatte needs to know exactly what "leave it" means from now on.

So, two goals, both via defensive howlers. This is the Premier League, the world's greatest, of course. Yeah. Now the visitors have the ascendancy, but a second goal does look unlikely unless it's achieved through a spot of football conjuring. Robinho duly offered top billing to Ireland, who took a smart crossfield pass down and swerved an exquisite half volley into the far corner beyond Myhill's flailing glove. Right on half time, and a glorious finish.

The Tigers were down and one can imagine Brown's wrath had been somewhat incurred. Geovanni had been able to go on a couple of darts but had not been influential. King was quiet. Marney was quiet. It needed a bit of old-fashioned geeing-up from Brown and a 100mph start in the second half.

City - that's the Hull version, not the national default version - were immediately on the front foot upon resumption. King beat off the attentions of Richards and bent in a great outswinger which set up the photographers' shot of the season. Geovanni hurled himself into the air and scissor kicked, with the connection meaty but the direction slightly off, as Schmeichel watched it go a foot or so over his bar.

It was a start. Geovanni now began to take over. He emerged on both flanks, constantly wanting the ball and perennially making defenders think when he had it. Marney began to exert himself too, popping up frequently on the left side to collect, deliver and harry, the sort of combative yet creative play which earned him his new three-year deal in midweek.

On the hour, and a Tigers free kick, in Geovanni territory. A dual foul on Marlon King is rightly punished, and the Brazilian thumps his shot into the wall, where it touches Vincent Kompany's shoulder enough to fox the moving Schmeichel, ho couldn't get back in time to prevent the ball bouncing home. 2-2, game back on, and Zayatte kissing the turf in thanks.

Ricketts then nutmegged Kompany superbly to make room for a gorgeous cross from the left which Cousin met with a soaring header, but Schmeichel's positioning made sure the ball was safely clasped.

Zayatte then decided one of his flowing, crazy runs was in order as he lurched forward before releasing Cousin down the left. He crossed, King played it back and Geovanni bashed his shot just wide.

Good stuff. The Tigers are in command. Cousin gets an ovation as he withdraws for Nick Barmby's guile, while Manchester City replace Benjani with Jo. Too many one-named players, really.

City then win another free kick within Geovanni range. The visitors' relentless unwillingness to obey the rules regarding ten yards come to the fore, as Geovanni slaps the first go into the wall, and referee Phil Dowd books Shaun Wright-Phillips for encroachment, ordering a re-take. Geovanni again hits a defender, and Ireland picks up the booking. Some would call it a farce, but everyone knows that players need to be ten yards from an opposing free kick up to and including the point wher initial connection with the ball is made. Dowd was doing his job. The Manchester City defenders were not doing theirs. Ultimately Geovanni eschewed power and went for curl at the third attempt, and the ball touched the wall and went for a corner. One can't help but think that a third go at power might have had an effect, as only illegal encroachment had stopped the first two stabs.

Halmosi's width is introduced for Boateng's battling qualities as the Tigers try to up the ante in the final ten minutes. But it's the visitors who nearly win it in injury time.

A long ball is met by Robinho, who proffers Darius Vassell, in worryingly roomy surroundings, a free run on goal. The ball is bouncing and the chance is brief, but Vassell is denied by the quick thinking of Myhill, who advances and manages to beat away the striker's attempt to clip the ball beyond him. A big, big chance.

Manchester City force two corners in the final seconds, one of which is headed wide by Richards. Another escape. The final whistle shrills, and an exhilarating game ends all square, and most fairly too.

Hull City remain sixth and although hardly draw specialists (the last one was against Everton almost two months ago), a few more shares of the spoils like this would come in most handy at the moment, as if to rubberstamp some calm after a three-match storm. It was a stern and sterling test and it was nice to see the Tigers react in the correct way, with industry, attitude and no little quality at times. Another spot of proof that the Premier League is very much a place where Hull City can feel they belong.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Ricketts, Boateng (Halmosi 85), Ashbee, Marney, Geovanni, Cousin (Barmby 76), King. Subs not used: Duke, Doyle, Garcia, Folan, Giannakopoulos.

Manchester City: Hart (Schmeichel 19), Zabaleta, Richards, Ben-Haim, Garrido, Wright-Phillips, Kompany, Ireland, Mwaruwari (Jo 76), Robinho, Vassell. Subs not used: Onuoha, Michael Ball, Hamann, Elano, Evans.