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

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Go on Fergie, go on ...

Unable due to circumstances beyond his control to get Fraizer Campbell on loan from Manchester United, Phil Brown's really gone for it now.

In a daring, unexpected and quite fantastic move, he's emptied out the transfer kitty's remaining few million and dangled it under Sir Alex Ferguson's claret-coloured nose.

There's no doubt that Fraizer, the young inspiration behind our promotion, would come here permanently given the chance, so it's up to Sir Alex now. We've done all we can.

Take the money, Fergie. You know it's the right thing to do...

Friday, 29 August 2008

Aim on Andrews

Blackburn Rovers' decision to sign Keith Andrews, the captain of MK Dons, for a fee which could rise to £1million will, I assume, be greeted with hilarious incredulity by fans of Hull City who watched the Irishman's one season with the Tigers.

Andrews had been a long-serving occasional midfielder for Wolves when Peter Taylor picked him up for free to add some experience of the second level to a team which had been newly-promoted and was rather raw.

His knowledge of the division made him fairly untypical an acquisition for Taylor, who had always made a point of purchasing for the future rather than seek short-term gratification, unless the situation was serious enough to demand it.

Andrews was vying with Stuart Green for a place in the centre of the field alongside Ian Ashbee. However, a season-long injury to Ashbee put paid to that theory, a disappointment confounded further when Andrews suffered an injury himself which rendered him unavailable for two months. During the absence of both, Green and John Welsh managed to keep things ticking over with bite and creativity.

Eventually Andrews came back and became the Ashbee figure rather than the probing, pace-controlling architect of the game. This is why Hull City fans never saw Andrews' best work, and why he was rather bemoaned for the rest of the season.

Andrews was very much a 'square ball' type of holding player. He was neat, he rarely did something daft with the ball, but by the same token few of his passes were anything more than possession retainers. This was fine, but Ashbee had crunching tackles and leadership qualities which Andrews didn't seem able to replicate. The Tigers fans, missing Ashbee as the team struggled a little, were underwhelmed.

City survived with a degree of comfort, which was the remit, and Taylor left for Crystal Palace. Upon the arrival of Phil Parkinson as his replacement, Andrews was deemed surplus to requirements, with Ashbee's prognosis good and Dean Marney's arrival. MK Dons offered him a way out and Parkinson took it without asking for a fee. Andrews left with barely a whimper and with no goals to his name from 24 League starts. In fact, I can only remember him ever having one shot

Andrews has, undoubtedly, flourished in a creative role at the Dons. Promotion, plus captaining the team to the Football League Trophy, has made him unquestionably the most admired player by opposition fans and neutrals alike in the lower divisions but it is still something of a shock that Paul Ince, his old gaffer at Milton Keynes, has decided that this 27 year old semi-journeyman will fit into his plans for Blackburn's midfield. There is no doubt, judging by the evidence of Blackburn's performance versus the Tigers last week, that the Rovers midfield needs some reinforcements adding, but recruiting a lower division skipper isn't necessarily the most obvious method of filling the gaps.

That said, Ince knows the player well from being his team-mate at Wolves and his manager at MK Dons and clearly trusts his own judgement. I can't imagine Blackburn dancing in the streets over it, and I certainly imagine Tigers fans passing a few chortles upon hearing the news, but ultimately maybe this is the opportunity Andrews has been waiting for; previously his talents have been misrepresented by either not playing enough, playing out of position or having to carry a team. Now he's in the company of Premier League class and style, he may just prove inspired by it, and an inspired signing as a result.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Lost in France

Ryan France's shift in the centre of midfield for Hull City in the Carling Cup exit at Swansea was, for him as an individual, possibly his most important game yet in his distinguished Tigers career.

For too long France has, rightly or wrongly, been a forgotten man for City. Purchased and cosseted by Peter Taylor, he has struggled with injury but particularly with his own image since his mentor left the club in 2006. An unglamorous, uncomplaining character, his demeanour has been his biggest enemy in the Parkinson and Brown eras.

A dreadful knee injury midway through 06/07 rendered him free of the radar for almost a year, but even so there is a nagging disappointment about the way France has not been able - yet - to emulate the achievements of Ian Ashbee, Boaz Myhill and Andy Dawson as players who have worn the Tigers' colours in all four divisions.

It's early days of course, and after his stoic and endeavour-laden performance within a team of flinchers at the Liberty Stadium, it shouldn't be a surprise if his manager, who has always publicly backed him and praised him, finds room for France among the seven reserves for the visit of Wigan Athletic on Saturday. It's not something to lay odds on, but if he reason for picking an XI of reserves was to acquire evidence of who fancies the Premier League task most, then only France - of the outfield - gained a grade A with an asterisk attached.

France's background is one of those footballing rags-to-riches tales, albeit one which has involved numerous seasons of honesty and patience, rather than the DJ Campbell-esque climb to Birmingham City and the top flight which involved one FA Cup tie for Yeading on the telly and then a brace for Brentford against a Sunderland defence leakier than a colander stall. France was the talented undergraduate playing for Alfreton Town who was scouted for City by Taylor's haggard assistant Colin Murphy and given his chance in the bottom division after completing his studies.

There followed two seasons of being reliable, useful and - the double-edged compliment - versatile. Taylor would select France for the right side of midfield, where he was a willing runner and capable crosser while also being able to squeeze into a more defensive mode when pressure was upped. However, in City's free-scoring era (Elliott, Allsopp, Burgess) it was France who often had to be sacrificed when Jason Price or somesuch more glamorous wideman was injected into the game. If he started the game at all, France would be either hauled off or told to drop in at right back.

This versatility has done him more harm than good, as ultimately the specialists will always win when a manager selects his team, rather than the chap who is more of a Swiss army knife performer. Such multi-skilling has maintained France's career with the Tigers through the divisions, even though once we rose from League One to the Championship he ceased to be anything more than a tactical choice or one included by dint of being fit. Taylor selected him at right back a lot but would have prefered to have had others available, and when it came to the right side of midfield France only featured fleetingly, as his manager preferred the extremely left-footed Kevin Ellison even after selling Price to Doncaster.

Phil Parkinson seemed totally unsure as to what France could do when he took over from Taylor. The current manager likes and admires France. He has made that plain. But he won't pick him unless it's a rest day (Swansea) or enforced by injury troubles within the squad. France was deployed in midfield a couple of times as City staved off relegation in 2007, but a cruciate injury midway through the same season set back any progress he needed to make as Brown began to plan the Tigers' assault on the Championship for the next year.

It took until January for France to return, given an unusual central midfield role as Brown, true to form, rested the top names for the deeply unappetising FA Cup third round tie at Plymouth. City played poorly in the first half but France skipped around the middle like a new player, helping inspire the Tigers almost to an unlikely (and, in all truth, unwelcome) replay, with the home side clinging on to a 3-2 win. Just as Brown made final decisions about Stuart Elliott and Sam Collins that day - both were farmed out elsewhere the same month, never to return - he presumably made a decision of a more positive nature about France. For all that, it was a rare sight to see the scampering midfielder in a Tigers shirt thereafter as City aimed successfully for the top flight, even though he was in the Wembley squad and had a medal hung round his neck.

So now, with a year left on his deal, it appears France is proving himself to his manager all over again. Ultimately, he isn't going to start on the right hand side of midfield due to the presences collectively of Richard Garcia and Craig Fagan. His efforts against Swansea will not drag him beyond Ian Ashbee, George Boateng or Dean Marney for the central roles, and with Sam Ricketts being City's best right back ever, as simple a fact about one of our players as it is possible to declare, France won't be going there either. Yet his performance, albeit one easier to notice because its quality wasn't replicated elsewhere in the team, confirmed his acute usefulness and professionalism, keeping him somehow vital to City's cause. Others who didn't accept the challenge - and there were more than not - may not be seen in a Tigers shirt again for some time. France's doggedness at the Liberty Stadium may keep him part of the club's Premier League adventure for that bit longer.

Not even for sentimental reasons do I hope he stays - I even hope he may be rewarded for his attitude with an extra year, though I wouldn't be surprised if Brown allowed him to leave eventually with the thanks and good wishes of us all ringing in his ears. I certainly want to add France's name to the list of 'immortalised' figures at the side of this blog before he goes though, and he's one single Premier League cameo away from me doing so.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Carling Cup 2nd round: Swansea City 2 - 1 Hull City (AET) - 26/08/08

So, that was the League Cup for Hull City then. A competition which is not yet 50 years old, is treated with similar affection as dog dirt on the shoe by the biggest clubs (until they reach the final, then it becomes a massive, all-compassing, decade-defining event) and City have let their involvement wither away and die in 120 artless minutes.

This was very hard to watch, especially after half time. Until then, the Tigers looked slick against their progressive opponents at the grandly-named and not soulless Liberty Stadium. Swansea City, who were today's Hull City in a previous life (Toshack, Curtis and those fences at the Vetch in the early 1980s helping them to quickfire promotions from bottom to top), are new to the Championship but have the ambition, support and facilities to make their way up and out of there as swiftly as possible.

Phil Brown, despite himself, saw his Hull City side reach the third round last season, thanks to a cakewalk at Crewe and then a fine, galvanising 1-0 win at Premier League side Wigan Athletic which saw the last goal in Tigers attire from Stuart Elliott and the first glimpse of signing-in-waiting Caleb Folan, who would join City a week or so later from the Latics. Chelsea destroyed us in the next round but a few quid was made. It certainly didn't affect our form as we began our assault on the division which led to promotion.

This time, Brown picked the entire second string, chaps whose Premier League involvement will be dictated purely by injuries to more prized possessions in the squad. Nobody who began at Blackburn was in the starting XI in south Wales, and so you'd expect the men in our weird lead-coloured change strip to grasp the opportunity with strong fists.

For the most part, they didn't.

The first half was pretty but not productive enough. City made ample chances, generated enough possession to prompt occasional cheers per pass from the travelling contingent (147 of them, thanks to the Swansea tannoy bloke whose bass setting was too loud on his graphic equalizer) and exercised a spot of head-patting lording over the hosts, but only scored once. That's dangerous.

The goal was divine though. Nick Barmby and Bryan Hughes slickly changed passes to fox the Swansea outfield and it was left to Folan to give Windass all the room he needed to turn the final defender and crisply steer a left-footer beyond Dorus De Vries' right hand.

This was easy. It could and should have been, at least. City got cocky, too intricate, looking for total football and as such chances were spurned or not even foisted upon the opposition goalkeeper, whose relationship to 1970s-serving Tigers left back Roger De Vries is not yet clear, never mind the bloke who sponsors the KC's west stand.

Swansea's main issue when in possession was the velocity of their passing. It was unclear just how many concessions their own manager, Roberto Martinez, had made in his own team selection (though dangerous top scorer Jason Scotland wasn't in sight) but those who threw out there for the evening in the spotlight had a distinct trouble in playing passes which actually reached their target.

For all that, they made opportunities in a first half they'd care to forget. Handy striker Guillem Bauza picked himself up from a Wayne Brown foul to ghost past keeper Matt Duke, who hauls him down. A penalty seems obvious, a red card a possibility. However, the referee decided Bauza had fouled Brown immediately before Brown had returned the favour, and the Tigers luckily get a free kick when they could have been a goal and a man down. Shaun McDonald headed a corner goalwards only for it to deflected away by Ryan France; then Brown himself got across to snuff out the danger from the uber-dangerous Jordi Gomez as he bore in on a through ball.

What else for the Tigers, though? Not a lot, beyond the possession. It was all eyes (well, 147 pairs of them anyway) on the Windass/Folan partnership, really. Both knew they were working with and for one another, but also knew that whoever put in the best shift would start at Wigan due to Marlon King's ineligibility. It emerged that while Windass was witthdrawn in the second half, he clearly had the better time of it, even though Folan played the full 120 and had more possession. Given the age and mobility factor, however, a display of adequacy in a muted Carling Cup tie does not a Premier League starter make. Windass scored, wasted less ball and generally got on the right side of most things involving him, but the head says Folan will get the nod.

Anyway, the second half. This is where City's obvious class, coupled with the gulf in fitness levels would rbeak Swansea's hope, sending them back to the Championship with a sense of their own futility. Erm, except the Tigers were appalling. Carelessly, wearily, arrogantly so.

The home side fought. They wanted to get their scalp and the only surprise about the equaliser was the length of time it actually took to arrive. Before it did, substitute Gorka Pintado, on some sort of mission after his early introduction, slapped a hurried shot over the bar from Garry Monk's fine build-up (evading a foul from Brown in the process, for which the shiny-pated City defender was retrospectively booked); then the same sub prompted a fine stretching save from Duke as he met a corner unmarked.

All this was building up to the leveller which finally came when Gomez chipped in a deft ball for Pintado to glance beyond Duke's glove on 63 minutes. 1-1 and no less than Swansea deserved. More to the point, no less than a toothless Tigers outfit deserved too. Reserves destined to remain so.

Guys like Bryan Hughes could have used a game like this to re-stablish their Premier League credentials. Hughes' good fortune at the end of last season, when he featured in all of the play-off games after Dean Marney was struck down with injury, has not transferred itself to pre-season when his manager seemed deeply unimpressed. he hasn't made a bench yet, but upon a recll for this game seemed to have taken nothing on board in terms of work rate or desire to find the correct pass.

For Wayne Brown, it was an exercise in brutality over subtlety, and as Gomez and later Pintado gave him hell, it emphasised the wisdom with which his namesake manager recruited a new centre back partner for Michael Turner in the summer. Wayne Brown worked a treat in the Championship; on the basis of this display against Swansea, his Premier League credentials seem scarce.

Others got a chance who seem to be on a permanent fringe list. Nathan Doyle gatecrashed the play-off party with two sub appearances and a goal after spending the whole campaign waving from the back, trying to get his gaffer's eye. he played at left back and showed endeavour without enchantment. Ryan France, a fine footballer in our lower league life, got a central role and outplayed Hughes substantially but still lacks something, even though it isn't effort. Barmby, Windass, Folan and the underwhleming (so far) new boy Peter Halmosi will all get their moments in the Premier League but one has to question how much their importance to the cause has diminished since promotion. Duke has been the reserve keeper since the dawn of time, albeit a very good one. Liam Cooper is a kid who'll make it somewhere else other than Hull City.

As for Bernard Mendy, the experienced French defender we bought with glee in the summer, well, he looks like several accidents waiting to happen at once.

Swansea squeezed the Tigers as much as they could in the final quarter of the 90 minutes. Gomez had crosses just evade their target, a shot off the post and then put Pintado in on 88 which was only halted by a brave dive at his feet by Duke.

Three minutes of injury time and an extra 30 minutes was clearly going to happen. This wasn't in the script - the script of a Premier League club who should know better than to get caught like this, and the script of 147 crazy fools who'd made the long journey with the not untoward hope of getting home before 1am.

But wait! Game over. A minute into the additional time, Brown fouled Febian Brandy. It's only the League Cup, give them their late penalty victory and we can get home before the onset of Wednesday's daylight.

Duke flings himself to his left and saves. Brilliant, it has to be said. One of those moments where you congratulate the keeper and celebrate his personal triumph - this is a football player who had treatment for testicular cancer last year - but at the same time, the dullness and meaninglessness of the occasion meant we would have been happy (no, not happy, but begrudgingly accepting) of a 2-1 defeat in the early rounds of the least prestigious competition and a chance to get away.

Hey ho, extra time. Michael Turner, who doesn't allow guff like this, gets on from the bench for young Cooper. City had already introduced King (so much for being ineligible via his loan) for Windass and young Nicky Featherstone, a local boy on a permanent periphery of the first team, for Barmby. Now Turner, our gallant and towering central defender who'll become our first-ever England player soon, is on. He'll put a stop to this. He'll prevent penalties.

Yep, he did. By fouling Shaun McDonald in the box just before the first period was done. Gomez took it this time, and scored. Duke went the other way. 2-1 to the home side and a sense of relief.

Mind you, we nearly prolonged the anguish further by equalising very late on. Hughes, playing a ball which worked for once, delivered a free kick to the far post where a panicky defender headed right across his own goal. Folan was there, finally ready to sieze his chance from a couple of yards - and headed it over the bar. Despair. And yet relief too. To go all the way to Swansea to lose on penalties would have been an extravagance even the hardest of diehards would have found difficult to justify.

The final whistle was greeted with joy from the home contingent and a murmur of discontentment from the few Tigers fans who'd stuck around for the whole sorry evening. Plusses? France had a good match, but he isn't Ashbee or Marney and he'll only join that list of players to have featured for the Tigers in all four divisions via the bench and an injury crisis. Duke was ace, and it's a comfort to know he's there and ravenous in the event of Boaz Myhill coming unstuck. Windass probably did enough in an hour than Folan in twice the time to get on board against Wigan, but that's in the lap of the gods now.

The rest deserve the title of fringe player - they looked like nothing else.

Swansea City: De Vries, Painter, Monk, Collins (Rangel 55), Serran, Orlandi, Gomez, Tudur-Jones, MacDonald, Allen (Pintado 54), Bauza (Brandy 81). Subs not used: O'Leary, Tate, Gower, Lawrence.

Hull City: Duke, Mendy, Cooper (Turner 91), Brown, Doyle, Barmby (Featherstone 72), Hughes, France, Halmosi, Folan, Windass (King 62). Subs not used: Atkinson, Garcia, Welsh, Warner.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Liberty for Deano

Tomorrow night we may finally see Dean Windass back in a Hull City shirt for his first competitive appearance since his day of immortality at Wembley. However, the story tellers still won't get their chance to wax lyrical about a near 40 year old playing at the top of the English game, for it is merely a Carling Cup tie.

Windass will feel put out by his absence thus far; an absence which has seen him placed on the new-look bloated benches but not yet called upon to make a grand entrance into the Premier League scene, one which he last graced six years ago at Middlesbrough. He has also watched while the other replacement striker available, Caleb Folan, has received his call-up on both occasions, going so far as to score a memorable winning goal after a late introduction to the game on the opening day.

For all the disappointment he'll feel, however, Windass is not unprofessional. Even before he had changed back into his club suit in the Wembley dressing room, City fans were blessing his existence while simultaneously wondering how effective, certainly as a starting striker, he would be against the very top defences. At 39, he has the talent and guile, not to mention the cynicism, to ruffle any well-paid back four feathers, but he hasn't the pace and probably not the stamina either. First impressions of Phil Brown's thinking is that Windass, for all that he would not wish to alter that beautiful moment at Wembley, has been hoisted by his own petard.

Still, a Carling Cup tie at a very tricky and inconvenient venue would give Brown ample opportunity to gauge the Windass attitude once given his opportunity. The ineligibility of Marlon King due to the terms of his loan deal from Wigan Athletic, plus Brown's own sense of priority (he picked reserves through our three Carling Cup games last season and our one FA Cup tie), suggests that Windass, and probably Folan, will each get a starting role at Swansea City. The extra carrot on the stick for each is that King is also not going to be around for Saturday as we're playing his parent club, so whoever performs best at the Liberty Stadium against the League One champions will almost certainly keep their place for the Latics' weekend jolly over to Hull.

Windass gets the attention for sentimental and parochial reasons; Folan, however, has his own incentives. Wigan was the team which, albeit not under their current manager, accepted a million pounds of Paul Duffen's money a few days shy of a year ago and sent their lanky, velvet-voiced striker across the Pennines. His previous brief foray in the top tier at an end, Folan would now relish the chance to show his old employers that they were wrong to take the money, for all the value it seemed to represent for both sides, and therefore one good display at Swansea will represent an excellent opportunity for him to secure a starting place at the KC.

Folan also has acquired one of those unfortunate reputations as a 'supersub', a kind of Red Adair figure who swoops into action in an emergency and stamps on wayward fires by grabbing winners or absolute clinchers, something which was as evident as ever with the world watching as City made their Premier League bow. It grabs him the glory, but it does him no long-term favours - like a versatile player who is best used only when someone takes a whack, a so-called supersub is deemed to be less effective when starting a game. Folan, a good pro, has proved himself many a time as a starter in City colours, but needs to do so all over again.

So, both will probably start at Swansea in a very tricky tie against a side we got used to playing frequently at their hideous, shabby and perennially muddy old Vetch Field ground in the bad old 1990s. We can expect to see other fringe players like Bryan Hughes, Wayne Brown and even one of Boaz Myhill's netminding understudies to get the call too.

But as far as those two centre forwards are concerned, we shall simply see who does best. If it's 2-0 with goals from Windass and Folan, to pluck an example randomly out, the manager will be forced into a decision on Saturday which will require serious guts.

Sunday, 24 August 2008

02: Blackburn Rovers 1 - 1 Hull City - 23/08/2008

No, the Premier League isn't easy. But, if you've got a sound team, high fitness levels, solid tactics and a desire to exploit the prejudice naturally aimed by the glitterati towards clubs who've just been promoted, then you've got half a chance.

Hull City are proving this. At Blackburn, it was clear that the home side felt they'd almost been given a bye when the fixture list turned the Tigers up for the opening game at Ewood Park. Such noises may not have been coming officially out of the club, but the lax attitude of their players and some appallingly patronising comments from their supporters overheard beforehand made sure their position on such a trifling issue as playing Hull City was felt.

So, we outplayed them. Beyond that - we outmuscled them, out-tried them, outran them. We created more chances, we had tremendous possession and finished the stronger, fitter and more ravenous side. A spot of tranquillity when faced with an opening on goal was all that separated us from a second haul of three points.

Phil Brown made two changes from the opening line-up against Fulham. Nick Barmby, ineffective as an all-round wideman at the KC last week, made way for the enigmatic Craig Fagan, who started in his familiar right hand role, prompting a switch to the opposite side for new Aussie cap Richard Garcia. Meanwhile, the influential George Boateng, carried off twice on his debut the week prior, couldn't shake off the groin injury suffered and Dean Marney, another enigma of recent times, slotted into the midfield.

Backed by 4,000 noisy (very, very noisy; brilliantly, characteristically noisy) travelling members of the expanding Tiger Nation, City started encouragingly. Brazilian conjurer Geovanni was set free by Marney after Blackburn cocked up a corner, but his shot hit the side netting.

It's bright. Blackburn make half-chances, with David Dunn to the fore, but either Michael Turner or Anthony Gardner do their job in the centre of defence and Boaz Myhill is extremely well shielded in City's goal. At the other end, Geovanni reminds us that sometimes even your Brazilian twinkletoes can get taffled up, as he sends a free kick, Marney-esque, closer to Clitheroe than the Rovers net.

Marney blocks excellently as Dunn shapes to shoot from the same range which had curled Rovers lusciously ahead the week before at Everton, then Morten Gamst Pedersen (now with Pedersen on his back again, having switched to Gamst for a bit so as not to be confused with the glorious Henrik) swatted a sweet left foot bouncer just wide of Myhill's post after Gardner could only get half a nod on Steven Reid's free kick.

This opening quarter of the game telegraphed the pace of the Premier League and exposed, wonderfully, the high fitness levels of the Tigers players which the manager had made a point of highlighting in all of his post-match interviews seven days ago. It may get tougher as the season wears on and the knocks and scrapes begin to appear, but right now we'll compete on a total even level on fitness alone. The rest is then up to the players.

Gardner and a skipper now beyond adjectival superlatives, Ian Ashbee, put in some glorious tackles as Rovers began to apply more of a squeeze on possession. This was trenches stuff, but we were prepared and equipped. And, when given the opportunity, we could still create too.

Myhill's sharp thinking allowed him to hurl a ball clutched from a corner into Geovanni's path. The Brazilian fed Marlon King who sent Marney haring down the right via the overlap. Marney's unselfishness was to his credit but Fagan's failure to anticipate the far post ball meant that hindsight was yelling at Marney to have a shot next time. He was certainly in a position so to do.

King, looking stronger than the week before, had a shot blocked by Chris Samba on the half hour as City pressed further. A defence which had looked impenetrable had given the attacking forces
scope to express themselves. Then the defence let the side down, a rare occasion indeed.

Reid, centrally based and looking to cause damage, sent a clean ball through the inside right channel for Jason Roberts to chase. Everybody expected a flag, it didn't arrive, and Roberts took his time before steering a collected finish past Myhill.

Hoots of derision followed the action replay on Ewood's screen as City fans protested that such showed proof of Roberts' mistimed run, but Sam Ricketts hadn't quite stepped up in time on the opposite side, something which the camerawork didn't quite manage to include. Correct decision, if not a justified goal on possession.

Still, it's not as if we weren't sure of ourselves, though few could imagine we would fashion an equaliser within 30 seconds of being adrift. From the kick off, the ball was spread to Andy Dawson who hit a long diagonal ball towards King. The challenge arrowed the ball to Fagan whose inside turn and left foot cross looked initially way too long, yet Garcia had spread wide and, unchallenged and level with the Rovers defence, looped a fine header over Paul Robinson and in via a post.

There was bedlam, mayhem and all those other words meaning bedlam and mayhem which surely exist in our language. Brown did his almost customary three trots on to the pitch before punching the air high and, after a roaringly brilliant double tackle by Turner on Roque Santa Cruz as the prolific striker smelled black and amber blood, the Tigers went in at the break with a goal, a character-laden comeback and a feeling of being really rather satisfied.

Dunn, the Rovers creative force, didn't emerge for the second half, which was a bonus. Robinson, meanwhile, creditably chose to silence the small undertone of cretinous booing which was gradually being aimed his way by applauding the Tigers fans, as one of which the Beverley-born keeper counts himself, and receiving considerable return acclaim from the 4,000. What a nice place the Premier League is.

City began the second half smartly, despite a defensive reshuffle forced when Dawson took a hefty ankle whack and was replaced by French debutant Bernard Mendy, who took over the right hand side with Ricketts shifting across to his international role on the left.

This second half was Fagan's. Time and again he was sent clear by Marney or Geovanni, and time and again he made light work of England couldabeen Stephen Warnock. The issue with Fagan has always been that he struggles to find the right cross when played wide and is less than adept at finishing when played centrally. There is still work to be done on the former, given that he is unlikely to feature as a central striker for City again. But for some of his time he's also struggled, albeit via injury troubles, to get into crossing positions, and yet here he was giving an England left back (six minutes of international football only, fewer even than our own Brian Marwood) a runaround of torrid proportions, having pickpocketed (no Lineker-esque gags about Fagan here, if you don't mind - that's Fagin anyway Gary) another England couldabeen left back in Paul Konchesky to set up the winner a week earlier.

Geovanni put him through and his cross was panic-inducing among the Rovers back line, the scuffed clearance bouncing before Marney, who shot over. Then Fagan skipped clear again and gave King a chance but the flag went up for offside as he and Robinson went in, studs and gloves respectively, to win it.

By this point Geovanni had been withdrawn in favour of Caleb Folan, scorer of that Fagan-created clincher against Fulham, and instantly he clipped a clever ball over the defence for the tiring but far from workshy King to chase, but Robinson just got there first.

Blackburn, realising that something would have to improve, started to up the pressure and City coped manfully. Turner was forever winning headers, Ashbee's tackling was beyond committed, and the home side - not to mention a morbidly silent home support - were struggling. Santa Cruz managed one twist away from Gardner but the shot was tame and weary and not worthy of a new four-year contract. It seemed that, even though this was the Premier League and therefore any experienced side could just win it with a click of the fingers, City were best placed to take the points if they wanted them.

And want them they did. King and Folan both smelt goal from inside the area but Rovers defenders replicated the efforts of Turner by placing last-gasp bodily parts in the way. Brown sent on Barmby to replace goalscorer Garcia, who got a tumultuous reception from the 4,000, meaning that yet again Dean Windass remained benched and bibbed for the game and the Sunday newspaper hacks had been denied the story they had craved.

City forced a late corner, their only one of the half, which Marney shaped to take. There's no sign of the old, profligate Marney on set-pieces any more as this one whizzed dangerously into the six yard zone where Folan's forehead met it, but he couldn't quite transfer enough beef on the ball and it flew across goal and away.

Still City kept coming as the board indicated four minutes added time. Folan followed a half clearance with a 25 yard volley which was hit with the required cleanliness but straight at Robinson. Then the gangly striker chased down a wide ball and fed the advancing Ricketts who was on target but didn't connect well enough with his low right-footer, and Robinson got down to hold it at his near post.

And there was one more go, as the busy Folan, petrifying a Premier League defence with similar gusto as he showed to the more fragile Championship back lines last year, made room for a near post shot which again Robinson was in the right position to pouch.

Pedersen and sub Tugay both had long-rangers watched out of harm's way by Myhill as Blackburn's late attempt at winning proved weak by comparison. The final whistle heralded a shrilling cheer of victory from the City fans, for a mere 1-1 draw. But everybody would have taken a point, and the fact that we could feel ever so mildly disillusioned at not winning the match shows how far we are coming and how up to the task we seem. A lot of people are going to be proved wrong, it appears.

Fitness, collective responsibility, confidence and no little quality have punctuated our opening two performances in the top tier of the English game. Such endeavour and concentration has reaped a reward of four points and - still - a record as the only side ever not to lose a Premier League match. Keep watching, there'll be more of this to come.

Blackburn Rovers: Robinson, Ooijer, Samba, Nelsen, Warnock, Reid, Mokoena (Kerimoglu 67), Dunn (Emerton 46), Pedersen, Roque Santa Cruz, Roberts (McCarthy 81). Subs not used: Simpson, Treacy, Derbyshire, Brown.

Hull City:
Myhill, Ricketts, Turner, Gardner, Dawson (Mendy 58), Garcia (Barmby 78), Ashbee, Marney, Fagan, Geovanni (Folan 65), King. Subs not used: Brown, Windass, Duke, Halmosi.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Taking Campbell's return for granted

First refusal on him Hull City may have, but right now it looks less and less likely that Fraizer Campbell, the biggest single catalyst of our rise up the Championship in the second half of last season, will be coming back to the club.

Not for a while anyway.

This has been subject to speculation and innuendo which has been all over the shop. For those of you in need of memory refreshment, Campbell is a 21 year old striker of promise and pace who has come through Manchester United's ranks and was snapped up for City on a three month loan by Phil Brown in October last year. His impact was instant, with goals, speed and amazing confidence making him the scourge of Championship back fours and prompting our manager to persuade Sir Alex Ferguson into extending the loan for the whole season. He ended the campaign as our top scorer and with a play-off winners medal round his neck and a black and amber wig on his head.

Upon the end of his loan, the word seemed to be that Ferguson was going to take a long look at Campbell over the summer - he was involved heavily in the first team squad's pre-season tour of South Africa - and make a decision. Campbell then scored the only goal of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's testimonial match against Espanyol and, with Saha gone crap, Rooney forced out of position, Ronaldo in plaster and Tevez back in South America after a bereavement, kept a starting place when Newcastle United visited Old Trafford in the opening weekend of the season. He played very well too, nearly scoring with a close range header.

The word seemed to be that Campbell would come back to the KC on loan - nobody has ever expected him to return as a full-time player, even though we could probably afford him - once Ferguson had secured the signature of a top-line international centre forward, with Tottenham's Dimitar Berbatov the main target. Unfortunately, Tottenham have been unduly dogged in their reluctance to allow any sort of deal for their prized striker to go through, especially after seeing another Big Four (how I hate that phrase) club in Liverpool take Robbie Keane off their hands. The prospect of Tottenham relying on Darren Bent for goals while Keane and Berbatov strengthen two sides who are already considerably better than them is not exactly a jolly one for their supporters.

That said, hope remains. Berbatov was on the bench as Spurs capitulated at Middlesbrough last weekend, an odd decision for Juande Ramos to take considering the evident lack of high-class cover available to him with Keane gone and Bent not. Such a selection, or lack of, by the Tottenham coach surely gives hope for Ferguson, who isn't exactly prone to giving up on pressurising lower order sides for their best players, that a deal can be done before the deadline on September 1st, and Berbatov's sulky disposition on the bench (and largely toothless contribution to the match once he was off it) coupled with his publicly pronounced "dream" of a move to Old Trafford, could only enhance it further.

Only once Ramos takes his finger out of his backside and either picks Berbatov or sells him, can Ferguson make a decision on Campbell. If Ramos picks Berbatov, Campbell stays put. If he flogs him, Campbell comes back to the KC. It does seem to be that simple, that cut and dried. Campbell himself is already immortalised by the achievements he helped attain for Hull City, and utterly idolised by the supporters who have never seen such youthful talent pulling on a shirt in their name before - witness the mega reaction he got from the crowd when Campbell came on as a substitute for the England Under 21s at the KC earlier this week.

And, on top of all this, Campbell absolutely loved playing for Hull City and he strikes me as the type of lad who would quite like to be an all-time hero of a club. He became a superstar and a Wembley winner - something which he is less likely to achieve at Old Trafford unless he responds to the lack of Berbatov immediately and starts scoring hatfuls of goals. How many goals you can get into a hat, I've never been wholly sure...

The salient point seems to have eluded most City fans, including me, during this speculative period since Wembley. We all wanted Campbell back, on loan or permanently, and even the Tigers chairman and manager made positive comments about it. However, we've always been under the assumption that Campbell would somehow be not good enough for Manchester United, something we could never know for sure without seeing him play in their first team. Therefore it was clear that Ferguson was going to try him out, even though maybe it was a little sooner than we first presupposed. Now he has tried him out and Campbell did well (if not exceptionally so), he will do so again. And if Campbell does turn out to be good enough after a few games, at least for further involvement in the Manchester United first team picture, Ferguson isn't going to let him loose for the benefit of another Premier League club when he can do so at his own.

The worst case scenario for us could easily happen - Campbell could turn out to be good enough and Berbatov is still purchased in order to partner him. Then it's back to the drawing board, possibly scanning Arsenal or Chelsea's youth team for their version of Campbell - however, that will always be more of a risk when you are recruiting for the Premier League. Part of Campbell's successes came because, frankly, he was playing in a lesser division against lesser teams with slower, dumber defenders - Campbell Mk II won't have that luxury or freedom. Until we play Stoke, at least.

Meanwhile, it's Marlon King or Caleb Folan or Campbell's mentor, the iconic Dean Windass, who will get to play ahead of Geovanni up front for the Tigers when we go to Blackburn tomorrow. This could be the case for quite some time - even as far ahead as the January window, by which time of course, Campbell may have become established at Manchester United - with or without Berbatov - and the chances of him coming back to us reduced to nil.

All of those players have their strengths, but I'd still have Campbell ahead of any of them. I suspect Phil Brown, looking at the devil-crested hotline on his office phone, would feel the same.
For now, however, Campbell has a red shirt on his back. It's up to him, then up to Ferguson, how long it stays there and whether it will again, this season or ever, change to black and amber stripes.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Garcia gets into the Australia squad

Richard Garcia has been called into the Australia national squad, the unattractively-named Socceroos, for a game against South Africa tonight at QPR's ground in west London.

I suppose it shows how far both Garcia and Hull City have come, but frankly, he's as good now as he was throughout an excellent season last year when he had to deal with initially indifferent form and then a bereavement which led to a gruelling round-the-world mercy trip which none of us would ever wish to go through.

So why didn't the Aussies call him up last year? It would appear, even in a country as renowned for its classlessness as Australia, that their coach Pim Verbeek (I love that name - imagine being Mr and Mrs Verbeek anxiously debating what to call their newborn son) has exercised a spot of snobbery and decided that now Garcia has contributed to a promotion campaign and played a single Premier League match, that he is good enough for his team.

This happened last season, albeit to a lesser extent. Damien Delaney played for us for six years and was, for almost all of the time, an excellent and reliable performer in defence (except when Phil Parkinson madly believed he could turn him into a left-winger) but he was never brought into the Republic of Ireland squad. The moment he joined QPR in January, a club in the same division as us (though lower) but perceived as 'bigger', he got his call-up.

City haven't had an Aussie international before. Danny Allsopp's two caps came long after he'd left us and gone back home, whereas I don't know if Jason van Blerk had an international string to his very left-footed bow, but given that we were in the bottom division under Brian Little when he played for us I suspect that any caps which came his way were during the more elevated spells of his career.

I suppose we should be grateful, then. Garcia will probably play tonight but at least he's not flying back to Australia for it, which he will have to do if he maintains his profile with Verbeek and receives call-ups for the World Cup qualifiers. It's come to the stage where Aussie and South African footballers are now all based in Europe so their friendly internationals need to be played on our continent too.

I'm a little nervous about Garcia picking up an injury, but I suspect Phil Brown is more so. Throughout last season we were fortunate that only Sam Ricketts was regularly beetling off for international duty and always came back unscathed. We have to face Blackburn away this weekend, and with Craig Fagan the main understudy for the right midfield spot, I think we're all praying for Garcia's unblemished return to the fold more than ever.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

01: Hull City 2 - 1 Fulham - 16/08/2008

Although every Hull City supporter's ambitions were achieved one May afternoon at Wembley, it's clear that the club are determined to make new, even more unlikely ambitions come to fruition if our opening Premier League game is anything to go by.

The Tigers launched their campaign with the world watching and listening and the cynics lazily expecting a capitulation on a par with that of Derby County last season.

Well, yah boo sucks to you, you cloud-headed ignorami. We've already equalled Derby in one single game.

That's because we won.

A near-capacity 24,000+ crowd welcomed deafeningly a Tigers side, resplendent in their new stripes, just before 3pm. By eight minutes past, the obvious early nerves had caught up with us and Fulham, pretty but pensive, took the lead.

A cross from the right from the effectual Jimmy Bullard prompted Michael Turner, last season's Player of the Year, to mistime his headed clearance and Korean dangerman Seol Ki-Hyeon's forehead connected first, diligently glancing the ball beyond Boaz Myhill's right hand.

By this time, Simon Davies had already missed with a volley and as Fulham's throttlehold on the match tightened, new signing Zoltan Gera thighed a shot into the crowd as the defence panicked around Davies' curling cross.

The Tigers settled a little more. Certainly a good chance had gone begging when Mark Schwarzer, the big Aussie keeper signed from Middlesbrough who played appallingly in an FA Cup replay against us two years ago, denied Brazilian debutant Geovanni with a smart save and then picked his enormous Antipodean frame up to get in the way of history-making skipper Ian Ashbee's follow-up.

Geovanni then made a spot more history in the city of Hull when he took Sam Ricketts' pass and, with Fulham opening, Red Sea-like, in front of him, cantered into a shooting position before delivering a marvellous left-footer into the far corner.

The noise was eruptive, explosive, a sound enveloped in relief and elation. And Fulham barely squeaked again afterwards.

Half time came and went, and City were more than satisfied.

The second half was a stirring affair. It was clear, even allowing for Fulham's status last season of survivors through meagre goal difference and no more, City were by far more ravenous for the three points. It was one-way traffic.

The chances were all created by the Tigers. Ashbee fed Nick Barmby on the left whose cross was all set to be planted home by Geovanni's left foot volley-in-waiting, but he studded it into the turf and wide. A waste, but gratifyingly Fulham were not the team to exploit such wasted moments - something which will not be repeated by more stringent opposition as the season prolongs.

George Boateng, by some distance as effective as Geovanni despite not having the obvious stand-out quality, then sent fellow debutant Marlon King away and as the new striker shaped to cut in and shoot, Brede Hangeland managed to put a heroically late instep in the way of the ball.

Onwards and forwards came the Tigers, with Richard Garcia firing a bouncing and awkward cross shot towards the far post from King's ball, with Schwarzer doing well to keep a grasp.

Phil Brown rang the changes, ushering on all three of his permitted substitutes before his well-spoken Fulham counterpart had chosen even one. Another debutant, Peter Halmosi, replaced the tiring Barmby; then Caleb Folan replaced King and finally Craig Fagan, earning the most remarkable second go at the Premier League after playing for that toe-curling Derby side last year, swapped with Garcia. And it was the latter two who combined with nine minutes left to complete a stunning day's work for the Tigers.

Fagan hunted down England wannabe Paul Konchesky, forced him into a stumble and then - as the crowd expected him to shoot straight at the keeper - he nonchalantly played the ball across Schwarzer and the last defender for Folan to glide it in, just beyond the stretch of Aaron Hughes' leg.

Boateng then suffered two injuries - not many players get carried off twice - meaning the Tigers ended with ten men and played through five minutes of added time, but the win was sealed and the sound of jubilation which greeted the three shrills was akin to that of Wembley. Rapture, relief and another chapter in this remarkable run of great occasions which Hull City keep churning out.

Hull City: Myhill, Ricketts, Turner, Gardner, Dawson, Garcia (Fagan 74), Ashbee, Boateng, Barmby (Halmosi 62), Geovanni, King (Folan 70). Subs not used: Warner, Marney, Windass, Mendy.

Fulham: Schwarzer, Pantsil, Hangeland, Hughes, Konchesky, Davies, Murphy (Andreasen 85), Ki-Hyeon (Nevland 85), Bullard, Gera, Zamora (Dempsey 81). Subs not used: Zuberbuhler, Teymourian, Stoor, Kallio.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

"Quite simply destined to be from Dean Windass..."


This blog is here to chronicle the 2008-09 season ahead for Hull City in the Premier League. Expect match reports plus the odd general ramble and smidges of nostalgic wallowing.

Oh, by the way, here's the immortal goal which got us to the top division - at last.

The last pre-season friendly has just been played. Now the hard work begins!

This is what it's all about...