Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Dawson's peak

You know that challenge by Bobby Moore regarded as the best ever? The one where he waits and waits as Jairzinho gallops his way at high speed before putting a precise, clean right boot through the ball during the 1970 World Cup? Well, we saw a tackle as good as that at the Emirates.

Actually, Andy Dawson's challenge on Theo Walcott outstrips Moore's, frankly. Walcott wasn't running at Dawson, he was running ahead of him, bearing down on the penalty box as the Tigers defence tried to backpedal their way into a worthwhile position of protection. Walcott, as we know, is rather sharp off the mark, even with a ball close to his feet. Dawson, fit and healthy but not the nippiest or the youngest, began from a position behind his man when the ball was zipped into the England player's path and had some lung-bursting work to do to regain ground.

The tackle from behind is, of course, illegal. Dawson, from his position, knew that trying to retrieve the ball and prevent Walcott from reaching a shooting position was too risky. Irrespective of a tackle's cleanliness, it is against the rules to do so from behind the player in possession and therefore an automatic foul, thereby almost certainly preventing a scoring opportunity. Dawson, essentially, was risking a red card, while the game was still in its opening spell. His experience shone through.

However, it meant he had to delay his tackle until he had reached Walcott in a side-on position. Dawson was running flat-out whereas Walcott wasn't quite at full tilt because he had the ball under close control. Try sprinting with a football, then sprinting without one. The difference is notable, and Walcott had needed to slow down just enough for Dawson to get to the side of his man as they each reached the edge of the Hull City box.

Now Dawson had to get his timing spot on. He found himself to Walcott's right, therefore making the natural tackling option a sliding motion while swirling his right boot around the ball. But Dawson, as City fans will note with a mixture of horror and humour when recalling his emergency spell at right back last season, can't use his right foot at all. So instead he combined his natural left-footed instinct with an unnatural tackling position and, thankfully, brilliantly, impeccably, they worked. The outside of his left boot stroked the ball from Walcott's control before Dawson's momentum could even touch the player. Walcott went down but every soul in the stadium knew straightaway that the tackle was clean, neat, judged to perfection and straight from the textbook.

Geovanni later took the glory, of course, and rightly so. Daniel Cousin then won us the game, but while the papers slavered over the goals and the shock value of the win, those of us heading back north knew that a masterly defensive display from all was as important, if not most important, in claiming victory. Andy Dawson's tackle on Theo Walcott was my moment of the match, and at least those who follow Hull City will be proud to recall it while the rest of the watching masses, obsessed with where Arsenal went wrong, have already forgotten it happened.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

06: Arsenal 1 - 2 Hull City - 27/09/2008

I am in a state of shock. A state of unrivalled, incomprehensible, magnificent delirium.

Let me state categorically that the ambition of Hull City fans as we pottered around the Piccadilly Line prior to this match was hovering somewhere between realistic and pessimistic. Some just wanted to get out without a battering. Some wanted the game to be a spectacle and for nobody to suffer injury. Me, I wanted the goal difference to stay down and to be able to celebrate a Hull City goal.

We got an inkling, however, of the way Phil Brown had decided to approach the game when the beep-beep of team news lodged into people's mobiles - and he had picked a 4-3-3. None of this business of packing the midfield with artless cloggers (though we personally have cloggers of great artful artlessness, if you please - footballists will understand that) and sticking one bored soul up front to pick his nose, natter to Kolo Touré and watch our defence die of exhaustion.

Instead, Brown recalled Geovanni to play behind a front two of Daniel Cousin and Marlon King, while restoring George Boateng to a broader midfield alongside Ian Ashbee and Dean Marney. The obvious threat of Theo Walcott lent some credence to the idea of Sam Ricketts' return at full back, but Brown kept the faith with the same foursome as had faced Everton, a decision made easier by Anthony Gardner's continued absence with injury.

Arsenal, in all their grandeur and wisdom, ditched all 11 toddlers who had given Sheffield United a thorough sodomising in the Carling Cup and restored the big Gunners - van Persie, Eboué, Adebayor, Fàbregas etc. They may not be English, but they represent English football's greatest exponents and Hull City had to face them.

Two quick observations about the opposition before the game got underway. Firstly, the Emirates Stadium is exceptional, but somehow I suspect many Arsenal fans still yearn for Highbury. It's not quite as amazing and atmospheric and aesthetically delightful as I'd pre-supposed, though the walkways, bridges and concourses - plus the efficiency of the staff - was most welcoming. Leicester City and Coventry City can learn from this lot.

Secondly, Arsenal should desist from announcing their players purely by their first names. That is exceptionally tacky. Maybe the exotica lent by such a multi-cultural team means that it sounds more grand to just proclaim "Theo!" and "Emmanuel!" and "William!" but it still fails in its presumed effort to make the players - on £80,000 or thereabouts a week - sound more in touch with the commoners. We couldn't do that - "Ian!" "Andy!" and "Dean!" wouldn't quite have the same impact.

Anyway, the game. As we settled into our padded seats and sang, Arsenal immediately did as nobody in the world wouldn't have expected - they took careful control of the ball and largely declined to let their opponents get any great feel of it.

This is where the entertainment value of such an occasion comes in. We didn't expect to get anything, but we didn't want a hammering either, for obvious reasons. However, hammerings in no-brainer games become ever so slightly more bearable if the football on show is evidently of a class so great, so highbrow, so immeasurable against any other bunch of dullards to have played Hull City off a park in the past (and there have been many hundreds of those) that you just find yourself sitting back, putting your allegiance as far to one side as you dare and being enthralled by the Beautiful Game.

Arsenal play the Beautiful Game. Their problem, however, is that they try to make it too beautiful. When a great long ball or an 18 yard or shot is the clear outcome of a move, they'll try one final bit of magic, as if they are given an "Ole!" bonus akin to those associated with goals or games.

Still, football like this needs to be tempered. Brown said this week that the physical side of football is more important than ever when against the most technically proficient sides, and City, essentially, got stuck in. Andy Dawson, a left back of fortitude and decency, may never have a finer 90 minutes in a Hull City shirt, and he saved his Condor moment for a match-up with Walcott.

One challenge, on the edge of his own box as England's brightest hope got a yard on him, was so impeccably timed that it should have received spontaneous applause from all in the ground, not just those of us who appreciate Dawson's energy, will and defensive ability. Although Walcott's moment would come, nothing became his performance against City quite as much as the way he was out-thought by a defender who is 30 next month and was only deemed good enough for Scunthorpe United ten years ago.

City in general followed Dawson's lead. Despite the progressive formation, the Tigers got men behind the ball and forced Arsenal more square than forward for large spells of the first half. Ashbee clattered anything in red, Boateng did so with extra subtlety. Dean Marney, whose place had been seemingly under threat of Boateng's return before Brown's cunning plan of attack was revealed, had a game of immense effectiveness - chasing and yet creating, tackling back and yet providing a visionary outlook. This allowed Geovanni room when he got the ball and gave both King and Cousin the scope to make runs and actually expect a football to land at their feet.

Geovanni had City's first real go at goal in the first half, turning an overhead kick high beyond the crossbar after Dawson's corner had been headed high rather than clear by Touré. Later, the enigmatic Brazilian - a player whom Brown seems to be reserving for the games we seemingly can't win without him - belted a good chance too high again after Cousin used his strength and experience to hold off William Gallas and play into his path.

Arsenal had the ball in the net when Emmanuel Adebayor, a player as recognisable now for the headphones round his neck during interviews as he is for his gawky goalscoring prowess, shoved Michael Turner and handled the ball as it bobbled past Boaz Myhill, but referee Alan Wiley - our Wembley ref, which was a fine omen - blew up in ample time.

City maintained their defensive discipline, with only Ashbee receiving a caution (and that appeared a tad harsh) while Turner and the quite superb Kamil Zayatte were as solid as any self-respecting piece of igneous calcium carbonate would aspire to be. Zayatte looks an awesome find, especially - we already knew that Turner was the greatest defender we'd ever had. Now we've acquired someone who, in these early stages, could prove roughly as crucial.

Aside from the tackling, blocking and closing down - all within the rules and all necessary to stop the technically excellent from showing their technical excellence - City were also merciless with their use of the offside trap and showed great promise on the counter attack. King stepped up to the plate here especially, taking numerous divine balls from Geovanni or Marney and working the wide positions while waiting, and usually getting, support from Cousin or one of the midfielders. The key was getting to half time unscathed, and so it happened. Goalless, and the applause from the Tiger Nation was as rapturous and proud as it was possible to be.

The second half started optimistically but clearly Arsene Wenger, for all his refinement and professor's eyeglasses, is capable of giving his players a thorough talking to. They blasted at City from the outset, and for the first time Walcott got the better of Dawson. He went outside, then in, then out and finally delivered a cross which hit Zayatte, then Fàbregas, and finally skidded over the line, with a hint of apology, via Paul McShane's shin. A goal from a City player, a goal fro Arsenal. Expecting Arsenal's janitor to be locating a key for the padlock on those floodgates, we took our seats, fearing the worst.

Arsenal were ahead for ten minutes.

Turner played a long crossfield ball which was gently nodded into Geovanni's path by Cousin. The Brazilian had to go backwards to cut inside Eboué, and with absolutely no right whatsoever to do so, promptly swiped a stunning, curling, dipping and heavenly 30-yarder beyond Manuel Almunia.

The mentalism among the City fans was something any scientist with ambitions to retire early would kill to bottle and sell. I have never, honestly, felt like that after a goal. A goal so gorgeous, so sweet, so spectacular, so unexpected and at such a venue, housing such extraordinary opposition.

This was different to Wembley, as there we had the pressure of being favourites and making club history on our backs. We responded. This time, we had no pressure whatsoever on us, except to maintain our integrity. Geovanni had just given us the greatest moment of our lives. Sorry Deano.

However, it was soon usurped as Cousin broke and tried a shot from distance which Touré deflected wide. Dawson swung in the corner and the Gabonese player got a meaty glance on the ball, finding the corner and re-enacting the bedlam, mayhem, insanity within the Tiger Nation's jam-packed section of the Emirates. Jesus H Corbett, we're 2-1 up at Arsenal...

There was still 25 minutes to go. Brown now finally had to err on caution's side, withdrawing Geovanni for Bryan Hughes and reverting to a proper 4-4-2 - still a set-up more positive than the one most sides opt for at the Emirates before a ball has been kicked. Richard Garcia then replaced a tiring Boateng, allowing Marney to reform his fine central partnership with Ashbee. Hughes and Garcia immediately combined to give the latter a half chance which he couldn't get his instep round.

Arsenal, joyously, withdrew Walcott and brought on Argentine teenager Carlos Vela, whose hat-trick had made Sheffield United's men look amusingly foolish in midweek. It wasn't the only change Wenger made, but ultimately he and all of us knew that the players on show still had all they needed to make our lead little more than a temporary flash of fortune.

And boy did the Gunners get at us in the closing minutes. Gallas powerfully headed a corner on to Myhill's bar, only for the rebound to hit young Vela before the child star could react - another day such a rebound bobbles in. Not this time.

Robin van Persie, an immense threat without an end product this time, put one shot wide on the run, then hit a late free kick into the wall, and finally crunched a left footer from 25 yards which seemed an obvious equaliser but cleared the bar by an inch, no more.

However, the best moment was reserved for our goalkeeper. Despite the onslaught, Myhill had needed to do very little due to the profligacy of Arsenal in either shooting off target or choosing to pass when the goal gaped before them. Yet his concentration and positioning hadn't dawdled throughout this period of pressure, and his tip-over from Fàbregas' rifled drive was a work of fine custodian's art, displayable in any footballing gallery the world over. Seriously. Cameras observed Brown celebrating it in the technical zone with the same fist-clenching glee he celebrated the goals - and, ultimately, the victory.

The final whistle was just a moment I feel I cannot put into words. It goes beyond language, beyond bodily changes (fast heartbeat, churned stomach) and almost feels too private to reveal, in any event. Hull City, going to Arsenal, in the Premier League - and winning from a position of a goal down? It isn't absurd, it isn't a dream, but the reality doesn't extend to description. I'm incapable. Just assume that I'm happy. Everyone else is - including the players, who saluted the Tiger Nation for a very long time after the greatest evening of achievement and dedication we've ever seen from men wearing the Hull City shirt. I dare not ask for more moments like this, but somehow I expect we'll get them.

Hull City, a force in the Premier League. It really is time you all accepted it!

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy, Eboué (Bendtner 69), Fàbregas, Denilson, Walcott (Vela 77), Adebayor, Van Persie. Subs not used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Song Billong, Silvestre, Djourou.

Hull City:
Myhill, McShane, Zayatte, Turner, Dawson, Marney, Boateng (Garcia 76), Geovanni (Hughes 72), Ashbee, Cousin (Mendy 80), King. Subs not used: Duke, Halmosi, Folan, Ricketts.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Windass of change

I suppose it was inevitable that Dean Windass would be not only unhappy at his recent omission from the Hull City side, but that he would seek publicity to do something about it.

Windass is our hero, of course he is. But this week he has tarnished his status, just a little, by complaining via his blog on the ITV website that he isn't getting a game and therefore should consider his options.

That's fine. For what it's worth, I don't believe Deano deserves a place in the starting XI and, with a large lump developing in my throat, I wasn't fussed when the teamsheet for the Everton game revealed he had now been removed from the bench too. He started the Carling Cup tie at Swansea, and scored, but failed to usurp Caleb Folan as far as the manager's thinking for the ineligible Marlon King's replacement for the game against Wigan the following weekend was concerned. He got a run-out in that game, which was already long lost, but hasn't been seen on the pitch since.

The question isn't about Deano's right to feel unloved; it's whether he was right to air his disappointments publicly before having the showdown talks with the manager he mentions. I have no gripe with players expressing a desire to play. I have more of a gripe with them courting publicity for their gripe prior to any clearing of the air with the club.

Deano chose to air his dirty linen in public before discussing his situation with his manager. For all Phil Brown's loyalty to his players, and presumably his gratitude to Deano for two great end-of-season acts in two years, he is doing what all managers should do - ruling with his head, not his heart.

If Phil Brown had ruled with his heart, he would have given Ryan France a game this season by now, just to get him on the list of players to have featured for the club in all four divisions. France is still waiting to see if he will ever get that opportunity to carve his name into the club's history slate before he is inevitably given a free transfer next summer. He is waiting because his manager isn't sentimental.

If Phil Brown had ruled with his heart, he would have maintained David Livermore's presence in the midfield last season as the player himself was doing well. He had been a crucial secondary contributor to our survival the year before. But, with his contract terms stipulating an extension after a certain number of games, the manager counted the matches, realised Livermore was not a long-term option for the club's ambition and dropped him before he'd reached the threshold. Livermore was released in the summer and now plays for Brighton. He is playing for Brighton because his manager last season wasn't sentimental.

Two big examples of late of Brown's ruthlessness. That's what he is paid for. And, with Deano, it looks like it's coming round again. Deano's supporters (which we all are) will claim he was the one who rescued Phil Brown from the sack in 2007 (his winner at Cardiff in the penultimate game sealing our Championship place for another year) and then took Phil Brown's side into the Premier League. They'd have a point on the former; less so on the latter. Windass was a catalyst in our survival, no doubt; but a year later his goal just tinlidded a wonderful team effort for a whole season, not just the play-offs or the ultimate day of glory at Wembley. Deano put a cherry on a cake which had been baked by the whole team.

Plus, frankly, Windass owes Brown too. He was plodding about in the bottom division at Bradford City, scoring nonchalant goals and plunging into two-footed tackles, bored and wanting more. Brown not only gave him the chance to climb two divisions and raise his game, he also allowed him the chance to create an Indian summer for himself with the club and fans he loved. Deano's ability did the rest. But it was Brown who opened the way for Windass to take his existing hero status beyond any comprehension.

The chairman, Paul Duffen, has told the local paper he'd like Windass to stay. He knows that Deano pulls in punters and has the fiercest of connections with the Hull and East Riding of Yorkshire public that nobody, not even Nick Barmby, can replicate. But ultimately it will be Brown's decision, taken purely on footballing terms, as to where Deano's future lies. Given that Marlon King, Geovanni, Daniel Cousin and Caleb Folan are all ahead of him, and Craig Fagan was until his injury, I suspect the future for Deano may be a little bleaker, especially if Brown doesn't take too kindly to public fits of pique in the media before having the chance to speak to his player.

The showdown talks may have happened by now, and I hope that the right conclusion has been reached. I fear, however, that the conclusion which is correct is for Windass to be allowed to find a new club in January. He can leave with his head held high and with a thousand memories he can relive with us, and privately, forever.

Ultimately, he isn't playing in the Premier League because he is too old, too slow and has defenders against him who, unlike those at Norwich, Blackpool, Barnsley and Burnley, know exactly how to keep him quiet. He may still have his uses, but the sad irony is that his Wembley goal was the goal that almost certainly ended his City career. As bittersweet as football could possibly be.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Old boys network

The past record of Hull City speaks for itself in terms of our lack of top-flight football until this season, but a further, more off-the-wall indication of our lack of size will be the number of ex-Tigers we come up against in the Premier League.

Any that we do face are more likely to be loanees who were sent by their big club to us upstarts in the Championship when the player was learning and we needed the extra bodies. And do you know how many Premier League ex-Tigers I can count, permanent or otherwise? Seven.

Doesn't sound a lot does it? For the permanent ex-Tiger, it means we've not sold on or produced many players capable of a much higher echelon of football; alternatively, it means we've kept most of the best ones for ourselves to plot our own rise through the ranks. I prefer the latter option. Anyway, in neither case did we sell upwards.

The two ex-Tigers in the Premier League who were our own players, not borrowed for a month or more, now play for Stoke City and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Leon Cort was a bonafide Hull City hero; Keith Andrews certainly not so, although he did receive some undue criticism. Even though both are Premier League players now (though Andrews has only just taken his seat) I wouldn't have either of them back. We're far beyond the stage of having the good-but-not-that-good Andrews in our midfield, irrespective of what Paul Ince says, while for all our gratitude to Cort, an amazingly dominant presence in our defence during Peter Taylor's last two years, Michael Turner has more than achieved his initial task of making his predecessor a piece of history. Glorious history, but history nonetheless. Cort left us for Crystal Palace, who were in the same division as us, while Andrews dropped two tiers to go to MK Dons. So it's not as if we were held to ransom by the players' attraction to bigger clubs or City's own desire for filthy lucre - although Cort did fetch £1.25million and represented excellent business.

As for the loanees, well there's Fraizer Campbell, obviously. He'll play against us for Tottenham next week after we've done our job on Arsenal this weekend (stop spluttering at the back there). We also had the pleasure of taking Neil Clement into our ranks last season. The West Bromwich Albion defender, was a little too left-sided on his debut (a right-footed mistake allowed Bristol City to take the lead) but settled in to cover Wayne Brown's injury lay-off in style before Tony Mowbray, realising we could usurp his own promotion aspirations with the aid of one of his own players, recalled him. Hard to blame him for that, and Brown had recovered in any event.

A third loanee was Mark Noble, the fiery West Ham United and England under 21 midfielder who played for us fleetingly in the 2006 season, Peter Taylor's last, and while clearly blessed with ability, didn't pull up any trees as a box-to-box midfielder. It's hard sometimes to understand how he became as good and as established at Upton Park as he did, but then one considers the upheaval, the benefit of added experience and the familiarity of being in his home territory to comprehend his lack of impact at Hull City compared to the higher standards he has shown with the Hammers. I think he's an excellent player.

Ricardo Vaz Te was the gawky, Portuguese striker on stilts who was snapped up from Brown's old club Bolton Wanderers, where he remains today, for a loan spell during the 2007 scrap. He clearly didn't feel like scrapping though - a few smart touches aside, he was a waste of a sub's shirt most of the time, finally having his spell shortened after his only start - a vile 3-1 Easter defeat by Wolves - where he was embarrassed by the endeavour and effort of his strike partner Nicky Forster and clearly did not want to know.

That leaves Danny Mills, then.

I am loath to discuss him at length, as a) his stint with us, and conduct since, deserves its own thread on here and will eventually get one (not for good reasons, I should clarify); and b) although he is still being paid by Manchester City, he hasn't had a sniff of the first team there for some considerable time - indeed, it was Stuart Pearce who initially tried to get rid of him, and Pearce's tenure at Eastlands seems a long time ago now. It's hard to accept that Mills is a Premier League player now on anything other than a technicality, and when Manchester City visit us next month he'll be nowhere near the action.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

We don't like Ricketts .... we love him

It really is most odd that the greatest right back in Hull City's history is currently unable to get in the team. Sam Ricketts has, for the first time, got proper competition for the role in the side which has been his and his alone for the last two years.

Paul McShane's arrival coincided with Ricketts' viral problem while away with the Wales squad, so the loanee from Sunderland with ginger hair, a place in the Republic of Ireland squad and potential for abysmal Hi-De-Hi jokes slipped into the old No.2 role, playing well at Newcastle but less so against Everton. Ricketts has been the defensive cover on the bench, getting on to the pitch on neither occasion.

Now, my view is that you can ask a Hull City supporter of any vintage who our greatest right back is, and even those who go all dewy-eyed at the mention of Chilton and Wagstaff and still claim that those gifted but unfit legends of the 1960s represent our finest era, will almost certainly pick Ricketts ahead of the likes of Frank Banks, Gordon Nisbet, Peter Daniel, Charlie Palmer or Mike Edwards.

There is, among the older generation, the Andy Davidson issue too. Davidson played at right back for most of his 15 senior seasons with the Tigers in the 1950s and 1960s, and as the man who tops the League appearances list for the club, has been both by default and on merit regarded as our greatest right back, despite admitting himself that he despised playing there. No matter now, as he's not any more in the starring role.

Ricketts was an impressive bit of business by Phil Parkinson, though his £300,000 fee (compared to £350,000 for Michael Turner and half a million for Dean Marney) meant he was initially overshadowed by his fellow new arrivals in the summer of 2006. His CV had an element of caution within it too; having left Oxford United (who were then still in the League), he'd been forced to drop into the non-league pyramid with Telford United (now defunct) to restart his career prior to being picked up as a very good find by Swansea City, the team whom Parkinson then approached to bring him to the KC. Yet while Turner was initially slow to settle and the homesick Marney on the brink of spontaneous combustion, Ricketts slotted in as if he'd been born and raised a City player.

A tremendous worker, Ricketts is a fine attacking full back who has mastered the balance between supporting via the overlap and maintaining a safe defensive position. His tackling is as impeccable in timing as I've ever seen in Hull City colours, and 2008 was a personal triumph for him, as it was for the whole back four, as City won promotion at Wembley through the policy of having a defence which refused to be breached - Ricketts' clearance in the 90th minute from his own six yard box as Darren Byfield shaped to score will stick in memories forever.

His facility to get up and down the field suggests a marvellous, enviable stamina. Once he's up there, he can cross the ball too, especially on the run, and has set up his share of goals thanks to pinpoint accuracy after a late, lung-bursting gallop down his flank. Last season he chipped in balls for Nick Barmby at Coventry City, Dean Windass against Blackpool (though Ricketts was unlucky to not to claim that himself) and Caleb Folan against Watford in the play-offs to score. Ricketts himself has only one goal to his name - the fourth in a 4-0 win over Southend two seasons ago which was hardly noticed because Windass had bagged the other three.

Versatility is another key aspect to Ricketts' game, even though it is still only a burgeoning versatility for City. He has been at right back throughout his time at the KC, yet plays with equal comfort and effectiveness at left back for his country. How often he has ever filled in on the right for Wales I've no idea; but he's never started a game at left back for City, and has rarely shifted across for tactical or injury reasons midway through a game (though Blackburn Rovers away this season was one example of him doing so). He maintained his position even when Parkinson signed the talented but divisive ex-England right back Danny Mills, a World Cup quarter finalist, who instead became the smallest central defender in Hull City history during his brief, eventful and retrospectively acrimonious stay. Even though Phil Brown has never had Ricketts down as his left back of choice - Andy Dawson's second wind has solved that problem before it even starts - it does City nothing but good to know that we have a full back who can and does play both sides without any detriment to the team's balance or compromise to Ricketts' own standards.

Lastly, Ricketts' reputation is also assisted by Hull City's appalling previous for recruiting bad right backs. Since Peter Taylor's merciless release of a crocked Edwards, a hero of the Great Escape defence, we've seen Alton Thelwell, Marc Joseph and Mark Lynch occupy the role despite all being entirely unreliable due to lack of fitness, lack of ability, or both. The brief period where Stev Angus came in on loan turned into a spot of relief, even though Taylor chose not to sign him permanently. Such was Taylor's problem in getting the right back spot nailed down, he found himself frequently selecting Ryan France, who for all his positional issues, turned into a far better bet than the supposedly naturalised candidates also in the squad.

Upon Taylor's departure and Parkinson's arrival, Ricketts turned up and the problem has never re-surfaced - until now. Clearly illness played a part, but there was open criticism of Ricketts for a slow start to the Premier League campaign when, as an international full back, he was perhaps expected to acclimatise more quickly than some of the other top-flight debutants. When Dawson's injury against Blackburn prompted a rare switch to his country position, Ricketts looked at his most comfortable, which is odd considering his club career currently consists of next to no experience on that side. Then, against Wigan, he swiped a corner into his own net, despite Boaz Myhill's shout behind him, and then the international break and his own brush with shingles prompted Brown, as unsentimental as they come, into a tough decision.

McShane's defensive attributes have looked sharp enough but he lacks pace and his distribution seems, at first glance, to be weak. It may well be that Ricketts has served both a punishment for poor form and a period of recovery after his virus, and by the time we go to Arsenal this weekend he will have reclaimed his spot. Given that Theo Walcott will be operating one flank and then another, someone with a soupçon of pace in the wider defensive positions is a must. That is still Sam Ricketts, and maybe a day out with the England star-in-waiting is just what he needs to administer the last of the boot leather in the region of his backside, and re-establish his credentials as Hull City's greatest right back. Because that's precisely what he is.

Monday, 22 September 2008

05: Hull City 2 - 2 Everton - 21/09/2008

How significant it feels when we acquire a point against one of the giants of English football, a team we haven't played for 55 years as our histories are so vastly contrasting, and yet we walk away bemoaning a victory let slip.

The basics are simple; City were infinitely better than Everton for the whole of the first half, but once we went 2-0 up early in the second, a mixture of nerves from the Tigers and an admirable refusal to panic from the visitors allowed David Moyes' men back in. So a draw was fair, even though Everton will feel the more grateful for it.

After the eyeful City gave Newcastle United last week, Phil Brown still felt obliged to ring some changes, and not just because of Craig Fagan's injury. New striker Daniel Cousin lined up alongside the hero of St James, Marlon King, while Kamil Zayatte started in defence for the first time in place of the injured (again) Anthony Gardner. Still no sign of Geovanni, Sam Ricketts or George Boateng in the first XI, while saintly locals Dean Windass and Nick Barmby didn't even trouble the bench.

Instantly, City were in the groove. Peter Halmosi slid and slithered his way past three blue-shirted aggressors in one lovely move, before delivering a smart cross which Bernard Mendy headed straight at Tim Howard.

City maintained some slick possession through this opening spell although Everton looked dangerous when they did grab the ball, and Marouane Fellani and Mikel Arteta both went close, with Boaz Myhill saving one and letting the other sail over the bar.

On marched the Toffeemen, seemingly buoyed by this early streak of possession, and Leon Osman - a fine footballer who seems considerably undervalued by everyone outside Goodison Park - swiped a skidding shot across Myhill and just wide after a low ball in from Phil Neville confused the City rearguard.

City then established full control of the game. King put Cousin in but Joseph Yobo got a strong block in, then King's fine ball from the wing gave the excellent Dean Marney time and room, and his crisp inside ball to Mendy was belted over by the Frenchman.

A corner was soon forced, and a key goalscoring tally got underway as Marney arched in a wicked delivery and Michael Turner rose high at the far post to head home, seemingly through Howard's hands. Turner's facility to get on the end of set-pieces became crucial in the promotion campaign and is now more key than ever as City look to establish themselves away from the lower reaches of the division.

So, 1-0, and deserved too. Moyes, oddly in a suit rather than his usual tracksuit and boots, was not at his happiest. He's such a surly, dour individual at times, and yet remains one of the managers that's easiest to like. Right now, his players knew he didn't like them. Their defence had proved their Achilles heel again as Turner was allowed to rise way too easily.

Tim Cahill, another fine footballer, nodded down a long Neville ball which Yakubu then volleyed cleanly goalwards, but right at Myhill. Snapshots, half-chances, that's all Everton were now managing.

At the other end, King swerved a delicious free kick just inches past Howard's post as City looked positive and resourceful. King then turned nicely on to Halmosi's cross after good advantage play by the referee, but shot over as Marney, placed perfectly, screamed for a tee-up. One up at the break, thunderous applause from the KC, but you could sense Everton would re-emerge a changed side.

They indeed were changed, not just in attitude but in personnel too. The dropped Joleon Lescott - vastly improved since his last visit to the KC, when Jon Parkin massacred him in a Championship clash against Wolves three seasons ago - was back in the defence and, even more ominously, Louis Saha was introduced up front. Everton immediately looked stronger, dominant and more ruthless. Yet it was City who scored next.

Another corner, Marney this time elected for the near post curler and shocking lack of communication between two defenders and Howard meant the ball deflected of Neville's head and Howard's gloves prior to crossing the line, with King adding a touch without any hope of claiming the goal. Neville was 'credited' with it but three Evertonians were to blame. No matter for City, they were 2-0 up and it looked peachy.

As if the nerves had arrived the moment the game restarted, City dropped deep. Remember when Peter Taylor's men used to defend leads by refusing to do anything of purpose with the ball? It happened again. It almost certainly wasn't under instruction from the technical area, but Everton found themselves in almost exclusive possession of the ball and despite some meaty defending from City, it seemed inevitable they'd pull one back.

City did cope, at first. Arteta fizzed a wonderful ball through to Saha, whose vicious hit was well pushed aside by Myhill. Then the same striker had one blocked into Lescott's path and the defender swatted the ball too high.

Phil Brown then made a mistake. He brought on Caleb Folan for Cousin - indeed this was two mistakes. Cousin had started quietly but seemed to be getting into more of a stride on his debut by the time the board went up, whereas King was shattered and looking less bothered. So the wrong striker came off - and the wrong one went on. Folan spent his 20 minutes looking severely off-the-boil, chasing little on the ground and winning even less in the air. Everton's notoriously shaky back line were now in a comfort zone, and they consequently could attack from the back.

So, Everton attack again. Osman turns and hits a cross shot which panics the Tigers defence and reaches Cahill. The shot gets a fingertip from Myhill, touches the bar and bounces down for Dawson to clear. Instant reaction here was that it was a goal, and indeed the assistant referee gave it. 2-1 now, and Brown's disgruntled reaction afterwards was with forked tongue, as the replay was not inconclusive, as he claimed. It was a goal. It was a hard call, but it was good officiating.

There are fewer than 20 minutes left when Cahill scores. Within another six minutes, Everton are level. Fellaini had already misconnected in front of goal from a Neville cross, allowing Myhill to grab the ball with no little relief, but the Tigers keeper - and, indeed, the rest of the side - were powerless as Saha and Yakubu combined gloriously on the left hand side, leaving the suspect Paul McShane dizzy and beaten, and the ball in from Yakubu was thighed home by Osman. It's a sickener, but a brilliant team goal and an example of what Premier League standard bearers can do to an inexperienced side. 2-2, and if anyone's going to win, it's Everton.

Ahead of Osman's leveller, Brown had introduced Richard Garcia for Mendy. For all Mendy's endeavour and silk on the ball, he remains an enigma and a danger to his own team in these early days and one wonders if Garcia - especially with Fagan now unavailable too - will reclaim the right hand side when City travel to Arsenal next week. The introduction of Boateng later for the dead-on-his-feet King was welcomed too, but without the Gunners in mind. Boateng's return to fitness is a boon, a godsend. But, thinking about it now, it seems a shoo-in that he'll start at the Emirates.

So, in the last ten minutes, either side could have won it. Myhill handled an Arteta swinger badly, leaving Saha with the open goal but a ridiculous angle. He got it right, but the keeper made up for his gaffe by scrambling back and - despite the crazy decision to give a goalkick - getting his fingers to the goalbound shot. At the other end, City won a free kick which was made in heaven for Andy Dawson, but a confusing unwillingness to let the left back test Howard ended up with a short ball to McShane which was duly wasted.

An apt result for the type of game it became, as each side received their rightful share of appreciative applause after an entertaining match. Those who bemoan the loss of two points have a pertinent issue to raise, but most of the establishment in English football will be capable of such turnarounds this season, irrespective of how they or their opponents are performing up to that point. City can be grateful and satisfied with the draw, knowing that after trying to keep the goal difference down at the Emirates next week, they can play Tottenham and West Ham in the weeks which follow and expect to use their Everton experience as a tool to win both.

Hull: Myhill, McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson, Mendy (Garcia 77), Ashbee, Marney, Halmosi, Cousin (Folan 69), King (Boateng 81). Subs not used: Duke, Geovanni, Hughes, Ricketts.

Everton: Howard, Neville, Jagielka, Yobo, Baines (Lescott 46), Osman, Fellaini, Arteta, Castillo (Saha 46), Cahill,Yakubu (Vaughan 87). Subs not used: Nash, Nuno Valente, Rodwell, Baxter.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Barmby more?

So what role now exists for the city's most famous footballing son, Nick Barmby?

The continued presence of Barmby in the Hull City first team squad is a great reassurance, if mainly now for his experience and integrity among younger, wider-eyed players. The trick of "fulfilling a lifetime's ambition" by joining City in League One (even though he could have fulfilled that ambition by signing schoolboy forms in 1988 when he was at Wolfreton, rather than going to Lilleshall and being wooed by Terry Venables) has been neatly pulled off and now he is regarded, at a slightly lower level than the media assumes, as a Hull City legend.

Barmby is 34 and has two issues to deal with in these twilight years of his. Firstly, it would appear that nobody, including himself and his manager, knows any more where his best position on the field is. The withdrawn schemer was his halcyon role at Spurs, Middlesbrough and either side of the Merseyside divide, but ultimately he was never the best option for that position exclusively at any of his clubs prior to joining Leeds United and being told he was too expensive to be picked at all.

Since Peter Taylor signed him in time for City's second successive promotion, he has enjoyed the "hole" role (he also played in the hole most weeks in League One simply due to the standard of ground we often turned up at - hello Valley Parade) but also had equally as elongated spells on the left flank. It is in this latter role, the position he most occupied in his 22 England appearances (when the left side was the much-debated "problem" position for Hoddle, Keegan and Eriksson), that Barmby's usefulness to Hull City is maintained, even with quicker, younger and less injury-prone players (though not necessarily better ones) competing for it.

Barmby started against Fulham on the opening day and played well, creating chances for others and seeing one long-range header give Mark Schwarzer a panic attack but drift just past the far post. However, he was substituted on the hour - a policy previously undertaken by Peter Taylor on an almost obsessive basis, irrespective of how well he or the team was performing - and along with the subsequent tactical alterations, City looked better equipped to win the game. And did.

Since then, barring the half-arsed Carling Cup exit at Swansea, Barmby hasn't started a match, instead being used as a late sub when the game was petering out (Blackburn) or already lost (Wigan). He was injured, news which went unheralded, prior to the Newcastle game. Although his straight replacement against Fulham, Peter Halmosi, is a proper flatpack already-assembled left-sided midfielder, (left-footed and everything), it's been the form of Craig Fagan and Richard Garcia that has initially convinced Phil Brown to reserve Barmby's fitness for needier occasions than early season outings against Blackburn and Wigan.

This leads us to Barmby's second issue - that of becoming more important as an ambassador for the club and the city rather than an actual player within the squad. He had lots of attention heaped on him by one-eyed media types during the play-offs because of his localness, though gratefully Dean Windass - less celebrated nationally but practically canonised in Hull - still took most of the focus thanks to his Wembley volley. Barmby missed almost all of last season with one injury after another, but despite being still unfit for Ipswich away in the final Championship match, was ready and willing for Watford in the play-offs. This extraordinary timing, coupled with Dean Marney's sad injury between Ipswich and Watford, gave him a lifeline to gatecrash the party. He scored in both semi-finals - his only other goal that season had been an equaliser at Coventry back in August - and then started the move which led to Fraizer Campbell chipping the ball on to the immortal Windass right instep at Wembley.

Thus the fawning from outlets beyond Hull City became totally without context. Barmby was portrayed as some kind of troubleshooter, kept secretly under hibernatory shelter through the colder months before emerging into the sunlight (and there was lots of that at Watford and Wembley) as the ballast within the week-in, week-out camp began to flag. The truth was that Barmby was, both through his return to fitness and the vacancy simultaneously created by Marney's knee problem, extremely fortunate to play. That he did play, and made such an impact, is to his utmost credit and I for one don't wish to sound like a churl nor devalue his contribution. But Hull City won the play-offs with Barmby, not because of him. If Bryan Hughes and Dean Marney had been in our midfield (Hughes on the left, Marney in the centre) for Watford, like they were much of the preceding weeks and months, City would still have been the best team in the play-offs. And had either of these players scored a crucial early opener at Watford, then bravely dived in to make sure the ball got over the line in the home leg four days later and curtail the Hornets' brief hopes of a comeback, they wouldn't have had half the attention that Barmby, the former England player and therefore someone the wider media had heard of, duly received. Indeed, they'd have had none. Aside from Windass, the real heroes of the play-offs were the clubmen, the guys who'd got City there by playing stunningly all season - Myhill, Ricketts, Turner, Ashbee - but none of them, not even Ashbee, can claim to be a) from Hull; and b) an ex-England player whose high-profile history (yes, let's mention he played in that England game in Munich again, shall we?) doesn't necessitate lots of research.

Phil Brown has a lot of time for Barmby, as player and man, and indeed his first decision upon inheriting the shambles Phil Parkinson had created in December 2006 was to restore Barmby back to the side. Taylor had forever substituted Barmby or switched him around; Parkinson just didn't have him in his thoughts at all, possibly due to his power as a local individual hero as much as any tactical or personal differences going on. Parkinson's indecision was final - though not just on Barmby, but also on John Welsh and Damien Delaney. Brown, meanwhile, allowed Barmby to claim a form of iconic status at City, especially during a campaign against relegation which made us believe that with Barmby and Windass, the two best footballers the Hull boundaries have ever produced, we were crazy to be in such a lowly position. But it was Windass who rescued us more than Barmby, and indeed Windass who did more to elevate us than Barmby a year later.

Somehow though, Barmby retains a level of mystique about his impact and status which, through no fault of his own, he doesn't entirely merit. A fantastic player, who could wear his dinner jacket in League One but has been nothing more than fleeting in his impact-making in the Championship, especially since Peter Taylor left, and yet away from Hull his status remains sky-high. Now he's back in the Premier League, where his lack of games this season - and yes, it is early days - could suggest that Brown is cherry-picking the occasions where Barmby's guile is required, but it could also suggest that his time as a player of any real regularity - and therefore any real use - is about to come to an end. He'll always be loved by Hull City fans for being "one of us" (despite being a multi-millionaire by the time he finally decided to play for the Tigers) but it will be outside sources which will maintain his name more than those who saw the team play.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

He's got no hair and we don't care ...

A sublime hat-trick from Kevin Ellison smacked the final nail into Alan Buckley's coffin at the weekend and the Grimsby manager left the club for the third time.

Now, there's no secret agent mission on Ellison's agenda as he enjoys a wonderful second spell at Chester City, but for an ex-Hull City winger to belt in a hat-trick at Blundell Park and prompt the departure of Grimsby's most successful (and yet, somehow, lowest profile) manager has a rather tasty irony to it. Maybe it's not quite on a par with Denis Law backheeling the ball into Manchester United's net to help send them down, or even that car crash performance by Liam Ridgewell in Birmingham's defence to contribute to his former club Aston Villa's win the season before last, but there's something to it.

Not least because Ellison's period at Hull City was very, very mixed up. It was hard to work out whether he was popular or not.

Ellison joined Hull City from Chester when Peter Taylor decided, in his wisdom, to buy a second left-sided midfielder as cover for the invaluable Stuart Elliott. Taylor went on record recently to say he always wanted two left backs "in the building" (natch), hence the arrival of Roland Edge to cover for Andy Dawson, because left back was the hardest position to cover if the first choice gets crocked. Presumably, this extended to left wingers/midfielders too, and so Ellison came across the Pennines midway through our League One season.

We shouldn't have been surprised at Ellison's arrival. Taylor knew him well from his time at Leicester, for whom Ellison made one appearance in the Premier League (as a sub, at Old Trafford!), and assistant Colin Murphy had later recommended him to Stockport, from whom he then joined Chester. Murphy was now Taylor's number two at the KC, and so Ellison joined up.

Familiar faces greeted him - not just Taylor and Murphy, but also his ex-Leicester team-mate Junior Lewis and former Stockport colleagues Ben Burgess, Aaron Wilbraham, Boaz Myhill and Damien Delaney. To complicate things further, Delaney had also been at Leicester. A real sense of in-breeding between three clubs was going on, but amidst it all, City were building a team.

What became obvious about Ellison from the start that he lacked outstanding ability but was a stunning example of effort over end product. He got some stick from lamer brains in the crowd, especially when having managed to get half a yard on a full back, he couldn't get his cross into the air and the first defender trapped it, but he was always ready to try again. Frustrating as Ellison often was, he forever wanted more. He never hid, he never shirked, he never reacted to catcalls nor seemed thrown or put off by them.

He made two telling individual contributions to the remainder of the League One season - scoring an exceptional goal at Tranmere (later to be usurped by Craig Fagan's debut goal in the same game) and hitting a queer as they come chip from halfway against Colchester at the KC with his apparently useless right foot, which came back off the bar and allowed Nick Barmby to follow up and score. The rest of that season, he was just there, trying so hard, putting his body into the cause, but rarely getting any good fortune. It was hard not to appreciate him, even if it was easy not to love him, but promotion for City certainly made it easy not to concentrate on him.

In the Championship, Ellison had some real mares - his first appearance of the season, in a 1-0 defeat at Wolves - was rightly criticised from all angles as the irrefutable proof that he wasn't up to the task. But, well, he got better. He was odd, he was eccentric, but he never played woefully and didn't lose us a match - indeed, he earned us an astonishing point at Southampton when, on as a sub, he battered his way past two defenders and cracked in a vicious shot from a wide angle which earned City a late 1-1 draw. His second goal only for City but like the first, it was memorable and vital.

His swansong period involved a clutch of memorably idiosyncratic performances on the right side of midfield, during which he never showed any intention of using his right foot, which came after Taylor fell out with Fagan in training and looked around to see who else was available for that berth.

Ellison didn't fit the bill in the slightest, but nonetheless managed to. A performance at Luton Town, which City won 3-2, was the highlight of his Tigers career, as he ripped their full back to pieces despite showing himself inside constantly, setting up two goals and receiving a standing ovation when withdrawn late on.

Taylor's resignation at the end of the season seemed destined to spell Ellison's end too. He turned down a move to Scunthorpe - which earned him one final shot of respect from the Tiger Nation - before agreeing to go back to his native Merseyside and join Tranmere, the club he had tortured in a City shirt just a season and a half before. A smattering of applause came his way when the Carling Cup draw brought him back to the KC within weeks, and he's now back at Chester, a club that adores him, and where he is evidently one of the best players in a bereft division.

And now Ellison has just managed to get the Grimsby manager fired. For all that he struggled to earn the Tiger Nation's love, he clearly has fond memories of us. And for that effort, that endeavour, that honesty and that bloody-mindedness, I may just add him to the list of greats on the right. He wasn't our finest player, but sometimes you want the really talented ones to be a bit more like him.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Thug on the Tyne

Craig Fagan has a fractured tibia after that horrendous hacking he took from Danny Guthrie in the last throes of Hull City's victory at poor ickle Newcastle on Saturday.

I hope you saw it on Match Of The Day. The pundits all said it was "stupid" which while true, didn't go far enough. It was vicious, wanton, savage, needless, brutal, childish. One player, angry and sobbing because his side are being squarely and soundly beaten, takes it out on a fellow professional who is doing his stoic duty in shielding the ball.

Guthrie, of course, had two goes at Fagan's legs. The first made contact but Fagan, like a man, stayed on his feet and managed to keep both his temper and his possession of the ball. So Guthrie, unabashed by this meagre act of class, had another go. Fagan went down, hurt and furious, but got back up again as players flew in to start/stop the scrapping.

Now while Guthrie got red, he deserves more than the tepid indignity of an early bath and a three match ban. All the paper and web talk has been about two less brutal acts of foul play which warranted red cards, but as they involved John Terry and Nemanja Vidic, they are automatically seen as important - indeed, the bare-faced temerity of a referee to send off the England captain is, naturally, a national scandal. The worse offence of the weekend committed by a red carded player was that of Guthrie, who has escaped major media censure because of a) the other dismissals; and b) the club he plays for. After all, it wouldn't do to be critical of Newcastle in any way would it, to kick out (you might say) at an organisation that's already down. Guthrie chose, by way of contrast, to kick out again and again until the man went down.

Guthrie was after the man, pure and simple. He didn't want the ball, he didn't attempt to get it on either occasion he approached Fagan with his instep ready to strike. Now one of Hull City's form players has been ruled out for three months, and we haven't the kind of strength in depth necessary at this level. Throwing the book at Guthrie, beyond a paltry ban, won't heal Fagan's leg up any quicker, but it may just provide some real justice for a shocking piece of pre-meditated violence - the kind that would get a certain team-mate of Guthrie's locked up.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

04: Newcastle United 1 - 2 Hull City - 13/09/2008

Of course, this was all because Newcastle United are a club in turmoil. Their defeat, paltry showing and lax attitude can be put purely down to the departure of the Messiah.

Heh. This is what those on Tyneside would have you believe. After all, a 2-1 home defeat can't possibly have anything to do with the sharpness, spirit and efficiency of Hull City, can it? They are only Hull City, after all.

Well, don't believe a word of the hype and propaganda which that pathetic bunch of spoilt, self-regarding cretins spit out. Newcastle United are a club in freefall. Team-wise, they have a superb goalkeeper, just one really good outfield player - a player who Mr Capello doesn't want at the moment - and a squad of ragbag individuals who struggle to make up a team. They are desperate, arrogant and in need of a trip into the real world.

Meanwhile, Phil Brown had decisions of his own to make. George Boateng travelled after his injury difficulties but was not risked, meaning the on-form Dean Marney kept his place alongside skipper Ian Ashbee in midfield. A new defence was stuck together, with Sunderland loanee Paul McShane slotting in at right back for his debut, with Anthony Gardner returning to the centre alongside colossus Michael Turner. There was no place for Sam Ricketts, who had to endure a long trip to Russia, 45 minutes of football and the effects of a virus during his sojourn with Wales. It's the first time he's ever been dropped while available for selection.

More tellingly, Brown seems to have tired of Geovanni's mere hour of influence and jettisoned the Brazilian in favour of a more central role for Craig Fagan, with Daniel Cousin having to serve a short ban before getting his debut. French comic and conjurer Bernard Mendy made his first start on the right of midfield while Peter Halmosi also acquired a starting place, having failed to do more than put on his training kit while away with Hungary.

So, with City forced into Newcastle's white socks and shorts because of a colour clash, we got underway. Supporters unfamiliar (and in some more rotund cases, incompatible) with the 14 flights of stairs to the top of the Sir John Hall Stand were still turning up long after the game was settling down.

The protests were loud but hollow - as ever, Newcastle fans unable to see their hands in front of their faces were chanting for the board to go, Ashley to go (he didn't sack Keegan, of course) and Wise to go (which I'll endorse, irrespective of whether he has done anything wrong, he's still Dennis Wise) and it was clear that the locals weren't that bothered about the game, not least because of their obvious disdain for the upstarts in grey who had turned up to play.

City took this in their stride. The first chance was theirs, with Fagan making a wide angled run before cutting in and wildly firing over. A poor effort, but alleviated by the intent behind it. Ashbee and the tremendous Marney were winning the midfield, King was giving urchin centre back Steven Taylor all sorts of trouble, Halmosi was having fun on his flank. It was all good.

Fagan, who spent his off the ball moments taking the mick out of Michael Owen, was rampant in his attacking mindset, teasing the home defence mercilessly before giving King a good shooting opening which Shay Given, a fine goalkeeper who really should have joined Arsenal when he had the chance, got his gloves round.

Newcastle rallied a little, with new Keegan-unapproved signing Xisco shaping to shoot after a counter attack, only for Gardner to get a solid and vital block on the ball from just six yards out. Then Geremi almost walked past Andy Dawson to deliver a far post ball which Danny Guthrie, possibly the most ineffective playmaker Newcastle have had, swiping his shot harmlessly back across the area.

On the half hour, Newcastle had a free kick. The damgerous whip-in was met by the glancing forehead of Owen but Boaz Myhill got down to get a brilliant palm on the ball. A world class save from a fine keeper against a striker who must be thanking his lucky stars he didn't snap Keegan's hand off when a three-year deal was put down in front of him days before the apocalypse.

Within two minutes of this wondrous piece of goalkeeping, City were at the other end, earning the lead. Marney fed Halmosi on the left side of the area and Nicky Butt, whose tackling earned him the tag of "Pele's Favourite Player" at the 2002 World Cup, took the Hungarian's legs away impetuously and stupidly. Penalty given, and King put home his first goal for the Tigers via Given's fingertips and a post.

The roar from the Tigers fans was huge, monstrous, and how notable that Newcastle's 'passionate' group of hardy devotees chose this moment to shut up completely. Well, how loyal you all are, eh? How supportive. Your team goes behind and needs you more than ever and you go into a big sulk, a humiliated collective huff. Newcastle fans and their adoration and commitment to their club is the biggest myth in football, bigger even than the falsely-raised status of size which the club itself (last trophy: 1969) claims. And we're beating them. This is good.

Half time, grinning from ear to ear from those who had climbed those endless stairwells to reach the summit, wiping the snow from their trainers as they found their seat. It was the easiest half of football we'd played since the second period against Watford at the KC in the play-offs. It wasn't over, but now we knew that a disparate group of Newcastle players were trying to heed the advice of an acting manager whose job was presumably on the cusp of termination once the club had brought in Keegan's replacement. We felt safe.

The second half was underway for mere seconds when Mendy, who clearly has great talent to go with the faux-showboating and tendency to commit almighty howlers, skipped and scampered his way to a cross which had Fagan's name on it, only for Motley Crue-haired defender Fabricio Coloccini to get his perm to it.

We did not need to wait much longer. Newcastle broke, slung too many men forward and when City won back possession, Halmosi and Marney combined to send King clear down the inside right channel. Momentarily the chance looked less likely when he had to cut inside on to his left but he wasted no time in placing a gorgeous curler past Given and sending the travelling Tiger Nation completely round the bend. King acknowledged the supporters with one arm raised, and afterwards needed treatment because we were so high up he was blinded by the sun.

We were 2-0 up and laughing - literally, this was. Not only was it an amazing feeling, it was funny. We were giving Newcastle, this forlorn club, desperate for love and sympathy, the spanking they deserved. Bubbles of grandeur had been popped conclusively. Some of their loyal supporters were leaving the ground. If I were influential at Newcastle, I'd ask them never to return, thanks. Then those three wretches did the circumference of the stadium with the COCKNEY MAFIA OUT! banner, earning applause from all sides and giggles from the City fans as we sang "Are you Grimsby in disguise?"

On the pitch, Newcastle caused a flurry of worry when Guthrie's cross turned into a shot which Myhill managed to touch on to the crossbar and away. But still City looked most likely to alter the scoreline. Mendy miskicked from 18 yards after fine work from McShane and King; then Turner headed home Halmosi's corner only for the referee to spot an obstruction of Given and whistle for a free kick.

Phil Brown brought on Caleb Folan for the excellent and eccentric Mendy, then Bryan Hughes - ever a surprising choice for the 18 - replaced Marney, who'd taken a knock but was by some distance the best midfielder on show. With ten minutes left as Guthrie battered another shot wastefully high and wide, it looked safe. Owen was dropping deeper and not making chances for himself, although one piece of heel-toe magic did bamboozle McShane and Gardner and leave even the City fans inwardly applauding the class on view.

Newcastle then scored, a little fortuitously, when Charles N'Zogbia, a good player who was noticeable for his anonymity here, aimed a shot past Myhill. It struck the post and bounced perfectly into the path of Xisco, who finished the job. It could have gone anywhere upon smacking the woodwork, but Newcastle got the break and Xisco retrieved the ball from the net. We expected an onslaught.

It never really happened. Newcastle had the possession but City's banks of four and five, helped by debutant Kamil Zayatte's introduction for the heroic King, mopped up everything and anything the Newcastle side could send our way. In the five minutes of injury time, the frustration turned into idiocy when Fagan was cracked nastily across the back of his legs by Guthrie as he timewasted in the corner, and the runny-nosed midfielder was given a straight red as players from all angles dived in.

The full time whistle was greeted by joy and mirth but not disbelief. We know the truth about how skilled, organised and laced in team spirit our squad is, and a few sniffy outsiders are beginning to realise this. A good time to play Newcastle United it maybe was, but a team still had to be carefully selected to account for an emotional atmosphere and an assumption of making up the numbers. This was an outstanding day in the history of Hull City. Newcastle United, meanwhile, should feel ashamed in all quarters - with the exception of the players. Matey owners, overrated managers and brainless supporters are merely part of the problem, not the solution. And didn't Hull City just prove it.

We're fourth in the table, with seven points from 12.

Newcastle United: Given, Edgar (Bassong 68), Taylor, Coloccini, N'Zogbia, Geremi, Butt, Guthrie, Xisco, Owen, Ameobi (Gonzalez 61). Subs not used: Harper, Cacapa, Danquah, Doninger, Donaldson

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Turner, Gardner, Dawson, Mendy (Folan 73), Marney (Hughes 78), Ashbee, Halmosi, King (Zayatte 83), Fagan. Subs not used: Duke, Windass, Geovanni, Ricketts

Friday, 12 September 2008

Toon it down

I'm quite looking forward to seeing exactly what form the protest will take involving Newcastle United fans prior to their game against us at St James Park tomorrow.

My hunch is that, as ever, the Toon Army (eugh) will be all talk. First up, they won't boycott the game. The money will roll in as ever, including for the half time pies and ale and the programmes and so on. Secondly, any protest will take place outside the ground and will be suitably imbecilic (talk of a conga around the circumference of the stadium is the latest rumour doing the rounds) but once in the ground the 'We Love You Kevin' chants will desist when the game is underway, especially if Newcastle score a goal.

Delusionally, Newcastle United fans have always claimed that their club is everyone else's second favourite, presumably unless you support Sunderland. However, the opposite is true in many cases. Supporters from all over the country, be they of Liverpool or Luton, Arsenal or Accrington, see Newcastle as one of the great con tricks of English football, somehow operating under a smokescreen which claims that passion is a viable alternative to success. Success which, I shouldn't hasten to add, adds up to precisely no trophies of any type since 1969.

I also hate the breed of supporter who turns up at the ground whenever something big breaks, purely in the hope of being able to gurn on the television and sing rude songs. Those sort of fans believe they are part of the solution, but they are really part of the problem. As long as clubs continue to kowtow to halfwits, they will get nowhere. The proper, knowing Newcastle fan is the one who stays at home when the unpleasantness hits the fan.

As for passion, well, it is fine. I have it for my club. But passion works more than one way. As well as being loud, wearing the shirt with pride, cheering for your team and all that, it also involves having faith in those who run the club, be they the owner, manager or players. What Newcastle United fans did to Sam Allardyce was scandalous. He didn't fit their criteria of manager - ie, he didn't have them playing football which induced multiple orgasms in the crowd and had sycophantic journalists polishing the gaffer's shoes with their tongues. But Allardyce was the best bet since Keegan first time round to get a trophy for Newcastle - and he wouldn't have bottled it and buggered off the moment the going got tough. Bolton Wanderers fans miss Allardyce like hell - and Bolton Wanderers were better than Newcastle for almost all of the Premier League time Allardyce spent with them.

The fans think that their voice, collective and sturdy, is gospel. Listen to what the fans say? Mike Ashley did that, and sacked Allardyce for Keegan. Now look at the state he and the club are in. It's the fans' fault as much as his. They are now managerless and clueless, and far worse off than when Allardyce was being booed for playing cautious football which didn't concede goals. They won't criticise Keegan, even though he was the one who walked out. Now they want Alan Shearer to take over, a man who has never managed or coached and won precisely nothing in his long association with Newcastle. They really don't learn. They deserve to be relegated; they certainly deserve to lose tomorrow. Who are they playing again?

Yep, it's us. Newcastle United are just ripe for Hull City to pick off, even though pundits automatically think that a crisis-hit club with a big stadium is still a better bet for three points than a smaller club which is more settled than most. As will be the case all year, we're being underestimated considerably.

I'm looking forward to this one. Cousin is suspended from his last Rangers game, but we've got three extra defensive options thanks to Zayatte and McShane's arrivals and Gardner's recovery. Plus we have George Boateng back. See you on the Metro...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Brown called to task by the FA

The FA have decided to charge Phil Brown with "improper conduct" following a touchline incident towards the end of the first half against Wigan Athletic.

Brown himself told the local radio station afterwards that he kicked a water bottle in dismay at something that went wrong on the pitch and it went too close to the fourth official. Words were exchanged and for the second half Brown sat in the West Stand of the KC, immediately behind the chairman, leaving dug-out duties to Brian Horton.

However, he did this of his own volition. He was not ordered from the technical area by anyone from the officiating team. He decided to go there himself, presumably to prevent any further grief from the fourth official about it during the second half. It can't have been for any other reason, as Brown has never been one for the shouting-down-the-mouthpiece routine.

Now, with the rapidity of decision-making for which they are not renowned, the FA have chosen to charge the Tigers boss, a whole nine days after the event. He could face a touchline exile of the not self-imposed variety if found guilty. Yet if it wasn't severe enough an offence to punish at the time, then why is it deemed so now? It's not like the retrospective stuff meted out to players who commit offences the referee fails to notice, as on this occasion Brown's misdemeanour clearly was noticed. By the fourth official, indeed. So presumably he was in a position to relegate Brown to the stands - but chose not to do so.

Hull City's manager could end up away from the touchline and a few grand out of pocket because of an offence which was seen by those in authority and yet went unpunished at the time of its commission. So who has now decided that the offence was bad enough to be punished? The FA, after all, can only act on recommendations within the post-match report of the officials ... presumably therefore, as well as charging Brown, they'll demote the officials in question for doing the wrong thing at the time. But don't hold your breath.

Friday, 5 September 2008

Hughes the loser now

More than a few eyebrows were raised when Bryan Hughes was among the 18 names scribbled on the teamsheet against Wigan Athletic. Injury to George Boateng had allowed Dean Marney an early promotion to the starting XI and this meant there was room for one more central midfielder on the bench, and it was Hughes who got the nod.

An experienced campaigner, Hughes was nonetheless little better than average throughout the promotion campaign. He was viewed, correctly, as an astute and quality signing when Phil Brown snapped him up on a free after Charlton Athletic, freshly relegated and about to stain the Championship with levels of gamesmanship previously thought impossible, decided to free him.

With him came considerable experience of the big occasion, having played in major showpiece events for Birmingham City in the earlier part of the decade. A calm and calculating figure in the centre of the park, he was a ballplayer who could spread the play and dictate the pace of the game.

Unfortunately, he was largely underwhelming and, occasionally, embarrassing in his lack of application. There were moments when he ruled matches, but these were few and far between, and once Jay Jay Okocha had arrived his nose seemed to be pushed considerably from its joint.

Hughes spent some time on the left wing, fitting his square peg in the round hole after Phil Brown sought ways to cover for Henrik Pedersen's perennial injury troubles that didn't involve picking fallen hero Stuart Elliott.

For all this, Hughes' biggest problem was himself. When he did play - and knocks to Okocha and Pedersen allowed him opportunities aplenty - he rarely dominated a game in the way a chap of his pedigree and skill should have been able so to do. Yet the crowd supported him throughout, as if they were trying to appreciate that he was adapting, he was new, he was being moved around too much. Marney, a younger and brighter midfielder, was never afforded the same courtesy.

Hughes scored one goal for Hull City last season; the final goal in a 5-0 pummeling of Southampton at the KC which the goalkeeper should have saved. His only other moment of memorability stemmed from a sickening smack to the head he took in the game against Blackpool at home. He was stretchered off unconscious and had two weeks out. His return was welcome on health grounds more than for any other reason.

As if to prove he was merely a big-game player, Hughes had solid matches in all three of the play-off encounters, but was only picked in the first place because of an injury to the luckless Marney. Hughes certainly should have felt fortunate as he reached a nadir in the final Championship match at Ipswich, when he wandered round embarrassingly for 90 minutes, head in the clouds, and with City still having a half-chance of automatic promotion if they could secure a victory. Ipswich won 1-0.

Hughes now is below Boateng and Marney, not to mention the skipper Ian Ashbee, for a central midfield spot, and after his ineffectual showing in the second string at Swansea City in the Carling Cup the other week, should be further down behind Ryan France too. His appearance on the bench for the Wigan game was down to an injury suffered by France, whose display alongside Hughes in the centre of the park at the Liberty put the more experienced campaigner to shame.

Hughes ultimately didn't get on the pitch for the Wigan match, and one has to wonder whether he will again with any frequency. For all his class and heritage, Bryan Hughes seems to be one of those players who has missed the Hull City boat.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Our perfect Cousin?

Botheration, we didn't get Fraizer. Once Tottenham Hotspur began playing ball with Manchester United over the alicebanded egotist Dimitar Berbatov, it became apparent that they might require some form of recompense beyond that within a large money bag.

So Campbell is now going to play for Tottenham Hotspur this season, alongside Darren Bent and that other new chap they've brought in from Spartak. Someone may ask why on earth he's chosen bit-part, makeweight status at White Hart Lane ahead of A-list, icon status at Hull, a place he took to like a cat to wool, but ultimately he didn't get much of a choice in the matter.

Paul Duffen offered £7million, and as Sky Sports breathlessly ticked down the seconds leading to last night's window shutting, it seemed that Wigan Athletic and Newcastle United had also expressed a very belated interest in him. At this stage, there was no point in me shouting "But he's ours!" as a) this is the Premier League, ruthless and unforgiving; and b) he wasn't ours at all. In spirit, maybe. Even if he never plays for Hull City again, and now I think he probably won't, his place in Tigers history is secure, and he knows it. We go to Tottenham in a month and if he plays we'll make sure he knows how loved he is. I'm also convinced that if he scores against us, he will not celebrate.

For all the disappointment, we have still acquired Daniel Cousin - taller and older than Campbell and something of a temperamental character. I heard Chic Young say on the BBC that if he gets out of the correct side of the bed he's an amazing asset to any team; but if he's not on song he's a right moody, grouchy, troublesome get. Time for Brian Horton to exercise his strangulation technique again, methinks...

So, the window's shut and we've got Cousin in on a three year deal, plus McShane and Zayatte on loan, defenders who hopefully will quickly disperse the memory of Wayne Brown's tragedy against Wigan. Fraizer Campbell, however, looks set to be nothing more than a glorious memory for Hull City but hey, at least we had a go.