Sunday, 1 February 2009

24: Hull City 2 - 2 West Bromwich Albion - 31/01/2009

There was a sense of relief and yet an equally pungent sense of dissatisfaction from the masses as this lively match came to an end. After six straight defeats in the Premier League, finally Hull City had claimed some spoils. However, given how unequivocally atrocious West Bromwich Albion were in the first half, the game should have been out of their sight long before they began to play.

Still, having seen 27 points next to our name ever since we acquired that 2-2 draw at Liverpool, the rot has been stopped at last. And it was so with a skeletal side, featuring eight Championship performers within the starting XI thanks to a short but expensive injury list.

Jimmy Bullard, it would appear, needs an operation on his knee already, after a mere 40 minutes of football so far in his Hull City career. Daniel Cousin has knee issues too, while Manucho was rightly confined to the bench after a couple of whiffy displays since joining. In came Bernard Mendy, Craig Fagan and Richard Garcia, the latter of whom was playing as a central striker. Two ex-Colchester players were our best hope for goals in a crucial Premier League match. Matt Duke, meanwhile, had maintained his place in goal after his performance behind a wimpish outfield at West Ham.

With a swirling wind and a definite aura of nervousness in the howling air, the game got underway. And immediately it was obvious that Albion were struggling. They were prone to panic in defence, booting balls out here, there and anywhere irrespective of any pressure they were under, and their concession of possession was as remarkable as it was embarrassing. And in Scott Carson, they have a goalkeeper bereft of confidence and with far more apologists than he deserves.

For all that, City created few chances of an absolutely clear-cut variety but were beyond dominant as far as passing football was concerned. Carson messed up one clearance which almost gave Mendy hope of making space in the Albion penalty area, and the eventual clearance reached Dean Marney, whose shot was blocked, and then finally found Andy Dawson, whose effort was plucked from the air by a relived Albion keeper.

James Morrison screwed a half-decent chance well wide after robbing Mendy of position, but Duke was largely not required through the course of the half. Mendy, continuing his charming shtick of not knowing what he will do with the ball until he does it, began to dominate the match.

Breaking from a meleƩ near the touchline, the goofing Frenchman sent Garcia chasing a divine ball down the inside right channel but the Aussie's centre was a little too close to Ryan Donk who did enough to deny the hovering Fagan a proper shooting chance.

Carson and Donk both made a hash of a winding Dawson cross which got caught in the gales, and Marney followed up to see another shot smack a defender and bounce to safety.

This was encouraging stuff from the Tigers but there was still no tangible reward from the pressure. Albion's defence was in tatters, and more so through their own incompetence than through any relentless quality in City's attacking. Occasionally possession was maintained by the visitors, but for the most part little transpired from it due to wayward passing and poor positional support.

The only exception came when Chris Brunt, probably the Baggies' best performer, swung in a slick cross on to the chest of Marc-Antoine Fortune, whose chest back was met by the instep of Arsenal loanee Jay Simpson, who volleyed way too high.

City's clearest chance came on the half hour, when Kevin Kilbane whipped a splendid outswinger on to the free head of Garcia, who contrived to clear the crossbar by a couple of inches from just half a dozen yards out. Michael Turner, still kicking around up front after a free kick had been half-cleared, then found himself chasing a ball down the left side shortly afterwards, and his attempt to cross was almost good enough to find an unmarked Garcia until Carson's reflexes managed to get a grip on the ball.

Sam Ricketts then hurled a sublime long throw into the mixer which a terrified Paul Robinson backheaded over his own keeper, with Carson pedalling back fiercely to get a fingertip to the ball. Half time was approaching and worryingly, City had not managed to take one of the bucketful of opportunities created.

As the last minute of the half ticked along, City took possession through Ian Ashbee deep in the first third of the field, and the Tigers skipper swept a ball over every head which Mendy, timed to perfection, ran on to. His pace did the rest, as every potential marker was outstripped wholly, and he even had the wherewithal to take the ball around carson and guide it into an empty net.

Mendy wheeled round the KC pitch in celebration, running all the way to the technical area where he was engulfed by coaching staff and substitutes. The half time whistle sounded moments after the restart and City left the pitch as relieved as they were thrilled.

The second half began as the first had ended, with Mendy taking on the Albion defence. His twists and turns made room for an incisive centre which was headed out to Marney, and the midfielder's shot was batted away effectively but not convincingly by Carson. Mendy aimed the rebound at the side netting.

Kilbane then made room from a central position to unleash a powerful left-footer at Carson which again the keeper beats away, and Garcia's follow-up was deflected out for a corner, which Turner headed straight at Carson.

The game seemed to be continuing as City had intended, but then Albion responded with a sudden sucker-punch which didn't do wonders for the Tigers' defending. Morrison embarked on a weaving run from the left of the penalty area through three defenders with barely a foot being put in, and eventually Simpson took the ball off his toes and drilled a neat shot past Duke's right hand.

A thoroughly undeserved equaliser, and the nerves came flying back. Albion took heart from this, improving their attacking outlook despite still looking most dodgy at the back, and Brunt shot tamely at Duke after Robinson had made room for a cross from the left side.

City regroup. Balls fly in and Albion's defence continue their pattern of winning the headers but getting little purchase on the clearances. Marney wins a bouncing ball from one such header and finds Mendy, who crosses delightfully for Fagan to hurl his body at and aim a glorious header beyond Carson's right hand. A magnificent goal again, and this time surely there would be no way back for the Baggies.

Yet not only was there a way back, there was a quick way back. Fortune hit a vicious shot which Duke managed to parry, but as Robert Koren followed up, Kamil Zayatte swung a leg at the ball and got only the man. An obvious penalty, and Duke was close but not close enough to repeating his heroics at West Ham, diving the correct way as Brunt's low shot flew just under his glove and into the net.

Instantly, Ashbee hit a very hard shot from distance which Carson got a palm to without much knowledge of it, yet if anyone was now going to win this, it was the visitors. Roman Bednar came on as a sub, a chap who scores against Hull City with frequency, and immediately he tests Duke with an angled drive which the City stopper copes with well.

Brunt swung his weaker right foot at a ball which failed to trouble Duke, then Bednar's fellow sub Pele sliced a far post volley wide after Brunt's corner had cleared everyone else. Four minutes were added, and Dawson had to make one clearance of trepidation from within his own six yard area as Simpson moved in for the kill. That was the last hope for either team.

So a draw probably does both sides a bit of good, but City's domination of the match would cultivate a nagging doubt for a little longer that two points were dropped. A win was vital also because the write-off that is a trip to Chelsea - barring a miracle of Arsenal-esque proportions - is next on the fixture list, followed by the FA Cup tie. It will be a little while now before three points come our way again, but at least we've brought the sequence of defeats to an end and that small thing can be built into something big over the next few weeks.

Hull City: Duke, Ricketts, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson, Mendy, Garcia (Folan 81), Ashbee, Marney, Kilbane, Fagan. Subs not used: Myhill, Doyle, Geovanni, Hughes, France, Manucho.

West Bromwich Albion: Carson, Zuiverloon, Donk, Meite, Robinson, Morrison (Kim 76), Koren, Borja Valero (Pele 88), Brunt, Fortune (Bednar 75), Simpson. Subs not used: Kiely, Hoefkens, Cech, Filipe Teixeira.