Saturday, 22 August 2009

03: Hull City 1 - 0 Bolton Wanderers - 22/08/2009

We have our strike partnership at last. Moments after being introduced as a second half substitute, with the score blank and the opposition creating the chances, Jozy Altidore fed Kamel Ghilas and the Tigers broke the deadlock.

Altidore, frustratingly prevented until now from making his Hull City debut thanks to the sluggishness of the work permit system, had clearly been itching for some action. A lack of match practice, perhaps with a subtle hint of jetlag, had prevented him from commencing this match against an unambitious but effective Bolton side, but it was obvious as the game trundled past the hour mark that he would get his chance.

On for the hardworking but clueless Caleb Folan, the American instantly took the ball on the edge of the box, and possibly with a slice of fortune, lobbed the last line of defence into the path of Ghilas, whose excellent anticipation of the ball allowed him a clear chance to beat Jussi Jaaskelainen, and duly he did.

A goal past Jussi Jaaskelainen. These are infrequent occurrences when wearing Tigers colours but at last one had come that gave City the lead. From here onwards the result rarely looked in doubt, which again is some achievement given that this is the first win in the Premier League at the KC since December.

It's a pleasant feeling to win again, especially in this instance as until Altidore's introduction, City had been under a lot of coshes indeed. The power and focus of the marvellous Kevin Davies gave City's defence all sorts of grief, as did the delivery from the left of Matthew Taylor. A combination of inept finishing and desperate defending kept the visitors out.

Phil Brown selected a fresh team after the salutary lesson handed out by Tottenham Hotspur in midweek. Kamil Zayatte was the latest short-term solution given the right back role after a nervous performance from Steven Mouyokolo on Wednesday, while Kevin Kilbane replaced the exhausted George Boateng in midfield (which directed the captaincy to Michael Turner). Daniel Cousin was unsurprisingly jettisoned entirely, allowing Ghilas his first start, and Geovanni was an equally obvious shoo-in with Bernard Mendy giving way. Sam Ricketts, whose departure has caused all these right back problems, lined up in his specialist role for Bolton, whose fans were not plentiful in noise or numbers.

Bolton began the brighter, with Johan Elmander flashing a good chance all the way across goal after breaking a flimsy offside trap. City's response was to break the visitors' own rearguard with Seyi Olofinjana's ball sending Ghilas away, but that man Jaaskelainen just got there first.

Zayatte then switched passes with Olofinjana impressively, which turned Bolton's defenders on to their heels and allowed Ghilas an angled opportunity which Jaaskelainen saved well. Zayatte then did well with a typically directionless charge with the ball at his feet, rampaging across the pitch before feeding Stephen Hunt, whose drive went over.

Bolton patiently regained possession and forced a free kick from an impetuous City side, which was floated in by Taylor and headed high in the air by Gary Cahill, which Davies seemed favourite for until Boaz Myhill appeared with a sturdy fist to force the ball clear. Hunt then turned up on the right and was fouled, allowing him to swerve a free kick in from the position where he fluked the goal against Spurs, but this time the ball bounced wide after similarly avoiding every challenging forehead and Jaaskelainen's gloves.

The all-action Hunt was then booked for leaving a shin in the vicinity of the prostrate Taylor's head - he has a history of this kind of thing, of course - and Sean Davis whipped a shot in from the dead ball which flicked off the wall and away for a corner that came to nothing.

Geovanni, quietly influential thus far, then made room in a smart manner to get the ball positioned for a right foot shot which was aimed low and hard for Jaaskelainen's right, but the excellence of the goalkeeper came through again with a tidy reflex save.

Elmander then had a chance to score after City struggled like hell to clear one of Ricketts' familiar long throws, but scuffed the opportunity under a spot of pressure from Anthony Gardner, simplifying the save for Myhill.

Bolton were in a clear ascendancy as the half time whistle approached, with the hesitant Olofinjana robbed easily by Davis, who then feed Elmander in space. The final ball for Davies was good but he hurried the chance and sliced it wide.

Mark Davies - as if to confuse the situation even more - then tried a run from the back which went on and on until Olofinjana unlawfully brought it to a halt, receiving a yellow card for his trouble. Taylor, a specialist at these dead balls, curled a low effort round the wall which Myhill beat away late, with the Elmander follow up hacked clear from inside the six yard box by Zayatte. From the long throw that resulted, Kevin Davies headed over.

Davis then delivered a free kick right on half time which Elmander volleyed wastefully wide and City left the field knowing that they could have been a goal up or, more worryingly, three goals down. It wasn't abject but it was a concern. Fortunately, there seemed to be subs coiling on the bench, waiting to spring.

The second half started far more brightly for the Tigers. Andy Dawson's awkward cross was headed across goal by Folan but Geovanni wasted the volley. However, Bolton soon were putting the squeeze on again, with Kevin Davies heading a Taylor free kick wide, then sending Elmander away, whose instant heel touch gave Taylor a shooting chance which he never really got a proper hold of. Once Bolton nearly scored on the counter after dealing with a City long throw - Mark Davies headed a cross into the air from a decent position - a change was both urgent and obvious.

Altidore was ready, and Folan made way. A word for Folan here - he clearly has worked on his attitude and his mileage around the pitch, but ultimately he simply doesn't have the quality, either in front of goal or in deeper play, to make a significant contribution to a Premier League team. He has gained friends aplenty since the seasons' beginning - the most he has had since his winning goal on the inaugural day of football at this level for the Tigers against Fulham a year ago. But there comes a point where better players than he have to be located and hurled into the action, and it would be of no surprise if our first million pound player was sold on before long.

Altidore, stocky of shoulder and quick on his heels, made his immediate impact, giving the so far uiet but promising Ghilas his chance for goal, which he took with great aplomb, firing a visious close range shot into the roof of the exposed Jaaskelainen's net.

City were inspired, as the noise reached environmental health-baiting levels and further chances were created. A free kick was swung in by Hunt and Zayatte headed it wide. A superb counter then gave Altidore the chance of which he had dreamt, thanks to Ghilas' pace and Geovanni's divine final ball, but his cutely flicked shot beat the post - just - as well as Jaaskelainen.

Bolton were still in it, with Ricketts beating his old full back comrade Dawson to a through ball but aiming a weak left foot shot at Myhill, but still City searched for the clinching second goal, and it almost came when Zayatte's clearing header sent Ghilas through, onside, and he clattered the underside of the bar with his shot, prior to Altidore being crowded out for the rebound. A replay on the KC's big screen confirmed that the ball did not land over Jaaskelainen's line.

Altidore then got another gilt-edged chance to score on his long-awaited debut, thanks to Hunt's ballwinning skills and Geovanni's sublime through ball, but Jaaskelainen's heroics returned with style, blocking with both bravery and agility as the American struck a firm, on target shot. Ghilas put the rebound over the bar. Geovanni was then replaced by the more pragmatic Boateng, his work done.

Bolton had the best of the closing stages, with Taylor twice swinging in crosses which Myhill had to tip over. Fabrice Muamba shot wide from a cleared corner and, in injury time, Ricketts hit a dangerous low shot which Myhill had to stretch low to beat out, prior to blocking sub Lee Chung-Yong's follow-up. City could have clinched it when Craig Fagan, on for the tremendous Ghilas, saw his shot deflected wide after a good set-up by Altidore.

The last chance came in the fourth added minute, but Kevin Davies volleyed wide after a knockdown from Jaaskelainen's desperate long clearance. Myhill never moved, and his hands-on-head stance afterwards suggested he thought he was beaten. He wasn't, and neither were the Tigers. There was quite a roar over the city when the whistle sounded, while Bolton's travelling support began, for the umpteenth time, to call for Gary Megson to be relieved of his duties.

A win, at last, and only three games into the season against a team whose place as one of the established bottom half sides is one we need to be aiming for. There are many teams like Bolton in the Premier League. If we are to progress and prosper, then we need to be doing this to all of them.

The real fillip, the main point of optimism, comes from the way Altidore and Ghilas combined once the former had been thrown into the action. One suspects that they will get the chance to build a partnership from the beginning at Wolverhampton Wanderers next week, irrespective of what Brown chooses to do with the team in the Carling Cup against Southend United on Tuesday night. For now, the future seems a little brighter for City, and it's not a sensation we've experienced regularly of late.

Hull City: Myhill, Zayatte, Dawson, Turner, Gardner, Olofinjana, Kilbane, Hunt, Geovanni (Boateng 81), Ghilas (Fagan 86), Folan (Altidore 60). Subs not used: Warner, Mouyokolo, Halmosi, Barmby.

Bolton Wanderers
: Jaaskelainen, Ricketts, Robinson (Samuel 78), Cahill, Knight, Muamba, M.Davies (Ward 81), Davis, Taylor, K.Davies, Elmander (Lee 71). Subs not used: Al Habsi, Steinsson, Shittu, McCann.