Saturday, 29 August 2009

04: Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 - 1 Hull City - 29/08/2009

Michael Turner probably saves ten goals a season for Hull City with his brand of heroic defending. He is essentially a second goalkeeper, albeit without the facility ot use his hands. As he again stopped the Tigers from losing a game which their opponents deserved to win, the anger at his proposed sale transmogrified into utter confusion.

Why on earth would City want to sell him? The club don't need the money, proven by the £12 million dangled in front of Real Madrid's noses for one of their non-galactic centre forwards. The issue of Turner's own career progress is misguided, as going to Sunderland - a club with funds and fans but a crushingly frequent sense of underachievement - would offer little more in the achievement stakes than prolonging his stay at a club where he is adored and revered.

It beggars belief. And as Turner tackled, headed, blocked and risked his manhood and digestive system to stop Wolverhampton Wanderers scoring their merited winner, it beggared belief just so much more.

Given the speculation that talks between City and Sunderland advanced sufficiently for Turner himself to get involved, it was a welcome surprise to see the finest defender in the club's history on the teamsheet, fittingly maintaining the armband with George Boateng again on the bench. It was presumed that he had already made his last appearance.

Phil Brown chose not to give Jozy Altidore his hungrily awaited debut, keeping the stocky Yank on the bench while Caleb Folan stayed up front. As if to complicate the Turner saga further, Anthony Gardner was out with injury - again - and so Steven Mouyokolo was given the chance to show his credentials as a centre back, having spent the initial part of the season looking frightened lost on the right of defence. This square peg job, until the club get round to confirming Paul McShane's return at least, was again given to Kamil Zayatte.

The first attack, and the first goal. The marvellous Kamel Ghilas, positive and incisive (and damned quick), played games with the anxious Wolves defence as he swapped passes with Andy Dawson and then sent Stephen Hunt on an overlap. Hunt got past Greg Halford with all the ease in the world and chipped a textbook ball on to the unmarked forehead of Geovanni, who couldn't miss.

A brilliant start. But it wouldn't get any better.

Wolves weren't exactly shellshocked into playing, not until their manager of renowned fieriness got hold of them at half time anyway, but City let them off way too easily after opening the scoring. It should have been a prime opportunity to keep running at them, testing them, taking on players and maintaining possession. It didn't happen. Only on counter attacks did it look like the Tigers may get another goal.

Ghilas crossed one from such a breakaway which was heading Folan's way until the desperate Michael Mancienne got a crucial foot in. Another sprayed ball from deep got Geovanni chasing. Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey won the race but gave his clearance to Kevin Kilbane, who shot over. And a third quick getaway led to Geovanni hitting a left-footer which for a split second looked on target, but was heeled away by a backtracking defender before Hennessey could be tested. From Hunt's corner, Ghilas headed straight at the Wolves custodian.

Matt Jarvis then gave Wolves hope by creating their first chance with a chase of freedom down the left, but Andy Keogh snatched at the chance and aimed his shot straight into Boaz Myhill's clutches. Dawson then blocked Keogh's shot expertly, removing enough sting and trajectory from the ball to allow Myhill a simple catch.

The half ended with just a solitary minute added and the Tigers looked totally in command. While allowing for the habitual surrender of domination which City teams of all eras and qualities have managed over the decades, there was genuine confidence in this one. The rumblings about Turner weren't exactly put to one side, but the lead and dominance after 45 minutes - much of which was largely due to Turner's usual authority in defence - did at least add a tiny spoonful of sugar.

Within a minute of the restart, the expectations were dashed. Wolves won a free kick and Richard Stearman got the vital final touch as City failed to deal with it. Myhill was totally beaten and the game had turned entirely and suddenly.

The Tigers spent the rest of the game wondering how the hell to deal with such an early, unexpected equaliser, and very nearly didn't manage it. Only once did a shot go in on goal - Wolves old boy Seyi Olofinjana hitting a grasscutter right at Hennessey - and for the rest of the time City were either misplacing passes or backpedalling furiously as Wolves came at them.

Halford's long throws and free kicks from Jarvis were proving useful tools, allowing Mancienne and Jody Craddock to venture forward and time and again City's response was frantic and awkward. Myhill risked injury from Keogh's legally aimed studs as the two went for a ball nodded down by Craddock from a Jarvis cross, then George Elokobi's swerving cross was flicked goalwards by Keogh but Myhill held this one comfortably.

With Folan now spent and lacking interest again, Altidore was slung on by Brown but had little effect and, indeed, didn't seem to show much more interest than the player he replaced. Craddock headed a Stearman cross over the bar before Altidore was isolated further by the bamboozling decision to substitute the splendid Ghilas and replace him with the industry but touchless frustration of Craig Fagan.

Keogh was freed down the inside left channel by Kevin Doyle but wasted the chance, putting it across Myhill's goal with only the keeper to beat, albeit from a tight angle. The home side knew victory was only ever going to be theirs if they could just locate some calmness in front of goal, and Keogh seemed certain to net the winner when Craddock headed a free kick across the six yard box into his path, with Myhill stranded at the wrong side of goal.

However, there was a colossus also chasing the ball, reading its direction, preparing his response.

Keogh, only a handful of yards out, shot for goal and it was on target and Myhill was in no position to save. But Turner had scampered across and proceeded to throw everything in his body at the ball, in the hope he could do enough to deflect it aside. He succeeded, via his stomach, and as he crouched down, desperately regaining his breath as his winded body recovered and Keogh held his head, one wonders if a certain chairman may have been persuaded at this point that this kind of defending is rarely out there to purchase at will.

That is why we shouldn't sell him. That one specific piece of defending, the type which shows that there is no such thing as an act which is beyond the call of duty. Turner knows that and has proved it week in, week out. Players like this are scarce, and those that do exist are already at the top of the game and won't be interested in Hull City in the slightest.

Stearman shot wide after a poor clearance from Mouyokolo, then Doyle and Jarvis missed a good chance each. Substitute Sam Vokes missed the target with an injury time header, and somehow we clung on for 1-1. Had this been any of the middling Premier League clubs we hope to emulate, we'd have lost by four or five.

Upon the final whistle, Turner bided his time and then applauded the City fans who only had one name on their mind. His clapping was not overstated and, a brief thumbs-up later, he made his way off the field, and possibly off the Hull City radar after three and a bit seasons. He knows he is iconic among City fans, the key figure in our promotion and then survival in the last two seasons. Whatever stage the negotiations between the clubs are at, with or without the player's involvement, it was evident that Turner's heart and soul remained, on the day, with the Tigers. His performance made this obvious, but we didn't expect anything less from such a fine defender, player and human being.

Why the hell should we sell him? What on earth is going on? Suddenly, this doesn't feel like it's about football any more.

Wolverhampton Wanderers: Hennessey, Elokobi, Mancienne, Craddock, Halford, Stearman, Henry, Jarvis, Milijas, Keogh (Vokes 89), Doyle. Subs not used: Hahnemann, Edwards, Zubar, Berra, Surman, Jones.

Hull City
: Myhill, Zayatte, Dawson, Turner, Mouyokolo, Kilbane, Hunt, Olofinjana, Ghilas (Fagan 73), Geovanni (Barmby 82), Folan (Altidore 63). Subs not used: Warner, Cooper, Boateng, Halmosi.