Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Carling Cup 2nd round: Hull City 3 - 1 Southend United - 25/08/2009

Progress to the third round of the Carling Cup proved to be untroublesome and uninspiring. Fortunately, unlike the same stage last season, Hull City remembered that opponents from the lower echelons are there to be beaten.

Southend United were game and occasionally impressive opponents, but class told in the end and the Tigers were rarely, though not never, in any danger of finishing the 90 minutes anywhere but ahead.

In his programme notes, Phil Brown confirmed he would change the team and change it he most certainly did. The entire starting XI from Saturday's win over Bolton Wanderers was removed from view, with a few claiming a place on the bench instead, and eleven new beginners lined up. Among them was Jozy Altidore, who needs to acquire match sharpness and certainly there was hope that the American would be able to let rip against League One opposition. The youth system provided four of the side too - perennial fringe player Nicky Featherstone taking his expected stopgap position in midfield and Liam Cooper replicating the defensive role he had in the equivalent match at Swansea last season. Will Atkinson and Tom Cairney were also thrown into the midfield, with a first team debut for the latter. Atkinson has been fleetingly seen in the last three seasons but ultimately will only ever feature in matches like this before an inevitable transfer to a club of Southend's level and size.

An early header from Alex Revell was held by Tony Warner in City's goal, then Craig Fagan failed to make anything other than cursory contact with a good cross from Nathan Doyle. The game soon settled into City's lap, however, when Cairney scored a total peach of a goal.

Fagan was flat on his face, having been struck in the head during a challenge, but neither players nor referee felt it was worth stopping the match and Cairney benefitted to the greatest possible extent when he lofted a beautiful chipped shot from just outside the area over keeper Steve Mildenhall. It was a divine piece of improvised football from a youngster who might just make it. Given City's paltry record for homegrown stars in the last decade, this would be no mean feat.

Lee Barnard had a chance which he skied for the Shrimpers, who were followed by an understandably meagre but fairly boisterous 150 or so from Essex. They were encouraged by this chance and raised the volume to the point where they were easily heard. This was helped by the arms-folded attitude of the Tiger Nation, who seemed to be in attendance more because there was little on the telly as an alternative.

The game then became rather barren in the entertainment and creativity stakes until the last five minutes of the half. Altidore then a had a shot saved by Mildenhall, prior to being tripped from 25 yards out and monopolising the free kick himself, a decision vindicated by the precise and venomous low shot which sneaked in at Mildenhall's near post. His first in English football.

A 2-0 margin with the interval looming seemed more than adequate, but Southend replied instantly and Franck Roussa scored with a tidy finish after a nod down in his direction left Warner a little too exposed. So it was 2-1 instead, and some work still needed doing.

The second half was almost literally without incident, certainly until Geovanni came on for stand-in skipper Nick Barmby with 20 minutes to go. The Brazilian tried a speculative shot which dipped and swooped but still went too high, prior to a spot of admirable endeavour from Southend which prompted genuine worries.

Warner came into his own here. He saved courageously and neatly from Revell as the Shrimpers forward was given room by a nice ball down the inside right channel, then got across superbly to block Anthony Grant's far post finish after a penetrating cross avoided every other outfield player within breathing distance.

A scare or two, certainly, but soon they were forgotten and Southend's spirit died when Geovanni followed a blocked effort from Doyle to aim a low, stuttering volley beyond Mildenhall's right hand and into the far corner. Fagan could have added to the scoreline late on but Mildenhall saved his low drive well.

A workout from which Brown will have taken his usual soundbitten array of positives, not least the beginning of Altidore's goalscoring mission for the Tigers. Of the kids, Cairney was superb and Cooper was handy, while the saves from Warner when things got briefly hairy may just help him become the rubberstamped understudy to Boaz Myhill instead of Matt Duke.

Good exercise and blessedly free of injuries or controversy. The third round draw will be observed with interest on Saturday as we head for more important business at Wolves.

Hull City: Warner, Doyle, Halmosi, Mouyokolo, Cooper, Featherstone, Cairney (Kilbane 73), Atkinson (Ghilas 73), Barmby (Geovanni 59), Fagan, Altidore. Subs not used: Duke, Cousin, Zayatte, Mendy.

Southend United
: Mildenhall, Francis, Heath, Barrett, M'Voto, Christophe (Sawyer 78), Grant (Betsy 69), McCormack, Moussa, Barnard (Walker 83), Revell. Subs not used: Joyce, Sankofa, Scannell, Freedman.