Sunday, 20 September 2009

06: Hull City 0 - 1 Birmingham City - 19/09/2009

An attacking team yet a depressing, negative performance. Changes were radical within the personnel but not in the display as Birmingham City carried out a classic awayday act of banditry, soaking up pressure and breaking with aplomb before scoring a late winner.

The question marks about the manager have grown tenfold after such a depressing display. Phil Brown made a couple of welcome alterations but dropped the one really dangerous-looking attacker of recent weeks in Kamel Ghilas. Without him, City's width was subdued, forced to retreat, and with Stephen Hunt not having a good day it was a palpably disconcerting display.

The lack of width meant that the two strikers, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink and Jozy Altidore, were often required to drop deep to look for the ball. This was assuming they were willing, but Altidore was the only who was - and was frequently robbed with ease by doing so - while the tall Dutchman opted to stay high up the pitch and consequently didn't win a thing. Altidore couldn't be faulted for application, but his fellow centre forward was certainly questionable.

Dean Marney returned to the side and, fitness aside, had a better afternoon but there was something missing that wasn't just class and craft. Geovanni's wider role didn't work, with his natural inclination to look deep for the ball and then cut inside, and too often the ball was lost, leaving the two full backs - pushing on to provide the width that Hunt and Geovanni weren't able to supply - out of position when control of the ball was inevitably lost.

In the early stages, City made chances. Hunt swung in a free kick for which both Altidore and Kamil Zayatte made challenges but neither got a sturdy touch on it and Joe Hart dropped on the ball. Marney then fed Hunt who took all by surprise by hitting it early, and Hart flapped at it as it swerved in mid-air, but still kept it out of goal.

Birmingham had less feel of the ball but more proper chances were created, not least when Christian Benitez drove a terrific shot on the turn low to Boaz Myhill's left which the keeper did superbly to paw away, prior to Andy Dawson hacking clear as Lee Bowyer sniffed a simple rebound. Bowyer then turned and curled a beauty from distance which seemed destined for the top corner but Myhill leapt balletically to finger it over the bar.

City regained possession but little was going on. Marney hit a low shot without power at Hart, then Vennegoor of Hesselink aimed his run at the near post after Seyi Olofinjana's surging run to the byline, but Birmingham defending was stout and strong. Altidore followed up but his shot was well blocked.

Altidore's turn and pass then found Geovanni who decided to strike from distance but his aim wasn't true and the ball drifted a long way wide. Zayatte's flowing run from the back then got Geovanni going, but Roger Johnson got an important foot in as Vennegoor of Hesselink sensed a chance from the cross.

The tall Dutchman then got nowhere enough on a loose ball after Hart dropped Ibrahima Sonko's long throw, then Marney fed Geovanni again, but the Brazilian's latest attempt at testing Hart from distance was, like the previous one, a fair distance wide.

Benitez then hit one which Myhill tipped over excellently. Only the visitors' third chance but theirs were on target, hit with power and direction and making the Tigers custodian put in some work. This was not lost on the Tiger Nation as three minutes of added time passed without incident and half time came.

Altidore's one really good chance of the game came early in the second half when he swivelled tidily from the byline and hit a low, angled left footer which Hart turned behind for a corner. It was on target, a rarity thus far for City. The broad-shouldered American was then fouled just outside the box but Hunt's free kick was little more than a mess.

Birmingham's first go in the second half came via a promising counter which saw Gary McSheffrey break down the left and cross deep for Keith Fahey to head across Myhill and just wide of the far post. It was close, and a let-off. That said, City responded well with another chance that needed to make Hart work, as Olofinjana's patience gave him room to feed Vennegoor of Hesselink with his back to goal, and the lay off to Geovanni resulted in a low drive from the Brazilian which the England hopeful clutched well.

Another counter from Birmingham as Stuart Parnaby galloped forward down the left with Paul McShane out of position and upon receipt of the ball from Benitez, thumped a vicious shot goalwards which Myhill plamed wide. At this point, the visitors picked up the pace, with Sonko getting rid of a Parnaby cross from the six yard box, then from the corner Johnson headed back across and Bowyer's close range drive was blocked by City's impressive but way overworked keeper.

McSheffrey and Parnaby then switched passes for the latter to fire wide. Something needed to give, and Brown tried to force the issue by belatedly introducing Ghilas to the game, in place of the industrious but luckless Altidore. Gary O'Connor, on for McSheffrey, made sure Birmingham maintained their dominance on the creativity front when his fine break allowed Benitez to feed him, and the shot was deflected wide.

The tiring Marney was replaced by Nick Barmby and then McShane's cross was well dealt with by Stephen Carr as both substitutes approached with menace in the six yard box. Either team could score, but certainly City were suffering on the quantity not quality front - plenty of chances but nothing remotely dangerous, whereas Birmingham's opportunities were fewer but better.

Weirdly, the goal which would decide came indirectly from City's own set-piece. Ghilas forced it with a deflected shot, then when the sub's corner was cleared, Dawson delivered a second ball from deep and was then out of position when again the visitors got distance on the clearance. Benitez broke well, nutmegged the backpedalling McShane and forced a fine save from Myhill, only for O'Connor to head home the resulting corner with way too much ease.

Bernard Mendy was instantly brought on for the toothless Vennegoor of Hesselink but evidenltly the game, even with just one goal scored, was over. Geovanni had one good chance on the turn from close range after pressure from Olofinjana and Barmby frightened the Birmingham defence, but the shot was aimed wastefully wide. Very late on, Mendy flicked on a corner and a charging Olofinjana - with Myhill the best performer for the Tigers - smacked a header against the bar prior to a mad scramble which Birmingham won as they cleared their lines from under their own goal frame.

Four minutes were added but there was no urgency and little obvious desire, and there was some serious catcalling of the management and the team upon the shrilling of the final whistle. The visitors weren't amazing but played vintage away team football and took the points with professionalism and no mercy at all. The Tigers were, a couple of moments aside, absolutely terrible.

The focus falls on the manager again as the club makes noises about becoming a Premier League force while blatantly looking anything but, and this against teams who need to fall on their swords if the Tigers are to achieve these lofty ambitions. The attacking line up we needed was duly picked but the quality of attacking was abhorrent, and this needs addressing quickly. The midweek Carling Cup tie against Everton now becomes ever more important for Brown to give second goes to his alleged first-choice players, rather than throw out the stiffs and kids and waste all our time. Want to be a Premier League club? Start acting like one, on and off the pitch.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Sonko, Zayatte, Olofinjana, Marney (Barmby 70), Hunt, Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Mendy 78), Altidore (Ghilas 63). Subs not used: Warner, Kilbane, Boateng, Halmosi.

Birmingham City
: Hart, Carr, Johnson, Dann, Parnaby, Bowyer, Ferguson, Fahey, McSheffrey (O'Connor 62), Tainio, Benitez. Subs not used: Taylor, Espinoza, O'Shea, Phillips, Sammons.