Saturday, 24 October 2009

10: Hull City 0 - 0 Portsmouth - 24/10/2009

As lacking in thrills as the scoreline suggests, and given that Portsmouth looked the most likely winners, a further furrow of worry for the future of Hull City.

Patience has thinned just a little further with the lack of direction, creativity and general optimism within the Tigers squad. This was an unappealing and as guileless as any game of recent times, with Phil Brown's side scarcely looking capable of breaching opponents who had lost all bar one of their matches prior to this.

The news before the game was that Jimmy Bullard, with a spirit-crushing inevitability, was injured and would not partake. By half time, rumour was spreading that the injury was again the wretched knee and he would once more face a long recovery period. If so, it's time the club cashed in on the insurance and set him free.

Missed on the pitch he certainly was, and given that he was missed despite him being the best player the Tigers have never properly had, really, speaks depressing volumes for the state of the midfield.

More pertinently for the current side, Kamel Ghilas was dropped again. Not once has he deserved to be removed from the XI but it has happened with alarming frequency since his arrival, whereas his starting displays have often resulted in his substitution. Where it's at with this pacey and gifted player as far as Brown's treatment of him is concerned is anyone's guess. Especially as the boneidle Bernard Mendy started in his place.

One bit of light came with the recall of Anthony Gardner to the side, in place of the unlucky Kevin Kilbane, but the injury-plagued defender was not on any kind of game and was ultimately the weakest of weak links in the back four. Still, his fitness, should it not be curtailed with the regularity it has previously experienced, will be a major boon to Brown's dwindling hopes of restoring some pride and form to a sinking, characterless team. Gardner wore the captain's armband, taking the total of skippers this season to a laughable seven.

Kamil Zayatte
, back in defence as Brown changed both of his centre backs, made an error instantly that allowed Tommy Smith a chase down the inside right channel but screwed his shot wide of Boaz Myhill's far post. City responded with a wide Stephen Hunt free kick which was clutched by an undistracted David James as both Zayatte and Geovanni swung legs at it but got no discernible connection.

James then punched away a Geovanni cross under pressure after Mendy made an incongruous twisting run from Hunt's short free kick. Andy Dawson then chipped a clever ball down the flank for Geovanni to scamper after, and the Brazilian's pull back was belted just over by the arriving Dean Marney.

Portsmouth had less of the ball but seemed more apt at doing something with it when possession came their way. They put together a patient, angular passing sequence which foxed the Tigers midway through the first half and ended with Aaron Mokoena firing over from 20 yards. Kevin-Prince Boateng then swivelled to make room for a shot but aimed it wide.

City were wilting, their shape was going and the visitors sensed their chance to stamp some authority on the match. They should have scored when Aruna Dindane crossed from the right and Smith made room for a point blank effort but missed his kick entirely as Myhill came out towards him in some desperation. This was a big, big let off for the Tigers.

Some order was restored, within the limits of a poor game, and Marney hit a low drive from Geovanni's lay-off that was deflected wide for a corner. The half ended goalless and largely clueless. Few seemed confident of any kind of recovery and despite having less of the ball, Portsmouth were distantly the more likely to score.

City forced a quick corner upon the restart. Geovanni's kick was half-flicked clear to Marney who shot high. Hunt then embarked on a counter attack that sent Geovanni through the right flank but James caught the cross as Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, industrious but isolated, closed in on the opportunity.

It was a restless, frustrating occasion and again the Tigers began to wilt. Portsmouth embarked on a good spell thereafter, and Myhill made a super save from Dindane after City struggled to deal with a free kick, with the same player hitting Zaytte with the rebounded effort as the goalkeeper lay stranded.

The impressive Jamie O'Hara then swirled in a corner which Myhill lost in the aerial battle and Smith put a reasonable chance over. Portsmouth, though, were smelling blood. Another corner was soon forced and as it was part cleared, Boateng chipped it back beyond the offside trap and Hassan Yebda, clear of anyone, stretched to get studs on the ball but couldn't get the purpose into the shot, allowing Myhill to make a very good save indeed.

City made two changes, with Nick Barmby on for the stomach-turning Mendy and then Hunt controversially withdrawn, though the introduction of Richard Garcia after months out with knee trouble was most heartwarming. It made little impact though as Portsmouth went after the Tigers again, and Gardner made a ghastly error that allowed Dindane to fire in a low cross that evaded the stretching Frederic Piquionne by inches.

A little respite came as Marney made room on the left for a chipped ball that Barmby won in the air, but the looping header was snatched by James above his head. Marney, maligned and unfulfilling as ever, then toepoked the ball away near his own six yard box as Piquionne slid in a dangerous ball after outpacing Paul McShane.

It nearly became a tragi-comedy of errors as Myhill spilled a back header and had to leave his area in his efforts to retrieve the ball but merely succeeded in tripping Dindane as he followed up. Calls from the away fans for a red card were optmistic, and yellow was shown before O'Hara, who had a splendid game, curled the free kick over.

Ghilas finlly appeared just before injury time, replacing the tireless but impact-free Marney, and Portsmouth gave themselves a last chance - or rather, Dawson's bad error presented it to them - but Yebda's cross was booted out for a corner that Myhill caught.

The City keeper needed treatment after pulling a muscle deep into injury time and the extent of this injury remains to be seen. City can count themselves fortunate not to have lost as the final whistle freed the people from this torture, but there is little fortune in drawing 0-0 with a team supposedly even more hapless than the Tigers. On this evidence, only one team has the spirit and desire to stay up. Guess which.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson, Mendy (Barmby 71), Marney (Ghilas 89), Olofinjana, Hunt (Garcia 74), Geovanni, Vennegoor of Hesselink. Subs not used: Duke, Mouyokolo, Kilbane, Atkinson.

Portsmouth: James, Kaboul, Finnan, Ben-Haim, Mokoena, O'Hara, Boateng, Yebda, Wilson, Smith (Piquionne 65), Dindane. Subs not used: Ashdown, Vanden Borre, Belhadj, Mullins, Webber, Kanu.