Thursday, 26 November 2009

14: Hull City 3 - 2 Everton - 25/11/2009

And the thrills continue. To conclusively outplay one of the great club sides of Europe to the tune of a three-goal lead at the break, and then use the last 25 minutes for an effective rearguard as they threatened to level up made for one of the finest matches at the KC Stadium in a long time.

Everton's route back into the game was wholly down to one Hull City player's capacity to panic or lose concentration. Kamil Zayatte will feel bad today. But he shouldn't, given that his qualities still made a telling contribution to a City victory, with his indiscretions ultimately proving harmless.

Phil Brown
had one big decision to make about Jimmy Bullard, and make it he did. He left him out. It was patiently explained afterwards that after ten months out, it was a lot to ask Bullard to do his scampering act for another 90 minutes and essentially put in three big shifts in eight days. He'll be back when the Tigers go to Manchester City this weekend.

George Boateng returned, and Dean Marney was given more of the ball. Geovanni was back, both necessarily and predictably, a decision made easier by Craig Fagan's late withdrawal with shoulder trouble. Paul McShane made his return to the defence to replace the banned Bernard Mendy.

Everton have whopping injury troubles but this should be less of an issue when one scans the team they were still capable of fielding at the KC. Quality players. And the Tigers made them look decidedly ordinary.

The opening goal after ten minutes was started and finished by the magnificent Stephen Hunt. Ignoring Geovanni's overlap, the Irishman clipped a cross towards Jozy Altidore at the far post, and the heavy American shrugged off two defenders to batter a vicious shot right at Tim Howard, his international colleague. Hunt, following up his own pass, got to the rebound first to steer in the shot. And the Tigers had no cause to look back.

Richard Garcia climbed well to head an Andy Dawson cross back into the danger area and Geovanni controlled the loose ball before hitting a shot right into Howard's midriff. Then the Brazilian was fouled 25 yards out, and Dawson bent in simply the best free kick anyone will see this season for 2-0.

There were just 20 minutes gone, and this was dreamland. The two flank pairings were combining excellently, especially Hunt and Dawson on the left, while Boateng was the rock we know he is and Marney, feeling the influence of Bullard even in his absence, was finding room and time to spray the ball around with genuine aplomb. The third goal, unbelievably, was imminent, as Hunt strayed to the right flank and guided a ball into Marney's path and the shot, via Tim Cahill's shin, coasted into the net. Marney's reaction at scoring his first goal in 18 months suggested that he has had many a sleepless night of worry. No more.

Remarkably, it nearly became four when Hunt swung in one of his vicious free kicks and Zayatte's long leg only just failed to make a meaningful connection from merely four yards. Altidore, still desperate for his first Premier League goal, bullied his way into space on the right edge of the box but hit the shot a little too high.

The half time whistle sounded and the response mixed hearty applause with looks of sheer bewilderment. Given that the Tigers had never scored three goals at home in the Premier League until the weekend, and now done so twice in four days (and in the first half of each game in doing so) such looks and such applause was more than merited.

Of course, there is always the nagging doubt that such illustrious opponents will react in the way their fans would expect. Everton did just that upon the restart, although their comeback was, in the end, gifted to them by the bonkers Zayatte.

The Guinean star is a super footballer. Strong in the air, brave as they come and, for a defender, in possession of real touch and composure on the ball. But he also has a devil on his shoulders that makes him commit howlers usually reserved for the parks on a Sunday.

A largely directionless cross from Johnny Heitinga was ripe for Zayatte's sumptuous clearing boot to send far away from danger, but instead he miskicked it behind him, over Matt Duke's head and in via the post. Oddly, the trajectory of the ball and its deflection was not dissimilar to Bullard's free kick against West Ham United.

So, it's 3-1 and there's a glimmer for the visitors. This became a proper glare when Zayatte chopped into Louis Saha as the Frenchman shaped to shoot, and was lucky to see only a yellow card. Saha sent Duke in the wrong direction from the penalty spot and now there were 25 minutes for the Tigers to hang on.

As important as City's first half domination was the way the Tigers killed the next 15 minutes of the game, and Everton's control of the ball produced next to nothing in terms of real opportunity. Boateng was at the helm of this, reminding us of just how useful a good, fuss-free holding player can be when opposition enthusiasm needs to be dampened down.

Garcia had a good chance to re-create a two goal advantage when he chested down Anthony Gardner's free kick, worked his way inside and hit a tremendous drive goalwards on which Howard risked the structure of his fingers to keep out. McShane then went on a totally curious run down his flank, displaying abilities to maintain total control of the ball while weaving in and out of players that we assumed never existed. The final ball didn't quite drop for Altidore.

As the game wandered into its final ten minutes, Everton began to squeeze City tighter and tighter but achieved little. Cahill shot high from a long way out, the kind of chance a team defending a slender lead is happy to see created. City threw on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for the marvellous Altidore, and then Nick Barmby and Kevin Kilbane replaced Garcia and Geovanni respectively. The two former Evertonians shored things up even more, and all Everton had left was a Leighton Baines free kick late in injury time which the England wannabe could only hit into the wall.

So, another three points. Statistics ahoy - the 14 points acquired at home has already surpassed the whole of last season's tally at the KC. In three consecutive home matches City have scored eight goals, and now the Tigers are unbeaten in the last five. The fortress at home that Brown has always wanted, with half an eye cast enviously towards Stoke on Trent, seems to be on schedule for construction.

Only one more game at the KC before Christmas, with Blackburn Rovers turning up in just under three weeks, and trips to Manchester City and Aston Villa beckon next. Frankly, the way the Tigers are playing, one hopes for their sakes that both of those teams don't make any blithe assumptions about little Hull City. If they do, they're in for a shock.

Hull City: Duke, McShane, Dawson, Zayatte, Gardner, Marney, Boateng, Hunt, Garcia (Barmby 75), Geovanni (Kilbane 87), Altidore (Vennegoor of Hesselink 75). Subs not used: Myhill, Mouyokolo, Cairney, Ghilas.

Everton: Howard, Neill, Baines, Distin, Yobo, Heitinga, Pienaar, Cahill, Rodwell (Jo 60), Yakubu (Gosling 46), Saha. Subs not used: Nash, Hibbert, Baxter, Duffy, Coleman.