Sunday, 29 November 2009

15: Manchester City 1 - 1 Hull City - 28/11/2009

It's simply the greatest goal celebration in history. Forget all your duck walks, shirt reversals, Mars bars in socks, corner flag singalongs - to satirise your own manager's indulgences of a year earlier while proving once and for all that the attention paid to it was beyond any sane context simply will not be bettered.

It did seem for a long time that, although deserved, the goal that needed to provoke such a celebration would not come. The Tigers dominated the last 20 minutes of a very even occasion at Eastlands but had not been able to make the breakthrough to level up Manchester City's fortunate goal just before half time.

Then another ball was swung towards the penalty area and substitute Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink crashed to the deck under pressure from Kolo Touré. The referee gave the penalty immediately. The protests were vehement and indeed the award did look slightly soft. But it still had to be put away and Jimmy Bullard, via a Shay Given fingertip, did just that.

For the celebration to work, the goal also had to be at the end of the stadium where the Tiger Nation was housed. Luckily, this was the case and the players promptly sat in a circle while Bullard wagged a finger of mock admonishment their way.

Now, please let this be a lesson to our detractors in the national media. Whatever the rights and wrongs of Phil Brown's actions on Boxing Day - and this blogger, for what it's worth, thinks Brown was within his rights as a coach of a team being trampled on to try something different to instil some fight in them - it's over now. Brown has been criticised to high heaven for one single action that the players have always maintained did not dissolve their respect for the manager. Now the players have had their say in the most fantastic way possible. Let it be the final say.

The goal was deserved and was just reward for a collection of players who could teach any disparate bunch of individuals masquerading as a team exactly what togetherness is about. Manchester City are rich beyond their dreams and have invested in big names and big salaries accordingly. But they're not a team. And it showed.

Brown made just one change from the midweek win over Everton, allowing Bullard's return in place of George Boateng. It was a very positive alteration, with Bullard's inevitable comeback not forcing Brown to compromise on another attacking outlet, allowing Stephen Hunt, Dean Marney and Richard Garcia to remain in the side.

The home side were dominant and, of course, very dangerous in attack but there was a soullessness and arrogance about their play that suggested that a tight, focussed Tigers rearguard should be able to keep them out.

An early free kick was conceded, but the bandana-wearing Carlos Tevez hit it into the wall. Another free kick found Touré in unlikely space on the right, his clip back to Micah Richards allowed England's forgotten defender to swing in a cross that Stephen Ireland flicked over the bar. Good football on this occasion, notably not including any of the vastly expensive attacking talents.

One of Manchester City's former attacking talents, Geovanni, smacked a shot over the bar after Bullard's free kick was cleared his way. City were tidy on the ball without creating great things in front of goal and Jozy Altidore had a quiet and frustrating time essentially leading the line alone, relying on Geovanni and Garcia to support him when duties in wider positions weren't taking them elsewhere.

Robinho, back in the side with a fanfare but playing like a bloke who believes football matches to be an occupational hazard, did some fancy dan stuff against Paul McShane before steering a left foot shot wide. The home side then made quick progress from a deep free kick and Emmanuel Adebayor, another one barely worth the hype, sent the tireless Tevez on the overlap with a shooting chance but Matt Duke did the job required with his feet.

Robinho fired over the bar from a corner cleared his way, then Richards headed another one too high. In a genuinely goodmove, Tevez and Robinho swept the ball expertly from left to right and eventually gave Shaun Wright-Phillips a far post opportunity which he struck into the side netting.

The Tigers regrouped and McShane, trying to show he can emulate Bernard Mendy's obvious uses as an attacker while being able to defend better, started and ended a lovely move on the right side which allowed Geovanni and Garcia to combine, and the rampaging Irish full back put the final headed chance just wide. Geovanni then shot just wide from a good counter attack as the Tigers maintained a proper influence on the match.

As the half time whistle approached it seemed the Tigers had done what was required. The hosts were dominant but frustrated, creative but wasteful, and were lacking the sort of spirit and togetherness that Hull City carry by the lorryload. Then Wright-Phillips, in added time, wriggled free of a challenge and belted a shot goalwards. Duke probably had it covered but then Anthony Gardner threw his head at it and deflected it past his keeper. A sickener.

So, a goal adrift at the break but much to encourage the Tigers. Bullard was his usual orchestrative self with Garcia and Marney running like billyo and Hunt putting in his usual chippy, indefatigable shift. The defence had been stretched but not entirely tested, with McShane and Andy Dawson coping well on the flanks. Despite the goal deficit, Hull City's afternoon of work had so far been most encouraging.

Almost immediately after the restart, the Tigers made a super chance to level up. Bullard's exquisite ball allowed Altidore to release Garcia on the corner of the six yard box. The Australian lifted the ball gaily over Given but Joleon Lescott managed to scramble back and thwack the ball off the line. As close as close could get.

Duke batted out another distant Wright-Phillips shot and Bullard hit one just wide from the edge of the are as the two teams traded chances without coming as close to scoring again. Brown freshened things up by bringing on Boateng for Marney while Nick Barmby replaced Geovanni. Boateng's brand of expert screening in the deep midfiled role gave Hunt, Garcia and Bullard extra licence to attack as the Tigers sought the reward their endeavour had deserved.

Robinho missed two chances, the first a free kick which went a long way wide and then another from similar distance in open play, and with an identical result. Altidore, honest but limited on this occasion, withdrew for the more immobile but more aware Vennegoor of Hesselink, and soon the Dutchman had won the penalty that earned Bullard a goal, the Tigers a deserved equaliser and, through the players' collective reaction, a spot of closure for the club and manager.

There were eight minutes left and, frankly, the Tigers seemed happy to end the game there and take a point. The defence still had work to do, however, as the home side suddenly rediscovered their urgency, but couldn't capture any real bond within their team at all. It doesn't exist. They are individuals and the spirit at Manchester City needs to improve if their ambitions for the game's highest honours are ever to be reached.

Four minutes of injury time passed by nonchalantly and the Tigers took a terrific point. Something similar at Aston Villa next week is now eminently possible. It is fun, interesting and a laugh a minute being a Hull City supporter right now. Those three factors cannot be attributed to being a Manchester City supporter though. Money doesn't buy you everything. And a goal celebration like that led by Bullard is beyond priceless.

Manchester City: Given, Richards, Touré, Lescott, Bridge, De Jong, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Robinho (Bellamy 75), Adebayor (Santa Cruz 67), Tevez. Subs not used: Taylor, Onuoha, Johnson, Kompany, Weiss.

Hull City: Duke, McShane, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson, Marney (Boateng 61), Bullard, Hunt, Garcia, Geovanni (Barmby 62), Altidore (Vennegoor of Hesselink 73). Subs not used: Myhill, Mouyokolo, Kilbane, Ghilas.