Saturday, 12 December 2009

17: Hull City 0 - 0 Blackburn Rovers - 12/12/2009

Just add 'entertainment nil' to the scoreline and we're pretty much there.

A poor game, shorn of creativity as two managers from the same school of prevention aimed predominantly for a clean sheet and both duly got their wish.

Blackburn Rovers have a reputation for hoofball, courtesy of their percentage-obsessed manager, and that reputation is well merited. That said, it was a strong finish from the visitors and it was a rather desperate act of clinging on for dear life that City carried out to protect a point.

For the Tigers' part, chances were few but still obvious when they did come, and Craig Fagan will rue a gilt-edged opportunity which he squandered in the first half that just about any other centre forward available to Phil Brown would have put away.

Fagan was picked as a lone striker in place of the unfortunate Jozy Altidore, with Geovanni charged to play behind him as Brown tried to fill the creative ravine that cracked itself open when Jimmy Bullard hurt his knee last week. How City can expect to win home games at this level while relying on the entirely unreliable Fagan to lead the line is anybody's guess, and he duly confirmed that worry when a glorious chance came his way midway through the first half.

It was the combative and very impressive Paul McShane that put him through and Fagan got the ball under proper control as Paul Robinson came out. There was no angle to narrow as the chance was very central, and Fagan fell into Robinson's trap and placed a low shot to the keeper's left which the ex-England stopper managed to claw into the air and then catch. Fagan can't score from these openings, openings which require a player to seize up the chance and make a conscious decision as to where the best place for the ball should be. City wouldn't come as close again.

It was City's first chance of the game, with Blackburn making the early running. David Hoilett was fouled on the brink of the box by Richard Garcia, and Benni McCarthy swiped the free kick over the bar. Christopher Samba hit a bouncing shot just wide after a long Robinson clearance was headed his way, then McCarthy sent in a stunning low cross that foxed everyone except Andy Dawson, who cleared conclusively as everyone else tried to judge the ball's path.

McCarthy scored at the far post from Hoilett's cross but was flagged offside before City, through Fagan's chance and some composed possession, emerged into the match. Geovanni hit a free kick into the wall after George Boateng was fouled, duly volleying the rebound right at Robinson.

Blackburn were still dominant, with Vince Grella shooting over while two City players lay hurt on the turf and Hoilett headed at recalled City keeper Boaz Myhill after a second ball caused all sorts of trouble.

City countered through Dean Marney's run and he released Stephen Hunt to the left but Robinson parried the Irishman's shot and then grasped the loose ball as Marney closed in. The injured Grella then made way for ex-Tiger Keith Andrews, whose appearance produced a predictably underwhelming response from the home support.

Myhill saved a Hoilett shot from Pascal Chimbonda's cross but as half time approached, the game was falling to bits. A victory would only come for either team with a change of attitude, and certainly City needed someone more dependable as a target, an outlet and as a finisher playing up front.

Hunt's early second half corner was cleared and City dithered in midfield, allowing an instant Blackburn counter to earn their own corner, which Myhill punched impressively clear. Franco Di Santo, dangerous suddenly after a quiet first half, shot on the turn straight from a goalkick but Myhill clasped the ball with little to worry him.

Robinson collected a weak Boateng shot with ease before City created a proper opportunity thanks to Anthony Gardner winning McShane's free kick in the air and allowing Garcia a shooting chance. The Australian chose, oddly, to cut in on to his weaker left foot and hit the ball low and way too close to the eager Robinson.

Di Santo fooled everyone with a shot into the side netting that looked goalbound before Brown decided that some bonafide striking presence was needed, withdrawing Garcia for Altidore and shifting Fagan wide. Still it was Blackburn who attacked though, and Di Santo hit a low shot to Myhill's near post which the keeper blocked first with his feet, then with his backside before it was hacked clear. The same player then screwed a stretching shot across goal after McCarthy headed a Chimbonda cross into his path.

Altidore, with something to prove, made a sly run into the box but found himself penalised when he went down in the box while the Tiger Nation screamed for a penalty. Encouraged, Brown slung on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink for Fagan to introduce more brute strength and aerial power to the front line, while also withdrawing Marney for the fit-again Seyi Olofinjana.

Instantly, Vennegoor of Hesselink clipped a bouncing ball past the last man but got his bearings wrong as Robinson dashed towards him, touching the ball straight into the keeper's hands, though a whistle had already sounded for the Dutchman's raised feet. Shortly afterwards, a fine cross from Altidore gave the gangly Vennegoor of Hesselink the type of chance he prefers, but he aimed a brilliantly won header inches wide.

Blackburn sub Jason Roberts caused late trouble, studding one shot into the ground from a good position, then curling in a dangerous ball that deflected past Myhill but was cleared bravely by Kamil Zayatte as Di Santo dived in.

Andrews hit an injury time free kick into the wall, and panic ensued when a corner was then forced before City got the ball away, but a largely poor game between two sides willing to sacrifice winning for not losing had run out of steam. Goalless, largely guileless and certainly classless. Yet a point isn't the worst outcome in the world, even though this was one of two games in the next half dozen when City needed to perform.

Who knows if the next two matches - Arsenal away and then Manchester United's visit to the KC - will be the write-offs we expect them to be? Brown still has much to encourage him, despite Bullard's latest leave of absence, and all of the biggest teams know from last season's escapades that the smaller clubs should be patronised at their peril. At the very least, City can hope to give good accounts, avoid further injuries and try to reduce the impact on the goal difference. Anything further is a bonus, but many of us get a bonus at Christmas...

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Gardner, Zayatte, Boateng, Marney (Olofinjana 77), Hunt, Garcia (Altidore 66), Geovanni, Fagan (Vennegoor of Hesselink 77). Subs
not used: Duke, Kilbane, Mendy, Barmby.

Blackburn Rovers: Robinson, Chimbonda, Samba, Givet, Nelson, Emerton, Grella (Andrews 40), Nzonzi, McCarthy (Kalinic 59), Hoilett, Di Santo (Roberts 76). Subs not used: Brown, Salgado, Pedersen, Diouf.