Wednesday, 3 February 2010

24: Hull City 1 - 1 Chelsea - 02/04/2010

Don't let irked Chelsea fans claim they were robbed or that it was two points dropped. Hull City were absolutely magnificent and deserved the point, maybe even the full haul.

Raising their game for the raised sense of occasion, the Tigers fought like wild animals for every ball but also matched and often surpassed their illiustrious opponents for pace, skill and passing sequences. At times, the possession and retention of the ball was truly mesmerising.

There were heroes everywhere. It was hard not to notice the gutbusting display from George Boateng, whose brand of fiery midfield play was galvanised by a rare subtlety on the ball and a willingness to set up or join attacks. That he played so well, for the full 90 minutes, having done the full shift against Wolves three days before, made Boateng's achievements all the more laudable.

Another hero was Tom Cairney, who followed up his Premier League debut at the weekend with a display of energy and craft, never missing a ball and never being even momentarily afraid to take on the men facing this teenage lad. He looked like he had been playing forever and the long wait for this incredibly gifted boy to become a proper first teamer is over. He's now first choice.

And there needs to be praise aimed Jozy Altidore's way too. The American striker still hasn't scored but it almost doesn't matter any more for the way he has adapted to the English game, using his bulk and his enthusiasm to scare and bully defenders and a certain beleaguered England captain had all sorts of trouble coping with him, even resorting to a foul in the second half that led to a yellow card that John Terry's tormentors in the crowd celebrated like a goal.

The rest of the side gave their all, some with more reward than others, and Stephen Hunt certainly enjoyed the occasion against the club that hates him the most. The Irishman, whose continued employment by the Tigers remains a great joy after the pressure of the transfer window, had a ball in the first half with his usual mixture of nippy runs and chippy words, even staring out the indignant travelling contingent at one point as if offering them all out.

Phil Brown made just one change, choosing to restore Craig Fagan to the team, though as a wide man instead of down the centre, withdrawing Bernard Mendy to the bench. There seemed little need or motivation to make changes elsewhere, although Kamil Zayatte's return was mooted even though the popular Guinean defender had to be content alongside Mendy in the dugout.

The atmosphere was white hot even though the temperatures were stone cold. The presence of Terry and all that currently comes with him allowed the maturity threshold of City's more vocal element to lower itself even more than normal, with the opposing skipper treated to boos each time he touched the ball as well as some songs that varied between the witty and the downright unkind.

Early pressure was City's. Hunt swung in an early corner which Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink climbed to reach, forcing another corner on the opposite side which Hunt also took and Steven Mouyokolo's flick caused havoc before Ricardo Carvalho hacked clear. Hunt was central to everything, more up for it than ever, and soon won a free kick which he hammered in low and just missed the swinging boot of Fagan before Chelsea again cleared their lines.

The visitors scored after three minutes with a ludicrously brilliant chip by Frank Lampard when they visited the KC last season. This time round, Lampard's early effort from range did not resemble last year's, battering in a swerving shot which Boaz Myhill could only slap down to the floor into the path of Nicolas Anelka, who miskicked the rebound.

Chelsea then forced a free kick which City dealt with well to the extent that Hunt was able to break away down the unfamiliar right flank, cutting inside and hitting a shot that flew some way wide. Chelsea responded with a curling Branislav Ivanovic cross that Michael Ballack met with a totally free diving header, but aimed it straight at Myhill.

The deadlock was then broken. Hunt again was the architect, winning a free kick on the left edge of the box courtesy of a Deco foul for which the Portuguese international was booked. Hunt forced a corner with a swerving delivery, which he then took himself. Mouyokolo did the rest with a thundering unmarked header, and the noise from around the ground exploded.

City settled on this goal and began to play some divine football. Cairney and Hunt were at the helm, with Boateng supporting well and Altidore running his blood to water. Fagan and Vennegoor of Hesselink were willing participants with less success and the defence threw their bodies into everything, with Andy Dawson and Paul McShane always willing to overlap. It was splendid, remarkable to watch.

Anelka had a low shot from distance which Myhill held at his near post and then the City custodian watched a Deco shot well as it bounced awkwardly in front of him. Florent Malouda then hit a vicious shot from an angle which Anthony Gardner deflected out for a corner. The pressure was increasing from Chelsea but City were, thus far, coping.

Then Anelka went down on the edge of the box, but still delivered the ball inside for Lampard to chase, but referee Mark Clattenburg gave the delayed free kick when Lampard couldn't convert the chance. Dider Drogba, quiet and arrogant throughout the first half, stepped up and swept the free kick in a carbon copy of the one he stuck away at Stamford Bridge on the opening day.

City players protested, possibly because they thought an indirect kick had been given and Drogba's effort flicked nobody on its way past Myhill. Later there was a suggestion that Drogba had taken the kick before the referee's whistle had sounded. The pleas fell on deaf ears and it was all square.

Two minutes were added on and City should have scored again as the injury time ticked by. Another free kick was won, Cairney curled in a killer ball and Gardner, entirely unmarked, headed over. It was an amazing miss. Yet the applause for a marvellous first half display wasn't curtailed or annulled, and nor should it have been. City were the better side and though pulled back to 1-1, deserved to be ahead.

The first notable moment after the break involved Altidore bustling an off-balance Terry away from the ball and being grabbed by the ankles for his trouble. The yellow card was inevitable, deserved and celebrated beyond any context. From the Hunt free kick, Altidore won a back header but aimed it right at Petr Cech.

Cairney, having confidence that belied his years by some margin, exchanged passes with Altidore before belting a shot over the bar and then the American dwelled too long on the ball after a good counter attack by the Tigers and had it stolen before he could get his shot set up.

Chelsea began to re-assert themselves, and Drogba gave Malouda a shooting chance which aimed low for Myhill's near post and City's keeper got down to save well. The same two players then faced one another again and Myhill once more came out on top, palming away Malouda's header with admirable reflexes before getting to Terry's follow-up.

Brown shook up the front line, removing Vennegoor of Hesselink and slinging on the broad-shouldered Amr Zaki who proceeded to combine brute force with great pace to scare Chelsea's defence for the rest of the match. The Egyptian created a chance quickly for Fagan with a fine run and cross, but Fagan was crowded out before he could make up his mind.

City then won a corner through Fagan's persistence and in a re-run of the first half goal, Hunt swung in the kick and Mouyokolo met it with the meat of his forehead. The similarity ended there as the ball flew wide.

Drogba beat Myhill in the air to get to sub Joe Cole's cross but hit the top of the net, then Ashley Cole - also on as a sub - broke in typicla style in the box after getting free of Boateng but saw his cross deflected away by Mouyokolo. Terry headed Malouda's corner over.

Brown made two more changes, withdrawing the workhorse Altidore for the calming presence and cult status of Kevin Kilbane in midfield and then putting Zayatte into action after McShane took an elbow from Drogba - who was booked - and couldn't immediately stem the flow of blood.

It was gripping, nerveracking stuff as four minutes of added time were signalled, but Chelsea only had one final chance to win it as they piled it on thick. Daniel Sturridge, their third sub, hit a brilliant instant shlot from a distant anle which Myhill leapt across to tip away. It was the save of the night and it preserved a point signalled shortly afterwards by the final whistle, and celebrated with the sort of roar associated with a win.

What a superb point, and yet the gluttonous would say, correctly, that it could have been three. However, it would have been zero in any right-thinking person's opinion before the game and so it deserves to be marked down as a huge point for the Tigers. Chelsea had a swagger but no spirit and City exploited that. The wider media will say it was down to complacency and factions that Chelsea didn't win, but the main reason they didn't win was because their opponents were just marvellous.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane (Zayatte 90), Dawson, Mouyokolo, Gardner, Boateng, Fagan, Cairney, Hunt, Vennegoor of Hesselink (Zaki 66), Altidore (Kilbane 85). Subs not used: Duke, Mendy, Barmby, Geovanni.
Chelsea: Cech, Ivanovic, Zhirkov (A Cole 81), Carvalho, Terry, Deco, Lampard, Ballack (J Cole 71), Malouda, Anelka (Sturridge 81), Drogba. Subs not used: Turnbull, Alex, Ferreira, Kalou.