Sunday, 7 February 2010

25: Hull City 2 - 1 Manchester City - 06/02/2010

There is only one City, y'know. They play in amber, they represent heart and soul as much as footballing ability, and they've just beaten a team for whom money evidently cannot buy cohesion or spirit.

This was a stunning performance by a team that has just managed to get it right. Both goals were terrific, the need to fight for every ball was ingrained within them from the first minute, and this first Premier League win since November was more about their own display than most commentators will accept.

Of course, the response from most will be to assume that Manchester City had an off day. They did. Spectacularly so. But they weren't abject, merely outplayed. The Tigers were better in every department and no binful of excuses from apologists for the fashionable visitors will take that simple truth away.

Phil Brown made no changes. He didn't need to and nobody in the starting XI from the draw with Chelsea deserved to be dropped. If they were fit, they were in, and indeed all were fit. Manchester City did pick Wayne Bridge, as expected, and the wronged England full back got little more than mild ribbing from the East Stand, but this was probably more to do with repetitiveness rather than sympathy.

Craig Fagan had the first chance, belting an angled drive high and wide after Jozy Altidore had beaten off an aerial challenge to get a flick on to Stephen Hunt's cross. The hardworking Altidore then earned a free kick after Kolo Toure fouled him and earned an early yellow card for his trouble, though the American could only hit the base of the wall with his effort.

Altidore's worth was questioned recently due to his lack of goals but this bustling, determined American has really shown how worthy he is as a team player in the last few weeks. Having got Toure on a final warning he soon did likewise with the other centre back, Dedryck Boyata, who was cautioned for felling the broad-shouldered striker near the corner flag.

The burgeoning partnership with Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink also took another big step when, having flicked on a Fagan cross to give the big Dutchman a volleying chance which he put wide, Altidore had the compliment returned when Vennegoor of Hesselink laid a George Boateng through ball into the American's path and Altidore placed a careful shot beyond Shay Given's left hand and into the corner.

It was a super goal, and well worth the 18-match wait that Altidore has had to endure before opening his Premier League account. And it was not just what the American himself deserved, but it was what City as a team deserved. By the time the lead was acquired just after the half hour, the Tigers were in complete control. The visitors were slow and negative and making similar presumptions about their status that did for Chelsea in midweek.

Fagan took a similar lay-off from Vennegoor of Hesselink but swiped his shot well wide. The last ten minutes of the half finally prompted some action from the visitors but Anthony Gardner looked after Emmanuel Adebayor's threat in the air with aplomb, while Steven Mouyokolo did superbly to block a far post Carlos Tevez strike after Gareth Barry's corner was flicked into his path.

Bridge then went through on goal after a fine sequence of passes between Craig Bellamy and Tevez, but Boaz Myhill was equal to the task at his near post. Adebayor followed up with a volley that was high, wide and nothing resembling handsomeness.

The second half was a big event, with City clearly believing that they could win this one. The illustrious status of their opponents had proved nothing in the first half, and soon it meant even less.

Altidore got on the end of a fine four-man passing sequence involving Tom Cairney, Boateng, Vennegoor of Hesselink and Hunt but went down easily under a challenge from Toure and got nothing.

Fagan then forced a corner which Hunt swung in dangerously. The headed clearance by Toure reached Boateng on the edge of the box, who duly delivered a stunning, rasping left-footed drive that beat Given all ends up and recorded the inspirational midfielder his first goal for more than two years, and his first in City colours. It was a magnificent effort.

The visitors got back into it quickly, forcing a corner via Myhill's save from Tevez and panicking the Tigers defence in the area. Nobody could get it clear and eventually it fell to Adebayor who stabbed it in from close range.

There was cause for worry, but instantly Bellamy was substituted and on came Patrick Vieira for his debut. How this represented a positive change, especially as Bellamy's chippiness contributes as much to his team's destiny as his skill and pace, is anyone's guess. Vieira may have been once a great player but he isn't any more. And he would prove it. Simultaneously, Altidore was withdrawn with raucous applause ringing in his ears, and on came Amr Zaki.

A period followed when Manchester City forced a seemingly endless number of set-pieces but Gardner and Mouyokolo, plus the gloves of Myhill, dealt conclusively with each. Zaki could have put it beyond doubt when he was sent clear by Vennegoor of Hesselink on the counter attack but went for the near post drive and Given stopped it easily.

Brown threw on two more subs, replacing the shattered but iconic Boateng with the returning Seyi Olofinjana, then the ultimate in protective substitutions was made when Kevin Kilbane replaced Vennegoor of Hesselink.

Myhill threatened a few coronaries when he misjudged a swerving cross from sub Adam Johnson and let the ball leave his grasp and drop just wide, but aside from a good Tevez chance from close range which the City custodian held well, the visitors really weren't getting anywhere fast. The four added minutes dragged on but victory was sealed, and what a victory it was.

Manchester City looked like they really didn't care if a proper competition was put before them courtesy of a team of comparatively skint players. That's what happened. By the time they did have a go, their best attacking threat was off the pitch and there was too much unfamiliarity.

Spirit was lacking too, which is hardly something you can say about the hosts. Hull City were worth every single penny of the admission and a bit more. This national assumption that last year was a freak and this year will result in definite relegation may just spur us on to another survival and another year of tweaking wealthier noses. That's what we've become good at lately, and boy is it entertaining to see.

Hull City: Myhill, McShane, Dawson, Mouyokolo, Gardner, Boateng (Olofinjana 82), Cairney, Fagan, Hunt, Altidore (Zaki 66), Vennegoor of Hesselink (Kilbane 83). Subs not used: Duke, Zayatte, Barmby, Garcia.
Manchester City: Given, Zabaleta, Bridge (Petrov 85), Boyata, Toure, De Jong, Barry, Ireland (Johnson 55), Bellamy (Vieira 60), Adebayor, Tevez. Subs not used: Taylor, Onuoha, Sylvinho, Wright-Phillips.