Saturday, 24 April 2010

36: Hull City 0 - 1 Sunderland - 24/04/2010

It's hard to type with a heavy heart and fingers tired from defiant applauding. There may be no emboldened letter 'r' in brackets next to Hull City's name after today, but it's relegation nonetheless. Ultimately, a playing squad devoid of ideas and particularly devoid of goals simply wasn't good enough to, at best, prolong the agony.

The inquest will be long and harrowing. There was an £8million wage bill when the club were promoted; it is now in the region of the £40million mark while somehow dropping in quality. The figureheads that oversaw this quite extraordinary bit of malpractice will continue to offer excuses and issue strong denials. But the upshot is that relegation doesn't just mean the end of trips to Anfield and Old Trafford and a return to the Glanford Park and Ashton Gate, it also means a total decimation of the squad as the vultures emerge with undergenerous offers, knowing that the financial plight of the Tigers means that the better players - there are some - may be sold for a mere fraction of their true worth.

Their worth to Hull City right now is nil, really. They couldn't keep us up, after all. Against Sunderland with nothing to play for and an away record that, while nothing compared to ours, still is not something to be proud of, there was proper endeavour but just no quality at all. Jimmy Bullard, so much the talisman whether fit or not, was so abject he was substituted at half time. Geovanni, back in the starting XI, was much better but still couldn't produce any magic that once made him the subject of much discussion and praise. Sunderland were tidy and quite defensive and though they only scored one of their many early chances before letting the Tigers dominate, never looked in too much danger.

Michael Turner was playing for them and got an enormous cheer. Fraizer Campbell also figured and was regally barracked throughout. Had Turner stayed and Campbell signed - especially the former - there may have been a different story to the season. Hypotheticals are all we now have.

Geovanni's recall was accompanied by likewise for Anthony Gardner, Bernard Mendy, Nick Barmby, Jozy Altidore and Caleb Folan. Six alterations in all. It was a 4-4-2 as well, therefore necessitating the removal of the fabulous Tom Cairney, though he was on the bench.

Sunderland, with their usual full-throated and slightly charmless support (let's qualify this - Sunderland have superb supporters but given their numerous misfortunes at this level in recent times, slagging off a far smaller club for suffering a relegation not even remotely as humiliating as the one they suffered under Mick McCarthy smacked of utterly graceless idiots), took early control and could have been three up quite quickly. Campbell, playing wide in red boots, fed an overlap from Jordan Henderson with nobody tracking back, and the layback was wastefully belted over by Steed Malbranque.

It didn't take long to make up for this bad miss as Alan Hutton hit a smart cross to the far side of the area for Kenwyne Jones to nod goalwards and Darren Bent guided in a neat volley with little attention being paid to his run, leaving Matt Duke helpless. A simple goal, from Sunderland's point of view also a deserved and artistic goal, from the Tigers point of view a terrible goal.

The next chance quickly followed as Henderson curled one just over from a terrific long ball by Malbranque, before City finally made the visiting back four work. George Boateng crossed for Altidore to challenge the onrushing Craig Gordon near the edge of the box. The ball fell out of the box but the keeper inexplicably was more committed to a standard tackle than Bullard, who seemed to jump out of the way. Afterwards Barmby tried a shot on the turn from a rare bit of Folan craft - a dummy from Boateng's overhead punt - but Gordon had little trouble claiming it.

Geovanni then broke down the right and fed Barmby's run outside him, with Turner cutting out the dangerous low cross and forcing a corner. Bullard's kick then got to Folan at the far post but his control was dire and eventually he could only pass backwards to Boateng, with the eventual second ball from Bullard punched clear.

Duke held a Kieran Richardson free kick that found a hole in City's wall before City's first real bit of bad luck. Bullard swung in another corner and Gardner, very warmly welcome back after his ankle injury, won a clean and powerful header that Gordon kept out only by being directly in the way, as opposed to any really tangible effort to save.

Altidore then won a free kick on the counter attack which Bullard chipped in and Barmby headed over, then Altidore got Folan free on a counter attack and the lolloping City forward tried a low shot aimed for Gordon's near post which the keeper managed to palm out of play.

Folan's one telling contribution then followed, when he unusually fought like a wild animal to get possession of the ball on the edge of the box and when Geovanni took possession of the loosened ball, a wild boot chopped him down. The penalty was obvious but Bullard really picked his moment to miss his first spot kick for the club, smacking the outside of the post with his low shot.

Geovanni was fouled again shortly afterwards and sent the free kick over, and in the five added minutes at the end Altidore and Hutton each received red cards after a tussle ended with the American striker aiming his head into the Scotsman's face. Unquestionably a foul and red card, but there was an outcry from the Sunderland contingent when Hutton, whose brand of overacting could have had him in rep, also saw red. Why Steve Bruce felt the need to join in the altercations near the corner flag is anyone's guess.

That' the last time we shall see Altidore play for the Tigers, then. He may as well hop on a plane back to Spain or the USA right now, with our good wishes.

The half time whistle shrilled soon after the game finally got going again. That Cairney was ready to come on at the start of the second half was pleasing, that the previously undroppable Bullard was the player withdrawn was greeted with unforgiving approval. Bullard may have had a knock, of course, but for a player of his class and importance he has delivered next to nothing in recent times. Iain Dowie, for all his faults, called this one correctly. A player who cared replaced one whose attitude was questionable, to put it charitably.

Sunderland made two changes as not only had Hutton been dismissed but Turner, who had been imperious as expected, had picked up an injury.

The early second half was only notable for the enormous chorus of the Great Escape that emerged from the Tiger Nation, as neither side created anything of worth and many were concentrating on whether Wigan Athletic could maintain or improve upon their level-pegging status at West Ham. Geovanni hit a free kick into the wall after Cairney was tripped by Campbell, and then the Brazilian was booked for diving while trying to win another set-piece on the edge of the box.

Dowie slung on Craig Fagan for Barmby, whose attitude was superb but contribution still muted. Fagan then, depressingly, chose to spend the majority of his gametime trying to wind up Richardson on the flank they shared. Meanwhile, Duke was called into action for the first time when tipping wide a Lorik Cana drive from long range, while Bruce's whingeing at the officials earned him a dismissal to the stands.

City's best chance - aside from the penalty - came when Mendy crossed from the edge of the area for Folan to nod back to a very advanced Andy Dawson, whose shot took a deflection and hit the trailing legs of an otherwise committed Gordon. It was as unlucky as City could have been.

Steven Mouyokolo looked after a Campbell counter attack with aplomb before David Meyler's left-footed follow up flew wide, then a Bent drive took a deflection off Gardner which made it an easier catch for the City custodian.

Dowie went for broke and withdrew the terrific Boateng - paid a lot, but worth it more than most, and one hopes he may sign a new deal for the Championship - and sent the youthful Mark Cullen into the Premier League for the first time. Cullen soon got into the action, floating a lovely ball on to Folan's head but the nod back from him and the rancorous effort at shooting from Fagan that followed was simply humiliating.

In the five added minutes, Mendy hit a low shot on target that Gordon held, and the Frenchman was one of two players - Mouyokolo being the other - who sank on to his back, distraught, when the final whistle sounded shortly afterwards. There were no tears - we've been through far worse than this - but mainly philosophical words and gestures, as if we knew it couldn't and wouldn't last. Sunderland's supporters were refreshingly sympathetic as they applauded the Tiger Nation prior to exiting the KC, happy with their own three points.

West Ham won, so at best we'll be relegated thanks purely to a woefully inferior goal difference. That tells its own tale, as for the thrashings we've taken there is more to be said for the utter ineptitude shown when trying to find the back of the net this season. Assuming we don't find Wigan on the beach next week (and even if we do the likelihood of scoring doesn't necessarily increase), we'll also end the season without a single away win.

This relegation is horrible and merciless and there will be plenty of Premier League stalwarts who will not be sorry to see us go. But make no mistake, it is a relegation we entirely deserve. Were it not for the frightening financial situation that now awaits us thanks to demotion, it'd be an easier relegation to take than any of those of 1978, 1981, 1991 and 1996, even though we were poor on the park and skint off it (and often both) on those occasions too. After all, this time round we've had a two-year stay in the top flight.

It really has been the very best trip we've ever been on. But now we may be about to embark on our worst. Over to you, Adam.

Hull City: Duke, Mendy, Dawson, Mouyokolo, Gardner, Boateng (Cullen 75), Bullard (Cairney 46), Barmby (Fagan 62), Geovanni, Folan, Altidore. Subs not used: Myhill, Sonko, Kilbane, Olofinjana.
Sunderland: Gordon, Hutton, Turner (Ferdinand 46), Kilgallon, Richardson, Malbranque (Bardsley 46), Henderson, Meyla, Campbell, Jones (Cana 60), Bent. Subs not used: Carson, Da Silva, Zenden, Mwaruwari.