In the stifling heat of a East Coast heatwave the new Tiger breed dismissed likely strugglers Darlington with a powerful second half performance. Steve Weatherill mops his brow and delivers the first OC7 match report of the season.
A lot of tiresome old nonsense is talked about football. (And I like to think I'm rarely found wanting in that department). But among the very worst of the lame triteness that afflicts our sport is the plea "not to get carried away". Yeah right: like we're supposed to have strolled away from the Circle yesterday thinking "I say, that's three points, but my goodness me there are still 45 games to go, and I for one won't be getting excited just yet". Maybe there was the odd person at 5 to 5 yesterday who clenched their jaw and resolved not even to glance at a League table until October, but most of another large Circle throng capered away to their palaces of celebration with glee, exultation and sheer joy in tow. This was decisive, it was glorious, it was wonderful to watch - we're top of the League, and that's where we're going to stay, more or less, and if we were short odds for promotion ante-post, we'll be skinnier still now. O yes, the Tigers are on the march.
Daft hyperbole? Look, I know it's twenty years since we were last promoted, and only two years since I was last bleating on in this absurdly exaggerated manner - after the 3-1 opening day victory at Exeter, to be precise - so by all means discount my witterings. After all, I did proclaim Paul Wharton "the finest midfielder since Socrates" after his Tiger debut. But after you shun my glee, go iron your shirts for the week, polish your shoes until you can see your face in them, and indulge your hobbies of building piles of pennies carrying the same date and collecting pictures of Una Stubbs. For the time being - six days, anyway - it is time to get carried away. Because we were superb against Darlington, and it was marvellous to watch.
On blinding form was a 4-4-2:
Our beginning was modestly promising without ever looking likely to soil the scoresheet. Burgess flicked, Price darted, but it was plain that the key to the match lay in the centre of midfield where the unlikely combination of Ashbee and Green was forced to join battle with a Darlo trio. Unsurprisingly our outnumbered duo was having a tough time of it. Still, it was City that carved out the first serious shooting opportunity of the match when, mid-way through the first period, Price chested down an attempted hoof and strode forward powerfully before loosing a sharp right-footed shot that was well saved low to his right by Andy Collett in the visitors' goal. We followed this up with a hugely optimistic penalty appeal - the ball undeniably struck a Darlo hand inside their box but only after the attached body had been fouled by one of ours, and the ref correctly blew for a free-kick in favour of the visitors. But we were the superior side, and we scored the opening goal. A corner was lofted towards the back of the box, knocked on goalwards and Burgess intervened to deflect a neat header that itself seemed destined for the back of the net. But Collett sprawled low to keep the ball out, only to watch in dismay as Burgess bundled the rebound back over the line. 1-0, and an impressively alert and eager piece of striking from Big Ben.
There was plenty to admire as our team began to enjoy the searing heat of the afternoon. Green and Ashbee were by now doing all that could be expected of a midfield pairing in this Division, and they were ably supported by Price whose direct running up the right - no, not running, better "rampaging": he is no mere runner - could prove an enormous asset this season, as well as truly exciting to watch. Elliott was more subdued on the left-hand side, but was perhaps less willing - or had been less actively encouraged by his manager - to bomb forward lest poor Delaney be left exposed. No such alarm on the right, where Price knows he has the majestic, reliable and very competent Thelwell (pr Thule) minding shop behind him. Up front Burgess is strikingly more mobile and enthusiastic than Allsopp, but to compensate for that Allsopp is … umm, well simply not as good as Burgess, as far as I can see (so far).
We were coasting in the direction of a 1-0 half-time haven. Allsopp allowed a Green corner to run through to Joseph, whose right-foot shot slid just the wrong side of the post. A second goal before the break looked eminently plausible, but not from Darlo. Yet that's what happened. A brief spark of pressure from the visitors was intensified by our crass preference to pull everyone back behind the ball to defend set pieces. Even so, lines should have been cleared with more brutality than was actually served up, and by the time our dithering was done Conlon had boshed the ball into our net for an undeserved and wholly unforeseen equaliser.
Gloom and groans spattered the half-time concourses, but the truth was that our team had offered us plenty to feel positive about during the opening 45 minutes of the season. And the players immediately showed they had no intention of letting Darlo's tasteless little demonstration rob them of their focus. Only two minutes into the second half a good old-fashioned melee in the Darlo box allowed Burgess to shovel a ball across the face of the goal where Price lunged with a defender in search of a critical touch, and the damage was done. 2-1: Price claimed it, and deserved it for his energy and opportunism, but I suspect the Darloman may have got the final touch.
Games are won by attackers, but taking the lead matters nothing if you get pegged back. And a minute later we were exposed down our right. A shot evaded Fettis and rolled netwards. Whereupon Hinds appeared, perfectly judging the danger and, from just underneath our crossbar, hoisted the ball high over it to safety. Top-notch defending.
It could have been 2-2. Soon it was 3-1. A surging move down the right was simply too powerful for the visitors to resist, and as Thelwell prepared himself for a shot from near the edge of the box both Darlo, and, when they see this on telly, the rest of Division 3, will have realised that Hull City are capable of playing football that is just a bit too good for our rivals. Thelwell took the ball just above the bounce and smashed a fizzing, dipping, stunning shot across Collett and ripped it inside the far post.
At this point you would have believed anything was feasible. We could score six, we could score ten, we could stay unbeaten all season, we could win all 46 games and the Cup to boot, we could prevent global warming and bring an end to famine and drought in Africa, hell's teeth, we might even track down some Iraqis prepared to declare themselves "liberated" and find some weapons of mass destruction into the bargain. Hull City FC is, of course, the answer to the problems of our planet - this much we have always known. But we haven't always been able to witness such vivid demonstrations of it before. Poor Darlo.
A Burgess chip reached Elliott, whose header was well held by the busy Darlo netman Collett. Then an Allsopp shot was blocked at the expense of a corner. Next Delaney brought the ball forward with conviction and released Burgess: he turns and passes to Price, whose driving run ends in a shot that is again well saved by the impressive Collett. Without a sturdy goalkeeper Darlington would have been knocking on Bon Accord's door.
Whittle had replaced the injured Hinds, but there was frankly precious little for our defence to occupy itself with. In the raw heat Darlo were utterly quelled. Elliott, perhaps our only slightly disappointing performer of the afternoon, was replaced by Keates with ten to go - the strength of talent on our bench is another happy indicator of our vibrant possibilities. And 3-1 duly became 4-1 as a flowing move treated weary Darlo with contempt before culminating in a graceful Allsopp shot beyond beleaguered Collett. It was Allsopp's final contribution as he took a rest and Forrester entered for a brief runaround through the closing minutes.
So! We cuffed the opposition 4-1 and their best man (by far) was indefatigable goalkeeper Andy Collett (at least, I do hope it was him: I have a track record in misidentifying impressive opposition keepers). This Hull City team was terrific yesterday. And - if we attempt briefly to avoid getting carried away - what does it tell us? That we are capable of winning this Division if we play to our full potential. OK - but take a cold shower: this much we knew already. What we didn't know, and still don't know, is whether the players and manager are capable of producing consistently effective displays, winning ugly where necessary and grinding out wins on cold nights in grimy hostile towns. Do we have a team that is resolute? On this point there remains plenty to prove, but all the signs against Darlington were promising. Thelwell gives not the slightest suggestion of thinking himself too grand for this Division. The former Tottenham player is thoughtful and committed. Hinds is a valuable addition (even if I'd always pick Justin ahead of him, and ahead of anyone else). I like Burgess very much, and Ashbee too played a good hand against Darlo. But if I were to pick out the performance that encouraged me most, I would look past the obvious charms of the muscular direct running on offer from the excellent Jason Price, and instead choose Mr Stuart Green. There were few delicate feints yesterday: little in the way of visionary perfectly-judged passes. But there was industry and selflessness and, in the second half in particular, Green's work rate and tackling were admirable. If the Cumbrian boy blunder is now able to put his youthful indiscretions behind him and play like this regularly, then there will be a lot more reasons for Hull City supporters to be joyously carried away between now and the securing of automatic promotion early next April.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Fettis; Thelwell, Joseph, Hinds, Delaney; Price, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Burgess, Allsopp. Subs: Whittle (for Hinds, 53), Keates (for Elliott, 80), Forrester (for Allsopp, 83), Appleby, Musselwhite.
Goals: Burgess 26, Price 49, Thelwell 50, Allsopp 82
Sent Off: None
DARLINGTON: Collett, Liddle, Clarke, Hutchinson, McGurk, Keltie, Nicholls, Maddison, Valentine, Mellanby, Conlon. Subs: Robson (for Mellanby, 45), Hughes (for Hutchinson, 66), Clark, Bossy, Price..
Goals: Conlon 41
Booked: Clarke, Liddle, Nicholls
Sent Off: None
Last revised: August 13, 2003