Top of the table clash. Lock out at the KC. Two fine teams. City win. It's not often Steve Weatherill gets to report on that lot.
Y’know, I’m generally quite an admirer of the BBC. It is thought that they have had a tough year, but I struggle to see what was wrong with telling the nation the government lied to us over Iraq when there is massive and growing evidence that Mr Blair and his mostly unelected cronies lied so much that, were they Pinocchio, their noses would now stretch all the way from Whitehall to “Wimbledon”’s new ground in Milton Keynes, or perhaps even all the way to their spiritual home in Crawford, Texas. But quite how the BBC will be able to sustain last night’s fresh damage to its reputation, I cannot imagine. In front of a bulging crowd of over 20,000, top spot in the 3rd Division was claimed by a rampant Hull City, and yet what did we get on the Radio 5 sports bulletins? A litany of dull prose concerning some bloated European football competition that is of interest only to armchair fans and more-money-than-sense purchasers of Arsenal calendars and Celtic colanders. No, Lord Reith, get your priorities straight: last night at the Circle, that was proper stuff. Failing discovery of large quantitites of WMDs in the desert (which Saddam simply overlooked when preparing his defences against invasion, an easy mistake to make admittedly, come on, anthrax tucked away at the back of the garden shed, we’ve all done it), it is Hull City that is the BIG story right now.
And last night was great: exciting, vibrant, and successful too. Striding over to the stadium from town was wonderful, with the cunningly lit orb luring the footsteps onwards, and when we reached the steps above the concourse it was a genuine moment of awe – “look at the size of those queues”. They snaked mazily across the tarmac. Kick-off was pushed back to 8 o clock, and by the time we began there was little if any spare room to be had in the Circle anywhere outside of the away end. The crowd – a Mike Scott-busting 20,903! And rumours of City fans locked out may well provide an explanation for a Swansea support that, at 250, was far larger than that dismal club has ever brought to Hull before (though still shoddy for a team that was – repeat, heh heh, “was” – top of the League): I wonder how many of that group were undercover Tigers fans willing to try any ruse to get in to witness a great occasion.
We lined up in the usual attacking 4-4-2:
And the core of the Swansea tactics was quickly apparent as Nugent led with the elbow straight into Delaney’s face. Happily the referee was wise to the Welsh wickedness and whipped out a well-merited yellow card. And Delaney responded in the best possible way by not yielding an inch to such brutal chicanery all night.
Allsop raced into space to enjoy our first opportunity but pushed a chip just over the bar as massive netman Roger Freestone hurtled off his line to close down the angle, and then a long ball in from the right prompted Duffy to attempt a spectacular own goal as Elliott lurked just behind him: sadly for admirers of crass o.g.s (that’s surely all of us, perhaps excluding Willie Donachie) the ball was touched just too high and the visitors survived at the expense of a corner. Promising though our beginning was the eye was unavoidably taken by something other than the lively football. Lee Trundle’s boots. The lesser of Wrexham’s front pairing of last season has contributed a clutch of goals to the Swansea cause this season, but what had thus far escaped my attention is his boots. They are white, but, more peculiarly, they are extremely long, with shiny and slightly floppy extensions at the toe-end. They resemble a clown’s footwear, and they look extremely ungainly. Trundle also sports a shocking gelled and dyed hairstyle and ponces around the pitch like an Amsterdam tart. I am drawn to the preliminary conclusion that he is an utter prat who would finish up headfirst down the toilet bowl were he ever to share a dressing room with Billy Whitehurst. Not for the first time I was left wondering just what service in the Crimean War would do for the young folk of today.
Swansea were, Trundle aside, resilient and plainly placed loftily in the table for good reason. Wilson, Boro loanee in midfield, looked particularly fine. But we were better. On 15, Ashbee and Price combined to set up Burgess for an audacious overhead kick that was tipped over by the excellent Freestone, and then, on 25, Freestone again blocked a low shot as Elliott cut in from the left. But shortly afterwards we took the lead. It was simple stuff, crisply executed. Dawson fired in a low fizzing corner from the left and Elliott timed his run perfectly to nut the ball powerfully past the keeper. 1-0, jubilation, though it is a mystery to me why all our subsequent corners were punted long, short and anything other than in the manner that had comprehensively unpicked the Swansea defence for our goal.
We were worth this lead, but Swansea now had a slight but undeniable upper hand in the period up until half-time. They were denied clear shooting opportunities by sturdy and tidy defensive efforts, in which the increasingly assertive Damien Delaney lost nothing at all in comparison with the admirable Justin Whittle. The action concluded with Comedy Hero of the Half Lee Trundle acquiring a yellow card for a blatant dive, saved by neither of his two pleas in mitigation: first “I’ve got stupid big shoes on, I just tripped”, second “we get given penalties for that at the Vetch, it’s not fair”. Legal reasons do not prevent me from revealing that this man is a complete prannock.
Swansea, having finished the first 45 looking the more dangerous, started the next in similar vein. A low left-foot shot from Andy Robinson curved across the turf with the Muss wholly beaten and from my perch in the East Stand the ball was travelling just inside the post for the equaliser. Not enough chalk on the cue though, and it slipped off course, struck the post and bounced to safety. Decent side, Swansea.
Elliott foolishly got himself booked, but then swept in a fine cross which eluded Burgess but dropped to Alsppo, whose header was brilliantly parried at close-range by the outstandingly good Roger Freestone. It was exciting stuff all over the park as both teams enjoyed spells in the ascendancy and provided some good football for the huge crowd to appreciate. For us, Ashbee’s forceful midfield play was marvellously encouraging. His well-timed tackling and willingness to surge forward with the ball made this his best display of the season, and as good an effort as he has ever offered in a Tigers shirt. To mention Delaney and Whittle in the same breath would have seemed absurd not long ago, but not only was the Irishman every bit the Sarge’s equal in aerial imperiousness, he matched him in positional sense and grit too, and, what is more, the duo played like a pairing with a future. Nugent and Trundle were quelled, and there can be no way back for Joseph at present. If there was a negative in the team it was down the flanks: Price is not yet fully fit and began to labour after the hour, while Elliott, though clearly improving, is still drifting out of games for longer than he ever did at his best last year.
Swansea were at their most cute from free-kicks. A quick one released Trundle in our box but the Muss hared off his line, custard pie in hand, and the effort rolled harmlessly past the post. Then Wilson struck a quite brilliant dead ball from 30 yards, curving behind the defence but with too much pace for Muss to come collect. It was an attacker’s dream and we were fortunate that the touch applied caused the ball to smack against the underside of the bar, bounce out and then get scrambled to safety. I find it a shame that whereas in days gone by top Division clubs were strengthened by acquisitions of good-quality youth from the lower Leagues, now, by contrast, many lower League teams boast as their best player some unheard-of Premiership reserve. (I am not talking Caleb Folan here). But this fellow Wilson is class, and Swansea are lucky to have him, albeit temporarily.
On 75 a lengthy run from Elliott culminated in a powerful drive, just wide, and then sloppy Swan defence allowed Aalsopp to grab possession and attempt unselfishly to set up a chance for Burgess, only for a less sloppy Swan to intervene with a splendid saving tackle. We were value for the lead, only to be handed an unexpected gift when Duffy swiped Elliott outrageously from behind. It was a clear red card, and the referee did not disappoint. Duffy, an idiot, seemed up for a pop at anyone and everyone and had to be ushered off the pitch by his team-mates.
We had ten minutes in which to keep things calm and take the points. By this time Mr K Noble of Greatfield had completed his letter to the Hull Daily Mail saying “I’m a lifelong City fan, yet I was turned away from tonight’s game because the ground was full, this happened the last time I went, for the Cup game with Liverpool, my message to Martin Fish is c’mon martin sort it out!”, while the rest of us were beginning to hug the three points. Holt arrived for Elliott, and though it would be false to say we had no alarms as the clock ticked down, Swansea were visibly tiring and dispirited by reduction to ten men. There were just two minutes added, and our Australian dealt with them more-or-less single-handedly (well, double-footedly) with an excellent display of simple passing and ball-retention. Good professional, Danni Alsoop. And we had won. And we are top. Though the waiting nation would have learned little of that from the BBC.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Hinds, Whittle, Delaney, Dawson; Price, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Burgess, Allsopp. Subs: Holt (for Elliott, 84), France, Forrester, Keates, Fettis.
Goals: Elliott 27
Sent Off: None
SWANSEA CITY: Freestone, Duffy, O'Leary, Iriekpen, Howard, Britton, Johnrose, Wilson, Robinson, Nugent, Trundle. Subs: Jenkins, Smith, Murphy, Corbisierso, Pritchard.
Booked: Duffy, Johnrose, Wilson, Nugent, Trundle.
Sent Off: Duffy
Last revised: December 27, 2003