Peter Taylor gives the reserves a chance to impress and in the main they respond positively, seeing off a very poor Darlington side in our first visit to the impressive Reynolds Arena. Mike Scott gets Cup fever.
Lovely Darlington. Vanguard town for the railway age and the generous donators of confidence and self-worth to the current Tiger breed. Their willingness to lay down and die comprehensively in the opening fixture of the season set the tone for the glorious table-topping run subsequently embarked upon. And last night just as the Tiger steamroller appeared to splutter a little against Carlisle, perhaps as a result of an inattentive fireman failing to fire the boiler sufficiently while distracted by talk of boarding schools, the home side laid down their standard and allowed a Tigers second eleven to maul them a second time.
Taylor made good his promise to field a team of reserves for this tie, although it is revealing that at least half of the team carded by the Tigers would get a first team game with most of our Division Four rivals. That said, when Greg Strong looks like a dominant, ball playing force at the back for most of the 90 minutes you know that there's something fishy going on with the opposition. I'll give ex-Tiger Mick Tait a week at the Darlo helm before he is summonsed to Reynolds' tasteless Shildon pile and relieved of his job - leaving the course clear for Paul Gascoigne's first job in player-management, perhaps?
Anyway, the Tigers lined up:
So a handful of first team wannabes and spattering of first team nevergonnabes. This scratch eleven may look a bit ropey on paper but they soon got into their collective stride and dominated a willing but fundamentally useless Darlo side selected from their available first team squad. When one of the ex-Halifax Clarke-Munster twins gets a game up front for Darlo - bedecked in an amusingly camp headband - you knew that the home team's talent cupboard was pretty bare. The opening exchanges were largely formless - which is more than can be said for the forthright opinions being offered in the pre-match pub by some of my chums - but amidst the hubbub and mayhem the totemic and potent Danny Webb emerged to stride forward and thump firmly a presentable chance a full ten yards over the crossbar and into the spattering of Darlo fans behind the western goal.
Ah yes, the Reynolds Arena. A vast testament to one man's cringeing vanity of that there is no doubt, a pile that has made an impecunious chancer out of a multi-millionaire. But one has to say that it is a lovely stadium. It is a constant 360 degree sweep of red seats approximately 30 deep, with crass exhortations such as "co me on da rl o" pick out in white and black amongst the passageways. As with the Fenerbache stadium, the dug-outs are the opposite side of the stadium to the tunnel meaning that by the end of the season a well trodden muddy path, like sheep tracks in the North York Moors, will emerge alongside the halfway line - not that City made much of a contribution there as we only carded three substitutes on the bench. The pitch looked a bit rough and yellowed already, bad news with the notorious South Durham winter still to exact its icy grip on the town. Tidy ground, but with 1,500 supporters rattling around in it, it looked predictably unintimidating.
By half way through the first half there was little to report beyond a Darlo volley that was only pouched by Fettis after an ugly fuble, and a Smith free-kick that was weakly struck, deflected and saved by the keeper. The main point of note for the free kick was the positioning of the defensive wall, which was so skewed to one side that it appeared to be covering the corner flag rather than a post. As half time approached the Tigers took the upper hand, a trend begun when Darlo keeper Price dropped a cross at Webb's feet presenting the promising young striker (c P Taylor, 2003) with a snapshot that was smothered with agility by the contrite custodian. It then continued with a trademark Ryan Williams cut-in-from-left-and-hit-a-weak-shot-straight-at-the-keeper routine that didn't threaten the goal but rocked the home defence further back on its heels. As that panic continued a Darlo defender facing his own goal conceded a comedy corner as his attempted backheel clearance cannoned into his standing foot. The corner was swung deep and Ryan France rose impressively to head back across goal and just inside the near post. One-nil to the Tigers, thoroughly, if rather surprisingly, deserved.
The chaos continued. The Darlo right back went absent and Forrester scurried into the space before rolling a nice pass across to France, whose shot was just high. Then Webb dribbled tidily into another gaping hole before Liddle stepped across him with all the subtlety of an Alpay penalty commiseration, and the experienced defender saw yellow. With three minutes to go before half time Burton received the ball inside his own half and pinged a sumptuous ball over the Darlo defence and into the path of the onrushing Forrester. The impressive striker rejected thoughts of overt showboating and, seeing the keeper off his line, lifted a delightful lob over Price's head and into the net for 2-0. Half time comfort for the Tigers.
Forrester had clearly done enough and was replaced at half time by Donaldson. Smith had clearly not done enough and was replaced by Peat. Both new entrants performed well and did their fringe first team chances no harm at all, Donaldson in particular impressed with his ability to take down the high ball and find space to play a pass. Chances came and went - France had a shot deflected for a corner after Webb chested down cleverly for Williams, Peat fired a low cross into the six yard box that Webb and Donaldson missed narrowly - but it was the home side that were starting to claw their way back into the game. Fortunately most of their chances fell to the lunk-headed Clarke who missed each and every one with mounting comprehensivity (c C Murphy, 2003). Even when Darlo got one on target and it beat Fettis, the ball struck the post and landed in the keeper's arms as he lay prone on the grass. Superb management, Taylor!
Eventually the dam was breached a little as a well struck shot that hit the outside of Fettis's post was followed up by a cross that eventually fell to Sheeran who lashed in a shot low down to Fettis's right for 1-2. With ten minutes left on the clock the prospect of Silver Goal excitement beckoned, but this was quoshed within a further minute as Donaldson took down a cross and intelligently fed Williams who was advancing down the left channel. Ryan outpaced the defence before cutting across the eighteen yard line and firing a low right footed drive into the corner of the net for 1-3. Game over.
So an LDV Vans Trophy odyssey begins. The draw on Saturday morning will be televised live on Soccer AM (Sky Sports 1) and I for one am looking forward to an tie away to Halifax in round two. A D3 Championship/LDV double for the Tigers. Long way to go....
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Fettis; Regan, Strong, Burton, Smith; France, Keates, Melton, Williams; Webb, Forrester. Subs: Peat (for Smith, 45), Donaldson (for Forrester, 45), Russell.
Goals: France 36, Forrester 45, Williams 82
Booked: Strong, Webb
Sent Off: None
DARLINGTON: Price, Hutchinson, Valentine, Liddle, McGurk, Nicholls, Bossy, Maddison, Morgan, Clark, Clarke. Subs: Convery (for Bossy, 68), Sheeran (for Clark, 68), Coghlan (for Nicholls, 77), Keltie, Hughes..
Goals: Sheeran 81
Booked: Bossy, Liddle, Maddison
Sent Off: None
ATTENDANCE: 1, 578
Last revised: October 19, 2003