In horse racing country a strange starting line-up and a poor performance saw City crash out of the Cup at the first hurdle. City can now forget the eight furlong sprint and concentrate on the 4 mile chase. Steve Weatherill gives the SP.
I’m very fond of lists. Top Ten Wily Spinners? Abdul Qadir for definite, and if you think twirlymen you think Bishen Bedi too. Top Ten Hosts of Popular Light Entertainment TV Quiz Shows? Derek Batey’s got to be in there, and so too Gambit’s very own Fred Dineage. Top Ten Trunk Roads? I don’t think you’ll catch me omitting the A34 – Manchester to Winchester by jingo! So, humour me, List your Top Ten City games.
I admit, there may be a generational bias here. If your days as a City supporter began round about 1990 you might be hard pressed even to think of ten games remotely worthy of the label “top”. Stop at 4 if you must: it’s been a flesh-crawlingly awful ride since Dolan started to go to bad. But anyone able to stretch their imagination back at least to the late 1980s and happy seasons in the old Division 2 will be able to set off furiously scribbling their list.
So, go on. Top Ten City games.
I bet at least half are FA Cup games. And the older you are, the bigger my stake. Two runs to the 5th Round in the late 1980s, three seasons in the early 70s in which we qualified for the 5th Round as a minimum, peaking in the Quarter Final tie with Stoke in the Spring of 1971, Chelsea in the Quarters in 1966, epic ties with Spurs and Manchester United in the immediate post-war decade, and the legendary march to the Cup semi-final in 1930, involving a defeat of Newcastle on the Anlaby Road site currently occupied by our shiny new Circle and ultimate cruel defeat at the hands of lucky Arsenal. And all spiced up with one-off highlight such as Crook, Whitby, Everton ….
O yes, the FA Cup has been good to us.
Not yesterday. All week I’ve been hearing noises coming out of our club about how this year’s mission is to reach the 3rd Round and get Manchester United away. What a wicked lack of respect. As if this competition is no more than a revenue-generating opportunity to bow the knee to the cancer of Stretford. Our manager selected a side he wouldn’t have dreamed of fielding in a League game. Lack of respect. And several of our players performed as if they didn’t give a damn. Lack of respect.
Cheltenham were up for a Cup scrap and for a Cup scalp and they got what they deserved – a good victory. We got what we deserved too – booting out of the competition.
This lack of respect in the face of tradition pains me.
We lined up as follows: look carefully, it’s a bit weird
And, as grey skies gave way slowly to blue in the lee of the Cotswolds, the special FA Cup silver football took some lively punting as the game got underway. Burgess presses down the right, but his cross is hoofed to safety … a free-kick to them, the ball is charged down and breaks to midfielder Yates whose shot stings narrowly wide … and then they score. Ashbee stands too far off Spencer inside the box and the muscular forward is able to follow up his hat-trick at the Circle in September by mis-hitting a shot wide of the Muss and in off the post.
Shortly afterwards a glorious chance falls to Price, unmarked eight yards out and in front of goal, but he blasts it high into the mild Gloucestershire sky, and the game is losing its early edge. Which suits the home side, snugly in possession of the lead. Spencer, whose problems in even making the Chelts’ regular starting line-up are baffling on the evidence of his powerful displays against us, knees a chance just wide of the post after the Muss flaps dismally at a corner. But the game has gone as tepid as yesterday’s courgette and spinach risotto (top ten italian vegetarian dishes).
Too many of our team were playing out of position. Perhaps this was intended as a gracious tribute to Prince Charles, but it did nothing for our chances of a decent Cup run to see Jason Price up front - playing with his back to the play is just not his game. And Ben Burgess suffered in turn from the absence of an effective partner. The imaginative contribution of Stuart Green is sliced in half when he is marooned out wide on the right, as he was yesterday, while Hinds is only an adequate central midfielder, at best. Add in Ashbee in worryingly ineffective mode and Holt making us pine profoundly for the return of Elliott and the midfield was dominated by Cheltenham, where both Yates and Finnigan looked as splendidly vigorous as Boris Becker in a broom cupboard. Stir in a dose of shoddy Joseph infused by unconvincing Musselwhite and we didn’t look too clever at the back either. Whaddon Road gets you as close to the action as any ground in the League, but still not close enough to hear any hint of Muss shouting up his defenders. He lacks any air of authority nowadays. Top man for us in a poor first half: Damien Delaney. Assured, strong, intelligent. A splendid footballer and a splendid man.
The opening three minutes of the second half saw the rise and immediate fall of our FA Cup hopes for 2003/04. Seconds after the re-start a hopeful hoof found the uncompromising home defence momentarily considering their half-time biscuit choice (garibaldis would be firmly inside my top ten but on this occasion they’d chosen something with a hole in the middle), and Price scooted into vacant territory to lift the ball over the keeper and then bundle it into the net just as it seemed to be running too far wide. This equaliser was as much of a delightful surprise as what followed was a gruesome, hair-wrenching exercise in stupidity. Cheltenham won a corner, whisked it deep into the heart of our six-yard box and one of theirs banged it into the net. A challenge, anyone? There was none. My first inquiry would be directed at our goalkeeper. “Where were you?” would be my starter for ten (top ten cerebral quiz shows? For sure, University Challenge, but NOT the new-fangled version, where now for those cherished questions on renaissance art and medieval melodies?). Honestly, this was dire: to equalise, and then to throw it away so quickly, so feebly ….
Cheltenham, 2-1 up, are the better side too. We’ve switched Green to a more central role but we still seem to be approaching the game as if it is not a matter of great concern whether we win or lose. Lack of respect. It’s time for a change, and Holt and Hinds, disappointing all afternoon the pair, are replaced by Elliott and Forrester. The latter joins Burgess up front, the former goes wide left; Price goes wide right and Green moves inside permanently to partner Ashbee in the centre. What’s this! Why, it’s 4-4-2 with two proper wide men and two genuine forwards! Like we play every week in the League! Well hell. About time too.
Elliott is good, Forrester is terrific and Burgess perks up noticeably for the more sensible shape now surrounding him. But we aren’t quite able to rescue the tie.
Burgess feeds Price who crosses towards the penalty spot where Elliott and Forrester, over-eager, tackle each other in their haste to connect with the ball. Then a free-kick is flicked on by Burgess to Forrester at the back post who bundles the ball into the net, but the effort is chalked off for offside. Impossible to judge if the lino got this right – I think Price might have strayed offside but I don’t think Forrester did. Then it was again the former Scunny man in the thick of it as he stroked a pass wide to Price, raced into the box to flick on the cross and watch as Burgess headed over the bar. It was by no means simply “all City”, and on the occasions that the home side pushed forward there was plenty of opportunity for the troublingly inept Marc Joseph to show he lacks application. But we were on top… and this is how we should have been playing from 3 o clock onwards.
On 89 we won a corner. A couple of headers later and Forrester, at the back post, was able to screw the ball back square across the face of the goal. But it just eluded the lunging Burgess. It was our last chance. And Cheltenham punted it upfield and scored on the break.
Final source of a lack of respect? Our fans. Not the 700 or so who were there. Top men and women, the lot of them. But that is a far smaller travelling support than we’ve taken down to Chelters on the three occasions on which we’ve visited Whaddon Road on League duty. I don’t think a club that takes less than 5% of its average home crowd to its first away FA Cup tie of the season should be boasting too loudly about how magnificently loyal its fans are. I suppose a lot of people rate the League as the overriding priority his season – after all, we’ve spent way too long in this grim Division. But …. this IS the Cup after all. This is THE Cup.
Well, it was the Cup, anyway. Roll on 2004/05.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Joseph, Whittle, Delaney, Dawson; Green, Hinds, Ashbee, Holt; Price, Burgess. Subs: Forrester (for Hinds, 65), Elliott (for Holt, 65), Fettis, Keates, Webb.
Goals: Price 46
Booked: Hinds, Whittle
Sent Off: None
CHELTENHAM TOWN: Higgs, Bird, Brough, Duff, McCann, Howells, Yates, Finnegan, Cleverley, Brayson, Spencer. Subs: Forsyth (for Cleverley, 73), Book, Corbett, Fyfe, Taylor.
Goals: Spencer 6, Yates 48, Brayson 90
Sent Off: None
Last revised: November 09, 2003