Honours even in a closely fought game between in-form Scunthorpe and the target of their jealousy, the rich and successful Hull City. Steve Weatherill describes how cheats can sometimes prosper.
In short? A hectic but rather poor-quality first half saw the teams scoreless at half-time, and that was about right. But we bossed the second half and deserved all three points, finding ourselves forced to settle for just one after a deeply unfair penalty award gave the yellowbellies a lead which we promptly cancelled out thanks to a splendidly sweeping move and a decisive Elliott finish.
Looking distinctly the better side and ready for a handsome holiday points haul were:
So Green took a rest on the bench while last week’s adventurous 4-3-3 formation was shelved in favour of this season’s more orthodox 4-4-2. Both options pointed to a managerial concern to concede nothing to Scunthorpe in the midfield dogfight, but inside the first minute the expectation of a rugged and low-scoring struggle was challenged as Elliott breezed clear of a hesitant defence and toe-poked a shot wide of Evans in the Scun goal. Sad to report the effort also rolled wide of the post, and a glorious opportunity to set the tone in our favour was lost.
Scunthorpe’s MacLean was the man to watch and, if his goalscoring record told no lies, the man to fear too. Fair-haired and graceful, he is also a cheat. Not a very good one, though. On 10 Beagrie slid a very fine through ball into the danger area, allowing MacLean to take possession as the Muss advanced. The Scunthorpe striker was moving away from goal, clearly didn’t fancy his chances of getting in a strike, so chose instead to tumble to the turf in a quite ludicrously poor attempt to con the ref. Who, gratifyingly, was having none of it and a yellow card was quite rightly produced. Referee Walton would have been well advised to add a note in his book next to MacLean’s name to the effect “Watch this bloke! He’ll probably try this trick again! Don’t fall for it!”. He didn’t, he did and he did, and we later were to rue the chicanery of the Scot.
Scunthorpe were the stronger side as the half got into its swing. Some of their pass-and-move football was quick and not unimpressive, and their crosses, hit with good pace, looked awkward for our central defence throughout the first half. We played with decent width at times – Price right side and Holt, perhaps our most effective player, left side – and Burgess and Elliott combined well on occasion. The home side claim more possession: we look a shade more dangerous near the penalty box. A defender bottled a challenge on Price, allowing our man to career into the box and turn a deft pass square into Elliott’s path. A superbly judged tackle thwarted the Ulsterman as he shaped to shoot. Holt showed a flash of skill and slipped a delightful ball into Burgess’s feet but Big Ben’s shot was weak and easily held by Evans in the home goal. Then Dawson’s long cross is headed back across goal by Price for Elliott to attempt an ambitious overhead kick that clears crossbar and stand and sails away towards the Wash.
The “Humber derby”, as the lazy local papers tiresomely have it, does not crackle with menace, nor does it burn with passion. And why should it? The City of Hull and the town of Scunthorpe are only twenty-odd miles apart, but there is absolutely no cultural or economic connection. The reason is a perfectly obvious intervening geographical feature. This is as much a derby as Dover Athletic v FC Dunkerque. I like it when we beat Scunthorpe because it gives us three points. I like it equally when we beat Torquay and Southend and Kidderminster. Still, this match, the date of which is a matter of studied indifference to Tigers fans when the fixtures are published in the summer, is evidently the be-all-and-end-all of the sturdy Lincolnshire folk’s year. Why, yesterday they almost sold all of their tickets!
Towards half-time and Scunthorpe finish the livelier. The aggressive number 3, Sharp, shoots fiercely but the Muss punches it round the post. Shortly afterwards Delaney boots the ball off the line. And then MacLean glides into space before releasing a dangerous low shot from right to left. Boaz Myhill, our impressively large new goalkeeper, is warming up on the touchline at this point but the Muss can take a hint and he dives full-length to flick the shot away for a corner. Half-time, no score.
After the break we quickly seized control and rarely relaxed that grip for the remainder of the afternoon. Our midfield had competed vigorously and now it had won the contest. The problem was to create some real chances as Scunthorpe’s ambitions subsided and they defended stuffily. Holt surged forward to win a corner but Ashbee, who had a good game, punted a chance high over the bar. Our superiority was beginning to look inadequate to force a breaking of the deadlock when, altogether surprisingly, a goal arrived. Alarmingly, it wasn’t for us.
A ball was dinked into the box, where Delaney and MacLean engaged in a brief tussle. Delaney nudged MacLean, MacLean nudged Delaney, both were competing vigorously and fairly for a ball that both had every right to attack when all of a sudden MacLean flung himself to the ground as if he’d been slugged by George Foreman wielding one of his very own super-duper grills (for great tasting healthier food). Delaney looked in disdain at this woefully theatrical prattishness but his mood turned quickly to horror and indignation as he realised that referee Walton was pointing to the spot. It was an absurd award. This was simply a 50/50 challenge between defender and attacker. If that was a penalty, then there should ten of them every match. MacLean would have well deserved a second yellow for the same offence, diving, cheating, ungentlemanly conduct, whatever it’s called nowadays. Delaney, interviewed on the radio afterwards (and what a nice courteous chap he sounds), was diplomatically outraged. He was grievously hard done by in this incident, but it doesn’t alter his status as our best player so far this season.
Beagrie drilled home the penalty confidently and suddenly we could hear distant murmurings that suggested Scunthorpe had some fans in the ground too. Exposure to their grunts and snuffles was gratifyingly brief. A long ball was hoisted from right to left by Burgess into the path of Elliott, storming through the inside left channel into the penalty area. He smashed a low shot goalwards, Evans got a touch but couldn’t keep it out and we were level. Damn’ right too.
A bit of a coup for Mr Taylor, this. Just a minute before, in response to the Scun goal, he had withdrawn the lively Holt and the robust Keates in favour of subs France and Green. It would be fair to say that most of the people around me were not saying “Excellent idea to take off Holty, our best player today, and we’ll definitely be better off without the non-stop tackling of Deano, a smart move for sure, he used to manage England you know”. What do we know, eh?
One-each, and if a winner is going to arrive, it’ll be in our favour. And with a bit of luck it would have done. But the later stages of the half were frustrating because we couldn’t quite find a necessary dose of invention to break down a resolute home defence. Even MacLean was taken off as part of a deeply defensive substitution and re-shuffle. The closest call came late, when a monster Muss hoof caused mayhem in the Scun box. A decent appeal for hand ball was immediately followed by an invitation to shoot extended to Jason Price. He hit it firmly but was foiled by a desperate defensive lunge that blocked the shot. And so off we trudged into the Lincolnshire mist, reflecting (not for the first time) that it would be nice not to have to return next season to his soulless tub.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Hinds, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; Price, Ashbee, Keates, Holt; Elliott, Burgess. Subs: Green (for Keates, 70), France (for Holt, 70), Whittle, Melton, Myhill.
Goals: Elliott 70
Booked: Dawson, Price
Sent Off: None
SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Evans, Graves, McCombe, Butler, Sharp, Sparrow, Barwick, Kell, Beagrie, Torpey, MacLean. Subs: Hayes (for MacLean, 82), Capp, Hunt, Ridley, Featherstone.
Goals: Beagrie 65
Sent Off: None
Last revised: December 14, 2003