The division's two highest scorers, bring on the goals! Maybe a nil-nil was the smart bet, and so it proved until a wonder strike late on sent all three points west. Mark Gretton is still waiting for the flowing football he was promised.
With 5 minutes to go, having resigned ourselves that the perversity of football in general and Hull City in particular has again condemned us to view a 0-0 draw between two of the divisions most attack minded sides, we concede a free kick in an attacking position. It's not immediately clear why, or whether there should have been an offside, but that has been the way of a number of decisions from unimpressive 'Premiership' referee Mark Halsey. Mansfield swing it in, the otherwise excellent Ashbee loops a header nowhere near as far as he would like and it falls to Manse sub MacKenzie 20 yards out who hits it superbly first time past Myhill. And so we finally lose at home. Except that, perversely again, that isn't quite it. We've struggled to make clear chances all afternoon, but suddenly we create 3 grand ones in the last 2 minutes. Green makes an all too rare foray forth down the right, gets in a good cross and finds Allsopp who gets in a good glancing header that skids j-u-u-u-s-t wide. Bother. But then Alsopp gets on the end of another through ball and shapes himself to shoot, only to be robbed by a fine defensive tackle. Damn. But we're still not done, Alsopp again is through, he shoots, keeper Pilkington palms it away but towards Elliott who slides in and can't quite get there. Bugger. Alsopp, entirely understandably was not at his sharpest, had he been he might have had a hat trick, or if that is over egging it, you would normally have expected him to have pouched at least one of those and got us a share of the points. But now we are done, and we've lost, and we're down to fifth having played more games than all our rivals.
A strange day at the Circle, really. I'd looked forward to this game more than most, expecting goals from 2 teams with flashing blades in attack and defences that are string vest rather than chain mail, forgetting that this is no guarantee of excitement. And so it proved. Mansfield came at us more than most away teams. but less than I had been led to believe, we never got going properly in attack apart from at the end of each half and so we got a game that sputtered like flaming brandy on a Christmas pud, relished more in the anticipation than the execution. Ensuring that Tigerfolk around the world will be grumpy under their paper hats as they prepare to massacre a battery reared and steroid stuffed fowl were:
So, a sort of 4-3-2-1, or 4-3-3, or, to be more accurate, a 4-5-1 as Elliott and Price were too often isolated from Burgess so that our midfield and defence launched long balls for Ben Burgess to fail to control or to be out jumped and out fought for by Vaughan. Burgess had a poor game, as he often has recently, but he was poorly supported. When we played 4-3-3 against Bury and played it well, Steve Weatherill observed sagely that it would be interesting to see how it worked against less supine opponents. Well, now we've seen it and it didn't work. Against a Mansfield team who looked to get forward, predictably our widemen were pushed deeper and Burgess stood and turned alone, high and isolated like a rusty weathervane.
Most of the good early work came from Mansfield, as the thermometer on the clock showed that it was a crisp 7 degrees C. They have a lot of talent in midfield with Lawrence earning rave reviews on the right and Craig Disley who chewed us up and spat us out 2 years ago at Field Mill now on the left. And up front they have serial loony and constant terror of the Tigers Iyesden Christie, and Junior Mendes who is fast, strong and skilful. Delaney and Joseph had to be strong and alert and they were. The visitors strikers linked well and it took a fine Delaney tackle to rob Christie. Then Mendes raided down the right, crossed from the byline and it squeezed across the goal line but away. On another occasion Delaney miscued, Mendes charged on goal from the right but perhaps delayed his shot too long and his effort was deflected into the side netting. Christie then found himself standing suspiciously clear but couldn't take advantage as he hooked a volley wide.
The pressure wasn't as relentless as this summary makes it sound, but the Mansters were generally more positive than us and we were creating little of note in response. We had a couple of free kicks in promising positions wasted by Dawson and Joseph respectively and a couple of absolutely dismal corners chipped in with nothing at all on them by Keates straight at their keeper. On another occasion Price and Green for once got the width needed to outflank Mansfield and they both went close, only to see that we were victims of a very late linesman's flag.
At the other end, Myhill showed himself to be a confident sort, catching crosses with aplomb and twice bombing out beyond both his area and his defenders to clear from the feet of their strikers. The interesting part was that he was playing at all. Depending on your view of the manager, this was either a typically astute move as you'd expect from a former England boss to give Musselwhite a jolt into producing his best performance of the season before judging that he wouldn't be able to repeat it and giving his preferred keeper a go, or a typically crass and insensitive move as you'd expect from a former England boss designed to humiliate a player and remind him (and the fans, in case they're still in any doubt) who is the guv'nor here. You all know what you think of Taylor, so you'll know what you think. Suffice it to say that Myhill made a very good debut and would have deserved the clean sheet that he didn't get, which makes no sense but then so little does these days, although I must confess I found the final episode of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' screened in Britain this week to be coherent, moving and destined to be regarded as a feminist classic and not merely because of the attractive lesbians snogging which you can never have too much of in my book, but I digress.
Just prior to half time we came very close to scoring, we got in a decent corner for once which fizzed across goal and was deflected by, I think, Burgess, at high speed on to the base of the post. That apart, the players trooped off with Mansfield having had the best of it. They started the second half better as well, as Lawrence lined up a shot that was stopped bravely and cleverly by Dawson diving to block with his body but not with his hands despite the roars of the mining village folk.
We did get going better for a while after that, as the temperature dropped markedly to a chilly 7 degrees C. Elliott began to run at them from deep and began to fling himself to earth once he had realised that the idiot Halsey was going to give him the lot, the pick of them being one where he was behind the defender but still managed a tumble as the defender sped away from him shielding the ball. Top work. Sadly, we weren't able to make much of it, although Green got one freekick to land on the roof of the net and their keeper Pilkington enlivened events by an attempt to seemingly dribble through all of our side which ended in a predictable panic and him almost, but not quite, handling outside the area. They too went close, a corner breaking to the edge of the area preceding a chip landing on the roof of the net, as the temperature dropped to a freezing 7 degrees C.
The debut of Myhill apart, perhaps the most encouraging part of the afternoon for the Tigers was the return of Allsopp. Undeniably ring rusty though he was, we were immediately more threatening once he was on and given that our virtues are mainly attacking ones this can bode only good. But on this day he couldn't quite make the most of his chances and MacKenzie made the most of theirs and so they got the points.
Impressions of the game were that they brought the best away fans following we've seen this season, a good 1500 plus, they out sang us and presumably had a good day out, although in fairness any day out of Mansfield is probably pretty good. I certainly enjoy not living there and will be making the effort not to visit it over Christmas. I thought that a gate of 15000 was pretty good on the last Saturday before Christmas, suggesting that Hull folk understand that shopping has its place, but we know where it comes in the pecking order of our lives. If only Rio Ferdinand had our clear sighted approach to these matters then we might not be denied the site of his vastly overrated fannying-about 'defending' for the rest of the season, a sad loss as I'm sure you agree. And speaking of defence, I thought ours had its best game for a while. Hinds struggled, particularly after Christie went off and Mendes roamed alone and targeted him with runs from their left, in truth the only reason Hinds has not drawn the flak that has hit Joseph is the fact that with Thelwell injured there is really no credible alternative. But Dawson was excellent and Delaney and Joseph were strong and effective. I thought Joseph was over praised in some quarters last week, as good things in his game were still undermined by silly errors. But yesterday his positioning was excellent, his heading was assured, his tackling was crisp and when under pressure he was willing to lump it up field or high into the crowd as the occasion demanded. In short, he played exactly as you would have expected Justin Whittle, and from this keyboard there's really no higher praise than that.
HULL CITY (4-3-3): Myhill; Hinds, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; Ashbee, Keates, Green; Price, Burgess, Elliott. Subs: Allsopp (for Keates, 60), France (for Price, 60), Holt (for Burgess, 83), Musselwhite, Whittle.
Sent Off: None
MANSFIELD TOWN: Pilkington, Hassell, Artell, Day, Vaughan, Lawrence, Williamson, Curtis, Disley, Mendes, Christie. Subs: MacKenzie (for Christie, 63), Corden (for Disley, 74), White, Larkin, Dimech.
Goals: MacKenzie 84
Booked: Artell, Hassell, Williamson
Sent Off: None
Last revised: December 21, 2003