Meagre opposition in the rain, but three valuable points nonetheless as City's promotion campaign shows signs of spluttering back to life. Steve Weatherill pieces his hair-drier-ed notes together and pens this report.
56 minutes have passed on a grey damp afternoon at Bootham Crescent, and City are convincingly the superior side but the scoreline remains blank. Elliott sweeps at pace down the left side, flights a well-judged cross towards Forrester who deftly flicks the ball on, confident that Ben Burgess, behind him, has eluded his marker for long enough to control the ball. From the edge of the box Big Ben clubs a savage left foot shot goalwards and the ball flies low past keeper Ovendale’s left hand and into the corner of the net. A sumptuous strike, garnished with glee by the travelling Tigers support behind the net that is now rippling voluptuously thanks to Ben’s craftsmanship.
We’re half way through the season now, we’ve seen all our opponents in action and I believe we have the best players in the Division. And yesterday - happily - it truly looked like it. York, a dogged but limited side, had been hanging grimly on to a share of the points courtesy of some hesitant penalty box attacking play by the Tigs, but once Burgess had completed this very fine, fluent attacking move by putting us into a deserved lead, the game was up for York. Shortly afterwards Forrester was crudely manhandled inside the box and clambered to his feet to strike home the penalty himself and 2-0 could very easily have quickly been converted into 3-0 as Elliott hoofed a shot over the bar as he tried to turn sharply with his back to goal about six yards out. But as the rain got heavier and dusk turned to dark we were content with a safe 2-0 win and a distinct improvement in our play compared with recent toils.
We opted for 4-4-2 this week:
And it was only hesitancy that delayed our opening, and decisive, goal, until the second half: I mean hesitancy on our part that flawed both attacking and defensive performances for most of the first hour. At the right end of the pitch our play was marred by a peculiar indecision when the York goalposts came into view. Price had a glorious shooting opportunity but didn’t seize it and allowed the defence to bundle the ball away for a corner. That duly arrived invitingly to coincide with Price’s near-post run, but he contrived to knee the ball wide of the post. A bit later and we win four corners in a row for which Stuart Green, lurking near the 18-yard line, takes personal responsibility, but a couple of vicious shots just miss the target. Then it is Burgess’s turn to dwell over-long on an appealing shooting opportunity, although he almost redeems himself five minutes later when a strikingly alert cross-shot fizzes just wide of the sturdy York netman’s far post.
On the relatively few occasions when York ventured into the advanced regions of our half it was our frailty rather than their wit that caused alarm. Most grotesque of all was the Muss’s hideously delay in sizing up a routine hoof to clear a back pass. He dithered, he permitted a Yorkster to crowd him and to charge down the shot and then, as the forward gathered the ball in space, our keeper bizarrely left his near post wide open, as if inviting his adversary to slide the ball into our net. Fortunately he didn’t, but the danger was eventually terminated only a by a pitifully poor header wide of the target as the City defence scrambled to cover York players doubtless astonished by our keeper’s generosity. It wasn’t a pretty incident. In another oddly unfocussed moment of defending Marc Joseph timed a challenge deep inside our box to win the ball with spectacularly perfect judgement and to stride away with ball at his feet – Justin Whittle could never do this - only to chug to a halt and stand confused, as if waiting for a York player to intervene and whisk the ball out of Joseph’s possession. A last-ditch hasty clearance averted danger that simply never should have arisen, and the correct option was, of course, the familiar Whittle jewel, “Strictly Row Z”. Not for the first time did it occur to me that a combination of the unselfconscious grit and honesty of Whittle and the more elevated ability on and with the ball of Joseph would make a formidable central defender. In Damien Delaney we have someone who is already gathering the skills of the complete centre-back. Never have I seen a footballer improve so much, so quickly, and I cannot quite grasp how a player who made error after error in the Spring, culminating in that truly atrocious crass own goal early in the game at Rushden, is now comfortably and consistently our main man.
I suppose it helps that the “fans” no longer bay for his blood when the team is read out at 5 to 3.
We reached half-time as the better of the two sides, but it had not been a graceful 45 minutes football. York looked a young and energetic side, but they’re small of stature up front, devoid of any real quality throughout and, at the back, severely hampered by a lumpy centre-back, name of Parkin, who was obviously once told that he was an imaginative ball-playing libero. Isn’t. His major contribution of the first half is to glance a delicate header into the path of Elliott, but the Ulsterman squirts the chance into the side netting.
Second half … it begins in slightly disjointed fashion. Burgess and Forrester combine to set up Price, sprinting clear of the defence with only keeper Ovendale to beat, albeit from a narrow angle. The chip is crafty but the direction is not, and the ball trudges away dispiritedly beyond the far post. Then Edmondson, always a tricky opponent, leaves his immediate adversary Elliott looking a bit foolish and skips down the right before delivering a dangerous low shot that escapes just beyond the Muss’s far post. A touch of class is required to lift this game.
And it arrives.
Elliott to Forrester to Burgess, 1-0. Penalty, Forrester, 2-0. A sheen of quality, and three points are the reward.
Holt replaces Forrester, releasing Elliott to join Burgess up front, and York are visibly a beaten side. The linesman spices the later stages with some truly eccentric readings of the offside rule, but it really doesn’t matter because the game is won.
Burgess had a fine game. He is occasionally ponderous and he isn’t as physically imposing as someone of his stature should be: there is not a hint of the evil streak that marked out Billy Whitehurst as an enduring Tiger hero. Burgess will never play in the top Division. But he is smart, possessed of a great deal more skill than your average lower League striker and well worth his place leading our line in this Division and the one above it. Forrester is a similarly intelligent footballer, and impressively committed too. He’s a poacher but he’s also very mobile outside the box. I still don’t know whether we can really get away with a two-man central midfield comprising Ashbee and Green. Probably a great deal depends on ensuring Price or Elliott, and preferably both, return to the peak of their form. If that happens we won’t need to get too anxious about teams outnumbering us in central midfield because we’ll be flaying the hide off both their flanks.
York’s another place on my list of “grounds I have no desire to re-visit”. They still cage the away fans behind a fence. I can’t quite believe it. Everything else about Bootham Crescent shrieks contempt for the paying customer. Well, yesterday’s deserved victory increases the chances that it will be Sheffield or Bradford rather than York on Boxing Day next year, and such an up-grade cannot come too soon for me.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Musselwhite; Hinds, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; Price, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Burgess, Forrester. Subs: Holt (for Forrester, 72), Thelwell, Keates, France, Whittle.
Goals: Burgess 56; Forrester 69 (pen)
Sent Off: None
YORK CITY: Ovendale, Parkin, Smith, Brass, Edmondson, Dunning, Cooper, Bullock, Merris, Nogan, Shaw. Subs: Ward (for Cooper, 71), Browne (for Nogan, 74), Davies (for Merris, 78), Brackstone, Porter.
Sent Off: None
Last revised: December 28, 2003