A really poor Cambridge side - weakened by injuries and impecunity - was swept aside by a competent Tigers performance, expertly led by Ben Burgess's strength and Stuart Elliott's goals. Steve Weatherill writes.
Who, I wonder, would you rate as the finest player ever to emerge from our blessed if bloodied continent of Europe? Franz Beckenbauer, perhaps, or Lev Yashin; Ferenc Puskas, maybe. All three players are cited with reason in this context. If you were really stupid you might mention the pitifully wasted talent of George Best and, if you knew me very well, you would name Bobby Moore and listen for my furious rant against that hopelessly over-rated, one-paced clod of a defender. But the correct answer is, of course, Johan Cruyff.
And yet there is a new and earnest contender for the crown. In the later stages of yesterday’s match at the Circle a corner reached a rosy-cheeked Irishman beyond the back post. His shot was charged down and the ball ran loose behind him. He gathered it, with his back to goal and a Cambridge defender moving to close him down. Whereupon he calmly backheeled the ball, pirouetted gracefully past his marker to collect it and surged towards the by-line leaving an utterly flummoxed adversary thinking “1974 World Cup! Before I was born! I’ve been Cruyffed!”
Ah yes. Damien Delaney. Already he stands alongside Roy Jones, Rahul Dravid, Kieron Fallon and Islington on my list of favourite sports personalities of 2003. And now he is in the frame for Europe’s greatest ever footballer. Isn’t it a funny game? Joining in the mirth at the expense of risibly feeble Cambridge yesterday were:
The match kicked off and then nothing much happened for quite some time. It was eerily tame stuff. Neither side showed aggression – there was scarcely a tackle to be seen. It was as bloodless as a pre-season game, and the crowd was soon stilled. For Cambridge, be-gloved midfielder Luke Gutteridge looked keen to take control, and early on he gave the impression of a competent player. In fact, it was merely a competent impression, because he is rubbish and looks like an orc, but Cambridge had slightly the better of the play in central midfield as the game was dawdling along aimlessly.
Twenty minutes in, and we had a decent shot; Burgess’s left-foot effort flew just too high. Immediately afterwards Dawson warmed the hands of visiting keeper Marshall, but this proved to be merely a flurry and the game soon settled back into half-paced mode. And yet, ridiculously, we still managed to go in at half-time a goal to the good. It arrived on 42 as Elliott out-muscled his immediate opponent wide by the left touchline, cut into the box but at an angle too narrow to justify a shot, especially as he had a couple of team-mates racing into the target area in expectation of a square ball. But Elliott shot anyway, Marshall fubled it disastrously and the ball trundled on into the net. Decent persistence from Elliott, comedy defending and my goodness me is that the time already, good heavens it’s 4 degrees.
I think Mr Taylor may have conveyed some forthright opinions during the break and the second half was a very great deal better. Cambridge weren’t. They’d come with Plan A, which involved playing without any conviction in the hope that we wouldn’t notice they’d arrived and then they’d be able to sneak off back home to the Fens with a 0-0 draw. Now they were on to Plan B, which was pretty much the same idea but with 0-1 at the end of instead. They had fifteen minutes of success in pursuit of that venture. Burgess won the ball and crossed to Price, whose mis-hit shot was shoved round the post by Marshall. The corner was headed powerfully goalwards by Burgess and acrobatically tipped over by Marshall. Then, after what looked suspiciously like a Cambridge attack, expertly foiled by Dawson, Ashbee struck a magnificent long pass into Burgess’s stride, behind the defence, but Ben’s chip, though struck deftly to clear the advancing keeper, carried just too much weight and landed on top of the crossbar. Then Elliott fed Forrester who, encouraged to run inside on to his favoured right foot by the varsity full-back, did precisely that and unleashed a vicious cross- shot that fizzed just the wrong side of the far post. And then we scored again. Forrester took possession skilfully, slipped a pass to Elliott, running intelligently into space, and he prodded a left-foot shot low past Marshall into the net. Absence in description of these several incidents of reference to Cambridge defenders, other than the doughty keeper Marshall, is not accidental. They were grotesquely off the pace. And two-nil down.
With the temperature holding down that all-important 4 degree mark, Cambridge rummaged through their bag of tricks and came up with Plan C, which involved playing without any conviction in the hope that we wouldn’t notice they’d arrived and then they’d be able to sneak off back home to the Fens with a 0-2 defeat. This worked an absolute treat, and we were quite unable to thwart their devilish wiles. They breed them cunning in those Fens! That’s possibly as much breeding-related speculation as would be wise given the tales that emerge from those lands South of the Wash and East of Peterborough from which Tolkien drew such inspiration for his characters. However, player-manager John Taylor, toiling painfully up front, wearing shirt number 40 but looking a good deal older, plainly models himself on Gandalf. Without the magic. Or the beard. Or the footballing skills.
I suppose it would at this point be useful to assure you any suggestion that the amateurish and irreverent attacks on, ooo, all sorts of people and things that are regularly to be found on this less disciplined and more maverick platform for overtly critical, fanzine-style reporting, irreverence and casual disrespect should be taken remotely seriously is well wide of the mark. However, any suggestion that our Chairman and Manager are capable of getting things in proportion and making their priority running our football club properly instead of wasting time on issuing pompous press statements about a local rag that no one in their right mind would care to label a serious regional newspaper is regrettably equally far-fetched.
We had lots more chances in the half-hour that remained and I suppose we should have had more goals. Forrester chipped into the side-netting …. Delaney had his shot charged down, allowing a vision of Dutch mastery. Cambridge had a chance too, just the one, when a surprisingly stylish passing move breezed through our defence, but Myhill raced off his line to block the shot and Delaney cleaned up the loose ball with calm efficiency. The most vivid glimpse of a third goal was provided by Elliott passing to Burgess who transferred the ball on to Holt down the left, and his thoughtful ball back inside allowed Burgess the opportunity to claim a richly-deserved goal. But Marshall, moving rapidly and diving courageously, smothered the shot. By now we were cutting through gutless opposition at will, and the earlier part of the match, when the Cam had looked rather tidy in midfield, was a distant memory.
Holt replaced Forrester, and then Thelwell took over from Green with Hinds moving into midfield. And then France came on for Price. Last couple of minutes now, and Cambridge helpfully demonstrated just why they are tracking Danny Webb as their utterly talentless dope of a striker Bridges, running on to a decent pass forward, hoisted his shot miles high and even more miles wide of the goal occupied by the under-worked Myhill. And then finally a surge down our left involving Holt and France culminated in the ball being forced over the visitors’ goal-line for a third time, only to be ruled out for … err, something. Offside, I think, though it didn’t look it. The kindly old gent who chanced to buy his season ticket next door to me in the East Stand had invested heavily in City to win 2-0 with Elliott to score the first goal, so his shrieks of exultation as the third goal was chalked off earned him a raft of quizzical looks from those unaware of his good fortune. This is Hull, but last night it was to be Withernsea. You lucky lucky girls!
Three points, and three wins a row, and thank you very much. Cambridge were dire, but the League table insists that several teams that we face in the next few weeks, especially on our travels, are distinctly worse than yesterday’s victims. If we can continue to piece together a string of unspectacular wins over teams that expect to get turned over by us, then we’ll be cosy come March.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Hinds, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; Price, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Burgess, Forrester. Subs: Holt (for Forrester, 71), Thelwell (for Green, 80), France (for Price, 84), Musselwhite, Allsopp.
Goals: Elliott 42, 59
Sent Off: None
CAMBRIDGE UNITED: Marshall, Angus, Goodhind, Duncan, Murray, Bridges, McCafferty, Tann, Guttridge, Venus, Taylor. Subs: Lockett (for Taylor, 70), Brennan, Gleeson, Shinn, Dutton.
Sent Off: None
Last revised: January 04, 2004