Plucky and well organised York provided decent opposition for the table topping Tigers, but eventually the emergence of debutant Jon Walters sealed the Minstermen's fate as City make it 7 wins on the spin. Ian Thomson reports.
If this proves to be the season in which Lady Luck finally casts a benevolent eye over the Tigers' labours, upon which moments shall we look back as having pivotal to our success ? The clinical disembowelment of Northampton? The much-vaunted Oxford defence slinking away into the darkness one Hull night in January in a state of utter trauma? The classic smash-and-grab away performances at Spotland and Whaddon Road? Yes, yes, yes and yes, for sure. Less likely to come to the fore, equally for sure, would be yesterday's inelegant, at times stuttering, and arguably fortunate victory at the Circle.
And yet in many ways, or for me as our manager might well have said, yesterday was just as key as any other performance this term. As magical as much of City's football has been this season, and for all that we have, November excepted, looked the genuine article, our players are never going to play to the best of their ability all game every game; if they could, they would not be plying their trade in the Third Division. There will always be days like yesterday, when the Tiger machine has more in common with an Austin Allegro than a Bentley Turbo and the opposition hasn't come, like Bury and Cambridge, to defend their way to a 2 - 0 defeat, but it is the outcome of those very days that makes the difference in the final assessment.
Thus it was that yesterday the Tigers faced a resolute and fluent York outfit, whose manager Chris Brass seems to be doing a most commendable job in the most trying of circumstances if yesterday is anything to go by, his charges providing one of the stiffest tests we have had to face at home this season and in some respects giving us more of a game than Oxford managed. We huffed and puffed, the defence creaked alarmingly at times, certain players went missing for spells while others had a clearly off day throughout, but in the end a couple of flashes of characteristic (even though one of them was down to the new boys) Tiger brilliance were enough to bring home the bacon, a result rendered all the more crucial by the fact that the other members of the "gang of four" all slipped up to a greater or lesser extent.
We lined up, on a bitterly cold Circle afternoon before an impressive muster of 19 099, the thermometer clearly taking no account of the wind chill as it fluctuated between eight, nine and ten degrees, as follows:-
Whether in order to take advantage of the wind in the first half, or to try to exert some psychological pressure on the Tigers by depriving them of the preferred choice of playing towards the North Stand in the first half (a tactic beloved of that celebrated close confidant of the Weatherill family, Don Revie), York, having won the toss, chose to play towards their own sizeable following of 1 500 or so fans (one of the more pleasing yet unforeseen side-effects of the move to the Circle is that visiting fans now choose to come to Hull in larger numbers than would ever have ventured to Boothferry, thereby boosting both the atmosphere and the Tiger piggy-bank).
City set off with the air of a team anxious to wrap matters up as soon as possible, quickly seizing the initiative on a Circle sward which looks to be feeling the strain of hosting rugby as well as football, and making a spirited, confident start while the Minstermen were still finding their feet, resulting in a couple of chances for Allsopp on the right, but the City number 10, not having one of his better days generally, failed to test the York custodian on either occasion. York soon settled down though and had their first attempt at goal on 13 mins, the ball being hit so wide from the edge of the box by Dunning that the ball went for a throw-in. Two minutes later, York had their second attempt on goal with the leather suffering an identical fate as the Tiger nation wondered what had happened to the marking. A more incisive strikeforce could easily have punished us twice.
City rallied however and on 16 mins a Burgess header just dropped behind Elliott as the Ulsterman hovered at the far post, and then two minutes later a delightful one-two between BBB and Allsopp left the latter haring through the inside-right channel only for him to hammer his shot over the York bar from a position from which he has tested the strength of the netting on several occasions this season.
This proved to be a brief interlude, however, and another Allsopp effort over the bar notwithstanding after some tenacious work by Burgess on 26, the Tigers found themselves unable to stamp any sort of authority on the proceedings, and indeed the Yorksters had their moments too, particularly on 28 mins when an outswinging free kick from (I think) City-scourge-of-old Edmondson curled wickedly out of the reach of Myhill as he ventured from his line, culminating in an almighty scramble before the City defence calmly worked the ball to safety. After more anxiety in the City box a minute later when a cross from the left was dealt more ponderously than it ought to have been, City broke quickly and Allsopp rounded the York keeper on the left, but was forced wide and, rather than attempting to shoot, put in a cross which Elliott, under pressure from a York defender, could only head wide.
That was basically it action-wise as far as I could see. City were clearly not having it all their own way against a York formation which was basically 4-5-1 but with the midfield getting up in numbers when needed. A goalless scoreline at the interval was about right.
I have qualified the previous paragraph with the words "as far as I could see" for a very specific reason, namely that my view of the proceedings was hindered for fully the last eight or nine minutes of the first half by an infuriating procession of individuals for whom getting to the front to the queue for the Circle pies or for what passes for beer, or being first to their cars at the end of the game is clearly a more important objective than actually watching football. OK, yes I know, their money's as good as mine and if they want to spend it just to be first in the pie queue or first home that's nothing to do with me, but you do have to wonder why they bother coming to a football match if that's all they want to do, the more so because, on the occasions when I come over all peckish, I always find there's more than enough time during the interval to stay in my (East Stand) seat till the whistle, queue for a pie, purchase it, consume it, empty my bladder, smoke at least half a Rio 6 and return to my seat in time for the start of the second half.
The start of the second period allowed us to witness that all-too-rare Tiger phenomenon, a sensibly-taken quick free kick, with Ash, who had his best game for weeks yesterday, releasing Elliott, who had his quietest game for weeks yesterday, who cut in from the left but found his shot blocked by the legs of the York netman.
Our visitors seemed to have taken their foot off the gas a little, which seemed a bit surprising after their encouraging first half performance, but there was little to suggest that City would find the penetration to take advantage. Until the 55th minute, that is, when BBB, who had a very sound game throughout, controlled a clearance and turned superbly to leave his marker for dead and fire the ball through to Allsopp, who brought the leather down with an excellent first touch and hared away to poke his shot under the advancing Ovendale, who despite taking some of the sting out of the shot could not prevent it from rolling over the line.
The Circle rejoiced, and for a few minutes the Tigers were rejuvenated by this welcome boost, but York were not about to lie down and soon took the game back down to the other end, assisted it has to be said by some indifferent defensive play in midfield and some defensive play in defence which was at times hesitant and at others downright rash. After a Tiger foray which ended with Greeny, having a quieter second half than his first, forcing a decent save from a Burgess knock-down, it wasn't too much of a surprise, and not undeserved, when York equalised twenty minutes into the half. Our visitors were allowed too much space on our right and Nogan, looking suspiciously as though he should have been picked up by the otherwise-solid Delaney, was allowed a free header inside Myhill's left hand post from the resultant cross.
Again though, City bounced back, and, after Walters had replaced the ineffectual France to a rapturous welcome from the Circle faithful, a looping Elliott header from a Marshall cross appeared to have beaten the keeper but bounced just the wrong side of the post. A let-off for York to be sure, but one which paled into insignificance a minute later on 71 when Joseph made an awful hash of what should have been a routine headed clearance, the ball skimming of the top of his nut into the path of Bullock, totally unmarked and in the clear, but happily for the Tigers the resulting shot was screwed wastefully wide of Myhill's right-hand post.
Would we manage even so much as a point, let alone one, we wondered? More importantly, did the helicopter circling above the Circle contain Philiptigerrice, about to launch a gigantic flag with which to envelop the entire stadium? But what's this? Greeny threads the ball through to the overlapping Marshall, a gloriously teasing cross into the visiting box, Walters timing his run to perfection to get there a hair's breadth in front of his marker and glance the ball inside the far post. Majestic stuff. Truly majestic.
Surely now the Ousesiders would give up the ghost. But no, the City defence clearly thought that the fans had had it too easy in recent weeks and ought to be made not to take things for granted. Within barely a minute of the restart we were content to stand off as a York corner bobbled around in the box before a scuffed effort was cleared off the line (not sure by who), and the whiff of a late York equaliser hovered like a pall above the Circle floodlights, intensifying a few moments later when Marshall, instead of opting for something straightforward like wellying the leather upfield, chose to drive the ball hard and square into his own box as the Tiger nation watched aghast.
But then, after Hinds came on for Allsopp and took the centre right berth with Greeny ? not the most reassuring of presences when we are on the back foot - moving out wide, it all seemed to settle down. And a big part of this was down to young Walters, who not only seemed to have got the hang of understanding that if you hold the ball up in your opponent's half they can't actually threaten your goal, but managed to get Big Ben to try it as well. Presumably they only teach you that sort of advanced stuff in the Premiership. Indeed, one of Walters' sorties into York territory on 87 almost produced a third City goal, when, after a mazy run towards the right-hand corner with the Yorksters unable to get a foot on him, he suddenly threaded the ball through to Elliott, bursting in from the right, but the keeper made a fine block with his legs from the resultant shot. Then, in the final minute of injury time, BBB broke, went wide of the keeper and crossed. The keeper collected the cross as Walters marauded, but was adjudged to have carried the ball over the line and took exception to this. By the time the argument was over the whistle sounded and we were home and dry.
Not pretty, but, as we never tire of saying, Plymouth walked the League two seasons ago by grinding out that sort of result pretty much every week.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Marshall, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; France, Ashbee, Green, Elliott; Burgess, Allsopp. Subs: Walters (for France, 69), Hinds (for Allsopp, 84), Holt (for Elliott, 88), Forrester, Musselwhite.
Goals: Allsopp 56; Walters 74
Sent Off: None
YORK CITY: Ovendale, Edmondson, Smith, Brass, Hope, Merris, Walker, Ward, Dunning, Bullock, Nogan. Subs: Yalcin (for Nogan, 75), Parkin (for Ward, 80), Fox, Porter, Cooper..
Goals: Nogan 66
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: M Atkinson
Last revised: February 22, 2004