A superb match that culminated in a City winner that lifts us to within touching distance of promotion to Division 2. At the same time, the Swansea hoodoo is finally ended. Steve Weatherill pilots us into the final furlong.
“Tell yer what mate, if City win at Swansea, then even I might start to believe we’re gonna get promoted”.
Well, Mr D. Thomas of the Hull Daily Mail letters page, time to dust off your finest “I’ve been City through and through these last fifty years, and I think it’s a disgrace that the club can’t find a ticket for me for the Huddersfield game, just cos I haven’t been to Boothferry Park since Billy Bremner were manager and Ken Wagstaffe played up front, we got him off Wolves, y’ner”. A promotion party is coming to the Circle a week next Saturday, and the glad event itself will be celebrated at Roots Hall, or just possibly at the Division’s own principal theatre of dreams, the Moss Rose. Be there.
Yesterday’s historic struggle provided us with our first win at the forbidding Vetch Field since the Black Death stalked the terrified continent of Europe. In fact, plague and pestilence still haven’t been properly cleared away from this grimy corner of Glamorgan and, as ever, we were treated to an afternoon caged in under a glowering roof, hosted by fiery locals, tooled-up Heddlu and snarling police dogs amid scenes more appropriate to an initifadah than a game of football. Still, some boneheaded City fans don’t make it easy for the sensible majority. If you walked towards the car park with your City top on and received a slap from a Welsh youth, then by God you deserved it for your grotesque stupidity. If you were the man walking down the middle of the road outside the prison, a small child in each hand and all three in full Hull City regalia, then you’re an arch buffoon. This is Swansea, for crying out loud (but not in an English accent). It’s not a picnic.
Enough! To the football! Did we deserve to win? Yes, we most certainly did. Swansea equalised twice, but our late winner ensured that the scoreline reflected the truth of the matter – which was that we were superior to the home side in all respects.
Plunging headlong into the milk and honey of promotion were:
And we whisked the ball into the back of Roger Freestone’s net before you could say “we’ll never play you again”. Sad to report, the linesman had already hoisted his flag to signal offside a couple of seconds beforehand, and the effort was duly chalked off. Now Swansea pushed hard down their right, troubling both Ashbee and Dawson, and a cross reached Trundle whose header was smartly stopped by Myhill. Then Junior fed Burgess whose deft flick-on allowed Allsopp a glimpse of goal – his shot flew narrowly wide. This is hectic, this is lively … and now we score. Allsopp simply powers his way through the home defence and unleashes a raking right-foot cross-shot which is too good for Freestone and nestles happily inside the side-netting. 1-0, and another of those goals that we’ve scored this season that, for directness and craft, belongs in a higher league.
Swansea have got nothing to play for, and hadn’t even bothered to greet the team on to the pitch with their customary “White Riot” anthem, but we’re steaming in with such purpose that they know that raising the white flag will earn them total humiliation. Maylett is a handful down their right: his cross is headed over by Connor. Then Trundle is thwarted by Dawson and Delaney acting in combination. The celebrated front man Trundle remains very tricky on the ball but he seems to have put on the best part of a stone in weight since the game at the Circle earlier in the season, and I don’t think he has much future without adopting a newly rigorous commitment to fitness.
It’s an absorbing battle and even if the game loses a bit of shape as the half progresses it’s still very watchable. Roberto Martinez, Swansea’s nimble neat-passing Spaniard, is the most attractive player in the midfield workhouse, but Junior and Ashbee are putting in plenty of effort, and we’re getting our fair share of possession. A decent slice of it is shoved in the direction of Stuart Green on the right, who is having another good game, but our best player – again – is Ben Burgess. He’s alert, he’s strong and he’s willing. He leads the line in a proper old-fashioned manner. He is an excellent lower Division player right now and, like several of the men Mr Taylor has astutely assembled, he’s got his best years in front of him. Next time you hear someone at the Circle abusing Big Ben Burgess – and it happens every week – I suggestyou remonstrate with the ignorant critic.
The closest we’d come to doubling our lead had been a shot from Elliott, set up by Burgess, but the effort had strayed just the wrong side of the post, but as a single extra minute was announced at the end of the half we felt perfectly content with a well-merited 1-0 lead. Whereupon one of theirs found a bit too much space 25 yards out and hit a hopeful shot towards Myhill. It didn’t have the power to worry our expert netman. It bounced five yards in front of him. But it took a freakish bobble off the uneven surface and leaped a foot or so higher than anyone could anticipate and was past a dismayed Myhill before he could react.
So 1-1 at half-time – which was a good deal more than the largely outplayed Swansea deserved.
Good work by Allsopp opened the second half, as he won a free-kick which was headed wide by Elliott, but play soon lapsed into a rather scrappy spell, with a bit too much long ball on offer from both sides for my liking. The game needed some wit, some imagination, some quality. Only one side was going to supply that and its name did not rhyme with Bonzee. Allsopp climbed to connect with an Elliott cross but directed his header straight at Freestone. Then Elliott hit a swerving shot that Freestone managed to collect low to his right. Next up, a goal, and a delightful one. Burgess stormed clear and, confronted by the advancing Freestone, conjured a delicate chip. It wasn’t perfectly executed, because Freestone got a hand to it, but it was audacious skill from our centre forward and he wheeled away in glee as the ball lobbed off Freestone’s despairing hand and into the back of the net. This feat was performed directly in front of the travelling Tigers support, cooped up in one half of the gloomy old away terrace, and now unashamedly exultant.
2-1 to us, but the Swans were, to their credit, not minded to give up even now. Delaney conceded a free-kick just outside the box and was very nearly savagely punished for it. A superb chipped shot cleared our wall and dipped towards the top corner, only for Myhill to swoop across his goalmouth and tip the effort brilliantly on to the crossbar. The ball bounced back into play, but was scrambled to safety. Myhill – another excellent Taylor acquisition who, I hope, is here for the long-term.
Green comes off for France – a bit surprising, because young Stuart has set Swansea problems all afternoon, but young Ryan provides a lively contribution of his own pretty much straight away. A surging run down our right is followed by a looping cross to the back post where Elliott heads back towards goal, and is thwarted only by a combination of Freestone and the post. Then a delightful interchange between Allsopp and Burgess results in the former shooting narrowly wide. This is really good football. Allsopp, still perhaps less than fully match-fit, is replaced by the eager Walters, and the points are heading our way.
And then we make it difficult for ourselves. Thelwell slices a clearance obscenely, sending the ball high into the air above our six-yard box and the awkwardness is resolved only by a Myhill save from the consequent header. And then Swansea equalise. It’s up the far end, and I’m not confident I quite grasped what occurred: but it seemed a messy sort of a move, with several of our players pulled out of position, and the finish was certainly applied from the position that you would expect to be covered by Thelwell. Anyone who saw what the Mail is perhaps still describing as the “ex Spurs star” playing in the first few weeks of the current season will have no doubt that Thelwell is a very able footballer with plenty to offer. Anyone who’s seen him play the last few weeks will know he’s wretchedly short of confidence and lucky to be making the first-team. Alton Thelwell is a Taylor buy that hasn’t worked yet, and I hope the lad will clear his head and knuckle down to the admittedly unglamorous task of grinding out consistent defensive displays in the lower reaches of the English league.
I should add that it would be daft to slate Thelwell alone among our defenders. Joseph, excellent for most of late December through into March, has lost a little confidence just lately and was hesitant a few times too often yesterday afternoon while Delaney was not quite at his commanding best. Dawson was the only one of the back four who was fully on his game. We’ve got room for improvement, which is one reason to believe the title could yet be ours.
Right, bugger, that’s 2-2, even though we’ve been plainly the better side. What are we going to do about that? Cling on to a point? Subside to a meek defeat even? O no, this is a team with character. We’re going to win, that’s what we’re going to do. And we do, even if it’s as late as the 87th minute before we go back in front. Walters muscles his way down the right and crosses towards Burgess. The ball takes a kind deflection to arrive perfectly on Big Ben’s forehead and he shrugs off the pugnacious attentions of two home defenders to glide a delicious header across Freestone and inside the far post.
There was Fish and there was Dolan, there was Lloyd and there was Mike Quigley, there was Hinchliffe and there was Buchanan, there was a derelict Boothferry Park and there were very few fans at all. And look at us now. Heading for promotion with realistic ambitions to surge through the next Division as well, a remarkably sensible Chairman, a manager who has far more to boast about this season than he has to confess he has got wrong, and an impressive bunch of young, skilful and enthusiastic players. And lots of fans too. Even if I sign off as one who hugely enjoyed yesterday’s victory but would be very pleased never again to return to Swansea.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; Thelwell, Joseph, Delaney, Dawson; Green, Ashbee, Lewis, Elliott; Burgess, Allsopp. Subs: France (for Green, 72), Walters (for Allsopp, 81), Hinds (for Elliott, 89), Forrester, Musselwhite.
Goals: Allsopp 10; Burgess 60, 87
Sent Off: None
SWANSEA CITY: Freestone, O'Leary, Rees, Fieldwick, Rewbury, Martinez, Maylett, Robinson, Corbisierso, Trundle, Connor. Subs: Maxwell (for Corbisierso, 45), Coates (for Fieldwick, 69), Roberts (for Maylett, 76), Murphy, Pritchard.
Goals: Robinson 45; Trundle 83
Booked: Maxwell, Maylett, O'Leary
Sent Off: None
REFEREE: P Crossley
Last revised: April 14, 2004