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05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 05/11/05, 3.00pm
Hull City
Work/Life Balance
By Matt Rowson

It's been a miserable sod of a week.

One of those weeks when a whole load of bloody deadlines congregate together, like irritating teenagers loitering outside a youth club disco with a view to attracting as much attention as possible entering en masse. Competing deadlines from unconnected clients with no obvious pecking order equals nose to the grindstone, progress on one target impaired by inquiries regarding another, too much coffee, short of temper, short of time...

I stayed late tonight, which isn't something I have or like to do terribly often. Work tends to expand to fit the time you allocate it is my theory, and my boss has a responsible attitude to work/life balance, thankfully. Nonetheless, tonight I stayed late. And the M1 was closed on the way home, causing further aggravation. And my neck still feels coiled in anxious, twisted tension.

I've heard it recommended that one tries to establish a very specific point on your journey home when you stop thinking about work, stop letting it stress you out. This Is When Work Stops. Be it when you turn the radio on, when you pass a particular landmark, or when you turn your key in the lock of your front door, this is when work finishes and if you consciously re-enforce this tradition it begins to happen naturally. Like conditioning a dog to scratch the kitchen door when he needs to do his business, it happens automatically after a while.

So it's no great source of joy to see a trip to Hull looming on Saturday. This is not a journey that has multiple interpretations. Hull is not on the way to anywhere else in particular, and large a city as it is there are very few natural reasons to go there. Football might be one, but we've not crossed paths in nearly fifteen years. Work is another, and the long slog of a journey (including the obligatory realisation that you've still sixty miles to go when you hit the M18) is one that's undertaken all too frequently. And after a week of work for this particular client, I'm off up to Hull again. No offence to the Tigers, but whoopey-f***ing-do.

This is City's first season at this level since 1990/91, a campaign when they took four points off us including a win at the Vic abetted by a grotesque pale green kit and our current first team coach David Hockaday at the back. Watford's assistant manager the last time we met was the uninspiringly effective Peter Taylor, now City boss; anyone who remembers that Watford side might understand the reservations that some City fans appear to harbour despite consecutive promotions. Hull started the season reasonably enough and still boast one of the better defensive records in the division, but only Millwall and Plymouth have scored fewer and the Tigers look like sliding to eighteenth as I write.

One key factor in Hull's defensive success is keeper Boaz Myhill, a former Villa trainee who signed nearly two years ago for a bargain 50,000, and is both commanding and consistent. Former Burton Albion keeper Matt Duke has been on the bench, although Portuguese U21 keeper Sergio Leite, a summer signing, is nominally Myhill's deputy.

A number of long-term injuries have obstructed Hull's start to the season; of these former Bristol City defender Danny Coles is out for the season with ligament damage, but centre back is not an area where cover is short. The impressive Leon Cort, younger brother of Carl, has been partnering Irishman Dean Delaney in the centre although Taylor this week strengthened his hand with the recruitment of Sam Collins from Port Vale. Described as "an uncompromising centre back" (aren't they all?) Collins has been signed on loan with a view to a permanent signing in January... proof that the unlimited loan system effectively renders the transfer window irrelevant below the top flight.

Marc Joseph is described as "versatile", apparently because he looks equally uncomfortable in a number of positions; with both of Hull's senior left backs - Andy Dawson and Roland Edge - injured, Saturday saw Delaney moved to the left with Joseph filling in in the centre, although one imagines that Collins will now challenge for this position. On the right, Mark Lynch hasn't entirely convinced since his summer arrival, twenty year old Scott Wiseman would be a more popular choice. Robbie Stockdale, Middlesbrough's scorer in the party game at the Riverside during the Premiership (not Premier, not a Ship) season, is missing presumed injured.

The injuries have hit particularly hard in midfield, where the remaining contingent are hard working but a little lacking in both creativity and leadership in the absence of Ian Ashbee, out for the season with a knee fracture. Former Wolves man Keith Andrews is also out, whilst Curtis Woodhouse picked up a knock during Tuesday's heavy defeat at Preston and is doubtful for the weekend.

This leaves John Welsh in the centre, impressing on loan from Liverpool and playing for his England U21 boss Taylor. If Woodhouse misses out he is likely to be partnered by Scott Green, occasionally languid and uninterested but perhaps providing the creativity that has been missing recently. Ryan France is likely to play on the right, although he's a wide midfielder rather than a winger. Stuart Elliott, whose goalscoring exploits in Hull's promotions have given him a relatively high profile, should play on the left although he's been a little short of form recently. The hardworking but limited Kevin Ellison should provide backup for this position whilst local boy Nick Barmby, still only 31, should also be on the bench.

Up front, Hull again have workers but are short of someone to stick the ball in the net in the absence of knee injury victim Stephen McPhee. Craig Fagan, who scored a brace against the Hornets for Colchester pre-season in 2004, hasn't found the net so freely for Hull - he has one this season. On loan Sunderland striker Chris Brown has also been short of goals, he too scored against us last season at the Stadium of Light. The popular vote would appear to support the return to the side of 6'3" Ben Burgess, who missed much of last season through injury, although rumours persist that Billy Paynter will follow Sam Collins to the KC Stadium from Port Vale - Paynter, however, has hardly been prolific for the Valiants this season himself.

We're travelling to Hull with the Tigers coming off the back of a couple of away defeats, which could work for or against us. Certainly the longer we keep Hull goalless the more the odds favour us, but to be honest Betty's Watford side doesn't seem to be very big on stifling jobs thus far.

Hopefully the next time work takes me to Hull, I'll have an altogether happier trip to reflect on.