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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
05/06: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 05/11/05, 3.00pm
Hull City
versus
Watford
 
Dream Fixture
By Fred Riley

This used to be my dream match. For an 'Orn living in Hull, 'home' matches are three hours drive away, and even matches Oop North need a good two hours or more on the road to reach, not counting the obligatory time getting lost in an unfamiliar town/city, trying desperately to find a parking place as the clock ticks inexorably towards 3 o'clock. Plans for leisurely pre-match pints go out of the window as you get congealed in traffic, or take the wrong direction, or get forced into the wrong lane, all the while frantically trying to read maps you've printed out from the web and relate them to the chaos outside your windscreen. You park at the first place you see, then find to your horror that it's a good half-hour's walk away from the ground (all the while anxiously memorising landmarks to find your way back, an especially difficult task in the long winter nights), so you find yourself running the last half-mile and arrive puffing and panting in the ground just as the match kicks off. The 'away fan experience' continues after the match as you try to navigate your way back to the motorway through unfamiliar darkened streets in unforgiving bumper-to-bumper post-match traffic. By the time you get back to Hull you're shagged, and any pleasure you gained from the away win you saw hours ago has been displaced by the sheer aggro and stress of getting back home. That's assuming a win, of course...

So for seemingly countless, but in reality merely ten, years in Hull I prayed for the Golden Boys to be drawn away to Hull in a cup or, forlornly, for the Tigers to work their way up to our division. Unfortunately, for all those years the Tigers remained obdurately down amongst the dead men. Even when we suffered relegation to Division Three, despite the late Second Coming of GT (praise be upon Him), Hull contrived to get themselves relegated to Division Four. Not long after, Hull came within an ace of going out of business and out of the league, thanks to a dodgy Board and the self-aggrandising machinations of the unlovely John Lloyd. Having reached their nadir, bountiful angels, in the form of new, dynamic Chairman Adam Pearson, and Peter Taylor - England coach, England managerial heir apparent, and the Tigers' own God - arrived to bring new vision and prosperity to a club for long a stereotype of skint Northern lower-division grottiness. Hull City Council, flush with 200-odd million from the sell-off of 51% of Kingston Communications, Hull's idiosyncratic phone (or "fern", in the lerkel dialect) company at the height of the dotcom boom before it went pear-shaped, gave the club a big helping hand by building a spanking state of the art stadium in the city centre, to be shared with Hull FC egg-chasers. After two false start seasons, the reinvigorated Tigers got their furry arse in gear and clinched back-to-back promotions to land in Division Two at last. My dream fixture had arrived.

Sadly, I had to leave Hull in 2003 for Nottingham, on account of jobs being scarcer than virgins in the city, so my dream fixture became a standard 2-hour drive away match, although at least local knowledge meant that I knew where to drive and park and my decade in Hull had given me a passable-enough accent to pass as a lerkel in the event of any awkward confrontation with the Tigers hard-core.

So, for a change, I arrived at the ground, a veritable jewel in the dungheap that is the Anlaby Road area of Hull, in plenty of time to check out the team lists and soak up the pre-match atmosphere, but what there was of that was drowned out by the ludicrously loud PA system and the hyped-up MC. The teams came out to the cliched Carmina Burrana, better known as the theme music to The Omen (yeesh! give us a break!), and the Golden Boys' line up was much as expected.

After a tedious opening seven minutes of head tennis and midfield scrapping, Hull broke down their left, and a fine pass found Barmby all alone on the right just outside the area, from where he finished clinically with a low shot into Foster's right corner. Bad marking or great positional skill by Barmby? Probably both. The KC erupted into a wall of noise, and an "oh shit, we're in for a tonking" feeling hit your reporter's guts. Had the Tigers managed to hold their lead for more than a minute the result might (though probably wouldn't) have been different. Instead, from the kick-off we won a corner on the right, and when it was swung in the shiny pate of Mahon rose unchallenged in the area to power a header past Myhill in a classic post-goal sucker punch. The Tiger's roar was silenced and rarely got past a pitiful mewling for the rest of the match.

Following the two goals, the previous fare of head tennis, scrapping and hoofing was resumed, but slowly, inexorably, our greater organisation, composure, and skill built into total dominance. There was a scare on the quarter-hour, when a hopeful shot from outside the 'Orns area took a bad deflection and looked to be looping, in awful slo-mo, under the crossbar until Foster managed to bend his back and tip it over - a great, and crucial save. For the most part, though, the match was played in the Tigers' half as we clamped the midfield and spread crossfield passes at will to Macca and Devlin. Despite this we didn't really create any chances against Hull's brick outhouse defence, although a great solo run from McNamee on 25 minutes resulted in the ball drifting inches past the post. As the half drew to a close I had the awful feeling that we'd get nowt for our dominance and come to regret it, but on 45 minutes a long throw-in from the left saw the gleaming black bonce of Carlise flick a back header across the area and over Myhill to Spring, who finished with a shot into the roof of the net. 2-1 at half time, and no more than we deserved.

As expected, the Tigers came roaring (cut the cliches - Ed) out of the traps at the start of the second half, after Peter Taylor made two substitutions and adopted a more pressing, attacking formation. City forced five or six corners in the first ten minutes, occasionally causing controlled panic in the 'Orns defence. At one corner an attacker got a free header but, wastefully, directed it straight at Foster. After eight minutes Betty brought on Bangura for Macca, to add weight to the overrun midfield. Soon afterwards a City break down the left resulted in a loud penalty shout as Barmby (I think) went down in a heap, but the ref waved play on. The more open Hull formation gave us room on the break, and King came close after controlling an upfield punt from Foster, turning his marker and getting in a low shot that Myhill saved well in the corner.

After Hull's mad ten minutes the game settled back into the pattern of the first half, with the Watford defence soaking up the unimaginative Hull attacks and the midfield re-establishing its stranglehold, although we were defending rather deeper than was comfortable. Still, it seemed as if only one team was going to win it, and we were plainly a class above the Tigers, but on the half-hour a stupid, stupid challenge by Carlisle (I think) clattered into a Hull defender on the edge of the area who was going nowhere - a stone-cold pen, even from our long-distance perspective. I shook my head with the brainlessness of it - a pen was the only way that Hull were going to score, and we'd handed it to them gift-wrapped on a plate with wet kisses. Without fuss Stuart Green placed the ball on the spot, languidly walked back, ran up - and ballooned it into row Z. A rugby league kick. The travelling 'Orns went wild, the Tigers' heads dropped, and it was all over.

On thirty minutes Betty made what at first seemed a strange double substitution, bringing Demerit (who'd had a crackingly assured game) and Devlin off for Mackay and Henderson. I scratched my barnet in puzzlement but Betty's plan soon became clear as Henderson's hulking Lurch-like presence as target man forced the play upfield so that the rest of the game was played out comfortably in the Hull half. Nice move, Betty.

As Hull tried in vain to push forwards we had a couple more chances. On 35 minutes Young skipped past two defenders on the left and looped the ball over Myhill at the near post to three waiting red shirts who bundled the ball into the open goal, but the whistle had gone as the ball left Young's foot, presumably for multiple offside. Not long after, King shot across goal scraping the outside of the post. The Tigers did have one last gasp on 42 minutes, when the ever-threatening Barmby skipped free down the right and brought a fine save from Foster, but it would have been rough justice had Hull scraped a point off us. The game meandered to the final whistle with us taking the piss and the Tigers faithful streaming from the stadium.

So, in the end, the match was a routine away win for Betty's squad of wunderkinden against a lumbering, limited Hull side in which only the evergreen Barmby showed any serious class. It could all have gone terribly wrong after the early Hull goal, but Betty's Bunch have a steel, a discipline, a self-belief, and a patience which makes them as hard to stop as the incoming tide. Ball control, one-touch passing, and tactical imagination placed us a class above the Tigers, who are a useful but limited team that will likely finish the season in a consolidating bottom-half place. The only gripe I have from the performance was the lack of real chances created, despite having a fully-fit front line, but credit to Hull's defence for shutting out Ashley Young.

The men of the match for me, although it was above all a strong team performance, were the imperious Carlisle and, a couple of dodgy kicks apart, Foster, not just for two fine saves but also for his swift and accurate throws which were an essential part of our high-tempo pressing game. Special mention also goes to the ref who, apart from a couple of minor errors, ran the game smoothly and without fuss, and didn't dish out a single booking.

As for my dream fixture, roll on an away draw in the FA Cup to Nottingham Forest, if they overcome the mighty Weymouth in the replay...