Mowing the Lawn
By Ed Sleath
There's a parallel universe where nobody ever thought of the play-offs. In it, Watford, Leeds and Preston battle for the last available place in the HyperMegaship (it's not quite that parallel) right to the last kick of the season. In our universe it's not quite like that. This season's scenario is probably not what the Football League Mandarins had in mind back in the 80s but, to be fair, it's the first time I can remember such a boring end to the season. Sky is due to provide blanket coverage of the games on Sunday. Well, I might just mow the lawn instead.
It's probably been pretty tedious for Hull City for most of the season to be honest. Never anywhere near a sniff of a third successive promotion, yet never seriously flirting with relegation, the Tigers have "been consolidating" and "getting used to the division", which is very admirable... and acceptable... and boring. Our old mate Peter Taylor has been in charge for three and a half years now with his usual brand of uninspiring but effective management probably not getting him as much credit or affection as he deserves. It's hard to see whether anything will change much over the next few seasons either. It's too easy to make the comparison with that other Rugby League dominated town, Wigan, but Adam Pearson ain't no Dave Whelan and it's unlikely that Taylor will be given the resources to make a serious push for promotion.
However, Taylor has made it clear that a number of players are playing for their contracts and recently Hull have seen an upturn in form (albeit mainly at home) which has seen them beating Leeds and drawing with Preston in recent weeks. Sunday may not be a walk in the park.
Boaz (great name, eh?) Myhill has been virtually ever present in goal this season and is regarded by most as one of the better keepers in the division. Matt Duke had a loan spell at Wycombe earlier in the season but probably won't be seen on Sunday after the warm-up. His only appearances for Hull this season were as a result of Myhill being sent off.
Scott Wiseman is currently occupying the right back position, but the general feeling appears to be that he's not good enough (yet) and might benefit from a loan spell somewhere. Londoner Alton Thelwell is the most likely alternative - Mark Lynch, who started against us earlier in the season, has recovered from illness but hasn't played since January. Andy Dawson is the regular left back, but has suffered from injury lately - former £2 million man (yes, really) Alan Rogers was brought in on loan from Nottingham Forest and may well play on Sunday.
The central defensive partnership has been a more settled affair with Leon (Carl's little brother) Cort and Irishman Damien Delaney having played together for much of the season. Ex Port Vale man Sam Collins hasn't played since damaging his knee ligaments against Millwall in February and will not feature.
The manager appears to have had his problems with midfield this season, not helped by a number of long-term injuries - no midfielder has started more than thirty league games so far. Keith Andrews, signed from Wolves last season, appears to be in favour at the moment along with their longest-serving senior player Stuart Green. Green can usually be relied upon for eight or nine goals a season, though has found it a little harder in this division. Not as hard as Stuart Elliot, though. Last season's leading scorer with a staggering twenty nine goals from midfield, he has only managed eight this time around and his form has been somewhat inconsistent. England Under-21 International John Welsh, signed in January from Liverpool after a loan spell, is likely to complete the midfield. Kevin Ellson, another victim of a long-term injury will probably make do with a place on the bench.
Former Macclesfield defender-turned-striker Jon "The Beast" Parkin is a Taylor (and fans') favourite and should partner leading scorer (not counting Parkin's Macc goals) Craig Fagan up front. Darryl Duffy, signed from Falkirk in the transfer window has mainly featured as a substitute while Big Ben Burgess has been out injured since November (left knee), though he is near to fitness and could possibly get a place on the bench.
Personally, I can't help feeling more than a little apathetic towards this fixture as the real business starts next week. Finishing third would be "nice" - we get a little bit more prize money (my research failed to identify how much) and, should we fail to win the play-offs, if gives us the right to whinge about the unfairness of the system.
In the parallel universe we guarantee promotion by beating Hull 4-0 on a gloriously sunny day in front of a packed Vic. Maybe not, I've got a feeling we've done that before, once upon a time.