A draw away from home is traditionally considered a decent point, but Hell's teeth, we should have won that one. "Are you looking forward to it?" my better half asked as I left for the game. "Not really." "Oh. You've only just cheered up after Tuesday."
...which is one of the problems with this division. You hardly get time to cheer up before something comes along to bugger up your life again. You get a couple of days of light relief, brightened up by things like the fight I witnessed on North Road, Durham, on Thursday. A couple of smackheads throwing very badly aimed punches at each other is fairly standard entertainment on a Thursday tea-time near the bus station, but when the "fight" was broken up by a bloke in a wheelchair, as a bus bore down on them, it gets a bit special. Anyway, we got to Hull in plenty of time to be overcome by the fishy fumes in Pearson's (we assume it was the kitchen and not the docks), then try a couple in Pave, the ultimate in café culture. It hoyed it down.
The changes to the team were generally accepted as the Right Thing To Do, so we lined up:
Matthews Kone Wilson Oviedo
McManaman Catts Williams Ndong Honeyman
Two at full back, two at centre half, seems sensible, but.... the lack of depth in our squad, despite the manager bringing in ten new faces, meant that Grabban's hamstring forced us into a one-up-front formation, of which I'm no fan, especially with a goal-shy midfield like ours. In our snazzy new pale blue, but totally unnecessary on the day, away kit. we kicked away from the visiting fans, with McManaman was quickly into things, proving what a valuable player he could be over the coming months. He and McGeady (off sick) are the sort of player who get fans up off their seats with their trickery - that's entertainment. Of course, we were on "former player watch" as Seb was playing for them, but thankfully his move from Wear to Humber hasn't brought back to life his attacking skills. Neither is Michael Turner a threat, Elmo had departed for pastures new (well, Villa), and Meyler was on the bench.
With Williams his usual busy self we sort of did well when we had the ball, and as most of Hull's attempts at attack came down their right, it was just well that Oviedo had a fine first half. He broke up attacks, he carried the ball upfield, and he tried his best to set up something positive. When we got the ball out to the right, McManaman did the simple thing (that all us wingers tried to do of a Sunday morning) and got to the line. The cross was one straight out of the Nicky Summerbee book of "put me away, please" crosses, and Vaughan was more than happy to show his strength in the box and rise to nod it home. It was the sort of cross that makes kids want to be a centre forward. If he was more than happy, we fans were even more more than happy. Mind, considering the amount of tackles that the officials let go in this division, Vaughan's booking for over-celebration seemed a tad harsh. Anyway, seventeen minutes gone, the home side looking unable to do anything with the possession afforded to them, the rain had stopped, and our two wide men looking a threat whenever we played them in - this looked like turning into a canny afternoon. Vaughan drew another save out of the home keeper, then we conceded a free kick in "Seb territory". See earlier comments, as all the ball-dusting and boot-wiping couldn't get the shot through, as the wall stood firm and di its job. We duly took our foot of the pedal a bit -maybe a bit too much, as Hull were there for the taking - and allowed the home side to have a lot of the ball towards the end of the first half, but the toothless Tigers just ran into Oviedo and that was that.
Only a solitary minute of added time meant that we headed into the break ahead, and deservedly so. There was the chance for a quick catch-up with Trev from Hawes (blessed are the cheesemakers) and various other folks, then we were off again, heading, we hoped, for three points. It didn't quite work out that way. We seemed to sit back too much - manager's instructions or just the way the players are? Answers on a postcard, please - and Hull got more possession than they knew what to do with. Ruiter produced a fine save to keep out a header that looked destined for the top corner, then had to punch his way to safety a couple of times, as is the way with those continental types, before we almost doubled our advantage. McManaman swapped passes and forced a good save from the home keeper, with the loose ball going just too far wide on our right for Vaughan to be able to put it away. Bugger, that was close, but it had our fans roaring us on, in complete contrast to the home folks, who were (justifiably) more interested in getting shot of their owner than...we are.
For the last twenty, or even longer, we seemed to sit back even more, and that allowed Hull the time to think of a way through. They brought on Meyler, a player I'd have liked to have been given more of a chance on Wearside, to add to the potential Former Player Curse, but it was his dalliance on the ball which almost got us the crucial second. Honeyman (I think) toe-poked the ball away from the Irishman but rushed the pass to Vaughan a bit, meaning that Hull got the first foot on the ball and the chance was gone.
Williams, probably a candidate for the next Duracell advert, had run himself into the ground, and given his lack of game time (copyright USA Soccer Guy, sorry) it was a disappointment rather than a surprise when he went off, and it was a disappointment rather than a surprise when Rodwell was the man to replace him. OK, we've seen him play for England, he's got lovely teeth and a nice car, we know what he's capable of - mebbe today's they day.
Nah. Within seconds, and probably before he'd even kicked the ball, he was in the book. Hell's teeth, can the man do anything more to downgrade his football career? Ha'way man Jack, get into things. We were still shaking our heads over that one when McManaman, even more tired than Williams, came off with Jones coming on. Look, I like Billy Jones, as he's honest, he does a lot of good work in the air that goes generally unnoticed, but he's no winger, and where was he going to fit into the formation? As McManaman had been arguably our most threatening player, surely Gibson or Love, players with a bit of midfield about them, might have been a better option. Anyway, we'd been reduced to hanging on by our fingernails, without Ruiter having many shots to save, when Meyler (who else?) hit what the professional journalists like to calla speculative shot, which had about as much fizz as week-old bottle of Irn Bru. Unfortunately, it hit Kone, who'd had one of his "heart in the right place" games, and left Ruiter going the wrong way as it barely had the legs to bobble over the line. I'm not sure it even hit the net.
Aww, bugger. All that hard work gone to waste. With a few minutes left, Gooch replaced Vaughan to further underline what we didn't have on the bench, and the four added minutes brought no reward, so we had to settle for the single point when three were very much ours for the taking.
Man of the Match? Williams was again buzzing, Wilson was a calming influence at the back, Oviedo was excellent in the first half - both in defence and going forward - and Catts was quietly effective. I'll probably give it to McManaman, as he provided the cross, and is the sort of player that opponents, especially fullbacks, hate to play against.
Keep the Faith
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