Hull City 1-1 Middlesbrough
With Fagan and Barmby injured and Marney and Delaney suspended, we had to make changes and the side wasn't the one you'd ideally want to take on a team like Middlesbrough. Everyone did OK though, it was generally a better team performance than individual ones. If they had scored in the first half, we'd have had no complaints because we were second best but it was quite aggrieving that the goal came after we'd quietened them down and started to impose ourselves on the game. Middlesbrough had been dangerous on the break all game, particularly down our right where the over-rated Downing was given the freedom of the KC by Sam Ricketts. Their goal came from a typical break away at lightening speed after Ryan France had swerved through two defenders and had a good shot blocked. We were left open at the back and Viduka drifted into some space where Daws might otherwise have been.
A few weeks ago, that probably would have been it, but not these days. We made two attacking substitutions, chucking on Forster and Duffy and we were preparing Featherstone when we scored. Forster flicked in a header from Livermore's beautiful cross. 'Boro probably looked more likely winners after that, with Bo making a miracle save on the line, but we deserved a draw and got one. There was nothing in the game early on. Middlesbrough were more composed on the ball but rarely threatened. They stepped it up a bit after 15-20 minutes and broke quickly, with Arca and Boateng consistently finding Downing in behind Ricketts and a combination of wasteful finishing and good defending keeping us in it. However, for the last few minutes of the first half and the first 20 of the second, we were better. We were robbed of a blatant penalty by the horrendous Mr. Rennie and we had a couple of good efforts from Dawson and France's crossing.
Myhill wasn't involved often, but everything he did was splendid. He made two good saves from inside the box, made an unbelievable stop on the line with his feet and gathered or punched Boro's set pieces. In front the defence (which was Parky's first choice, but Brown interestingly called 'makeshift') performed well overall. Turner and Dawson were superb, big Mikey in particular, while Coles and Ricketts settled into it but neither looked comfortable. In fairness to Danny Coles, if I were asked to mark Yakubu, I'd be a bit nervous too. Ricketts grew in the second half, but his first half performance made me think that Browny might have got it wrong by moving France into midfield. His pace would have been useful at right back. In the second half, Downing, who swans around like a lothario but plays like a virgin, drifted across the midfield and was well dealt with by our midfield three. Turner continued his run of great games, heading everything as usual, but making good tackles and interceptions and refusing to be bullied by their strong front line. Dawson used the ball really well, got into good crossing positions and gave them little joy in attack, although he was nutmegged by Morrison late on, leading to a deflected shot wide and a dangerous corner. Coles made a great clearance off the line and several good challenges but distributed poorly and looked a bit startled on occasion. It felt a bit like we 'got away with it' a few times in the first half and I'm sure Delaney and France will be back next week.
France moved seamlessly into the midfield and continued his run of impressive performances. His work-rate was immense and he added sensible passing, great movement off the ball, good skill and dribbling ability and good crosses when he moved wide. Turner was probably our man of the match, but it's a very close thing between him and Francey. Ashbee and Livermore struggled in the first half hour, when Boro played the ball wide and long and missed them out. In the last two thirds, they played through the middle and it suited Ash and Dougie to a tee. They got about them and broke up lots of play and started good attacks for us. Ash's service into the Beast was excellent all afternoon. The same goes for Dawson, who played every long ball within about 2 feet of Parkin's head and gave him the chance to head on or take it down. Livermore supported down the left, although he was more cautious than against Sheff Weds. His cross for the goal was great and in stoppage time he put in another excellent free-kick that no-one read. Our set pieces varied wonderfully. In the first half, Elliott whacked them and in the second, Dougie caressed them.
Up front, we were lacking some spark. Parkin did his usual job down the middle: provided an out ball, bullied defenders and tried to connect with crosses. Against top defenders, his mobility, or lack of, took an edge off his game and they coped with him a bit too easily at times. When Barmby, Beast and Fagan play, the 4-3-3 is quite narrow, with Barmby behind Parkin and Fagan coming off one wing or the other. Today, McPhee and Elliott played like wingers and we had no real cohesion up front. When Parkin got the ball, they weren't close enough to him. If France didn't break from midfield, there was no-one to link the play between midfield and attack, so it didn't really cause them the problems it might with Barmby and Fagan in the side. When we could push on as a team, with the full-backs up and France breaking, it was more effective, but it didn't have the penetration on the break that we've had lately. Elliott struggled to get into the game. His involvement in open play was non-existent. He hit a pair of good corners, swiped a free-kick wastefully wide (it went for a throw!) and troubled Jones with a trademark header. McPhee chased and harried, but rarely threatened. He made one great run to the byline that deserved a better end result and hit a low shot just wide. Duffy had a decent impact from the bench. He made a great run onto a through ball that took him clear, if wide of goal. He should probably have put his head down and hit it, but he chose to be selfless and then passed to no-one. He had two headers when he made space in the box that forced comfortable saves and best of all; he forced the free-kick for the goal with a nice burst of pace. Forster didn't get involved in attack, but he did what good goal scorers do and that's enough!
That just leaves Mr. Rennie, the egomaniacal man in the middle whose tubby frame and exaggerated actions are irritating enough, with his poor eyesight, big boy bias and "let's make the rules up as we go along" attitude just rubbing salt into the wounds. He gave them every 50/50 decision, literally every one. He punished Colesy for handball when the ball struck his hand during a sliding tackle, but didn't apply the same rules when Arca blocked, basketball style in the penalty area. I appreciate that it's harsh to give handball when the ball is struck from a yard away, however, if a player charges the ball down with two hands, then it make the distance irrelevant. His most baffling contribution still confuses me. We hit a long ball forward. Elliott gave up on it, either because it was too far ahead or he thought he might be offside. Jones caught the ball at the side of his area, 6 yards from the byline. There was no offside flag. Rennie checked on an injury quickly and then told Jones to put the ball down on the 6 yard line (for a goal kick). Jon Parkin chased it down and then Jones picked the ball up again (illegal). Rennie raced across, had a word with both and then awarded a goal kick. Even after explaining it, I'm still confused. It wasn't out of play, wasn't offside, wasn't a drop ball or anything else explainable. Jones caught the ball and rather than play on, the ref gave a goal kick, confusing everyone and causing a fuss for no reason whatsoever.
Anyway, that's enough about that idiot. We played well again and continued a very decent run of form under Phil Brown. Despite missing 4 of our best performers of the last month, we matched a Premiership team, by hook or crook and gave the fans something to shout about. Phil Brown made ambitious substitutions at the right points in the game and although we didn't really have a 'plan B', the players played as well as they could and worked hard to get something out of the game and that would have been enough in any formation. We had a great attitude about us and long may that continue.
Ratings: Bo 7, Ricketts 6, Dawson 7, Coles 6, Turner 8, Ashbee 7, Livermore 7, France 8 (Featherstone), McPhee 6 (Forster), Elliott 6 (Duffy), Parkin 6.