Stoke City 1-1 Hull City

Last updated : 22 April 2007 By Rick Skelton
We were 3 minutes from another tale of woe at the Britiannia Stadium. A cruely deflected goal, harshly disallowed `equaliser' and a handball penalty shout left us head in hands, fearing a brave performance would herald no points. Then Nick Barmby stepped up and hit a dipping half volley from 16 yards into the net and the away end erupted. It was a vital point.

It was an excellent away performance, the first time since Derby that we've been able to roll our sleeves up and fight against `better' opposition. It was a far cry from the tame surrender at Wolves. We made Stoke look ordinary. We had a few scares in defence and made some mistakes, but unlike other times recently, when we've looked incompetent, today the mistakes stemmed from sheer desperation to do well. We aren't good enough to compete consistently, that's been proven, but when we raise our game and show this kind of bottle, we match almost anyone.

The manager got his team selection spot on. The defence doesn't change. They are the best 5 we have available, so Brown continues to show faith in them. In midfield, Peltier replaced Livermore. I would've gone for Marney, but the decision was the right one. In the opening 15, Peltier showed great energy and drive and put in a few tackles and one great run that lifted everyone around him. Unfortunately he was injured quite early and replaced by Marney, who had a good game. Up front, Elliott made way for McPhee. McPhee gives a great option wide and can cause a lot of problems. He wasn't involved as much as I'd like, but he was involved in some neat link up play and did enough at both ends to justify the decision. At 1-0 with 20 minutes to go, Browny through on Parkin and Barmby and went 4-2-4. It was a brave decision. It invited pressure onto our back four and we looked uncomfortable at the back. However, at the front, Windass and Parkin did enough to win free-kicks, throws and corners around the box and it paid off in the end.

It'd be nice if we could change the shape to 4-4-2, giving us a wide threat and two central strikers, but the safety net of 4 across the middle when going backwards. However, we don't have that option available, so the only alternative to change things is to throw players on up front and hit them quickly. On quite a few occasions, it's proved fruitless, but at home to QPR and today, it proved worthwhile and we've got 4 points out of those two games, without which, we'd be looking dead and buried now.

In the first half, we coped with the Stoke threat pretty well. It's a big threat, literally. Sidibe and Fuller are big guys. Stoke play the ball well across the back four and look to open up angles to hit a diagonal ball onto one of the front men, while the other runs off and the attacking midfielders join up. They put a lot of pressure on defenders to head out for corners and the full-backs join up to give a good option to the wide players, Hendrie and Lawrence. They use the full width of the pitch, again, quite literally. I've never seen a team control or work the ball on the actual side line quite so much. It's a tough game to play against, but Turner was fantastic and Delaney showed a lot of bottle to match up to them. He started both half's shakily but recovered quickly. At times, he got a bit of luck, but he'd earned it. Sidibe hammered against the bar and Russell struck wide from close range after Delaney had miscontrolled in the box. Dawson and Ricketts worked hard to stop balls coming into the box. Only when we went for it did Stoke get any joy out wide. Unfortunately for Dawson, in throwing himself at a Lawrence drive in the first half, he looped the ball up over Boaz and into the net ... in stoppage time. It was a wicked blow. We defended set pieces pretty well. The massive Fortune and his partner Higginbotham would join the big strikers for corners. Early on, Boaz made a superb save from a Higginbotham header, but after that, we dealt really well with them and Bo did his share with confident catches and punches.

The midfield worked their socks off. Parlour ad his best game for a while. His passing was excellent; both short, generally picking out Fozzy and Ricketts, and long, when he found Windass and McPhee with low, accurate passes. Ashbee commanded the team. He made sure everyone defended high up the pitch and sat in a good position to pick up a lot of balls that were cleared out of the box. He kept things simple, just looking to pick up the pieces and play the ball wide to Dawson.

Up front, Windass worked harder than last week and we played good balls into him on a lot of occasions. The early balls were hit too high and Fortune gobbled them up, but we learnt quickly and the balls became winnable for Deano. He linked up well with Forster but unfortunately neither could get McPhee into the game. Forster had a good amount of the ball wide, but crossed poorly and tried to beat men on occasion, when a quicker cross was a better option. When Barmby came on, we had someone a bit deeper, picking up things on the edge of the box. Parkin played up top and did well in the air. He didn't win a lot, but he forced Fortune into heading all over the place and held up really well a couple of times.

It really didn't look like we'd get anything and that would've been a travesty. We'd matched and probably bettered a team who were 7th to our 21st. The goal was a fluke. Forster `scored' an equaliser after charging down the `keeper's clearance. It hit his arm, but he was just charging it down with his hands protecting his face. To rub salt into the wounds, Lawrence made an identical block in the midfield 5 minutes later and the ref let play go on. We also had a good penalty claim when Griffin blocked a goal bound shot. It was too far to see from the away end, but our players were convinced it was a penalty. Stoke only threatened in the second half from latching onto long clearances when we'd over-committed. We played with lots of heart, worked hard and played some good football and some `effective' football, but we were often on the front foot. The criticism of our players would be that we didn't make enough clear chances; we were again quite wasteful in wide areas and with set pieces.

It was a great point, a quite crucial one. It means if we can win either of our two games, Leeds must now win both, because 4 points won't be enough. I think that puts us in an excellent position. I wonder how many people would forgive a season of turmoil if we were to relegate the mighty Leeds United in 15 days time. It's far from over, but today was a good performance and one that must be built upon next week, even if we come away with nothing. We need to be bold because Cardiff are in poor form and a good performance would put us in a good frame of mind to meet Plymouth.

The support (inside the ground) was magnificent today. Every one of them deserved the joy of that wonderful equaliser. The stuff outside was hideous. The Stoke fans were disgraceful, the police incompetent and a portion of the City following were animals. It's the ugly side of football that we don't want to see return. If you were involved, you should be ashamed of yourself. The police at the KC overreact to small situations, but today we had a force that where unprepared and unable to deal with a big situation. Stoke is a horrible club on and off the pitch. They play ugly football and they don't own half of the players in the squad. The supporters, who became passionately thuggish outside of the ground showed no passion inside. They deserve nothing.

Onwards and staying upwards.

Ratings: Boaz 7, Ricketts 7, Dawson 7, Turner 8, Delaney 7, Ashbee 7, Parlour 8 (Parkin), Peltier (Marney), Forster 6, Windass 7, McPhee 6 (Barmby)