What was all the fuss about? Two premier league games, four points and two very confident performances; Hull City are off and running. Today saw us compete in our first premier league away fixture at the Ewood Park Monastery, Blackburn. The inhabitants of said ground have obviously taken a vow of silence and were no match for the 5,000 screaming, shouting and singing Tigers fans who left Ewood with a precious away point and a warm feeling of satisfaction.
City started brightly this week. The tension and nerves on display last week were long gone. Nick Barmby was left on the bench, with Garcia moving to the left and Craig Fagan starting on the right. It gave us a more solid look defensively and made us a little bit more threatening on the break. Blackburn were the team on the front foot, they were at home, after all. They were the team trying to force an opportunity while City kept a good shape, denied them any space in the last 30 yards of the pitch and looked to break swiftly. Blackburn are a stylish route one team. They are always looking to get the ball forward quickly, either to play off Santa Cruz or to try and get the wingers heading the ball across the box. Everything they do is geared towards getting the ball into the box quickly. We coped really well with it, in fact, a lot of it played into our hands. Ricketts in particular, quelled the threat of Gamst Pedersen incredibly well. Chances were few and far between before the goals. Our best opportunities came on the break. We read Blackburn's play in the midfield well and made good interceptions. Marney made two that put us on the front foot. He had a good half and was a little unlucky not to have nicked the ball three or four more times. He made strong challenges that were penalised by the referee, unfairly, in my opinion. We would have been much more comfortable if we'd held on to the ball a bit more. We kept returning it to them with every clearance and didn't pick up enough loose balls in the middle. Had Boateng been fit, I think we might have done better in that area.
Pedersen hit a shot just over the bar and Turner made a good tackle on (or through) Roberts to stop a promising attack which was about all they mustered for the first 35 minutes or so. We got Marney into a great position in the box after great work from Geovanni and King, but Deano chose to slide across goal when he should have had a go at goal. King found two or three good positions, twice being one on one with Blackburn defenders but couldn't trouble the 'keeper. Another promising break was halted when Fagan clobbered a defender, off the ball. We only put one foot wrong in the whole 95 minutes and that led to the Blackburn goal. Reid had too much time on the ball and was allowed to dink a ball in behind Gardner, while Turner tried to play Roberts offside and got it badly wrong. Roberts raced in to hammer the ball past Myhill. The only chant to come from the home fans all day started up as about six wags predictably chanted "Going down, Going down" towards the Tiger army. It was literally just "Going down, Going down" because Fagan picked up the ball on the right, hit a lovely left footed cross towards Garcia who arrived from the left wing and looped a header into the far corner. One might call it a Stuart Elliott-like header. A group of Tigers fans taunted the Blackburn fans with a chant of "You're not singing anymore", which caused everyone around them to ask: "When were they ever singing?" Aside from another pair of generous free-kicks awarded by the Ref and another stupid challenge from Fagan, we reached half time with little alarm.
The second half was a bit disappointing. We didn't press them as hard or as quickly as we had in the first half and seemed happy to let them have the ball. Geovanni and Marney disappeared from the game and it was left to Fagan and King to cause them problems. They continued to try and play over us. Turner won most of the ball in the air. When Santa Cruz did get it on the floor, he had Turner or Gardner right up his back side, meaning he couldn't turn and had to play the ball backwards. He only lost Turner once in the whole game and then shot tamely over. Dawson was replaced by Mendy, an enforced change after Daws took a knock. Ricketts switched to the left, which was worrying because it left Mendy up against Pedersen, who had been a target for a lot of their aerial balls. As it turned out, we were right to worry, their only threat after that came down our right. Next up, Barmby replaced Garcia and then Folan came on for Geovanni. That turned the game our way. We looked very threatening with Folan and King up top. We played decent balls up to them and they did a good job of winning the ball or forcing Blackburn to give us it back. In the last 10 minutes, there was only one team who were going to win it. Unfortunately, like for much of the game, either our final pass lacked quality or we took the wrong option. Folan hit a superb volley from 25 yards, but unfortunately, it was straight down Robinson's throat. In stoppage time, we should have won it, Barmby played Ricketts in down the left, and he cut inside and then hit a weak shot that Robinson saved at his near post. We came through the four added minutes comfortably.
Myhill had another quite day at the office. He still looked slow off his line but handled the ball well. Ricketts would get my man of the match award. He totally nullified Pedersen; he was excellent in the air and read the game well. He got forward ahead of Fagan (and later Barmby) and got himself into really promising situations. His delivery was not good enough but everything else he did was top class. Dawson had a good game; he was unflappable in possession and strong in the tackle. He doesn't look out of place in the top flight. That seems like a ridiculous statement to make about a guy we signed from Scunthorpe to help us get out of the bottom division. Hopefully, his injury isn't too serious, because he deserves his place in the team at the moment. Mendy didn't impress. He was quick over the ground which helped him quell the threat of Pedersen a couple of times, but he made three ludicrous decisions, out of about four he had to make. Twice he tried to throw himself head first at the ball on the half way line and twice Pedersen nicked the ball over him and strode into acres of space while Mendy ate grass. Then he joined an attack and with the half the team committed in forward areas and good options, he tried to dribble through two players and inevitably lost the ball and the initiative. He's obviously got some quality, Phil Brown wouldn't have bought him otherwise, but at this moment, he doesn't look able to replace Dawson or Ricketts. Turner was very strong. It's nice to see him carrying his Championship form up a level. He stood up well to the threat of Santa Cruz, won lots of the ball in the air and did well against Pedersen on the few occasions he ended up one on one against the winger. The only exception was their goal, when he made a poor decision to try and play the offside trap. He possibly couldn't have caught Roberts even if he'd chased him, but it was still a bad error. Gardner looked very capable again. He covered the ground well and was very strong when he had to be. He looks cool on the ball and looks like he's trying to organise things at the back. We still seem very quiet without Wayne Brown in the team, but do look quicker and stronger.
Craig Fagan justified his inclusion. He's erratic and makes stupid fouls. He also made one suicidal pass in the general direction of Ricketts. There was some good stuff too though, the assist for the goal, for starters. He covered Ricketts, he held the position well and he worked up and down the line. When he got the ball, he used it intelligently and on the break, he was a threat and got at Warnock. Garcia also did well, in an unfamiliar role. He wandered off the wing a bit more often than Fagan, but he does that on the right anyway. He also worked hard going backwards and covered Dawson. He didn't get on the ball enough though, and barely at all in wide areas. Marney had a good first half and did a lot the things Boateng did well last week. In the second though, he disappeared from the game completely. What can you say about Ian Ashbee? He was almost flawless. He was caught in possession once and was booked while trying to cover his mistake. Otherwise, he was excellent. He used the ball simply and efficiently, always finding a mate and he was superb in defense, making tackles, winning headers and without exception, putting himself in the perfect position to diffuse the threat. Superb.
Marlon King worked as hard as last week and held the ball up but struggled to bring others into the game. He looked a bit sluggish when he had the chance to take his man on. I'd love to know his offside stats. He must have been flagged offside 7 or 8 times. In fact, in the second half, it appeared that he was caught offside every time the ball went forward. Some of the decisions were ludicrous, he was obviously onside but for others, he could've worked harder to get himself in an 'unflaggable' position. His running off the ball was very good and with a bit more quality, we might've got him in several times in the second half. Geovanni didn't get involved as much as last week as you'd perhaps expect away from home. He worked to get into the positions, but didn't get enough of the ball. He was pretty disciplined though, he the position waiting for the ball, rather than wandering around and leaving King detached from the rest of the team. Folan put in another powerful appearance from the bench. Much like last season, he's suffering from being such an affective substitute. He's a game changer, he fits straight into the pace of the game and he worries tired defenders.
Phil Brown had another good day. He picked the right XI and then he made good substitutions at the right time. Barmby gave us a bit of composure on the ball and a high work rate in the last 15 minutes while Folan gave them something to worry about and gave us real presence up front at a time when the game was stretched. Leaving King on was another good decision, he was still making good runs late on. The referee is a league newcomer. I saw him ref a televised match between Reading and Forest recently and he was very good. Today, I was massively disappointed. He gave the benefit of the doubt to Blackburn on every occasion and let a couple of fouls on City players go. His linesmen didn't help him, they were a joke. One would flag for offside every time the ball went in the air and flag for a foul if anyone breathed near an oppo. The other had no interest in getting involved. The one at our end in the second half gave them a goal kick when Robinson had clearly pushed the ball behind. That was a terrible decision. Speaking of Robinson, the reception he got from the City fans after half time was pretty special.
So it's on to Wigan now. We have nothing to fear. We look determined and fit and full of confidence. Our work rate is phenomenal, we worked ridiculously hard to get players forward and to get players behind the ball. The pundits will have us down as "well organised" but it's more than that. We've preserved the team spirit and we have players who you feel would lay down and die for the black and amber shirt. Long may that continue? We need to find more quality in the crucial area. It's pleasing that we've scored three times thus far, and all from open play but I feel with more composure and smarter decision making, we can really make an impression on this league.
Ratings: Myhill 6, Ricketts 8, Dawson 7 (Mendy), Turner 7, Gardner 7, Fagan 7, Garcia 6 (Barmby), Ashbee 8, Marney 6, Geovanni 6 (Folan), King 6.