So, the game billed by the pundits at the start of the season as the likely Division 3 Championship decider finally arrives. Bristol Rovers, in twenty-third place in the League before the game, take on the high-flying eleventh-placed Tigers. A season of massive under-achievement from both clubs, the disappointment arguably harder to bear for the Tiger Nation than their blue-and-white-quartered counterparts because we, at least, had a reasonable expectation of promotion via the automatic route, never mind the play-offs, until well into the second half of the season, whilst the Gas, as they now like to call themselves (see infra) were, they would surely be the first to admit, dreadful almost from the first whistle of the season. Apt, therefore, that under-achievement was very much the order of the day at the sun-kissed Memorial Stadium yesterday. After the much-improved performance at Spotland on Tuesday which merited at least a point, a lot of pre-match interest centred on whether the momentum could be kept going for another ninety minutes, the answer to which question, it soon emerged was "not really". There was plenty of enthusiasm from the Tigers yesterday, but that apart, whilst never getting close to plumbing the depths of most of our performances away from the Ark this season, it was a curiously disappointing performance from a set of individuals for whom the sands of time are running out fast if they are to convince the Great Dane that they should not receive their P 45s/be farmed out to Scarborough on loan for the season/spend next term languishing in the Reserves. Some made the point after the match that Molby, necessarily it has to be said, has not and is unlikely this season to field the same XI twice in succession and that this is hardly conducive to improved consistency. A fair point, but one which surely overlooks that fact that the motivation which the players ought, if there is an ounce of professionalism within them, to have to perform for Molby should really more than make up for that. It was a point garnered on the road, an all-too-infrequent occurrence this season, to be sure, but one which, one imagines, is likely have rendered our burly supremo somewhat less than whelmed.
Consolidating our top-half-of the-table position were:
Subs: Beresford (for Matthews, 68 min), Caceres (for Dudfield, 76 mins).
Personally, I've never had a soft spot for Bristol as a place. Together with Manchester, it runs Leeds a close second as the most overrated city in Britain, trading, along with the other two, on a completely self-styled image of "vibrancy" because they have relatively large, prosperous and free-spending professional and business communities to serve their extensive hinterlands, spawning a small oasis of exclusive offices, bars and restaurants which few people can afford to use amid a much-wider desert of squalor, decrepitude and human misery which the image-makers choose to ignore and probably don't even know exists. And I don't, having made our first visit there yesterday, care overly for the Memorial Stadium. It's big enough, with a capacity of just under 12 000, albeit that at one end lies just a tent, and the facilities for away fans are adequate, or, at least they were adequate for the 300 or so travelling Tigers in a healthy crowd, even allowing for it being Rovers' final home game, of 6 300-plus. What lets it down is the pitch, used also by the Bristol Rugby Club (not surprisingly, since it's their ground), and patched up from the ravages it suffers as a result by the application of liberal quantities of sand, which kicks up in little flurries every time a tackle is made or, more frequently yesterday, an attempt at playing the ball is scuffed. The home side are clearly wise to the behaviour of the pitch and put this knowledge to good effect, but it's far from being a suitable pitch for League football. Then again, it's light years ahead of that ramshackle jogging track on the outskirts of Brighton which will outrageously be allowed to stage Division 1 football next season and which, with mounting incredulity, I was told by a reliable source yesterday, Brighton are now permitted by the League to use indefinitely (although watch this space next season when 5 000 plus Millwall, Palace and Pompey fans each turn up to fight over the 360 available away seats). Can anyone else confirm whether this is true?
My biggest gripe about the ground though is that it lies atop a lengthy and almost-sheer climb from the excellent pre-match pub used by my companions and me, resulting in a mistimed departure and an uncomfortably-brisk sally through the ramshackle streets to reach the ground at 3.03 p.m. As would have been the case if my arrival had been delayed by an hour and three-quarters however, not much was missed (which is why I'm filling this report out with so much waffle). The first event of note was on ten minutes, when the home side used their superior acquaintance with the pitch to bobble the ball up the middle, but Glennon saved the resulting shot with ease. We showed for the first time a couple of minutes later when a corner was won, Holt heading wide. After this, we had palpably the better of things for a long spell. Most of the rest of the half was played out in the Bristol half to the right of the Tiger supporters' enclave, but with little in the way of dash and sparkle, or real incident. It was all very much end-of season and bordered on the soporific at times. What did become clear from quarter-time onwards was that whilst Rochdale marked a big improvement on all fronts, any hope that it marked the start of sustained improvement was a forlorn one. Especially disappointing was the way in which certain players who were being given an undeserved last chance to prove themselves fell so far short of what was required. We were, it seemed, on the beach at Magaluf already.
Our hosts made a couple of rare incursions into our territory around the half-hour mark, in particular when Petty decided it wasn't worth the effort making the challenge as a cross zoomed over, and a Bristolian headed just over, an event I almost missed in my admiration of the 1982 red pin-stripe Admiral replica shirt (the first ever proper replica City shirt, kids) being sported by the lady companion of Tiger chat member Jason Kirby standing directly behind me. A couple of minutes after this we had another narrow escape when Glennon chose, unwisely, to come charging out of his goal to meet an advancing Bristol tide, allowing their man an unguarded net to miss. The hitherto-muted home fans even started to wake up, belting out a couple of presumably-ironic renditions of "It's just like watching Brazil", but the game soon drifted back to its previous uneventfully-leisurely pace.
And then out of nothing, we took the lead. A free-kick was cleared, badly, to Matthews, yesterday a mere tragic shadow of the colossus who had traumatised Luton back in November, on the right-hand corner of the box, and the City number 20 whacked the bouncing ball with his left foot past the diving home keeper and off the inside of the far post into the net with the almost-nonchalant air of a man who does that sort of thing for fun. Matthews was mobbed by his jubilant team mates with rather more gusto than much of the preceding football had been played with, and the Tigerfans wallowed in the euphoria of taking the lead away from home for the second time in four days.
So, "The Gas 0 Hull City 1" read the minuscule scoreboard under the roof of the cricket pavilion-like stand opposite us, when it wasn't trumpeting the latest Blackpool goal against Bristol City to exclamations of joy from the home support far heavier on the old decibels than anything they had offered in support of their team. But "The Gas"? What's all that about? Bristol Rovers are the Pirates, surely? I know that their old Eastville ground, the site of which is now poignantly marked with a solitary floodlight pylon next to an Ikea, was near a gasworks, and that the team bore the unofficial nickname among the fans as a result, but why muck about with traditional nicknames? Still at least the match programme is entitled the "Pirate" , which suggests a measure of equivocation among the club's elders or maybe a full-blown identity crisis. And it's nowhere near as bad as the complete lie invented by Sunderland that they have really been nicknamed the Black Cats since time immemorial purely for the purpose of creaming additional spondulicks from the wallets of the gullible.
For the rest of the half, Bristol were trapped in an increasingly rapid spiral of decline; they could do nothing right. City controlled the game and when our opponents had the ball it invariably either went straight into touch or to a City player in space. Indeed, we even looked a good bet for a rare away win, which might well have been sealed shortly before the half-time whistle, when the Dude, somewhat less effective than on Tuesday it must be said, got past the indifferent challenge of his marker and fired in a low drive which the keeper did well to save.
So, half-time, and who should be in front of me in the queue for the excellent Cornish Pasties but a young man by the name of Clive, the chap who was claimed by the Hullster, aka Glenn Todd, to have been on the receiving end of some humiliatory treatment during Tuesday's game at the hands of "Steve Weatherill and his drunken cronies", I think the phrase was. It would be unfair of me to quote a private conversation verbatim, but in the interests of setting the record straight, I was pleased to learn that Clive felt that he hadn't been humiliated in the slightest, and indeed, au contraire, hadn't laughed so much in years as when he saw the T-shirts bearing his likeness. Mind you, he did tell me, in grave tones, that he felt deeply saddened by the ill-conceived attempts of certain mischief makers, in total ignorance of the facts, to use his name to attempt to make captial at the expense of others, especially by that most craven act of posting messages on message boards, and that he wished to dissociate himself completely from such conduct. " A most tawdry business" was his summary of it all. And therein, I think, lies a salutary lesson for us all, but especially for Mr Todd and the person who put the initial posting on the "City Independent" message board.
After a kids' game on the pitch, where one of the sides wore Bristol Rovers kit and were roared on by the home crowd (no doubt in the interests of character building for their opponents), the players re-emerged to a dreadful version of "Singing the Blues" by what appeared to be a pub pianist on a Hammond organ (good job we don't have people like that following City, what?), and the pattern of the latter stages of the first half continued. We threatened on 52 when Alexander, taking advantage of some real comedy defending, hooked the ball just over, and six minutes later when the Dude had shot blocked which could well have been goal-bound. In between, they had had a rare chance when a poorly-headed clearance fall to one of theirs but he volleyed wide. JJ then decided to assert himself for a few minutes, first seeing his header from a free-kick clawed down by the goalie on 59 and then three minutes later driving the ball across the face of the goal from a narrowish angle.
When the Dude powered another effort just wide on 63 it just seemed to confirm our grip on the game. So we promptly released it on 67 minutes, when, after a goalmouth scramble that seemed to last for several minutes following a Rovers corner and was impossible to follow from our distant vantage point, the ball was forced in by, it seems, Foran. Some have suggested an element of foul play on the part of our hosts, in that Glennon had both hands on the ball which was then kicked free, but there didn't seem to be anything in the way of protest from the City team; maybe they couldn't be arsed.
And so the pendulum swung again, with Bristol finishing the stronger. We had a few bright spots, with Bezza's first involvement resulting in a cross from which Alexander's effort brought a good save. Very late on, JJ's header from a Holt throw was well saved and then Alex failed to connect properly with a lay-off from Greavesie (again looking worryingly out of sorts as he had on Tuesday) when a properly-struck effort might well have found the target. But in the end the Tigers had Glennon to thank for even just the solitary point, when he made a fine flying save deep into injury time.
A bit of a thin afternoon all round, then, rather like when you order Gammon steak in a restaurant and get that dreadful processed circular stuff. The failure of so many players to impress Molby with so much at stake is puzzling, although the evident deficiency in fitness levels may be a factor. Quite how Molby will decide on which of the current squad will form part of his first-choice line up next season on what he has seen so far is anyone's guess. Still, it is to be hoped that the reports of an early start to pre-season training, and a draconian regime with 8.30 starts, all day training and 10 p.m. curfews, come to pass, as this will at least give a clear indication of which players are committed to success at Hull City. I also hope it is true that, as claimed, the players reacted badly to news of the close season plans, ideally about as badly as the long-suffering Tiger fans feel about a season which promised the most of any in the last fifteen ending in such bitter disappointment.
Report by: Ian Thomson
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