The Tigers took on Newcastle United in a tame FA Cup tie at the KC Stadium. It's a strange situation we are in at the moment. At any time in the last 15 years, a 3rd round cup tie against Newcastle United would have added 10,000 on the gate. Instead, we saw our lowest home crowd of the season. It wasn't a bad game, there were plenty of chances and lots of opportunities to get upset at the awful referee but it was low on quality and never really progressed beyond "OK".
Phil Brown made 7 changes to the City side that were cruelly defeated by Aston Villa on Tuesday. Matt Duke started in goal, Nathan Doyle at right back and Geovanni, Boateng, Marney, Stelios and Fagan in midfield. Paul McShane moved to centre half to give Zayatte a chance to recharge his batteries. The opening half was pretty even, perhaps just shaded by Newcastle, certainly in terms of chances created. Most of their chances fell to, one time City target, Andy Carroll. His movement and positioning was excellent but his finishing woeful. He headed the first chance of the game too close to Duke, headed a second chance into the back of McShane's head, rolled a third chance wide after Doyle headed the ball straight to him and then was denied by a terrific save from Duke. He missed two half chances in the second half too. In the midst of all that, we saw Michael Owen race clear after Ricketts gave up and let him go, only for Duke to charge from his goal and force Owen to lob wide. Defensively, we weren't great. Carroll was allowed to dominate in the air, we were slow to react to their movement and they got the abll into our box far too easily. We missed Ashbee in midfield. Forget experience, Boateng is not an alternative to Ash. We missed the pace of Zayatte too as well as his ability in the air. Carroll pulled off onto McShane too easily and won everything. With a Turner-Zayatte axis, that wouldn't happen. Going forward, we looked quite good. Fagan was very lively and when we could get Geovanni involved, we threatened. Fagan set up a good chance for Cousin after a terrific run but Given saved brilliantly. Geo forced a decent low save from their 'keeper. Our best chance didn't lead to a shot. Fagan broke away and tried to slide Cousin in but waited too long and it was cut out. When the ball rebounded to Fagan, he dithered and rather than slide in Geo on the left, he went right and we lost all momentum. We had a lot of good possession in good area's, Marney in particular found himself in good positions, but as we've often done this season, we squandered it by making poor decision or delivering poor balls. The disjointed nature of the half wasn't helped by a fussy referee dishing out cards all over the place. McShane was booked for showing his anger at the linesman who made a decision that was overruled by the referee, despite the lino being in the perfect place to make the decision. Fagan was booked because a poor free-kick hit him when he wasn't quite 10 yards away. Geovanni and Stelios were booked for the only tackles they made in the game, there was nothing in either challenge.
The second half was decent for the first and last few minutes but pretty tedious in between. We definitely had the best of the half and did all of the pressing. Newcastle went about 25 minutes without having a shot. It was only when Gutierrez started to run Doyle ragged in the last 10 minutes that they had any momentum. They should have course had a penalty early in the half. Duke mis-kicked a clearance into the air and then brought down Owen as he tried to rescue the situation. The ex-England striker looked genuinely baffled that a corner was awarded instead of a spot kick. We did al of the pressing but didn't particularly look like scoring. We had several decent chances but finished poorly, adding a few quid to Given's transfer value. Only a Geovanni free-kick caused him any discomfort and even that was pretty routine, the wicked angle made it near impossible for Geo to score but he had a good go, curling the ball from the corner of the area almost into the top corner. Cousin shot weakly at Given after a neat turn in the box, then was run off the ball after a lovely slide pass from Selios and then in an identical situation, just failed to hold his run and was flagged offside. Then came THE talking point. We were awarded a corner in similar circumstances to the McShane booking earlier, the referee over-ruling the linesman. Marney delivered a beauty, Turner rose and headed for the top corner but Duff just got a touch on the ball and it hit post and bar and dropped into Given's arms. He looked like he was behind the line but unfortunately; the linesman's position was behind Given so there was no way he could possibly give it without guessing. It would be nice for someone to take a guess in our favour for once though! We made a double substitution to try and liven things up, Halmosi and King replaced Fagan and Cousin. Neither really got into the game, though King's work rate again put Cousin to shame. That is until the last minute when we got in behind them on our right and a the ball across fell perfectly for Halmosi to bury, right footed, but up popped Stelios to tackle him and take the ball away form goal. It's OK though, it balls for King, he'll bury it, surely! Up pops Stelios again to tackle him and take the ball further away from goal. I honestly have no idea what he was trying to do, nor do I want to know. Just leave it!! That was the last chance, game over, replay needed.
Duke (7) - Putting aside all feelings about the performance, it was absolutely terrific to see the big man back in action at the KC in a really big game. He'll always be over-shadowed by Bo Myhill but he's been great for us in the last few years, the perfect back-up goalie and after his problems, it's nice to see him starting again. His goalkeeping was superb, he made 2 top class saves, he caught the ball confidently and he showed great ability to throw the ball out quickly. Unfortunately, his kicking, which I remember being terrible against Sheffield Wednesday on New Years Day 2007, was still pretty appalling. Apart from giving Owen an opportunity, he generally kicked into touch or into wide open space. That was a shame because his other work would have given PB something to really think about.
Doyle (7) - Took a while to get into the game, he didn't get close enough to his oppo's early on. He improved though and did well until he tired. He tackled well and challenged in the air and distributed tidily for the most part. His lack of pace and stamina was badly exposed late on but a lot of that will be down to a lack of regular games. He did enough to remind PB that he's a real option at full-back. Still young enough to make a real Hull City career for himself.
Ricketts (7) - A disappointing first half as he looked strangely off the pace and didn't get close enough to Duff. He looked like the one who'd come in after a lack of games. In the second half, he improved and kept Duff very quiet. He never got into the forward positions enough, from where he's a real danger. Once or twice he joined attacks and got the ball in, but not enough to cause a problem.
Turner (7) - Looked a little vulnerable early on as he adapted to those around him. Grew in stature though and won everything in the second half. He'll be disappointed that he didn't score the winner.
McShane (6) - Gave it everything he had, as usual, but looked too slow and too small to play centre-half. A very average striker like Carroll gave him a really hard time. Missed a terrific chance in the second half resulting from Geovanni's free-kick.
Stelios (5) - A pretty poor display in truth. As the second half went on, we started to see some quality from him on the ball but overall, he didn't deliver anything. He's not a winger, he's not going to take defenders on or deliver telling crosses but he's the sort of player who joins attacks from wide and picks up vital goals. He didn't ever look likely to score, or to get anywhere close to scoring. His general play was pedestrian and he looked too slow to cause a threat to anyone. His post match interview on KCFM was great, but only because he sounds like Manuel from Fawlty Towers.
Fagan (8) - As he showed against Man City, he really hasn't missed a step. His touch still isn't right, it's more like it was when he was on loan last year than early this season, but his athleticism, his running with the ball and his movement off it were terrific. I can only assume he was tiring late on because if Browny took him off instead of Stelios for tactical reasons, he'd need his head read. Made a couple of poor decisions when better ones could have caused problems which he needs to improve quickly.
Marney (7) - Always looked the most likely person to cause them problems in the first half. Made good runs from deep and showed great ability to keep running even when Guthrie was hanging off him. How pulling at his shirt three times as he ran into their half doesn't warrant a yellow card, I'll never know. The lack of an end result to his hard work is still quite frustrating, as is the difference in quality between his brilliant set pieces and his poor delivery from open play. Had a quieter second half as we used the wide areas more but popped up in stoppage time after a lung-bursting run but, unfortunately, he headed well wide from a lovely Ricketts cross.
Boateng (6) - Hard working display from Georgie but with very little result. He made some decent challenges and constantly wanted the ball but what he did with it wasn't good enough. He didn't pick up the second balls that Ashbee does and nor did he make the high number of interceptions around the box that Ash does. You can also guarantee that at least twice in every game, he'll try and hold someone off the ball in midfield and lose it.
Geovanni (6) - A game he struggled to have any influence on. When he had the ball he was terrific and caused problems every time. His ability to lose a couple of players whenever he has possession is wonderful and typically Brazilian. The problem for us is that we cannot get him on the ball enough, particularly close to goal because he's being watched like a hawk at all times. It's difficult to find the answer. In a 4-4-1-1, he leaves the striker very exposed, he can't play centrally in a 4-4-2 and teams are working out our 4-3-1-2. That just leaves him playing from a wide area, like today and he's too often left out of the game.
Cousin (5) - Looked pretty sluggish, perhaps disinterested, for the most part. Displayed some nice touches but didn't show for the ball enough and didn't bring others into play. King is by far the better option.
King (6) & Halmosi (6)
The replay will be a tough game. Newcastle are a decent side under Kinnear, much better organised than before and with some flair. They have a soft under-belly and if you get in front of them, they'll crack but they look less likely to crack so easily. Amusingly at one point today, we sang "We've got more points than you" to which the Newcastle fans replied "We've got more fans than you". As if that even matters. It's about on pitch success, not how many are in the stand moaning about winning nothing. It's a club that needs to get its priorities straight. Full credit for Joe Kinnear for being able to do it, even if the others can't. The replay's not a game that we'll care much about losing, unfortunately. The FA Cup isn't what it was. It's become a chance for people who can't get into league games to get a ticket. That applies to fringe players as well as fans. That's quite sad. Back to league business next. Everton will be a tough challenge. We'll have to go with 5 in midfield against them or else they'll over-run us. Can we have Marlon King back, please, PB? Little Nicky too, he'll love going into the lion's den. His inclusion will stir up everyone, that'll be fun.