Hull City 2-0 Scunthorpe United
What we witnessed today was the most one-sided game you'll see all season. Scunthorpe created a great opening after about 20 minutes, which their left winger headed wide under pressure from Sam Ricketts. That was their entire goal threat over the 90 minutes. City absolutely flew out of the blocks and it's no exaggeration to say we could have been three up in the first ten minutes. Dawson had a free-kick saved, Ash smashed a header into the goalies chest and a fantastic cross just evaded Fraizer Campbell. By the time we took the lead, we'd wasted four or five great opportunities and seen Scunny waste their only chance. I'd just told the chap next to me that "No-one ever scores from long throws" when Ricketts hurled in a beauty, Mikey Turner caused havoc, Fagan had a shot saved and Pedersen headed in the rebound. We had Scunny rattled from set-pieces from the first minute and not long after, it was two-nil as Turner met Dawson's corner with a bullet header. We controlled the rest of the half and created a few openings. Fagan and Campbell were lively up front and Garcia and Pedersen both provided and profited from their hard work. Scunthorpe showed the same inability to defend set pieces as we did last season. That's crucial in this division.
The second half was a breeze. There have been several games this season where we've gone in at half time in the lead, Ipswich, Wolves and Burnley being obvious examples and we've come out for the second half, defended stubbornly and controlled the games. Even in our two promotion seasons, we were never as comfortable when in front. We never managed to be ambitious and still retain total control in defence and midfield. A lot of the credit has to go to the back 5 as well as Ashbee and the two wingers who defend superbly, but also to Phil Brown, who's found attacking players, in Garcia, Pedersen, Folan, Campbell and now Fagan, who stop teams from pouring forward because you just can't do it when the opposition has such a potent threat and players like Okocha and Marney who'll pick them out. We created chances in the second half, but we were never quite as good as in the first but we didn't have to be. We'd done the hard work, we'd created a catch-22 situation for Scunthorpe and we dealt easily with their 'threat'.
Bo Myhill could have sat in the dug out this afternoon. I think his entire contribution was one catch, three back passes and some goal kicks. The reason was simple. The four guys in front of him were absolutely superb. I can't remember the last time a wide player got any change out of Ricketts or Dawson. It certainly didn't happen today. They take up excellent positions, they deal with most of the threat high up the pitch and neither gets beaten in behind. They put their bodies on the line to stop crosses coming in. Ricketts is the perfect full-back. Unusually, he's great in the air, he's two footed, he's quick, he's athletic, he's got great stamina and he loves joining attacks. Dawson offers many of the same qualities on the other side, although he doesn't have the pace. He's improving in the air too; he beat Scunny's target man in the air three times today. Scunny, like most Championship sides, played with one bigger striker, in Ben May, and a smaller guy off him, in Martin Paterson, who's a real goal threat. May quickly realised that he wasn't going to beat Mike Turner in the air and latched onto Wayne Brown who dealt with him just as well. Brown read every situation and most of the time; he was in the position to clear the ball. He won his fair share of the aerial battle and when he couldn't win the ball, he stuck tight on May and stopped him progressing. As a result, whenever May won the ball, it went backwards into midfield, where Ash, Marney, Garcia, Pedersen and one of Campbell and Fagan harassed them until they gave the ball up. The Scunny strikers didn't link up at all and their midfield couldn't get up to join them, hence the total lack of threat. Paterson could probably count all the touches he had on one hand.
The midfield, without JJ Okocha, performed to a very high standard. There aren't enough superlatives to describe the contribution of Garcia and Pedersen in recent months. Like the full backs, they have a lot of similarities, which is why we such incredible balance at the moment. Both have lots of stamina, incredible work ethic and strength. They offer an aerial threat, have quality on the football and each knows where the goal is. In the centre, Ashbee looked every inch the box to box midfielder. He was superb in our box, with three great clearances to nip Scunny attacks in the bud. He got into their box on occasion and he sprayed two sumptuous passes. In between, he did what he does best, he marshaled the midfield, he offered himself to receive passes and he played the ball simply. Alongside him, Marney had his best game since December. When he's in the mood, he looks the business and he was in the mood today. He picked up plenty of ball in midfield and ran at their defence. They couldn't get anywhere near him at times. Only a fantastic save from Joe Murphy stopped him scoring a wonderful individual goal. The only criticism I'd have of our midfield was the amount of balls that fell on the edge of their box without a City player in sight. We put in 8 or 10 great crosses that they could only nudge out to the edge of the box and we weren't in a position to pick them up. In the past few weeks, Okocha has done well in those positions.
After Tuesday night, I, like most people, thought we'd struggle up front without Folan but Messrs Brown and Duffen pulled another rabbit out of the hat by bringing back Craig Fagan who started and received a wonderful welcome from the KC crowd. Had it been any other player, PB probably wouldn't have played them today, but Fagan has played alongside six of the starting eleven for City and Browny knows what he's all about. He was the ideal replacement for Folan, he gave us the threat in the air, he worked as hard as ever and he and Campbell worked pretty well together, considering they only met last night. Campbell was lively again, the ball didn't really fall for him around the goal but his all-round game continues to improve. He's never been work shy and he's now looking fitter than when he first came. He's bringing other people into the game and laying the ball off intelligently. Most Championship defenders would rather have their eyes poked out than mark this kid. He's electric. Like the midfield, just the one criticism, we struggled in the air, as you'd expect. Strikers who are good in the air and quick and skilful over the floor are not ten a penny. We coped well without Folan today, but against more stubborn defences, we might struggle.
Teams that get out of this division tend to have a strong goalkeeper. They have defenders with know how, bravery and sheer bloody mindedness. They are combative and creative in midfield with equal measure; they have wide players who work at both ends and strikers who will cause problems, score goals and work for the team. We have every one of those qualities and more. I still don't think we will go up but there's no doubting that we can. Ignore us at your peril!
Phil Brown continues to impress. His decision making has been excellent recently. The improvement is just staggering. Browny deserves credit for bringing in quality players and for ruthlessly cutting out the rubbish. However, it's interesting to note that six of todays line-up started Phil Parkinson's last game in charge. Browny hasn't just gone out and made wholesale changes, he's worked with what he had. He's put faith in players like Turner, Ricketts, Marney and Ashbee and he's found players to complement them and to bring out the best in them.
I'll save the last words for the referee firstly. Mark Halsey was excellent. At one point in the second half, there wasn't a free-kick awarded for about 7 minutes and he didn't dish out a card all game. Secondly, the City fans, who were incredible today. If you were there today and you aren't usually, do come back, this squad deserves better support. All I wanted at the start of the season was to still be in with a shot at the play-offs around Christmas. We're down to 9 games to go for most, 10 for us and we're 6th in the league. It's beyond our wildest dreams. Well done to everyone for the continued effort and long may it continue.
Ratings: Myhill 6, Ricketts 8, Dawson 8, Turner 8, Brown 8, Garcia 7 (France), Pedersen 8 (Walton), Ashbee 7, Marney 7, Campbell 7, Fagan 7.