Leicester City 0-2 Hull City
We were very good again today. We made the brighter moves, created all the chances and showed a bit of the verve we now have. The first half was scrappy. Leicester employed the 4-5-1 we went with last season, with Steve Howard up top and Hayles and Fryatt attacking from wide. They packed the midfield and looked to Lee Hendrie to create their openings. Hendrie is good at a lot of things, whining at the referee, feigning injury and making cowardly fouls, but the incisive passing thing? Not so much. Hendrie looked like he might be up for the game and then he ran into Ian Ashbee. He was anonymous for the next 85 minutes. We didn't start well, Pedersen and Garcia especially, and we didn't really click for the first 20 minutes, but when we didn't have the ball, we worked hard to get it back and we were superb in defense. Steve Howard is a difficult opponent but we nullified him. Turner won his fair share of headers and when Howard won the ball; our full backs came around the back to win the balls that dropped.
Leicester had a couple of corners that we dealt easily with, a cross that ran across the 6 yard box and a dangerous free kick from the edge of the box that Ash headed away. That was it. We created plenty of openings. Campbell was unplayable again, he latched onto everything that dropped short and ran at their defence. He latched onto a ball over the top and it looked for all the world that he'd scored but it dribbled wide. Windass gathered long passes and put himself in great positions, Leicester had to foul him or let him have the ball. They chose to foul him three times in the opening half. Paul Henderson made good saves to deny Deano, Clement and Dawson from the resulting free kicks. He made another great save to keep out a Windass snapshot. It looked like we'd go in level when Ashbee had a shot cleared off the line (and was inured in the process) but right on half time, Campbell raced down the wing and lashed a ball across the box. A Leicester defender could only poke it out to Dean Marney who hit a good controlled shot into the net. The reaction in the away end was incredible. There's a terrific sense of belief on the pitch, it's obvious, but there is also a growing confidence in the stand. The away following were absolutely immense.
We controlled the second half. We looked a bit nervy in possession but the goal seemed to ease the nerves and we came out looking as confident as we did last Saturday. Leicester went with three at the back and introduced another midfielder but they were still second best. Windass and Campbell, later Folan, worked hard to deny them time on the ball and as a result, they often played the ball long. We continued to isolate Howard and they created very little. Any threat came down our left through the half time substitute Etuhu, who was quick and strong but had two problems. The first was his lack of composure and the second, his excellent opponent, Andy Dawson, who coped incredibly well. As they tried to show some ambition, we hit them on the break. Marney ran from deep and provided the ammunition and Campbell ran in behind their back line. We won a penalty after Marney released Campbell and Henderson pulled him down in the box. Marney's spot kick was too close to the 'keeper who saved it a bit too easily. Ash had tried for about 15 minutes to run off his knock but eventually gave way for Walton. After the penalty, Fraizer Campbell also took a knock and was subbed for Caleb Folan. Whenever Leicester came at us in the second half, I was never worried because I knew we had Folan in reserve. With just about his first touch, he out muscled a Leicester defender, fastened onto a low pass and finished in the bottom corner. That was the job done because our defence just would not concede today. If a bus had driven towards our goal at ten to five, Sam Ricketts would have booted it. We killed the game off, kept the ball, put ourselves in the way of everything and looked far more likely to get a third than they ever did to get a first. Clement had another free kick well saved in the second half, we wasted 4 or 5 corners and some crossing opportunities and Campbell and Folan both dallied when they had fair openings. In stoppage time, Myhill made his only save of the game, apparently getting a finger onto a Hendrie free kick.
In truth, Myhill could have stayed on the bus. He won't have an easier afternoon in his career. The four guys in front of him where magnificent again. Michael Turner is our player of the year by a mile, in my opinion. He doesn't lose aerial battles, he's always in the right position and he's a very strong tackler. Wayne Brown gets a lot of credit for the turn around in our defence but I think he's overrated. The chief reason we are stronger at the back is that Michael Turner is absolutely magnificent. He's better than Leon Cort, of that, I am sure. Sam Ricketts is also unrecognizable from the guy we signed 19 months ago. He had the strength and stamina back then but he's become a very composed defender. There's also an end product to his attacking play these days. He made the best block of the match to stop Leicester getting a shot in when they got in behind in the second half. Neil Clement gave another strong performance. I fear we will lose him because West Brom will surely recall him now. He's a real calming influence in defence, good in the air and fantastic in possession but willing to smack the ball into the proverbial 'Row Z' too. We were good with Brown in defence, we are better with Clement in there.
Garcia and Pedersen had an off day. They put in a great amount of work and defended really well but neither shone in possession. They didn't get into the goal scoring positions they've managed and didn't put in a lot of crosses. Both were wasteful in the opening 20 and Pedersen's terrible header across the pitch led to Garcia being booked for a trip on the edge of the box. They improved as the game went on. Ashbee had another good game. Our two in midfield were better than their three. Ash covered a lot of ground and made a lot of tackles. He just about managed to keep his head in the face of poor refereeing. Marney was his able assistant in the first half. He wasn't a potent attacking threat but a very useful hand in the midfield. Walton replaced Ash after about 55 minutes. He did well in the air and made useful clearances but aside from one great attacking move, he was dire in possession. Still, it didn't really matter today and Marney stepped up to the plate after half time.
There aren't really enough superlatives to describe Fraizer Campbell. He's magic. He's got quick feet and a quicker brain and he tormented the Leicester defence who, like Colchester, discovered that the only way to stop him is to kick him. Dean Windass plays minder to Campbell. He took a lot of knocks again but continued to put his head in where it hurt to create openings for us. He won flick-ons and he won free kicks. Deano's reaction at the end was worth the journey on its own. He absolutely loves the place, he loves the people in the stands and he would love to crown a great career with the ultimate achievement. How could any of our players not care when there are guys like Ash and Deano in the dressing room? Deano missed out on two promotions because Peter Taylor was too stupid to bring the guy back. I'd love him to taste some success with us, love it. Folan came on for Campbell and did the same job, but with a bit more strength. If I were a defender and I'd fought hard for 70 minutes, only to look up and see Folan coming on, I think I'd just pack up and go home. Have we ever had a better substitute? Picking 2 from 3 is going to be a problem. I personally like Folan and Campbell together, but Windass gives us a different dimension too. It's symptomatic of the current team spirit that there is no sulking or complaining from any of them. Before every game, Folan gives Deano a strong handshake and wishes him well.
We drove home with Five Live on the radio and the major discussion, aside from which Premier League pansy is upsetting a useless referee this week, was about Hull City. It's taken a while but the world has finally sat up and taken notice of us. We've been on the climb for weeks, looking like we could snatch it. Our form is incredible, until a couple of weeks ago, we still hadn't cracked the top 6 and now we have a 6 point cushion and we're 2 points off the automatic spots. Whether it's a good thing that everyone else is aware of us, only time will tell but we've certainly put a tiger amongst the pigeons. The players believe we can do it. Caleb Folan marched over at the end as the fans sang "We are going up" and pointed upwards. We have confidence and belief. It's an amazing achievement. Leicester today had a squad of really good players. On paper, they should be in the top 6. They've got good footballers in the midfield, bags of pace wide, good variety up front, genuine goal threat and a solid defence but they are nowhere. Phil Brown has done a fantastic job of putting together a team rather than a collection of players. The guys love each other (probably), they play for each other and they believe in each other. The warm up today was a great example. It was absolutely freezing, snowing was pouring down from the sky and our guys were playing the most enthusiastic game of piggy in the middle you'll ever see. Ricketts, Clement and Windass were even playing in t-shirts. We have a great team at the moment, we're hard, we're strong, we're quick and we play good football. We are absolutely rolling and at the most crucial time of the season.
Can we go up? That's the 60 million dollar question. I've said no all season. I didn't think we could make the play-offs. I'm not going to change my mind now. We are Hull City; we cannot win promotion to the Premier League. It's just not possible.
Ratings: Myhill 6, Ricketts 8, Dawson 8, Turner 8, Clement 8, Ashbee 7 (Walton), Marney 8, Garcia 6 (France), Pedersen 6, Campbell 8 (Folan), Windass 7.