And so to the home of the Roch where the moors brood and the locals glower and City get beaten just a bit too frequently. So it was last night. And yet .... after penning so many tales of woe in recent weeks, I can report to you this morning with pleasure that City played really quite well at Spotland. We certainly deserved a draw against opponents hungry for the points they need to sustain a promotion challenge that we know, they know and even Tamara Press knows will ultimately end in failure. And the game itself was genuinely entertaining. So, after Saturday's supine surrender, it is, I suppose, typically perverse of Hull City to the (almost) last to offer up our best display away from home since Kenilworth Road in November on the very night that our chances of a PlayOff spot were finally booted into the realms of arithmetical impossibility.
Never mind. It was an uplifting evening in the Lancashire highlands.
Obviously it would be plain daft to assert just a few days since he took the job that Mr Molby is on course to re-invigorate our whole club and lead us triumphantly to promotion next season. But here's the team he picked - it doesn't look much like the one that got so cravenly trampled by Luton, and, from goalkeeper all the way through to strikeforce, it was all the better for that.
Musselwhite spared! Bezza down the right! The return of the Dude! All decisions paid off handsomely for Mr Molby (well, as handsomely as a defeat at Rochdale could ever be regarded - how low have sunk our ambitions), as he opted for an orthodox 4-4-2.
The game began as brightly as the pre-match barmaid's lipstick and soon assumed a lively, open character akin to that favoured by Rochdale's genial publicans. And - what do you know - we were slightly the better side as the exchanges became more threatening. A free-kick down the right allowed Beresford to hoist a cross on to Holt's forehead, and our maligned left-sided midfielder, looking a much happier player with a full-back covering the space behind him, nodded the ball just over the bar. We won four corners in a row, and even though we did precious little with them (as usual), it was encouraging to see craft and invention re-acquainting themselves with a Hull City side going forward. Dudfield ... ah, Dudfield. This man has flair, wit and superb ball control. He also has exhibited little interest in playing for Hull City for quite a while. But last night the top-quality goalsmith who paraded the pitches of the Division through a rampant Autumn was all of a sudden back on duty, and the team was immediately doubled in panache and conviction, a reinforcement most evidently enjoyed by his partner, the newly frisky Gary Alexander. And the Dude it was who scored the goal that our superiority well merited. A long cross from wide on the right reached Alexander at the back post; he headed the ball back square across the face of the goal towards Dudfield, who, stretching to toe-poke it in, was just two inches short. But the ball was immediately whipped back in to the six-yard box and this time the Dude rammed it into the back of the net. A splendid feast of comedy defending, but some energetic and determined attacking too.
For Rochdale the lanky Clive Platt was causing us no beginning of problems, while dapper Paul Simpson was playing far too deep to generate any alarms and may well wish to consider more deeply the well-intentioned advice doled out to him by the boisterous Manchester Tigers to hang up his boots. Ha! We were pasting them! OK, so you know we're going to lose anyway. But we've had precious few chances to large it during the second half of this wretched season and this was one to savour. We were playing really well.
So - of course - Rochdale now scored an equaliser.
And it was a reminder of the frailties that have cost us dear since the slide down the table began four months ago. We concede too easily. On this occasion Rochdale made their first incursion into our territory for a good quarter-of-an-hour. An uncultured ball was hoofed into our box and their attack found itself donated two free headers. The exposed Glennon got his fingers to the second but couldn't keep it out.
The home side didn't deserve to be level, and, even though they were now looking livelier in attacking mode, they weren't level for very long as we completed the half playing prettier attacking football than the travelling support has seen in a very long while. Beresford shot; well wide. Then, on 45, Holt showed excellent strength to burst down the left and cross long to Alexander at the back post. He intelligently headed the ball back across the face and Dudfield bundled it in from close range. 2-1 to us, and there was even time for Alexander to surge through the centre like a Pamplona bull only to find himself foiled by a desperate keeper before the half-time whistle blew to terminate a richly enjoyable spell of football.
The ungainly, but normally effective, Platt gave way to the nippy Townson, but we began the second half well, as an astute Alexander ball set the Dude free. A very dodgy offside flag hauled back the hat-trick hunter. Shortly afterwards the chase resumed, as a ball from the right allowed Dudfield a shooting chance which he slipped just wide of the post. We looked dangerous up front, but the home side had by now begun to command most of the possession, even if, as yet, their threat in the final third was minimal. The balance had shifted. We had, for sure, lost the midfield, where Greaves was having a poor and drooping evening, and Sneekes was tiring. Off came the Dutchman; Mike Edwards trotted on and took up the right-back spot, allowing Petty to move forward into midfield. I don't think anyone expected this to work well: and Petty didn't disappoint as he again disappointed.
Rochdale equalised (again). A messy period of play uncomfortably close to the edge of our box saw us miss chances to hoof the ball clear and one of theirs blatted a low shot from 20 yards across Glennon and just inside his far post.
The Dale look a bit lively now. We are the better side, but they are dogged and, displaying the virtues for which their county is, I understand, famed (think Clive Lloyd, Lloyd Owusu, Tennis's David Lloyd), they are too daft to notice they really should in all conscience be sitting back and watching us play instead of trying to do it themselves. So Paul Simpson thumps in a shot which takes a huge deflection and is acrobatically tipped on to the crossbar by Glennon. A vulgar display, Mr Simpson. The corner is headed fiercely - though demonstrably stupidly - goalwards and pouched by the splendid Glennon. Then one of theirs shows a crass absence of refinement by zipping down the left wing- like a complete idiot, he must be embarrassed this morning - and shooting in a dismally undignified fashion to draw a save from Glennon and, with the City defence discussing recent French novels, another of theirs steers the loose ball into the back of the Tiger net. The absurdity of this indecent showing-off is elevated on to a new plane of poor taste by the tannoy's periodic broadcasting of a hunting horn. These, let me tell you, are strange folk.
3-2, and now there was cause for concern. The Rochsters began to roll forward with menace and conviction, and our sturdy battling and skilful strutting of earlier looked at risk of being swept aside on a tide of home goals. But no! There was - at long last - a degree of proper defiance about our troops. We repelled the Dale efforts, and almost equalised as Dudfield had two chances to convert deep inside the penalty box. A shame he didn't register a mighty hat-trick, but the Dude deserved his ovation from the City support of 350 or so as he was replaced late on by pronunciation-poser Caceres. We had a couple of corners near the end, and, on 91, Caceres squandered a well-placed free-kick with a poorly struck shot. But we lost with pride, which has not been the norm lately, and we left the Lancashire folk to their puzzling post-match pitch invasion.
We have put up with so much tosh since December that we all assume a big clear-out would be the ideal medicine for the summer. Well, maybe. But would we be so badly off if we began next season with more-or-less the same line-up as cuffed Exeter on the opening day of this one? The sight of Alexander and Dudfield back in harness together last night reminded me just how good we were for months in late 2001. Sure, we need better fitness training and motivation, and we need a settled formation; we could do with the acquisition of a dominant presence in midfield too. But we have good players. Really good players. Just a few days since he took the job Mr Molby is on course to re-invigorate our whole club and lead us triumphantly to promotion next season.
Report by: Steve Weatherill
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