WBA 0-3 Hull City
The 18 man squad was unchanged for the fourth successive game. The formation was similar to that against Tottenham, with a narrow three in midfield and Geovanni playing further forward than he did for much of the West Ham game. West Brom made the early running and kept the ball better than we did. We conceded a succession of soft free-kick's and struggled to establish any rhythm. The best chance of the half fell to WBA early on. We invited Valero to shoot from distance and he shot hard and low, bringing a good save out of Myhill. The rebound fell nicely for Olsson but he crashed his header against the bar and we somehow scrambled the ball wide of the goal in the melee that followed. Dawson was injured whilst conceding a free-kick to Miller in a dangerous position. He made a clean tackle and Miller fell on top of him, the award of a free-kick literally added insult to injury. Daws hobbled on for a few minutes before being replaced by Ricketts. We worked our way into the game. We weren't at our best, the supply into the front line was poor and we were struggling to get on top of their midfield but as they pushed on, we broke away quickly. King and Geovanni hit tame shots into Carson's chest and two decent Cousin crosses came to nothing. They continued to play the ball neatly in midfield. Marney pushed up and tried to win the ball high up the pitch but failed and left a lot of space in behind him. Their four of Greening, Valero, Koren and Morrison were very narrow and at times, played up against Ash and Boateng. We defended pretty well from open play and as the half went on, there were bags of chances at either end. West Brom's had the clearest of the chances. They got Miller in twice, there superior numbers in midfield pulled Turner or Zayette out of defence and left space which Miller exploited. He was denied the first time by an incredible tackle from Zayatte and the second time by a finger tip save from Myhill. At the other end, Zayatte wasted a free header from a corner, Ash half volleyed a good chance wide, Geo shot wildly into the crowd and then King dragged an effort past the far post. Half time came at a good time for us. We created good chances but it was probably our worst half on the road so far and we needed a bit of inspiration. We particularly needed to find a way to get King and Cousin in the game because they could be a handful.
The second half was much better. Phil Brown either went for calm and clear communication or he threw tea cups at them, but either way, it was a much more purposeful City side that strode out for the second half. A good passage of play on the left found King, who beat the defender and cut a beautiful pass back across the box which somehow evaded Cousin and Marney but fell to Geovanni who scuffed a shot goalwards and saw it deflected and then clawed away for a corner by Carson. The corner was another sweet delivery from Marney, met on the volley by Zayatte, 8 yards out, bang, one nil. The guy is massively popular in the stands and he obviously is on the pitch too because he was mobbed by his team mates. Following the goal, we looked excellent in possession. We won more of the ball and used it well. We used King and Cousin to pull defenders around and create space and Geovanni and Marney lit up the place. WBA remained a threat. Myhill tipped a cracking low shot around the post with his right hand, a breath taking save. The main threat came from set pieces as it had through out. The Tigers were excellent at attacking set pieces but were absolutely woeful defending them. Every well-taken West Brom set piece found a Baggie with a free header. That they were absolutely terrible in front of goal was the saving grace. Carson made another good save to deny Geovanni before the Tigers sewed the game up. King latched onto a ball forward, drew the defender and then calmly lifted the ball over his head for the on rushing Geovanni to dive and head under Carson. Excellent goal, though I expect TV replays will show King to be at least a yard offside (edit: Just saw the goal on MOTD... well onside). West Brom were rattled, they'd been out muscled, they'd watched City take control of the ball and then the game and now, they were on the ropes and waiting for the knock out blow. Marlon King obliged, a harassed defender headed poorly and King picked up the ball (not literally) and finished low in the bottom left corner, ala Folan in February. Game over. West Brown still tried, to their credit, they forced another terrific low save from Myhill and should've scored at least one from corners. We played great football in possession, bringing cries of "Ole" from the traveling army of Tigers fans and if they'd really wanted to, we might have scored the 14 goals we needed to put us officially top of the league. Still, joint top was good enough, and the Tigers fans cried passionately "We are top of the league". We've all heard it before, of course, but it was never the ENTIRE league before. It was left to Zayatte and McShane to put in cracking headers and crunching tackles, respectively, as the Tigers refused to give up their clean sheet and we were home and dry. Three more precious points from what still might turn out to have been a relegation six pointer.
Myhill showed today that he might be the best shot stopper in the entire league. He made a good save one on one with Miller, having got his angles spot on, and three saves down to his right that were world class. He didn't just save them either, he was alert enough to push two of them away from danger. Poor kicking was his only fault today. He can kick accurately and with good distance but he needs to find some consistency. Still, given the choice between three accurate kicks and four fantastic saves, I know what I'd take. His handling was excellent throughout as he judged and then took the sting out of a few hopeful WBA efforts.
Dawson wasn't really on the pitch long enough to judge. If anyone doesn't deserve an injury to take him out of the side, it's Daws. Ricketts did OK as his replacement, against the threat of Zuiverloon and whichever midfielder pulled out wide. He was caught out a couple of times by Miller's runs, the sort of run that Dawson has been seeing and stopping lately, but he made one superb block on miller in the second half that made up for it. He just looked a bit rusty, which is understandable. McShane was solid at right-back. They booed him from the first whistle, but if he cared, it didn't show. His defending was spot on again as he got tight up against his opponent and stopped them turning him. He was undone by pace a couple of times but there was nothing he could do about that. He made a terrific run to track Miller when he looked clear on goal, I'm not entirely sure how he stopped the big man, but he did enough to allow the rest of the Tigers rearguard to get back in position. Turner had a quite game. They'd obviously identified him as the danger at corners because they marked him tightly. So tightly in fact that Olsson almost pulled his shirt over his head at one first half corner. It was not spotted by the referee, who, to be fair, had a very consistent game. He didn't spot anything at all. Turner defended well, but was too easily pulled out of position at times, leaving a gap in behind. He was overshadowed, again, by Zayatte who continues to look like the steal of the century. He made incredible blocks, routine headers and strong tackles. He read the play well and when he was caught out of position, he used his incredible speed to avert danger. Zuiverloon, I'm led to believe, is lightening quick, but he lost a foot race to Zayatte, who has a long, languid stride, like a gazelle and eats up the ground impressively. He must do much better from defensive set pieces though.
We didn't see as much from the midfield as we have recently. The hard graft was there, but WBA moved the ball through us quite well. At times, Marney and Boateng struggled to get near them. Ashbee, playing deeper, sometimes almost as a sweeper, did a good job of cutting out some of their ball and did a fine job of helping out in the box. We weren't sharp enough without the ball though, a bit like last week at times. In possession, we were a bit sloppy first half but excellent in the second. Marney made great runs off the ball and was always looking to receive it, often without getting it. Unfortunately, Ashbee received his 5th yellow card of the season and will miss the game at Old Trafford next week. A worry for us and a crying shame for our inspirational skipper. Phil Brown took advantage of the 3-0 lead by withdrawing Ash and giving Bryan Hughes 15 minutes alongside Marney and Boateng. A good idea before next week. Hughes had another decent cameo and helped us keep the ball away from WBA.
The front three, as they were this week, had a tough first half. Geo saw most of the ball and with WBA terrified of letting him shoot, he took advantage by using the ball well to find others. King and Cousin struggled for decent possession for a long time and weren't helped by their joint inability to STAY ONSIDE. They still managed to cause some hassle, Cousin in particular finds good space on the left and delivers the ball well. They corrected that in the second half and as a team we did a better job of getting the ball to them, with devastating effect. King's second half was absolutely superb.
We are joint top of the entire league, it is pinch yourself time. This incredible season continues to thrill us. We've not lost away from home, 13 points from 15. We've not conceded a goal for three games. Some people thought we'd struggle to win 3 games all season; we've won 3 in a row!
The next fortnight will test Phil Brown. He's passed every test thus far and will look forward to it. He's got to find the best way to play Chelsea and Manchester United, he's got to sort out our dreadful defending from corners, he's got to play United without Ash and he's got to pick the players up if it doesn't go our way. Good Luck, Phil!
Ratings: Myhill 9, McShane 7 , Dawson (Ricketts 6), Turner 7, Zayatte 8, Marney 7, Ashbee 8 (Hughes), Boateng 6, Geovanni 8 (Garcia), King 8, Cousin 7.