When I was a lad, Hull was a very isolated place. The people there had little contact with other areas and so they tended to be somewhat insular. And then they built the enormous Humber Bridge spanning the mighty Humber at a quite incredibly wide point. Nowadays if people in Hull want to interact with others they just need to hop in their cars and cross over to …err, Grimsby. Hmm.
I actually rather like Hull City. Despite the presence of the strange shaped ball game you get the distinct impression that the people of Hull really care for their club. There are numerous similarities to Sunderland. One of them is that sense of isolation from the rest of the country. You seem to break away from populous areas and then drive for quite some time before you reach either of us. And for both of us if you go any further there is just cold, bleak desolation: the North Sea in the case of Hull: and in our case, Scotland.
We hadn’t played Hull in a competitive match for quite some time. In the seventies it used to be a somewhat “tasty” place to visit. I did worry a little whether that might still to be the case. Of course for the most part those sorts of problems have been left in the seventies. Unfortunately in Hull it is still 1976.
After a pretty crap journey up (I wish people wouldn’t crash on the M1 when there is a match on) we drove along the Humber gawking at the previously mentioned Humber Bridge. It was about 12 by now so we were desperate to get to the boozer. The expression “let’s park here by the docks – it should be safe” is not one that one can make sound very credible. So we ended up in a town centre multi storey which was close to the pre-arranged Wetherspoons. When we got there, there was this huge South African doorman who “suggested” that we might like to join a load of our lads who were drinking at a Yates round the corner. I have a policy with people who are broader than I am tall that if they suggest something I tend to comply. So we found ourselves in the Yates with a load of other SAFC supporters debating how far away the ground was (the answer was a canny distance – but not as far as some taxi-bound wimps would have you believe).
The unfortunately named KC stadium (insert your own fast food fowl pun here) is a great stadium. Like Huddersfield it has a decent amount of individual character and has a capacity appropriate to the size of crowd so that a decent atmosphere is whipped up. We had sold our allocation of 4,000 pretty much straight away. However, our support was a little more subdued than one might expect – I think we seem to be letting the nerves get to us almost every game.
Ward was continuing in goal. Whitehead dropped to right back while Nyatagna continued at left back where he had finished against Barnsley. Varga and Collins D were at centre back. Somewhat surprisingly (to me at least) Lawrence was still on the right with Miller L only on the bench. On the left Wallace returned. Yorke continued in central midfield – this time alongside Leadbitter. Murphy and Brown played up front – again surprising me as I thought Connolly, who was on the bench, would start.
We started the game kicking away from us (and I’d forgot my glasses again for those who follow such things). From the off we were well and truly on top. York just commanded everything. It is so lovely to watch a player of his class. He never gets fazed. He always creates the option for whoever is on the ball. It actually makes the others play better knowing that, if things go wrong, they can pass to him. Often one of our players will be under pressure from an opposition player and will use Yorke as an outlet – despite the fact that two men are on him. But Yorke will never complain. With one twist he is free and spreading the ball across the pitch. He really is head and shoulders above anyone else one sees in this division. Let’s hope he can do a Teddy Sheringham and continue on for some time to come. The one thing that is certain however is that the position where he is going to be a hero for us is central midfield – there is no point putting him back up front. Something of a quandary with Kavanagh coming back from injury – perhaps as early as Tuesday against the leekmunchers.
We seemed to have so many chances but none of them wanted to go in. I am not a great Chris Brown fan. Frankly I am astounded he is playing for us. Murphy I am a bit keener on but I still don’t rate him too highly. I think either a fit Elliott or a Connolly would have had at least a couple in the first half. Not only was Leadbitter working well with Yorke (as Whitehead had the previous week) but both Wallace and Lawrence (yes, honestly) were causing their defence trouble. Murphy missed the easiest chance (heading straight at the keeper when it seemed easier to put it either side of him) – but the truth was neither Brown nor Murphy were causing sufficient problems in the box, given the quality of our build up play. Of course one has to acknowledge that we were playing the bottom of the league side – but at present at least we are still a bottom half of the table side ourselves and so we should be pleased to see ourselves at least looking a class above relegation fodder (which we didn’t that long ago).
We were a little surprised not to be in front at half time. In the second half, we struggled to create quite so many penetrating attacks. Mind you Chris Brown did miss the most outrageous sitter – the ball whizzing in from the right, all he had to do was make contact with his foot but he somehow seemed to manage to lift his foot over the ball. The change when it came was an enforced one with Lawrence getting injured. Connolly came on and went up front with Brown with Murphy dropping to the left wing and Wallace moving over to the right. They hadn’t really had to deal with anything like Connolly and it was nice to see him tearing them apart. Wallace too caused trouble for the left side of Hull’s defence with his ability to go either inside or to the bye line.
Still it looked like we were going to have to be content with an away draw. But then a goal. Just think how different this report would have been if it had gone against us. Ward had looked pretty confident without being troubled but in the second half Varga had made a slip that let a Hull striker burst though. Collins D came racing back and did a fantastic rescuing tackle as the player went into the box. Fortunately however, the injury time goal went our way. Wallace got the ball in a deep inside right position and went for the box throwing off a couple of defenders. As he came into the box, the benefit of having a left footer coming in from the right was obvious. He fired a superb firm curling ball across the goaly and into the inside side netting. As at Derby, he clearly felt that the kitman was not using enough fabric conditioner and threw off his itchy shirt as he headed towards the ecstatic SAFC supporters behind the goal. Unfortunately he’d already been booked for dissent (so someone next to me said – I never remember these things) and so he had to go (not without some hilarious protests from Yorke as he was held back by other Sunderland players while he looked like he was going to lamp the ref).
There was something of a military exercise going on as we headed off out of the ground and back down to town – by now we’d covered up our stripes and were incognito but happy. Many other SAFC supporters were fully cognito and, pleased to report, I saw no bother.
A bloody good win. One expects a tougher challenge Tuesday but let’s savour this one for a day or so.
John aka “Herts”