Malcolm Dawson writes……while I was watching Pete Sixsmith‘s home town club of Shildon progress to the next round of the FA Cup, thanks to a softish penalty which the goalkeeper saved, only to watch helplessly as the rebound was headed straight back into the net, the man himself was at the KCOM stadium where a promising first half performance was negated for the second time in five days by a player who used to turn out in the red and white stripes. As ever, Peter’s account of his day goes beyond the match itself. Did he enjoy his day in the City of Culture? Read on to find out.
HULL CITY (away)
This weekend was a difficult one for managers in the Football League as three of them lost their jobs on Saturday evening. Good ‘ol ‘Arry went at Birmingham City, Chesterfield parted company with Gary Caldwell and Michael Brown picked up his P45 at Port Vale. And if you listened to some of the people I shared a coach with back from Hull, Simon Grayson should be joining them within the week.
The major criticism aimed at a man who is already looking a tad “beleaguered” is that we sat back too much in the second half and allowed Hull to come at us, relying on our hitherto impressive defence to absorb the pressure and catch the toothless Tigers on the break. Unfortunately, equally “beleaguered” City boss, Leonid Slutsky decided that his team’s first half performance was so poor that he made two proactive substitutions, one of whom was to prove the inevitable “Law of the Ex” in a Hull team that had three of our former players in its ranks.
We had played well in the first half and were deservedly in front from an excellent header from James Vaughan. He may not be the best centre forward we have ever had but, as Argus used to say about a young Bobby Kerr, “he could not be faulted on the score of effort”. Up against the still impressive Michael Dawson, he chased and harried and found himself on the end of a superb Callum McManaman free kick to put a good header wide of McGregor and thereby open his account for Sunderland. The first of many, one hopes.
In that opening 45 minutes, there was only one team in it. We controlled the midfield through Cattermole and Ndong, although neither looked like troubling the goalkeeper. Indeed, one Ndong shot would have impressed Hull FC’s star rugby league goal kicker Marc Sneyd.
Jonny Williams had another very good game behind Vaughan and looks a real asset. He reminds me a bit of an improvisational jazz drummer who plays his own way, introducing licks that the others in the band are not expecting. In a team that is basic and straightforward, his brand of free form jazz is welcome.
His fellow newbie, Callum McManaman, also impressed but both are struggling for match fitness. Neither played a full game of competitive football until last Saturday and both were thrown into the deep end, by being involved in three games in a week. No wonder both were exhausted by the middle of the second half.
The big change in the game came courtesy of David Meyler. Slutsky sent him on to liven up a side who had incurred the wrath of the 14,000 City fans at half time. Like us, they are not taking too well to Championship football. Meyler’s arrival was greeted with cheers and for the remaining 45 minutes he showed what a good player he can be if you allow him to control the game. I always liked him at Sunderland and both Roy Keane and Martin O’Neill felt the same – although it was O’Neill who allowed him to move on to Hull, first on loan and then permanently. He has played regularly for City and it was his influence that changed the course of this game and set the grumbles going.
That we failed to challenge him is incontrovertible. Why we failed to challenge is the question. Neither of our two central midfield players was comfortable up against him as his strong running took him past them easily. Grayson’s answer was to withdraw a clearly exhausted Williams and send on Jack Rodwell to hopefully sit on Meyler and stop him carrying the ball forward. By this time, the Cork man was in his element and was running the game. Rodwell was unable to stifle his natural enthusiasm and physical power and it was no surprise when he slotted home the equaliser, albeit with generous assistance from a deflection from Kone. He then had a chance to wrap the game up but Ruiter made a good save low down and we came away with a point – a point which on the first half showing, we deserved.
The main talking point was about the substitutions that were made and their effect on the game. Rodwell and Jones were not inspiring replacements as we hung on and it appeared to send a message that we were attempting to shore up the defence. Some said that we should have attacked more, but we were unable to get the ball and then use it sensibly.
We did have two good chances to put the game beyond Hull. McGregor made a very good save from McManaman and then Honeyman tried to play Vaughan in instead of taking it on himself. The first was down to good goalkeeping, the second down to a lack of confidence by Honeyman. He is busy, works hard but lacks that final touch that makes a good player stand out from an ordinary one.
If Rodwell was told to put the mockers on Meyler he failed. Picking up a stupid booking within seconds of coming on didn’t help and he played too deep in a three with Cattermole and Ndong. Jones just seemed to get in the way as Matthews became a third central defender. But what were the other options? The bench was very, very limited with only one attacking player on it and a surfeit of midfielders and defenders. Love may have done a better job on Meyler and Gooch may have freshened things up going forward but Grayson did what he did and had we held out he would have been praised for “getting it right”.
There are some who are already clamouring for his replacement. The message boards have various threads that are critical. Some of my fellow passengers, fuelled by Carling lager and blackcurrant cider, were adamant that he must go and that he was useless. Unless things get very much worse by Christmas, there is no chance of that. The owner will not sanction a pay off and besides, who on earth would take the job on? We are not an attractive proposition either to investors or to managers. Like it or not, we are stuck with an unwilling owner, a cost cutting chief executive and a manager who once he gets a settled team, will give us the mid table respectability that we crave. Alas, it will be in the Championship.
I enjoyed my day in Hull despite the awful weather. I saw Morris Dancing (he sends his regards), two stilt walkers dressed as fishermen and with genuine West Country accents, a statue of Philip Larkin and a cream telephone box.
How’s all that for a bit of culture???