Seventeen down (away games that is), two to go, as the five of us jumped into the old jalopy, and hit the road towards the East Riding of Yorkshire, and Kingston Upon Hull, The Kingston Communications Stadium in particular, home of relegation threatened Hull City Football Club.
Buoyed by Sundays rather laboured victory down at Fratton Park, we were all in boisterous and confident mood as we left Brummagem behind, all eager for ninety plus minutes of hopefully quality football from our lot, and three more points as we end the campaign looking to finish top six again if possible, overhauling along the way, last seasons points total.
Of course our hosts needed the points too, and they have a decent home record to boost their confidence, but without wishing relegation upon them, I think its quite fair to say that no one of the claret and blue persuasion, and I think that we can for this particular game include West Ham United in that grouping, cared too much about Hull City’s predicament. We just wanted to be traveling back home to Birmingham with another away-day victory.
No surprise with the line-up for the game, Mart went with Sunday’s starting eleven, leaving Luke Young, Habib Beye, Steve Sidwell, Nigel Reo-Coker, Emile Heskey, Nathan Delfouneso and Brad Guzan on the bench.
The team:- Brad Friedel, Carlos Cuellar, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Stephen Warnock, Stan Petrov, James Milner, Stewart Downing, Ashley Young, John Carew and Gabby Agbonlahor.
Great atmosphere inside the stadium, the locals were certainly up for it, while the traveling Villans, who really have been top draw this season, turning up in huge numbers no matter where or when the game, although heavily outnumbered, weren’t going to be outshouted.
Very bright start by our lads, putting the hosts on the back foot immediately, taking the game to The Tigers, in the hope we could grab an all important early goal. The lads looked sharp and very much up to the task, and that was good to see after concerns we might be heavy footed after Sunday’s exertions.
Hull’s team selection had been something of a surprise, with Vennegoor of Hesselink the lone striker. You would have thought that in what really was a must win game for the home team, Iain Dowie would have been more attack minded. Presumably his thinking was that to go at us all hell for leather, might just have left his charges susceptible on the break. With Hull playing very deep, Vennegoor of Hesselink looked somewhat isolated up front, and with The Tigers needing goals, it looked a very strange tactic.
Carlos Cuellar headed a Stewart Downing’s cross straight at the home keeper when he should have done better, and then James Miller shot from twenty-five yards, only to see his effort flash wide.
At the other end Kilbane fired over, before Gabby Agbonlahor stunned the home crowd with a superb opening goal. Some poor defending by the home side saw the ball fall to Gabby via John Carew’s back, and Gabby sublimely curled a beauty past the Hull keeper, with two defenders standing on the goal line, completely helpless (excellent Neil Young song that, ‘Helpless’). Great start from the claret and blues.
Hull seemed happy to allow us plenty of possession and we kept the ball well, looking to attack at every opportunity down either wing. Their 4-5-1 though just wasn’t helping their cause.
We looked well on top, in control, and didn’t look in any trouble, until Cuellar, attempting to run into midfield lost possession to Boateng, who robbed Carlos easily, and crossed for Vennegoor of Hesselink to fire straight at Brad Friedel who made a fine stop, but the ball fell perfectly into the path of Kevin Kilbane. The veteran couldn’t miss, or so we thought. Kilbane struck the ball first-time, and again Brad Friedel made a fine stop, but could only parry the ball back out to the same player.. An easier chance, got to be a goal, but the ball was somehow deflected over the bar by James Collins. Great defending, but really a very poor piece of finishing by Kilbane. We could breathe again.
Stephen Warnock took a nasty knock that left him clearly in pain, and it looked for a while as if we’d have to do without his services for the rest of the evening. Trooper that he is though, Stephen did what we all should have known he would do. He signaled to the bench that all was well, and he continued to battle for the claret and blue cause. What a tremendous signing he has proved to be. Inspired piece of business by MON.
Towards the interval Hull came more into the game without really threatening, and when the half time break arrived the Villa support was fairly happy at the way the first forty-five had played out. It was obvious to all, that Dowie’s lot had to try something different in the second half if they were to find a way to breach this Villa defence, which I’m pleased to say, looked very much back to their best after recent games, where in my opinion they’ve looked slightly porous…or definitely extremely porous if you care to take Stamford Bridge into account.
We needed a second goal though to finish Hull off, because we felt that Dowie would fire them up during the interval, and they’d come out firing on all cylinders. After all, a draw was of little use to them, let alone a defeat.
Hull got the second period underway, and immediately picked up from where they left off in the first half, by coming forward, pressing us back, and making a real contest of it.
From a Hull corner, Richard Dunne and Vennegoor of Hesselink challenged for the ball, and they clashed heads. It immediately looked serious, both players suffering what looked like very bad injuries. Richard Dunne recovered first and left the field to receive stitches, but the Hull striker lay motionless for some considerable time, before being stretchered off in a neck brace. He was replaced by USA international Jozy Altidore.
On seventy minutes it was celebration time as James Milner doubled our lead from the spot. John Carew made a superb break into the Hull City half, he squared the ball to James Milner, who was brought down by ex-Villan Boateng inside the penalty area. A clearer penalty decision you will never see, and referee Mike Dean had no option other than to award a penalty. Milly stepped up, and converted with relative ease, sending goalkeeper Duke the wrong way. 2-0, party time at the KC Stadium.
Hull started to push more men forward as they desperately tried to get back into the game, but in truth it wasn’t going to happen. We were a class above.
The fourth official indicated ten minutes of added time, something you only usually see at Old Trafford if United are losing, but we saw it out with ease.
Away victory number nine, only four defeats in eighteen away games. That’s an impressive record in anyone’s book. Who says this club isn’t making progress?
So that’s us moving on to sixty-one points, yet another impressive stat, and now we turn our attention to Sunday’s Brummagem derby. Three points from that, easier said than done of course, as we all know how fired up McLeish’s shower will be, and this great club of ours will be well and truly back in the mix.
Well done Martin and the lads. I enjoyed my trip to Kingston Upon Hull. Now, before I retire to beddy-byes, it is almost 2.40 a.m. after all, I’ll give you the Glensider crew (five of us remember) marks out of ten, for what was a very professional team performance. Enjoy the remainder of the week guys, and here’s hoping we do the business in style on Sunday.
Brad Friedel 7
Carlos Cuellar 6
Richard Dunne 7
James Collins 7
Stephen Warnock 7
Stan Petrov 6
James Milner 8
Stewart Downing 7
Ashley Young 6
Gabby Agbonlahor 8
John Carew 7
Emile Heskey 5
Steve Sidwell 5