Saturday, 25 July 2009

Sheffield Wednesday 2009

It’s quite strange turning up for a pre-season friendly at a ground you’ve previously visited as one of 26,000+ supporters. The City turnout at hillsbrough was decent, looked to be around 500 or so but it was still comparatively tiny. Parking 500 yards from the ground, walking straight up to the (dry) bar and getting served and then having the pick of any seat is quite odd. Hillsborough is still what it is, a big old ground, not particularly pretty but quite nice. I can’t see it as a World Cup venue myself, comparing it to the venues from the World Cup in Japan and Korea is like comparing Geovanni with Jamie Wood.

First observation was that there was no Myhill, Garcia or Jerome Thomas. I’ve since learnt that Myhill and Garcia are injured and Thomas has been let go. So much for our theory that perhaps he’d gone home to pack for China! He looked decent in the games I saw him in but apparently didn’t impress at Carlisle on Tuesday. A shame because he has great pace but he didn’t look like he might deliver a killer ball. City lined up with The Duke in goal, Mendy, Turner, Gardner and Kilbane across the back, Fagan, Marney, Boateng and Halmosi in midfield and Cousin and Folan up front. For 35 minutes it was a pretty muted half. City looked tidy but non threatening and the Wendies likewise. They broke through twice after sloppy City defending, Clarke knocking one past the post (when offside anyway) and then shooting straight at Duke when clear a second time. We created nothing for 35 mins and then made four chances in ten minutes. Folan headed wide from a great Fagan cross, Marney lashed a shot miles wide after Cousin had done well to hold the ball up, Cousin failed to connect with another belting ball in from Fagan and then Cousin scuffed a volley wide from 6 yards after Folan’s flick on had gifted him an easy chance.

All of our threat came down the right where Fagan and Mendy linked up well for the most part. Boateng also got in good crossing positions on the right but crossed terribly. Cousin and Folan looked far too similar to play together, sometimes ending up on the same blade of grass. Both did OK, Folan looked sharp and worked hard and Cousin looked strong and also worked harder than normal but they both looked like they needed someone to play off them. They only linked up well once, that being Folan’s flick on from a long throw. Otherwise, they were just two individuals who happened to be wearing the same kit. Marney tried to get into the game but was fouled almost everytime he found space. Boateng looked like an old man again. Defensively, we were OK but caught sleeping a couple of times. Mendy at right back was interesting. He did some good things, won some tackles and made some blocks but wants to get forward too often and isn’t in any hurry to cover back. The highlight of the half was looking up and seeing the stand behind the goal was totally empty except for two giant cuddly owls sat in the tenth row having the strangest looking conversation since ‘Mr Charisma’ Barrack Obama met ‘Mr Less-charisma-than-Terry-Dolan’ Gordon Brown.

The initial changes at half time saw Cousin and Folan replaced by Geo and Barmby, with Fagan moving up front and Geo to the right of midfield, and Warner replacing Duke. It would probably have made sense for Cousin or Folan to play with Fagan, Geo or Barmby in each half but I suppose it had to be tried. I’ll be worried if it’s tried again. The second half started poorly and the degenerated into farce as throughout the last half hour, City introduced Doyle, Mouyokolo, Zayatte, Dawson, Devitt, Hughes, Featherstone and Atkinson. Wednesday had the better of the chances, forcing two great stops from Warner (one when the offside flag was up) and a magnificent goal line clearance from Zayatte. For us, Halmosi and Fagan headed over when they should have done far, far better, Marney burst through form Midfield and then shot over with his left foot, Barmby failed to square across for Geo when he’d have had a tap in and Atkinson lashed an effort onto a Wednesday hand on the goal line but despite calls for a penalty, the referee rightly waved it away as there was nothing the defender could do to get out of the way. Fagan was our best player throughout and looked our best attacker. His running in behind caused problems and he did a great job of moving wide and picking the ball up. The only problem with that was that it left no-one in the box to cross the ball into. What we really need is a machine that allows us to put Fagan, Barmby, Folan and Cousin in at one end and a complete striker will appear out of the other end, one with Fagan’s pace, Folan’s height, Cousin’s strength and Barmby’s brain. If anyone can invent one before the end of the month, drop me a mail!

The changes rendered it a pretty pointless exercise second half but some uncharacteristic slips from Turner and Gardner were worrying. If anyone hadn’t seen Mouyokolo before today, their first impression of him would have been him gracefully running onto a Featherstone pass and proceeding to stand on the ball! The game petered out though City nearly nicked a winner. We wandered off under the Sheffield sun, following three very attractive young ladies in City shirts. They turned some heads. One Wednesday fan got a telling off for tailing off a conversation with his wife/girlfriend to watch the girls walk by. As one old bloke so succinctly put it “They’re’t tidy”. Hull Girls One Sheffield Girls Nil. A better result than the footy.

Monday, 20 July 2009

Winterton 2009

It feels like only yesterday that we watched City win at Ferriby. Oh wait, it was yesterday! Sunday brings another game and it's another regular pre-season jaunt, across the Humber Bridge to Winterton. It's a lovely little ground. It's got everything you need, somewhere to buy a burger, somewhere to buy a pint and somewhere to stand and watch the match. It's normally also got a setting evening sun and a nice view of the Bridge but not today. Today it's grey again and it's pi, er, chucking down again. Then it's gloriously sunny. Then it's raining heavily. Then it's sunny again. Then it's ... you get the point. We take cover, that's a wise choice.

Pre-match, the ref runs past on his warm-up. I know the ref, it's Carl Boyeson. "You're crap, ref, bloody rubbish!" I jest. I wait for him to look over and give us a smile but he's a pro so he keeps on running. Now I look like a moron who barracks refs at friendly matches ... great. At half time, I hear someone say "I think the ref's done well and do you know? I heard some idiot shouting abuse at him before the game." I keep my head down.

On to the game. Actually, there isn't all that much to tell. Winterton play well, really well. They pass neatly and work hard and City aren't really good enough to break them down. If you live around Winterton, they are a team worth watching, especially at that level. A Scunthorpe fan who's popped along to the game tells me they've totally rebuilt the squad. They've done a good job. Rob Northern, the builder who scored a hat-trick against City two seasons ago, is Captain these days, coming off a horrendous injury. He's still a fine player, surely too good for that level?

City line-up in the first half with Tony Warner in goal, another forgotten man. Kilbane is left back and captain and has a fine half. He looks the best option at left back at this point, but it's nice to know we've got one position where there is real competition. Doyle is right back, Mouokolo and Cooper in the centre. Cooper is confident and looks a real leader on the pitch, even at his young age. Cairney and Featherstone play centre mid, with the latter running the game, Halmosi is left, Devitt right and Folan up front with Geovanni. Folan and Halmosi disappoint, big time, even in a warm up game against lowly opposition.

Halmosi is a willing worker but his touch is poor and he fails to deliver time and again. Winterton's goalie denies him with a fine save but he should have buried the chance. Folan's passes and lay off's find an oppo every time, his touch desserts him and he's too slow to make a decision. He barely gets a sniff of goal. City get a few sightings but are denied by a terrific display by the Winterton 'keeper. Geo bends a free-kick onto the post, he didn't sniff that, but he makes a terrific low stop from Mouyokolo's header, gets down again to tip a fizzing drive from Devitt around the post and then tips a shot from the same player onto the bar. Devitt is never scared to have a go. He's quick and he has a Stuart Elliott like confidence around the box. He's very lightweight though. The goalie is finally beaten as half time approaches. He makes another fine save from another Mouyokolo header but Cairney reacts quickest to tap home the rebound. The 'keeper deserved better luck and to make it a double kick in the knackers, he's injured himself making the save.

City send out a stronger side for the second half. It's the same as the first half against Ferriby but with Oxley replacing Myhill. It's the first time I've seen the young goalie. He's physically impressive but looks nervous in the warm up. In the half, he doesn't have a save to make but takes a catch confidently and kicks OK off the floor. Thomas is again the pick of the City players, giving the right back a torrid time. He's seriously quick, like Speedy Gonzalez with a rocket up his arse. He speeds past him twice and forces good saves form the young replacement in the Winterton goal, the second falling to Marney to tap in for 3-0. He speeds away a third time but slides the ball wide. He puts his shirt over his head in shame. In the midst of all that, Boateng had lashed in a second from 20 yards just after Winterton had a lucky escape. A slide rule ball looked like the 'keepers all the way but he misjudged it and allowed Fagan to run around him and slide the ball goal wards, only for a defender to make a miraculous recovery and spoon the ball off the line.

City dominated possession but lacked any urgency and were happy to stroll it 3-0. The opposition player very well and lasted the pace too but their limitations were made obvious by the fact that Marney looked like a playmaker against them. He strolled the game. If only he'd do that against real opposition.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

A Match! At last.

After 55 days of speculation and tedium, missed targets and missed opportunities, we finally got back to playing football today.

Church Road, North Ferriby. The Billy Bly memorial trophy. Ferriby is now a regular pre-season haunt and normally hosts the game on a beautiful evening with the sun dipping down over the Humber Bridge. The crowd made up of middle aged men wearing unwise shorts and kids in their brand new kit, waiting to catch a glimpse of the new boys on display. Unfortunately, there was no mid-summer evening, just a grey Saturday lunch time. The pie and pint spoiled by a large dose of rain water. I did see one chap in shorts, though oddly, he also sported a rain coat and an umbrella.

Unlike the heady days of Peter Taylor's reign, when we had the pick of the lower division transfer market and new players were signed and sealed by the end of May, we're small fry now, and July 18th arrives with just one new face, the imposing figure of Steven Mouyokolo and one trialist, the tricky Jerome Thomas, who looks more like a hoodie than a footballer but boy, can he play.

The first half line-up was familiar. Myhill in goal, back four of Ricketts, Dawson, Turner and Gardner, much missed for most of last season. Thomas paroled the left wing, Mendy the right, leaving George Boateng in the middle with a guy the wag behind me called "GeoMarney". Some hopes. Fagan and Cousin were the front pair. City strolled the first half, showing little urgency for the most part. The pace picked up only when Thomas, eager to impress, or Fagan were released into space. Everyone else wandered about thinking about fitness rather than finesse. The highlight of the first quarter was a hefty challenge on Myhill by ex-Tiger and current hobbit, Gary Bradshaw. Myhill wasn't impressed and asked politely "What are you doing you f*****g pr*ck?"

Fagan rattles a post before City take the lead through Thomas, bursting beyond the left back and finishing neatly. It's all change for the second half. Not just in personnel, the very smart new kit makes way for the very smart, and rather bright, new away kit. Duke takes over in goal, he may as well not have bothered, I could have gone between the sticks. Forgotten man Nathan Doyle is right back, Kilbane left back, Mouyokolo partnered by Liam Copper in the middle. Midfield is Jamie Devitt, Nicky Featherstone, Bryan Hughes and Tom Cairney and Barmby plays just off Folan up front.

Ferriby make changes too and City stroll to victory. Devitt rolls in the second goal, Featherstone finishes neatly for 3-0, Folan lashes in a rebound from a corner, Barmby flicks the ball in with the outside of his boot when one on one and the Folan skips through the offside trap to slide home a copycat sixth. Phil Brown, keeping a low profile and running up a large phone bill, would say it was "a good workout". It was a stroll, a nice easy start to the pre-season program. Everyone looked sharp and refreshed and played with freedom. The same old people still aren't good enough but the manager is on to that or at least, he's trying to be.