The Tigers kicked off the 2012/13 season at the KC Stadium against Rotherham United in the League Cup 1st round. Not only was it unusual to start the season with a cup tie but when was the last time anyone saw a League Cup game on a Saturday afternoon? The pre-match ritual at the KC Stadium was also strange. The pre-match video featuring great moments from our recent history was replaced by a montage of last season’s goals and the stirring “Tigers, Tigers, burning bright” was replaced by a bit of library music. On the bright side, there was no sign of the pre-match karaoke.
Steve Bruce picked a strong City side, as promised, and handed competitive debuts to Ben Amos, Abdoulaye Faye, Nick Proschwitz and, from the bench, Alex Bruce. He picked two strikers, again as promised, and the team lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Robert Koren, holding the captain’s armband and a new 2 year contract, starting on the left. It’s easy to forget that this was the system we employed a year ago.
Tigers: Amos; Rosenior, Dudgeon, Chester, Faye; Stewart, Koren, McKenna, Cairney; Proschwitz, Fryatt.
City started brightly and bossed most of the opening half. Rotherham though proved highly dangerous on the break with Odejayi leading the line and the terrific Ben Pringle buzzing around the box picking up second balls. Despite being a complete piece of faeces, Steve Evans has built a good squad and Rotherham have a strong back line, the big centre forward you need at their level and a host of good footballers in midfield including David Noble and sub Lionel Ainsworth. The Tigers were generally untroubled from open play but struggled against Rotherham’s set pieces and a constant stream of long throws from all angles. Even with Nick Proschwitz helping out and Abdoulaye Faye in the centre of defence, we look more susceptible at set pieces than we did last year.
Had the Tigers packed the punch of Luke Campbell, we would have gone in at half time comfortably leading but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Cameron Stewart was the star man for City and within 15 minutes he’d put in two quality crosses and forced Scott Shearer to beat away another cross-cum-shot at the near post. Left back Lawrence Wilson suffered an early injury and had to be replaced. He was probably glad. Not even a poor challenge that earned Daniel Nardiello a yellow card could stop Cameron who must have thoroughly enjoyed his afternoon.
Matt Fryatt stumbled through the defence but had the ball nicked off his toe before he could get a left-foot shot away. A neat City move saw McKenna feed Stewart who played a one-two with Fryatt and lashed a shot that hit the bar and bounced back into play. There may have been a minute touch from Shearer to that one. Rosenior and Stewart engineered an opening on the right but when Rosie’s cut back found Proschwitz, he sliced a left-footer well, well wide of goal. As half time approached, James Chester headed across goal from a Koren corner. At the other end a Rotherham corner caused chaos when Amos came and got nowhere near it and then Bradley returned an Amos kick out of defence, Odejayi ran in behind, Amos tried to head it clear and Odejayi got there first but headed wide. Shortly after Amos did well to push a long distance strike from Ben Pringle away and seemed to settle after that. His kicking game was poor though, he sliced a lot of back passes and his kicks out of hand are awful.
The first half was a bit in and out. There were moments of real quality but they punctuated some quiet spells while the Tigers passed the ball beautifully at times and were incredibly sloppy at others. It had the feel of a competitive pre-season game with the tempo and urgency of a real game but no real fear of losing from players or fans. The second half was much better with the Tigers stung by Rotherham taking the lead. Early in the half City backed off into the penalty box expecting a long throw but David Noble instead collected it short and lashed a good shot wide of goal. For the next throw City appeared to half learned the lesson as McKenna kept an eye on Noble. City left Stewart, Fryatt and Koren on half way to give Rotherham something to think about. With those four out of the way, Rotherham collected the ball from the cleared throw-in and it was chipped to the edge of the box where there stood two in red and none in amber. Lionel Ainsworth, who’d just come one, hit a superb volley with this right foot, and his first touch, that hit the underside of the cross bar, the line, the bar again and then the net. It was a magnificent goal [0-1].
City where stung by the goal and after Fryatt had forced a decent save from Shearer, we made a positive substitution. McLean came on for McKenna and went on to the right wing with Koren taking up a central role. Within minutes, Stewart again tormented a Rotherham full-back before cutting the ball back. It deflected into the path of McLean who poked it high into the net [1-1]. City pushed on after the goal. Proschwitz was taken out while trying to meet a cross but the referee wanted nothing to do with it. Stewart latched on to a superb pass from Koren but shot wide with his left foot. Stewart then skinned the right back again and forced a smart save from Shearer. Rotherham remained a danger on the counter and Rosenior had to kick a cross/shot off the line after great work from Nardiello (but not so great from Dudge). McShane replaced Faye and Bruce replaced Rosenior as the troubles in pre-season caught up with us at the back. Both performed well as Rotherham did their fair share of the pressing. They really look like a side capable of promotion this season with a good blend of ability and fight. They have inherited one characteristic from their odious manager though. They complain about everything. Even the most blatant of fouls were met with moans from the crowd, dissent from the players and that slug Evans throwing his arms in the air like a cross between Jesus Christ and the Michelin man.
The final whistle signalled thirty minutes of extra time. That didn’t stop a load of the home crowd from leaving. There was a mass exodus at full time. Some were obviously going for a comfort break, some realised what was happening and returned but plenty went home. Extra-time failed to provide a winning goal. In the first half Proschwitz curled just wide from 18 yards and McLean had a header from a Koren corner tipped over. A McShane lapse at the other end let Agard in behind him but McShane recovered and made a tremendous tackle. That didn’t stop Evans screaming for a penalty. Steve Bruce had a few words with the fat controller. In the second half Rotherham pushed us back and forced a number of long throws and set pieces which left them wide open on the break. Fryatt led one charge with Koren racing up on the right and Stewart left. Fryatt played it to Stewart which was the wrong option as Koren would have had a first time shot on. Stewart got it back to Fryatt but he was closed down. Koren and Fryatt then broke two on two. Koren played the ball in for Fryatt who shot with his left foot but lashed the ball high and wide. He had to do better. Ben Pringle spurned a late half chance for the visitors with McShane closing him down well and we were in to a penalty shoot-out. It turned out to be a master-class in penalty taking with 13 scored in a row.
Fryat scores. 1-0.
Noble scores. 1-1.
Koren scores. 2-1.
Mullins scores. 2-2.
McLean scores. 3-2.
Agard scores. 3-3.
Proschwitz scores. 4-3.
Arnason scores. 4-4.
Chester scores. 5-4.
Pringle scores. 5-5.
Stewart scores. 6-5.
Taylor scores. 6-6.
Cairney scores. 7-6.
Bradley misses. 7-6.
It was an entertaining start to the season, in the end, but not a vintage performance. Hopefully the 120 minutes will have done the players good after a disrupted pre-season. It probably goes without saying that a massive improvement will be required to beat Brighton in a weeks’ time. The Proschwitz/Fryatt partnership might be a slow burner. They aren’t on the same wave length yet. Proschwitz is inconsistent from minute to minute as he’ll follow a nice lay-off or a great flick with a poor touch or a lumbering run. I remain unconvinced about Tom Cairney in our midfield. He’s a lovely, steady passer of the ball but is too slow most of the time and doesn’t do anything to help get the ball back. It was nice to see Bruce move Koren inside. I’d like to see him in that role because he was doing very well in the centre of midfield before Nigel Pearson switched to one up front last season.
We look shakier in defence than we did last season but we need to be patient while new partnerships form. Ben Amos needs to improve his decision making double quick before the defence lose confidence in him. I’m glad we won’t face guys like Odejayi every week. The other worry I have is the style of play. There was some really good football on show at times today but there were lots of balls being played forward without a lot of care and not enough willingness by anyone to drop short and pick the ball up off the goalkeeper. We improved once McLean came on to help win the aerial battle which doesn’t bode well. It was interesting to hear the same people who moaned about “pretty” football last season moaning about long balls today. You have to give credit to anyone who turned up today when plenty didn’t but, dear god, some people don’t half whine. I’m not sure how the guy near me is still alive. Because if he was a supporter in the mid-90’s, I’m surprised he didn’t hang himself from the South Stand at half time one week.
I’m sure that even though the players would never admit it, or perhaps genuinely don’t feel it, there’ll be an extra 10% to come from them when the “real” football starts next Saturday. Still, it was nice to see the League Cup get a little bit of the spotlight for a change. It was even nicer to see a rare Tigers win in the competition.