Having ended a 47 year wait for a win at Bristol City and a 25 year wait for victory at Elland Road already this season, The Tigers headed to St. Andrews, Birmingham looking for a first win since 1970 on a ground that has yielded just one win in 100 years. Birmingham youth product Sone Aluko and ex-Brum player and manager Steve Bruce were on familiar turf while ex-Tiger Marlon King was in the Birmingham side and looking to score for the 6th consecutive game.
Steve Bruce made two changes from the Cardiff game. Corry Evans was surprisingly left outand even more surprisingly, replaced by Seyi Olofinjana rather than David Meyler. Injury kept Paul McShane out as Alex Bruce stepped back in. Steve Bruce stuck with Ben Amos in goal after his gaffe last week and it proved a decent decision. Amos proved that if nothing else, he’s got the mentality to bounce back from a mistake and go again.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Amos [D] Chester, Faye, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Rosenior, Olofinjana, Quinn, Koren [F] Aluko, Simpson
From the start it was obvious where Birmingham hoped to prosper. Long balls were pumped into Zigic from the first minute. Don’t get me wrong, Birmingham are not one dimensional. They occasionally pumped in diagonal balls to compliment the straight ones. Olofinjana went up against Zigic early on but the giant Serb dwarfed him. There was little chance of City winning the ball in the air so you felt the success of our afternoon would depend on how well we defended his knock downs. At the other end, Birmingham are weak. They may be rugged and experienced but both Paul Robinson and Steven Caldwell are carthorses. In Sone Aluko, they faced a thoroughbred in his prime. It was like watching Frankel vs. some kid on a hobby horse. In the 8th minute Robert Koren advanced, Simpson peeled right, Koren split the defence with a pass to the left that put Aluko through on Jack Butland but the keeper got down well. Aluko should’ve scored though.
Within minutes, he had done. Amos distributed quickly to Elmo who strode forward and found Koren. He slid the ball in on the right this time, Aluko left the defence for dead, calmly rounded Butland and tapped into an empty net [0-1]. Aluko chose not to rub it into the faces of those who used to support him. They never supported us though, so we went mental. Abdoulaye Faye was cut in a clash with Zigic and had to return to the dressing room for treatment. City played on with 10 men, Olofinjana stepping in at centre-half, and survived comfortably until Faye returned. We then doubled our lead in now familiar fashion. Koren cut out a ball in midfield, fed Simpson, he ran at the defence, Aluko cut across the back of them from left to right, Simpson slid him in and Aluko finished coolly [0-2]. We deserved the lead too. We were defending well, moving the ball quickly and Simpson was holding the ball up beautifully. Only Olofinjana was worrying us, losing the ball outside our area trying to hold off their forwards in a dangerous position and then gifting them the ball with a poor attempt to switch play.
Zigic was still their danger man but surprisingly when they finally got him in, it was on the floor, not in the air. Morrison split our defence this time to find Zigic who’d crept in behind Chester but Amos flew off his line to gather at the big man’s feet. Zigic was cruelly yet hilariously taunted with a chant of “Does the circus know you’re here?” With the half hour approaching, City delivered the third knockdown blow of the half. Koren’s deep corner was headed back inside the near post by James Chester, enjoying the freedom of St. Andrews [0-3]. Once we’d stopped celebrating, I commented that if it was any other team, I’d be confident it was game over at 0-3. This is Hull City though, we don’t do anything easily. With the Tigers fans Ole’ing and Birmingham looking a bit lost, some in black and amber obviously felt the game was won. We stopped passing the ball, we conceded the initiative and we sank deeper into our half. Inevitably a long diagonal found Zigic, he headed across the penalty area and Ravel Morrison scissor-volleyed into the net [1-3]. It was a super finish. The nerves then began jangling in the Tigers players and supporters. Another ball to the back post fell between Zigic and Faye. Zigic screamed for handball but fortunately for us, the referee was unmoved. The ball definitely struck Faye on the forearm but he wasn’t really looking at it and I think Zigic touched it first with his hand. That said, if it had been in front of the Birmingham supporters, I think a penalty would have been given. Faye then dived in rashly on Morrison and conceded a free-kick right on the edge of the box. Again, it looked like it may just have been inside. We got the rub of the green again.
We made it to half time with the 1-3 lead and I felt confident that Bruce would calm everyone down and we’d come out and dictate the game again. HA! Within 30 seconds of the restart they punted a hopeful ball forward, Zigic flicked it on and Marlon King found himself in acres of space to shoot past Amos [2-3]. Woeful defending from City, another kamikaze goal. Although the goal meant a nervy 45 minutes for the City fans, it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened to the players. It was a real wake-up call. We defended doggedly after that and for all Birmingham’s possession, they rarely troubled us. They looked at their best when they got Chris Burke in behind Rosenior but Steve Bruce quelled that threat by introducing Robbie Brady from the bench. Meanwhile the longer the game went on, the more Faye won in the air against Zigic. Olofinajana played one poor pass too many and was hooked for David Meyler. Meyler is a tall but elegant midfielder, tidy on the ball and with a decent burst of pace. He looks a very good acquisition. He made one crucial block as Birmingham resorted to pot-shots from 18 yards and helped with the collective time wasting effort by clinging onto the ball on the floor despite having his head pushed into the floor twice and the boot stuck into him by talentless scumbag Paul Robinson. Meyler was booked for it, Robinson not even warned. Nice one, ref.
Speaking of the ref, he had a decent game aside from the possible handball. The Birmingham crowd reacted to him giving them a free-kick by cheering like they’d won at Wembley again which was ridiculously over the top. They didn’t get a couple of decisions. We didn’t get a couple of decisions. There’s nothing funnier than a crowd of stupid fans bleating wrongfully about being wronged. The ref didn’t let them sway him which is to his credit. What isn’t is the way he allowed Marlon King to charge at him after every decision he didn’t get waving his arms around. That sort of behaviour might be acceptable in Wormwood Scrubs but it shouldn’t be on a football pitch. The ref needed to flash some cards to show them who was in charge. He was probably afraid of King’s reaction when he asked for his name. “Don’t you know who I am?”
Including stoppage time, we survived 50 minutes that felt like 50 years. We had chances to put the game to bed with Quinn, Brady and Aluko counter attacking in the last 15 minutes. We didn’t commit the players forward to make the most of the situation though. McLean, sporting a new short hairstyle, relieved Simpson and harassed some defenders for those last 15 mins. Birmingham had ran out of ideas so decided to change tactic and lump the ball forward. Zigic was knackered by this point, Faye had his number. Steven Caldwell running at us from deep was the main worry. Luckily he distributes about as well as he defends. James Chester made a super tackle to stop Morrison advancing into our penalty area and that was job done.
It was a fantastic three points. Despite Birmingham’s lowly league position, they have a good squad of players and can hurt teams if allowed to play. We took the game to them from the off and our pace and quality in the final third killed them. We could have done without the fight back but the stubbornness of our defending in the last half hour was very good to see. Alex Bruce had another fine game, particularly in the ten minutes before half time when he met everything they threw into our box while some around him had lost their heads. Sone Aluko will grab the headlines for his two brilliantly taken goals but in general play, he gave the ball up a bit too often trying to over-elaborate. Simpson on the other hand kept things simple, held the ball up well and caused them problems with his running in behind and his quality when he dropped off. Between the two of them, they were excellent. Koren and Quinn were indefatigable again and Koren produced two of his best passes in a City shirt.
In all, it was another very encouraging result suggesting, again, that we are genuine promotion contenders. It’s tight at the top of the Championship. Before today’s game, you could’ve thrown a blanket over 7 or 8 sides chasing Crystal Palace. This result gives us a little bit of breathing space over the teams 7th and below. We’ve now got two massive home games to round out November. Burnley, who’ve won at the KC Stadium in each of the previous three seasons and then leaders Crystal Palace who show no sign of letting go of top spot. Hoping for six points may be being a tad greedy but it would stand us in good stead going into December. It’s been a fine old season so far. We’re still playing attractive passing football but playing quicker passes and playing forward most of the time to get the ball into areas where we have the pace and the guile to genuinely hurt teams. It feels like the sky is the limit for this team. I’m not going to get carried away though. This is Hull City after all. The only sensible thing to do as a Tigers fan is expect the unexpected. Today, that was being 0-3 up in half an hour. I’d take that most weeks!