When you start supporting Hull City, you should be warned that it's a decision that will inevitably lead to disappointment. In fact, disappointment is around every corner. Expect it. Embrace it. Cherish it. Never think a game is won until the whistle goes. Never think a player is signed until you see him wearing the shirt. Never bank on promotion until you have the fixtures in front of you in black and white. Now I've experienced my share of disappointments over the last 20-odd years. What happened in the first 7 minutes today was a new one though. Coming off a highly impressive win over Blackburn on Tuesday, it was a body blow.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Hobbs, Bruce [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Meyler, Quinn [F] Koren, Gedo
I read some interesting comments from Dougie Freedman in the "Bolton News" before the game. Some of it uninformed bulls**t about us being a counter-attacking team who don't play out from the back and aren't attractive to watch. He also suggested we score a lot of goals from crosses and set pieces. We don't score a lot of goals full stop. Where his comments had some relevance, he said he thought we had weaknesses that they could exploit. I'd imagine he was referring to their use of the space between Evans and the back three which Mark Davies exploited to devastating effect and also the space behind the wing-backs where Chung-Yong Lee and then the mobile front pairing of N'Gog and Sordell found space to attack.
It's difficult to know whether Freedman's game plan had any effect at all. You can throw game plans and tactics out of the window when one side starts like we did. Mark Davies breezed past a static Evans, found Lee in behind Elmo and his cross was headed in by Pratley, arriving smartly into acres of space. Stockdale had no chance [1-0]. 75 seconds gone. Worst possible start away from home? Think again. Elmo gave the ball to Davies in our half. He raced forward again and played in N'Gog who turned in the box and went down under Chester's challenge. While most looked towards the referee who was indicating Chester took the ball, Mark Davies smashed the ball hard and low to Stockdale's left and the big 'keeper couldn't get a strong enough hand behind it. Stockdale was utterly distraught with himself [2-0]. What a disaster, we were still only in the fourth minute. City looked around at each other. Shell shocked.
At this point, we needed galvanising. We needed character. We needed 10 minutes of no-nonsense defending. In stead we conceded a corner, struggling to get to grips with their front two. The corner was crap, it hit Craig Dawson on the shoulder and was still in before Brady kicked it off the line [3-0]. Just a terrible, terrible goal to concede on top of two other. Time on the clock? Seven minutes. Three nil down after seven frigging minutes. Just utterly unbelievable. And yet, knowing Hull City's ability to turn triumph into disaster, completely believable. We took control of the game and played the ball around nicely but it didn't matter. The damage was done. Bolton knew they could relax and enjoy it. After Bruce and Chester made N'Gog look like Maradona with two of the worst attempted tackles you'll see, Sordell's snapshot hit the outside of the post. It could have been worse. It was the last Bolton attack of their own making for a while. City controlled the game up to half time but made nothing. Koren volleyed over from a cleared free kick. That was about all we had to show for 30 dominant minutes. We didn't cross the ball well enough, didn't get enough players into the box and didn't even work long range shooting opportunities.
Steve Bruce decided not to make changes at half time. I can see why, we'd been in control and he obviously wanted to gauge the reaction of the players to his half time bollocking. I like how measured Bruce is. It must have been tempting to do something like the team talk on the pitch. Bruce accepts that as utterly diabolical as those first few minutes were though, they were completely out of character for this team. So no publicity stunts, no me and them mentality and no changes. Personally, I'd have hooked at least three of them.
A complete aside, is there anything more irritating than being badgered by people behind you to sit down at the football? Here's a piece of advice pal, go down to the front of the stand and get the first row to sit down. Then the second row and the third row and so on. When the rows between A and P have all sat down, I'll happily join them. Until you've done that, leave me the **** alone.
City continued to dominate the ball but still didn't turn it into chances from open play. They did create some set piece situations. Robbie Brady had a golden opportunity after Meyler was pushed over where the penalty box and goal line meet. He hit the worst free kick I can remember. Right in front of the travelling support. The little high fives and the "never mind" looks from the other City players didn't go down well either. When he had another chance from deep minutes later, Brady put one on Bruce's head at the front post and he headed over when he should've troubled the 'keeper. He then cut inside and smashed a terrible effort into the crowd with his right foot. His next involvement was to turn Alonso inside out and win a corner. He was as frustrating as last season. Following promising play with ridiculous decision making and over-hit free kicks. Koren's corner cleared everyone, Elmo put it back in and Chester headed wide at the far post. He should've done better too.
George Boyd and Jay Simpson replaced Gedo and Koren. Boyd was the only highlight of the afternoon. He gave an assured debut. His movement is great, he's bright on the ball, uses it well and troubles defences. It wasn't long before we were back in the game. Meyler was fouled 25 yards out. I got ready to catch Brady's free-kick but he hit it low and it took just enough off a nick off Simpson to confuse Bogdan. Simmo needed one to go in off his arse, this might literally have been it [3-1]. The first 15 minutes were awful but what happened next was absolutely criminal. It was unprofessional in fact. Bolton hadn't had an attack of note for an hour. We'd worked hard to get any foothold in the game. As soon as we got it, we switched off. They poured forward and Stockdale saved smartly from Pratley. The resulting corner was twice cleared off the line, once by a Bolton player I think, before we half-cleared it to the edge of the box. Davies shot, Dawson deflected it with his heel and it was hope crushed; game over [4-1]. Brady had a far post header saved from one of the few crosses we didn't put on Zat Knight's head in the second half before sub Wheater tripped Boyd in the box. It would have been a soft penalty but it was a clear foul. This wasn't our day though, we weren't getting anything we hadn't earned. The ref finally put us out of our misery.
This was a result and, more importantly, a performance that will terrify Steve Bruce. It will also worry fans who felt that Tuesday's excellent victory over Blackburn Rovers proved our promotion credentials. We can play, we're a good side but today showed a very worrying soft centre. It showed a real lack of intelligence and know-how when it was needed. After conceding a disastrous first goal, we were naive and didn't shut up shop like any side should. By the time we were able to dominate the game with our football, it was gone.
Bolton have a good squad of players and should be capable of beating most sides in the division. I nearly tweeted this morning that I didn't think we'd be in the top two this evening but I thought better of it; it felt a bit negative. It's an indication of how tough this game was though, despite their lowly league position. Any manager worth his salt should be getting more out of the quality they have to work with. No-one could have predicted the way t would turn out though. Overall I'm disappointed that we didn't get something out of the game. We were better than them on the ball. If we'd weathered the early storm, we could have gone on to draw or win. Recovering from that start was near impossible though.
There's little point talking about individuals. Today's man of the match, whoever you thought it was, scored 6 out of 10 on the rating system, max. No-one played anywhere close to their level. We can only dust ourselves down and move on now. We've got 12 games to go and we probably need to win 2/3 of them. Today will give great encouragement to our rivals and to the teams we have to face in the next two months. They'll look at this and feel that they can do to us what Bolton did. At the moment, it feels like a one-off to me. One game too far in a tough fortnight. It goes without saying that we have to bounce back and bounce back quickly. Starting with Birmingham at home next week.
I'd be astonished if Boyd doesn't start given his second half impact. Who would he replace? Take your pick. None of the front five could complain at being left out. We could even switch to 4-4-2 to accommodate him. I said the other night that I think Watford have a really winnable run of games. We need to keep pace with them. Next four are Birmingham H, Palace A, Burnley A, Forest H. It may well just be me but that looks a tough little run. Particularly the away games against high-flying Palace and bogey side Burnley. Now is the time to stand up and be counted. We weren't today, that's for bloody certain.