Middlesbrough 0 Hull City 2

by Dave Hearn

Not many things in life come close to the magic of the FA Cup Third Round Round Three, do they; finding a book you’ve been after reading for ages in a charity store, perhaps. Or a steaming hot bowl of noodles when you sense a sniffle or two on the horizon. Ah, that’s a good one. I might have noodles tomorrow actually because I’ve been sat in a cold and damp football stadium most of the day and you can’t be too careful, can you. Anyway, there was definitely a bit of magic in the air round my house this morning as the prospect of an eminently winnable tie against Hull City loomed large. Arriving at the ground and seeing the two team-sheets today was always going to be interesting – if you’re into that sort of thing, which I am – because it seemed obvious that Steve Bruce would ‘rest’ several first-team regulars whilst Karanka had promised to field as strong a side as possible.

So we started with Dimi Konstantopoulos in goal on account of injuries and ineligibility respectively, with Rhys Williams in alongside Ben Gibson because Norwich were too tight to let us play Daniel Ayala, with Luke Williams in down the left-hand side at the expense of Albert Adomah meaning that, barring that particular change, Karanka had pretty much stayed true to his word I thought. Hull, however, had seemingly made about twenty-nine changes to the team that started their most recent league game, with a whole host of players I’d forgotten even existed coming into the side. Abdoulaye Faye was in at the back, a walking concrete outhouse if ever I saw one, Sheffield United’s Stephen Quinn got a game, Matty Fryatt was also picked but had to drop out just before kick-off for reasons as yet unknown. That bloke off The Football League Show’s son was playing at right-back and Aaron McLean started in attack. Oh and Paul McShane of Hi-De-Hi fame was playing as well.

It was pretty clear we were going to be in for a very long day after about four minutes had ticked by; we’d gone into ‘Huddersfield Town at home’ mode and were allowing Hull City to stroke the ball around like it was a Fabergé egg on a snooker table. Eight and nine minutes passed and we’d barely pressed them at all, we’d stood off and admired, yes admired, David Meyler pulling the strings in the middle of the pitch and when we did get a touch of it we gave it straight back. Hull came forward down our right and ran into trouble, allowing Ledesma to ambitiously try and build an attack from near his own corner flag but giving it away in a stupid area and leaving the defence exposed; it bobbled about a bit, it found it’s way to one of their lads on the edge of the box who had a pop at goal, it took a deflection off someone or other and landed at the feet of McLean, Konstantopoulos came out and went down like a Weetabix falling out of the box and McLean poked it over him. And to cap it off, Konstantopolous injured himself trying to block it. Crumbs everywhere.

From then on it was, well, it was frankly awful. We couldn’t keep hold of possession in Hull’s half for long enough to get near their box, we weren’t pressing them and/or tackling them, we weren’t doing anything other than being sloppy and generally chasing shadows. Hull held us firmly at arm’s length for the rest of the half, though we did have a couple of pops at goal courtesy of Emnes and Ledesma. One of them hit Row Q and Steve Harper coughed in the general direction of Ledesma’s effort, which was enough to keep it out of his net. Karanka sent four or five of his substitutes out to warm up after thirty minutes or so and it was pretty clear he was going to try and make big changes at half-time.

We brought Adomah and Jutkiewicz on for Ledesma and Luke Williams and, bizarrely enough, stuck Main out on the left-wing for the second-half. I’d say it’s pretty unlikely we’ll be seeing the lad deployed in that particular area of the field again, to be honest, but the one thing you can’t question is his desire; when things are going as badly as they did in this game, when nothing any of the lads try comes off and you can’t get near the opposition’s goal, the one thing you want to see is commitment to the cause and Main has that in abundance. I’ll be honest here – there isn’t much to say about the second-half at all, other than to say Hull’s lads wanted it more than ours did, which is pretty disappointing, they did a professional job on us and made the Boro look incredibly mediocre. Which is disappointing when you’ve gone into the game on the back of three wins and a draw from four games over Christmas. Their second goal came courtesy of Nick Proschwitz after decent play from George Boyd down our left, with the big daft Austrian bloke blasting the ball into the top corner despite being off-balance. It was a tidy finish and Hull deserved it, in truth. We huffed and puffed a little bit towards the end, with Main’s header from Adomah’s cross hitting the side-netting and Leadbitter forcing Harper to routinely tip the ball over his bar for an injury-time corner but it was far too little too late from our point of view. And that was that.

The most worrying aspects to come out of the game, for me, were: Jutkiewicz blowing out of his backside after fifty-three minutes(I know this because I consulted my timepiece when I spotted him gasping for breath after being forced to run quite quickly twice in quick succession), George Friend seemingly regressing to where he was about four weeks ago and being generally careless both with and without the ball throughout, Luke Williams showing little hunger to impress in what was a rare chance to play in our first-team, Marvin Emnes not being able to do anything at all without looking like a useless Dad in a dated sitcom and the fact that we’ve allowed Hull to progress in the cup without having to really work for it.

We’ll have Given and Ayala back for Blackpool next week, hopefully Woodgate too, as well as a boy on-loan from Chelsea apparently, so it’s not all doom and gloom but it certainly feels that way right now because we’ve surrendered our place in the cup so tamely. We’ve been showing signs of gradual improvement under Karanka but this one, despite it being against a top-flight outfit with a lot of experience on the pitch, was one of the worst we’ve seen this season – and there is quite a bit of competition in that regard – and thoroughly awful from start to finish. Hopefully it’s just a minor blip for us and we can get ourselves going again next week but we can’t hide from the fact that Karanka has a load of work to do on the team in the coming weeks and months if he is to rid us of this ‘soft centre’ that has seemingly dogged us for the past three or four years, if not longer.

Right, well, I don’t want to be too miserable so let’s end it there and move on to the next one. Onwards and upwards and all of that sort of thing.