|Jay Rodriguez - He's one of our own|
Two years ago, I watched Burnley win 4-1 at Hull on a muted TV in a dimly lit bar in Kathmandu, whilst Led Zeppelin played on loop on the juke box. Watching yesterday’s events unfold from the away end at the KC Stadium was scarcely any less surreal and, as we filed away from the ground after the game, I’m not sure any of the supporters leaving the away end could believe what we’d just witnessed.
Before the game, we had a stroke of luck when we discovered one of the Burnley players had been round with a bunch of spare tickets and asked a steward to hand them out to away supporters intending to pay on the gate. Unfortunately, the steward couldn’t tell us which player it was: it would have been nice to have been able to thank them for their generosity.
On the field, Brian Easton had given way to Ben Mee in the left back slot, whilst Junior Stanislas was preferred to Sam Vokes. From kick-off, we adopted a loose 4-3-3 formation: Marvin Bartley and Chris McCann were asked to hold in midfield, with Ross Wallace just ahead and given license to switch positions with wingers Stanislas and Treacy.
We actually started brightly. Within 5 minutes, Chris McCann had almost played in Jay Rodriguez with a neat through-ball, and then Junior Stanislas twice found himself with presentable opportunities on the right side of the penalty area. After slipping on the first occasion, he picked the ball up two minutes later but, after beating Jack Hobbs’ challenge with a fine touch, his snatched shot from 18 yards sent the ball high over the crossbar.
Yet the early promise came to nothing as we conceded the sort of goal which has become all too familiar recently. Cameron Stewart beat Kieran Trippier easily down our right side, and when Stewart fed the ball into the 6 yard box, Matty Fryatt evaded the attentions of both Michael Duff and David Edgar to tap the ball home from 3 yards.
No doubt Trippier will bear the bulk of the blame for the goal, but it is a feature of our play that, too often we don't react well enough to cover mistakes and Howe will be disappointed that none of the midfield got into a position to offer a second line of defence.
The rest of the first half can be dealt with quickly, because almost nothing happened. Hull are a disciplined, well organised outfit and, with the home trio of Evans, McKenna and Koren controlling midfield, the Clarets struggled to impose themselves for long periods. It could have got worse just before half time, when Robbie Brady beat Ben Mee with embarrassing ease down our left before forcing a smart low parry from Grant.
Howe responded at half time by bringing on Sam Vokes for Stanislas as we adopted a more direct approach. Once again we started the half positively and we almost equalised when Jay found the space to turn and rifle an effort against the crossbar via the fingertips of Hull goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi.
But moments later we were two nil down and again it was a soft goal. Robert Koren led a counter-attack and pushed the ball forwards to Fryatt. It looked as though Duff and Edgar had done enough to push the striker wide, but his angled shot was slapped down and into the net by Grant at the near post. Grant’s recent form has been excellent, he will know he should have done much, much better on this occasion.
For the next twenty minutes, Hull threatened to overwhelm us. Grant saved well from Fryatt and only some scrambling defence prevented Hull carving out other clear opportunities to put the game beyond doubt.
And then from nowhere, the game changed. The turnaround started when a long free kick found its way to Ross Wallace on the right, and Edgar did well to meet his right-foot cross and guide a header back across Gulacsi and into the net.
Extraordinarily, within 4 minutes we were level. Vokes showed his ability to get on the end of long throw-ins against Leeds last weekend, and this time Edgar managed to read the flick, turn and hook a shot into the roof of the net at the near post.
It was more than we deserved, but all of a sudden Hull’s disciplined shape began to unravel as we found reserves of self-belief which hadn’t previously been evident. For the first time in the game McCann and Bartley got control of midfield; both Wallace and Treacy began to revel in a steady supply of possession and with a couple of minutes to go we thought Treacy had won the game when he cut in from the left and arrowed a shot towards the top corner, only for Gulacsi to produce a wonderful save to push it around the post. A minute later, Gulacsi was forced to paw away a cross-shot from the same player.
We thought that the chance of a winner had gone, but deep into injury time McCann managed to dink a pass into the path of Rodriguez in the inside right channel. He didn’t break stride before drilling his shot across Gulacsi and into the corner of the net, to spark delirious celebrations from players and fans alike.
The Hull fans had been saluting new manager and Hull boy Nicky Barmby as "one of their own" throughout the game, and now suddenly the travelling Burnley contingent decided to turn the chant to one of our own. “He’s one of our own, Jay Rodriguez, he’s one of our own” came the chant from the away end as we managed to hold out through the remaining 90 seconds of injury time. It was still ringing around the KC Stadium when the players came over to the North Stand after the final whistle.
It would be wrong to forget that, for 75 minutes, this was a poor performance and we could so easily have gone home with a heavy defeat. David Edgar will probably shade the man-of-the-match vote, both for his two goals and a fairly solid afternoon’s work at the other end of the pitch, and there’s no doubt we looked a more effective side once Vokes’ arrival had given us a physical edge up front. But in truth stand-out performances were difficult to find. This is a young and fragile team, and it too often gives away goals too easily.
Yet if there were any doubts over its spirit and willingness to fight, this performance should dispel them. It is capable of scoring goals. It needs time, and it needs reinforcements in January. There will be ups and downs throughout the season – but this battling win suggests we may be able to steer clear of a relegation dog-fight.