Barnsley 2 Hull City 0 match report: Steve Bruce at a loss as Tykes tame Tigers
Hull's promotion party in serious danger as they extend their winless streak to three games with defeat at Barnsley
Sunday 28 April 2013
The Tigers did not burn bright. They spluttered, fizzled and faded and, by the end, one of the most certain promotions to the Premier League looked in serious doubt.
Hull needed four points from their final three matches to guarantee their return to the top table. They have now managed one from two and, if Watford beat Leeds on the final day of the Championship season and Hull fail to overcome Cardiff, then this will count as one of the great squandered opportunities in the club's history.
Hull's owner, Assem Allam, a refugee from the Nasser dictatorship in Egypt, has invested £60m in the club – roughly what he might expect to make from promotion. There are still the play-offs but Hull appear to be in no mental state to face them. It may be win or bust.
Some 5,000 had travelled from Humberside. There would have been more had South Yorkshire police allowed it and at the finish there were bitter words exchanged between spectators and players. For their manager, Steve Bruce, there was just a resigned acceptance that a challenge had not remotely been met. "I came here in similar circumstances with Birmingham," he said. "We lost but we still went up. I have to take that as an omen. That is the only thing I can take."
Barnsley were not uninterested spectators in all this. They had begun the afternoon in the relegation zone and had just swallowed the humiliation of having to cancel their player of the year dinner due to lack of interest.
The police's decision to veto 1,500 extra supporters from Hull and Sky's request to televise the game cost Barnsley £100,000. The club had already grimly calculated relegation would set it back a further £6m.
On the final whistle, those supporters who had managed to shift a mere 60 tickets for the evening at the Holiday Inn sprinted on to the pitch to embrace footballers who now need a similar performance in another Yorkshire derby, at Huddersfield next Saturday, to secure survival. A fortnight before, they had played at home to Charlton and lost 6-0. Then it had seemed a matter of reading the last rites at Oakwell.
Now, however, they contained Hull effortlessly, although that was easier than it sounded. This was the third successive match in which Hull had failed to score. They had even lost to Wolverhampton Wanderers, who but for the soap opera at Blackburn would now be a byword for incompetence.
A club like Barnsley acquires an odd assortment of footballers and Jacob Mellis was one of those from whom much was expected very quickly. When he was 16 and on Sheffield United's books, Chelsea paid £1m for someone who had yet to start a League game.
Mellis did not play a League game for Chelsea either and the headlines he earned came when the club sacked him for helping to let off a smoke bomb that forced their training ground at Cobham to be evacuated.
His career may have drifted downwards but, judging by the way he powered forward and drove the ball in off the underside of David Stockdale's crossbar, there is still something in the 22-year-old's boots. When he scored he wheeled away from an orange wall of Hull supporters.
The home fans were rather more thinly scattered, but they kept up the chorus from Bob Marley's Three Little Birds – "every little thing's gonna be all right" and so it proved.
Their manager, David Flitcroft, pointed out that his two wing-backs had never played in the position before. One of them, Reuben Noble-Lazarus, wonderfully named in a team fighting for its life, all but scored the second.
It arrived five minutes after the interval. When the ball broke on the edge of the area to Chris O'Grady, the forward got his foot perfectly over it. It was driven surgically into the corner of Stockdale's net and to the centre of Bruce's heart.
Barnsley is O'Grady's 11th club and you might describe him as a journeyman but this was not a journeyman's goal. He might once have scored against Internazionale, albeit in a pre-season friendly, but it would be hard to imagine any would be better than this.
Barnsley (3-5-2): Steele; Cranie, Wiseman, Kennedy; O'Brien, Etuhu, Perkins, Mellis (Scotland, 68), Noble-Lazarus; O'Grady (Rose, 90), Dagnall (McNulty, 79).
Hull (3-5-2): Stockdale; Chester, Faye, McShane; Evans (Rosenior, 79), Elmohamady, Meyler, Quinn, Brady; Boyd (Simpson, 46), Fryatt (Proschwitz, 61).
Referee Chris Foy.
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