Fuller equal to the antics of pantomime villain Windass
Stoke City 1 Hull City 1
Sunday 30 November 2008
It was billed as a relegation six-pointer the day the fixtures came out and, as far as could be discerned through the Potteries fog, there was not an abundance of Premier League quality on display here yesterday. Remarkably, victory for one team or the other would have been either a fifth home win in succession for Stoke – they have won more than Chelsea – or put Hull level on points with Manchester United. After Ricardo Fuller's penalty cancelled out Marlon King's opening goal, they each had to be satisfied with a point and probably were even though Hull's manager Phil Brown felt the penalty should not have been given.
The home side, all long balls and long throws, improved sufficiently in the second half to deserve a point, while Hull's consolation is that, even after six games without a win, no team ever been relegated from the Premier League after starting as well as they have. Hull faced the same threat as every team, great and small, visiting the Britannia Stadium. Long balls were hit either diagonally from the full-backs or down the centre from goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen; long throws were hurled in from anywhere within 30 yards of the byline by Rory Delap.
Kamil Zayatte, presumably unused to this stuff in either his native Guinea, or Switzerland (he is on loan from Young Boys of Berne), struggled against the taller of the two big strikers, Mamady Sidibe, who flicked everything on for his partner Ricardo Fuller, so it was as well for Hull that Michael Turner was excellent again.
The tactics for dealing with Delap were unusual and, until the goal, provided the most entertaining moment of a dire first half. Hull's substitute Dean Windass, attempting to keep warm on the touchline, would brazenly do his stretches while standing in the way of Delap's long run-up. When he pulled the same stroke for a second time he was booked. For half an hour there was no greater end-product than a series of corners, one of which was conceded in panicky fashion by the Hull goalkeeper Boaz Myhill, kicking the ball behind in something of a panic as Fuller closed him down. The first real opportunity was earned by some good recovery work by Delap on the byline, setting up Sidibe for a low cross that Fuller, slightly off-balance, clipped past a post.
Hull had switched to a more defensive 4-4-1-1 by bringing back Nick Barmby for only his second start of the season and dropping the striker Daniel Cousin. It did nothing for their attacking potential but they still stole the lead just before the interval. Sam Ricketts sent over a free-kick that was headed back across goal and not cleared, King turning to strike a fine shot high into the net.
As the fog swirled round at the start of the second half, Stoke almost equalised immediately from the most predictable route; predictable, but devilishly difficult to prevent without Windass's tactics. Delap hurled in from the left and Fuller headed firmly down, Myhill bringing off a superb save. Michael Tonge should then have scored with his first touch after replacing Tom Soares. Two Hull defenders collided, allowing the ball to drop for Fuller, whose unselfish pass was pulled wide by the substitute.
In the 73rd minute, however, Stoke drew level. Once more Sidibe won a long ball in the air and once more Fuller was on the end of it.
He drifted wide of the goalkeeper, who seemed to catch his trailing leg, then just failed to keep out the subsequent penalty kick. Whether he should have been allowed to stay on the pitch after preventing an obvious scoring opportunity was a moot point, but Brown said: "We've been robbed by a poor decision. It was a theatrical dive. I apologise that we didn't play more football. But I'll make no apologies for the way they played."
Referee: Keith Stroud
Man of the match: Sidibe
Match rating: 5/10
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