The game itself was ordinary, at times tediously so, but the build-up was not. On a day when officials from the Football Association came to their stadium to pay tribute to the organisation’s founding father, a local man, thousands of Hull City supporters made their opposition to the owner’s determination to change their club’s name abundantly clear.
Many made their way to the match after attending a public meeting at the “Tigers Lair” club, a mile up the road into the city centre. At the back of rooms packed with supporters of all generations, including many women and children, Andy Dalton of the “City Till We Die” campaign said an on-line petition objecting to owner Assem Allam’s plan to call the club Hull Tigers had already been signed by more than 11,000 people – including, increasingly, by supporters of other clubs.
“It directly affects our club now, but it’s obviously a wider football issue,” said Dalton. “It’s encouraging that the FA has the final say and has promised supporters will be consulted before a decision is taken. Hopefully they’ll be responsive to what they hear.”
East Yorkshire-born film director and screenwriter Mark Herman, whose Oscar-winning credits include Brassed Off, Little Voice and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, told the meeting he had been a City supporter for over 50 years. “I’ve never felt so distanced as I have in the last few weeks. Of course we understand the quest for financial stability, but there are ways to achieve it without trampling on the heartbeat of the club.”
Mick Gott, 64, from Barton-on Humber, first watched Hull in 1963. “I’m a season ticket holder, but I won’t be if the name change goes through. Mr Allam has his principle that nobody tells him what to do in the running of his businesses, but we have principles too.”
Several tweeted to the effect that anyone wearing a “No to Hull Tigers” badge or scarf in the stadium’s corporate area was being asked to remove it.
The men from the FA were present to mark the club’s recognition that Ebenezer Cobb Morley, who helped found the organisation 150 years ago, was a Hull man. Apparently without irony, Hull managing director Nick Thompson used his programme column to suggest the match against Stoke was a chance “to celebrate a great traditionalist”.
Coming into the game, only Crystal Palace and Sunderland had picked up fewer points than Stoke away from home this season, and in the search for improvement Potters’ manager Mark Hughes made two changes, replacing Jonathan Walters and Charlie Adam with Oussama Assaidi and Stephen Ireland.
Ominously for Stoke, there was an impressive fluency about Hull City’s early combinations which created space for Maynor Figueroa and Danny Graham to shoot from distance. The latter’s effort was deflected for a corner which, only half-cleared, resulted in a dipping Ahmed Elmohamady volley that Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic did well to touch over the bar.
Begovic had to be at his best again soon afterwards to save a firm low shot from Yannick Sagbo, who had been set up by Elmohamady’s cut-back.
Even Begovic would surely have been helpless, however, if the unmarked Curtis Davies, rising to meet Tom Huddlestone’s free-kick no more than six yards from goal, had directed his header on target instead of a yard beyond the post. With Stoke’s five-man midfield largely occupied in a defensive capacity, Peter Crouch had to rely on the very occasional set-piece delivery to make his presence up front felt, but the visitors’ lack of ambition was striking.
As half-time approached the game increasingly needed a goal, and nearly got one when Graham’s header set up Sagbo for a volley a couple of feet over the bar.
Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross, up for a Marko Arnautovic corner hit low across Hull’s six-yard box, needed only to connect to give his side the lead 10 minutes into the second half, but as in the first period, Begovic was much the busier goalkeeper. Having kept out Elmohamady’s volley in the first period, the Bosnian was equally adept in scrambling across his goal and diving to keep out the Egyptian’s far-post header on the hour.
Both managers made changes, and Hughes thought his side had made the breakthrough when Stephen Ireland turned in the loose ball after Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor had brilliantly saved Crouch’s close-range header. Ireland was offside, but suddenly it was all Stoke, and after McGregor made another fine save from Crouch, Shawcross headed the resulting corner against the top of the bar.
That McGregor was made man of the match for his two fine saves was, however, indicative of the overall lack of quality, as well as incident.
Hull City (3-5-2): McGregor: Chester, Bruce (Brady, 67), Davies: Elmohamady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler Rosenior, 78), Figueroa: Graham (Boyd, 82), Sagbo.
Stoke City (4-5-1): Begovic: Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Muniesa: Arnautovic, Whelan, Ireland, N’Zonzi, Assaidi: Crouch.
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the match: McGregor (Hull City)
Match rating: 3/10
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