Hull 1 (Bullard pen 28) Arsenal 2 (Arshavin 14, Bendtner 90)
When you play a side as dislikable as Hull, with a manager like Phil Brown, the default position is to wish for an absolute hammering, to send them back with their tails between their legs. But sometimes, it is equally satisfying to see them denied a point at the last, after a display littered with cynical, cheap and sometimes nasty fouls.
The game was almost up – Hull had defended a succession of corners with relative ease before, in an apparent act of desperation, Denilson lined one up from 35 yards. When we saw it arrowing straight at the keeper, our heads collectively dropped. But Myhill, usually so impressive, inexplicably parried it straight back into play, and Bendtner gratefully tucked away the winner. It was a gift, and rarely has one been more important.
We had looked in complete control in the early stages, Arshavin finishing coolly after dancing past two non-challenges, but with Hull completely deflated they were awarded an undeserved lifeline when Vennegoor of Hesselink was bundled over by Campbell in the box. The only reason Sol had allowed the Dutchman goalside of him was that he was playing him comfortably offside. But the linesman, who was in the perfect position, inexplicably failed to flag, and Bullard slammed home the penalty. Hull’s spirits were raised, and they reverted to type – rotational fouling in the centre of the park and a series of ugly lunges.
That they were allowed to play that ‘style’ was entirely the fault of Andre Marriner, who failed to retain any semblance of control on the game, and whose persistent lack of action against the Hull players encouraged them into ever more dangerous challenges.
In a way, I don’t blame the players. If you knew a referee wouldn’t penalise you for handling on your own goal line, you’d be tempted to stretch that arm out to block a goalbound shot. Similarly, if the referee is unwilling to punish a sequence of repeated fouls, then you will continue to commit them in comfort.
And it transpired that way. In one first half incident, Fagan had Sagna in a headlock, off the ball, and dragged him to the ground, a stupid and intentional foul that should have resulted in a yellow card. He was warned. In the five minutes that followed, he was given another two ‘final warnings’, and ended the match without a card to his name.
But the incompetence did not stop there. Aside from his complete inability to apply the advantage rule, Marriner was seen time and time again letting players off with poor challenges. Dawson was the first to be booked and could have been sent off for a wild two-footed lunge, while in the same moments, Boateng was first poking Bendtner in the eye and then slapping him. Boateng was only booked for what is a mandatory sending off, and strangely, the Dane picked up the same punishment, despite doing absolutely nothing.
By half time, Boateng had helped eradicate Marriner’s mistake by putting his studs through Sagna’s knee and picking up a second yellow card – a shocking challenge that should have resulted in a straight red.
The mood was dark at the break, not helped by the snide and frankly unprofessional coverage dealt out by ESPN. I had only previously heard talk about the depths of punditry they plumb, but I have a free month of the channel and was finally directly exposed. Suffice to say that when the trial period is over, I won’t be subscribing.
Jon Champion is an awful commentator. There, I said it. He spent a full ten minutes after the penalty trying to get anyone who would listen to agree with him that Campbell should have been sent off, blissfully ignoring the fact that the penalty should not have been awarded in the first place. His co-commentator, and the panel of Keegan and Leboeuf all disagreed, but it didn’t stop him.
In the second half, Campbell put in a terrific tackle on Zayatte, a powerful but safe (legs were on the ground) challenge which won the ball. Again, Champion started a one-man campaign that Sol should have been dismissed. Again, Leboeuf and Keegan pointed out the obvious – it was a fair challenge, and you don’t tend to get in trouble for those. Undeterred, he continued, frantically insisting that Wenger would not be jumping up and down about that particular tackle, unlike the Shawcross equivalent.
Of course he wouldn’t, Jon, because it was legal, fair and safe. No comparisons can be made, and if you think they can, you are in the wrong profession. You moron.
At that point, I muted the television, and despite our struggles as time ticked away, I found it far more relaxing that listening to a wind-up merchant promoting his own slanted agenda.
No matter. Thanks to Denilson’s speculation, Myhill’s blunder, and Bendtner’s persistence, we took home the points. When you consider that we are missing a host of players (some who will return soon), Hull did not play a game midweek, and we have a completely useless referee, you realise that the manner of the points matters little. This was one of our big tests, and we’ve passed it.
United are likely to breeze past Fulham tomorrow, so it will be as you were at the top. But next weekend, we have West Ham at home, Chelsea travel to Blackburn just days after their Champions League encounter with Mourinho’s Inter, and United face Liverpool.
It was important not to lose ground today, so that we can capitalise if our rivals slip up next week.
Mission accomplished. Oh, and enjoy the Championship, Hull.