Saturday, December 31, 2005

WORCESTER City's dismayed supporters could be forgiven for hitting the bottle early on New Year's Eve.

Not in readiness to welcome home 2006, but to help drown their sorrows to forget City's limpest performance of the season.

This mauling at Hyde United -- the heaviest defeat under Andy Preece's tutelage -- encapsulated Worcester's current failings.

Crucial missed chances, scant use of width and a penchant for conceding on the counter-attack -- those weaknesses re-surfaced again at Ewen Fields.

Strikers Adam Webster and Leon Kelly, so lacking in confidence inside the penalty box, both fluffed one-on-ones with the scoreline goalless.

And in the blink of an eye, the Tigers rampaged through City's bedraggled defence to notch the first of four clinical strikes.

It was one of those afternoons where most things went wrong, beginning in the first 30 seconds when Worcester switched off at a quick free-kick that could so easily have seen them punished.

Ragged City lapsed out of concentration too frequently and were strangely disorganised at the back, with players regularly caught out of position.

Hungry Hyde were not in charitable mood, ruthlessly capitalising on each indecision to leave visiting fans wondering exactly when and where City's first away league win of the season will surface.

In the heart of City's encouraging FA Cup campaign, few predicted that, for a second successive year, Worcester would turn the December corner peering over their shoulders at the wrong end of Nationwide North.

But that is where they sit today and will continue to stay unless they solve their away-day conundrum.

For every heart-warming display on the road, such as those at Accrington and Stafford, there are also lack-lustre displays.

Full-back Les Hines was at a loss explaining this latest episode.

"It was a poor performance," said Hines. "Especially on the run we've been on at the moment and the encouraging performance at Stafford. It's really knocked us back a bit.

"The gaffer said afterwards it could have been 8-4! We never really got to grips defensively."

If City netted first, the outcome may have been different. But in the space of a minute, leading pair Webster and Kelly spilt their cue cards.

Kelly was put clear first, latching on to Rob Warner's long pass before bustling through the largely impressive central partnership of Mike Flynn and Paul Jones.

But he snatched his shot straight at goalkeeper Jean-Paul Ndjebayi and Webster blasted over the rebound.

Webster was then teed up by George Clegg but Ndjebayi tipped aside his drive from 12 yards.

On the counter, Hyde pounced to score. Danny Hodnett and Warner were caught out of position as Nicky Clee stormed down the left-flank to tee up Nathan Wharton.

Worcester -- sorely missing injured Chris Smith's presence -- faced an uphill battle once United scored from the penalty spot on 41 minutes.

A whipped cross crashed into Warner's right arm and, despite few appeals from Hyde's forwards, a spot-kick was awarded.

Midfielder Wharton made no mistake, sending Danny McDonnell the wrong way from 12 yards.

Preece threw on Sam Wedgbury for the ineffective Nick Colley at the interval and the teenager was quickly involved.

He chested a cross to Webster, who fizzed his shot just wide of the top corner, and then freed Des Lyttle down the right and his delivery was glanced wide by Justin Thompson.

City had the greater pressure, but lacked cutting edge with wing-backs Warner and Hines rarely getting in behind Hyde's defence.

Preece injected more youth -- Liam McDonald and forward Troy Wood for his league debut -- but within minutes of their introduction, Hyde wrapped up three points.

Thompson was caught in possession by difficult-to-handle Matty McNeil who showed City's counterparts how to finish with a deft chip.

United added a fourth in stoppage time, skilful Wharton threading Clee inside the box for a left-foot finish.

CITY: McDonnell, Warner, Hines, Hodnett (McDonald 81), Thompson, Lyttle, Warmer, Colley (Wedgbury 46), Kelly (Wood 77), Webster, Clegg. Subs not used: Walker, Khan. ATTENDANCE: 401.