ON REACHING the dais in the interview theatre, Hull's dimin-utive player-manager, Warren Joyce, declined a seat because "no one will see me". Despite the scale of Villa's victory, the League's bottom team had troubled the Premiership leaders enough to encourage his belief that he can prevent them disappearing from view.
It is a tall order. The Tigers are an endangered Third Division species, adrift in the drop zone and more likely to be visiting Kidderminster or Hednesford than Villa Park in the foreseeable future. Yet the way they kept sticking their heads above the parapet showed a spirit which belied their plight.
Joyce, while heartened that Hull had competed vigorously, revealed a healthy reluctance to accept honourable defeat. "If you're getting turned over by a better team you can accept it," he said, bemoaning lapses in concentration and discipline. "But we contributed to our own downfall."
Healthy but harsh. A Villa side who scored three times in 20 minutes against Arsenal, the country's most parsimonious defence, did not breach Hull's lines until seconds before half-time. Although the outcome was beyond doubt by the midway point in the second half, Steve Wilson did not make his first genuine save until the 89th minute.
Gregor Rioch, the Hull wing-back whose father Bruce used to captain Villa, felt the tie had forged a bond between club and city. Some 7,000 travelling fans roared "Who are yer?" at Villa's household names and generated a fervour which could be crucial if maintained in the months ahead.
"The numbers and the noise they made were stunning," Rioch said. "I turned to one of the other players when we were warming up and said: `I can't believe the support we've got here.' That is what is going to help us to stay up. I'm confident we won't go down."
So fired up was Rioch that he scythed down Steve Watson after only seven seconds to earn a yellow card. Fortunately the challenge would not prove typical of Hull's approach. Villa, who lost Alan Thompson on the eve of the game with damaged ankle ligaments and rested Dion Dublin, were thankful for that much but by John Gregory's admission made "heavy weather" of winning.
Stan Collymore scored twice, as well as crossing for Julian Joachim to head the second, though one suspects his overall display may have underwhelmed Gregory. The Villa manager tends to prefer Joachim as a foil to Dublin, and his intimation that Collymore might have pushed harder for a hat-trick suggested that he could be back on the bench come Saturday.
Gregory must also have been mystified by the failure to threaten at corners. Justin Whittle, Hull's pounds 50,000 centre-back from Stoke, was able to look like a lower-division Gareth Southgate for an afternoon.
Villa nevertheless won comfortably enough, and when Hull's Richard Peacock skewed a late shot horribly wide, the Holte End's sardonic "Savo, Savo" reminded us that New Year is a time for remembering old acquaintances. Gregory, a self-confessed FA Cup romantic, reckons it is high time they became reacquainted with the trophy after a 42-year estrange-ment.
Goals: Collymore (45) 1-0; Joachim (51) 2-0; Collymore (67) 3-0.
Aston Villa (3-5-2): Oakes; Ehiogu, Southgate, Barry; Watson (Charles, 70), Scimeca, Draper (Grayson, 58), Hendrie (Lescott, 77), Wright; Collymore, Joachim. Substitutes not used: Vassell, Rachel (gk).
Hull City (3-5-2): Wilson; Whittle, Edwards, Hocking; Greaves (Peacock, 55), D'Auria, Joyce (Hawes, 86), Brown (McGinty, 55), Rioch; Morley, Faulconbridge. Substitutes not used: Ellington, Bolder.
Referee: S Mathieson (Stockport). Bookings: Hull: Rioch, Brown.
Man of the match: Southgate.
Attendance: 39,217.Reuse content