Phil Brown is a good man to have around in a crisis, it would seem.
The way he marched his Hull City side across the pitch at half-time to give his players a finger-wagging team talk out there in full view of their own supporters was another instance of the joyful difference he has made to the Premier League this season. But Mark Hughes, his City counterpart, has most to thank him for today, with his own ailing side delivered out of something far more than a mere crisis by Hull's failure to adhere to what the statistics charts in the training ground war-room Brown calls "The Bunker" must surely have told him.
All the Pro Zone research says that you are imperilled if you give City – the league's second-top scorers and now only two behind Chelsea's tally of 38 – room to play free, counter-attacking football. Hull gave it in abundance and even Felipe Caicedo, a marginal player since the day Sven Goran Eriksson signed him from FC Basle last winter, helped himself, his two goals taking his tally to three in three games.
Hughes hinted that Hull had played into his hands – "Some opposition will make it different to how others will," was how he put it – and now it is Brown's turn to fret. The Hull manager believes that five wins from their remaining 19 league games will be necessary for survival and that on-pitch talking-to was a reminder to his players, he later explained, that 4,000 fans had "arranged their Boxing Days" around a game of football. "I just thought it was nice and cold and I would keep the boys alive because they looked as though they were dead," Brown said.
His players, who have mustered a solitary win in 10 games, were spared the humiliation of passing the entire interval on the pitch. "Let's not read too much into that," Brown said, when asked why he eventually led them off. But after delivering four goals to City in a horrible 21 minutes – "unacceptable behaviour and an unacceptable performance from a Phil Brown side," as he put it – Brown suggested last night that his side have got carried away with themselves. "We've been sucked into the Premier League – the pretty Premier League," he said. "We are not pretty by any stretch of the imagination. We are ugly Hull. If you don't bring your ugly head to the table, then Manchester City will play some football against you."
Pretty, City most certainly are when on song and the most grateful recipient of all the seasonal charity was once again Stephen Ireland, the provider of three goals and scorer of one, who roamed around to pick up loose balls all afternoon and always chose the right pass. The strength and finishing of Caicedo has also proved to have been a useful boost to a manager who will be missing Benjani for the medium term, the Zimbabwe striker having re-ruptured a thigh muscle.
Hughes was not getting too carried away, though. The 6-0 win over Portsmouth in September – heights of which this display offered reminders of – was followed by a 2-1 defeat at Wigan and there were hints even before yesterday's euphoria that defensive suicide might be on the cards. The game was not 10 minutes old before Richard Dunne had been beaten twice, once so comprehensively by a Marlon King finish that Joe Hart was forced into a fine low save.
But Hull's propensity for surrendering possession while under no pressure helped City's confidence flow back. Dunne started things off in the 15th minute when he was allowed to run a third of the length of the pitch and lay off to Robinho, whose clipped pass Ireland delivered first time across the face of goal where Caicedo fired into the roof of the net.
Brown's midfield was equally feckless when, after Michael Turner had beaten Shaun Wright-Phillips to the ball just before the half-hour, it fell loose to Ireland 15 yards out, whose cross for Caicedo's second proved almost a replica of the Ecuadorian's first. A minute later Robinho cut in past Turner after picking up an Ireland pass and slotted in a third.
Brown attempted to reinforce against Robinho's threat, removing George Boateng for Nathan Doyle who slotted in at right-back. But it was the other flank which looked suspect and it was from there that Wright-Phillips crossed for Robinho to dispatch an imperious fourth.
Wright-Phillips was allowed enough space to shoot narrowly wide twice more soon after the break and though one Hull substitute, Daniel Cousin, was allowed to cross for another, Craig Fagan, to score, Ireland was permitted a stroll of his own into the penalty box a minute later to dispatch Elano's cross for 5-1.
Elano's fine supply line for Robinho proved why he is worth something to City and goodwill to all men had suddenly broken out at Eastlands before the day was done. "There are a lot of people out there looking for us to fail. You have to make your own statement and that was exactly the response you are looking for," Hughes reflected.
But, still only one point off the relegation zone, he knows he cannot expect similar good feeling from his homecoming to Blackburn tomorrow.
Goals: Caicedo (15) 1-0; Caicedo (27) 2-0; Robinho (28) 3-0; Robinho (36) 4-0; Fagan (80) 4-1; Ireland (82) 5-1.
Manchester City (4-1-4-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Dunne, Richards (Onuoha, h-t) Ball; Kompany; Wright-Phillips, Ireland (Fernandes, 84), Elano, Robinho; Caicedo (Jo, h-t). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Garrido, Vassell, Sturridge.
Hull City (4-3-1-2): Myhill; Mendy, Turner, Zayatte, McShane; Marney, Ashbee, Boateng (Doyle, 34); Geovanni (Cousin, 69); Windass (Fagan, h-t), King. Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Barmby, Hughes, Halmosi.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Hull City Geovanni, Fagan, Mendy, Zayatte.
Man of the match: Ireland.
Tigers burning bright: A tale of two Citys
Hull 2-1 Fulham, 16 August
Comeback goals from Geovanni and Folan start it all and help Hull to an opening day win.
Arsenal 1-2 Hull, 27 September
Geovanni's at it again as Hull stun Wenger's men to truly announce their Premier League arrival.
Spurs 0-1 Hull, 5 October
Geovanni again as Hull make it two from two in north London in the space of eight days.
Hull 1-0 West Ham, 19 October
London 0 Hull 4, the Housemartins briefly re-emerge and Hull go third in the table.
Hull's forests of night
Swansea 2-1 Hull, 26 August
Hull's bright start flickers in the Carling Cup.
Hull 0-5 Wigan, 30 August
Hull crash to their first home defeat as Zaki grabs two.
Hull 1-4 Sund'land, 20 December
A Barmby goal was scant consolation for this heavy home defeat.
Man City 5-1 Hull, 26 December
Brown delivers his half-time team-talk on the pitch as Hull are humiliated by struggling City.
MAN CITY'S THREE-scoring
City 3-0 West Ham, 24 August
Elano gets on the scoresheet twice as City swagger – and Robinho wasn't even a dream yet.
Sunderland 0-3 City, 31 August
Still pre-Robinho and this time a Wright-Phillips' double keeps up the free-scoring.
City 6-0 Portsm'th, 21 September
Robinho plays and six different players get on the score sheet.
City 3-0 Stoke, 26 October
Robinho's first hat-trick in English football lights up the game.
City 3-0 Arsenal, 22 November
The goals keep flowing, this time young Sturridge grabs one.
City 5-1 Hull, 26 December
Two each from Robinho and Caicedo unwrap Hull's defence.
At the season's half-way stage, Man City and Hull have scored and leaked goals with entertaining regularity; fans have cheered or groaned to the tune of 64 goals in their matches so far – more than any other teams in the league.