Jimmy Bullard admits he now feels at home at Hull after finally emerging from a 10-month injury nightmare.
The £5m club-record signing at last got his Tigers career up and running by making his long-awaited home debut in Sunday's dramatic 2-1 win over 10-man Stoke in the Premier League. And the 31-year-old's impact proved to be immediate as he provided the driving force behind a result much needed by under-pressure manager Phil Brown.
Bullard has spent most of the year on the sidelines with a knee injury since joining the club in January and is now determined to make up for lost time. He said: "I couldn't wait to get my boots on. I didn't sleep great, I kept waking up, but I finally got there and enjoyed every minute of it.
"As soon as I set foot on the pitch I felt at home. I enjoyed it from setting foot on the field for the first warm-up. I loved it, to come out to that ovation.
"It's been a long time, it killed me, and being at a new club probably made it twice as hard. But I've come here to play football and I've done that. To step foot on that field was brilliant for me. I remember looking up about the 82nd-minute mark and I was flagging. I thought he [Brown] could have given me a tug then but I'm glad he didn't."
Bullard played the full game and had a hand in Hull's late winner as his long-range shot was pushed out by Thomas Sorensen and fired in by Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink. While the Dutchman ran to supporters, Bullard celebrated by rushing in the opposite direction to embrace physio Simon Maltby and his assistant Liam McGarry. "I came here and got injured in my first game, an absolute nightmare start," said Bullard, who played for just 37 minutes against West Ham United in January before undergoing surgery.
"Every player will tell you when you have a long-term injury, you always have a right-hand man with you. Every day I was in touch with him [Maltby]. I was closer to him than I was to my missus at some points. There were a lot of bad times but he has been absolutely brilliant, so has Liam.
"I owe those two loads, so I just thought I'd show my appreciation and give them a cuddle."
Hull, who went into the game 19th in the table and with the threat of the sack hanging over Brown, looked to be heading for another damaging defeat early in the second half.
Matthew Etherington had hit Hull with a superb goal on the counter-attack and the hosts were fortunate not to have gone 2-0 down when Anthony Gardner almost turned the ball into his own net.
Somehow goalkeeper Matt Duke managed to keep out Gardner's unfortunate touch and, moments later, former Stoke midfielder Seyi Olofinjana struck a superb equaliser.
Ryan Shawcross hit the bar for Stoke but Tony Pulis' men were then put under extreme pressure after Abdoulaye Faye was sent off for two bookable offences. They finally cracked and Vennegoor of Hesselink had the final word.
Pulis bemoaned his side's failure to win away for a third time this season after holding a lead and was unhappy with the sending-off. He did, however, pay tribute to Olofinjana, who left the Britannia Stadium in a £3m deal in the summer. The Nigerian fell down the Potters' pecking order after starting their first 13 games last season.
Pulis said: "He's a fantastic kid, I'm really pleased for him. He's a real genuine kid,one of the nicest people I have met in football, a top lad. Seyi scored a great goal, but for the second goal Thomas most probably should have done better."