Assigning blame for a game of little interest, beyond how such a tactical stalemate had come about would be pointless. Which, as both managers remarked pragmatically, is exactly what they weren’t, each going into the international break having taken a pleasing seven from their last three games.
For Hull’s Steve Bruce, the priority had been to nullify Villa’s threat on the counter-attack, which the Tigers did almost entirely successfully. “Don’t get caught on the break” had clearly been drummed into every man in black and amber, with the result that Villa had around 75 per cent of possession in the first half hour, a truly extraordinary figure for an away team.
What was apparent, however, is that when Paul Lambert’s side is required to break a defence down, rather than use their pace to exploit space, creativity is not among their virtues. Still, said Lambert, any point in this league was not to be sniffed at, away from home or otherwise.
“We’ve played Arsenal away, Chelsea away, Liverpool and Manchester City at home, which is an incredibly tough start, and a return of ten points I’m very happy with, we’re progressing very well” he said.
“I never thought we were going to lose, but equally I never thought we were going to win.”
Both had made changes in search of a third consecutive victory, though for very different reasons. The hernia-enforced absence of midfielder Robbie Brady, scorer of three of Hull’s six Premier League goals this season, saw Bruce bring in Stephen Quinn on the left side of his midfield four. The return to fitness of striker Gabby Agbonlahor from an ankle injury enabled Lambert to switch back to his favoured 4-3-2-1 formation, with Ashley Westwood coming back into midfield.
A first quarter of cautious probing saw Leandro Bacuna slide in to clear from Quinn as the Irishman attempted to convert a Danny Graham cross, and Graham himself should have done better when he looked favourite to get to Ahmed El-Mohamady’s low ball. At the other end, City goalkeeper Allan McGregor saved well to his left when Agbonlahor, having danced past Curtis Davies, shot firmly from the edge of the penalty area.
As the half progressed, however, any slight early early promise faded. Half-time had almost arrived when Tom Huddlestone’s crisp left-footed drive warmed the hands of Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan. It would have been a relief all-round had Huddlestone scored, including to his barber – when the former Spurs midfielder decided to raise money for Cancer Research by promising not to cut his hair until he scored, he cannot have anticipated the drought would go on for two and half years.
It was notable that Villa’s best chance came in the second half, when the balance of possession had begun to change, and for pretty much the only time Hull were caught on the counter. Bacuna broke down the right and found Andreas Weimann, who pulled the ball back across goal for Agbonlahor to shoot first-time just beyond McGregor’s left-hand post, with the goalkeeper a spectator.
Bruce was the first to make an attacking substitution, bringing on the winger George Boyd for Quinn, and replacing the disappointingly peripheral Sone Aluko with Yannick Sagbo. Lambert responded with a double change of his own, but in neither case did it have the slightest impact.
“They’re a fantastic counter-attacking team,” said Bruce. “They wanted to hit us on the break, and they did that once or twice in the second half.
“But basically it was a nil-nil from the first five minutes. We’ve played really, really well over the last few weeks, and we didn’t today, but we have got something out of the game and we have to be delighted about that – it’s a terrific result when we were nowhere near the levels we’ve been reaching.
“We’re a newly promoted club, we’ve had a really difficult side, and who knows, it could be the point that keeps us up.”
Lambert again expressed his surprise that injured striker Christian Benteke had been called up by Belgium for their World Cup qualifiers. “He’s done nothing [in training] and at this moment in time I wouldn’t say he was fit,” said Lambert.
Hull (4-4-2): McGregor; Rosenior, Davies, Faye, Figueroa; Elmohamady (Meyler, 85), Livermore, Huddlestone, Quinn (Boyd, 69); Graham, Aluko (Sagbo, 69).
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Guzan; Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Luna: Delph, Westwood (Tonev, 64), El Ahmadi; Weimann, Agbonlahor (Bowey, 75); Kozak.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Davies (Hull)
Match rating: 4/10