Among the favourites to go down they may be, but if the Tigers show this much spirit and determination all season, survival will surely be achieved.
When new signing Yannick Sagbo was sent off for a head-butt shortly after winning the penalty which put his side ahead after 22 minutes, it seemed simply a matter of time before Norwich would breach the amber and black defence. Instead, the Canaries barely created a chance for the rest of the match. On only two occasions in a second period spent almost entirely in their opponents’ half did the visitors carve out any clear cut opportunities. The first Alex Tettey, set up by Ricky van Wolfswinkel, blazed wide, and the second saw Tigers goalkeeper Allan McGregor make a finger-tip save from Van Wolfs-winkel’s header.
Small wonder the Hull manager Steve Bruce was a proud as well as relieved man.
“We’ve done fantastically well to hang on. The organisation and the sheer will to hang on was pretty evident, and I don’t think they ever really created the chances they’d have liked to,” he said.
“After the sending-off our attitude was fantastic. I said last week we need ten wins to stay in the Premier League, and I thought we saw glimpses today that we can achieve that target.”
Both managers had made two changes to the teams sent out for their opening fixtures. Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore started for Hull, while Tettey and Dutch midfielder Leroy Fer came in for the visitors.
Fer, bought from FC Twente but suspended for the opening match, almost made the perfect start for his new club when, despite his relatively diminutive stature, he climbed above James Chester to head Steven Whittaker’s cross just the wrong side of McGregor’s right hand post, with the Hull goalkeeper a spectator.
Hull were beginning to settle though, and they should have taken the lead when an adroit back-heel by Sone Aluko sent Livermore clear on the left side of the penalty area. With only Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy to beat, the midfielder side-footed disappointingly over the bar.
The miss was forgotten a couple of minutes later, when Michael Turner wrestled Sagbo to the ground as he tried to get his head to a hopeful Ahmed Elmohamady cross.
Referee Mike Jones pointed to the spot, and Robbie Brady sent Ruddy the wrong way.
Having won his team a penalty, however, it took Sagbo barely five minutes to blot his copybook, lowering his head towards Norwich defender Russell Martin in a manner interpreted by Mr Jones as threatening.
Yet Hull were comfortably the better team for the rest of the first half, and the Norwich manager Chris Hughton replaced defensive midfielder Bradley Johnson with the more creative Robert Snodgrass at the start of the second period. Though Aluko almost created a second for Hull with a clever scoop into the penalty area, the visitors inevitably began to dominate possession. Against a well-organised defence, they were initially restricted to shooting from distance.
Jonny Howson saw a deflected shot well saved by McGregor before thumping another effort over the bar, but Tettey should have done far better than blast wide when set up by Van Wolfswinkel. The Dutch striker was becoming an increasing threat, and it took an outstanding tip over from McGregor to prevent his header from Javier Garrido’s cross putting Norwich level.
A frustrated Hughton said: “We had enough possession, but we came up against a very resilient Hull team and we needed to show more quality in the final third and with the final ball. We started quite brightly, but for some reason we started to make life difficult for ourselves.
“I thought their penalty was incredibly soft, and we had a similar incident in their penalty area just beforehand. There was some contact, but no more than you see in every game.”
Kick-off was preceded by a peaceful but heartfelt demonstration outside the stadium, intended to remind owner Assem Allam that changing the name of the club to Hull City Tigers remains unacceptable to the vast majority of the supporters.
Hull (4-2-3-1): McGregor; Elmohamady, Chester, Davies, Figueroa; Huddlestone, Livermore; Brady (Boyd, 80); Aluko (Graham, 72), Koren (Rosenior, 83); Sagbo.
Norwich (4-4-1-1): Ruddy; Whittaker, Turner, Martin, Garrido; Tettey (Elmander, 65), Johnson (Snodgrass, 46), Howson, Redmond (Hoolahan, 73); Fer; Van Wolfswinkel.
Referee: Michael Jones.
Man of the match: Huddlestone (Hull)
Match rating: 6/10
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