Tom Huddlestone earned himself a haircut and the effusive compliments of his manager after capping a masterful performance in Hull’s midfield with his first goal in more than two-and-a-half years as Fulham were routed.
By scoring the fourth of Hull’s six goals in the club’s biggest win for 19 years, Huddlestone ended a pledge he made more than a year ago, before he left Tottenham, to grow his hair until he scored. But, more than that, he delivered a masterclass in his craft as the architect of his team’s impressive response to their Boxing Day defeat by Manchester United.
It was Huddlestone’s 27th birthday to boot, so not a bad time to find the net for the first time since the north London derby against Arsenal in April 2011.
He celebrated the goal by running to Hull’s technical area, where the physio Rob Price produced a pair of scissors and made the first cuts, ahead of a visit to a more professional barber next week. “I’ve had that planned since the start of last season,” Huddlestone joked afterwards.
All six Hull goals came in the space of 35 second-half minutes. Apart from his own, struck home from outside the area in the 67th minute, Huddlestone hit the woodwork twice and produced an exemplary display of passing quality that had his manager, Steve Bruce, open-mouthed in admiration.
Bruce rated the midfielder’s performance as good as any he had witnessed from one individual, which is high praise given the company he kept as a player. “It was a masterclass of how to play in midfield,” he said. “He is an outstanding footballer and I can’t recall witnessing an performance from one player that was as complete. It had everything – free-kicks, his passing range, even a goal.
“When he came into the dressing room after doing his television interviews the other players stood up and applauded him, and you don’t see that very often. It was a great day, one to savour for a long time because you don’t often win 6-0 in the Premier League.”
Bruce admitted, after Fulham’s goalkeeper David Stockdale had thwarted Yannick Sagbo and Robert Koren at the start of the second half, that he thought “it might be one of those days” for his side when dominance brought only frustration.
Within moments, however, Ahmed Elmohamady had opened the scoring, taking a touch before shooting into the roof of the Fulham net from a Huddlestone corner, after which Koren turned home Sagbo’s pass and George Boyd drove home from outside the penalty area, effectively ending the contest in the 63rd minute.
It was after Stockdale touched a Huddlestone free-kick on to the bar that Matt Fryatt added Hull’s fifth, before Koren grabbed his second of the game from close range.
Fulham made six changes from the side that won at Norwich on Boxing Day with match-winner Scott Parker among the players rested and Dimitar Berbatov still injured. They never looked ambitious and managed only two shots on target in the whole game. The result moved Hull into mid-table and left Fulham in the bottom three.
Yet the Fulham head coach, Rene Meulensteen, did not regret the changes he made to his team. “When you have so many games in a short space of time you have to use your squad,” he said. “There were players with niggles that you needed to rest.
“But after our performances, not just at Norwich but in the last few games, we did not see that coming. It was a freak result really.
“The first goal, when we lost possession in the middle of the park and conceded from a corner, it can happen. But to then not get back in the game and concede three more goals in about seven minutes – it’s not good. I think an apology to the fans would be well placed.”
Hull City (4-2-3-1): McGregor; Rosenior, Chester, Davies, Figueroa; Huddlestone, Livermore (Graham, 73); Elmohamady (McShane, 77), Koren, Boyd; Sagbo (Fryatt, 68).
Fulham (4-2-3-1): Stockdale; Zverotic, Hughes, Amorebieta (Richardson, 74), Riise; Karagounis, Sidwell; Ruiz (Kacaniklic, 60), Kasami, Dejagah (Bent, 64); Rodallega.
Referee: Robert Madley.
Man of the match: Huddlestone (Hull)
Match rating: 7/10