It might be stretching it a bit to say the nation is sweating on Jimmy Bullard's latest knee injury but there is no doubt he will go into his scan this morning backed only by good feeling. As Brian Horton, the Hull assistant manager, put it, when asked about the home fans' round of applause as the midfielder limped off: "Jimmy is a top-drawer lad and the Villa supporters see the quality in him."
Horton was essentially taking about the playing qualities of Bullard. And why not? In his three previous starts, the 31-year-old was so impressive in resurrecting Hull that some judges – including his manger, Phil Brown – began to mention the World Cup. But there is more to Jimmy, the painter and decorator, than all that. As well as being the current Premier League player of the month, Bullard is the Premier League character of the last few seasons; as shown the Saturday before last with a goal celebration mimicking Brown's famous on-pitch half-time rant.
Certainly his popularity and importance to this Hull outfit should not be underestimated. On Saturday evening, George Boateng talked of a dressing room not so much stunned by a poor display which led to their first defeat in five, but more by Bullard's blight. He may have been the clutching left knee and not the right knee that has already forced him to endure first a 16-month and then, this year, a 10-month absence from the game. But the tears Bullard shed when being helped off looked spookily familiar.
"We said afterwards, 'let's not think too negatively' because we don't know the extent of it," said Boateng. "It might be a strain, it might be anything. Hopefully it won't be as bad as his other injuries."
In all the sentiment it was easy to overlook a fine Villa performance which hauled them into fifth. Milner was supreme in his second consecutive display in the heart of midfield and deserved his goal, when lobbing the stranded Matt Duke from 25 yards.
There is a good look about Martin O'Neill's squad; perhaps even better than last season. "There were times last season when I felt tired going into games," admitted the full-back Luke Young. "With the depth we've got now, if someone is tired or carrying a knock we can afford to rest them."
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel; Luke Young, Dunne, Cuellar, Warnock; Ashley Young, Milner, Petrov, Downing; Agbonlahor, Heskey (Carew 78). Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Sidwell, Delph, Reo-Coker, Beye, Clark.
Hull City (4-5-1): Duke; McShane, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson; Garcia, Boateng, Bullard (Fagan 19), Marney (Vennegoor of Hesselink 77), Hunt; Altidore (Barmby 54). Substitutes not used: Myhill (gk), Geovanni, Kilbane, Mouyokolo.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire).
Booked: Aston Villa Cuellar, Ashley Young, Luke Young, Petrov; Hull Marney, Fagan, Duke.
Man of the match: Milner.
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