Fight: that turned out to be the theme of a dramatic afternoon on Humberside. It was physical, it was mental, it was legal and illegal and at its end both sides were applauded off by their respective sets of fans. Goals from Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt ensured that Liverpool maintained what pressure they can on Manchester United at the top, but it was an all-round display of defiance from Hull City that caught the eye just as much. "We have done our job, now we have to wait," said the Liverpool manager, Rafael Benitez, who conceded that his defence was "a little bit nervous" in a jittery first half from the Reds. But Benitez added: "I'm happy, we deserved to win."
There was also praise for the hosts from Benitez. This defeat took Hull's run to one win from 18 – a fourth loss in five – but even when reduced to 10 men following Caleb Folan's 58th-minute dismissal, Hull revealed that their belief and energy has not drained totally. Show this level of commitment in their next home game – against Stoke – and Hull might still have enough to stay up. They will be without Folan for three matches. The crowd reacted against referee Martin Atkinson as if he had perpetrated an injustice of Guantanamo Bay proportions when producing a straight red card for Folan. But it was merited, Folan having become enraged by Martin Skrtel's obstruction to the stage where he bundled into Skrtel with a fist clenched, then kicked the defender in the midriff as he fell.
Hull's manager, Phil Brown, did not dispute the sending-off – "no excuses" – but his attitude was different when it came to the events of the 45th minute. That was when Atkinson awarded a free-kick to Javier Mascherano after the Liverpool midfielder appeared to collapse under an innocent challenge from George Boateng. "The Liverpool player's just fell down," Brown said, "I can't see a free-kick." Benitez disagreed. "It was clear," he said of Boateng's "foul".
Whatever, it was bad timing for Hull as Alonso rattled in a typically assured volley from 20 yards after his initial effort had struck the wall. That gave Liverpool some breathing space, and Brown referred to "having to pick players up at half-time when an injustice has been done".
Benitez had changed half his back four after Tuesday's 4-4 epic against Arsenal, but with Steven Gerrard missing again there was a lack of direction from the visitors. Full-backs Alvaro Arbeloa and Emiliano Insua were anxious in defence as well as going forward, while Lucas, Mascherano and Alonso replicated each other in midfield. With Kuyt and Yossi Benayoun often forced into tracking back, there was a lack of width and a formation that ended up being 4-5-1, with Fernando Torres isolated.
Aside from a tip-over from Torres, Boaz Myhill had no saves to make before Alonso scored. Hull, meanwhile, had half-chances for Geovanni and Nicky Barmby. So Alonso's opener and Folan's red card changed the game in 13 minutes. Five more passed before Kuyt buried a header at a Liverpool corner. That Skrtel scuffed the ball to Kuyt annoyed the stadium further. The atmosphere was offering inspiration to the 10 men. When substitutes Bernard Mendy and Daniel Cousin combined, Cousin ran away from Skrtel with ease and teed up Geovanni at the far post.
Had the personnel been equal, Hull's spirit could have forced an equaliser, but Liverpool used the space well and Torres hit the crossbar. Then Kuyt finished the contest, heading past Myhill after the goalkeeper had parried Arbeloa's deflected cross.
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Alonso
Match rating: 7/10