Hull City manager Steve Bruce is hoping to sign a proven goalscorer before the end of the transfer window, and the likes of Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes and Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck might be that bit more interested in moving to East Yorkshire after the Tigers almost made it two wins out of two, despite playing most of this game with 10 men.
That Stoke took until six minutes before time to scramble a fortunate equaliser was a triumph for Bruce, who organised his side superbly after James Chester’s 13th-minute dismissal.
It was also something of a disaster for Stoke manager Mark Hughes, who moments after taking off one of his holding midfielders for a second striker saw Tom Huddlestone advance into the resulting hole and Nikica Jelavic turn in the loose ball after Huddlestone’s shot was saved by Stoke goalkeeper Asmir Begovic.
Bruce was understandably livid after Stoke’s late leveller resulted from a throw-in that should have been awarded to Hull. The subsequent cross fell kindly for Phil Bardsley, and the full-back’s mis-hit volley came back off a post before being turned over the line by captain Ryan Shawcross.
“When you see how blatant [the throw-in] is I just can’t understand how the officials can’t get it right,” said Bruce. “The whole of the crowd knew it was our throw-in, their player even ran away. And the consequence was we weren’t set up the way we would have been, because we all thought it was our throw.”
Having made nine changes for Thursday’s trip to Lokeren in the Europa League, Bruce reverted to much of the line-up which beat Queen’s Park Rangers on the Premier League’s opening day, with Stephen Quinn replacing Robert Snodgrass in midfield and Paul McShane coming in for his son, Alex, in central defence.
Hughes left £3m forward signing from Barcelona Bojan Krcic on the bench, bringing in Peter Odemwingie in his place, while Steve Sidwell replaced Stephen Ireland in midfield.
Discipline, then, appeared to be the key for the Potters, but the pattern of the game was changed early on. With Chester in possession 10 yards in front of his own penalty area, there appeared little danger for Hull, but Glenn Whelan had spotted Jake Livermore was the outlet ball, and his pressing forced Livermore to return the ball immediately to Chester.
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Livermore scuffed the pass and Whelan, continuing his run, got to the ball before Chester, pushing it wide of the lunging defender and being brought down in the process. With nobody between Whelan and Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor, it was no surprise when referee Jon Moss produced the red card for denying a goalscoring opportunity.
Under Bruce, however, Hull are as accustomed to playing 4-4-2 as 3-5-2, and McShane slotted in alongside Curtis Davies, with wing backs Andrew Robertson and Ahmed Elmohamady dropping to full-back. With Tom Ince moving to right midfield, Jelavic was left playing a lone role up front and for 30 minutes barely touched the ball as Stoke sought to make the most of their numerical advantage.
Their failure to create an opening was marked, and half-time was approaching when Hughes decided to take off Whelan, whom he said had a foot problem, and put on Krkic.
Remarkably, it was Hull who went in ahead. Huddlestone was given too much space to advance and his left-footed drive forced Begovic to dive to save. The Stoke goalkeeper got a hand to the ball, and though it was firm enough to divert the ball beyond the far post, Jelavic sprinted in to turn it back into the empty net.
The goal gave Hull huge heart for the second half, as did the save by McGregor from Shawcross shortly after the break, the goalkeeper doing superbly to hold the Stoke skipper’s sharp low shot from a quickly taken free-kick.
Hughes sent on Peter Crouch as the focal point of his attack, with Charlie Adam adding an element of creativity, and after Mame Diouf had headed wide, McGregor touched over Adam’s 25-yard drive.
Hull were looking comfortable when Stoke had what even Hughes acknowledged was their stroke of luck.
He said: “They played really well and will be disappointed. We needed to show a bit of quality and guile and use our intelligence, and we didn’t do that to a great extent.
“At the moment we’re not where we were at the end of last season, I’d hoped we’d be up to speed by now.”
Bruce confirmed a deal “in principle” had been agreed to sign Tottenham defender Michael Dawson, but that after two offers had been rejected, he was no nearer adding Rhodes to his squad.
“I thought I had him 24 hours ago, but it seems further away than it’s ever been,” he said.