Ninety one minutes had passed when Mallik Wilks’s goal secured Hull’s first Championship win since New Year’s Day to offer Grant McCann’s side a hitherto unexpected lifeline.
Although Hull remain in acute peril, they succeeded in leap-frogging Neil Warnock’s Middlesbrough to rise to 19th at the end of an evening that emphasised precisely how far and how fast these clubs have fallen.
For prolonged periods it was hard to comprehend that, only three years ago, these were Premier League rivals. While Middlesbrough responded to relegation in 2017, by appointing Garry Monk, permitting him to spend £66m and then sacking him within months, Hull sold their best players.
Fast forward to January this year and the departures of Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki have hit Grant McCann’s side hard; it is perhaps no coincidence that Hull kicked off without a league win since the turn of the year.
While McCann has kept his job, Warnock replaced Jonathan Woodgate last week before immediately presiding over a victory at Stoke in his first game. Suitably spurred, the 71-year-old’s new players started very much on the front foot in East Yorkshire, taking the lead after only three minutes.
That opening goal arrived from the penalty spot with Britt Assombalonga directing his kick into the top corner after Jordy de Wijs had fouled Hayden Coulson as they competed to collect the rebound following George Long’s spillage of a shot from distance from Marvin Johnson.
Although Middlesbrough looked the stronger side, with Manchester City loanee Patrick Roberts simultaneously catching the eye and wrong-footing McCann’s defence, Hull swiftly levelled.
When Wilks cleverly drew a foul on the edge of the area, Liverpool loanee, Herbie Kane stepped forward to curl the resultant free-kick beyond Dejan Stojanovic from the edge of the area.
If McCann could breathe a little easier Hull’s manager must have felt fortune was frowning when, shortly afterwards, injury forced Kane’s replacement by George Honeyman. The horizon darkened further as Callum Elder was, to the left back’s considerable chagrin, subsequently withdrawn with a head injury.
Although Elder was keen to soldier on, Hull’s medical staff refused to let him continue, with the home side moving Kevin Stewart from the bench to central midfield, Leonardo Da Silva dropping to full back and Roberts sensing opportunity.
By then though a scrappy, edgy, stop-start game was fast becoming less than conducive for flair players.
For a while Middlesbrough’s play lost its early intensity and the attendant fall in tempo seemed to suit Hull. Although the Teessiders improved in the second half, their consistently poor final balls left Warnock an increasingly frustrated technical area presence as Roberts, still convalescing from hamstring trouble, faded.
Roberts’s replacement, Marcus Tavernier, soon had the ball in the back of the net but that effort was disallowed for a rather soft foul on Da Silva in the preamble.
Wilks had no such problems after meeting De Wijs’s cushioned header to lash home from close range after a partially cleared free kick was pumped back into the box.
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