APPROACHING the first anniversary of former manager Nigel Pearson’s exit from East Yorkshire, it is safe to say Hull City fans are feeling pretty happy with their lot.
With the fifth-placed Tigers on their best sequence of results this season – Saturday’s derby victory being their fourth in the past five Championship matches – current manager Steve Bruce is increasingly well positioned to finish off the job Pearson started.
Maybe, just maybe, a few Sunderland supporters who danced on Bruce’s managerial grave when he left late last year are starting to realise that he did not do too bad a job on Wearside after all.
While the narrow win over the Reds lacked the swagger of some early-season victories at the KC and was not as easy on the eye as last weekend’s televised success at Bristol City, it was deserved all the same.
It provided a sound start to what Bruce has labelled a manic November, which this week sees the Tigers host Wolves before travelling to leaders Cardiff City on Saturday.
It was a Bruce ‘project’ in summer recruit Sone Aluko, whom he first worked with when he was a young prospect at Birmingham, who proved the match-winner with a crisp early strike to crown a lively performance.
The City chief is confident there is plenty more to come from him.
Bruce said: “The kid is a good player. I had the delight of working with him at 16 and we always knew he had the talent.
“It took him a long time to develop and physically grow. But he is one of those who gets you off the edge of your seat and is a naturally gifted footballer who can go on and play at the highest level, I am sure of that.”
On the weekend triumph, he added: “The better team won. But we just needed that second goal. But how many times in football have you seen it where you do not get it and are a little bit anxious?”
Meanwhile, Bruce’s counterpart, Keith Hill, was left to rue another cheap concession from his Barnsley side, with Aluko’s opener somewhat gift-wrapped.
Annoyed that David Perkins did not go down and receive treatment in the build-up to the goal – with the midfield player going off just two minutes later with a hamstring injury – matters were compounded when a mistake from young defender John Stones presented the telling chance on a plate to Aluko, which ultimately proved pivotal.
Hill said: “The goal was self-inflicted. David was already injured and has got to go down, but does not.
“He was too honest; there has got to be a little bit of gamesmanship. He was already injured after chasing the player into the corner, which results in the corner kick.
“It was then a misplaced header from John, but I am going to play and play him until it is right to bring him out because he is only a young player. He has made a mistake but I am not going to beat him up.
“But we were beaten by a better side, especially in the first half, when we couldn’t match the opposition.
“To get to half-time at 1-0 gave us a glimmer of hope. And we did better in the second half with the ball, but we still had no cutting edge.”
Bruce called on his charges to be more clinical ahead of the game, but while City did not adhere to the advice, they were fortunate enough to come up against a side minus their top striker in Craig Davies and a player able to unlock defences in Jacob Mellis, who missed out due to a hip injury which is likely to keep him out of tomorrow’s game away to Derby County.
Hill’s answer was to field a side without a bonafide striker, something Vicente del Bosque did on occasions with the all-conquering Spanish national team in the summer. But that was where the similarities ended.
Handed an attacking brief to use their pace to stretch the City rearguard, midfield duo Matt Done and Kelvin Etuhu made minimal impact on the home defence.
That was evident especially in the first-half when goalkeeper Ben Amos was a bystander and he did not have a testing shot to save throughout.
After Aluko’s 16th-minute strike past the recalled Luke Steele, the two other dangerous moments of the half belonged to City, with Steele keeping out Robert Koren’s precision shot just after the half-hour mark before making a instinctive save to block a sharp header from the Slovenian.
On the restart, City had chances to finish off proceedings with a killer second, but Jay Simpson and Liam Rosenior wastefully fired over. At the other end, the clear-cut chance Barnsley craved did not arrive.
Tomasz Cywka did fire a low shot wide but they only undressed the City defence once, only for a fine saving tackle from the impressive Corry Evans – described as “game-saving” by Bruce – to deny substitute Chris Dagnall.
Simpson nearly sealed the encounter but his close-range effort was blocked by Steele, and Hull were allowed to play out the game with a degree of comfort.
On the victory, influential midfield man Evans said: “We had to dig in and grind out a result, but you have to do that in this league.At the end of the day, it’s three points and we need to claim as many points as we can to get up to that promotion mark. Every point counts.
“I actually think we should have won a few more games, such as Peterborough at home. But we are ticking along nicely and, hopefully by Christmas, we can kick on and go for a push up the league.”