Big-match verdict: Hull City’s flawed defence again proves costly

Hull City  manager Leonid Slutsky (Picture: Tony Johnson).
Hull City manager Leonid Slutsky (Picture: Tony Johnson).
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A CHILL is running through Hull City right now, something that normally would not be a problem for someone brought up in a city from the old Soviet Union where temperatures can plunge to minus 10 and below in the depths of winter.

For Volgograd-born Hull manager Leonid Slutsky, however, last night was a further illustration of how the Russian is taking time to acclimatise to English football.

Callum Robinson’s winner for Preston North End may have come late, just two minutes remained when he finished from close range to settle what had been an entertaining contest.

But, on the balance of play and chances created, the Lancashire side were full value for the points with only Allan McGregor’s agility and reflexes ensuring the winning margin was not more emphatic.

Hull had good opportunities of their own with Michael Hector somehow heading over when unmarked just a few yards out. Kamil Grosicki also fired against the crossbar in the wake of Jarrod Bowen cancelling out Thomas Barkhuizen’s first-half opener.

But this was another game where the big grumble at the final whistle was just how poor Hull had been at the back.

Once again, individual errors abounded and there has to be a worry that without an improvement soon Hull could be dragged into trouble.

The fans remain with Slutsky, his reception from the North Stand before kick-off being typically warm. This goodwill, though, could soon evaporate quicker than the Russian snow in Spring time if he does not quickly get a grip of the shortcomings that are undermining some enterprising attacking play.

Not since the 1965-66 season that ended with the Third Division championship residing at Boothferry Park have the club’s opening 10 games of a season yielded as many goals as the 34 that this term has brought.

But, as enthralling as this can be there is no credit in being just three points clear of the drop zone as Hull are right now.

Matters have to improve and fast, starting with Birmingham City’s visit on Saturday as if the winless run extends to six games then the international break is going to be a miserable affair.

Preston’s opener came in the wake of two free-kicks being awarded to Alex Neil’s men in quick succession, which left Michael Dawson so angry that his protests led to the Hull captain being shown a yellow card.

Whether this unsettled the Tigers is a moot point, but their defence was all over the place as the ball was subsequently worked down the line to Barkhuizen from the free-kick. Ola Aina was then beaten far too easily, allowing the winger to look up and float a cross that Paul Huntington met with a firm header. Allan McGregor proved to be the equal of the former Leeds United defender with a fine one-handed save only for the ball to rebound to Barkhuizen, who fired in from an acute angle.

Hull were fuming, and both McGregor and Fraizer Campbell followed their captain in being shown a yellow card.

It took until the interval for the hosts to calm down, but the perfect riposte came five minutes after the restart. A free-kick from Kamil Grosicki was headed back across goal by Campbell for Bowen to touch in from close range.

Suddenly, the 15,443 crowd had a contest to savour as play raged from one end to the other. For Hull, Campbell created a promising opening for himself with a chest down only to be impeded by team-mate Larsson’s determination to have a shot on goal.

Grosicki then fired against the crossbar from 20 yards after David Meyler’s initial shot had been blocked. Moments later, Hector headed wastefully over from four yards out when picked out unmarked by Grosicki’s free-kick.

As impressive as the hosts were going forward, it was a different story at the back as Sean Maguire saw his shot beaten away by McGregor just moments after the Hull goalkeeper had denied Huntington.

Barkhuizen also wasted a good opening when he tried to find Maguire when a shot was surely the better option.

It was a let-off for Hull, but one they failed to heed as, with just two minutes remaining, poor play by Jackson Irvine saw possession squandered.

A poor attempt at a challenge by Hector then compounded Hector’s mistake, Daryl Horgan the beneficiary as the substitute was allowed to race down the right flank.

He drilled a low cross for Robinson to convert from close range and deepen a gloom that, without a win or two in the coming weeks, threatens to envelop both the Tigers and their manager as winter closes in.

Hull City: McGregor; Tomori (Grosicki 46), Dawson, Hector; Aina, Meyler, Irvine, Kingsley (Clark 25); Bowen, Campbell (Dicko 85), Larsson. Unused substitutes: Mannion, Mazuch, Toral, Henriksen.

Preston North End: Maxwell; Fisher, Huntington, Davies, Earl; Welsh (Robinson 65), Browne; Maguire, Johnson, Barkhuizen (Horgan 78); Hugill (Harrop 65). Unused substitutes: Hudson, Woods, Spurr, Mavididi.

Referee: J Linington (Isle of Wight).