AS anniversary parties go, the
KC Stadium’s 10th birthday bash was more a quiet gathering of family and friends than the kind of raucous, joyous occasion that party-goers will remember for years to come.
A muted atmosphere and a one-sided contest in which visitors Huddersfield Town failed to test Hull goalkeeper David Stockdale with so much as one on-target effort saw to that.
What the Tigers did do, however, by extending the Terriers’ winless run to six games was offer further proof that Hull’s sporting mecca could, come the end of the season, be hosting the mother and father of all celebrations.
Certainly, Steve Bruce’s men are displaying all the signs of having what it takes to emerge from what is shaping up to be another crazy Championship campaign with one of the two prized automatic promotion slots in their grasp.
Against Huddersfield, the Tigers were rarely troubled in their quest to make it nine points from three outings in December with the midfield battle being won in the early stages.
Robert Koren put the hosts in front early on and while it took until stoppage time for David Meyler to finally finish off Town, the truth was the Tigers always looked capable of stepping up a gear if required.
For Tom Cairney, Hull taking their points tally to an impressive 41 from 22 games represented a dream return to action after the best part of four months out with knee ligament damage.
The midfielder is in little doubt that the squad Bruce has put together since succeeding Nick Barmby in the summer means the Tigers can prevail in the heat of a Championship promotion battle.
“I definitely think that this team has got the most ability I have ever played in,” said 21-year-old Cairney, who made 11 Premier League appearances in his debut season alongside players of the calibre of Geovanni, Stephen Hunt and Jimmy Bullard.
“Collectively, we play as a team. I know in the past we have had players like Geovanni who could come up with individual quality. But, as a team, the way we move the ball is excellent.
“We are all singing off the same hymn sheet. There is a belief in the dressing room that wasn’t there last season or the season before.
“We feel like we can go out, win games and score goals. We are much more of a threat going forward, while we can still keep the clean sheets as well.
“Being out injured, I have watched us from the stand and some of the football has been brilliant to watch. The Millwall game at home (when Hull were 4-0 up at half-time) was so good it inspired me to get back fit as quickly as I could.
“With the squad we have got, we have definitely got a good chance of doing something this year. I don’t see why we shouldn’t be aiming for the top two.”
As the KC celebrated its 10th birthday – the opening night took place on December 18, 2002, when Sunderland were the opponents in a friendly – Hull enjoyed a fine start by going in front inside eight minutes.
Stephen Quinn was the creator with a wonderful turn to leave Peter Clarke trailing in his wake before a drilled cross allowed Koren to slide in and score from close range.
Huddersfield had opted for a 3-5-2 formation to match the home side, but it did little good in a first half that was firmly controlled by the home team.
A second goal could have followed with central defender Jack Hobbs heading wide despite being unmarked and goalkeeper Alex Smithies having to get down smartly to turn away a shot from Koren.
Town managed just once decent effort in the opening 45 minutes when an acrobatic overhead kick by Lee Novak looped just wide.
Simon Grayson’s response was to switch to 4-3-3 and the upshot was Huddersfield enjoyed much more possession after the restart.
However, Joel Lynch’s header that flew over and a couple of decent set-piece deliveries from Oliver Norwood apart, Hull were again rarely troubled until two minutes from time when Alan Lee slipped at the vital moment when trying to latch on to a knock-down.
With that fluffed opportunity went any hopes of a Town fightback as the win was sealed deep into stoppage time with Meyler tapping in from close range following neat work by Jay Simpson, Clarke again the unfortunate defender to be left for dead.
That appeared to be that, only for the final whistle to spark an ugly melee as Alex Bruce pushed Lee to the floor to earn a red card from Howard Webb and ensure an otherwise satisfying 10th birthday for the KC ended in an unsavoury manner.
The defeat left Huddersfield still searching for their first win at a stadium that also houses Hull FC and Jack Hunt was in no mood to offer excuses as the West Yorkshire club slipped to 17th in the table.
Town full-back Hunt said: “I am going to be honest here and say that if Hull had wanted to turn it on a bit more then the score could have been 5-0 or 6-0.
“I am gutted to have to say that, but they had a lot of chances and also hit the crossbar.
“Another game has gone by and we have massive regrets. We just didn’t turn up and made it too easy for Hull.
“We have proved already this season that we can beat anyone but against Hull there was a big difference between the two teams.
“Our ball retention was poor and we defended the goals poorly. I can’t remember us having a shot on target, which is not acceptable.”