NIKICA JELAVIC netted twice to fire Hull City to a potentially vital victory over struggling Cardiff City.
The Croat struck either side of half-time to ensure Tom Huddlestone’s opener did not go to waste in south Wales. Jake Livermore then added a fourth to make it an afternoon to treasure for the Tigers, who before today had never scored four goals on their travels in the Premier League.
In playing his part in seeing off the Bluebirds, Jelavic took his tally of goals for Hull to three - incredibly, considering it is March next week, making him the club’s joint top scorer in the Premier League with Robbie Brady.
More importantly, it stretched Hull’s advantage over the bottom three to six points - a decent cushion with 11 games remaining.
The manner of the win also means the Tigers will go into Monday’s FA Cup fifth round replay against Brighton & Hove Albion on a high.
Cardiff had started the brighter of the two sides and Allan McGregor had to twice rescue the visitors after incisive play had opened up their defence.
First, the Scot managed to get a hand on a Wilfred Zaha shot after the Manchester United loanee had made easy work of getting past Jake Livermore, Alex Bruce and Curtis Davies to create the opening.
Then, as Hull were again cut open, McGregor brilliantly turned away a Kenwyne Jones shot before Bruce swept up to put the ball behind for a corner.
The value of McGregor’s two saves became clear on 18 minutes when City went ahead. A misplaced Cardiff pass gifted possession to Nikica Jelavic, who exchanged passes with Shane Long before bringing a stunning save from David Marshall.
Livermore was then the quickest to react as he rolled a pass to Huddlestone and his shot took a wicked deflection to nestle in the bottom corner of the net.
The goal was very much against the run of play and Cardiff continued to threaten for the rest of the first half.
Vital blocks by Bruce and Davies were needed around the half-hour mark to keep out Cardiff, who were also frustrated to see David Meyler whip the ball off Don Cowie’s toe as he shaped to shoot.
City had another let-off when Fraizer Campbell headed a simple chance after being picked out by Fabio.
Magnus Wolff Eikrem then wasted a gilt-edged chance to equalise by scuffing his shot.
Just before the break, Hull once again made Cardiff pay for their profligacy with another incisive attack that saw Jelavic and Long exchange passes before the Croat drilled a low shot past Marshall in the home goal.
Jelavic put the game beyond Cardiff 12 minutes into the second half with a deft header after being picked out by Liam Rosenior.
Livermore then added a fourth after a lapse in concentrate by Andrew Taylor gifted possession to Ahmed Elmohamady, who raced clear before squaring to the Tottenham loanee.