HULL CITY’s European dream is over after a dramatic night that had everything but a happy ending for Steve Bruce’s men.
A second-half strike by Jordan Remacle, sandwiched in between two goals from Robbie Brady, proved enough to send Belgian Cup holders KSC Lokeren through to the Europa League group stages on away goals, the tie finishing 2-2 on aggregate.
Lokeren’s passage by the slimmest of margins brought to an end any hopes of the Tigers joining such European luminaries as Inter Milan, Celtic and Sevilla in today’s draw.
Hull’s frustration at missing out on the chance was only added to at the final whistle by knowing they only had themselves to blame.
As had been the case in the first leg a week earlier, Hull were a pale imitation of the side that has done so well since winning promotion to the Premier League.
Yannick Sagbo’s controversial dismissal 18 minutes from time did not help. But even before that killer blow, Bruce’s men had been strangely off colour with their attacking play lacking sufficient tempo to put any concerted pressure on the visitors.
It meant that come the final whistle, the only voices that could be heard were the 1,382 fans who had followed their side from Belgium to the East Riding.
They had earlier ensured the night began in cordial fashion by unfurling a banner ahead of kick-off that read ‘No to Hull Tigers’.
Hull supporters clearly appreciated the gesture, a spontaneous round of applause breaking out on all four sides of the KC Stadium.
The generosity of the visitors continued once the game was under way, Lokeren’s goalkeeper Jerry Verhulst taking just six minutes to get in a tangle with his defence to allow a left-wing cross from Maynor Figueroa to fizz across the six-yard box.
Brady, standing all alone after dashing into the box just seconds on from starting the move that culminated in Figueroa’s cross, could not miss and walked the ball over the line.
It was the perfect start for Hull, though one on which they were ultimately unable to build.
Instead, Lokeren looked the more able side for the rest of what was a largely tepid opening half.
Perhaps the best of those few first-half chances created by the Belgian Cup winners came on 16 minutes when a deep cross from Alexander Scholz found Hans Vanaken unmarked 10 yards from goal.
Clearly buoyed by scoring the only goal of the first leg a week earlier, the midfielder attempted a first-time volley that Curtis Davies did well to block with his knee.
Hull’s goal came under threat again nine minutes later, and Davies threw himself at a whipped-in cross by Koen Persoons from the left flank.
Much to the relief of the locals in the 18,149 crowd, the Tigers’ captain was unable to make any contact for had he got the merest of deflections then chances are the ball would have flown past the wrong-footed Allan McGregor.
That let-off briefly sparked Hull into life as David Meyler brought a flying save from Verhulst to suggest Bruce’s men were ready to pile on the pressure in the second half.
Four minutes after the restart, however, Hull’s hopes of qualifying took an ultimately fatal hit when Lokeren snatched the all-important away goal.
A corner that was only partially cleared by Hull created the opening and Nill Depauw squared to Remacle, who thundered a shot into the roof of the net from 18 yards.
The Tigers did snatch a lifeline within five minutes, as Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross from the right flank was blocked by the hand of Persoons.
Referee Ovidiua Hategan, on the advice of his linesman, pointed to the spot and, after a short delay as Lokeren protested vehemently, Brady stepped up to coolly send Verhulst the wrong way.
Lokeren’s Peter Maes was so incensed by the decision that his subsequent protests led to Hategan ordering him from the dugout.
It meant the Belgian club’s manager was not pitchside to see Hategan again court controversy when ruling out a ‘goal’ from Scholz for a foul by Persoons.
Eighteen minutes from time, it was the turn of the home players to be irate with the Romanian official after he showed a straight red card to Sagbo following a 50:50 challenge on Giorgos Galitisios.
After that, Lokeren largely controlled proceedings with Hull fashioning just one chance of note right at the climax.
It came as a goalmouth scramble ended with the ball squirming towards Tom Huddlestone, who hit a first-time shot that Scholz blocked on the line.
As Hull appealed in vain for another penalty, Hategan waved play on and seconds later the dream of an extended European run was over as the final whistle blew.
Hull City: McGregor; Rosenior (Jelavic 66), Chester (Ince 75), Davies, Figueroa; Elmohamady, Meyler (Huddlestone 75), Livermore, Brady; Aluko, Sagbo. Unused substitutes: Harper, Bruce,, Maguire, Boyd.
KSC Lokeren: Verhulst; Galitsios, Scholz, Maric, Odoi; Remacle (Ngolok 88), Overmeire, Persoons, Vanaken, De Pauw (Mertens 89); Dutra (Leye 76) Unused substitutes: Boubacar, Ricciardi, Kaya, Abdrahimi.
Referee: O Hategan (Romania).
Hull were last night closing in on completing the signing of Palermo’s Uruguayan international striker Abel Hernandez in a potential club record £10m deal after agreeing terms with both club and player.