STEVE BRUCE last night reverted to the old guard at one of football’s oldest surviving cathedrals and was rewarded with a good old-fashioned, gutsy performance – and an end to Hull City’s run of defeats.
A sublime second-half strike by Sone Aluko, his first Premier League goal in 14 months, was enough to earn the Tigers a precious point and moved them out of the relegation zone at Burnley’s expense.
It was a deserved reward for a battling performance by a group of players that, with a couple of exceptions, could have been plucked straight from any one of last season’s starting XIs.
Hull manager Bruce, clearly smarting from four straight defeats and a string of poor performances, had opted to ditch the vast majority of his summer arrivals and opt for those who had served him so admirably in the past.
Rare starts were handed to David Meyler, Liam Rosenior and Stephen Quinn, while in Aluko the Tigers’ boss unleashed his trump card from the bench shortly after half-time.
The ploy worked a treat to ensure that Hull can now approach Saturday’s crunch clash at home to West Bromwich Albion with renewed vigour.
After the debacle that had been the Yorkshire club’s two most recent performances on the road in losing at Burnley and Manchester United, even a modicum of effort last night from those in amber and black would have represented an improvement.
In that respect, the Tigers could not be faulted even in a first half that largely belonged to the hosts as Bruce reverted to a four-man backline and pushed Mo Diame up front in support of Nikica Jelavic.
The changes did make Hull a much more compact unit, meaning Everton were made, at least initially, to work very hard for any openings that came their way.
Hull’s problem was that, as the first half wore on, those chances became more and more frequent as Roberto Martinez’s men gradually found their rhythm against the hard-working visitors.
Romelu Lukaku and Kevin Miralles were central to that growing influence, the understanding that the pair clearly possess meaning the longer the first half went on the more stretched the Hull defence became.
It was no coincidence that when Everton did open the scoring 11 minutes before the interval, Miralas and Lukaku were the two central figures.
First, a flicked header by Lukaku released his Belgian team-mate down the right. Michael Dawson moved across to cover only to be deceived by Mirallas’s pace as he darted to the by-line before squaring the ball for Lukaku to smash into the net.
It was the culmination of some impressive play by the pair, who had both brought saves from Allan McGregor earlier in the half.
Lukaku had tested the Scot first, his sharp turn and 25-yard shot resulting in the ball thudding into the goalkeeper’s midriff. Then, as Everton started to grow in confidence, Miralles curled a free-kick over the City wall only for McGregor to comfortably save.
Hull’s goalkeeper was again called into action just before the half-hour mark when he had to drop smartly on a delicate back-heel by Leon Osman.
Lukaku broke the deadlock five minutes later and Hull went close to falling further behind just before the interval when Muhamed Besic curled a 20-yard shot an inch or so wide, moments after Dawson had blocked an shot by Osman.
Thanks to Everton’s dominance growing the longer the first half went on, Hull’s forays forward proved few and far between in those opening 45 minutes.
After the break, however, it was a very different story with a shot from Diame – along with Dawson, the only new faces from last summer involved at Goodison – being deflected behind for a corner before the Senegal midfielder came agonisingly close to touching in Meyler’s inviting cross.
The equaliser came not long after that, a sublime piece of skill from Aluko wrong-footing Sylvain Distin before the Tigers striker drilled a low shot past Howard.
Buoyed to be level, Bruce’s men poured forward and Jelavic headed inches wide following a lovely piece of skill out wide from Aluko.
With the home fans growing ever more restless, Everton finally responded to the jeers of their own fans by upping their game.
However, no matter what they tried and how many times Lukaku dropped deep in an attempt to spark his team-mates into action, there was to be no way past Hull.
Even when a tired Meyler made a hash of an attempted clearance to present the ball to Leighton Baines and he found Lukaku, a swarm of striped shirts quickly descended on the striker to ensure Hull’s run of five straight defeats at Goodison in a run stretching back to 1953 was over.
Everton: Howard; Coleman, Distin, Jagielka, Baines; Besic (McGeady 80), Barry; Mirallas (Pienaar 64), Barkley, Osman; Lukaku. Unused substitutes: Robles, Hibbert, Eto’o, Atsu, Garbutt.
Hull City: McGregor; Elmohamady, Chester, Dawson, Rosenior; Meyler (Brady 86), Huddlestone, Livermore, Quinn (Robertson 89); Diame (Aluko 53); Jelavic. Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Bruce, Davies, Sagbo.
Referee: R Madley (West Yorkshire).
Results and tables: Page 22.