THE clenched fist salute of celebration may have been understated, as indeed was the quick embrace with Robbie Brady that followed the final whistle.
But there was no mistaking the sense of satisfaction felt by manager Nick Barmby after watching Hull City end a five-game losing streak with a thrilling comeback win against Middlesbrough.
As Beautiful Day by U2 boomed out of the PA system at the KC Stadium, the Tigers manager’s mood was lifted further by news from elsewhere in the Championship as the electronic scoreboard revealed that both Blackpool and Cardiff had dropped points at home.
It means that if Brighton fail to beat Reading tonight then Hull will travel to Watford this weekend trailing the top six by four points, a significant deficit to make up in four games but one that is far from impossible.
Asked about his side’s hopes of gatecrashing the play-offs, Barmby said: “All season, no one has been saying we will do this or that. We just keep going and make sure the performance against Middlesbrough was not a one-off.
“We will then see where that takes us. I am just happy to have won the game. I thought we did well in the first 20 minutes and were then the better team in the second half.
“We deserved to win the game and I thought Josh King had a good game. You need people to go and make things happen and Josh certainly did that.”
Barmby’s post-match words of praise for King were understandable with the Manchester United loanee having been Hull’s outstanding performer.
In the first half, the Norwegian went closest to scoring for the hosts with a strong run and quick finish that brought a fine save from Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele.
But it was after the interval that King really came into his own by first cancelling out Marvin Emnes’s 13th-minute opener and then providing the deft throughball that allowed Matty Fryatt to snatch all three points at the finish.
King’s first goal in a Tigers shirt was an impressive affair, the loanee initially showing great anticipation to intercept a loose pass from Nicky Bailey before outpacing the defence and firing an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net.
That set up a frantic final half-hour that saw Hull gradually tighten their grip on the game as Fryatt saw a shot blocked by Seb Hines and Steele denied Richard Garcia.
Hull also had a very strong appeal for a penalty turned down by referee Andy Woolmer when Hines appeared to trip Fryatt after skipping past the Boro defender.
Barmby admitted: “If we hadn’t won the game, I would have got myself in trouble by what I had to say about the referee. It was an unbelievable decision not to give the penalty.”
The moment that saved the Hull manager a probable FA charge came two minutes from time when King slipped a deft pass to Fryatt, who showed tremendous strength to hold off Justin Hoyte and roll a shot past Steele.
It capped a fine comeback from the Tigers, who had spent the first half trying – and invariably failing – to catch Boro offside, a ploy that led to not only Emnes putting the visitors ahead but Vito Mannone having to be on constant alert in the home goal.
On each occasion that a Boro player was able to latch onto the ball behind the defence, the Hull back four had been quick to look accusingly across to the linesman.
What they were conveniently choosing to ignore, however, was their own slapdash attempts at holding a defensive line with two players often stepping up in tandem as the others looked on.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was that only Emnes was able to capitalise, his clever run to latch onto Barry Robson’s through-ball being followed by a fierce shot past Mannone.
Hull should have been punished further on 25 minutes when Boro again sprang the offside trap only for Scott McDonald to delay his shot long enough for the home side to get back and avert the danger.
James Chester was the man to make the blocking tackle but just three minutes later it was clear the static Hull backline had not learned their lesson as Emnes again raced onto a through-ball before bringing a fine save from Mannone.
Barmby, to his credit, acted decisively at half-time and the result was a much better display in the second half to ensure Hull not only avoided slipping to a sixth straight loss in the league for the first time since February 1989 but also had Boro boss Tony Mowbray wondering where it had all gone so wrong.
Mowbray said: “It was a result I couldn’t see coming on 45 minutes. We are two points out of the play-offs and everything is still to play for. We have four games to go and we will probably have to win three of them.”
Hull City: Mannone; Garcia, Cooper, Chester, Dawson; Evans, Cairney; King, Koren (Olofinjana 89), Brady (Stewart 78); Fryatt. Unused substitutes: Gulacsi, East, Cullen.
Middlesbrough: Steele; McMahon, Hines, McManus, Hoyte; Bailey, Arca (Ogbeche 74), Smallwood; Robson (Martin 87), McDonald, Emnes (Hammill 74). Unused substitutes:Thomson, Jutkiewicz.
Referee: A Woolmer (Northamptonshire).