Lokeren 1 Hull City 0: McGregor’s mistake leaves Tigers facing nervy home leg

Hull's David Meyler (left) and Lokeren's Alexander Scholz battle for the ball.
Hull's David Meyler (left) and Lokeren's Alexander Scholz battle for the ball.
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‘QUE sera sera, whatever will be will be, we’re going to Hull City, que sera sera.’

Rarely, if ever, has one of football’s favourite ditties been adapted in such a way to include a visit to the Tigers as its highlight.

But, since the draw for the Europa League qualifying play-off round paired Steve Bruce’s men with Lokeren, fans of the reigning Belgian Cup holders have apparently sung little else.

After last night, that is not going to change with a calamitous error by Allan McGregor handing the Belgian hosts a crucial first-leg advantage.

The one-goal advantage will leave the 1,500 Lokeren fans who have snapped up tickets for the KC Stadium return dreaming of a famous victory over Premier League opposition.

Certainly on the evidence of a first leg that was cagey for 45 minutes before bursting into life after the break, Lokeren will be no pushovers.

Peter Maes’s side are well organised, quick on the break and it seems that next Thursday’s tie could be a nervy affair to rival the previous round when it took until the final 10 minutes for Hull to see off Trencin.

McGregor will be hoping that Hull can overturn the deficit after such an uncharacteristic error led to Hans Vanaken being given the simple task of rolling the ball into an empty net.

It proved to be the defining moment of a disappointing night for Hull manager Bruce, who had made nine changes from the side that had beaten QPR in the Premier League last Satutrday.

And he will not have been impressed, with Hull, even allowing for the awful mistake that led to the only goal, being well below par.

The Hull boss had spent much of the day glued to his mobile phone while trying to make headway in the transfer market.

Jordan Rhodes was one of those under discussion and what Bruce would have given six minutes into last night’s game to already have the Blackburn Rovers striker on board after Yannick Sagbo wasted a gilt-edged opportunity to put the Tigers ahead.

Maynor Figueroa was the creator, the Honduran picking out Sagbo unmarked just six yards out with a delightful pass. With the goal gaping, however, the Ivory Coast frontman hesitated and then scuffed his shot so badly that Lokeren cleared.

Soon after, David Meyler and Robbie Brady had shots from distance that, while not exactly unduly troubling Davino Verhulst, did call on the home goalkeeper to make saves.

In terms of attacking threat, however, that was as good as it got for Hull until shortly before the interval when Meyler, collecting a neat pass from Brady, shot just wide from distance.

Hull’s inability to open up the home defence despite dominating possession in the opening 45 minutes was down to a combination of Sagbo not receiving enough support as lone frontman and Lockeren’s tendency to get 10 men behind the ball whenever it came into their half.

This led to play becoming bogged down in midfield and McGregor had little to do in those 45 minutes.

The Scot had to wait just three minutes of the second half to make his first telling contribution to the game, De Pauw hitting a shot so ferociously that it required a reflex save at full length to be turned behind.

McGregor was rightly patted on the back by several team-mates as he got to his feet. Nine minutes later, though, and the Hull players were only able to look on with bemusement as their team-mate gifted Lokeren the lead.

When Harry Maguire rolled a pass back to McGregor, there was no danger. But then the Scot inexplicably kicked the ball straight to Vanaken, who could not believe his luck.

McGregor tried to retrieve the situation, but the damage had been done as Vanaken rolled the ball into the net to send the home fans wild with delight.

The locals’ night almost took on dream-like proportions midway through the second half when McGregor had to save smartly from De Pauw seconds before Maric volleyed over from the resulting corner.

At last Hull stirred but despite Tom Ince and David Meyler drawing fine saves from Verhulst, Lokeren held on to claim a precious advantage.

Plenty, therefore, for Hull to do if they are to avoid becoming the first English club to fail to qualify for the Europa League group stages since Aston Villa crashed out at this stage five years ago.

KSC Lokeren: Verhulst; Galitsios, Scholz, Maric, Odoi; Remacle (Ngolok 77), Overmeire, Persoons, Vanaken, De Pauw (Abdurahmi 88); Dutra (Leye 83). Unused substitutes: Boubacar, Mertens, Henrique, Kaya,.

Hull City: McGregor; McShane, Chester, Maguire; Rosenior, Meyler, Boyd (Elmohamady 81), Brady (Ince 72), Figueroa; Aluko, Sagbo (Jelavic 72). Unused substitutes: Harper, Huddlestone, Livermore, Robertson.

Referee: Matej Jug (Slovenia).