Manchester City 2 Hull City 0: Tigers are quickly earning top-level respect

Manchester City's Jesus Navas and Hull City's Maynor Figueroa
Manchester City's Jesus Navas and Hull City's Maynor Figueroa
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For the first time in their Premier League lifetime, Hull City played a game at the Etihad Stadium that was not highlighted by an on-the-pitch team-talk.

In 2008, Phil Brown sat his players down on the very field after they had surrendered tamely to Manchester City to give them an excruciatingly public dressing down that sparked the beginning of the end for the manager.

Less than 12 months later, Jimmy Bullard parodied that embarrassing reading of the riot act when celebrating a goal in a 2-2 draw.

Saturday’s third encounter between the haves and have-nots of the Premier League passed without anything like the controversy, or comedy, of the past two meetings.

In fact, the only summations from the third weekend of the season are that Manchester City are a long way from clicking under Manuel Pellegrini, and Hull City are by no means the whipping boys that many expected they would be as they poked their heads above the Championship parapet for another shot at the big time.

If anything, Steve Bruce’s side look a much stronger proposition.

Their disappointment at full-time demonstrated just how close they came to ruffling a serious feather in the English game.

Such was the way Hull side acquitted themselves – compact and confident from the outset – that just as they began to start believing there might be more than a single point up for grabs from the sluggish title hopefuls, Manchester’s City wealth of talent finally released the shackles with two moments of clinical finishing.

The first was Alvaro Negredo’s header, sent powerfully down and across Allan McGregor on 65 minutes, and the second, a sumptuous free-kick from Yaya Toure, which added an unfair gloss to an otherwise clunky performance from Pellegrini’s men.

The first month has not been too kind to the Chilean, with one free-flowing performance followed by a defeat and this surprisingly difficult negotiating of a well-organised Tigers.

For Hull, the opening block of fixtures have brought genuine hope of survival. Achieving anything more than not getting eviscerated at Chelsea and Manchester City would have been a bonus.

That they managed to do so on both occasions, and then defeated Norwich with 10 men, says everything about how well they have started.

“We’ve won the one that we should have done, that’s the main thing,” said Curtis Davies, one of many summer signings by Bruce aimed at bringing Premier League experience to his promoted side.

“Overall, apart from the opening 30 minutes against Chelsea, I’ve been quite proud of the lads and quite happy with what we’ve done, particularly against Norwich.

“That gave us confidence for today. It was just that today we didn’t take the chances that would have put them on the back foot and given us something to defend.”

Those chances came early for Hull, and even though the opportunities of a clear-cut nature dried up in the second half, their play was still neat, tidy, and occasionally incisive.

The chance Sone Aluko missed on seven minutes was of the gilt-edged variety, created by the Nigerian international, who sold Joleon Lescott a dummy the England defender fell for far too easily, to open up a one-on-one situation on Joe Hart.

England’s No 1 goalkeeper has been under fire of late and had not started brightly by misjudging a long ball into the area but, on this occasion, he made himself ‘big’ as the slender Aluko bore down on goal and dragged his shot wide.

Moments later, Tom Huddlestone – who has brought the calmness and quality expected of a club record signing – played his part in sending Robbie Brady down the left wing. His cross was met by Danny Graham, who diverted it home with a smart finish, only for the goal to be correctly adjudged offside.

On the quarter-hour, Robert Koren flashed a half-volley inches wide of Hart’s left-hand post as Hull served further notice that they would not be overawed.

In the middle of this frenetic opening, McGregor twice had to be alert to keep out headers from Aleksandar Kolarov and Lescott.

Sensing the need to change as Hull’s 4-2-3-1 formation matched his own’s team structured platform, Pellegrini sent on Negredo – a target for Hull four years ago but now a £16m signing for Manchester City – for Edin Dzeko at half-time.

The Spaniard headed a glorious chance wide two minutes after coming on but then found the target with a flying header midway through the second half to ease growing anxiety.

Graham and the returning Stephen Quinn had half-chances to equalise but Hull never got as close as they had in the first half, much to the frustration of Bruce.

“It’s hard to take,” admitted Davies.

“From the first minute, we had a good foothold in the game and played some good football.

“Better finishing and some slightly better decisions and we could have been 2-0 up early.

“To come away from here disappointed shows the level we played to. But taking chances is key because the punishment factor in the Premier League is the biggest challenge.”

On how such a defiant start by the promoted Tigers will be viewed by the rest of the Premier League, Davies added: “It’s always the way when you come up from the Championship, people aren’t going to give you respect until you’ve been here for a couple of seasons.

“So we’re just going to keep calm and do what we do and, hopefully, we’ll get the results to take us up the table.

“The second we start believing in ourselves too much, though, that’s when it comes back to kick you up your backside.”