FOR Hull City, Premier League survival is all but secured. For goalscorer George Boyd came redemption after a couple of weeks that he admits were “horrible”.
The 28-year-old netted the only goal of a scrappy game against Swansea City to take the Tigers to the 10-win target that manager Steve Bruce set his side before a ball had been kicked this season.
Nine points – or effectively 10, when goal differences are taken into account – separate Hull from third-bottom Fulham and with just five games remaining that means the East Riding will surely be staging top-flight football again come August.
Boyd, making a rare start in the Premier League, had more reason than most to sport a smile as wide as the Humber as the final whistle blew on Saturday after banishing the memory of an episode that still upsets him.
Namely, the allegation that he spat at Joe Hart during last month’s 2-0 home defeat to Manchester City. Boyd remains adamant that he did nothing of the sort and that what happened was a small blob of phlegm came out when he called the England goalkeeper a ‘p****’ during an altercation between the pair.
No wonder, therefore, that he enjoyed heading the winner on his return from a three-game ban.
He said: “It has been a horrible couple of weeks but, hopefully, it is put to bed. Everyone close to me knows I didn’t do it and, hopefully, we can move on.
“I still feel hard done by. You don’t want to be labelled like that. It is one of the worst things you can be labelled. We all know I didn’t do it.
“I didn’t even know about it (the spitting allegations) until afterwards. I did all the interviews with the press immediately after the game and no-one had even said anything to me. So, it was a surprise.
“I have seen the footage and it looks bad because they slowed it down so much. But I didn’t do it. We had great evidence to put to the FA but they made their decision and we move on.
“The big thing is we beat Swansea, especially with them starting the day on the same points as us.
“I just can’t see the teams below us winning three or four games out of their last five especially with the fixtures some of them have got. We hope that is enough but we will go out in the last five games and try get some more points.”
Boyd’s moment of redemption came six minutes before the interval. A deep cross from Liam Rosenior on the right flank created an opening that Boyd seized by leaping above the static Angel Rangel and powering a downward header beyond Michel Vorm.
On the balance of play in the first half, it was a deserved breakthrough. Hull had only been denied an earlier goal by a stunning save from Vorm, the Dutch international displaying amazing reflexes to keep out a bullet header from Shane Long.
The chance had come via an enticing cross from Maynor Figueroa and the Honduran caused a similar level of panic just before Boyd’s opener with a wicked delivery that Ashley Williams did brilliantly to turn behind as Nikica Jelavic waited to pounce.
With Vorm also having to save smartly from a 20-yard effort from Boyd, the Tigers were full value for that half-time lead even though Swansea did waste a gilt-edged chance when Jonathan De Guzman was played clear only to dither and allow Figueroa to get back and block his shot.
Garry Monk’s response to his side being outplayed in the opening 45 minutes was to bring Nathan Dyer off the bench and take the game to the hosts.
In terms of ensuring Swansea dominated possession, it worked a treat. In terms of rescuing a precious point, however, the switch fell short as Hull, despite conceding territory and making needless errors in the second half, saw the game out comfortably.
Steve Harper had just a couple of long-range efforts to deal with and that was down to the tremendous desire of the back four to keep the Swans at bay.
Curtis Davies again led by example with a towering display that saw the Hull captain repel attack after attack just as the visitors looked ready to test Harper.
Manager Bruce, who expects Tom Huddlestone to be fit for Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final despite missing the Swansea win with a back strain, said: “This win represents a huge step forward because we have had a difficult couple of games away from home where we have probably played better than we did against Swansea but lost. We got the all-important first goal this time and the resilience of them again to see it through was pretty evident again.
“Curtis has had a fantastic season. He has been like that, week in and week out. As a fellow central defender, you can only marvel at what he does.”
As for whether Hull can consider themselves to have banished the threat of relegation, he added: “We can’t say we’re safe just yet. I would love to say we are but the simple statistics tell you we are not. Having said that, it would be a hell of a turnaround.
“I said if we got 10 wins this season, we would be unlucky to go down. But we have still got to see it through.”