A NEW YEAR and a new start on the road for Hull City.
After bringing the curtain down on 2015 with three straight defeats away from home, the Tigers kicked off a year that manager Steve Bruce fervently believes can take his men back to the Premier League with a much needed three-point return.
A first goal in English football from Adama Diomande settled a contest that had been dire for an hour before belatedly sparking into life.
In truth, the Norwegian striker knew little about the 90th-minute winner with the ball ricocheting into the net off his leg following a weak punch by Queens Park Rangers’ goalkeeper Robert Green.
This, though, mattered little to either Hull or the 976 fans who had trekked down to the capital hoping to see a damaging run that had brought defeats at Leeds United, Rotherham United and Preston North End come to an end.
The visitors from East Yorkshire got their wish, in the process cranking up the pressure on Middlesbrough and Derby County ahead of the top two meeting at the Riverside today.
Bruce said: “Even though it wasn’t a classic, we showed a bit of what you need in this division.
“We displayed a bit of resilience and rolled our sleeves up.
“A few things had been said after the last three games as we had let ourselves down. But we dug deep, especially after they equalised and we went straight up the other end and scored.”
Considering these two clubs had been in the Premier League last season, Sky Sports could have been forgiven for bringing the game forward to New Year’s Day in the hope that a classic could be in the offing for the viewers at home.
For the first hour, however, this belief proved misplaced as both teams stumbled their way through proceedings to such an extent that the first effort on target in the match was Abel Hernandez’s opener.
This 61st-minute strike was, though, well worth waiting for.
David Meyler started the move with a fierce challenge in his own half to claim possession before moving the ball to Mohamed Diame.
He quickly moved up through the gears, with many Rangers players caught upfield, before waiting until the optimum moment to chip a pass beyond two retreating defenders.
Hernandez then did the rest with a sweet volley from 18 yards that crept between Green’s outstretched right hand and a post.
The Uruguayan’s 11th goal of the season was made to appear all the more impressive by the poor fare that had gone before, with neither side possessing the wit or invention to lift the game out of the doldrums on a bitterly cold afternoon.
Even when a genuine opening came along – often via a mistake from the opposition, it has to be said – a poorly executed pass or wretched decision making would ensure any previous good work went to waste.
Never was this more apparent than in the 17th minute when Jake Livermore contrived to pass straight to Sebastian Polter not once but twice deep in Hull territory.
On each occasion, the Rangers man looked certain to at least warm the hands of Allan McGregor but, instead, hesitated sufficiently to allow, first, Curtis Davies and then Harry Maguire to avert the danger with a block.
Watching from the home dugout, the second of those misses was met by the sort of withering look that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink reserved for a team-mate who failed to pass to the striker when in his pomp at Leeds United and Chelsea.
With good cause, too, as the new Rangers manager knew his side could not afford to be so profligate due to how hard it was proving to create chances.
Certainly, Rangers had to wait a long time for an opportunity anywhere near as good as those spurned by Polter in quick succession.
Paul Konchesky did fire into the side-netting once Hull had gone ahead, while in the first half Matt Phillips’s corner had caused sufficient panic in the visitors’ backline that Alejandro Faurlin was presented with a chance he could not take.
But it was not until just four minutes remained that QPR opened up the Hull backline sufficiently and this time Polter made no mistake with a bullet header that gave McGregor no chance.
It looked set to spell more away frustration for the Tigers only for a strong run down the left and a cross from Clucas to create one last opening.
Green came to punch but could only parry the ball on to Diomande, who joined Hull in a £1.7m deal in the last window only to then undergo groin surgery, and the ball trickled into the empty net to settle the contest.
Bruce was the first to admit afterwards that there was an element of good fortune about the winner.
On the balance of the few chances created, however, the result was probably just about right with the visitors following Hernandez’s opener with another sweeping move that ended with Diame firing narrowly wide.
Then, as a pinpoint delivery from Robert Snodgrass from a free-kick caused all manner of problems, Hall was fortunate to divert the ball behind at full stretch with a cluster of Hull players waiting to apply the final touch.
All is well that ends well then for Hull and Bruce, who thanks to Diomande’s strike was given a belated 55th birthday present after the former Manchester United defender celebrated his landmark date on New Year’s Eve.
Queens Park Rangers: Green; Onuoha, Hall, Angella, Konchesky; Henry (Fer 71), Faurlin; Phillips, Hoilett (Mackie 78), Chery (Luongo 86); Polter. Unused substitutes: Smithies, Tozser, Diakite, Petrasso.
Hull City: McGregor; Odubajo, Maguire, Davies, Robertson; Elmohamady (Snodgrass 65), Livermore, Meyler, Clucas; Diame (Diomande 86), Hernandez (Huddlestone 81). Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Taylor, Maloney, Aluko, Diomande.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).