AMID all the Continental stars flooding the Premier League, English football still manages to unearth its own gems from the lower reaches.
Sheffield-born Leicester City and England striker Jamie Vardy is the most notable and there were another two on show at the KCom Stadium in Watford’s Bradford City product Tom Cleverley and the Tigers own Sam Clucas.
The Hull midfield player enjoyed double celebrations on Saturday and trusts the biggest knees-up is yet to come – the Tigers achieving Premier League survival.
Having watched home-town club Lincoln City cement a return to the Football League on television at lunchtime, Clucas struck what could be the most important and best goal of his career to leave Watford stunned and the 10-man Tigers still clear of third-bottom Swansea City.
He chested down the ball for a tremendous left-foot 25-yard volley that rocketed past a despairing Hornets goalkeeper Gomes, who went full length to his left without getting anywhere near the ball. The strike made it 2-0 in the 71st minute and was Clucas’s first in the top level at the KCom Stadium.
The £1.3m signing from Chesterfield had already netted at Leicester recently to celebrate scoring at every level from Conference upwards and he was again buoyant after a win achieved with a man short for 65 minutes:
“I’ve been waiting for one of them all season. That’s my position at the edge of the box, waiting for the ball to have a dig. Fortunately, it came today. It was a good time because we were under a bit of pressure at the time so it was nice for the ball to fly in the net,” said Clucas.
“It was a great feeling. I’d just missed with a free-kick a couple of minutes before and I thought that was my chance gone. As soon as I hit it, though, I knew it was going in.
“I haven’t scored a better goal than that for a while. I used to play up front when I was younger and scored a few decent goals but that’s certainly my best as a professional – to do it in the Premier League at such an important time.
“It’s not like we were 4-0 up and it was irrelevant. It came at an important time for us, settling everyone down.”
It also ensured a double day of celebration for the Clucas family after the Imps, thanks to Terry Hawkridge’s double against Macclesfield Town, sealed their return to the Football League after six years away.
“I watched a little bit in the hotel and it’s brilliant for them,” continued Clucas.
“They’re a Football League club again and they deserve it. I’ve been to a few games this season and I’m delighted for the players, the staff and, more importantly, the city. They’ve all been behind the club and, hopefully, they can build on this in League Two.
“They’re my home-town club. I played for them when I was younger and always look out for the result. I still live there and all my family still go to games so it’s a great occasion. Hopefully, we can do the business at Hull and stay up to make it a great season all round.”
I haven’t scored a better goal than that for a while. I used to play up front when I was younger and scored a few decent goals but that’s certainly my best as a professionalHull City’s Sam Clucas
Lazar Markovic had put Hull ahead in the 62nd minute following a schoolyard-type charge out of defence which initially had the hosts with a three on one situation.
Andy Robertson led the counter down the right, Kamil Grosicki sped past him onto the pass and curled a cross which saw the ball bounce invitingly for Markovic to dive in front of Gomes and head the ball against the bar from eight yards. It bounced down onto the line but Markovic was first to react and he slammed it home from inside the six-yard area.
Clucas’s strike came after a corner had been headed out and produced a result few would have expected after the 25th-minute dismissal of Oumar Niasse.
Watford cleared and the Senegal striker went in for the bouncing ball with M’Baye Niang, who went down clutching his leg after the Hull player’s instep had brushed him below the knee.
Referee Robert Madley hardly gave it a second thought before reaching for his red card when many would have questioned him if he had decided to brandish even a yellow.
Hull coach Marco Silva, who has now gone a remarkable 50 games unbeaten at home in all competitions in charge of four clubs, confirmed the Tigers would appeal the sending-off.
It was backs to the wall before the break with Eldin Jakupovic palming the ball over the bar from Sebastian Prodl’s snap back-header from a corner before fellow Watford centre-back Miguel Britos headed wide from eight yards.
Jakupovice also kept out a close-range stab after the interval but allied to their efficient defending as a unit, Hull’s swift counter-attacking was the key to victory, sparked by the half-time introduction of Abel Hernandez.
The striker, brought on as the recalled Evandro, given the nod ahead of Tom Huddlestone, was sacrificed is a ready-made replacement for Niasse should the appeal fail and he gave Hull an attacking focus as Kamil Grosicki and Markovic stretched Watford out wide.
Hull City: Jakupovic, Elmohamady, Maguire, Ranocchia, Robertson; Markovic (Huddlestone 81), N’Diaye, Clucas; Grosicki (Dawson 89); Evandro (Hernandez 46); Niasse. Unused substitutes: Marshall, Maloney, Mbokai, Henriksen.
Watford: Gomes, Janmaat, Britos, Prodl, Holebas (Zuniga 86); Doucoure (Okaka 74); Amrabat (Success 67), Capoue, Cleverley, Niang; Deeney. Unused substitutes: Pantilimon, Mariappa, Behrami, Kabasele.
Referee: R Madley (West Yorks).