Return of Danny Houghton crucial if Hull FC are to avoid further slips

Hull FC's Liam Watts is tackled by Warrington's Kevin Brown and Ben Westwood. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
Hull FC's Liam Watts is tackled by Warrington's Kevin Brown and Ben Westwood. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com
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FOR so long, Hull FC looked so comfortable against Warrington Wolves.

Marc Sneyd still supping from a polystyrene cup like he was enjoying an afternoon coffee as he walked out for kick-off perhaps illustrated their mood.

Hull FC players look dejected after letting slip their lead to draw the game. Captain Gareth Ellis (centre). Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Hull FC players look dejected after letting slip their lead to draw the game. Captain Gareth Ellis (centre). Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Granted, the Black and Whites half-back is famously laid-back and, in all honesty, he probably did not have a care in the world as his team prepared to take on Super League’s bottom side at a sun-kissed Halliwell Jones Stadium.

However, even though it was April Fool’s Day, they were not fooling anybody.

For all Hull were then 20-4 up just seconds before the interval, they had been gifted two tries by error-ridden opponents woefully short of confidence.

So, when Warrington winger Matty Russell grabbed his second try in the final play of the first period, last season’s Grand Finalists, who had lost all six league games so far, suddenly had a lifeline.

It is obvious just how much they miss their aptly-named ‘Man of Steel’ Danny Houghton.

Dave Craven

It meant once FC started making the mistakes instead, as they so regularly did after half-time and with glaring inaccuracy, Warrington’s belief grew and grew, all their earlier malfunctions instantly corrected.

A tidal wave of primrose and yellow came hurtling towards Lee Radford’s side and, by the end, they were left clinging on.

There are concerns for Hull’s head coach – they almost let a 22-0 lead slip at Wigan the week before – and it is hard to imagine they will escape again if they repeat this showing against in-form Salford Red Devils on Friday.

It is obvious just how much they miss their aptly-named ‘Man of Steel’ Danny Houghton.

Warrington's Matty Russell, left, celebrates his try with Toby King. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Warrington's Matty Russell, left, celebrates his try with Toby King. Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

The industrious hooker, who pulled up in the opening moments at Wigan and was absent again on Saturday, brings so much order and clarity to their play.

Obviously, there is his defensive brilliance; the standard 50-plus tackles per game in the middle, where Warrington increasingly gained the upper hand during that second period via his England rival, Daryl Clark, and Stefan Ratchford’s rapier thrusts.

But also he directs so expertly when in possession. You sense Hull would have safely negotiated their way out of their own 20 more regularly if Houghton – sidelined for only his third game in four years – had been at the helm.

That is not taking anything away from Danny Washbrook, the experienced utility who put in another huge stint in his absence, or teenager Jez Litten, who made a bright debut off the bench.

But Houghton – whose famous last-ditch tackle on Warrington’s Ben Currie clinched Hull the Challenge Cup last August – is almost indispensible.

However, having gained that advantage, what could Hull have done differently to win?

Obviously, Josh Bowden, Sika Manu and Mahe Fonua all embarrassingly dropping the ball early in the tackle count inside their own 20 did not help while the penalty conceded by Jansin Turgut to allow Kurt Gidley to level in the 71st minute was painfully soft.

However, when leading 22-14 just before the hour and having spent so long defending, it seemed negative for Hull to go for their own penalty from 40m out.

Sneyd duly missed the kick when maybe they should have applied some pressure of their own.

That said, if he had been successful, they would have won.

Warrington felt aggrieved, though, after Mike Cooper stretched over when trailing 22-20 and Jack Smith looked all set to award a try only for a touch judge to decree the ball had been bounced on the line. Wolves coach Tony Smith also believed Clark – whose sniping 55th-minute try was a catalyst – should have won a penalty in front of the posts for a ball-strip by Fonua but that was debatable.

Russell’s hat-trick in the 64th minute – the Scotland winger finished despite being close to the touchline and receiving from a standing start – had seen Gidley convert and get Warrington into position.

Gidley and Ratchford were both off-cue with drop-goal attempts to win it, as was Sneyd, who slotted two earlier penalties.

But Hull, who scored first-half tries via Albert Kelly, Jake Connor – with a 90m intercept – and Jamie Shaul, after another dropped Warrington pass, know they messed up here.

Prop Scott Taylor admitted they played “really dumb” and it was hard to argue otherwise.

Warrington Wolves: Ratchford; Russell, T King, Atkins, Evans; Brown, Gidley; Hill, Clark, Cooper, Westwood, Hughes, Westerman. Substitutes: Sims, Dwyer, G King, Philbin.

Hull FC: Shaul; Fonua, Connor, Griffin, Michaels; Kelly, Sneyd; Taylor, Washbrook, Bowden, Manu, Minichiello, Ellis. Substitutes: Litten, Turgut, Thompson, Watts.

Referee: J Smith (Wigan).