Big-match verdict: Dad's the word for Hull City hero Jarrod Bowen
Quite a way for the 20-year-old to introduce himself on a day made even more surreal by his first Hull City goal coming against the manager who had taken him from non-League football to East Yorkshire three years earlier.
“I should have left him at Hereford,” said Steve Bruce, perhaps only half-joking after seeing Bowen cap a much-improved second-half display from the Tigers to cancel out Gabby Agbonlahor’s early opener for Championship title favourites Aston Villa.
Bowen’s first strike for Hull on only his second league start ensured honours ended even as both new head coach Leonid Slutsky and John Terry were given a crash course in the often weird and sometimes wonderful world of the Championship.
Villa should have been out of sight after half-an-hour, Agbonlahor’s seventh-minute strike coming amid a flurry of chances as the visiting defence was picked apart with alarming ease.
Having failed to turn that dominance into goals, however, Bruce’s men were made to pay by a Hull side who, with steadier finishing of their own, could have returned north with all three points.
It was a typically barmy second-tier game and one that whetted the appetite for the coming weeks and months in arguably the most unpredictable league around.
Certainly, few would have backed Bowen before kick-off to become the story of an opening-day contest that had not only Terry stepping down into the second tier, but also a host of former Tigers, both on the pitch and in the dugout, tackling their old club.
This, though, is what happened to a player plucked from the ruins of bankrupt Hereford United for around £50,000 to join Hull’s youth set-up at the age of 17.
“All my family were at the game so I was looking for them straight away when I scored,” said the Tigers midfield player, whose only previous league start had come in the 7-1 home thrashing by Tottenham Hotspur that rounded off last season.
“My little sister was here, my little brother, little cousins, nan, auntie. I think they got a minibus with my granddad driving. It was also my mum’s birthday so she was in the Hull end.
“Dad was there as well. My dad is a Villa fan so I am not sure who he wanted to win. A draw with me scoring is probably his best outcome.
“He said he was going to run on the pitch if I scored, but he couldn’t get on. I saw him come down and I grabbed him. I had to move a few stewards out of the way, but it was great for them to be here for my first Hull goal.”
Bowen senior being prevented from delivering on his pre-match promise to invade the pitch was probably for the best. Had he done so a banning order would no doubt have followed and that would mean missing out on further golden moments for his son, as, on Saturday’s evidence, there are likely to be many more to come.
Bruce, for one, is predicting a bright future for the midfielder.
“Jarrod was a boy playing in men’s football,” said the Villa chief. “That is not something you often see.
“I felt he handled himself well then and he was excellent against us. With Hull being – no disrespect – a backwater, it lets young players flourish.
“There is no real intense pressure on them and that works for them. I thought young Max Clark did very well (at left-back), too.”
Bowen’s equaliser and Hull’s much-improved second-half efforts ensured an afternoon that had begun in alarming fashion for the visitors ended on a high.
This much was apparent in Slutsky’s post-match celebratory salute to the travelling fans, a gesture that was in stark contrast to his demeanour ahead of kick-off when he could be seen nervously pacing up and down the touchline like an expectant father outside the delivery room.
His body language suggested genuine fear as to just what lay ahead after a summer in which the club’s recruitment has again been found wanting.
For the first 40 or so minutes, Slutsky’s concerns proved prescient as Villa tore into his side. Agbonlahor’s conversion of Alan Hutton’s cross after just seven minutes came amid a flurry of chances for the hosts as a defence featuring three debutants was picked apart at will.
But for Allan McGregor and some wasteful finishing, Villa would surely have been out of sight before Hull belatedly woke from their slumbers shortly before the break via a half-volley from Abel Hernandez that flashed just wide.
Fraizer Campbell and Kamil Grosicki then tested Sam Johnstone in quick succession before the interval allowed Slutsky to tweak his personnel.
Grosicki and Bowen swapping flanks was one of the changes and it paid off handsomely in the 62nd minute when a cross from the Polish international presented the 20-year-old with a chance he smashed gleefully into the net to send not only his family into raptures, but also 1,500 Hull fans.
It meant there was to be no winning start for Terry and Bowen admits scoring against such a legendary figure only added to his sense of satisfaction at a job well done.
“Growing up, he was playing for England in every game,” he added. “I would say sharing a pitch with him was like a dream come true, but it doesn’t seem real. This is my fourth year now with Hull and my confidence feels sky-high after scoring,”