IT WAS just like old times in the East Riding, as Steve Bruce patrolled the touchline urging his side forward with the game into the final quarter and firmly in the balance.
Ahmed Elmohamady, the Geordie’s most faithful servant after signing for Bruce three times in his career, duly heeded the call from his manager with the sort of quick thinking and deft finish that characterised much of his five years with Hull City.
Unfortunately for the Tigers those glory days when Bruce and the Egyptian winger sported amber and black are long gone.
The duo now ply their trade with Aston Villa who, thanks to Elmohamady’s decisive 70th-minute intervention, were able to start their attempt to go one better than last season’s play-off final defeat with all three points.
Evandro had given Hull an early lead that was quickly cancelled out by Tommy Elphick.
Then, after the two combatants had gone toe to toe in an entertaining contest, Elmohamady landed the killer blow by punishing a dreadful error from David Marshall.
Alan Hutton added a third not long afterwards for good measure to ensure a disappointing end to what had, for at least an hour, been an encouraging evening for the hosts.
Manager Nigel Adkins has made much during the summer of the need to create a more positive vibe around the club.
The huge swathes of empty seats that greeted the two teams ahead of kick-off, particularly in the East Stand, did not augur well for those hopes.
But the Hull chief must have been encouraged not only by how a side containing four debutants performed, but also by the backing from the stands.
The home fans got right behind their team, particularly in a first half that saw Hull create the better opportunities.
Evandro, one of the few remnants of the club’s Premier League days, is going to be key if this campaign is going to be an upgrade on 2017-18 that saw Hull flirt with relegation before pulling clear in the closing weeks.
The Portuguese, signed by Marco Silva, served notice that he can be the creative spark that Adkins needs if his side is to prosper.
He was a big threat to a Villa backline featuring Hull old boy James Chester, Evandro linking up in an promising fashion with Jarrod Bowen and Todd Kane.
It was fitting that Hull’s playmaker should notch his first competitive goal at the KCOM. Seven minutes had elapsed when a weak punch from Jed Steer headed Evandro’s way 20 yards from goal.
He knew what to do instantly, his hooked return sailing over a scrum of players before looping into the corner of the net thanks to a horrible misjudgment by Elphick on the line.
Hull deserved the good fortune, though perhaps the less said about Villa’s equaliser seven minutes later the better.
Certainly Jordy de Wijs will have to do a lot better when defending corners this season than he did when Elphick was allowed to rise unchallenged and plant a header beyond Marshall from Jack Grealish’s excellent delivery.
Being pegged back was a blow for Hull. Nevertheless they responded admirably and could have gone ahead again.
First Bowen was denied by Steer’s legs after being threaded through by Fraizer Campbell. Then, after Kane had linked up well with Campbell, Evandro was agonisingly close to reaching a pass that had just enough weight on it to allow the Villa goalkeeper to race out from his line and claim.
Hull were also the first to press after the restart, Bowen going close with a drilled shot that was diverted narrowly wide by a Villa heel.
Gradually, however, the visitors started to apply sufficient pressure that eventually broke Adkins’s men. Markus Henriksen was the first to show signs of wilting, the Hull captain getting himself in an almighty tangle deep in home territory.
His attempted clearance struck team-mate Stephen Kingsley and bounced to Albert Adomah, who was unable to take advantage.
Marshall, however, was not so fortunate as his clearance straight to Elmohamady allowed the former Tiger to exchange passes with Conor Hourihane before finishing with aplomb. Five minutes later Hutton had capitalised on more shoddy defending and Bruce had his first win over Hull at the third attempt since calling time on his reign at the KCOM a little over two years ago.
Hull City: Marshall; Lichaj, Burke, De Wijs, Kingsley; Batty, Henriksen; Bowen, Evandro (Keane 87), Kane (Milinkovic 68); Campbell (Dicko 68). Unused substitutes: Long, Stewart, MacDonald, Irvine.
Aston Villa: Steer; Hutton, Chester, Elphick, Taylor; Elmohamady, Whelan, Hourihane, Adomah (Green 68); Grealish (Bjarnason 83); Kodjia (Hepburn-Murphy 77). Unused substitutes: Bunn, Bree, Lansbury, Gardner.
Referee: A Madley (West Yorkshire).