ONE young mascot boldly predicted a 16-goal winning margin for Hull City in the build-up to this latest, impressive victory.
Who could blame him for his optimism?
After all, the Tigers had put Bolton to the sword by a scoreline of 6-0 just a month prior and were on a fine run of form.
Granted, the youngster’s foresight when quizzed on the pitch by the match-day announcer was not exactly realised on this occasion.
Nevertheless, Nigel Adkins’s side claimed an important three points in their unlikely quest for a play-off spot.
After suffering a sobering defeat seven days previous at Blackburn, Adkins would have expected a stern test against a Stoke City side still getting used to the methods of new incumbent Nathan Jones.
How wrong that assumption would be.
Stoke have spent millions of pounds this season in their efforts to seal an automatic return to the riches of the Premier League but failed to show up on Humberside, with a missed penalty the best they could muster.
In contrast, the Tigers have spent a fraction on assembling a squad that currently sits just four points off the top-six pace.
That in a season which many predicted would be one of struggle.
We’ve got a team spirit and a team ethic that is there for all to see. We’re four points off the play-offs now and we’ve got to keep enjoying what’s going on. Together, everyone achieves more.Nigel Adkins
So, what is the secret recipe to Hull’s success on a shoestring budget?
“We are a team,” was the blunt response from Adkins, who has overseen five consecutive victories at the KCOM Stadium. “We haven’t just got 11 players, we’ve got a squad who work so hard for each other.
“We’ve got a team spirit and a team ethic that is there for all to see. We’re four points off the play-offs now and we’ve got to keep enjoying what’s going on. Together, everyone achieves more.”
That latter sentence, for the uneducated, is a favoured saying of Adkins – he even features it as his match-day programme pay-off line.
But you cannot deny it has resonance right now.
Adkins continued: “That’s five wins at home on the spin now and we’re in good form.
“Stoke have spent a lot of money in the summer and they’ve spent some money again in January. The pivotal moment was probably the penalty save by David Marshall bang on half-time.
“Was it a penalty? I thought it was good defending, but the referee gave it. The second goal was a great goal and our counter-attacking threat is phenomenal.
“We had five centre-halves missing today but I thought young Robbie McKenzie was exceptional.
“He’s a young lad who’s come through the system and been here since the age of 10. He got a clean sheet and to perform the way he has, it was great to see.”
Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki – arguably the Tigers’ two most important players – got the goals in either half to seal this win.
The first 40 minutes of this contest was forgettable fodder of the highest order.
It was only in the final five minutes of the half that it really sprung into life.
First, Bowen bent in a super free-kick that one-time England goalkeeper Jack Butland could only flap at.
Almost immediately down the other end the visitors were awarded the opportunity to instantly restore parity.
The incident that led to the penalty looked questionable, with defender Stephen Kingsley adjudged to have felled debutant Sam Vokes.
Vokes, who only arrived in the Potteries 48 hours prior to kick-off, had the chance to make an instant impact but was foiled thanks to an alert save by the legs of goalkeeper David Marshall.
Stoke toiled upon the resumption with a cross-shot from Tom Edwards almost catching out Marshall before another debutant, Danny Batth, planted a header against the bar.
But that was about it from an expensively-assembled Stoke side, who are marooned in mid-table after this result.
The gloss was added just after the hour mark by another key man who the Tigers did well to keep hold of on deadline day.
Grosicki applied the finishing touch to a fine, flowing move involving Bowen and Frazier Campbell to seal the crucial second.
Tigers defender McKenzie, enjoying a breakthrough season with his home-town club, echoed his manager by extolling the virtues of the togetherness within the squad.
He said: “I thought we did the hard things very well and that made it easier for us when we went forwards.
“As a team, we pulled together and did the hard stuff. I feel we’ve got a great camaraderie in the team.”
Hull City: Marshall, Lichaj, McKenzie, Kingsley, Kane, Stewart, Bowen (Milinkovic 90) Henriksen, Irvine, Grosicki (Pugh 84), Campbell (Martin 89). Unused substitutes: Long, Ridgwell, Batty, Evandro.
Stoke City: Butland, Edwards, Williams, Batth, Indi (Afobe 76), Etebo, Allen, Clucas, McClean, Vokes, Bojan (Ince 60). Unused substitutes: Federici, Bauer, Shawcross, Woods, Berahino.
Referee: P Bankes (Merseyside).