Hull City 0 Chelsea 2: Tigers aim to take advantage of welcome breather

THOSE Hull City supporters who metaphorically hid behind the sofa on the morning of September 17 can come out now.

Hull City's Sam Clucas and Chelsea's Diego Costa battle for the ball (Picture: Danny Lawson/PA Wire).

Three devilish fixtures against Arsenal, Liverpool and now Chelsea have handed the Tigers a firm lesson – if they required it – about the unforgiving nature of the Premier League.

But, in many respects, the real stuff starts now.

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Bournemouth, Stoke, Watford, Southampton, Sunderland and West Brom – and then Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace. Those are the sort of games that will dictate Hull’s fate.

As for Saturday, it was a case of plus ça change. Heading into the game, Hull had beaten Chelsea just once in their previous 31 outings, with their sole success arriving in October, 1988.

The late Whitney Houston was at the top of the charts on the day of that rare triumph – a 3-0 victory at Boothferry Park – with One Moment In Time. That moment still stands in isolation.

After admitting seven days earlier that he was envisaging ‘two sleepless nights’ following his side’s miserable loss at Arsenal – Chelsea manager Antonio Conte will have been able to get some valuable ‘shut-eye’ a week on.

His team stepped things up noticeably on the restart – maybe cajoled by a few choice interval words in Italian by the impassioned Blues manager – and class told as many suspected it might do before the game.

As for opposite number Mike Phelan, a rather more restless Saturday evening might have ensued as he picked the bones out of Hull’s second-half descent en route to a 2-0 loss.

If that is not enough to deal with, there is also the protracted issue regarding finalising his contract to be full-time Tigers chief – although Phelan insisted again after the game that there was no panic, despite some questions clearly needing to be answered.

In terms of on-the-pitch matters, a spot of solace may at least be afforded for the Hull chief if he scrutinises the fixture list over the next two months or so.

Equally, he has been in the game long enough to know that the Tigers cannot afford a replication of their alarming second-half display when they faded badly – whoever their top-flight opponents are.

Exquisite – and almost identical – curlers from Diego Costa and Willian helped Chelsea ease home but they were helped along the way by a Hull side bearing gifts after making a plethora of mistakes on the restart.

It provided food for thought at the final whistle, according to home midfielder Markus Henriksen, and while the Norwegian may have been making his first full Premier League start, he saw more than enough to realise that errors are seized upon instantly by the top-league glitterati.

Henriksen said: “We played very well in the first half, but in the second half it looked as though we got a little bit tired. We also made some very stupid mistakes, especially in the centre of the field.

“I guess a team like Chelsea will take advantage. We gave them too much space to play.

“As you saw, a lot of the chances that they created were from stupid ball mistakes – easy passes when we had a lot of time. That is not good enough against a team like Chelsea.

“But we must be positive. It was not going to be these games where we take the points, but I have to admit we are a little bit disappointed that we did not get anything from these big games.

“I think we have enough quality to have taken something. We were very close in the first half. It was very good.

“It is always disappointing when you lose three games, but we have to go on.

“Now the games are coming when we have to take points. If we want to be a good team in the Premier League, these are the games we have to take the points in.”

On the evidence of the second half, it is a fair point to venture that the international break has probably come at an opportune moment for Hull, particularly after a tough early-season itinerary.

Concentration and decision-making looked suspect with the Tigers disintegrating after a bright first period with blue shirts swarming all over them.

It was a different story earlier on with the hosts going close to taking the lead at opposite ends of the first half.

Robert Snodgrass’s deflected early free-kick yielded a smart tip-over from Thibaut Courtois, with the visiting goalkeeper also beating away a fierce strike from Ryan Mason just before the break.

After a low-key first half lacking in urgency, Chelsea regrouped and their match-turners in Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard came to the party.

The warning signs were there for Hull when Marshall tipped over Hazard’s strike after a trademark weaving run from the Belgian – and it set the tone.

A combination of the post and a key touch from Jake Livermore prevented Costa from giving Chelsea the lead after he rounded Marshall, with N’Golo Kante somehow blazing the rebound over with the goal at his mercy.

The goal that looked inevitable duly arrived after Hull coughed up possession in midfield with a forceful run from Costa ending in him supplying Willian, who curled home a sublime strike just after the hour mark.

Soon after, Costa struck a near carbon copy after an untracked Nemanja Matic powered forward and saw his initial shot blocked.

From that point, it was all about damage limitation for Hull and, thankfully, they were grateful for small mercies in avoiding a third successive heavy beating.