Hull City 1 Arsenal 2: Boateng sees red as Gunners strike late

'WE'RE going to war for the next ten games,' promised Phil Brown in programme notes that bordered on the Churchillian ahead of hostilities being resumed between two of the Premier League's more feisty rivals.

It was proof, if any were needed after some acrimonious clashes between Hull and Arsenal over the past couple of seasons, that the title chasers were in for a testing 90 minutes as the home side attempted to breathe fresh life into their survival fight.

Brown's words proved prophetic with the Tigers banishing the memory of their lame second-half efforts at Everton the previous weekend to come within a whisker of claiming a vital point.

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That they didn't was unfortunate, especially as the damage when it came in stoppage time was self-inflicted as Boaz Myhill made a hash of dealing with a Denilson drive to present Nicklas Bendtner with a simple chance.

But even though City gained no reward for overcoming the considerable handicap of being reduced to ten men at the end of the first half by the dismissal of George Boateng, there was still plenty of grounds for optimism.

Against a side that had put five past the reigning Portuguese champions, Porto, in midweek to reach the Champions League quarter-finals, Hull restricted Arsenal to just four on-target shots. And two of those came in the final minute.

In doing so, the Tigers also put to bed any suggestions of a damaging split in the dressing room following the bust-up between Jimmy Bullard and Nick Barmby.

Certainly, Brown, who had been forced to apologise to the 100 or so Women's Institute members that witnessed last Monday's unseemly spat, felt there were plenty of positives to take out of the game despite its heartbreaking climax.

The City manager said: "If we had got nothing from this game – and I mean pride and not just points – then it would have been a difficult week, but I have got a lot to admire about the players.

"We can now take the pride of the performance into the next nine cup finals."

On his players proving a point about team spirit, Brown added: "I didn't think we had to prove any point after what happened last week. In fact, it has been quite amusing that people have been making reference to me apologising to the Women's Institute and comparing me to Tony Blair. It was an unfortunate incident and it was unsavoury. But one of the lads (Bullard) showed he is up for the fight and if Nicky Barmby had had the chance (to get on the field), you would have seen the same grit and determination from him. It is not just about one or two individuals, it is about the team. And I think the team can take a lot of pride from the game."

The heartache felt by Brown's men come the final whistle was also mixed with a sense of 'what might have been' with Sol Campbell being fortunate to remain on the field in the 28th minute after bundling Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to the floor.

Referee Andre Marriner rightly pointed straight to the penalty spot, only to then fail to send the one-time Tigers target off for denying the Dutch striker what was a clear goalscoring chance.

Bullard stepped forward to drill the resulting spotkick beyond Manuel Almunia to bring the scores level after Andrey Arshavin had capitalised on some poor defending by George Boateng and Bernard Mendy to score a 14th-minute opener.

Hull's hopes of building on Bullard's equaliser and grinding out a shock win were dealt a major blow in first-half stoppage time courtesy of Boateng's sending off. There could be no doubt the veteran midfielder deserved to go for a horrific, knee-high challenge on Barcary Sagna, especially as he had been fortunate to stay on minutes earlier after poking Bendtner in the eye.

Being reduced to ten men meant City were always going to be on the back foot after the restart and so it proved.

But the dogged rearguard action, best illustrated by a brave block from Steven Mouyokolo, seemed set to pay off only for disaster to strike in stoppage time.

Denilson, collecting the ball midway inside the City half, was allowed to advance and drill a 25-yard shot straight at Boaz Myhill, who could only palm straight back towards a melee of players.

Bendtner was the first to react, beating Mendy to the ball by a split second, before crashing a return shot past the stricken Welsh international and into the net.

It meant Hull had lost the battle. However, several more gutsy performances like this during the final nine games and they may just – as Brown alluded to ahead of kick-off in his programme notes – win the war and stay in the Premier League.

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Steven Mouyokolo

Didn't have the best of starts to life in a Tigers shirt but has improved markedly since the turn of the year. Rarely put a foot wrong against the Gunners and did not deserve to finish on the losing side. It seems that he is improving with every performance.

Villain: George Boateng

Undoubtedly one of football's nice guys, but his challenge on Barcary Sagna in first half stoppage time was a definite leg-breaker. Deserved a straight red and a three-game ban, as oppose to a second yellow and a one-match suspension.

Key moment:

93rd minute: A 25-yard shot from Denilson looked to be causing Boaz Myhill no problems, only for the goalkeeper to inexplicably beat the ball out to Nicklas Bendtner who scored a dramatic winner.

Ref watch:

Andre Marriner: Got every major decision wrong, from not sending Sol Campbell off for a professional foul to Boateng deserving to be shown a straight red, not once but twice.

Verdict

Hardly a classic but Hull deserved a lot better for their hard-working efforts than the heart-breaking finale that saw Myhill literally hand Arsenal a leg up in the Premier League title race.

Quote of the day

I did not see it, frankly. – Arsene Wenger chooses a familiar defence when asked whether George Boateng should have been sent off.

Next game

Portsmouth v Hull City; Saturday March 13, 2010; Premier League.

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