Hull City 2 Blackburn Rovers 0: Acun Ilicali era begins with a vital win
Last night’s main entertainment was organised far too late for many guests to get there and those in blue-and-white halves threatened for a while to spoil it, but by the time the lights had been turned off, everyone who had been at the MKM Stadium knew they had been at a party.
When Hull City were due to meet Blackburn Rovers on Boxing Day, Tony Mowbray’s side were powering towards Premier League promotion. By the time Covid-19 deigned the game could take place, their momentum had stuttered slightly but the key difference was in Hull’s mood.
The Tigers had failed to win any of their last six matches, abjectly so in the case of Sunday’s televised home defeat to Stoke City, but an hour-and-a-half before kick-off the puff of white smoke supporters have been waiting what feels like an eternity for finally came.
At 6.16pm it was finally confirmed Acun Ilicali had bought the Championship club.
The news leaked in the afternoon but Hull fans have had too many false dawns since Assem Allam put the club on the market eight long years ago to believe it until they had it in black and white. Ilicali had, after all, announced the deal was done on the Turkish version of The Voice, which he presents, on New Year’s Eve and the papers were still a week-and-a-half from being signed, never mind signed off by the Football League.
As soon as Ilicali had the keys to the door, the challenge facing Blackburn stiffened. Hull fans will be hoping and believing the transformation of their relegation-threatened club is more long-lasting and fundamental.
The Tigers did not exactly roar out of the blocks as the occasion demanded but just as you worried things might be going flat, Tom Eaves, enthusiastically supported all night by the home fans who have awarded him cult status, held the ball up and laid it off to Ryan Longman. He played it square and George Honeyman, the inside-right playing alongside Keane Lewis-Potter in a formation mimicking Blackburn’s 3-4-2-1, burst onto the square ball.
A defender slid in and kicked the shot away but Hull were not to be denied. Sheffield referee Thomas Bramall looked across to his linesman and decided the ball had crossed the line. Seven minutes in, the television mogul’s script was being followed.
Eaves did his best to add to it, making a chink of space for himself but dragging his shot wide.
With 13 minutes gone Blackburn were shyly standing by, too coy to get on the dancefloor.
Graduallythey realised the Tigers were not as fearsome as they might be, and started to attack. Inevitably it was Ben Brereton Diaz who led the way, but Nathan Baxter flung himself at the shot.
When the Chile international brilliantly turned Sean McLoughlin, Di’Shon Bernard came across and shoulder-barged him over in the area. At least that was how Bramall saw it. He was in no mood to play party-pooper.
Reda Khadra was but when he beat Baxter, who had rushed outside his area, he could not get past Bernard, throwing himself at the shot to protect the goal with his outstretched left foot. Baxter also had to save low from centre-back Scott Wharton, carrying the ball forward as if to underline his side’s confidence. Hull increasing resorted to long, aimless balls from the back.
It was even worse for the first 15 minutes of the second half, a game of defence-versus-attack, but the drill Blackburn needed most was shooting practice, their pass-the-parcel football failing to test Baxter. Hull weathered the storm and re-emerged.
Honeyman’s corner hit the near post and bounced to Longman, who shot wildly.
Seven minutes later, they did score. With three Blackburn substitutes stripped and ready to come on, Longman crossed from deep in Blackburn’s half and Eaves marauded onto it, powering a far-post header into the net. It should have been more. Honeyman hit the crossbar minutes later but Keane Lewis-Potter seemed determined not to end proceedings, spooning over a shocking shot before curling a free-kick he won wide, then curling another effort on target.
There was no need for an investigation, though: this was definitely a party.
Hull City: Baxter; Bernard, McLoughlin, Greaves; Longman (T Smith 88), Smallwood, Docherty, Williams; Honeyman (C Jones 90), Lewis-Potter; Eaves. Unused substitutes: Ingram, Moncur, Fleming, Huddlestone, Arthur.
Blackburn : Kaminski; Lenihan, van Hecke, Wharton; Costello (Markanday 68) , Buckley (Ayala 68), Rothwell, Edun; Gallagher (Johnson 68), Khadra; Brereton. Unused substitutes: Davenport, Pears, Butterworth, Brown.
Referee: T Bramall (Sheffield).