Hull City 2 Fulham 0: Dowie praises 'gutsy' Tigers

HULL CITY took a major step towards Premier League survival as new manager Iain Dowie celebrated his first home game with victory over Fulham.

In truth, it would have been hard to pick a better time to play the Londoners – whose priorities, in the short term at least, have suddenly shifted away from the league.

Comfortably mid-table and in no danger of relegation, Fulham manager Roy Hodgson rested a host of players ahead of Thursday night's Europa Cup quarterfinal first leg against Wolfsburg.

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No Bobby Zamora, no Damien Duff or Danny Murphy, and both Dickson Etuhu and Aaron Hughes sat on the bench.

But after five consecutive defeats and only one win in their previous16 games, the Tigers were probably due a bit of luck.

Fortune also favours the brave and Dowie's men showed more than enough spirit and commitment to warrant three priceless points.

The result means they are now level on points with 17th-placed West Ham United who suffered a 1-0 home defeat against Stoke City and have played a game more

Perhaps, just as significantly, it also helped strengthen the bond between Dowie and his new club's supporters.

After keeping a deliberately low-profile prior to kick-off, Dowie took to the field at the final whistle to congratulate his players.

But as he punched the sky walking back to the tunnel, there was undoubtedly a growing sense of unity and appreciation for his efforts.

"This is not about me, it is about keeping Hull in the Premier League," Dowie stressed afterwards. "It has never been about me, but the players – and they deserve a huge amount of respect."

Midfielder Jimmy Bullard, almost inevitably, had drawn first blood against his former club, before striker Craig Fagan headed the second early in the second half.

But Hull had heroes all over the field, especially at the back where forgotten man Ibrahima Sonko came in from the cold and performed like a trojan. Sonko, on loan from Stoke City, had not played for Hull since the 2-0 defeat away at Fulham five months ago.

Former manager Phil Brown even subjected the Senegalese international to the indignity of training with the youth team after failing in a bid to send him back to the Britannia Stadium.

"I don't really want to talk about the old manager," said Sonko diplomatically. "He believed in some players and had less belief in others.

"It was disappointing to train with the younger players but my agent told me to keep my head down, respect the kids, and don't get nutmegged because they will laugh a lot!," he added. "My performance today was to show the new manager that I'm up for the fight."

Bullard scored with a penalty on 17 minutes after Chris Smalling's clumsy challenge on Jozy Altidore.

Fulham then applied the majority of the pressure and striker Zoltan Gera had two efforts blocked on the line.

A goal from Fagan, three minutes after the interval, helped eliminate any nerves.

Dean Marney appeared to over-hit a cross in the direction of Fulham's far post but Fagan beat Paul Konchesky in the air and sent the ball looping over goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer into the net. The goal took the sting out of the game although Hull still had occasion to throw bodies in front of the ball.

Of further encouragement was the performance of American international Altidore – now coming to terms with English football and who worked as hard as anyone on the field.

Fulham manager Hodgson not only defended his team selection after the game but praised Hull's performance.

And he, as well as anyone, knows just what is takes to pull off a great escape.

Two years ago, Hodgson and his side were in exactly the same situation as Dowie and Hull going into the final eight games of a season. Four wins in the last five games enabled Fulham to avoid the drop.

"You need a bit of luck," admitted Hodgson. "But sometimes you get that if you fight and work as hard as Hull did today. They have certainly got a good chance, on this performance."

With seven games to go, Hull, Burnley, and West Ham appear to be locked in a three-way tussle to avoid the drop with Portsmouth

And if Dowie keeps Hull up, he will almost certainly be condemning his boyhood idols – the Hammers – to relegation. West Ham having lost to Stoke.

"I used to go watch them with my Dad as a boy," Dowie reflected before seeking out Hodgson for advice over a glass of wine. "It is a poor result for them – we had one of those last week so I know how Gianfranco is feeling!"

Hull City: Myhill; McShane, Sonko, Mouyokolo, Kilbane; Garcia, Boateng, Bullard (Olofinjana 85), Marney; Altidore (Vennegoor of Hesselink 78), Fagan. Unused substitutes: Barmby, Geovanni, Duke, Mendy, Cairney.

Fulham: Schwarzer; Shorey, Smalling, Hangeland, Konchesky; Riise (Okaka 53), Baird, Dikgacoi (Greening 59), Davies; Dempsey, Gera. Unused substitutes: Nevland, Hughes, Zuberbuhler, Etuhu, Stoor.

MATCH FOCUS

Hero: Jimmy Bullard

Who else? It may have cost 5m to bring the England international north last season but Hull City's investment will have been well worthwhile if his performances inspire the club's Premier League survival. Scored from the spot and pulled all the strings all afternoon.

Villain: Jimmy Bullard

In the eyes of the Fulham fans that is. Bitter at the way the midfielder turned his back on Craven Cottage to join the Tigers, they taunted Bullard with chants suggesting he was greedy to have moved north. At least he ignored the bait and celebrated his goal well away from their reach.

Key moment:

38th minute: Hull defender Steven Mouyokolo desperately clears off his line, under pressure from Clint Dempsey, after Fulham striker Zoltan Gera beats goalkeeper Boaz Myhill.

Ref watch:

Chris Foy: Dished out yellow cards like confetti in the first half, booking four Fulham players and two from Hull. However, he still opted not to book Fulham defender Chris Smalling for the foul on Jozy Altidore that resulted in a penalty.

Verdict

Fulham may not have been at full strength but Hull's performance still warranted the win that ends a run of five consecutive defeats. Now level on points with West Ham United, who have played a game more, Hull's hopes of surviving have taken a massive boost.

Quote of the day

We are nearly boyfriend and girlfriend! We have spent so much time together! – Hull defender Sonko revealing how his relationship with striker Caleb Folan has blossomed during their absence from the first team.

Next game

Stoke City, away, Saturday April 3, Premier League. Another side who are comfortable in mid-table but Hull will have to match fire with fire to pick up points. On-loan defender Sonko is ineligible against his parent club.

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