Hull City lose to Fulham, fluffing their lines once again with a play-off spot within touching distance

Hull City defender Matthew Pennington gets to the ball ahead of Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic during Saturday's Championship clash at the KCOM Stadium. Picture: Getty Images
Hull City defender Matthew Pennington gets to the ball ahead of Fulham's Aleksandar Mitrovic during Saturday's Championship clash at the KCOM Stadium. Picture: Getty Images
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Not for the first time this season, it's a case of two step forwards, then one back for Hull City.

A pair of hard-earned away victories meant that the top-six was within touching distance ahead of Saturday's Championship showdown with fellow promotion-hopefuls Fulham.

Yet, just as they've done on a couple of occasions in recent weeks, having put in the hard yards, the Tigers fluffed their lines with a play-off spot beckoning.

It's a familiar story for manager Grant McCann, who is getting plenty out of a team that he only took over last summer, but whom consistency eludes.

Rewind to late November when a 4-0 mauling of Preston North End - then third in the table - left City nicely positioned behind the cluster of sides in and around the promotion places.

A trip to rock-bottom Barnsley was next on their agenda, yet they they conspired to lose that game 3-1, becoming the first team to suffer defeat at the hands of the Tykes in 19 league matches.

Then, having again got themselves right back in contention courtesy of an impressive 3-0 success over Birmingham City just before Christmas, McCann's men produced a lacklustre Boxing Day display at home to Nottingham Forest and were turned over.

They showed their mettle during back-to-back triumphs on the road at QPR and Sheffield Wednesday, yet despite going into their latest fixture knowing that victory would draw them level on points with the Cottagers - fifth at the start of play - they were once again unable to produce when it mattered.

As a result, City find themselves 11th, three points shy of a play-off spot, instead of seventh and breathing down the necks of the teams in fourth, fifth and sixth.

So near, yet, at the same time, also so far from where they aspire to be.

There wasn't too much wrong with the way Hull started proceedings at the KCOM Stadium, and indeed they could have been ahead with just four minutes on the clock.

Referee Matthew Donohue ignored an offside flag raised by one of his assistants and allowed play to continue as Jarrod Bowen picked out Tom Eaves inside the Fulham box.

However, with just Marek Rodak to beat, he pulled a poor finish well wide of the mark.

Eaves then released Kamil Grosicki down the Hull right where he skipped past Michael Hector with ease, only to then drag an effort past the near post.

With the half-hour mark approaching, the visitors had offered almost nothing, and the Tigers were playing the better football.

Yet, a 29th-minute moment of magic by Ivan Cavaleiro was to check the hosts' momentum.

The initial danger looked to have been dealt with when a cross into the box was cut out, however the loose ball broke to the Portuguese winger on the left-hand edge of the home area and he curled a beauty past a motionless George Long and into the far corner.

City struggled to offer anything by way of a response having fallen behind, though they began the second period with something of a flourish.

Eaves sprinted down the the left-hand channel and reached what initially looked like a lost cause, pulling back for Grosicki in a dangerous position inside the box, however his terrible attempt at a pass to Jarrod Bowen was easily intercepted.

A flying Eaves then just failed to get on the end of Jackson Irvine’s delicious cross from the right, but aside from one tame header by Hull's number nine, chances remained at a premium with Fulham appearing very comfortable protecting a one-goal lead.

Indeed, it took until the 92nd-minute for City to finally ask a question of visiting custodian Rodak.

The big Slovakian was forced to claw away Bowen's effort, before Eaves saw his goalbound follow-up expertly blocked by Alfie Mawson.

With just seconds remaining a mini spell of pressure ended up with George Honeyman's strike being diverted into the back of the away net by a team-mate, however the raising of the assistant referee's flag quickly curtailed the home celebrations.

Hull City: Long, Pennington, Burke (Lewis-Potter 70), De Wijs, Lichaj, Lopes, Kane (Honeyman 61), Irvine (Bowler 84), Grosicki, Bowen, Eaves.

Fulham: Rodak, Christie, Hector, Ream, Odoi, McDonald, Onomah, Knockaert (Mawson 90), Decordova-Reid, Cavaleiro (Arter 86), Mitrovic (Bryan 80).

Referee: Matthew Donohue.

Attendance: 11,347