Aston Villa 2 Hull City 1: Bruce sees loss as possible wake-up call for those at Hull ‘getting carried away’

BEHIND one goal at Villa Park can be found a banner depicting commentary of Peter Withe’s winner in the 1982 European Cup final.

Hull Citys Michael Dawson, who endured a difficult debut for the Tigers, battles for the ball, top, with Aston Villas Aly Cissokho (Picture: Martin Rickett/PA).

It is a reminder of happier days for Aston Villa, a club whose fortunes in recent years have declined to such an extent that they are in danger of becoming a Premier League also-ran.

What relief the locals must feel when Hull City roll into town, with a visit from the Yorkshire club being tantamount to a home banker for their team of late.

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The Tigers have visited Villa Park as a top-flight club four times since first winning promotion in 2008 and four times have deservedly left empty-handed.

Not only that but Hull have conceded nine goals in those meetings and scored just twice. A woeful record by any standards and one that, even allowing for a tremendous late rally yesterday by Steve Bruce’s men, did not deserve to be improved.

For three-quarters of the game, Hull were distinctly second best and had Villa taken only a small fraction of the chances created then Nikica Jelavic’s 74th-minute strike would have been even less of a consolation.

Instead, the Croat’s second goal of the season sparked a frantic finale that saw Brad Guzan deny Jake Livermore with a stunning save and then Sone Aluko waste a great opportunity in stoppage-time.

Had either of those gone in, Hull would have returned north with a point. As it was, they headed home with manager Bruce still mystified by his side’s display before the late rally.

“We were pathetic in the first half,” said the Tigers’ manager, who was predictably barracked by the home fans in a crowd of 28,336 over his Birmingham City connections.

“That performance level was arguably the worst since I came to the club two years ago. I can’t remember us performing as badly as that.

“It was a shock to me, but also maybe a wake-up call. Maybe we are all getting a bit carried away with everything that has been written about us.”

The afternoon saw a hugely disappointing debut for Michael Dawson. Lining up in the centre of a back three that saw him flanked by Curtis Davies and Paul McShane, the £3.5m arrival from Tottenham Hotspur looked uncomfortable from the start as Hull struggled to deal with a vibrant Villa side.

Such was the hosts’ dominance that the game really should have been over as contest by half-time.

By then, Hull were two goals down, but it could – and really should – have been a lot worse for the visitors, who were relieved to see two Villa efforts hit the crossbar either side of some fine goalkeping by Allan McGregor.

Without those let-offs, Hull would have been heading towards the sort of calamitous defeat that turns an international break into an uncomfortable navel-gazing exercise. As it is, the Tigers will have a semblance of comfort to cling to in the form of the late rally that went so close to rescuing an unlikely point.

That said, the sheer incompetence of Hull’s efforts during as one-sided a first half as the Premier League is likely to see this season cannot be totally swept aside. Basic errors and bizarre decision making abounded and a gleeful Villa duly took advantage.

The opening goal on 14 minutes came after Jelavic had lost possession on the left flank, the ball being quickly worked to Andreas Weimann, who then rolled a pass into the feet of Gabby Agbonlahor. The one-time England striker, afforded far too much space deep inside Hull territory, turned smartly to wrong-foot McShane and drill a low shot into the bottom corner of McGregor’s net.

Hull could not feign surprise over Villa’s attacking prowess with it having taken just 88 seconds for McGregor’s goal to come under its first serious threat.

Neat play by Agbonlahor and Weimann had created an opening for Fabian Delph, fresh from his England call-up in midweek, to dart through and fire a shot that clipped the top of Hull’s crossbar.

Once ahead through Agbonlahor’s opener, Villa poured forward and duly doubled their advantage nine minutes before the break. Another Hull mistake – this time an awful blunder by Dawson– gifted possession to the hosts in a dangerous area.

Two swift passes later and Kieran Richardson was scampering clear down the left and pulling the ball back for Weimann, who made no mistake from 10 yards.

Opportunities to add a third were squandered before the break as first Agbonlahor shot wide and then Ashley Westwood curled a free-kick against the bar.

A clumsy foul by Davies had handed Westwood his scoring opportunity and it proved to be his last action, the Hull captain being withdrawn at the interval as Bruce switched to a back four. This, at least, stemmed the wave of Villa attacks that had threatened to overwhelm the Tigers in the opening 45 minutes.

Then, in the final quarter, Hull finally came to life as Jelavic pulled a goal back with a header that Aly Cissokho inadvertently took away from Guzan’s grasp while trying to clear.

Hull were in the ascendancy for the 16 minutes remaining as Livermore brought a flying save from the Villa goalkeeper, who then saved smartly from Aluko.

It meant a first league defeat of the season for Hull and a sixth straight loss at Villa Park.