A SECOND-MINUTE howler from third-choice goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic led to Hull City becoming the latest victims of Premier League high-fliers Southampton this afternoon.
The Swiss stopper, making his second successive start due to injuries to Allan McGregor and Steve Harper, could only skew a back-pass straight to Victor Wanyama.
With Jakupovic stranded to the left side of his penalty area, the Belgian midfielder cooly lofted the ball first time into the empty net from almost 35 yards out.
In fairness to the embarrassed keeper, he recovered to make some decent saves thereafter but the damage was done.
Even though Hull had plenty of time to get back into the game, they were facing the best defence in all of England’s top four divisions and it showed. After an initial flurry of attacking activity, they never truly tested Ronald Koeman’s side.
And Steve Bruce was impressed by Koeman’s much-changed squad.
“They were going to be everbody’s whipping boys this season apparently, but they’ve bought well and the manager needs a pat on the back,” he said.
“Arguably they’re as good as they were last year. It looks as if what they’ve let go has been replaced with real quality.
“Southampton are a very good side and it’s no fluke that they’re at the top end of the division.”
Bruce admitted the early error by Jakupovic, his third choice keeper making only his third Premier League start, was a decisive moment.
“It’s disappointing to lose a game by a mistake again,” he added. “It’s a great finish by Wanyama but you make a mistake like that after a couple of minutes and it sets everybody back on their heels.
“To go 1-0 down to a goal like that is difficult to take for everybody, it shocked the whole stadium, the players and everyone.”
Southampton remarkably have conceded just five goals in their 10 league games so far, a record that has under-pinned their impressive rise to second only behind leaders Chelsea.
Hull - losing for the first time in four games - were without Alex Bruce after the centre-half strained a hamstring in training yesterday, Paul McShane drafted in to replace him on his 200th league start.
Given their lofty league position, the in-form visitors - now 10 wins in their last 11 games - did not need any encouragement or gifts so you did fear what may happen to Hull after Jakupovic’s early error.
However, Steve Bruce’s men did initially shrug off that setback to play some lovely football, attacking with real purpose and unsettling Southampton on a number of occasions.
Mohamed Diame played a neat one-two with Abel Hernandez to create one opportunity which was thwarted, Robbie Brady showed real pace down the left to instigate another threatening raid while Hatem Ben Arfa saw one shot saved by Fraser Forster before dancing into the penalty box with another piercing run that saw his pull-back blocked.
Jakupovic hesitated again, though, to give Shane Long - the striker on his first return to the KC Stadium after leaving for £12m in the summer - an opportunity with a looping header that bounced wide.
As the hosts lost some of that momentum, the 30-year-old was more confident in coming out to deny the Irishman soon after meaning Hull were still in with a real shout trailing just 1-0 at the interval.
However, though Diame had a penalty appeal rightly turned down in the 47th minute, after that, Hull created little, frustrated by the quality of Saints’ rearguard.
They failed to really advance their game enough in the second period and it was Koeman’s side who looked the more dangerous, often counter-attacking with real pace and finesse.
Steve Davis almost doubled their lead when latching onto Graziano Pelle’s scrappy overhead kick, Jakupovic again denying them, before Nathaniel Clyne fired in a low cross that went right across the six-yard box unpunished.
Relieved Hull had a real let-off in the 70th minute, though, when Dusan Tadic came up with some trickery on the right only to somehow see substitute Sadio Mane stab his cross into the ground, seeing it bounce over the crossbar from just three yards.
Desperate Hull battled until the end, enjoying plenty of possession, but lacked the requisite guile to make any inroads and had just one shot on target. They should fare better at Burnley in a week’s time.
Hull City: Jakupovic; Chester, Davies, McShane (Aluko 65), Brady (Quinn 81; Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Livermore, Diame, Ben Arfa (Robertson 73); Hernandez.
Southampton: Forster; Clyne, Fonte, Alderweireld, Bertrand; Tadic (Cook 81 ), Schneiderlin, Wanyama, Davis; Long (Mane 62) Pelle.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (Bradford)