Hull City 0 Stoke City 0: Hard graft key to our amazing KC Stadium record, says Agnew

Assistant manager Steve Agnew believes simple hard work is the reason for Hull’s exceptional defensive record at the KC Stadium.

Hull City's Yannick Sagbo misses his first half chance
Hull City's Yannick Sagbo misses his first half chance

After Saturday’s goalless draw against Stoke, the Tigers have conceded the fewest goals at home in the entire Barclays Premier League – shipping just three in eight matches in front of the their own fans.

It is a statistic that few would have predicted at the start of the season and a point of some pride for a defensive group comprising a handful of cut-price summer signings and several survivors from last season’s Championship promotion campaign.

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Table-topping Arsenal, by comparison, have been breached twice as many times at Emirates Stadium, while seven teams are already in double figures.

With a celebrated centre-half such as Steve Bruce as boss, Hull might be expected to keep things tight at the back, but Agnew puts most of the credit on those putting in the hard yards.

“Credit to the players because they work at it every week,” said Agnew.

“Our shape and our discipline behind the ball is really, really good and it does frustrate the opposition at times.

“We’re really, really pleased with them. It’s not just the defenders but the front two and all through the team as well.

“They just work at it and they get the reward for putting that work and effort into their defensive record.

“It’s pleasing and it’s very rewarding.”

Hull’s most recent shutout would not have happened without two fine saves from Scotland goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who intervened twice to deny Peter Crouch in the second half.

The former Rangers man has proved a bargain buy at £1.8m from Besiktas and Agnew was duly thankful for his efforts.

“McGregor kept us in it with two terrific saves,” he admitted.

“We were a little loose in the second half and consequently Stoke gained momentum. Players like Crouch are always going to create chances when crosses come in but Allan made fantastic saves.”

The game was hardly a thriller, broadcast live on television for tea-time viewing, but that did not both defender Curtis Davies.

He said: “It was a boring game for Sky TV, a 0-0 on a bobbly, windy pitch, but it’s another point towards survival.

“I thought we were lucky to get a point in the end. Allan McGregor saved us, he made a couple of great saves.

“We were making mistakes in the second half and they were capitalising and creating chances. Neither team looked like creating chances without mistakes.”

Stephen Ireland’s effort, which was immediately ruled out, came following up after McGregor saved a header from Crouch, who for once had got away from Davies.

“Every time the ball gets in the box you’ve got to look out for him,” said the defender. “There was once I let him get away because I was worried about the second run from Stevie Ireland and he almost scored.”

It might not have been a game to rouse the neutrals at home, but a point apiece serves both sides well enough in their attempt to pull away from the relegation scrap.

The fixture did not appear to promise a goal glut before kick off, but had it not been for Begovic in the first half and McGregor in he second the stalemate would at least have been broken.

Begovic kept Hull out with good saves from Ahmed Elmohamady and Yannick Sagbo before the break and his opposite number twice prevented Peter Crouch from capping a much-improved Potters display in the last half-hour.

McGregor’s first save from Crouch, a one-handed stop from just a couple of yards, landed at the feet of Ireland but when he tapped home he was flagged offside.

Ryan Shawcross headed against the crossbar as Stoke pushed but Hull held out and now boast the best home defensive record in the division, with just three conceded in eight games.

Stoke manager Mark Hughes rewarded two of the men who helped secure last weekend’s shock win over Chelsea, promoting goalscorers Ireland and Oussama Assaidi from the bench to the starting XI.

But there was to be nothing as dramatic from them this time.

Hull warmed to the task quicker than their opponents although their first shot – a 30-yard drive by Maynor Figueroa – was more speculative than anything else.

Their next attempt, after 12 minutes, was much closer to opening the scoring. Danny Graham won a corner with a deflected effort and when Tom Huddlestone’s delivery was cleared, Elmohamady took it neatly on his chest.

He struck a sweet volley as the ball dropped but Begovic sprang into action to palm it over the crossbar.

Stoke’s response came from a familiar avenue – Crouch’s height causing disquiet at a corner – but Sagbo was able to clear before the visitors could muster a shot.

The Ivorian was doing his best work at the other end of the pitch, though, cleverly laying off for Graham only for the on-loan Sunderland man to hesitate and allow Shawcross to block his belated strike.

After 21 minutes Sagbo went close himself, testing Begovic with a meaty near-post strike after Elmohamady had left Marc Muniesa in his wake. Again the goalkeeper was up to the challenge.

Hull were cranking up the pressure but Stoke survived again when Davies put an unmarked header wide from Huddlestone’s dangerous free-kick.

The centre-half had earlier pleased the crowd by twice showing Ireland a clean pair of heels when carrying the ball from the back.

Stoke came out after the break with a little more endeavour than before and might even have nicked the lead had Shawcross managed a clean connection to Marko Arnautovic’s flat corner.

On the hour, Begovic again kept Stoke in it.

Sagbo and Graham made inroads into the Stoke area before Figueroa’s cross found Elmohamady at the far post. His header lacked real power but still required a smart save from the Bosnian goalkeeper.

From that point on, it was Stoke who took the game by the scruff of the neck.

Figueroa almost gifted the advantage when a dreadful touch left Stoke with a two-on-one advantage and acres of space.

Arnautovic was the man in possession but, with Assaidi crying out for the pass, he wrongly went it alone and was dispossessed.

The chances continued – Hull refused a penalty when Sagbo’s header struck Muniesa’s arm and Ireland drilling a shot just wide from the edge of the area.

The ball was finally put in the net in the 70th minute but an offside flag was against Stoke.

Geoff Cameron’s superb cross found Crouch at the far post and had his header not been brilliantly clawed back by McGregor it would surely have been 1-0.

But Ireland, a fraction ahead of James Chester, became active as soon as the save was made and his point-blank finish was chalked off. McGregor produced another fine save moments later, tipping Crouch’s goalbound attempt wide, and the resulting corner was headed against the bar by Shawcross. As Stoke pressed, the hosts looked more ragged but held on to share the spoils.

Hull City: McGregor, Chester, Bruce (Brady 67), Davies, Elmohamady, Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler (Rosenior 78), Figueroa, Sagbo, Graham (Boyd 82). Unused substitutes: Koren, McShane, Harper, Faye.

Stoke City: Begovic, Cameron, Shawcross, Wilson, Muniesa (Pieters 66), Whelan (Palacios 78), Nzonzi, Arnautovic (Adam 90), Ireland, Assaidi,Crouch. Unused substitutes: Pennant, Jones, Wilkinson, Sorensen.

Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).