ON Ryder Cup weekend, when patriots were incessantly urged to ‘Believe in Blue’, Hull City’s own hardcore were just happy to have a touch of faith restored in the amber and black.
These are tough times by the Humber and the galleries are restless. Form on the pitch has been scratchy and the apathy surrounding the club off it is hanging around like a dense fog.
For a welcome ray of sunshine to creep through following the first instalment of a Championship triple-header which looks as demanding as it gets – with Leeds United and Sheffield United on the immediate horizon – was not inconsequential for Hull.
The Tigers did not quite take the scalp of high-flying Middlesbrough, but there was at least a semblance of hope going forward, more particularly in the performances of goal-scorer Jarrod Bowen, Kamil Grosicki and Chris Martin – with the latter pairing making their first league starts of the season on Saturday.
The trio suggested they can make things happen consistently in the final third for Hull, given a fair wind, with the probing offensive issues belonging to Boro.
Their squad may be the envy of most of their Championship rivals – with the likes of Ashley Fletcher, Rudy Gestede, Lewis Wing and Grant Leadbitter not even involved on Saturday.
But there remain deficiencies, more especially in the width department with Tony Pulis – who failed with late summer moves for the likes of Albert Adomah and Yannick Bolaise – entitled to be slightly envious at the sight of Bowen and Grosicki raiding down the flanks for the hosts.
The pair troubled Boro, with Pulis’s flustered body language in his technical area hinting at a frustrating afternoon.
That said, there was a touch of agitation for Bowen and Grosicki, too, with the latter attempting to secure penalty rights for the hosts’ leveller on 69 minutes.
Bowen, told by manager Nigel Adkins that he was on spot-kicks with regular taker Evandro being injured, blanked out the noise – and parity was coolly restored.
Bowen, who sent Darren Randolph the wrong way after Daniel Ayala was penalised for a needless shove on Martin just inside the area as the striker was going away from goal, said: “Kamil was in my earhole, saying he wanted to take it, so it put a bit more pressure on me to score.
“But I want to score goals and picked the ball up and thought: ‘It is only me taking it and no-one else.’ He was saying: ‘Please, please, come on!’ Sometimes, you have to say you are on them and show the composure to put it away.”
On the overall display of Grosicki, in his first start since April 28, Bowen was more effusive.
He added: “I think every player knows the qualities that Kamil has got on his day and it is just getting the best out of him.
“I thought he was very good and direct and it gave us a new dimension, me and him running forward and trying to create chances.
“And we had Chrissie up front who is a big target man and we can play off him when the ball is played to him and work off him.”
On a day when victory would have seen them go top, Boro flattered to deceive, more especially in the first half when their crossing was atrocious.
They produced one worthwhile chance in the first period when Britt Assombalonga steered wide following an assist from Jordan Hugill, but it was Hull who edged a low-key opening 45 minutes.
Bowen nodded over, and a rasping drive from Markus Henriksen was a whisker away, but it was Boro who made the breakthrough early in second half.
It was a rare moment of incision with a teasing right-wing centre from Jonny Howson catching out Hull’s rearguard with Assombalonga nipping in at the far post to tuck the ball home.
On a day when they were not at their best, Boro should have at least been consoled in the knowledge that a repeat of their iron defensive form – which had seen them record seven clean sheets in their opening nine league games – would have provided them with a great platform of securing a win, albeit an ugly one.
Aden Flint almost sealed it with a trademark header clipping the bar before Boro uncharacteristically blinked at the other end.
Hull, whose best second-half moment had seen Grosicki test Randolph with a searching free-kick, profited from the indiscipline of Ayala, whose capacity to provide a reckless moment resurfaced to concede a soft penalty.
Bowen gleefully took the gift with the hosts starting to fancy their chances of a headline win.
In the event, it was Boro who almost nicked it late on, with Marshall splendidly parrying Howson’s header after a rare moment of quality on the flanks from substitute Stewart Downing.
On Boro’s patchy showing, defender Ryan Shotton said: “We are brilliant at one end and have just got to improve in the final third by getting touches on the ball and getting that bit of luck.
“We had spoken about it a lot through this week, we know exactly what we have been lacking. We are not denying it and not shying away from it.”