NEW YEAR and, for once, the optimism that comes with a fresh start proved well founded as Hull City claimed a first Premier League victory in January.
After 11 previous attempts spread over three seasons, the Tigers finally broke their hoodoo as a top-flight club in the opening month of the year thanks to goals from Ahmed Elmohamady and Nikica Jelavic.
The three points were no more than Hull deserved, as Steve Bruce’s men rediscovered the attacking verve and defensive steel that had characterised their early-season performances.
Hull had many heroes, with David Meyler and Jake Livermore setting the tempo in midfield with a couple of commanding displays.
It was, however, the £17m strike partnership of Jelavic and Abel Hernandez that perhaps provided the biggest grounds for optimism and suggest that Bruce’s men have the quality to get out of trouble in 2015.
The pair only managed four games together in the autumn – scoring four times between them – before injury and then Hernandez needing to rush home for the birth of his child kept them apart.
Reunited briefly in the 1-0 defeat at home to Swansea City just before Christmas, the partnership looked rusty.
Yesterday, though, Hull’s two strikers dove-tailed beautifully to ensure the new year started in the happiest of fashions for Yorkshire’s sole Premier League representative.
Considering how poorly these teams had finished 2014 – one win in 12 games for Hull, Everton a solitary victory in eight – it was perhaps no surprise that the game should be such an open affair, as both teams looked to make an early statement of intent.
The upshot was a hugely entertaining contest that Hull enjoyed the better of for long periods.
There was no little controversy, either, with Gareth Barry hacking Hernandez to the floor a fraction inside the Everton area after just three minutes and referee Kevin Friend only awarding a free-kick.
It would prove to be the first of several contentious decisions by the official, who harshly sent Antolin Alcaraz off late on for a foul on Jelavic that earned the Toffees defender a second yellow card.
In and among the many baffling calls by Friend, Hull produced their most complete display in months with Hernandez setting the tone early on with a stinging drive that Joel Robles did well to turn round a post.
Elmohamady then shot wide with an effort that proved to be just a warm-up for the Egyptian, who met Liam Rosenior’s left-wing cross with a such a firm header on 33 minutes that Robles stood no chance.
It was Hull’s first goal on home soil for more than six playing hours, but there could be little doubt that their enterprising play had deserved the breakthrough with Hernandez having been denied by a fine block from Robles just three minutes before Elmohamady’s opener.
The Tigers, clearly buoyed by ending that 385-minute scoring drought at the KC, poured forward and the reward for such adventure came just before the interval.
Again, Hernandez was heavily involved as the £10m record signing hooked the ball over his shoulder towards the visitors’ goal. As Robles hesitated, Jelavic set off after the pass before lifting the ball over a by now stranded goalkeeper and into the net.
Hull started the second half in a similarly attack-minded manner and Hernandez really should have done better than prod a shot wide from close range.
Jelavic was then unfortunate that his drilled cross fizzed across the face of goal without a team-mate able to turn in the ball.
Up to that point, Everton had rarely tested Allan McGregor. However, as Liam Rosenior writhed in agony on the touchline after landing badly, they played on and it took a point-blank save from the Tigers’ goalkeeper to keep out Ross Barkley after he had cleverly evaded Alex Bruce and Curtis Davies.
Steven Naismith then saw his goal-bound shot blocked bravely by Harry Maguire, and that inspired Hull into a strong finish.
First, Jelavic curled a 20-yard free-kick just over the crossbar before Hernandez broke quickly from his own half to release Livermore, but the midfielder slipped. Then, after Jelavic’s header had been blocked by Barry, Hernandez was played clear by a magnificent cross-field pass from Robbie Brady but lobbed his shot just wide.
Alcaraz saw red late on for impeding Jelavic as Hull moved up to 15th in the table.
Hull City: McGregor; Chester, Bruce, Davies, Robertson (Rosenior 23, Maguire 56); Elmohamady, Meyler, Livermore, Ramirez (Brady 46); Hernandez, Jelavic. Unused substitutes: Harper, Sagbo, Ince, Aluko.
Everton: Robles; Jagielka, Alcaraz, Barry,Coleman, Barkley, Besic (Oviedo 46), Naismith, Baines; Mirallas (Lukaku 46), Kone. Unused substitutes: Griffiths, Eto’o, McGeady, Distin, Atsu.
Referee: K Friend (Leicestershire).
Results and tables: Page 20.