The Tigers, for so long this season toothless up front thanks to loss of form and injuries, are clawing their way to safety and Nikica Jelavic and Dame N’Doye made it a landmark afternoon that saw QPR beaten in dramatic fashion against the backdrop of several individual sub-plots.
For Jelavic, his 16th-minute opener against QPR means the Croat now stands alone as Hull’s all-time record goalscorer in the Premier League. N’Doye, meanwhile, was able to celebrate his 30th birthday in style thanks to netting a last-gasp winner.
The duo’s goals meant Charlie Austin’s first-half strike amounted to little more than a reminder to the club that had dramatically pulled the plug on his £4.5m transfer 18 months earlier as to what they had been missing out on.
As fascinating as these individual sideshows were, however, the only thing that mattered come the final whistle was that Hull had moved four points clear of trouble in the fight to avoid relegation.
“We are back level in terms of points from games played and that is huge,” said delighted Hull manager Bruce. “Usually, if you go level par at the end of the season you will stay up.
“Thirty eight points is usually enough and we are back level par. Let’s see if we can go under par, as I call it, over the next couple of weeks.”
Hull’s chances of moving above the point-per-game ratio are encouraging. Not only is the injury crisis that has dogged the club through the winter easing but the next three fixtures see Bruce’s men travel to Stoke City and bottom club Leicester City either side of taking on Sunderland at the KC on Tuesday, March 3.
Should they take four, five or even seven points from that trio of games, the Tigers really will be sitting pretty ahead of hosting Chelsea in the final game before the next international break.
To do so, however, Hull will have to improve on the performance that saw Rangers come so close to returning south with a point despite playing the final hour with 10 men.
Barton’s red card was the cause of Hull’s numerical superiority, the QPR captain being dismissed for hitting Tom Huddlestone in the unmentionables during an altercation that had been sparked by debutant Darnell Furlong’s rash challenges on Jelavic.
The offence happened straight in front of referee Anthony Taylor, who had no other option but to show the one-time England international a red card.
Hull were already a goal ahead at that stage, Jelavic having fired in brilliantly after Steven Caulker’s woeful attempt to head clear had landed at the Croat’s feet and he claimed his 12th league goal for the Yorkshire club.
Five minutes after that opener, and with the two sides still having 11 men apiece, Rangers had served warning of their attacking prowess when Allan McGregor had been forced into a sprawling save by a firm header from Furlong.
Barton’s dismissal, however, seemed likely to afford the home side a much more comfortable afternoon. The opposite, though, proved to be the case, with Austin heading in a fantastic cross from Matty Phillips to draw Rangers level before he performed an exaggerated limp in celebration to mock the failed medical that had seen his proposed £4.5m move to Hull collapse at the 11th hour.
“The celebration was kind of planned,” admitted the former Burnley striker. “It was just something personal, that was all. No malice in it at all. I have no hard feelings towards Hull.
“I spoke to Steve after and I am appreciative of everything he said in the press before the match. It (the failed medical) was just one of those things. It was a problem I had that I didn’t know about. It was a problem for Hull and they didn’t want to go through with the situation.”
Austin, of course, has proved the medics wrong with his goal on Saturday being his 14th of the season, meaning he is again the top scoring Englishman in the Premier League.
For most of the second half, his goal looked like being enough to earn QPR a precious point as Hull struggled to break down the resolute visitors. Then, though, came a dramatic passage of play in the 89th minute that saw Rangers’ goalkeeper Rob Green brilliantly deny N’Doye after the Senegal striker had latched on to a flick-on by Abel Hernandez.
The ball was then returned into the six-yard area by Robbie Brady and, this time, N’Doye would not be denied his birthday goal as he nipped in front of Green to power the ball into the back of the net and leave his manager delighted.
“When I first spoke to his agent,” said Bruce of the £3m deadline-day arrival from Lokomotiv Moscow, who took a pay cut to join the Tigers, “he wanted to come and play in England.
“But he was out of contract in the summer and Moscow had offered him a huge contract.
“For weeks, I was just wondering ‘can we afford him?’ We gave him our best price and kept chipping away at him.
“Then, we flew to Paris to meet him and then he had his medical in Paris.
“He spent five or six days there and, thankfully, the hard work paid off as he said at 10pm (on the day the window closed) that he’d come. I have never known anybody take such a huge chunk of money off his wage packet. But he really wanted to play in England.”