AS THE half-time whistle sounded to a smattering of jeers, Hull City looked as out of place in the Premier League as fireworks being let off a week after Bonfire Night.
Trailing inside five minutes and having lost both strikers to potentially serious injuries, the Tigers had about as much life as a year-old Catherine Wheel.
A seventh straight league defeat beckoned along with a continuation of the downward spiral that had dumped Hull in the relegation zone.
Fast forward an hour, however, and those same supporters who had braved a bitterly cold afternoon were hailing victory over a Southampton side that just three days earlier had beaten Inter Milan. Football truly can be a remarkable game.
Two goals inside 125 seconds sparked into life not only an encounter that, up to that point, the Saints had dominated but possibly also Hull’s season.
Certainly, had Mike Phelan’s men slid to yet another dispiriting defeat on an afternoon when his two main strikers were injured inside the opening half-hour then the damage could have been fatal.
Now, Hull will head to Sunderland on the resumption of the Premier League campaign with renewed vigour and hope.
Robert Snodgrass, a surprise inclusion on the bench considering the Scot had been ruled out for a month after suffering an ankle injury in the October 22 defeat at home to Stoke City, was the catalyst.
Brought on after Will Keane had followed Abel Hernandez in limping out of proceedings in the 26th minute, Hull’s top scorer netted the first goal and then created the winner for Michael Dawson with a beautifully floated free-kick.
No wonder Phelan bore the look of a happy man at the final whistle as he savoured a first win since being handed the reins on a permanent basis.
“There is a bit of everything in terms of emotions,” said the Tigers’ head coach. “Relief, happiness but also a little bit of concern about injuries and how many players we have got.
“The big thing is we won. We have been on the wrong end of some really soul-destroying defeats, but this group has an inner-belief.”
As a lone bugler played The Last Post as part of the Remembrance commemorations, the swathes of empty seats all around the KCOM Stadium told their own story.
Hull City is not a happy club. Disaffection with the owners runs deep, as was made plain by not only the 17,768 crowd being the lowest for a top-flight home game but also the ‘Allam out’ chants that were once again given an airing during the early exchanges.
The mood among the travelling fans could not have been more contrasting, the glow of Thursday night’s victory over one of Europe’s most glamorous names still very much evident.
For the opening hour, this disparity was reflected on the field, too. Hull, ponderous in comparison to how the fleet-footed visitors sprayed the ball around almost at will, fell behind to a goal that was very much of the home side’s making.
After reacting too slowly to the danger down their left flank, Curtis Davies tried to make amends by closing down Charlie Austin as he latched onto a deft pass from Dusan Tadic and homed in on goal.
He stuck out a leg, but the attempt was clumsy and only served to send Austin crashing to the turf.
Penalty awarded, Austin, whose £4.5m move to the Tigers collapsed at the eleventh hour in 2013 following a failed medical, sent David Marshall the wrong way from 12 yards. For a side looking to avoid a defeat that would have been Hull’s worst losing run since 1980, it was a dreadful start.
As Austin ran in front of the home fans, there was no repeat of the hobbling celebration that had marked his goal against Hull in his first visit since that aborted transfer from Burnley.
Instead, it was the hosts who bore the look of the walking wounded and Saints really should have made the game safe before the hour mark.
Jordy Clasie and Oriol Romeu both went close just before the interval, as did Austin with a shot that Marshall got enough on to turn behind for a corner.
Early after the restart, Virgil van Dijk’s looping header from a corner struck the top of the crossbar and, at that stage, it seemed merely a case of whether Southampton could add to Austin’s penalty or not before returning home with all three points.
Hull’s 61st-minute equaliser was as unexpected as it was totally out of keeping with what had gone before.
Neat play wide on the left flank saw Ryan Mason slip Sam Clucas in behind the defence and he drilled a low cross for Snodgrass to sweep past Fraser Forster and into the net.
What came next was the stuff of dreams for Hull, as a floated free-kick from Snodgrass allowed Michael Dawson to rise high above a melee of players and head beyond Forster.
Suddenly, the KCOM Stadium, so subdued earlier in the afternoon that the players’ shouts were clearly audible, was bouncing. There was still plenty of drama to come, Marshall saving brilliantly from Austin twice in quick succession.
James Ward-Prowse also curled a free-kick agonisingly wide of a post, Dawson threw himself in front of another Austin shot and Clucas hacked the ball off the line before, finally, a potentially season-defining three points had been clinched.