Needing favours elsewhere, Hull were not quite able to fulfil their part of the bargain, though they felt that was as much down to the officials as the two teams and a 2-2 draw was, anyway, a good and hard-earned one.
At times Hull’s frustration threatened to get the better of them, Mallik Wilks booked for petulantly knocking the linesman’s flag out of his hands in anger at a bad decision.
In fairness to them, though, they made their point and Hull’s with Wilks twice crossing for Josh Magennis to head equalisers. Though Sunderland hit the woodwork twice, a share of the spoils was probably fair.
Starting the game hoping to secure promotion on the night – Lincoln did not play ball on that – they were adamant Charlie Wyke should have been sent off for a 19th-minute elbow to the head of Jacob Greaves and equally furious when a penalty was given against Callum Elder shortly after the half-hour. It could have sidetracked them and certainly hampered them for a spell, but did not stop them.
Even with Wilks having a shot saved in the second minute, Hull were sluggish out of the blocks and punished for it. It was not to be Wilks’s night in front of goal, but he made up for it as a creator.
Hull could not say they were not warned. In the 10th minute Lynden Gooch got to the byline and crossed for Jordan Jones to head against the bar. A minute later the American was there again, this time clearing his good friend George Honeyman’s head with a delivery Jones half-volleyed into the net.
Hull were ragged, looking like the team whose promotion hopes had collapsed under three straight defeats, Sunderland like the one closing in on the title after four wins on the spin and 11 matches unbeaten.
The Tigers should, though, have got back on level terms.
Lee Burge scrambled across his goal and did well to turn Keane Lewis-Potter’s curling free-kick behind but Wilks somehow put the corner wide of the post from two yards out.
Within a minute Greaves was pole-axed, home players surrounding referee Craig Breakspear furious he only showed a yellow card to the former Middlesbrough and Bradford City striker.
Greaves carried on, but only after at least five minutes of concussion checks.
Regan Slater played a beautiful pass to Wilks on the right where Hull’s top-scorer showed that last night at least he was a better maker than taker of goals, holding off his man, checking back and producing a cross Magennis glanced inside the far post.
The air was quickly let out of their tyres, though, when Elder was adjudged to have handballed as he went to tackle Gooch. So close to the linesman, you would be worried if he got a decision like that wrong, but the reaction of those in black and amber suggested he had.
Grant Leadbitter sent Matt Ingram the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Hull were struggling to harness their anger, Leadbitter having a shot blocked, Ingram lucky to get away with a backpass and Wilks’s left-footed shot in response weak. Sunderland looked in danger when Wilks broke in the sixth added minute of the half, but he never quite had the ball where he wanted it.
The Tigers were the better second-half team though their anxiety was not only betrayed by bookings for Lewis-Potter and Wilks and regular outbursts from Magennis, but also Grant McCann playing ballboy at one point.
James Scowen blocked from Magennis at a goalmouth scramble but was not to be denied, running onto another excellent Wilks cross and firmly planting it into the net minutes later.
You wondered if he would claim a hat-trick but the chances fell elsewhere.
Greg Docherty burst through two tackles but had a shot blocked, Lewis-Potter let his brilliant run and nutmeg down with a scuffed finish and Greaves headed over at a corner. Wilks, inevitably, had a shot saved from Elder’s free-kick.
For all that, Sunderland, who had piled on attacking substitutes, could have won it, Ingram making a good save from Aiden O’Brien and the same player hitting the crossbar before the ball was cleared.
Hull are nearly there.
Hull City: Ingram; Coyle, Jones, Greaves, Elder; Slater (Smallwood 80), Docherty; Wilks, Honeyman (Crowley 80), Lewis-Potter (Whyte 80); Magennis. Unused substitutes: Long, Burke, Eaves, Emmanuel.
Sunderland: Burge; Power, Wright, O’Nien, McFadzean (Hume 76); Leadbitter (Diamond 72); Gooch, Winchester (O’Brien 72), Scowen, Jones (Maguire 81); Wyke. Unused substitutes: Stewart, Younger, Patterson.
Referee: C Breakspear (Surrey).
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