Hull City 3 Burnley 0: Abel Hernandez challenged to fire the Tigers to title glory

FOR all the good times that Hull City have enjoyed since moving to the KC Stadium early in the Millennium, finding a reliable 20-goal per season man has proved strangely elusive.

Hull City striker Abel Hernandez is congratulated on his goal by David Meyler and Mo Daime (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).
Hull City striker Abel Hernandez is congratulated on his goal by David Meyler and Mo Daime (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

Only Stuart Elliott has managed the feat since Hull’s £44m sporting mecca opened its doors to League football for the first time on Boxing Day 2002.

Considering the Tigers have won four promotions, played in an FA Cup final and competed in Europe during that time, this seems a strange anomaly.

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If David Meyler gets his way, however, Northern Ireland’s Elliott, the hero of Hull’s League One promotion-winning campaign with 27 goals in 2004-05 will soon have to share top billing in the goal-scoring stakes with Abel Hernandez.

In netting a quite sublime second goal as Burnley’s dominance of recent years over Hull came to an abrupt end, Hernandez took his tally for the season in league and cup to 10 – making the Uruguayan the first player to reach double figures during Steve Bruce’s three and a-half years at the helm.

For Meyler, this should only be the beginning for the club record £10m signing.

“I told Abel I want 20-plus goals from him this season,” said the Irishman in the wake of Hull’s second-half demolition of promotion rivals Burnley.

“With the team we have and the chances we can create through (Robert) Snodgrass, Sam Clucas, Moses (Odubajo), (Andrew) Robertson, the midfield, (Mo) Diame, he should be hitting those targets.

“If he can keep going, he should be hitting 20. If he does that, there is no reason why we can’t win the league.”

Asked what response Hernandez, who arrived in England 18 months ago speaking little English, had to being told 20 goals should be his minimum target this term, Meyler chuckled before replying: “Something in Spanish.

“No, seriously, he understood. He knew what I meant. He has the lot. He can score with his head, right foot, left foot.

“Abel’s goal against Burnley was a great one, the sort of thing he does in training all the time. It was nothing new to us, but great to see him do it in a game.”

When Hull last won promotion to the Premier League, midfield play-maker Robert Koren finished as the club’s top scorer with just nine goals.

Hernandez’s 65th-minute strike – a delightful curled effort beyond Tom Heaton after latching on to Mohamed Diame’s incisive pass – took the Uruguayan level with Koren’s league tally for the 2012-13 season to leave Bruce purring.

“Abel looked back to his best,” said the Hull manager. “He was at the levels of where we saw him (before the international break).

“I have always said you are only ever as good as your strikers. We went up in 2012-13 because of the shape and discipline we had as a defensive unit. We were fantastic, I think we won 14 times 1-0 or something like that.

“But, as a rule, you know you have got a great chance when you have got a goal-scorer. If Abel gets 20, it would be great. His goal against Burnley and his all-round performance was terrific.”

In terms of earning Bruce’s praise, Hernandez was far from on his own as Hull triumphed by a three-goal margin for the third time this term.

Jake Livermore, the scorer of the game’s opening goal, was outstanding, as was Meyler and Sam Clucas in midfield.

At the back, Harry Maguire, one poor clearance apart just after the hour when Andre Gray should have capitalised, and Curtis Davies were solid, while Allan McGregor did what he had to do with minimum fuss in the home goal.

As welcome as these individual returns to form were to the locals in a 21,842 crowd, perhaps the biggest contrast to recent struggles was the manner in which Hull started the game.

The tempo was markedly quicker than those first-half no-shows at Leeds and Rotherham, while the attacking intent needed to cause a side like Burnley problems was very much evident.

Tom Heaton had to make three important saves during the opening 45 minutes, the most impressive being to keep out a ferocious drive from Diame.

The Clarets’ goalkeeper, though, could do nothing to keep out the sweet volley from Livermore that broke the deadlock on 57 minutes. It was an identical story when Hernandez, after stepping inside Ben Mee with ease, curled Hull’s second beyond Heaton eight minutes later.

Burnley, who had won nine of the last 10 meetings between the two clubs, bore the look of a broken team by that stage and it was no surprise when Clucas added a third in stoppage time following neat work from Robert Snodgrass.

It means Hull head to Preston North End today with 44 points, an impressive tally considering the Championship has only just reached the halfway stage.

“It was up there with the Middlesbrough performance (when Hull beat Aitor Karanka’s men 3-0 in late November),” said Meyler.

“Three goals against a team pushing for promotion and the performance we put in after the disappointment of Rotherham was pleasing.

“As a group, we executed things perfectly and got three great goals. A good Christmas present.

“But it is no good unless we back this up against Preston.

“Three points was fantastic. We put in an excellent performance, everyone contributed and we are in an excellent position. But it is after 46 games when it will matter.”