To look at Hull City’s results since New Year’s Day, never mind the spectacular 24-hour January sale which saw two thirds of their goals leave in Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki, you might expect a bedraggled, demoralised team sliding down the Championship.
But then if you know anything about English football’s second tier, you know logic does not apply.
Minus Bowen and Grosicki, Hull had enough firepower to score four goals against Swansea City last night, only for their injury-hit defence to concede just as many.
You would not want these players walking your dog after they lost the lead three times but you could not complain about the spirit which saw substitute Tom Eaves wait until the fifth added minute to score the Tigers’ first equaliser of a crazy game.
Grant McCann only made one change to the XI hammered at Blackburn Rovers in midweek, but Matthew Pennington’s return in George Honeyman’s place prompted plenty of shuffling. Robbie McKenzie moved out to full-back, Leonardo Da Silva Lopes into midfield, Marcus Maddison into the hole, Mallik Wilks switched wings and Jackson Irvine moved out to the left wing.
The changes revitalised the team in an attacking sense even before everyone had got chance to get used to their new surroundings.
But then if you know anything about English football’s second tier, you know logic does not apply.Stuart Rayner
The game was less than half a minute hold when they hunted the ball, but Irvine’s dangerous cross was headed clear.
Lopes headed a Maddison free-kick over after the latter was headed wide. Wilks hit the side netting.
Hull quickly got what they deserved, after five minutes.
Callum Elder’s cross was not properly cleared and Lopes, a player Hull successfully held onto in January, drilled the ball in for his first Tigers goal.
Out of nowhere, Swansea got a foothold in the game and inevitably it was Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher conducting the move. Hull were opened up too easily down their right and Gallagher’s cross found Wayne Routledge in space at the back post.
From there, the Swans spread their wings without bombarding the hosts. Andre Ayew cut in from the right and smashed a shot wide, Bersant Celina had one blocked, and Gallagher forced George Long into a good low save when Hull failed to clear.
The Hull defence rushed out to stop Celina taking advantage of a corner pulled back to him by Matt Grimes, but the warning was not heeded.
At the other end, Maddison was not quite able to reach a McKenzie cross, and a shot from a very optimistic range hit a defender. Whatever Bowen’s hasty replacement lacks, it is not self-belief.
Infuriating as he can be at times, Maddison can also spark something, and he restored Hull’s lead for a second time early in the second half.
After Pennington glanced wide his free-kick, Maddison went it alone, pouncing on the looping rebound from his own 50th-minute shot to smash the ball in. It was his first goal for Hull.
Yet again, though, McCann’s side lacked the concentration to hang onto their advantage. This one lasted five minutes.
The Tigers left the second best right-back called Kyle ever to come out of Sheffield United’s academy in a disrespectful amount of space in their penalty area at a corner.
Grimes had the simple task of picking him out, and giving Naughton some shooting practice a player of his quality was more than up to.
What they lacked in defensive discipline, Hull were not short on in heart, and after 62 minutes they went in front for a third time, again through the persistence of a forward.
This time it was Mallik Wilks, who rather than joining in the crowd’s penalty appeals when he headed against a defender, got on with the job of putting the ball in the net instead.
Swansea threw on all three of their subs and McCann tried another rejig to lock the back door but reshuffles have not gone to plan this week, and this was no exception.
Sitting on leads is only a good idea when you can defend properly.
Ryan Tafazoli replaced Maddison as a third central defender and Honeyman came off the bench to move into No 10, with Wilks partnering Josh Magennis.
It did not work.
Ayew beat McKenzie too easily on the left, and Gallagher thumped in another equaliser after 78 minutes.
The back five – because it was a five, not a three – was so narrow as to leave substitute Yan Dhanda in an outrageous amount of space too, and when he was picked out in the 85th minute, fellow substitute Rhian Brewster did what Ayew had been unable to a minute earlier and beat Long.
For the first time in the match, Swansea were ahead and the “Allam out” chants got an airing.
But the game was not over yet. Eaves had come off the bench to beef up the attack with eight minutes of regulation time to go and in the fifth of six added minutes he slid the ball in at the near post for Hull’s first equaliser of the night and easily the sweetest of the lot.
Hull City: Long; McKenzie, McLoughlin, Pennington, Elder; Da Silva Lopes, Batty (Tafazolli 66); Wilks (Eaves 82), Maddison (Honeyman 66), Irvine; Magennis. Unused substitutes: Stewart, Ingram, Kingsley, Lewis-Potter.
Swansea City: Woodman; Naughton, Wilmott, Guehi, Bidwell; Fulton (Dhanda 64), Grimes; Routledge (Brewster 64), Gallagher, Celina (Garrick73); Ayew. Unused substitutes: Dyer, Roberts, Mulder, Cabango.
Referee: D Webb (Lancashire).