A GAME of two halves. As cliche as it might sound, there is no more apt a description as far as Hull City’s clash with Reading at the KCOM Stadium is concerned.
Ultimately, an excellent start to proceedings proved sufficient for the Tigers to get up and running in 2019-20, though they found themsleves clinging on to a slender 2-1 advantage after the break.
Early strikes by Jarrod Bowen and Jackson Irvine put Grant McCann’s team in control before the Royals took charge in the second period, halving the deficit through Lucas Joao – on his debut after a deadline day move from Sheffield Wednesday – but not quite able to force an equaliser.
And as well as they began, City need to play for 90 minutes, not just 45 – a view echoed by midfielder Kevin Stewart post-match.
“We started really well,” he said. “I think you could see how we want to play from the first 30 minutes, how high energy we are, the interceptions, on the front foot. That’s what we’ve been working on and it’s coming along really well.
“I think for us it’s just maintaining that throughout the whole game. In the second half they [Reading] had a lot more possession.
I thought we showed how excellent we were in terms of our pressing, our energy, our appetite, the bite, creating chances.Kevin Stewart
“Maybe we were under the cosh a little bit, but I still think we did really well to work hard and make it hard for them. I think it was a really good performance.”
Boss McCann, able to celebrate a maiden victory in the Hull hot-seat, concurred.
“I thought first half we were excellent,” he added.
“I thought we showed how excellent we were in terms of our pressing, our energy, our appetite, the bite, creating chances. I think we probably could have been three or four-nil up.
“They were always going to have a big reaction. They’re a good team, Reading. We were disappointed with the goal we conceded, just a bit of sloppy play. That’s the Championship for you.
“We’re going to have spells and the more games we play and the more the boys get used to it, they’ll become longer spells. I think over the last two games you’ve probably seen it for 45 minutes in both. My job is to get them to do it for longer spells.
“That’s something that’s going to come. I can feel it.”
The impressive spell that the Tigers did enjoy early on owed much to the excellence of wide men Bowen and Kamil Grosicki, two highly-coveted players whom McCann did well to hang on to during the summer transfer window.
Described by their manager as “unplayable at times”, the pair combined to break the deadlock with just six minutes gone.
Having got on the end of Irvine’s perfectly-weighted pass in behind Reading’s defence, Grosicki skinned his marker and fired goalwards.
Royals stopper Joao Virginia got down to save rather unconvincingly at his near post, but the ball rebounded off his body and into the six-yard box where the waiting Bowen couldn’t miss.
Pre-season is over, the real stuff has begun, yet it appeared that nobody had told the Reading defence, seemingly unaware of the danger as Dan Batty sent Bowen away down the right.
Nor did the visitors deem it necessary to bother tracking the run of Irvine, who was left with the simplest of headed finishes for 2-0 after Bowen cut back onto his left foot and delivered an inviting 16th-minute centre from just outside the box. As bad as Reading were out of possession, they looked slightly better with the ball, and fired a warning shot across City’s bows in the 18th minute as Joao’s deflected strike came back off an upright.
Normal service was resumed thereafter, with Hull continuing to pass the ball around with assurance and ease.
Dangerman Grosicki opened up the Royals again shortly before the half-hour-mark, progressing infield and finding Batty on the edge of the box, however the latter’s shot was deflected narrowly wide.
The opening period ended with Reading showing a little more, while the second began with them gradually beginning to take charge of proceedings.
Yakou Meite headed a John Swift cross from the left wide of the mark before Joao came in off the opposite flank, beat Stephen Kingsley and finished confidently past George Long at his near post. Now boasting a tangible reward for their improved showing, the visitors continued to turn the screw and Long did well to block a close-range strike from substitute George Puscas.
Having been on the ropes for quite a spell, City eventually broke out and Bowen blasted a 77th-minute strike down the throat of Virginia.
Eight minutes later, he bent a beautiful curling effort just wide from outside the box, then shot tamely at the Reading gloveman.
Moments after that, the Royals’ golden chance to salvage a point came and went, Puscas lashing a shot against the cross-bar when he should have scored from around six-yards out, meaning that Bowen and Grosicki’s first-half magic was not in vain, after all.