Hull City show greater unity as Middlesbrough FC faithful turn on Neil Warnock

IT IS days like Saturday that Neil Warnock will not miss when he is in retirement back in his beloved Cornwall.

The cut and thrust of a Yorkshire derby with the rain belting down, the pitch slick and true, the floodlights on and a big gathering of supporters following his side is usually right up his street.

It was just everything else that went with it at the weekend.

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Missed chances, a comedy concession, questionable refereeing decisions and a potentially serious injury to a key player contributed to a distressing defeat which the veteran Middlesbrough manager must dwell on for the next fortnight. It’s a ‘bleak picture’, he ruefully admitted afterwards.

Scruff of the neck: Hull City’s Tom Eaves, left, and Middlesbrough’s Dael Fry tussle in the heavy rain at the MKM Stadium in a game that was settled in stoppage time (Pictures: Richard Sellers/PA)

An appalling day was compounded by some fans among Boro’s 3,500 contingent harshly calling for him to be ‘sacked in the morning.’ Warnock said that other than running onto the pitch and scoring a goal, there was little he could do and he had a point.

One of those days all right, but a glorious one for Hull City.

Given the pain they have endured in an arduous start to the season, they will justifiably believe that they deserved some overdue fortune – which spectacularly arrived when Keane Lewis-Potter’s 81st-minute strike shuddered the post and rebounded into the net off the backside of hapless Boro keeper Joe Lumley – and it is hard to argue with that.

Deep down, Warnock would have surely respected the fight and desire shown by an honest Hull side which reflected very well upon the unity forged by Grant McCann.

Hull City's Mallik Wilks (right) celebrates with teammate Greg Docherty (centre) (Picture: PA)

On the day, they did not go away and were persistent and hearty. Their Championship experience may have been vastly inferior to their opponents, but you would not have known.

A much-changed line-up featuring two players on their first league starts this season in Tom Eaves and Tyler Smith had each other’s backs and fought admirably for one and other to conjure a first win since the opening day.

It was personified in the display of man-of-the-match Di’Shon Bernard, who put his body on the line and made some key blocks and headers, and kept coming back for more.

Significantly, it was also Hull’s first home victory at this level in 457 days since, ironically, beating Boro on July 2, 2020.

Middlesbrough's Andraz Sporar misses a golden chance against Hull (Picture: PA)

You had to go back further, some 651 days, to their previous Championship win in East Yorkshire in the presence of fans on December 21, 2019, and this certainly felt like Christmas.

City’s season may well continue to be a battle, but this is a group who, despite having a fair bit thrown at them, are not feeling sorry for themselves. Their spirit is strong and they are fighters, like their manager.

In his first league start since the opening day, Josh Emmanuel – who played as right wing-back in a new 3-5-2 system which functioned well and vindicated McCann’s thinking – said: “It is incredible to be playing in front of the fans again. The atmosphere was crazy and I am buzzing.

“The key was hard work. We have been in every game this season, but were more clinical. And I think the new system gave us a bit more freedom and rotation.”

Middlesbrough manager Neil Warnock (Picture: PA)

On the fortuitous opener, he added: “One hundred per cent I would claim it if I was Keane. Hopefully he gets that. And it was tremendous for Mallik (Wilks) for the second. The goals will come if you stay confident.

“But to be honest, the confidence and team morale has never been questioned. The gaffer has been saying that the wins will come because the performances have not been bad.”

Hull’s intensity in the opening period was striking in a half when Boro went through the motions.

A wild shot off target from Andraz Sporar was a sign of things to come, while Matt Ingram made a key save to deny Marcus Tavernier at his near post.

Warnock was clearly nonplussed with the first-half fare.

Some famous footage in his time at Huddersfield saw him lambast his players at half-time for a tepid show in the rain at Shrewsbury, letting out a few expletives along the way.

A bit of ‘cajolement’ may have also arrived at Hull. Boro needed to up it and did – but shooting boots were left on Teesside.

Tavernier blazed over before Sporar fired a glorious chance into the side-netting and when Ingram made a stunning one-handed save to deny Paddy McNair, there was an inescapable feeling it might just be Hull’s day.

Soon after key Boro defender Dael Fry left the fray, City had their cathartic opener.

It was the first time they had taken the lead in a game this term and came at a timely juncture.

Substitute Wilks – who made a greater impact than Boro’s belated replacements – then followed up his late goal against the Teessiders last time out with another.

It was a cool finish on the break in a game which saw Hull sharpen up in both boxes and show their development from the recent game with Sheffield United.

Wilks’ strike came minutes after Boro saw a sweet free-kick from McNair ruled out for a perceived infringement moments before he struck it. It was that sort of day.