SO, Hull City will host Manchester United next Saturday as one of just three Premier League clubs to have matched Jose Mourinho’s side’s maximum six-point haul from the opening two games.
Who among us saw that coming? No one, surely. Not after a summer where it seemed everything that could go wrong for the Tigers did so.
But, after creating history by becoming the first club to beat the reigning champions on the opening day of a Premier League season, the Tigers completed a classic smash-and-grab win at Swansea City to join United, Manchester City and Chelsea at the top of the table.
Late strikes by Shaun Maloney and Abel Hernandez were enough to cap a gutsy and determined display as Mike Phelan once again devised a game plan that worked perfectly.
Against a Swans side who dominate possession most weeks, Hull sat deep but broke at pace and were full value for the points despite Swansea manager Francesco Guidolin criticising what he perceived to be a negative approach.
“Hull defend for 93 minutes with 11 players behind the ball and with an attitude that is no good,” said the Italian. “The ’keeper stopped play.”
Not that Phelan or his players were unduly bothered by such a surly attitude. They were too busy basking in what has to be the most remarkable start to a Premier League season.
By rights, Hull should be the whipping boys of the top flight.
No permanent manager after Steve Bruce walked out a month ago, no hint of any new signings and just 11 fit senior outfield players in a squad that was threadbare even before the injury crisis that befell the club during pre-season.
Yet, from such inauspicious beginnings, Phelan and his band of heroes have somehow delivered Hull’s first two-game winning start to a campaign in 12 years.
No wonder the travelling fans made clear their thoughts at the final whistle as the chant ‘We want Allam out, we want Phelan in’ reverberated around the fast emptying Liberty Stadium.
Hull’s caretaker chief made light of such support. “It’s better than hearing them singing, ‘We want Phelan out’,” quipped the 53-year-old.
The players are in no doubt as to just how integral Bruce’s former assistant has been in helping Hull beat the odds.
“Mike has done brilliantly,” said Sam Clucas, who rarely strayed more than a few yards from Gylfi Sigurdsson after being handed the task of man-marking the Welsh club’s play-maker.
“He is meticulous in training with all the details he goes through. We know the opposition inside out. We had worked on Swansea all week and it all paid off. He has been brilliant.”
David Meyler, another hugely impressive performer, had joked how Phelan’s preparations were so thorough that: “We even know how many times the Swansea players go to the toilet.”
Judging by how effective the Tigers proved in negating the hosts, last week’s work on the training pitch was not wasted.
Hull produced a master class in soaking up pressure before breaking at speed and with more assured finishing could have won by a more convincing margin.
Certainly, Adama Diomande should have taken at least one of the three excellent chances he had during the first half. Hernandez also spurned a good opening in either half, while Robert Snodgrass was left exasperated by referee Stuart Attwell’s failure to award even a free-kick when he was tripped on the edge of the area by Jordi Amat.
Swansea had their own moments of promise and it took a stunning finger-tip save from Eldin Jakupovic to divert Sigurdsson’s drive onto the crossbar. Modou Barrow also proved a real handful for Andrew Robertson.
The longer the game wore on, the more frustrated Swansea became and the more likely it seemed Hull would break the deadlock.
The decisive moment came 11 minutes from time when Curtis Davies, moments after his header had been turned onto the bar, diverted Snodgrass’s corner towards Maloney and the substitute improvised by nudging the ball over the line with his hip.
Maloney turned creator in stoppage time to find Hernandez, who rounded off a sweeping move he had started by firing under Fabianski to ensure Mourinho’s visit to the KCOM next Saturday will pit second versus third.
“It is unbelievable,” added Clucas.
“Everyone wrote us off coming into this season, but we will probably have teams looking at us more seriously now.
“I am a massive Manchester United fan so next week is one I can look forward to. I didn’t think we would be saying this was a top of the table clash.”
Swansea City: Fabianski; Naughton, Fernandez, Amat, Kingsley; Cork, Fer (Sung-Yeung 68); Barrow, (Dyer 85), Sigurdsson, Routledge (Montero 55); Llorente. Unused substitutes: Van der Hoorn, Rangel, Fulton, Nordfeldt.
Hull City: Jakupovic; Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Huddlestone, Clucas, Meyler; Snodgrass, Hernandez, Diomande (Maloney 73). Unused substitutes: Tymon, Bowen, Luer, Olley, Clackstone, Kuciak.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwicks).