On a night when a section of Hull City’s fanbase expressed their discontent with the club in the form of a mid-match protest, defender Michael Hector called on his team-mates to show similar passion for the Tigers on the pitch.
Hull fell to this defeat to a Nottingham Forest side fortunate enough to have the contest’s most effective marksman in their ranks, Everton loanee Kieran Dowell scoring a consummate hat-trick.
It left Hector questioning the ‘fight’ in the Hull squad he joined in the summer, one that despite a mini-revival of seven points from three previous games, has won just four of 14 league fixtures since relegation from the Premier League.
That worrying slide, combined with a culture of selling their best players and alienating the fanbase in recent years, led to a small section of the home crowd protesting against the ownership of the club by Assem and Ehab Allam. They marched on the KCOM Stadium prior to kick-off and threw tennis balls onto the pitch after 19 minutes and four seconds of the first half – 1904 being when the club was formed.
While Hector and his manager Leonid Slutsky did their best to sidestep any post-match questions on the subject, they were both in agreement the football served up by the Tigers was not good enough.
Indeed, only in a hectic final 20 minutes, when the two teams shared four goals, did Hull show any urgency or great desire to get back in the game. By then it was too late, as the general lethargy shown in the previous 70 minutes by a side that hitherto had scored the most home goals in the Championship, proved costly.
“We keep saying it, but we have to work very quickly otherwise we’re not going to push up the table,” said Hector, who joined on loan from Chelsea in the summer, expecting to be challenging for promotion not languishing in 17th spot.
“Every team is going to have spells in a game, no matter where they are in the league, and we have to do better in the spells where we’re not playing well.
“That’s what we’re not doing at the moment and, as a team, we need to look at ourselves and show a bit more character to dig in as a team when we’re not playing well.
“We did it in the last game against Barnsley and it’s disappointing to not do the same at home. We’ve got to fight for each other and on Tuesday we have to put it right.”
Hector’s pay cheque may be signed by Chelsea, but the 25-year-old has spent the better part of a nomadic existence in the Championship, primarily with Reading, the team he joined as a youngster and to whom the Blues loaned him when signing him in 2015.
“The team that’s going to dominate is the team that goes on a run and is consistent,” said Hector. “You can see Sheffield United have gone on that run and that’s why they’re top of the league.
“This is the most open Championship I’ve seen. It’s good for every team because they feel like they have a chance if they put a run together. I still feel confident in where we can finish at the end of the season, but it’s just being more consistent and fighting to stay in games. That’s the key and that’s what you need to be successful.
“If we have that, our quality will come out in the end. We need to fight and do the uglier side well.
“With the attacking players we have, their quality will come through. It’s just the fighting side we need to improve on.”
Hector scored the second of Hull’s goals four minutes from the end, smashing home a loose ball from fellow Chelsea loanee Ola Aina’s long throw.
The attacking quality Hector referred to was largely confined to one man, Jarrod Bowen, who continued his impressive season with another fearless performance capped by a wonderful curling shot from the angle of the penalty area that arced away from Forest goalkeeper Jordan Smith.
That was Hull’s first response, but, by that stage, they were already two goals adrift to a side dogged by the same inconsistencies that have characterised the Tigers’ season.
Dowell had scored twice since joining Forest from Everton, but by full-time a midfielder who helped England Under-20s win the World Cup in the summer had five. His first mirrored what has made Bowen so exciting to watch, his desire to run at players, which had Hull defenders back-pedalling before he unleashed a thumping 20-yard shot beyond Allan McGregor.
The second on 71 minutes, after Smith had denied David Meyler and Kamil Grosicki, and Jason Cummings had headed Fraizer Campbell’s effort off the line, was a measured shot in off the far post. Then, when Meyler clumsily bundled over Tyler Walker, Dowell was granted penalty-taking duties to clinch his hat-trick and did not disappoint, sending McGregor the wrong way.
Hull City: McGregor; Aina, Dawson, Hector, Clark; Meyler, Larsson, Bowen, Henriksen (Irvine 45), Grosicki (Toral 45, Dicko 54), Campbell. Unused substitutes: Marshall, Diomande, Tomori, Stewart.
Nottingham Forest: Smith; Darikwa, Mancienne, Worrall, Lichaj; Bridcutt, Vaughan (Bouchalakis 70); McKay (Ward 80), Osborn, Dowell; Cummings (Walker 70). Unused substitutes: Henderson, Mills, Clough, Brereton.
Referee: J Simpson (Lancashire).