KAMIL GROSICKI was the first to reach Eldin Jakupovic. The final whistle had blown a few seconds earlier and Hull City’s Polish international, substituted in the closing stages, headed back on to the pitch and made a beeline straight for the goalkeeper.
A high five and embrace followed. One by one, the rest of the Tigers players did the same before Jakupovic was then given a bear hug by head coach Marco Silva, who had broken off from making his point forcibly to referee Mike Dean about the stoppage-time penalty award that, but for his goalkeeper’s sharp reflexes, would have cost Hull a precious point.
Not for the first time this season, Jakupovic was the hero of the hour and he deserved every one of those slaps on the back from his grateful team-mates.
By reading Dusan Tadic’s intentions and then getting smartly down to his left to parry the ball to safety, City’s longest serving player had not only earned that precious draw but also further fuelled the belief that the Yorkshire club can beat the drop.
Make no mistake, had Tadic scored from 12 yards and condemned Hull to yet another away defeat then the damage to morale could have been substantial.
As it is, Swansea City’s draw at Manchester United yesterday means City have a two-point cushion over the Welsh club with three games remaining.
Nothing special was going through my mind when the penalty was awarded. I was just a little sad because we didn’t deserve to lose and had been the better team.Eldin Jakupovic
Beat relegated Sunderland at the KCOM Stadium on Saturday and the pressure on Paul Clement’s Swans come kick-off in their own tea-time game with Everton at the Liberty Stadium could be unbearable.
No wonder Jakupovic’s team-mates and the travelling fans all came together to salute the man whose penalty save had earned the Tigers just their sixth point of the season on the road.
“I have saved a few penalties in my career but this is, for sure, one of the biggest ones,” the 32-year-old told The Yorkshire Post.
“It was the last minute at a time when we need every single point. If we had lost, the mood in our team could have been very different. Especially because we had been the better team.”
That the defining moment in a contest between Hull and Southampton should be a penalty would surely not have come as a surprise to anyone who has taken even a passing interest in the fortunes of these two sides this season.
With 20 penalties conceded between them, the duo are way out in front when it comes to gifting the opposition a chance to score from 12 yards.
Hull, who account for a dozen of those awards, may have protested at Mike Dean’s decision but the referee got it spot on.
As a cross floated into the penalty area from the left, Alfred N’Diaye was guilty of sticking his arm across Maya Yoshida and impeding the Japanese defender.
He went to ground and Dean, standing 10 yards away with an excellent view, pointed immediately to the spot.
Hull swarmed around the official but, tellingly, Jakupovic stayed away. The Tigers goalkeeper was already processing the footage of Tadic’s previous spotkicks that he had analysed with coach Hugo Oliveira ahead of the trip to the south coast.
“To be fair, his (Tadic) last four or five penalties were never finished like the one I faced,” said Jakupovic. “They were a lot higher and more in the middle.
“I had to make a decision and my stomach told me the way to go. Tadic had not had a good game, I had saved from him already.
“So, the easiest way (for Tadic) was to put the penalty across goal. My feelings were to go to that side. It was a very good penalty and you have to be lucky sometimes.
“Nothing special was going through my mind when the penalty was awarded. I was just a little sad because we didn’t deserve to lose and had been the better team.
“It was a mixture of luck and feelings but the main thing is we got the result.”
Jakupovic, a key figure when City won their only previous away point under Silva at Old Trafford, had enjoyed one of his quieter afternoons before the late drama.
Thanks to the resolute defending of Harry Maguire and Andrea Ranocchia, the former Swiss international was called upon to make just one save before keeping out Tadic’s spot-kick.
Tadic had been the man denied then, too, Jakupovic having thrown himself in front of the Serbian’s shot to rectify his own weak punch from a corner.
Other than that and the penalty, Saints threatened little against a Hull side whose shape and neat play in midfield made a mockery of the away travails that have undermined the club’s recovery under Silva.
With N’Diaye and Sam Clucas full of energy in midfield, and Lazar Markovic and Grosicki lively out wide, the Tigers were the better side in the first half.
Grosicki struck the outside of Fraser Forster’s post in the sixth minute with a flighted free-kick, and Oumar Niasse should have done better when played clear by Ahmed Elmohamady.
Niasse also came close to winning the game in the ‘93rd’ minute only for Cedric to head a scuffed shot off the line.
Southampton improved after the break but rarely looked like making the breakthrough until N’Diaye’s senseless late grapple with Yoshida. Cue Jakupovic and a save that may yet prove the difference in Hull’s quest to stay in the Premier League.
“If we are going to stay in the Premier League, our points will decide this,” added the Tigers’ hero, whose other penalty save came from Alexis Sanchez in last September’s 4-1 home defeat to Arsenal. “We cannot now hope for help from other teams.”