‘MAULED by the Tigers’ was the joyous – if slightly idiosyncratic – chant doing the rounds among ecstatic Hull City fans in the away enclosure of the West Stand during the second half on Saturday.
In terms of Leeds United’s season, the visitors inflicted a cat scratch rather than a full-scale laceration upon the hosts. But it was a nasty gash on the day.
The party music stopped for Leeds after incredulous developments in stoppage-time wins versus Aston Villa and Blackburn and proved good things do not necessarily come in threes.
This time the late drama was reserved for Carrow Road where the lights went out in more ways than one on second-placed Norwich, whose 4-3 loss to Derby after a floodlight failure preserved the Whites’ three-point lead at the Championship summit.
It softened the blow of a poor day for United, while highlighting that positive second-tier stories are being penned in other parts of Yorkshire and not just in Leeds.
This was Hull’s special moment. A day that started in expectation of Leeds recording an eighth successive league win for the first time since 1931 ended with Hull taking their December points tally to 16 points from six games. No second-tier side has taken as many this festive month.
The post-match celebrations among the Tigers’ faithful were in marked contrast to much of the apathy that has shrouded the club like a thick fog in 2018.
After what they have been through few would begrudge Hull their moment. Sadly worries abound about the new year and it remains to be seen if the likes of match-winner Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki remain in their colours come February.
For the time being there are one or two smiles prevalent again in East Yorkshire – and for that there is gratitude.
Goalkeeper David Marshall, afforded the sort of steady afternoon that he would have scarcely envisaged before kick-off, said: “It is definitely the most satisfying result of the season.
There is a bit of optimism now. Since I have been at the club it has not been a great time, so I would say coming here to beat the top of the league away from home gives us an optimism now.Hull City’s David Marshall
“We have been on a good run of form, but we knew how difficult it would be coming here with the way they had won their last two games and the way the crowd gets behind them, so we were expecting a tough afternoon. I thought we were well worth the victory.
“There is a bit of optimism now. Since I have been at the club it has not been a great time, so I would say coming here to beat the top of the league away from home gives us an optimism now.
“Since I have been here they (supporters) have had to contend with a hell of lot. It has not been an optimistic place at all and I can completely understand why.”
Leeds might have rightfully been commended for the way in which they have made light of adversity by shrugging aside the absence of key players to post victories this season, but they do not possess the sole patent on that.
Without the key trio of Jackson Irvine, who netted twice in the Boxing Day win at Preston, joint top-scorer Fraizer Campbell and influential defensive lieutenant Tommy Elphick – with news of the latter’s return to parent club Aston Villa being announced just an hour before kick-off – few will have spoken with a degree of confidence about the Tigers’ hopes.
It was all power to Hull and manager Nigel Adkins that they stayed on message to produce an exemplary display of grit, organisation and polish where necessary, while winning their individual battles across the pitch.
Hull’s early raids on the counter-attack hinted at danger, but Bowen’s opener on 25 minutes owed more to fitful defending.
A cross from Grosicki was not cleared, with Kalvin Phillips failing to clear his lines properly, and Bowen drilled home his shot in a flash.
Leeds’s best first-half moments saw Pablo Hernandez fire a half-volley over and sting the palms of Marshall, but all too often they ran into cul-de-sacs with Hull first to the loose balls in midfield and resolute and alert in defence.
As game plans go Hull’s worked to perfection and a further sweetener arrived on 58 minutes when they undressed the hosts skilfully.
Grosicki left Barry Douglas in his slipstream before seeing his cut-back blocked with Bowen instantly seizing on the rebound to ram home his 10th of the season.
Piqued Leeds pressed, with blocks on the line by Jon Toral and Todd Kane denying Luke Ayling and Tyler Roberts, but this was no grandstand finish.
Marshall saved well at the end to tip over Kemar Roofe’s header, but Hull’s outstanding defence were not to be moved.
On another incongruous afternoon at the top of the Championship, midfielder Adam Forshaw said: “It was a chance missed, but I think they (Norwich) will be thinking the same as well.
“We can only focus on the next game now and try and put it right.
“Unfortunately, we were maybe slightly a little bit flat at times. The previous games had been whirlwind games, but we cannot really over-analyse too much at the moment because we have got another big game on Tuesday.
“If you want to get promoted, you always want to guarantee you get two points per game, so we are still in credit.”