ON THE day that Middlesbrough fanzine ‘Fly Me to the Moon’ celebrated its 600th edition, how Hull City were indebted to their own version of the star man.
Jarrod Bowen’s star has been in the ascendancy for a good while, with his instinctive eye for a goal, which is something you cannot necessarily teach, showcased to devastating effect in the final twenty minutes to rescue Hull from another inglorious episode on Teesside.
Bowen popped up as he invariably does to score two contrasting but clinical goals in the space of four second-half minutes to help Hull avoid a seventh successive league loss at the Riverside – with Grant McCann’s decision to move him into a central position on the hour yielding ample fruit.
If McCann was indebted to Bowen taking his season’s goals tally to 12, he was equally thankful for the 37th-minute intervention of Marvin Johnson, which changed the game for the wrong reasons for the troubled hosts.
With Boro full value for a 2-0 lead after choosing the best possible time to turn in their most convincing half of football on home soil under the command of the beleaguered Jonathan Woodgate, the narrative of the game changed in an instant following Johnson’s reckless high challenge on Eric Lichaj.
It saw the Boro man deservedly receive his marching orders after a poorly-executed tackle. In old money, it would have been called a winger’s tackle and the sight of Bowen striking twice will have applied a barrel of salt into Johnson’s open wounds.
It was a moment which cost Boro, as acknowledged by Woodgate, who was in no mood to make Johnson feel any better afterwards in his assessment that his dismissal was the reason that the hosts did not end their nine-match winless streak.
The Boro chief took scant solace out of the fact that the point took his side out of the drop zone either. He knew it could and should have brought more riches if not for Johnson’s indiscipline.
For McCann, there was relief interspersed with frustration, with a few choice words at the interval helping to do the trick after a write-off of a first half, which saw Hull’s demons at Middlesbrough – where they had lost 19 of their previous 21 matches and won just once at league level since 1955 – resurfacing.
Seeking their third successive away win, the talk was of Hull being a form horse, but for some unfathomable reason, they contrived to throw in a thoroughly anaemic first-half offering in which they were way off it and second best across the park.
Boro may be on their worst run of form at this level since the bad old days at Ayresome Park in the mid-Eighties, yet you would never have guessed it with their first-half dominance crowned by a quite wonderful second goal which was right out of the top drawer. Timid and wholly lacking urgency, Hull’s defence were led a merry dance by the outstanding Britt Assombalonga – with the annoyance of McCann being plain to see in his technical area.
Fortunately, for their sakes, there was one saving grace, courtesy of Johnson’s indiscretion.
What happened before was instantly forgettable.
It yielded two goals and Hull could not have had any arguments if it was one or two more.
A line-up which featured Jonathan Howson as a right-sided centre-half in a three-man backline looks there to be got at, but in the event, all the issues were for the Tigers’ rearguard.
They struggled to cope with the movement and power of Assombalonga, with Boro exploiting gaping holes in Hull’s midfield to threaten the visitors continually on the counter.
A seventh-minute opener from Marcus Tavernier – with his first goal since December – helped settle an edgy and sparse crowd and there was more joy to come.
Dael Fry and Assombalonga won two headers with the ball finding its way to Paddy McNair, whose strong run ended in a low cross which picked out the unmarked Tavernier, who could scarcely believe his luck as he prodded home from close range.
Boro continued to win their battles and a quite wonderful second goal set the pulses racing.
A delicious one-two between Assombalonga and ex-Tigers’ target Fletcher ended in the latter being sent clear by a sublime pass from his strike partner – and Fletcher duly rounded George Long to tuck away a picture-book goal, his first in the league since the opening day of the season.
A smart one-handed reaction save from Long denied Johnson, the prelude to a more unsavoury moment for the Boro player.
The first half showcased attacking verve from Boro, but the second was always about endeavouring to protect their precious gains and staying disciplined defensively after Johnson’s exit.
A header from Tom Eaves which flashed wide was an early warning shot from Hull, with fine defending from Fry soon thwarting Jarrod Bowen as the visitors noticeably upped the intensity.
Despite some nervy moments, Boro stayed on-message with their resolve epitomised by a fine block by Howson to get in the way of Jordy De Wijs’s shot.
At the other end, Long had to be alert to beat away Tavernier’s piledriver before Hull broke the Boro wall in double-quick time, courtesy of a familiar source in Bowen, who surged forward and fired home from distance before showing his striking instincts to ram home a close-range leveller.
The proverbial game of two halves was the phrase with Boro in danger of creaking after being pulled all over the place. But they held out – just about.