It was all rather tiresomely predictable at the KC Stadium today. Roy Hodgson rotated his side with Wolfsburg in mind and Fulham were their usual sloppy, slow selves away from home. It’s particularly galling not to have picked up any points from three meetings with an infuriatingly average Hull City side. More frustrating than the fact that Jimmy Bullard stepped up to convert a first-half penalty, carelessly conceded by Chris Smalling, was the realisation that Hull didn’t really have to play well to record a much-needed three points.
That’s not to say they didn’t play better than Fulham. Iain Dowie had obviously drummed the need for three points into his players and they looked a busy, dogged insurgency: confident in the belief that they could continue an impressive home record against such poor travellers as the Whites. Hodgson’s rejigging of his side, that saw Nicky Shorey puzzlingly pressed into service in the unfamiliar position of right-back when Fredrik Stoor was on the bench, and Clint Dempsey preferred to Erik Nevland and Stefano Okaka as the starting centre-forward, probably worked in Hull’s favour even if the home side were gifted the opening goal.
The penalty came after both teams had tried to impose themselves on the game. City, with Jozy Altidore a persistent irritant up front, won a corner inside the opening minute and Fulham had the first sight of goal when Boaz Myhill parried a shot from Zoltan Gera. Smalling, playing in place of the rested Aaron Hughes, was caught the wrong side of Altidore from a floated Bullard cross and in desperation tried to halt the American’s run. It was a clumsy moment of manhandling, continuing a worrying trend of errors that seem to have crept in as the season has gone on, and Chris Foy had little alternative but to award the penalty, which Bullard – inevitably – dispatched with glee.
The first half was strange because, whilst Hull had much of the ball and more of the urgency, Fulham carved out the better chances. Myhill was called into action to repel a Gera free-kick and the Hungarian beat the Hull goalkeeper twice before the break. The first time saw his volley from close range miraculously cleared off the line by George Boateng and the second, a more timid poke towards goal, was cleared by Steven Mouyokolo, who hurt himself in the process.
Cards were brandished here and there by a fussy Foy and Fulham had Mark Schwarzer to thank for not falling further behind. The Australian goalkeeper made a sprawling save from a Bullard free-kick and had to be alert to push away a Dean Marney from the subsequent corner. You felt that, with Fulham still looking dangerous on the break, whilst it was 1-0 Hodgson’s side still had a chance. That hope evaporated barely five minutes into the second period when Marney’s deep left-wing cross encouraged Craig Fagan to climb with intent at the far post and his header looped over a stranded Schwarzer into the far corner.
That second changed both the complexion of the contest and the atmosphere inside the stadium. Hull charged for the throat, with Schwarzer alert to the danger presented by an Altidore cross that was destined for Richard Garcia. Hodgson’s substitutions steadied a ship that had already sunk (if such a feat is possible) with the visitors seeing a lot more of the ball once Jonathan Greening replaced Kagisho Dikgacoi. Stefano Okaka was a more physical presence up front, although the Italian might have done better that shoot meekly at Myhill just before the hour.
The on-loan Roma forward caused moments of concern in the Hull defence but the home side were largely comfortable and can turn their attentions towards moving out of the relegation as a result of Dowie’s first win. Fulham can only hope that their tepid performance isn’t repeated on Thursday against Wolfsburg, who won 2-0 at Mainz today. Fortunately, the first leg’s at the Cottage.
HULL CITY (4-4-2): Myhill; McShane, Kilbane, Sonko, Mouyokolo; Boateng, Bullard (Olofinjana 85), Marney, Garcia; Altidore (Vennegoor of Hesselink 78), Fagan. Subs (not used): Duke, Mendy, Barmby, Cairney.
BOOKED: Kilbane, Altidore.
GOALS: Bullard (pen 16), Fagan (48).
FULHAM (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Shorey, Konchesky, Smalling, Hangeland; Baird, Dikgacoi (Greening 58), Riise (Okaka 53), Davies; Gera; Dempsey. Subs (not used): Zuberbuhler, Stoor, Hughes, Etuhu, Nevland.
BOOKED: Davies, Dikgacoi, Gera, Shorey.
REFEREE: Chris Foy (Merseyside).