Club Focus – Hull City – Bullard’s bullet to West Ham

Hull City have ensured that Premier League survival will lie in their own hands after seeing off Fulham on Saturday at the KC stadium.

After imploding late on against Portsmouth the previous week, Ian Dowie’s men returned with an emphatic statement to the rest of the Premier League by beating the Europa League quarter-finalists 2-0. Many had written the club off previous to Dowie’s temporary appointment and the announcement that well-travelled manager would take the reins of the struggling Yorkshire club was met with a collective gasp from many football fans. The defeat away to Portsmouth looked to have sealed Hull’s fate as they threw away a 2-1 lead to lose 3-2 with just minutes of the game remaining.

Hull hosted Fulham at the KC stadium on Saturday in a repeat fixture of the Tiger’s first ever Premier League match. The home side came away winners in that clash and they were no doubt aware that a similar result would be needed to give Hull any chance of surviving relegation again this season. The Tiger’s survived on the final day of last season partly in thanks to a late Manucho goal against Fulham at Craven Cottage in March as Phil Brown’s side failed to win any of their following fixtures. Yet despite completing the double over the London club in their debut top-flight adventure, Roy Hodgson’s men cruised to a 2-0 victory against City earlier this season.

The home fans were lifted on Saturday with the news that Fulham’s star striker Bobby Zamora was out along with influential midfielders Danny Murphy and Damien Duff. However, the news may have been more significant had Hull not had several injuries to worry about themselves. Left-back Andy Dawson was absent after picking up an injury against Pompey whilst centre-back Kamil Zayatte had failed to recover from an injury sustained against Arsenal. The previous weeks two goal hero, Caleb Folan was also missing through illness. Much to the home supporters dismay, Ibrahima Sonko was recalled to the side to partner Steven Mouyokolo in the centre of defence. The on-loan Stoke City defender had been banished from any first team activities by former boss Phil Brown following several dismal displays in the centre of Hull’s back four. The 29-year-old was signed on-loan as some sort of replacement for the departing Michael Turner. Sonko was always going to have a hard task of replacing Turner who played every single minute of the Tiger’s debut Premier League season and had previously been voted the clubs player of the season twice.

However, few could have expected Sonko’s performances to be as poor as they were and the former Senegal international was subsequently dropped and told he was unlikely to feature for Hull for the remainder of the season. Yet, despite his reputation and early season form, the former Reading man put in a solid performance on Saturday after several months without playing top flight football. In truth, Hull were rarely tested by Fulham who looked to be missing the presence of target man Zamora up front. George Boateng was forced to clear an effort off the line but the strike partnership of Zoltan Gera and American, Clint Dempsey failed to make an impact on the game. Instead it was Dempsey’s international counterpart Jozy Altidore who made the first impact on the game when Manchester United bound Chris Smalling dragged down the USA striker in the box to concede a penalty. Former Cottager’s midfielder Jimmy Bullard stepped up to calmly dispatch the spot kick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. The score remained the same until early into the second half when Dean Marney picked out Craig Fagan in the box and the former Derby County forward sent a looping header over Mark Schwarzer in the Fulham goal.

Unlike the previous two games, Hull managed to prevent their opponents from striking late on and secured a valuable win. The three points means they are now level on points with West Ham and only occupy the relegation zone due to an inferior goal difference. Hull now have seven games left to fight their way out of the bottom three, one more game than the Hammers and with the turmoil at Upton Park continuing the advantage may now lie with the Yorkshire club. Despite being thrashed by Gianfranco Zola’s side 3-0 only a few weeks ago, West Ham have failed to capitalise and have now gone six games without a win.

Hull will hope to have top-scorer Stephen Hunt back soon as well as the defensive duo of Dawson and Zayatte. A return to fitness for Folan and Egyptian striker Amr Zaki will also boost Dowie’s attacking options as his side go in search of more points in their fight against relegation.

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