Hull City 1, Norwich City 2
CHRIS LAKEY Norwich City provided their travelling fans with the perfect response to their Layer Road no-show with a full-deserved - if not completely tension-free - victory at the KC Stadium.
Hull City 1, Norwich City 2: Norwich City provided their travelling fans with the perfect response to their Layer Road no-show with a full-deserved - if not completely tension-free - victory at the KC Stadium.
A Darren Huckerby goal just before half-time and a Dickson Etuhu header soon after it gave City the win after a performance that was in stark contrast to that of the 3-0 defeat at Colchester last Saturday.
Last weekend's second half was simply an abdication of all responsibility: this time they kept their heads while all around were losing theirs and, despite the anticipated late Hull charge, left no one in doubt that they deserved their success.
Hull will point to the fact they hit the woodwork three time - but they never played well enough to have three goals next to their name.
City's defence withstood just about everything that was thrown at it, Etuhu and Youssef Safri guarded them and then broke with purpose, while Dion Dublin ands Darren Huckerby were an irrepressible force up front.
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It wasn't perfect, but it was pretty good, and if it means little in the context of the current season, it may well bode well for next.
Manager Peter Grant said in midweek that he had been keen to give Chris Martin a rest, and took his chance when he dropped the striker to the bench, just days after the Beccles teenager put pen to paper on a three-and-a-half-year contract. In came a player at the other end of the age gap, 37-year-old Dublin. Etuhu was back in midfield after missing last week's trip to Colchester because of illness, with Mark Fotheringham alongside Martin on the bench.
City skipper Adam Drury also returned, with Simon Lappin pushed into the left wing spot with Huckerby up front.
Tigers boss Phil Brown stuck to the same starting line-up that thumped Southend last weekend, although Nick Barmby replaced Michael Bridges on the bench.
City kicked off defending the goal directly in front of the visiting fans but will have been pleased to see the early minutes spent at the far end, although a Dean Windass ball into the area saw keeper Tony Warner aware for his first touch.
It was the signal for some home attacking - big passes launched into the area - but when Ray Parlour got it down and low into the area, a poor clearance from Etuhu handed Hull the first corner of the game, after six minutes. Warner got a punch on it and then Jason Shackell blocked the rebound shot from Stuart Elliott.
Etuhu did well to win possession in midfield on eight minutes, Youssef Safri then knocked a first time ball to Huckerby down the middle but Hull scrambled it clear.
Safri was instrumental in another good City move on 16 minutes, finding Huckerby who made inroads into the left side of the area.
Huckerby waited for his team-mates to catch up, slipped it square to Croft who in turn knocked it back to Etuhu, whose shot from the edge of the area was blocked.
It was more direct a minute later when Safri's free-kick from the left caught Hull flat-footed - only for Gary Doherty to miss the free header.
The Canaries were enjoying the lion's share of quality possession but, again, it was the final third of the pitch where it wasn't working.
Damien Delaney moved quickly to end a move involving Drury, Simon Lappin and Huckerby and from the resulting corner, taken quickly by Huckerby, Lappin fired into the near post, forcing Boaz Myhill to get down low to push around his post.
Hull responded with a series of corners, all of which City defended well, before Drury found Croft with a cross but the right winger's header lacked power.
With half an hour gone, City looked much improved on the side which capitulated at Layer Road six days ago, with three men in midfield refusing to be outnumbered and enabling Huckerby to use his speed to turn defenders.
But all of that is of no use if you lose concentration and go from slick to sloppy, which is exactly what City did on 26 minutes, Safri's dithering on the ball allowing Lee Peltier to take possession and set up Ian Ashbee for a 25-yard effort which came off Warner's right-hand post and rolled just away from the goal-line.
Luckily, it didn't seem to have an adverse effect and within six minutes Huckerby forced Myhill to get down to his near post with a right-foot drive as City set up camp round the Hull area.
If that was a half chance, then Croft squandered a golden opportunity on 34 minutes, a Drury throw in finding Lappin, whose beat Sam Ricketts and squared it to Croft who, from no more than six yards, clipped it over the bar.
Windass hammered one off target minutes later but it was a rare trip towards Warner's goal.
But it was City who got their rewards on 38 minutes, Safri sending over a corner which Huckerby, standing right in front of Myhill almost on the line, headed over. Myhill was furious and chased the referee to the halfway line to protest - earning himself a yellow card for his efforts.
And there was still time for Huckerby to see a shot cleared off the line by Delaney as the first half moved into injury time - a half which City deservedly led.
However, City had proved at Colchester last weekend that the half-time interval can do strange things. How would they react to being in the driving seat?
There were encouraging signs when Dublin's header set up Huckerby three minutes in, only for the referee to blow for a foul and moments later when Lappin's header set up Huckerby for an overhead kick which went wide.
Elliott then fired a warning shot with a volley that Warner did well to tip around his right-hand post, with Nicky Forster way off target moments later. It was Elliott's final contribution as he was replaced by Nick Barmby.
But if the half-time doubters needed an answer it came on 54 minutes with a goal started and finished by Etuhu. The midfielder won possession and found Huckerby down the right and then headed straight for the area to get his head on the cross that followed.
It was a training ground goal by City and one, again, that they deserved. Now the trick was to keep a clean sheet and avoid any unnecessary jitters.
Etuhu then tried to return the compliment with a cracking first-time pass to Huckerby, who swung and volleyed wide.
Hull simply had to fight back and sub Ricardo Vaz Te made an immediate impact, cutting into the area and unleashing a shot which Warner smothered at his near post, Lee Peltier then smashed a shot against Warner's right-hand post.
But two minutes later, the game could, and should, have been over for Hull when Huckerby broke from midfield and, with the help of a lucky deflection headed goalwards but then, with only Myhill to beat, skewed his shot horribly wide of the target.
Huckerby had a second goal disallowed 12 minutes from time, this time for offside after he followed up Lappin's shot which had been brilliantly stopped by Myhill.
At the other end Drury blocked a goalbound Ashbee shot, Doherty did the same with a Vaz Te effort and Windass hit the upright with a free-kick - and as Hull missed their chances so their hopes of getting anything from the game receded.
Dublin dropped back to shore up the defence ahead of the late barrage - but was powerless to stop Andy Dawson firing in a brilliant left-footed free-kick two minutes from time to set up a tense finale.
Suddenly, a relaxing stroll to three points had become the tense finale City fans have come to expect.
The KC Stadium erupted into a noisy cauldron when the fourth official indicated the now obligatory four minutes of time added on - and a couple of desperate Hull calls for handball did nothing to lower the volume.
When the whistle did blow for the final time, the white-shirted City players saluted their travelling fans - both deserved the praise.
Hull: Myhill, Ricketts, Delaney, Turner, Dawson, Parlour, Ashbee, Peltier (Marney 69), Windass, Forster (Vaz Te 59), Elliott (Barmby 51). Subs: Duke, Coles. Goal: Dawson 88. Yellow card: Myhill, 39, dissent.
Norwich: Warner 6, Hughes 6, Doherty 7, Shackell 8, Drury 6, Croft 6 (Fotheringham 70, 6) , Etuhu 7, Safri 6, Lappin 6, Dublin 7, Huckerby
7 (Martin 90). Subs: Gallacher, Eagle, Renton. Goals: Huckerby 38, Etuhu 54. Yellow cards: Hughes, 76, foul on Marney; Warner, time wasting, 87.
Referee: T Thorpe.
Time added on: 1 mins/4mins.
EDP Man of the Match: Jason Shackell. Stopped everything that was fired at him.