Hull City gained all three points in a crucial relegation battle against Middlesbrough courtesy of an injury time winner from Malik Wilks. Britt Assombalonga had opened the scoring for Middlesbrough with an early penalty, before a Herbie Kane free kick leveled matters.
Hull came into this game riding a 13 game winless streak, having not collected all three points since a 1-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday on New Year’s Day. Despite being in 8th place after the win in Sheffield, Hull were now in the bottom three ahead of kickoff and manager Grant McCann would have been feeling huge pressure to get a win here.
George Long lined up in goal for Hull and was the only player to start every Championship game for the Tigers so far this season. Captain Jordy de Wijs anchored the back four in front of Long, while Liverpool loanee Kane anchored the three man central midfield along with Daniel Batty.
Middlesbrough came into this game on a similar poor run of form, having won only 2 of their last 16 games in all competitions. Boro fans will have been heartened ahead of this game by the fact that new manager Neil Warnock had won his first game in charge 2-0 at Stoke City, and would be hoping to bring some of that momentum into this game.
Warnock made the surprising decision to bench Ashley Fletcher, who had played well and opened the scoring at Stoke in the previous, with Assombalonga being shifted to center forward for this game. It seemed a somewhat surprising move, given Fletcher was the team’s leading scorer with 9 league goals so far on the season, while Assombalonga had not scored since a November draw at Queens Park Rangers back in November.
Young winger Hayden Coulson recalled to the starting lineup on the left flank, while Manchester City loanee Patrick Roberts manned the right wing for Boro, with dynamic youngster Djed Spence behind him at right back.
Captain George Friend partnered Dael Fry at center back in an otherwise unchanged lineup for the Tessiders.
Assombalonga did not have to wait long for a big opportunity to end his 7 month goalless drought as Middlesbrough were awarded a penalty in the 4th minute.
Paddy McNair squared the ball to Marvin Johnson on the edge of the Hull penalty area, and the left back’s shot was parried by Long. Coulson closed in on the rebound but was dragged to the ground and referee Geoff Eltringham pointed to the spot.
Assombalonga stepped up to calmly dispatch the spot kick into the top right hand corner and give his team a flying start to the game.
Hull responded by winning an 8th minute free kick on the edge of the Middlesbrough penalty area. Kane picked out right winger Wilks with an excellent long range pass, and Wilks cut inside to dribble across the top of the area before being fouled by Johnson.
Kane stepped up to take the free kick and beat Dejan Stojanovic with an excellent curling shot lifted over the wall and just inside the goalpost. It was a goal well worthy of having “H Kane” listed next to it on the scoresheet!
Within a minute, Boro had a shooting range free kick of their own when Roberts drove forward before being barged off the ball by Leonardo da Silva Lopes. Middlesbrough attempted a scripted routine but failed to get a shot off and the attack ended when Batty tackled the ball out of play.
Roberts was soon on the ball in the attacking third again and drove to the byline before chipping over a cross that cleared everyone and reached Johnson on the opposite flank. Johnson’s cross came back to Roberts at the far post, only for the young winger’s shot to be blocked by De Wijs. Roberts’ corner failed to beat the first man, and the recycled attack came to an end when Boro were whistled for offside.
Boro had responded well to conceding the equalizer, and McNair seized on a Batty error before racing in on goal, only to have his shot blocked by De Wijs who had tracked him step for step.
Hull won a free kick just inside their own half when Josh Magennis was fouled by Friend. Kane lifted a long, searching ball into the area and De Wijs’ flicked header was saved by Stojanovic.
The influence of Middlesbrough winger Roberts was growing and he won a corner when his drive to the byline was halted by Callum Elder. Roberts took the corner short, but the subsequent cross floated harmlessly out for a goal kick.
In what was becoming a very familiar sight on the game’s opening quarter, Roberts squared up Elder on the edge of the 18 yard area, before cutting inside only for his shot to be directed well wide of the target.
Boro carved out a big chance in the 22nd minute, and again it was the right flank providing the threat. Roberts had come inside repeatedly to good effect so far in the game, and his run inside off the ball here was tracked by Elder. As a result space opened up for Spence to drive into, easily outpacing Kane and reaching the byline before cutting back to Coulson, but the resulting shot hit McNair in an offside position to end the attack.
Hull received a blow in the 28th minute when goal scorer Kane, arguably their best player to this point in the game limped off with an injury to be replaced by George Honeyman.
Hull won a dangerous free kick on the corner of the Boro penalty area in the 33rd minute, when Johnson fouled Wilks again. With set play specialist Kane now off the field, his replacement Honeyman stepped up to take it. The cross fell to Wilks who had his shot blocked before Hull were whistled for an attacking foul.
Boro were on the attack soon after and left winger Coulson drove to the byline before cutting back for George Saville who chipped a cross to the back post area, where McNair rose between two Hull defenders but his header was straight at Long.
Hull left back Elder collided with teammate Da Silva Lopes during the aerial challenge, and was left down in need of lengthy treatment. In what had the look of a failed concussion test, Elder walked off angrily remonstrating with his own physio after being told he would play no further part in the game.
Kevin Stewart came on to replace Elder, and the substitute slotted into central midfield, with Da Silva Lopes moving to left back, where he would face the sizable task of marking livewire winger Roberts, who had been Boro’s best player up to this point in the game. That task was made no easier by the overlapping runs past Roberts coming from dynamic right back Spence.
Boro sent another chipped cross into the Hull penalty area in the 42nd minute. Jonny Howson was teed up by Coulson and tried to find Assombalonga, only for Long to come off his line well to punch clear.
Seven minutes of injury time were added on, largely as a result of the Elder injury delay. The best attack in stoppage time came when Spence showcased his speed and carried the ball 70 yards before his cross was headed clear by the Hull defense.
There was time for one more Middlesbrough corner, when Johnson’s cross was deflected behind. The corner was headed away at the near post and the half time whistle blew, sending the teams into the interval locked at 1-1.
Hull made one change at half time, withdrawing left winger James Scott and replacing him with 19 year old Keane Lewis-Potter. It did not take Lewis-Potter long to make an impression, receiving a long diagonal pass in the opening stages of the second half before cutting inside Fry and firing a shot wide.
Middlesbrough won a 52nd minute corner when McNair dispossessed Stewart and drove into the area before being tackled at the byline. Roberts worked the corner short before receiving it back and overhitting his cross out for a goal kick.
Before the corner was taken, Boro manager Warnock made his first change when the impressive Spence was forced off with injury and was replaced by Lewis Wing. Howson shifted over to replace Spence at right back, with Wing slotting into a three man midfield alongside McNair and Saville.
Boro’s right flank had been a huge part of their attacking success in the first half, and in the early stages of the second half the left flank combination of Coulson and Johnson was combining to good effect. In the 57th minute, Johnson exchanged passes with Coulson before his low cross was deflected away by Long. Coulson was threatening again minutes later when he got on the end of a Howson cross only to guide his header wide.
In the 62nd minute, Howson pushed forward from right back again and squared to Saville on the edge of the penalty area, only for the midfielders shot to be blocked by De Wijs.
Warnock made his second substitution in the 63rd minute when Roberts was replaced by Marcus Tavernier, who had come off the bench to score in Boro’s last game, a 2-0 win at Stoke.
Tavernier almost produced a carbon copy of hos Stoke goal within minutes of coming on, picking up the ball wide right and cutting across the front of Da Silva Lopes before curling a low shot just wide of the goalpost.
In the 79th minute, Warnock shuffled his pack in the attack, bringing on leading scorer Fletcher for Assombalonga at center forward.
Hull manager McCann brought on a new striker of his own when making his final substitutions in the 82nd minute, introducing target man Tom Eaves in place of Magennis. Midfielder Jon Toral was also brought on in place of Batty.
The newly introduced duo were quickly involved, with Eaves holding up the ball and finding Toral who sprayed a pass out wide. Right back Matthew Pennington raced forward onto the pass before crossing to the back post where a sliding Toral just failed to get a touch.
In the 88th minute, Tavernier cut inside off the wing again but was whistled for a foul on Da Silva Lopes as he tried to combine with Wing on the edge of the penalty area.
Hull launched a similar attack of their own a minute later, when Wilks cut inside but his mishit shot flew well wide and ended up closer to the corner flag than the goal.
Hull grabbed a dramatic winning goal in injury time, and this time Wilks would be much more accurate with his finish. A set play was cleared and Stewart lifted the ball back into the area, where it found its way to De Wijs who cushioned a header down into the path of Wilks. The young winger kept his composure and drilled a one touch finish past Stojanovic to give Hull’s relegation fight a massive boost.
TV replays showed that Hull had received a slice of good fortune, with WIlks being in an offside position when Stewart played the initial ball forward.
Middlesbrough desperately pushed for an equalizer, but a right wing cross was headed clear by Pennington before a late McNair drive into the penalty area was blocked by De Wijs and the final whistle blew to confirm a vital 3 points for the Tigers.
Hull gave themselves a vital boost by ending their long winless streak here. The win saw the Tigers leapfrog Boro and move themselves two points clear of the drop zone ahead of a tough next fixture at 2nd placed West Bromwich Albion.
Manager McCann would be hoping the injuries to Kane and Elder were not long term, as the two are key parts for Hull in the relegation fight ahead.
Middlesbrough were brought back down to earth by this result, with manager Warnock’s honeymoon period seemingly over after only 2 games. The loss dropped Boro to 21st place, leaving them only one point and one place clear of the relegation spots ahead of an upcoming home game against 15th paced Queens Park Rangers.
Ashley Fletcher would be pushing for a recall to the starting line up for that game, but Assombalonga netting here would give manager Warnock a tough decision on that front.
Warnock would be hoping right back Spence would recover quickly from his injury, as Spence was not only a key defender for Boro, but also a key part of their plans going forward in the attack.
4’ MID Britt Assombalonga PK (Hayden Coulson) 0-1
8’ HUL Herbie Kane (Malik Wilks) 1-1
90+1’ HUL Malik Wilks (Jordy de Wijs) 2-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
RM #43 Malik Wilks (Hull City) – Dynamic winger Wilks was a threat to Boro throughout and had a decisive impact on the game. First, Wilks won the free kick that Kane tied the score from, before netting the winner himself in injury time.
3: RM Malik Wilks – Man of the Match.
2: CD Jordy de Wijs – The Dutch center back was a key force at the back for Hull, producing a number of blocks and tackles in his own area before providing the assist at the other end for Hull’s injury time winner.
1: CM Leonardo da Silva Lopes – A strong presence defensively in central midfield, before the injury to Elder forced him to shift to left back and do a good job shackling Roberts and Tavernier.
3: LM Hayden Coulson – The young, exciting winger showcased pace and flair, winning the penalty and providing a threat throughout to the Tigers backline.
2: RM Patrick Roberts – Boro’s key attacking outlet in the first half, showed the ability to both drive to the byline and cross, as well as cutting inside and allowing Spence to overlap to great effect.
1: CM Paddy McNair – Boro’s most attacking central midfielder got forward well consistently, attacking crosses and also carrying the ball into the area as Boro persisted on their attempts to find a second goal.