If Hull City are to avoid relegation this season, they will point to Eldin Jakupovic’s last minute penalty save against Southampton as one of the decisive moments in their battle to stay out of the bottom three.
Having worked hard to secure a deserved point, Hull appeared to have undone all the good work of the previous 90 minutes when Alfred N’Diaye was adjudged by referee Mike Dean to have pulled Maya Yoshida to the ground as the striker attempted to reach Ryan Bertrand’s left-wing cross. Dusan Tadic stepped up to take the penalty and drilled a low shot towards the bottom corner that was pushed to safety by Jakupovic who dived full length to his left to save.
It was a huge let-off for Hull and the kind of moment that can change the pattern of a season. Instead of once again failing to get anything from their travels – Hull had secured just one point away from home in seven away games since Marco Silva took charge in January – the Yorkshire club extended their advantage over Swansea City in 18th place to three points ahead of the Welsh club’s visit to Manchester United on Sunday.
The penalty save meant so much more for Sunderland though, as the Black Cats were relegated due to Hull’s point opening up a 13-point gap between the two sides with David Moyes’ side only able to win a maximum of 12.
It could have been more had Oumar Niasse not seen a close range effort cleared off the line by Cedric Soares moments after Jakupovic’s save but Silva and his players were grateful to settle for the point having been on the brink of defeat.
Hull’s hopes had been strengthened midweek when they learned the club’s appeal against Niasse’s dismissal in last week’s victory against Watford had been overturned. The forward, on-loan from Everton, was sent off following a challenge on M’Baye Niang and would have been forced to miss three of his side’s last four games had the decision been upheld.
Reprieved, Niasse quickly demonstrated his value to Silva’s side, providing an effective focal point for the visitors’ early attacking moves that unsettled a Southampton team who were apparently unable to maintain the standards they set at Chelsea last Tuesday.
Claude Puel’s side had lost 4-2 at Stamford Bridge but their overall performance suggested they had not switched off for the season despite having long been assured of a mid-table finish. Four days on, they struggled to develop momentum and while a low cross by Cedric Soares caused uncertainty in the Hull penalty area, it was the visitors who carried the greater threat with Niasse and Kamilm Grosicki causing particular problems for the home back four.
Niasse capped a direct run with a well-weighted pass that released Grosicki on the right hand side of the Southampton area from where he shot into the side netting. The Poland international came closer still moments later after Lazar Markovic had won a free-kick in a central area, 20 yards from goal. Grosicki curled the free-kick over the defensive wall and against Fraser Forster’s sight hand post with the goalkeeper rooted in the middle of his goal.
It was a scrappy first half with few clear opportunities but one that better suited Hull who worked hard to disrupt Southampton although their qualities of determination and application were not enough to force the breakthrough.
It was unlikely Southampton would play as poorly in the second period and early break, again led by Soares, suggested Puel had used to half-time break to inject some life and urgency into his players. The ball broke from Soares’ cross and fell at the feet of Sofiane Boufal who was on the point of shooting when Harry Maguire intervened with an expertly timed challenge that cleared the danger.
That, though, was a rare moment of enterprise from the home side and Puel wasted little time before making a double change, introducing Shane Long and Josh Sims. Hull’s attacking efforts were similarly limited and they efforts became increasingly focused on defending a point. Jakupovic’s heroics ensured they succeeded in their aim.
Southampton (4-2-3-1): Forster; Soares, Stephens, Yoshida, Bertrand; Davis, Romeu; Boufal (Sims 59), Tadic, Redmond (Rodriguez 88); Gabbiadini (Long 59).
Subs not used: Hassen, Caceres, Ward-Prowse, Hojbjerg.
Hull City (4-2-3-1): Jakupovic; Elmohamady, Ranocchia, Maguire, Robertson; N’Diaye, Clucas; Markovic (Dawson 89), Goebel (Henriksen 72), Grosicki (Huddlestone 83); Niasse.
Subs not used: Marshall, Hernandez, Maloney, Bowen.
Referee: M Dean