This was the most adventurous and exciting performance of Hull City’s season, a victory unlike many under Marco Silva and one that makes Middlesbrough’s task of retaining Premier League status appear grim.
Boro have not won a league match since mid-December and now sit seven points behind Hull, albeit with a game in hand. For Silva’s side, though, there is renewed hope after Swansea’s late defeat to Tottenham, a result that pulls City out of the bottom three for the first time since October.
If they do achieve salvation this season, Hull’s home form will have been the key. Just a few months back and this stadium was echoing with chants against the owners, but Silva’s turning of the tide in such a short space of time has been a remarkable achievement.
The goals were spread across the team – coming from Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse, Abel Hernández and Harry Maguire – and although Boro were a more potent attacking force than in recent weeks, their first-half efforts from Álvaro Negredo and Marten de Roon papered over the cracks of a weak defensive display which frustrated the caretaker manager, Steve Agnew.
Silva, the Hull head coach, said the performance was the finest since he joined the club. “I think it is our best game, we started fast with a good intensity. We controlled all the first half. We had a very good reaction [to their goal],” added the Portuguese.
“It’s important, but nothing is finished tonight. It’s a big fight until the end of the season, I don’t doubt that. But [it’s good] when I look to the table and see our different position.”
Middlesbrough had not scored an away league goal this year before this crucial game and the five goals shared between the two sides in the first half – the most in any Premier League game this season – were therefore a shock to most inside the KCom Stadium.
In the fifth minute neat interplay from Rudy Gestede and Negredo down the left was followed by a fine first-time through-ball from the Spaniard to Adama Traoré. The winger jinked into the penalty area and waited, with the chance seemingly gone, before scuffing a low shot towards the far post that the onrushing Negredo steered into an empty net.
The Hull equaliser nine minutes later was provided by Markovic, his first goal for the club since joining on loan from Liverpool, a simple prod home from inside the six-yard box after Niasse had headed a deflected cross towards goal and Hernández’s initial effort was blocked by Ben Gibson.
They looked a threat whenever they came forward and were ahead in the 27th minute through Niasse, demonstrating the kind of sharpness that has made him a key part of the Tigers’ recent renaissance by finishing swiftly following a flicked header by Hernández.
Soon Hernández himself was on the scoresheet and Hull seemed in complete control. Maguire played a precise ball from deep to Kamil Grosicki and the Poland winger drove forward before squaring for the Uruguay striker to finish into a gaping net.
Eldin Jakupovic brilliantly tipped Gestede’s header onto the crossbar before Agnew’s side controversially pulled one back. Gibson helped on a corner and De Roon was clearly in an offside position when he nodded past Jakupovic but the goal was given after a consultation between the officials.
But Middlesbrough’s hopes were dashed with 20 minutes remaining and, yet again, their defending was poor. Andrew Robertson whipped in a deep free-kick from the left towards Maguire at the back post and with the Boro rearguard looking to play offside, the Hull defender ghosted in unmarked and nodded past Víctor Valdés.
Agnew said: “That’s not like us to concede goals like we did. We didn’t get the balance right, in trying to win the game we became too open. We did give it a go, but we were far too open. Within the game, the disappointment was the goals we conceded. The goals weren’t just the [fault of] the backline. We conceded poor goals.
“After the game it was silent and you’d expect that. But we have to stay with it, dust ourselves down tomorrow morning and prepare for Burnley.”