A vastly improved second-half performance by Raheem Sterling was the key to Manchester City’s emphatic victory, with the winger staying out wide to find space on the right after the interval, where his pace swiftly provided the penetration that had previously been lacking.
Sterling kept coming inside in the first half, performing so anonymously that he was in danger of being upstaged by the contribution of Jesús Navas joining the attack behind him. But for an own goal the home side might not have turned round in front, yet any Hull hopes of getting back into the game were quickly extinguished when Sterling began to make his presence felt.
“Our second goal was beautiful, a good example of what we would like the team to be,” Pep Guardiola said. “I like everyone to be involved. The goal we conceded was more like what we want to forget. Six players forgot to defend properly and normally when that happens a goal is scored.”
It was easy to see what Guardiola meant about his side needing to be more clinical. City could have been a goal up inside five minutes but for a double save from Eldin Jakupovic denying first David Silva and then Leroy Sané. For much of the first half Yaya Touré was the home side’s most effective attacker, curling a shot over the bar, heading wide from a corner and bringing a fingertip save from Jakupovic from a free-kick.
Yet the truth was more that City were not creating many clear chances. Sergio Agüero was well looked after and rarely found himself on the end of attacks, Sterling and Sané offered little in the way of width and Hull were coping quite well until Ahmed Elmohamady’s error handed their opponents the lead.
Playing at right-back, Navas had his hands full trying to keep Kamil Grosicki quiet, but still found time to be a greater threat than Sterling down the wing. Crucially, when Silva sent him on a wide overlap he managed to get a decent cross in for a change. While Agüero could not quite reach it his attempt distracted Elmohamady at the far post, unless the defender had any other excuse for a far too casual attempt at a clearance that resulted only in a prod past his own goalkeeper.
The home side raised their game from the beginning of the second half, and were rewarded with a goal within three minutes of the restart. A patient passing move, with virtually every member of the team touching the ball, ended with a purposeful run from Sterling that took him past Andrea Ranocchia and into the area. Neither Michael Dawson nor Elmohamady could cut out his cross and though it fell behind Agüero the striker had time enough to pull the ball back and force a shot through the defenders on the line.
Another burst from Sterling almost produced a third goal within seconds. This time Dawson did succeed in reaching the ball, only to stab it goalwards, and it took a fine reaction save from Jakupovic to prevent a second own goal.
Hull could not really complain. Though holding their own in midfield they had not managed to test Claudio Bravo by the time they went two down, which, given the recalled Chilean’s shot-stopping statistics, has got to be regarded as a missed opportunity.
Marco Silva sent on Abel Hernández and Markus Henriksen in an attempt to beef up his attack, though by the time Fabian Delph scored a spectacular third the visitors’ cause was lost. Sterling was once again involved, skipping away from Dawson down the right and ignoring Agüero’s calls for the ball in favour of a square pass to Delph, who took a couple of touches before lashing a glorious left-foot drive past Jakupovic from the edge of the area.
Ranocchia managed a consolation goal for the visitors with Hull’s first shot on target five minutes from the end. Bravo may have been partially unsighted but should have done better than merely getting a weak hand to the ball to maintain his dire record of being beaten almost every time by the first shot he faces.
Hull will doubtless wish they had been more adventurous earlier but they have never won a league match at Manchester City and have picked up five away points all season. If they are going to survive it is likely to be through points picked up at home.
“We are in a big fight but our home form is amazing,” Silva said. “It is impossible to make any long-term plans, everything has to be about remaining in the Premier League this season.”