Only Stoke could follow four straight defeats with three goals from the very top drawer, the last in particular a contender for goal of the season as any lingering relegation worries were eased.
Hull’s revival coupled with Stoke’s collapse had left the sides six points apart at the start of this game. Mark Hughes assured everyone there was no sense of panic, though there must have been a degree of concern when Hull came back from a goal down and began looking for a winner in the second half.
Hughes knows he has quality to call upon, even if the consistency is infuriating, and after sending on Jon Walters and Peter Crouch to restore the lead the home side were able to clinch an important victory with a sensational finish from Xherdan Shaqiri.
Hull will have to look for the points they need for survival at home, but they probably knew that anyway. If they continue playing as enterprisingly as this they have a decent chance. “The big difference was finishing,” Marco Silva said. “Stoke took their chances, we need to improve our final pass and make better decisions.”
The Hull manager also accepted his side began poorly, allowing Stoke to get off to an ideal start. Shaqiri set up Marko Arnautovic with a perfectly weighted pass that fully exposed the space between visiting defenders, and after stepping inside Michael Dawson and holding off Harry Maguire the striker confidently beat Eldin Jakupovic with a shot into the top corner.
The same player could have doubled Stoke’s lead three minutes later from another Shaqiri invitation, reading the chipped pass well but sending a right-foot volley over the bar. By the time Shaqiri had seen a shot of his own blocked from an Erik Pieters cross and Arnautovic had gone close again when he should really have hit the target from Glen Johnson’s pass, Hull seemed in danger of being passed to death.
Yet there is not as much between these sides as might be imagined. Although opened up a few times at the back, Hull kept coming forward with some stylish passing of their own. Maguire’s distribution was particularly eye-catching, Lazar Markovic and Kamil Grosicki were willing runners on the flanks and one pass from Alfred N’Diaye towards the end of the first half might have brought an equaliser, but for Grosicki electing to cross rather than shoot. With Oumar Niasse failing to connect from close range midway through the half and a Markovic volley bringing a save from Lee Grant the sides could easily have turned round level.
Six minutes into the second half Hull were back on terms, thanks to a scruffy but nonetheless deserved goal from Maguire. When Pieters rather needlessly conceded a corner Sam Clucas and Grosicki worked it short and from the former’s eventual cross Maguire was able to force home via a deflection.
Hughes’s response was to send on the tried and trusted. The switch nearly paid immediate dividends as Walters brought a fine save from Jakupovic and Crouch was close to reaching the rebound, but Hull wasted an even better opportunity at the other end when Pieters was involved in a mix-up with his own goalkeeper and Niasse snatched at his shot.
The game was evenly poised at this point and even Stoke fans might have conceded Hull deserved something for their efforts, but the visitors ended up undone by the old firm. Walters popped up on the left with time to send over a precision cross to the obvious target waiting in the middle and Crouch rose high above Andrea Ranocchia to steer a well-placed header beyond Jakupovic’s dive.
With the pressure removed, Shaqiri sent the crowd home happy with the sort of goal few other players can score. Perhaps Andrew Robertson could have been a little quicker in closing him down, though there is not much anyone can do about a magic left foot. Shaqiri looked up and found the target from well outside the area, the accuracy, power and dip of his shot leaving Jakupovic no chance.
“Shaq is all pace and strength but he’s a technician as well,” Hughes said admiringly. “It was a fantastic goal.”