Ten-man Hull City came within seven minutes of recording a fine victory against Stoke City at the KC Stadium on Sunday, but in the end they had to settle for a draw as the visitors scored a late and controversial equaliser.
A man light following James Chester’s 14th-minute dismissal, the Tigers had worked their socks off in the second half to hold on to a precious lead earned through Nikica Jelavic’s strike three minutes before half time.
But while Steve Bruce could have few complaints about Chester’s red card, he had every right to be fuming over a key decision in the build-up to Stoke’s leveller as they took advantage of a throw-in that should never have been theirs to go on and level through a scrappy Ryan Shawcross effort.
It was such a disappointing finish for a side that had shown two changes to the one which started at QPR on the opening weekend of the season. Paul McShane replaced Alex Bruce at the back while Stephen Quinn came in for the injured Robert Snodgrass.
For all of the drama that was to follow, this game was a slow-burner as the Tigers dominated possession in the early stages without really posing a threat to the Stoke defence, a Tom Huddlestone corner claimed easily by goalkeeper Asmir Begovic being the closest they came to worrying the visitors.
Perhaps it was the comfortable nature of the start that led to a lapse in concentration from Jake Livermore which was to cost his side dear. Selling Chester horribly short with a pass, in nipped Stoke midfielder Glenn Whelan to steal possession, leaving Chester with little option but to bring the man down. As the last man, the resulting red card was inevitable.
Stoke initially looked to make the most of their numerical advantage with Huddlestone making a vital block from Steven N’Zonzi’s far post header and Shawcross slicing a shot horribly wide after Marko Arnautovic’s right-wing cross had only been cleared to the edge of the box.
But once the Tiger settled into their new shape, with four across the back and Ince dropping deep to make a four across midfield, Bruce’s men were at their best to frustrate their opposition and managed to take the lead three minutes before half time.
A burst forward from Huddlestone took him to the edge of the box and when Begovic could only push his left-footed shot away, Jelavic slid in with a smart finish from a tight angle to net his first goal on home soil since joining the club back in January.
It could have been two before half time when Quinn picked up possession 20 yards out, but he dragged a shot wide under pressure.
Half Time: Hull City 1-0 Stoke City
Stoke were much more evident as an attacking threat after the break with Allan McGregor getting down well to save from Shawcross following a clever free kick routine from the visitors.
Bruce introduced Liam Rosenior for Tom Ince as City looked to solidify even more at the back, but the home side were almost caught out as Stoke outnumbered them on a counter-attack, a touch from Peter Crouch setting up Mame Diouf who could only head wide when well placed.
McGregor made a fine save to tip over a ferocious Charlie Adam drive while Diouf fired wide as Stoke continued to probe.
The introductions of David Meyler and George Boyd had the home side nicely set up to frustrate, but as the clocked ticked down, all of the hard work was undone by a poor decision from the officials. A throw-in awarded to the away team, despite the ball clearly ricocheting off a Stoke man, gave them field position deep in Tigers territory and when Bojan Krkic crossed, a volley scuffed into the ground came back off the far post and Shawcross was able to just about bundle the rebound over the line, goal-line technology eventually confirming the goal.
The Tigers almost had the last say with Ahmed Elmohamady’s shot flying just over deep into added time, before the final whistle will have left the majority with mixed feelings over the final result.
Hull City: Allan McGregor, James Chester, Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Jake Livermore, Paul McShane, Nikica Jelavic (George Boyd 81), Tom Ince (Liam Rosenior 56), Andrew Robertson, Ahmed Elmohamady, Stephen Quinn (David Meyler 76).
Subs Not Used: Steve Harper, Maynor Figueroa, Alex Bruce, Sone Aluko.
Stoke City: Asmir Begovic, Phil Bardsley, Erik Pieters, Glenn Whelan (Bojan Krkic 41), Peter Odemwingie, Marko Arnautovic (Peter Crouch 55), Marc Wilson, Steven N’Zonzi, Ryan Shawcross, Mame Diouf, Steve Sidwell (Charlie Adam 65).
Subs Not Used: Thomas Sorensen, Marc Muniesa, Jonathan Walters, Geoff Cameron.
Referee: Mr J. Moss.
Attendance: 24,348 (2,577 Visiting Supporters).