West Bromwich Albion 0 Hull City 3
Any talk of Hull City’s bubble bursting at The Hawthorns was silenced after a shambolic spell of defending by West Bromwich Albion in the second half allowed the Tigers to ease three points closer to Premier League safety.
They now have 20 of those after just nine games and, at the close of play on Sunday, find themselves headed only by Liverpool and Chelsea.
Not so much relegation form, but Champions League.
It won’t last, said Hull manager Phil Brown afterwards, but no one would now bet against Hull being a Premier League team next year.
Albion’s future looks less rosy.
In many ways both these sides started the day as the season’s surprise packages; Albion for the way their quality of football has stood the top-flight test and Hull for their unbelievable, unlikely and inexplicable series of results.
Neat football gave way here after a breathtaking 20-minute spell straight after the break which, for the first time this season, hinted that the Baggies may find themselves in a relegation scrap come May.
Their supporters will say this scoreline painted an unfair reflection of the difference in quality between the sides – and they would have a point – but the result emphatically reflected the quality of the two teams’ finishing.
Brazilian Geovanni and striker Marlon King capitalised on two uncharacteristic errors from Gianni Zuiverloon to fire home the visiting sides’ best chances after Kamil Zayatte’s opener revisited a familiar Albion foible – the failure to defend properly from set-pieces.
If Hull made the most of their chances Ishmael Miller, in particular, wasted several at the other end.
He created many of the openings himself courtesy of his penetrative and direct runs, but he desperately lacks finesse and composure where he needs it most.
It says something about how little faith manager Tony Mowbray must have in Luke Moore in order to keep persevering with Miller, a player shorn of the swagger that became his hallmark last season.
Miller’s shortcomings – namely his anticipation, touch, distribution, finishing and woeful right foot – are undoubtedly under more scrutiny from better defenders, but the 21-year-old has spurned plenty of chances to get his season tally up and running.
Mowbray is hardly blessed with striking options, a dearth highlighted by the work of Daniel Cousin, King and Geovanni for Hull, who had Caleb Folan on the bench.
Albion were unfortunate to find Hull goalkeeper Boaz Myhill in fine form.
In the second half the former Villa keeper clawed away long-range efforts from James Morrison and Robert Koren and before the break, when the Baggies were by far the better side, the woodwork came to the visitors’ rescue.
Hull play some neat stuff, at times easily good enough to expose Albion’s defensive susceptibility.
As expected, they are also pretty good from set-pieces and just after the break confusion from a corner allowed Zayatte to volley past Scott Carson from six yards.
Scoring first perfectly complemented Hull’s gameplan, which was to hit Albion on the break. And they did so on the hour to make it two-nil.
King evaded Zuiverloon’s mistimed attempt to play him offside and flicked a delightful ball inside for the diminutive Brazilian, who had ghosted into the Albion box midfield, to nod home.
King added the third four minutes later after latching on to another error from Zuiverloon and slotting neatly past Carson.
Scorers: Zayatte (47), Geovanni (61), King (65).
WEST BROMWICH ALBION: Carson; Zuiverloon, Donk, Olsson, Robinson; Morrison (Moore, 80) Greening, Koren (Brunt, 80), Valero; Miller (MacDonald, 80), Bednar. Substitutes: Kiely, Hoefkens, Cech, Barnett.
HULL CITY: Myhill; McShane, Zayatte, Turner, Dawson (Ricketts, 10); Marney, Ashbee (Hughes, 75), Boateng, Geovanni (Garcia 79); Cousin, King. Substitutes: Duke, Mendy, Halmosi, Folan.
Referee: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
Booking: Hull – Ricketts (foul).