On Saturday, two of the Sky Bet Championship’s promotion favourites squared off against each other at the KC Stadium.
Hosts Hull City went into the game unbeaten in their previous eleven fixtures in all competitions, while visitors Middlesbrough were on a fine run themselves, winning their previous three league games.
It was Hull who took the points though, maintaining their unbeaten home start to the season, and strengthening their lead at the top of the Sky Bet Championship table.
Mohamed Diame gave the Tigers the lead a minute before half time, turning the ball in from Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross.
Sam Clucas doubled the hosts’ advantage, diverting David Meyler’s wayward effort in the 67th minute, before Tom Huddlestone wrapped up the three points for the Tigers with the goal of the game seven minutes from time, as his left footed pile driver from the edge of the box arrowed into the top corner.
A big win for Hull City, but what did we learn from the encounter?
1) Hull look unstoppable
The Tigers are now unbeaten in their last ten league games, winning their last five.
Every obstacle that has been put in front of Steve Bruce’s side has been brushed aside in recent weeks, with fellow play-off hopefuls Ipswich Town, Birmingham City, Brentford and Middlesbrough all comfortably beaten by Bruce’s high-flying side.
Hull have only conceded eight league goals so far this campaign and, having kept six clean sheets out of their last seven, they are comfortably the strongest defence in the Championship. Bruce’s side are also scoring for fun at the moment, finding the net twelve times in their last five.
The Tigers have found their feet and are picking up momentum.
They face a trip to Bristol City after the international break, where Bruce will be hoping his side can continue in this vein of form, and further strengthen Hull City’s grasp at the top of the Sky Bet Championship.
2) Middlesbrough must improve
Boro manager Aitor Karanka will be disappointed with his side’s performance in their 3-0 defeat away at Hull City.
Boro made the better start, and nearly took the lead in the first ten minutes but David Nugent dragged his shot wide of Allan McGregor’s post. That was one of very few chances for the visitors with McGregor rarely being tested and, except for a smart save to deny George Friend in the second half, the Scotland international had a relatively comfortable afternoon.
Boro’s use of the ball was poor, with Stewart Downing rarely getting the opportunity to run at the Hull defence and, with Nugent feeding off scraps, the Tigers job was made relatively easy.
Middlesbrough remain in fourth, four points behind Hull City, and face a visit from Queens Park Rangers after the international break, where Karanka’s side must improve if they are to mount a serious challenge for promotion.
3) Strength in depth at Hull
Bruce mixed things up for the visit of Middlesbrough, dropping Arsenal loanee Chuba Akpom to the bench in favour of midfielder Diame – a decision which paid off with the Senegal international netting the Tigers’ first of the afternoon, and his second in three games.
Bruce then introduced Huddlestone who has found himself demoted to the bench in recent weeks, due to the blossoming partnership of Jake Livermore and David Meyler in the centre of midfield, but the one-time club record signing didn’t take long to stake his claim for a starting place again.
Four minutes after replacing Diame, Huddlestone fired home in spectacular fashion to seal the three points for Hull.
The depth and quality Bruce possesses in his squad makes them favourites to challenge for the Sky Bet Championship title this campaign, but the competition for places and impact his substitutes have had in recent weeks will give the 54-year-old a selection headache for the Tigers’ trip to Bristol City.
Whatever side the former Manchester United centre-half selects should be more than capable of travelling back to East Yorkshire with all three points.
Hull and Middlesbrough fans… what did you make of the game? How good were Hull? How poor were Boro? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!