The Corkman was in dazzling form yet again in his club colours yesterday, and the only pity is that his services remain denied to Giovanni Trapattoni. His subtlety and coolness under pressure — so evident here in the way he took his two goals — are sorely missed by his country.
His brace was also enough to end City’s losing streak, although Mark Hughes’ hopes of a much-needed victory were ultimately thwarted by a second-half Hull comeback.
It is difficult to establish which manager will be happier with a point, but neither Phil Brown or Mark Hughes will take any pleasure from some shambolic defending.
Hull were gifted the lead through Daniel Cousin in the 13th minute courtesy of Tal Ben-Haim’s horrendous blunder.
Ireland was promptly presented with an equaliser thanks to Kamil Zayatte’s equally astonishing error in the 36th minute before putting the visitors ahead with a piece of individual brilliance on the stroke of half time. Geovanni had the last laugh on his former club with a deflected free kick on the hour mark to at least win his personal battle with countryman Robinho.
“Stephen Ireland was excellent,” Hughes said. “He took his goals well and is having an outstanding season. Not just his general play but his other things as well, those things that he does so well. The way he’s playing it wouldn’t surprise me if he gets into double figures this season,”
Hughes had earlier watched in horror as City gifted their hosts the lead with a defensive howler that is fast becoming the trademark of their season.
Ben-Haim was the culprit, making a complete hash of what appeared to be a routine back pass to Hart. Instead, he sold his keeper short, allowing Cousin to nip in an take full advantage of his very early Christmas present from the Israeli international.
In the process of trying to repair the damage Ben-Haim had created, Hart twisted his ankle and was replaced by Kasper Schmeichel - Hughes later confirmed he will be out for a month.
Hull cranked up the pressure in pursuit of a second goal but just when City appeared to be on the ropes the home side ruined their good start with a hideous mistake of their own in the 36th minute.
Zayatte should have dealt comfortably with Robinho’s pass but the defender inexplicably side-footed the loose ball straight into the path of Ireland, who made no mistake with goalkeeper Bo Myhill out of position.
Now it was Hull’s turn to show their character but, remarkably, they found themselves behind just eight minutes later as the contest was turned on its head.
Robinho released the overlapping Javier Garrido and when he found Ireland in space on the edge of the penalty area, the midfielder had time to look up before curling a delightful curling strike beyond Myhill.
City seemed destined for a much-needed win, until the intervention of Geovanni with 30 minutes remaining, but it was Ireland who stole the show.
HULL (4-4-2): Myhill 7, Ricketts 7, Turner 6, Zayatte 5, McShane 7, Geovanni 7, Boateng 6 (Halmousi 85, 5), Ashbee 7, Marney 7, King 7, Cousin 8 (Barmby 76, 6).
Subs Not Used: Duke, Doyle, Garcia, Folan, Giannakopoulos.
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Hart 6 (Schmeichel 19, 6), Garrido 7, Ben Haim 5, Richards 7, Zabaleta 7, Robinho 7, Ireland 8, Kompany 7, Wright-Phillips 7, Vassell 6, Benjani 6 (Jo 76, 5).
Subs Not Used: Onuoha, Michael Ball, Hamann, Elano, Evans.
REFEREE: Philip Dowd (Staffordshire) 7: Allowed the game to flow and was unscrupulously fair.
MATCH RATING: *** Will be remembered for two horrendous defensive mistakes, rather than the skills on show.