Battered Brown breathes again as Hull fight back in style

PHIL BROWN can breathe again.

The Hull City manager would have been forgiven for thinking this game would be his last in charge after his side trailed at the interval.

As it was, a feisty second-half recovery, capped by goals from Seyi Olofinjana and Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, earned the beleaguered Brown a stay of execution.

It was deserved. Having fallen behind to Matthew Etherington’s first-half strike, Hull were rewarded for their greater endeavour as Olofinjana levelled against his former club and substitute Vennegoor of Hesselink won it in the final minute, moments after Stoke’s Abdoulaye Faye was sent off.

Unusually for Brown, who is hardly renowned for being adverse to the limelight, the City manager declined to address the media in the aftermath, preferring to let his assistant, Brian Horton, do the talking.

“He’s having a Guinness – he deserves one,” said Horton. “He does like the spotlight – there’s nothing wrong with that – but tonight he’s chosen not to.

“He’s just come out of the spotlight. He’s having a Guinness. Why shouldn’t he? He’s a good manager and does lots of good things that people don’t see. He’s got a great future in the game.”

Horton, however, was more guarded when asked whether he felt the win had saved Brown’s job.

“I refuse to answer that question,” he said. “I don’t think it should be asked today. We hope we can now go on a run, and nobody talks about stupid things like that.”

That might be wishful thinking. This was a precious win but questions will be asked about Brown’s future regardless of one victory, although his chances of survival look much brighter now that record signing Jimmy Bullard, making his long-awaited home debut after 10 injury-ravaged months, is back to full fitness.

The former Fulham man had his first chance when he fired well over after five minutes and then went closer with a low shot that went narrowly wide moments later.

Ricardo Fuller shot from similar range as Stoke enjoyed their first chance but Matt Duke, continuing to deputise for the injured Boaz Myhill, parried. That was indicative of Hull’s bright start. Bernard Mendy, playing at right-back, was keen to get forward and put Richard Garcia in on goal with another good through ball.

The Australian managed to get a shot away as he closed in on keeper Thomas Sorensen but Glenn Whelan slid in to deflect it behind.

Mendy, however, showed his weakness in defence when Etherington raced onto a long ball from Ryan Shawcross down the right and burst into the area to give Stoke the lead after 30 minutes.

Etherington was completely unchallenged as he ran through and beat Duke at the near post.

Hull could have crumbled at that blow and they were fortunate not to go 2-0 down early in the second half as Anthony Gardner almost turned the ball into his own net after 54 minutes. Etherington played a one-two with Fuller and his cross looked goalbound after being diverted by Gardner but the wrong-footed Duke just managed to get a touch to force it wide.

That save kept Hull in the game and Olofinjana claimed a superb equaliser just after the hour that made amends for his earlier profligacy.

Collecting the ball from Hunt, the Nigerian turned two Stoke players on the edge of the area and then clipped a curling shot over Sorensen and into the top corner.

Hull survived a scare with eight minutes remaining when Whelan lofted in a free-kick and Ryan Shawcross hit the bar with a looping header but Stoke were left hanging on after Faye was dismissed with eight minutes remaining as a late challenge on Nick Barmby earned a second yellow card.

That gave Hull their chance and, in injury-time, Vennegoor of Hesselink, who had himself just come off the bench, was on hand to score the winner after a Bullard shot was beaten out by Sorensen.

Stoke were not their usual feisty selves and their woes were compounded by Tuncay, who was substituted just seven minutes after coming on after Faye’s dismissal and responded by storming straight down the tunnel.

“I’ve got no problems with that, but it still won’t stop me doing it again,” said manager Tony Pulis. “It is not about me or Tuncay; it is about the team. We have lost a centre-half, so we had to put another defender on.”

REFEREE: Mike Dean (Wirral) 7: Had little controversy to deal with but handled the game in a calm and assured manner. Got Abdoulaye Faye’s dismissal spot-on.

MATCH RATING: ** Poor to say the least. This game hardly looked thrilling on paper and it was even worse in reality as the lack of quality shone through.

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