Hull 2 Fulham 0
Iain Dowie tasted victory in his first home game as Hull boss as the Tigers gave their survival hopes a major boost with three points against Fulham at the KC Stadium.
Starting second from bottom and on a run of five consecutive defeats, Hull knew time was running out for them to turn things around.
But Jimmy Bullard calmed the home fans’ nerves with a 16th-minute penalty and Craig Fagan doubled their advantage with a looping header just after the break as Hull moved level on points with 17th-placed West Ham.
Roy Hodgson’s selection indicated Fulham have bigger fish to fry, with Wolfsburg due at Craven Cottage on Thursday for the first leg of their Europa League quarter-final.
Dowie had plenty of injury problems to contend with ahead of the match and, as expected, Andy Dawson and Stephen Hunt failed to make it while Caleb Folan, who netted twice on his return to the side against Portsmouth last week, was ill.
Only 13 years ago these sides were meeting in the bottom tier of the Football League. Both have enjoyed meteoric rises since then but Hull knew victory today was vitally important in their bid to avoid a return to the League.
But from their first attack the visitors came close to taking the lead. Clint Dempsey held the ball up on the edge of the box and Zoltan Gera forced Boaz Myhill to push his shot away.
The home crowd were becoming frustrated as Hull struggled to find any rhythm but in the 16th minute they were handed a golden chance to take the lead.
Bullard found Altidore in the area and the American striker turned away from Smalling, who wrestled him to the ground six yards from goal.
Referee Chris Foy had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, although he kept his cards in his pocket, and Bullard stepped up to convert the penalty high into the top corner – silencing the Fulham fans who had been booing him.
Fulham pushed for an immediate equaliser and, after Dean Marney had fouled the lively Bjorn Riise on the right, Nicky Shorey’s dangerous free-kick had to be punched away by Myhill, with Simon Davies seeing his follow-up blocked.
Gera should have pulled Fulham level in the 27th minute after the visitors won a corner on the right. Riise’s delivery was headed on by Brede Hangeland for the Hungarian, who swivelled and shot from eight yards only for Boateng to clear off the line with Myhill beaten.
Kagisho Dikgacoi then became the first man in the book when he tripped Altidore 30 yards out. Bullard curled his free-kick over the wall but Mark Schwarzer got down well to push the ball behind for a corner.
Bullard sent in another good set-piece that eventually fell for Marney but he could only stab the ball straight at the busy Schwarzer.
Having almost doubled their lead, Hull then cleared off their own line for the second time, and Gera was again the man denied. This time he got away on the right side of the area and clipped the ball past Myhill but Steven Mouyokolo was in the right place at the right time.
Gera’s frustration increased moments later when he was booked for diving after going down under a challenge from Kevin Kilbane in the area.
Within three minutes of the start of the second half, Hull had doubled their lead.
Marney swung over a deep cross from the left and Fagan, who had been a willing runner in the first period, beat Paul Konchesky to the ball. His header was looping and seemed to take an age to drop but Schwarzer could only watch it as it nestled in the bottom corner.
Hodgson responded by bringing on striker Stefano Okaka for Riise but it was hosts who nearly scored again in the 58th minute, although this time Schwarzer just managed to grasp a cross from Altidore with Richard Garcia waiting for a tap-in.
The first moment of real alarm for Hull in the second half came in the 74th minute but again they had bodies in the right place as a scramble ended with Okaka’s backheel being blocked just in front of the line by Garcia.
And that was as good as it got for Fulham, who were turning their attentions to Europe as Hull savoured a vital victory.