Norwich 1 Hull 0
A late header from defender Ryan Bennett moved Norwich five points clear of the Barclays Premier League relegation zone as the Canaries eventually saw off 10-man Hull at Carrow Road.
Manager Chris Hughton has been told his job is safe so long as he keeps the club outside of the bottom three and he would have been a relieved man to see Bennett score his first goal in nine months to secure a 1-0 win and a vital three points. It was the Canaries’ first home win since November.
The under pressure boss made seven changes to the side that was outplayed in the 3-0 FA Cup third round replay defeat at Fulham in midweek, once again partnering Gary Hooper and Ricky van Wolfswinkel in attack and handing a debut to Newcastle loanee Jonas Gutierrez.
Only one of Hull’s new recruits made the team and it was Nikica Jelavic who had the visitors’ best chance of the game early on before they had to withstand heavy pressure from Norwich.
Tom Huddlestone saw red late on for the Tigers after picking up a second yellow card as Steve Bruce’s side continue to struggle away from home.
With less than two minutes gone Hull captain Robert Koren found space down the right and cut the ball back to Jelavic, whose first-time shot clipped the post as the Croatia international came within inches of scoring an early debut goal.
Liam Rosenior was the next Hull player to have a great chance to open the scoring but could only
fire a low volley wide after he drifted in unnoticed at the back post to meet Koren’s cross.
In a lively start, Norwich also created chances as Hooper and van Wolfswinkel combined to see the Dutchman’s shot deflected behind while Robert Snodgrass could not benefit from a poor Curtis Davies clearance and shot well wide.
Van Wolfswinkel, still without a goal since the opening day of the season, came close after 10 minutes as Johnson’s deep cross was headed back across goal by Snodgrass but the club-record signing failed to wrap his foot around it and shot wide of Allan McGregor’s left-hand post.
The game settled down after a pulsating opening 10 minutes, with an injury to Hull defender James Chester causing a delay, as a long-range effort from Snodgrass proved to be the only chance of note.
Norwich started to take control of the game later in the half but could not find an opening despite a string of corners, with a deflected van Wolfswinkel header the best opportunity they could muster.
A curling shot from Snodgrass forced compatriot McGregor into a good save as the hosts continued to press but it was Hooper, firing wide when free inside the box, who had the best chance as the teams went in all square at the interval.
The second half started with a similar pattern to how the first drew to a close as Hughton’s side continued to have the better of the possession without ever really making it show.
Both Rosenior and Huddlestone found their way into referee Howard Webb’s book but Norwich could not create anything from the respective free-kicks.
Snodgrass and van Wolfswinkel both saw goalbound efforts bravely blocked by a resolute Hull defence before Anthony Pilkington was welcomed back from injury for the Canaries as he replaced debutant Gutierrez.
The Republic of Ireland international has missed the last 11 games with a hamstring injury but was immediately involved, taking down a long ball and picking out Hooper whose speculative 30-yard effort looped over the crossbar.
The deserved breakthrough eventually came with just four minutes remaining as a Snodgrass corner finally led to a goal, with Bennett rising highest to power his header past McGregor.
Huddlestone was then dismissed after catching Leroy Fer and Norwich failed to double their lead with a goalmouth scramble with Bennett once again proving a threat in the Hull penalty area.
The hosts saw out the four minutes of injury time to take the victory and move up to 12th place in the table.