Hull 2 Leicester 1
At 10.30am on Saturday, Hull City stewards were trying to paint over stadium graffiti calling for the owners to sell up. By 2.15pm, the club’s fans had burst into a bellowing chorus of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’.
It was not that fans had forgiven Assem and Ehab Allam. Far from it.
It was just that the over-achievements of their team on the pitch had, for a little while at least, dulled the pain of a traumatic summer.
A win over the champions was as unexpected as it was satisfying.
Leicester City spent the whole of last season defying the odds; they began the new campaign on the receiving end of a shock.
In the spring, Claudio Ranieri’s team proved just what is possible if you follow your dreams. At the weekend, Hull proved just what is possible when you have hardly any players.
The Tigers have made no summer signings and have no permanent manager following Steve Bruce’s resignation last month. They lost five players to injury in pre-season, and sold midfielder Mohamed Diame to Newcastle.
The Allams have been trying to sell the club for two years, and investment has dropped off as a result.
When defender Curtis Davies posted on Twitter what he claimed was a pre-season squad photo, containing only nine players, the joke had something of an edge to it.
Assistant manager Mike Phelan, placed in temporary charge following Bruce’s departure, did well to raise a match-day squad of 18 for the opening game of the season.
“There has to be new players coming into a football club,” Phelan said. “The club won’t be able to sustain a push in the Premier League without the influx of new players. Everyone is doing it and Hull City are a little bit behind in bringing new players.
“Everything boils down to whatever stage the owners are at with the sale of the club but movement has to be made quickly.
“I know it’s not been a great preparation for this game, coming into the game with 13 fit senior players, but we were able to field an 11,” said Davies, captaining the side as Michael Dawson recovers from medial knee ligament damage.
But we’re a close group and when you face adversity, it brings you a little bit closer. After the game, when we all get in a huddle and things like that, it’s letting out a bit of frustration in terms of what’s gone on behind the scenes and the fact that we’ve come through it and got a victory.”
Davies would like to see Phelan get the manager’s job full-time. “He’s made it clear he wants the job,” the stand-in captain said.
“He’s said he wants the job, that he wants to be a manager, and we want someone to lead us. He wants to take on this mighty challenge, and we need someone like that.”
Changes may yet be afoot behind the scenes. The unpopular Allams are in discussions to sell to a Chinese consortium, whose representatives were at Saturday’s match.
They saw an attendance that was 4,000 short of the stadium’s capacity, with many fans staying away in protest at the way the club is being run, while those supporters who did attend chanted repeatedly for the current owners to leave.
They also saw a performance of great discipline and spirit from Hull.
Jake Livermore, a midfielder playing as an emergency centre-half, made a superb first-half block to deny Jamie Vardy.
Having survived to the brink of half-time without conceding, the home side went ahead as Adama Diomande just beat team-mate Abel Hernandez to an overhead kick after Kasper Schmeichel had pushed out a Davies header.
A team lacking togetherness may have crumbled when that lead was wiped out by a Riyad Mahrez right at the start of the second half.
Instead, Hull went in front again as Robert Snodgrass swept in from 20 yards after Danny Simpson had cleared a cross from the excellent Ahmed Elmohamady.
Leicester, missing the midfield influence of the departed N’Golo Kante and the defensive muscle of the suspended Robert Huth, looked flaky.
Vardy, the hero of last season, had the air of a man struggling to adjust to his new fame.
Right-back Simpson tried to stay positive. Last year, we reacted well to defeats. There’s no better match to come next than a home game against Arsenal.
“Teams will always give their best against us, but maybe they’ll give that extra five per cent because people want to beat the champions. That’s something we’ve got to get used to.”
HULL CITY (4-1-4-1): Jakupovic 7; Elmohamady 8, Livermore 8, Davies 7, Robertson 7; Clucas 7; Snodgrass 8, Huddlestone 7, Meyler 7, Diomande 7; A Hernandez 7.
Subs not used: Kuciak (gk), Clackstone, Tymon, Maloney, Olley, Luer, Bowen.
LEICESTER CITY (4-2-3-1): Schmeichel 6; Simpson 5 (Ulloa 83, 6), L Hernandez 5, Morgan 5, Fuchs 6; Drinkwater 5, King 5 (Amartey 68, 5); Mahrez 6, Musa 7, Gray 6 (Okazaki 68, 6); Vardy 5.
Subs not used: Zieler (gk), Chilwell, Albrighton, Kapustka, Ulloa.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
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