A quick straw poll of footballing opinion would doubtless reveal split opinions of Marlon King: those that dislike him and those that dislike him even more.
The Middlesbrough striker has enjoyed a chequered career — to put it mildly — but few would argue that, at his best, he remains a potent force, even at the highest level.
King proved as much again on Saturday with a thunderous performance, capped by the goal that clinched a precious victory for his struggling side.
It was a sweet moment for King, currently on loan from Wigan, who started the season on a similar short-term deal at Hull but left after falling out with manager Phil Brown in January.
The win was not enough to lift Boro out of the bottom three but Southgate’s men are now only two points adrift of 17th-placed Sunderland and four behind Hull.
“It was a fairly easy decision to ask Marlon to play,” Southgate said. “I think I put him in the team for the game about six weeks ago. It was no surprise he got on the scoresheet – that’s how football is.
“I was pleased for him because I thought his overall performance was excellent. It’s been difficult for him since he has been here but he got the crowd going. We need that leadership in the team.”
Southgate now needs to maintain the momentum for the final six games of the season, starting with next week’s home clash against Fulham.
Hull were sixth after beating Boro 2-1 in December but they have won only once in 16 since and are now in serious danger themselves.
The Tigers recovered from the shock of conceding a third-minute goal to Tuncay to equalise through Manucho six minutes later but were then caught out by Matthew Bates before half-time.
King wrapped up the points in the last minute after Jeremie Aliadiere robbed former Boro midfielder George Boateng.
It was a reminder of the talents that brought Hull five goals in the first half of the campaign but Brown again insisted he had no regrets about letting King go.
“Marlon’s had three clubs this year,” he said. “That emphasises the type of lad he is.
“He got himself a goal — it wasn’t a great goal from Middlesbrough’s point of view and it was certainly a mistake from our point of view.”
Brown blamed all three Boro goals on Hull mistakes but admitted he did not get a clear view of how the corner that led to Bates’ goal — his first for Boro — was won. Hull captain Ian Ashbee thought he had cleared before the ball crossed the line. Ashbee was booked in the game and faces a suspension but Brown urged his experienced players to pull his side out of trouble.
“We have gifted a team in the bottom three, three points. That is damaging — but we know the situation and there are still six games to put that right. It is about confidence, belief, eradicating mistakes and sticking with the basics that have got us through to this stage of the season.”
MIDDLESBROUGH (4-4-2): Jones 6, McMahon 6, Wheater 8, Huth 7, Taylor 7, Bates 7, Aliadiere 7 (Emnes 90, 5), Downing 7, Tuncay 8, Alves 7 (A Johnson 77, 6), King 7.
Subs Not Used: Turnbull, Hoyte, Shawky, Riggott, Walker.
HULL (4-3-3): Duke 6, Ricketts 7, Zayatte 6, Turner 6, Dawson 6, Fagan 6 (Boateng 71, 5), Mendy 6 (Marney 46, 6), Ashbee 6, Barmby 7 (Folan 62, 5), Geovanni 6, Manucho 7.
Subs Not Used: Myhill, Halmosi, Kilbane, Featherstone.
REFEREE: Phil Dowd (Staffordshire) 6: A feisty game required five bookings, although Dowd made a rod for his own back by dishing out two in the first 10 minutes.
MATCH RATING: *** Enthralling, if tinged with rank desperation.
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