Nobody could have picked this. Eldin Jakupovic gratefully clutched the ball to his chest, Mike Dean blew his whistle and one of the greatest upsets in the history of the Premier League was confirmed. It was a fairytale, full of suspense and drama with a touch of injustice added in on the side. Hull City had undergone a torrid off-season, with the most successful manager in their history walking out less than a month out from kick-off and an injury crisis ruling out all but thirteen of their senior players. The owners of the club had fallen out bitterly with the fans, and the fans were planning a big protest at this match. That protest was soon forgotten as the Tigers showed spirit and class to defy all odds and win.
Leicester City came into the game as defending champions, with such stars as Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez. Wily Italian Claudio Ranieri led the Foxes to greater heights than they had ever reached before, and they were brimming with confidence against a Hull City team in turmoil. The real question going into this match was not who was going to win, but how much Leicester were going to win by.
The reigning champions looked to play this game according to their model, but this time Hull were ready for them. Vardy, who took the league by storm last year, was beyond ineffective, with ball after ball being picked up by Jake Livermore and Curtis Davies. He looked lost, like he didn’t belong on the pitch. Mahrez dazzled the crowd with some occasional touches of brilliance, but the Algerian struggled to penetrate the determined defensive front. Hull were allowed plenty of breathing space, and they established a firm foothold in the game.
The warning signs were there for the champions. While Hull looked unable to create many chances, alarm bells should have rung as Robert Snodgrass wreaked havoc with his well-placed set pieces. He delivered the ball into dangerous positions, and while he did not have many chances the threat was ever-present. The Foxes started to ramp things up as the first period drew to a close, but Hull kept knocking them back.
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Beaten: Jamie Vardy (left) and Jake Livermore challenge for the ball.
The first real chance came when Christian Fuchs was played through after an excellent passing move. It was atypical of the Premier League champions, a far cry from the direct approach which brought them so much success last season. Even still, a marauding Fuchs was able to penetrate Hull’s defence, and Jakupovic did well to keep him out. Then it fell to Vardy, who was confronted with an open goal. Livermore threw himself in front of the shot, and it bounced away. The threat was still not gone. Jakupovic had recovered, but now Mahrez was streaming into the box, driving the Hull defence closer and closer towards their own goal as they backpedalled to keep pace with the right winger. It didn’t matter in the end, as the left footed effort on goal went well wide. More than ever, it looked a matter of when, not if.
Then Ahmed Musa got involved, giving Vardy a brilliant chance to open the scoring. A careless pass back to Davies was the issue, as the Nigerian swooped in to pick it off. He sprinted down the right before centring it for Vardy, but the star of last season could not convert. The ball flew over the bar, and Hull survived again.
Then came the goal. Leicester should have seen it coming, but they didn’t. Snodgrass whipped in the corner, and Wes Morgan, solid as a rock last season, was beaten in the air. Davies managed to get his head to the ball, and Kasper Schmeichel needed to make a brilliant save to keep the score at 0-0. The deadlock only lasted for a few seconds, however, as Abel Hernandez received the rebound. The Uruguayan attempted to control it with his chest, but he got a bad bounce and it looped up over his head. He had the same idea as Adama Diomande, and the two went up for the bicycle kick in unison. It was hard to tell who scored; possibly Hernandez, possibly Diomande, most probably a combination of the two; but it didn’t matter. Hull had the lead, and the fans were back behind their team.
Leicester came out after the half with the goal fresh in their minds, and it was not long before they levelled. Less than half a minute of the second half had elapsed when Demarai Gray was falsely awarded a penalty, with the replays showing that Tom Huddlestone had in fact fouled the pacey youngster outside the area. It didn’t matter to Leicester, and Mahrez stepped up to drill the ball past Jakupovic, who never stood a chance. Leicester had the equaliser, and it looked as if the Tigers were going to be overrun.
It didn’t happen. Ranieri allowed his team to settle back into their old rhythm, giving Hull plenty of breathing space and failing to challenge the newly-promoted Tigers. The fans had plenty of spirit, and a chorus of boos rang out over the KCOM Stadium every time the ball fell to Gray on the left wing. Then Hull went back ahead, and there was no more need for the boos. The injustice had been corrected.
The game had died down, but a rare mistake from Schmeichel opened the door for Hull. Ahmed Elmohamady intercepted the Danish keeper’s long throw towards the left wing, and the right back streamed forward with pace. He put the ball in, and all the Leicester players in the immediate vicinity flung themselves at the ball in an effort to contain it. There was no organisation, and while Danny Simpson managed to get his body to the ball Snodgrass had all the time in the world inside the area. He delivered, sending his shot hurtling into the bottom corner.
From that point onwards the game adopted a familiar rhythm. Ball after ball would go in, seeking out Vardy up front, and ball after ball would fly back the other way, with the Hull defence booting it forward wherever they could. Mike Phelan had only one senior player on his bench, and the former Manchester United assistant was not making any changes. The starting eleven fought with everything they had, knowing all the while that no bench support would come. Shinji Okazaki was a breath of fresh air for the champions, but Ranieri’s other changes were uninspiring at a time when Leicester needed inspiration. Leicester came in riding a wave of excitement and expectation, but on this day they looked sluggish and predictable. Hull came in to the game with a plan, and they came out of it with one of the biggest victories in their history as a club. They have silenced the doubters, and no matter how this season plays out they will remember this day forever. For one moment at least, the backroom dealings and political issues were forgotten, as Hull City celebrated a famous victory.
Hull – KCOM Stadium
Hull City 2 (Diomande 45+1, Snodgrass 57)
Leicester City 1 (Mahrez 47 pen)
Referee: Mike Dean
Hull City (4-3-3): Jakupovic – Elmohamady, Livermore, Davies, Robertson; Meyler, Huddlestone, Clucas; Snodgrass, Hernandez, Diomande.
Leicester City (4-4-2): Schmeichel – Simpson (Ulloa 83), Hernandez, Morgan, Fuchs; Mahrez, King (Amartey 68), Drinkwater, Gray (Okazaki 68); Vardy, Musa.
1. Robert Snodgrass (Hull City)
A class above. Snodgrass was in complete command throughout, providing excellent delivery from set pieces and eventually scoring the winner with a perfectly executed half-volley. He used all of his experience in the closing stages to ensure that the Tigers finished the match well, and he showed brilliant skill and composure as he secured a famous victory for his team.
2. Curtis Davies (Hull City)
Davies was in top form in central defence, making a number of critical interceptions as Hull looked to peg their opponents back time and time again. He provided a significant attacking threat with his ability to win the ball in the air, and he will be very pleased with his performance.
3. Riyad Mahrez (Leicester City)
Mahrez scored Leicester’s only goal with a penalty early in the second half, and his skill on the ball was impressive as he looked to break through. He came very close on a number of occasions with his ability to find space, and he showed some very positive signs in an otherwise disappointing day for the Foxes.
4. Adama Diomande (Hull City)
Diomande scored the opening goal of the game with a well-executed bicycle kick just before half time, and the Norwegian striker was a significant threat for Hull on the break. He showed good pace and skill, and he caused plenty of problems for Leicester with his ability to transition between attack and defence.
5. Ahmed Musa (Leicester City)
Musa was one of the quickest players on the field, and he put Hull City under a lot of pressure with his skill and pace. He pressed the Tigers hard from start to finish, and created plenty of opportunities with some well-placed passes. He was one of Leicester’s best, and showed plenty of positive signs on debut for the club.