Harry Maguire and Sam Clucas heroics help Hull City out of relegation zone
A breathless, intoxicating fixture on Wednesday saw two relegation-haunted clubs throw caution to the wind, and it was Hull City who earned a 4-2 victory that made an almighty difference to their survival prospects.
Despite trailing to Alvaro Negredo's early opener for Middlesbrough, the Tigers responded wonderfully well to carve their visitors open with three goals inside 28 first-half minutes. Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse and Abel Hernandez were all on target before Harry Maguire's second-half header ensured a controversial goal from Marten De Roon counted for nothing. Wins come no bigger than this.
The character shown by Marco Silva's men has been immense over recent weeks, and this was no different. In a fixture they could not afford to lose, there was a nerveless quality to Hull's play. At no stage were they betrayed by nerves in a performance as good as any produced all season long. Markovic, Maguire and Kamil Grosicki all excelled, as did Sam Clucas in a graceful midfield contribution. Victory was already secured before the icing was added to the cake inside the closing minutes. Swansea's late capitulation to lose 3-1 against Tottenham Hotspur allowed City to escape the bottom three for the first time in 165 days.
To pick fault would be futile. Not only did Hull secure three huge points to clamber out of the relegation zone, they learned of defeats elsewhere for Swansea, Crystal Palace and West Ham. The one doubt for supporters who danced out of the KCOM Stadium were the injuries to Hernandez and Maguire. Both were forced off in the second half, and there will be a nervous wait over their fitness ahead of Saturday's trip to Manchester City. Maguire's knee injury looked the worst of the two.
Manager rating out of 10
8 -- Silva can do no wrong at present. Matching up with Middlesbrough's 4-4-2 system, the Portuguese's bravery was rewarded with a dynamic and forceful display that fully warranted maximum points.
Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best; players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)
GK Eldin Jakupovic, 7 -- An excellent fingertip save pushed Rudy Gestede's header on to the crossbar, and there was also a smart stop to keep out Negredo. A much quieter second half as Middlesbrough's challenge fizzled out.
DF Ahmed Elmohamady, 6 -- The continued absence of Omar Elabdellaoui has paved the way for a run at right-back, and the Egyptian did a solid job of keeping Stewart Downing quiet. Reined in his attacking instincts overall.
DF Andrea Ranocchia, 6 -- The open nature of the contest meant it was a chaotic night for defenders, and City's on-loan Italian centre-back had difficulty keeping Negredo under wraps. Certainly improved as the game wore on.
DF Harry Maguire, 8 -- Captain for a night he will not forget in a hurry. As well as scoring a first Premier League goal to effectively secure three points, his threaded pass that teed up Hull's third was outstanding.
DF Andy Robertson, 7 -- The most intriguing battle of the night came with City's young Scot up against Adama Traore. A tricky task, but he came out smiling, especially when sending in the free kick for Maguire's goal.
MF Lazar Markovic, 8 -- The best Hull City fans have seen from the loan signing by some distance. Constantly threatening throughout the first half and was the man on the spot to drag his side level from close range.
MF Alfred N'Diaye, 7 -- A strong display in midfield helped wrestle control away from Middlesbrough. Kept play alive in the build-up to Hull's second goal and was denied one of his own by a low Victor Valdes save.
MF Sam Clucas, 8 -- Supporters feared the worst when Tom Huddlestone was suspended, but a display like this makes you wonder why. Wonderful poise in the middle of the park, showcasing a fine passing range.
MF Kamil Grosicki, 7 -- Like Markovic, this was the zenith of his short Hull career. A terror on the left flank with Robertson, and showed terrific awareness to roll the ball on a plate for Hernandez to make it 3-1. Much, much better.
FW Abel Hernandez, 7 -- Ended a three-month goal drought when stroking in a third for City, and it was the least his clever play deserved. Played a part in the first two goals as well before limping off injured in the second half.
FW Oumar Niasse, 7 -- Not the greatest all-round game, but none can doubt his goal-scoring contributions. A fifth goal for the January signing was a well-taken drive from the edge of the box, and that was vital.
MF Evandro, 6 -- Added some composure and control to City's midfield on his comeback from injury.
DF Michael Dawson, NR -- A late replacement for Maguire after three months out injured.
MF Markus Henriksen, NR -- A means of counting down the minutes as a late sub.
Philip Buckingham is ESPN FC's Hull City blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @PJBuckingham.