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Nov 8, 2009

Late goal gives Brown hope

They came to bury him, not to praise him. Phil Brown's fan club does not extend far outside East Yorkshire and of late it has shrunk in his own backyard. Opposing supporters have long targeted the Hull manager and Stoke's proved no exception.

• Hull City 2-1 Stoke: Vennegoor's late winner

Their priorities were apparent. Barely three minutes had elapsed when the first taunt began. Long before the first rendition of their club anthem Delilah, the Stoke fans told Brown: "You're getting sacked in the morning." Schadenfreude ruled, but the chances of that happening are receding. Their gloating was rather premature.

Whatever the morning after offers, this day before provided Brown with respite and relief. First the returning chairman Adam Pearson had indicated he would not be dismissed this week, then his players delivered a result to endorse his credentials to remain in charge.

His substitutions played a part with one arrival, Nick Barmby, contributing to the dismissal of the Stoke skipper Abdoulaye Faye, and another, Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, supplying the late winner. It aids Brown's cause, too, that three of his much-maligned signings played prominent parts in the goals.

An ability to ignore others' opinions has been both a strength and a weakness in Brown's eventful three-year reign. It was evident in recruiting each of Seyi Olofinjana, Jimmy Bullard and Vennegoor of Hesselink. Olofinjana, enduring what could euphemistically be described as a mixed afternoon, had scarcely shone since swapping Stoke for Hull. In an instant, however, that changed when he spun to place a 20-yard shot beyond Sorensen.

Bullard's ability went unquestioned, but his fitness had presented more of a problem. He had become Hull's answer to Alberto Aquilani, denting the bank balance without benefiting the team. While it may be too soon to crown him their straggly-haired saviour, his long-delayed home and full debut had a dramatic denouement.

The £5 million midfielder had only played 69 minutes of first-team football in his first nine months at Hull. After completing 90 on his first start, his 20-yard shot swerved. Thomas Sorensen parried unconvincingly. Vennegoor of Hesselink, only introduced seven minutes before and only at Hull after they failed to secure the services of any number of strikers they had targeted earlier in the summer, followed up to score.

"It's a great feeling," said Hull's assistant manager Brian Horton. "It's like winning at Wembley again."

An uncharacteristic appearance by Horton for the post-match duties may be a sign that Brown is belatedly adopting a lower profile.

"He's having a Guinness," added Horton. "He deserves one. He's a gregarious guy, he's a good person to be with. He's not just doom and gloom. He does like the spotlight, doesn't he? There's nothing wrong with that."

A veteran of more than 1,000 games in management himself, Horton refused to answer questions on Brown's future before producing an idiosyncratic response to suggestions that the manager retains his squad's support.

"First and foremost the players play for themselves, then they play for their family, then they play for the manager, then they play for the team," he said. "Of course they are behind him and rightly so for where he has brought them from."

Brown brought them from the depths of the Championship. They brought themselves from behind in a game that Stoke began in the ascendant. Their early superiority was rewarded when Matthew Etherington met Ryan Shawcross' long pass with a sprint into the penalty area and a finish from an acute angle.

Even after Olofinjana equalised, Shawcross headed against the bar. Together with a moment when Matt Duke prevented Anthony Gardner from scoring an own goal, it was among a number of turning points. The latest came when Faye slid in on Barmby to collect a second caution. "I'm desperately disappointed with the two bookings," Pulis said. "For the second one, he's not caught him at all."

Even if Mike Dean erred, however, Hull, the victims of one of the season's more erratic refereeing displays eight days before at Burnley, could feel belated justice was done. And those savouring the prospect of Brown's downfall will have to wait a little longer. He, surely, has survived to hear the jeers of other opposing supporters.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jimmy Bullard - "Tremendous, he will win every man of the match award," said Horton. He takes this, and not just for the shot that preceded Vennegoor of Hesselink's winner. Hull's midfield has been devoid of quality at times but Bullard provided with a series of fine passes.

HULL VERDICT: Although Vennegoor of Hesselink delivered the points, Brown's decision to replace the Dutchman with Jozy Altidore in the starting 11 was justified. The American added pace to the attack. Bullard benefited the midfield, but the choice of the unpredictable Bernard Mendy at right-back threatened to backfire whenever the influential Etherington got the ball.

STOKE VERDICT: "I didn't think we were anywhere near our best today," said Pulis. That Stoke, normally such a fit and physical team, have made a habit of conceding late goals must be of concern. While they may have been below par, however, Stoke could easily have taken a decisive two-goal lead.

NO TURKISH DELIGHT: Brought on in the 81st minute, Tuncay was substituted seven minutes later, sacrificed to bring on a defender after Faye's red card. The Turk, marginalised since his surprise move to Stoke, ran away from Pulis to avoid shaking the manager's hand. It was a moment that suggested Pulis scarcely trusts Stoke's most skilful player. "It's not about Tuncay, it's about the team," he said afterwards. "I can understand why he's disappointed."

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