Premier League – Defeat to Villa leaves Hull on the brink
Aston Villa strengthened their prospects of European football next season with a 2-0 win over Hull City at the KC Stadium.
An early strike from Gabriel Agbonlahor and a second-half penalty won and converted by James Milner were enough to see off a Hull side for whom Kevin Kilbane missed two glorious chances to equalise midway through the first half.
Martin O’Neill’s side now leapfrog Liverpool into sixth place in the Premier League, while Hull remain 18th, three points adrift of safety.
Villa shaded the opening stages, with the pace and movement of Milner and Agbonlahor stretching the home defence.
Carlos Cuellar tested Hull ‘keeper Matt Duke early on with a header, while Milner pulled a long range effort wide after Hull failed to close him down with any real urgency.
There was more than a touch of fortune about the build-up to Agbonlahor’s opener after 14 minutes, but the finish was one of real quality. The Tigers twice failed to clear their lines in defence, with Paul McShane the culprit on the second occasion as his clearance was charged down by John Carew, with the loose ball falling to Agbonlahor, who had time to take a touch and pick his spot before rifling the ball above Duke as well as two defenders on the line, and into the roof of the net.
Hull appealed in vain for a handball, claiming the ball had cannoned back to Agbonlahor off Carew’s arm, though with the big Norwegian having turned his back, referee Mike Dean correctly deemed it unintentional.
Stiliyan Petrov then saw a long range drive deflected just past the post, before Hull missed a glorious chance to pull themselves level with their first genuinely incisive attack of the game.
A feisty challenge from George Boateng won them possession in the Villa half, allowing Kilbane to lay the ball on for Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink to run onto through the centre. His shot was saved by Friedel, though came straight back out to Kilbane, whose follow-up effort was blocked by a desperate lunge from Richard Dunne. The ball nevertheless sprang straight back to Kilbane, however, who stepped round the prone Dunne, only to blast a shot straight at James Collins, the only man left on the goal line.
Andy Dawson had a free-kick comfortably saved by Brad Friedel before the break, while the excellent James Collins recovered to snuff out the danger on one of the few occasions Vennegoor of Hesselink got clear of him.
The unlikely figure of Steven Mouyokolo should have pulled Hull level soon right at the start of the second half, though he miskicked a half-volley after Ibrahima Sonko‘s long throw had eluded Richard Dunne at the near post.
A nasty clash of heads with Dunne saw Vennegoor of Hesselink carried off on a stretcher, though his replacement Jozy Altidore fared no better in troubling the Dunne-Collins centre back pairing for Villa.
With 15 minutes remaining and his side in need of inspiration, Iain Dowie threw on Brazilian veteran Geovanni, but before he had so much as touched the ball his side were two goals down, after Boateng went straight through the standing leg of Milner in the area, giving Mike Dean an easy penalty decision. Milner picked himself up, and sent Duke the wrong way from the spot.
With the Hull strikers struggling to carve out any genuine clear-cut chances, Geovanni tried in vain to find a bit of his old magic with two speculative efforts from outside the area, but without success, and for the majority of the full ten minutes of time added for Vennegoor of Hesselink’s injury, it was Villa who were in control of proceedings.
Hull now face Sunderland and Liverpool at the KC Stadium, either side of a trip to Wigan. With their goal difference considerably inferior to that of West Ham, a minimum of four points is required if they are to avoid relegation.
Michael FitzGerald / Eurosport