FA Premier League
KCOM Stadium, Kingston-upon-Hull
Match Rating: 3
Motivated by a sale by Virgin East Coast, meaning that I managed to get return travel from London to Hull for just £15, this was a fixture that would evoke strong memories for me. Both clubs I followed closely during my university days – I watched most Swansea City home games at The Vetch whilst I was at university, and my girlfriend of the time lived in Hull, meaning that I paid keen interest in the fortunes of Hull City as well as visiting the club's former home, Boothferry Park, on a few occasions. How times have changed since then for both clubs though, following remarkably similar paths to the top table of English football. Back in the late nineties, both clubs plodded along in the bottom tier of the Football League, with promotion to the third tier surely the limit of their realistic ambitions, and both played in wonderfully atmospheric but ramshackle old stadia. Since then, they have both moved into impressive modern stadia shared with a local rugby club, and have enjoyed several seasons in the Premier League.
The KCOM Stadium is about a 20 minute walk westwards from Hull train station, in the same direction but a short distance before where Boothferry Park was located. The stadium is set within a park, and it is rather plain around the outside, with not much of interest to see, and although the main entrance is quite attractively decorated main entrance, it is partially obscured by trees a short distance away. Once inside, the stadium has a quite interesting design for a relative new-build. The seating is continuous around the whole stadium and is single tiered along one length and behind both goals, with the roof rising to accommodate a second tier along the remaining length, with a row of executive boxes between the tiers. The stadium looks smart, with the seating attractively finished in black and amber and with a couple of interestingly designed floodlights in two corners. The 100 page programme was a very good read, interesting laid out with the halves back to back, one half focusing on today's game and opponents, the other half being more general club material. Special mention should be made of the club's excellent pricing today, meaning I could watch Premier League football for the price of Isthmian League football, a refreshing change to the generally much overpriced Premier League tickets.
At the turn of the year, survival prospects looked very bleak indeed for both clubs, as they occupied the bottom two places in the table, however new head coaches for both clubs has dramatically improved those prospects, particularly Swansea's, as Paul Clement oversaw five wins from eight league games and they came into this game fives points clear of the relegation zone, following a total of eight wins and three draws from their 27 league games. Hull also had an upturn of fortunes after Marco Silva's appointment, although picking up just one point from their last three games has stunted their progress, and they came into this game second bottom and four points adrift of safety, following a total of five wins and six draws from their 27 games. The two teams have already met twice this season, both ending in 2-0 wins for Hull, one in the league and one in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup at the KCOM Stadium.
On a gloomy but mild afternoon, the match started in a lively fashion, with the visitors looking slightly the better side and they came closest to scoring on 9 minutes. Gylfi Sigudsson played a perfect low pass through a couple of defenders for Wayne Routledge to run onto, but his low shot was deflected wide by the keeper's legs. Neither goal was seriously threatened for the remainder of the half, as Swansea seemed happy to sit back and attack on the counter, whilst Hull did not appear to have the guile to create much. Swansea were hampered by losing two of their players to injury, experienced Angel Rangel, and their star striker, Fernando Llorente.
Into the second half and Routledge missed an even greater chance than he had earlier, when the keeper palmed the ball to him along the ground but the shot was skied high over the bar. On the hour mark, Sigurdsson saw his free kick palmed wide, but what would turn out to be the game changing moment came on 63 minutes, with the introduction of Hull striker Oumar Niasse. Within six minutes, he gave Hull the lead, initially passing to Abel Hernandez, who played the ball back first time for Niasse to run onto and clear towards goal, and he kept his cool to slot the ball low past the keeper. Hull doubled their lead on 78 minutes, when Ahmed Elmohamady sent the ball from deep into the penalty area and although Hernandez couldn't get meaningful contact on the ball, it dropped to Niasse, who took a touch before striking the ball home low across the keeper. That felt like game over, although the visitors pulled a goal back in the first of four minutes added on at the end of the game. Sigurdsson struck a free kick from wide into the penalty area, and Alfie Mawson was all alone to head the ball home from 8 yards at the near post. All suddenly did not look lost for Swansea, as Hull's players seemed to panic and kept giving away possession, but they did manage to hand for a priceless three points, which lifted them within a point of safety, but also brought Swansea back into trouble and with work to do to, with just three points now separating them from Hull in the relegation zone.