Hornets were caught cold in 2-1 loss that took Hull up to fourth in the Championship
Hull City were on their mettle. It was not simply that Watford were on a seven-game unbeaten run that had yielded 17 points and taken them from 16th at the start of November to sixth in the Championship. The Hornets have it in for Yorkshire. Their last two results were 4-1 defeats of Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley. They had also hit Leeds United for six at Elland Road and scored three at Huddersfield. Middlesbrough had got points off them – and now Hull with a 2-1 win at Vicarage Road that lifts them from fifth to fourth, leaving Watford five points behind.
Forewarned was forewarmed. Hull caught Watford cold, as their manager, Gianfranco Zola, admitted: "You can't give away 45 minutes like we did." Hull did not score until most of those 45 minutes had gone, David Meyler being quickest to react when Corry Evans cracked a shot against the bar. After the interval Zola shuffled his cards – at 42 in the programme only 10 short of a pack – but Hull went further ahead in the 73rd minute when Robbie Brady's free-kick beat Manuel Almunia and possibly explained why Arsenal were happy to let the keeper go. Troy Deeney's reply was too late to worry Hull much.
Watford have 14 players on loan, eight of whom featured and 10 of whom are from Udinese, whose owners, the Pozzo family, bought Watford for £15m in the summer in the same way that they own Granada in Spain. A thread of the club's former identity remains as Zola draws freely from Pozzo's well. To fans this is better than liquidation and easier on the eye than under Sean Dyche. But, if the club has found a loophole in Football League regulations, the team could find none until too late in Hull's solid back three.
Hull have been ahead of their opponents in other ways – ownership and manager. Assem Allam bought them two years ago with grand ideas of turning the KC Stadium into a sports village. For the time being he is happy to stage next year's British Open squash championships in the city. He is Egyptian but a local of almost half a century's standing; he has no plans for a statue of Michael Jackson.
Steve Bruce became manager in mid-June, 18 days before Zola and Hull's fifth in two years since their two-year stay in the Premier League. He had been out of work for half a year, sacked by Sunderland, then toyed with by Wolves in February. He said after Saturday's win that he spent four weeks before committing himself to Hull wondering: "Do I still have the enthusiasm for it after being in the big league for 10 years?" His buoyancy eliminated any question of regret.
"You work all your life for an opportunity at a club like Sunderland [after Birmingham and Wigan] and I felt it was unfair [after five wins in 27 league games]," he said. "But I've got a smile back on my face for sure. I enjoy working for the people who employ me. Fingers crossed we can achieve what we all want here."
This was a third successive away win. "We've tried to play. We've tried to entertain and I'm delighted the supporters are enjoying what they are seeing," Bruce said. What they saw here was slick, fluid movement and poise in possession across the field, and back to front.
Stephen Quinn, his own signing from Sheffield United, was outstanding on the left with Brady. Robert Koren was deft and bright behind the striker Jay Simpson – the top scorer, Sone Aluko, was injured. And when Paul McShane was hurt, Bruce had no qualms in bringing on Jack Hobbs after eight months out for cruciate knee ligament surgery. With the manager's son, Alex, at the heart of defence, Hobbs and James Chester made for a strong triumvirate. For good measure there was an Egyptian, too, Ahmed Elmohamady, overlapping effectively on the right.
Bruce was happy to think of his team's quality rather than Watford's quantity. Hull have only five loanees. Two scored.