Three wins in five games, including a narrow aggregate defeat to Manchester United in the EFL Cup semi-final, fans flocking back to the KCOM stadium and a more positive atmosphere as the Tigers clawed their way back towards Premier League safety. Everything had begun to look particularly rosey for new Hull City manager Marco Silva until they met Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup Fourth Round.
With the hosts nestling just outside the playoffs after just one defeat in their last ten games and taking on an albeit improved but still relegation-threatened Hull City side, Sunday's clash had all the ingredients for a cup upset and Fulham duly delivered in riveting style. Goals from Sone Aluko, Chris Martin, Ryan Sessegnon and Stefan Johansen ensured Fulham strolled to a 4-1 hammering, whilst goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli made two penalty saves in as many minutes from Abel Hernandez.
Aluko haunts his former Club
Hull started in positive fashion as Bettinelli nervously punched an Evandro free-kick straight to Tom Huddlestone, though the makeshift central defender saw his shot blocked in the third minute. Yet an injury-plagued season looked set to continue as lynchpin Curtis Davies hobbled off in the tenth minute to be replaced by Harry Maguire.
That moment seemed to spark the confidence of Fulham and former Hull player Aluko forced Eldin Jakupovic into his first save. The Tigers should have been well aware of the speedster's qualities but left him unmarked when a free-kick was headed back across to the winger-cum-striker. Aluko duly applied the finishing touch on the volley and the visitors found themselves ahead on 17 minutes.
As the contest descended into a scrappy affair, a couple of bookings were awarded after Adama Diamonde and Chris Martin both fired shots off-target. The hosts began to sit back and look to hit on the counter-attack, but they almost doubled their lead on half-time as Jakupovic pulled off an inspired stop to keep out Denis Odoi.
Tigers cannot halt Sessegnon and Martin
Hull had to step up their game immediately and they did so within four minutes of the restart. The cultured left foot of Andrew Robertson whipped a dangerous ball across and Evandro was on hand to net his first Hull goal with a diving header.
Many would have expected the Premier League side to kick on but it was Fulham who showed the increased ability. Aluko continued to threaten and he threaded an excellently weighted pass to left-back Sessegnon who was adding to his stock with another inspired performance. The youngster placed an excellent pass across to Chris Martin who tapped Fulham into the lead. That goal from the striker when some way to silencing a section of home fans who had been jeering him following the signing of a new contract with his parent club Derby County.
Just 12 minutes later Sessegnon and Martin combined again, as a neat one-two allowed the former to pick his spot and put daylight between the two sides. Hull loanee Omar Abdellaoui found himself completely lost as Sessegnon broke away from once more to put Fulham within touching distance of the Fifth Round.
Johansen seals Fulham's place in the draw as Bellettini pulls off heroics
Marco Silva used his full quota of substitutes but Hull continued to look the least threatening side. Excellent strength by Tom Cairney allowed him to hold off several defenders and play in Norway's Stefan Johansen to add a fourth.
Cairney almost grabbed a goal for himself before Jakupovic pulled off a fine diving save. Hull then ventured into the Fulham penalty area and Robertson was tripped by Tomas Kalas. Hernandez stepped up to take the penalty but saw it saved by Bellettini, only to be pulled down by the goalkeeper from the rebound. Substitute Oumar Niasse was keen to take the spot-kick, only for Hernandez to grab the ball often, strike the ball in the same direction and Bellettini to repeat his heroics to seal an excellent 4-1 victory.