Mallik Wilks was the match winner for Hull City as his goal late on at the KCOM Stadium saw the Tigers notch up their second win in a row for the first time in nine months. Crewe Alexandra made it very difficult for the Tigers, but the quality shone through in the end to send Hull up to third in League One.
Story of the match
Both sides started the game with 4-3-3 systems, trying to go man for man and both managers favouring the lone striker up front. The opening five minutes saw no real chances for either side, with the game being a stop-start affair with a much slower tempo than Hull City fans saw in their Carabao Cup victory over Leeds United in mid-week.
On nine minutes, George Honeyman's corner almost swung straight in - Crewe goalkeeper Will Jaaskelainen managed to claw the ball away for another attacking set piece for the Tigers, but it came to nothing with Callum Elder's corner not beating the first man on the post. A bizarre incident followed with one of the linesman needing medical attention on his ear, presumably due to his ear piece that was causing him problems.
The best chance of the game came on 16 minutes - Josh Magennis squared the ball to Wilks in the area, but Jaaskelainen saved smartly to keep the scores goalless. A long kick up front almost set Owen Dale in for the opener, but Matt Ingram stood firm and pulled off an excellent save. Keane Lewis-Potter tried the acrobatic soon after, but his effort went well over the bar as the game started to pick up in terms of pace and chances.
There were no other chances until the half hour mark, when Oliver Finney's cross just evaded Mikael Mandron who was sliding in to try connect with the ball. Mandron soon after had a headed chance but it looped over the bar. Jordy De Wijs had a headed chance after Greg Docherty put a good cross in, but his header drifted over too. Just before half time, Wilks should have put the Tigers in front, and from the resulting corner the home side had a massive shout for a penalty. Docherty was pulled down but the referee saw nothing to give, which left Hull incensed as the half time whistle blew.
The first five minutes of the second half saw no real chances for either side, and it took until the hour mark before a clear opportunity came up. It was for the away side, but Luke Murphy's header didn't trouble Ingram. Crewe looked to be the most likely team to score with around half an hour of the game left, Grant McCann must have thought that way as James Scott and Thomas Mayer were brought on for Magennis and Lewis-Potter who were extremely quiet for most of the game.
Richie Smallwood tested Jaaskelainen from a free kick on 75 minutes, but chances were massively at a premium. Perhaps the referee Ben Toner was impacting this, as he seemed to blow for free kicks extremely easily and seemed quite keen to whip the yellow card out for both sides. De Wijs really should have scored just before 80 minutes as he hesitated with his header and should have done alot better with Jaaskelainen stranded.
Finally, the breakthrough came on 81 minutes. Mayer put in a superb ball for Wilks to head in off the post and into the net past Jaaskelainen. Hull had been under the cosh at different points throughout the game but had started to push and dominate possession as the second half went on.
Soon after, Mayer then brought a huge reaction from the Crewe bench as he slid in late on Harry Pickering. Toner showed Mayer the yellow card for his troubles. David Artell - the Crewe manager - was certainly vocal on the touchline, claiming loudly for any small infringement.
There were no real chances for either side to change the scoreline after that, and Hull City claimed their second league win in a row to leave McCann and his players - and no doubt the Hull fans too - optimistic of their chances this season in League One.
Takeaways from the match
Crewe set up man for man against Hull, and nullified their threat they showed against both Gillingham and Leeds. The Tigers saw lots of the ball, but there were not really any chances to speak of for either side throughout the game until Mallik Wilks headed in with ten minutes to go. The away side will be disappointed as they kept the Tigers at bay for the majority of the game, but came away from East Yorkshire one from bottom in 23rd position.
It was always going to be a difficult game for the home side as Crewe made it hard for them to play the same counter attacking football they were used to playing. Their game plan worked - until McCann switched up the front three, putting Wilks through the middle and Mayer and Scott out wide. This paid dividends as Wilks got the only goal of the game from a Mayer cross, and after Wilks played so well as a number nine in midweek, there may be some that will be shouting for him to start centrally for Hull's upcoming games away at West Ham United and Northampton Town.
Stand out players
Mallik Wilks - when played centrally - made the difference for the Tigers. Luke Offord and Omar Beckles dealt with Josh Magennis superbly and looked to be sure to help Crewe to a clean sheet, but Wilks' movement in the area caused problems and he took his goal well. He perhaps should have scored in the first half too, but he grew in confidence the more the game went on.
Mikael Mandron and Owen Dale did cause the Hull City defence some problems with their strength and movement, and on another day perhaps may have found the net. Crewe certainly look a well-coached and drilled outfit, and although they currently sit joint bottom of the division, it does not seem long before they get points on the board and start to move up the division.
Hull City: Ingram; Emmanuel, Burke, De Wijs, Elder; Docherty, Smallwood, Honeyman; Wilks, Lewis-Potter, Magennis.
Substitutes: Long, Coyle, Batty, Scott, A Jones, Mayer, C Jones.
Crewe Alexandra: Jaaskelainen; Ng, Offord, Beckles, Pickering; Murphey, Wintle, Finney; Dale, Kirk, Mandron.
Substitutes: Ainley, Richards, Zanzala, Lancashire, Lundstram, Sass-Davies, Johnson.