By Tom Maston at the KC Stadium
Kicking the tunnel as he made his way to the dressing room, Manchester City captain Vincent Kompany must have feared the worst after receiving his marching orders inside 10 minutes of his side’s encounter at Hull.
After being knocked out of two competitions in a week and still recovering from a long flight home from Catalunya, the buoyant Tigers looked set to take advantage.
But what followed was the kind of performance on which title wins are built. Showing grit and character in abundance, as well as some of the attacking quality on which their quadruple bid had been built, they kept Steve Bruce’s side at bay before striking at the opportune moments.
It was notable that the City players only appeared for their pre-match warm-up 30 minutes ahead of kick-off. Their session was light as well as short in comparison to Hull’s.
If that was a conscious decision, it certainly paid off as the visitors showed great energy despite their numerical disadvantage to defend manfully as well as counterattack-decisively to seal the three points in the final minute.
At the heart of victory was an outstanding showing from David Silva; the little Spaniard finding space with regularity and threatening the Hull defence with his quick feet and blistering pace across the ground.
His wonderful curling effort from 25 yards just minutes after Kompany’s red card gave City the belief that they still had enough to win both this match and the Premier League.
After defeats to Wigan and Barcelona as well as some less than impressive away showings throughout the campaign, there were some who were already writing City off after the Belgian’s sending off. But with players of Silva’s quality, that is a huge error to make.
The best player on the pitch by some distance, he held the ball up admirably for a man of his diminutive stature before capping his performance with a quite sumptuous pass that Edin Dzeko couldn’t help but accept. Any hope Hull had of finding a late equaliser had gone.
To those who follow Pellegrini’s side with regularity, Silva putting in such an influential display will be faimilar. The showings of some of the less heralded individuals in the City squad will have also caught the eye.
Few have been criticised more than Martin Demichelis this season, but the way in which he led the defence in Kompany’s absence was magnificent. Pellegrini praised the Argentine after a couple of disappointing weeks and he deserves all the plaudits after finally showing all the experience and knowhow for which he was originally bought.
Alongside him Javi Garcia, another much-maligned figure when compared to some of City’s galacticos, did not look out of place after being thrust into defence early on and between them they set an offside trap that Hull, and Nikica Jelavic especially, repeatedly fell into.
The importance of the victory was illustrated perfectly in the dying moments as Dzeko, having netted for the first time since the end of January, was mobbed by all nine remaining outfield players in front of the travelling supporters.
Their relief was plain for all to see and a series of embraces after the final whistle only added to the feeling that the players felt this could be the match that kick-starts their title bid.
There is still a long way to go, with Pellegrini’s men still having 11 matches to play, but if the Chilean can steer City to the title, he may well look back on this lunchtime on Humberside as a moment where his side passed a huge test and saw their self-belief return.