Fagan boosts Hull’s survival bid
Craig Fagan scored a vital equaliser as Hull City kept their hopes of beating relegation alive with a battling draw at Bolton Wanderers. Fagan cancelled out a crisp strike from Gretar Steinsson to earn his side a point from a crucial league encounter at the Reebok Stadium.
Phil Brown's Hull, who have won just twice in 28 games, have their fate in their own hands going into the final game of the season against Manchester United on 24 May. They sit one place and one point above the relegation zone and a victory over champions United, who are likely to rest players ahead of the UEFA Champions League final, would secure Hull's safety.
The draw was enough to lift Hull out of the bottom three, but the Tigers could have had more had Manucho not squandered a host of chances or Jussi Jaaskelainen not been in inspired form. Jaaskelainen, outstanding when Bolton won at the KC Stadium in November, produced fine saves from Daniel Cousin and Fagan in the second half.
Manucho, who started up front in Cousin's place, had four good opportunities in the first half as Hull showed all the urgency demanded by manager Phil Brown. After five successive defeats, Brown recalled Geovanni in an attempt to stimulate his side, starting the Brazilian on the left with veteran Nick Barmby in midfield.
Hull were forced to play Kevin Kilbane in central defence after Kamil Zayatte was ruled out with a head injury. Bolton went close to taking the lead in the second minute when Matt Taylor cut in from the right wing and fired narrowly over from 20 yards.
Shittu required lengthy treatment after being caught in the face by Manucho's arm early on and returned to the action with a bandaged head. Manucho was lucky to escape being booked for the incident, but received his comeuppance moments later as he clashed heads with Gary Cahill and required an identical bandage.
Despite that Manucho did look lively, although his fierce shot from 30 yards did not seriously test Jaaskelainen. The Angola international then missed his kick in front of goal from a low cross by George Boateng and later headed straight at Jaaskelainen from a Barmby delivery.
Bolton snatched the lead against the run of play in the 26th minute as Steinsson finished off a quick counter-attack with a superb strike. Johan Elmander broke from deep and pulled back for Fabrice Muamba in the box.
Muamba laid off for Taylor and after his shot was blocked the ball rolled to Steinsson, who picked his spot and fired low past Boaz Myhill from the edge of the box. It was harsh on Hull, but the visitors almost produced the perfect response as Sam Ricketts powered into the area, only for Manucho to miss the target from six yards. It was a glaring miss, but the referee ruled his effort had taken a deflection and Barmby was inches wide with a header after Andy Dawson's corner reached him at the far post.
Bolton responded with Elmander forcing a good save from Myhill, but Hull broke back and Geovanni headed at Jaaskelainen. Bolton almost doubled their lead in first-half injury time as Fagan blocked a Cahill header on the line. Bolton missed another good chance straight from the restart as Muamba completely mis-kicked from in front of goal and Myhill gathered.
Hull immediately capitalised as Myhill started a counter-attack by rolling out to Garcia. The ball was sent forward and Shittu looked to have it covered, but the defender and Jaaskelainen got their lines of communication mixed up and Fagan nipped in to score.
Bolton tried to take the sting out of the game, but Hull continued to do the most pressing and won four corners in quick succession around the hour mark. Bolton survived them all and won a corner themselves after 63 minutes when again it needed Fagan to clear off the line after Gavin McCann's header deflected off Manucho.
McCann tried his luck from distance moments later, but Myhill saved to his left. Barmby then went even closer for Hull with an effort that rebounded off the post. Dean Marney was then sent on to replace Barmby and almost made an instant impact after Jaaskelainen parried a Geovanni shot.
Marney was first to the loose ball, but Jaaskelainen managed to force him wide and the midfielder shot across goal. It was Geovanni's last involvement as Cousin was sent on in his place and the Gabon international also almost scored immediately.
Cousin rose to meet a Dawson free-kick with a firm header but Jaaskelainen tipped the ball onto the bar and Fagan shot wide. Jaaskelainen denied Hull again with eight minutes remaining as he produced a brilliant save from a Fagan header. It was Hull's last serious effort and Brown's men now face a nervy last game against champions Manchester United next week.