Bruce delight as Huddlestone proves a cut above
Hull City 6 Fulham 0
Had he been in charge of fixture planning, Steve Bruce would have seen to it that his players were still in recovery mode after the energy expended in their St Stephen's Day defeat against Manchester United.
Instead, he was marvelling at their capacity to bounce back after watching Hull produce their biggest victory under his stewardship -- their biggest for 19 years, in fact -- and dump Fulham into the bottom three. Six goals within 35 second-half minutes and a man-of-the-match performance from Tom Huddlestone -- including a goal of particular note -- put a smile back on Bruce's face.
It was Huddlestone's 27th birthday and his goal -- the fourth of what can only be described as a rout -- will allow him to celebrate with a long-awaited haircut.
The former Tottenham player had not scored since the north London derby against Arsenal in April 2011 and pledged more than a year ago that he would not cut his hair again until he had ended the drought.
The wait was broken in the 66th minute, at which point Huddlestone ran to the technical area, where Hull physio Rob Price produced a pair of scissors and lopped off a couple of locks. "I've had that planned since the start of last season," Huddlestone joked.
It capped a virtuoso performance from the tall central midfielder, who must surely add many more to the four full England caps he has won. He hit the post with a free-kick in the first half and the bar in the second, after which substitute Matty Fryatt scored Hull's fifth goal from the rebound. He also played a key part in the first of Robert Koren's two goals and made telling passes over all ranges, short and long.
Bruce felt it was as good an individual performance as he has seen, which is high praise given the company he kept as a player.
"It was just a complete masterclass," he said. "He is an outstanding footballer and I can't recall witnessing a performance from one player that was as complete. When he came into the dressing room after doing his television interviews the other players stood up and applauded him -- and you don't see that very often."
Ahmed Elmohamady had begun the rout with a shot into the roof of Fulham goalkeeper David Stockdale's net four minutes into the second half, after which Koren turned home Yannick Sagbo's pass and George Boyd drove home from outside the penalty area, effectively ending the contest in the 63rd minute.
Huddlestone beat Stockdale with a low drive from outside the area, after which Fryatt added Hull's fifth, before Koren grabbed his second from close range.
Fulham, showing six changes from the side that won at Norwich on St Stephen's Day with match-winner Scott Parker among the players rested and Dimitar Berbatov still injured, managed only two shots on target in the whole game.
Head coach Rene Meulensteen said: "When you have so many games in a short space of time you have to use your squad. But after our performances in the last few games we did not see that coming."