Hull and Sunderland played out a 2-2 draw at the KCOM Stadium on Tuesday night - a result that didn’t really benefit either side at the top of the Sky Bet League One table.
The Tigers twice came from behind and weren’t able to clinch promotion, but a draw for Sunderland puts them in a decent spot to qualify for the play-offs.
A brace from Josh Magennis placed Hull twice level after Jordan Jones had volleyed Sunderland into a one-goal lead, before Grant Leadbitter put the Black Cats into a two-one advantage from the spot.
After a third successive defeat, Lee Johnson made two changes to the team that lost 1-0 against Blackpool at Bloomfield Road on Saturday afternoon. The most important omission from the side saw Aiden McGeady miss out with a swelling on his ankle, with Lynden Gooch coming back into the starting 11.
Meanwhile, Aiden O’Brien dropped out of the side, as Lee Johnson altered for a change in shape, playing in a 4-3-3 formation with Carl Winchester returning to the midfield alongside Josh Scowen and Grant Leadbitter. Furthermore, there was a change of goalkeepers on the bench, as Anthony Patterson replaced Remi Matthews as back-up.
First Half Action
Within the opening moments of the match, Hull tried to find the early goal that could have put them on course to achieve an immediate promotion back into the Championship. Wilks dispossessed Grant Leadbitter in their final third, as his shot was directed away by Lee Burge.
From there, Sunderland impressed in their attacking play, as they held lots of possession, but the question posed whether they would be able to turn them into chances.
In the short-term it was looking like they would, as Gooch’s delivery into the penalty area was met by a Jordan Jones’ header which ricocheted off the left post.
That combination linked up again to provide the important early goal when Gooch’s persistence paid off, as he won the ball back on the right wing and crossed it into the back post, with Jordan Jones cautiously volleying the ball into the bottom right corner.
It was pivotal that Sunderland built on that one-goal lead, but Hull showed their attacking potential as Keane Lewis-Potter’s free-kick was pushed just around the right post by Lee Burge.
From the resulting corner, Mallik Wilks somehow didn’t convert, as Greaves’ flick-on gave the Hull winger space a couple of yards out, but he wasn’t able to connect and slot the ball into the bottom left corner.
A lengthy stoppage then disrupted the flow that Sunderland had in the match, and the Tigers drew level when Mallik Wilks’ dink over the defensive line found Josh Magennis, who directed the ball into the bottom left corner.
With only minutes separating Hull’s equaliser and Sunderland’s second, Lee Johnson would have been impressed with the response that the Black Cats provided.
Gooch was pivotal again, as his trickery tried to get past Callum Elder, but the assistant referee judged that the Hull left-back handled the ball, and so a Sunderland penalty was awarded.
The penalty provided Sunderland with an instant response as Grant Leadbitter calmly rolled the ball into the bottom right corner.
Before the half-time interval, Hull did have chances to pull the game back level, as Elder’s cross for Magennis was cleared by a combination of O’Nien and McFadzean.
Half Time - Hull City 1-2 Sunderland AFC
Second Half Action
From the start of the second half, Grant McCann’s side placed the away side under tonnes of pressure, with Mallik Wilks’ early effort drawing an impressive save from Lee Burge.
With tough tasks ahead for the Tigers as they make trips to Charlton and Lincoln, they were pushing everything to sneak closer to promotion, but it was the mass of Sunderland bodies that prevented them from equalising.
When Honeyman cut the ball back to Keane Lewis-Potter, it was the block of Max Power that halted the youngster from firing the ball goal-bound, before a bundle of Sunderland bodies blocked Magennis’ shot from close range.
As Hull applied more and more pressure, a goal was always likely from the home side - Wilks beat Callum McFadzean before crossing a ball into the six-yard box, where Josh Magennis was waiting to nod the ball into the bottom right corner.
Sunderland still had the pace and creativity to hurt the Hull defence, as Gooch’s shot was pinged just around the far post, but it was mostly Hull who were pressing for the fifth goal of the game.
Lewis-Potter tried his luck as he drove forward, before his weakly-driven shot was drilled into the gloves of Lee Burge.
In injury time, Aiden O’Brien had two guilt-edge chances to give Sunderland a massive three points - from Gooch’s cross his header was scooped away by Ingram, before a header from a superb Chris Maguire cross smashed against the crossbar.
Full Time - Hull City 2-2 Sunderland AFC
It wasn’t so long ago that this was a Premier League clash.
In the 2016/17 season, the Black Cats completed the double over the Tigers, but both were relegated in the same campaign.
It just conveys the enormity of both clubs’ demise over recent seasons; Sunderland’s more than Hull’s, with the Tigers having a stabilised period within the Championship, before last season’s relegation to the third tier.
For that reason, it is no surprise that both are fighting at the top of the League One table, and they produced an entertaining game at the KCOM on Tuesday night.
Both with things to play for - Sunderland, the minute chance of automatic promotion, and Hull, the chance of sealing promotion back into the Championship - something which is ironic to the present day.
With both of the clubs’ position in League One, it detaches them from the current European Super League controversies around the world football - encaptivating the footballing industry and showing people’s passion for the sport.
For Hull and Sunderland, it isn’t what they are the most focused about - promotion from the third tier is by far the most significant of their worries.
And for that reason, it made Tuesday night’s match much more significant and the events of the night made it the more pivotal that three points were obtained.
With Peterborough losing, three points may have reignited Sunderland’s automatic promotion dreams with the Posh’s final four matches including trips to Charlton and Lincoln and two games against Doncaster Rovers.
All in all, it wasn’t meant to be - Aiden O’Brien had two wonderful chances to clinch the game at the death for Lee Johnson’s side, but both weren’t taken.
By far, Tuesday night’s performance was the best that fans have witnessed in the past couple of matches - a real step-up to matches against Wigan and Blackpool, where they just lacked the cutting edge.
Hull aren’t an easy side to face at any point of the season, but when promotion is up for grabs at the end of a 90 minute period, it is always going to be a tough ask.
They showed why they were at the top of the league; the pace and strength of Mallik Wilks and the clinicality of Josh Magennis partnered with the youthfulness of Keane Lewis-Potter heightened their attack.
For Sunderland, they will view the point as one that has been taken from a side that is ultimately going to clinch promotion at one stage in the next couple of weeks.
Accrington are next up for the Black Cats, and although John Coleman’s side aren’t an easy opponent, Lee Johnson has to see the match as an opportunity to gain three points back on home turf.
For now, Sunderland will be looking to pit their wits against Hull next season.