MATCH VERDICT: Wanderers 4 Hull City 1
YOU do not get much higher praise for a defender in these parts than to be compared to Gary Cahill.
Craig Dawson may only be four games into his Wanderers career but that is the kind of lofty talk that is already following the England Under-21 international around.
Dougie Freedman did not bring the 22-year-old loanee to the club for goals, but what a welcome side-effect they are.
Wanderers have not had a regular contributor from defence, or indeed at set pieces, since Cahill upped sticks to Stamford Bridge just over a year ago.
But an even more agreeable aspect of Dawson’s arrival has been the calm assuredness he has brought to the back five – and both were very much in evidence as Wanderers swept high-flying Hull aside with by far their most complete performance of the season.
Sam Ricketts, who bounced back in fine style after his error against Derby in midweek, summed up the esteem with which the new boy is regarded at the Reebok.
“He’s had a tremendous impact on the team since he has been in,” he said.
“He’s got that ability to get his head on free kicks and corners just in the same way as Gary Cahill used to for us when he was here. Gaz would get six or seven goals every season and he’s carried that on since he went to Chelsea. It’s vital because getting an early goal or grabbing one from a set piece is vitally important.”
Whether even Dawson’s considerable presence will be enough to spark a late dash for the play-offs is still a matter of much conjecture.
But if Wanderers start the next 13 games in the same manner they did on Saturday, then anything is possible.
Eight minutes into the match, the Whites were three goals to the good and the deliriously joyful home fans were chanting “easy, easy,” at their shell-shocked visitors, some of whom were already disappearing back under the stands.
Darren Pratley set the ball rolling after just 75 seconds with a brilliant full-length header, created by some fine flowing football through midfield by Chung-Yong Lee and Mark Davies.
Five minutes in, and Wanderers fans were calling for a penalty when David Ngog appeared to be tripped by Jack Hobbs. They forgot all about it when the ball dropped to Mark Davies on the edge of the box and his shot squirmed through David Stockdale’s grasp into the bottom corner.
Could it get any better? Well, yes it could.
Dawson has been a continual threat from set pieces, with Jay Spearing’s delivery seeking him out magnetically at times in the last few games. So when the on-loan Liverpool man swung in another corner, there was no surprise about who headed it goalward.
Robert Koren thought he has hooked the ball clear but Marvin Sordell made sure, turning it over the line at the far post.
It was not until the stadium announcer read Dawson’s name out that the majority of people realised the defender had scored his first goal in nearly two years, but by that point he was at the bottom of a human pyramid of celebration with his joyous team-mates.
Shell-shocked Hull showed some gumption to make a game of the next 82 minutes – but that is where Wanderers’ own resilience started to kick in once again.
With Freedman playing two up front, there was a big emphasis on Chung-Yong, Spearing, Mark Davies and Pratley to stick to their defensive work.
And though there is no question that Hull were more of a force in the middle third of the game, they never really threatened to make much of a dent on that early lead because of their efforts.
Both sides hit the woodwork before half time, with Robbie Brady’s free kick bouncing off the bar and Sordell’s side-footed effort glancing off the outside of the post.
Wanderers did invite some pressure after the break and Alex Bruce should have pulled a goal back by fluffing a close-range header. Brady eventually made the breakthrough with a free kick that took a nasty deflection off the outside of the wall to leave Adam Bogdan with no chance.
But the goal just seemed to shake Wanderers out of their malaise and no sooner had Stockdale denied Pratley a second with a decent stop, Dawson was celebrating a second.
Another Spearing corner sparked panic, with Dawson turning a shot on to the post, but when Ngog then had an effort hooked off the line by James Chester, Dawson was still loitering to divert Marcos Alonso’s drive into the net.
It was simply a case of going through the motions from there, with any earlier fight now totally evaporated from Hull.
Fans celebrated back-to-back home victories for the first time since last March, when Premier League survival was looking well within reach.
We can learn from that spell in the club’s history to beware false dawns, so expectations should be kept in check a little for now to allow Freedman’s side a chance to take stock.
If, however, following Peterborough’s visit tomorrow night and a trip to Oakwell next weekend we are six points further down the road, then who knows?