Sheffield United 4, Hull City 1: Leon Clarke scores four as Blades move second in Championship
An attacking masterclass from Leon Clarke fired Sheffield United second in the Championship table and ended HullÂ City's stoic resistance at Bramall Lane.
Described as being in the "form of his life" by manager Chris Wilder during the hosts' remarkable start to the new campaign, Clarke scored four times after Kamil Grosicki had fired Leonid Slutsky's team into a surprise lead.
Trailing at home proved a new experience for United but they responded in a manner which confirms their lofty position is no fluke.
Two point behind leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers and two above Cardiff City in third, perhaps even more crucially Wilder's men are now nine better off than seventh-placed Ipswich Town who were beaten here last month.
Clarke received a standing ovation when he was withdrawn, in order for the crowd to show their appreciation, moments before referee Darren Bond called time. Keith Edwards, the last United player to achieve the same feat, gave a nod of appreciation from the stands.
City made the 70 mile journey south out of sorts, out of defenders and, given their recent slide down the rankings, their manager fearing he might soon be out of a job. Predictably, United looked to gnaw away at their dwindling reserves of self-belief with Chris Basham, deputising at wing-back, whipping a dangerous centre across Allan McGregor's six yard box which Billy Sharp nearly turned home and Clarke seeing his claim for an early penalty turned down. But the visitors took heart from surviving that flurry and posed some problems of their own as Wilder's players appeared uncharacteristically shaky before imposing their will on the game.
Some observers attributed Grosicki's strike to an error from Simon Moore. But the flight of the ball, combined with the power of the shot, meant even though it was centrally placed, most goalkeepers would have found it difficult to save.
What could not be disputed, though, was the fact that Moore's opposite number Allan McGregor excelled himself.
Jack O'Connell and Clarke, twice, were denied by the former Rangers man before the United centre-forward levelled.
Clarke's fifth of the season threatened to change the entire dynamic of the game although City proved much more resolute than their record en route to South Yorkshire would suggest.
But Clarke smashed their resistance during the closing stages and, after converting with his left foot and then the right, sent a header looping beyond McGregor to seal the points. His fourth, in the 88th minute, rubbed further salt into City's gaping wound.
If Wilder thought the loss of Jamal Blackman and George Baldock represented a distraction, his problems paled into insignificance compared to those facing Slutsky before kick-off. The Russian, who spent the afternoon pacing anxiously around his technical area, entered the fixture with only one experienced centre-half at his disposal after Michael Hector had collected his fifth caution of the season against Middlesbrough in midweek. Slutsky's nerves will have ratcheted up a notch when Sharp was inches away from prodding home and Clarke saw a strong appeal for a spot-kick waved away inside the opening five minutes.
Seb Larsson, however, signaled the start of a City fight-back by drawing a good save from Simon Moore with a long-range effort. The United goalkeeper's block was soon surpassed, though, when McGregor clawed the ball out of the air from point blank range following Clarke's header. The work which saw Mark Duffy create enough space to deliver the cross was equally impressive.
The contest remained delicately poised until the 30th minute when Grosicki broke the deadlock with an unstoppable finish from around 25 yards. Cue an excitable celebration from Slutsky and cries of "We want Allam out" from the away end. Seven minutes later, O'Connell was involved in two potentially game-changing incidents. First, as City went in search of a second, he was fortunate not to concede a penalty after appearing to handle the ball. Then, as the action surged up the other end, he drew another excellent save from McGregor after unleashing a vicious shot which, until the Scot got a touch, seemed destined to break the back of the net. He produced another superb block to prevent Clarke's 48th minute header crossing the line before being beaten, four minutes later, by a fine first-time effort at the near post after Cameron Carter-Vickers had surged ahead of his marker on the overlap.
Basham and Jake Wright made two brilliant tackles to stop City counter-attacks before Clarke nearly claimed his and United's second of the afternoon but, again, McGregor was in the way. Clarke, though, was not to be denied and, with 14 minutes of normal time remaining, he turned home Duffy's assist. Then, in the 80th minute, he completed his 'perfect' hat-trick with a header from Sharp's cross before hitting the target again.
Sheffield United: Moore, O'Connell, Wright, Carter-Vickers, Stevens, Basham, Coutts Fleck, Duffy (Lundstram 86), Sharp (Brooks 83), Clarke (Donaldson 90). Not used: Stearman, Lafferty, Eastwood, Carruthers.
Hull City: McGregor, Irvine (Henriksen 83), Grosicki, Meyler, Larsson (Stewart 65), Bowen, Dawson, Clark, Campbell (Dicko 70), Tomori, Aina. Not used: Marshall, Diomande, Clackstone, Lenihan.
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).
Star Man: Leon Clarke