Hull City striker Abel Hernandez produced a masterclass in finishing as his hat-trick inspired an emphatic 4-1 victory over Burton Albion at the KCOM Stadium.
Leonid Slutsky’s first home game was not always plain sailing after Jackson Irvine cancelled out Hernandez’s first in an entertaining first half but there was only one winner once Burton’s goalscorer was sent off for a second yellow card in the 38 minute.
Kamil Grosicki’s first goal in English football, a header from Ola Aina’s cross, restored City’s lead after the interval before Hernandez claimed the match ball with another two well-taken goals during a one-sided second half.
The 10-men of Burton were soundly beaten in the end to give Slutsky his first victory as City boss, boosting morale ahead of welcoming big-spending Wolves to the KCOM Stadium on Tuesday night.
Seven days after beginning his reign with a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa, Slutsky placed his faith in the same side to deliver in his first outing at the KCOM Stadium. The confidence gleaned from the season opener was clear to see from the first minutes.
The electric Grosicki forced a save from Stephen Bywater and Fraizer Campbell also had a chance from close range when failing to connect on the turn. Burton struggled to cope with the pace of their hosts’ play and by the seventh minute they were behind.
Markus Henriksen’s shot from 20 yards out cannoned back off the face of the crossbar, giving Hernandez the chance to open his account with a diving header on the rebound.
Grosicki’s pace continued to cause Burton difficulties on the left flank but the visitors soon found a foothold in the contest. Lucas Akins was denied an equaliser by the offside leg before Tom Naylor’s fierce header was pushed away by Allan McGregor.
Lloyd Dyer crossed from the left without a final touch but the escape was sandwiched by two glorious chances for City. Hernandez dragged wide after a lovely flick from Campbell sent his partner clear, before Grosicki served up an early contender for miss of the season. Sent clean through on goal, the winger rounded Bywater perfectly but could only roll the ball into the side netting.
City’s wastefulness came at a cost when Burton drew themselves level in the 33 minute. Poor defending from the uncertain Ola Aina allowed the visitors the chance to attack down the left and Matty Lund’s pass set up Irvine to fire a wonderful shot into the top corner from the edge of the box.
The midfielder’s joy, however, proved to be short-lived. Just as the Brewers were beginning to get on top of City, Irvine collected his second yellow of the game for a late trip on Bowen. There were protests but the Burton man could have no complaints.
A man up, the balance of play tipped back in City’s favour. Burton survived until the break but any hope of returning to the East Midlands with a point went up in smoke as the Tigers netted twice in three minutes early in the second half.
Grosicki banished the demons of his earlier miss to put City back in front with a well-taken glancing header to convert Aina’s cross from the right before Hernandez finally gave his side breathing space. Netting his second with a fierce shot past Bywater, the Uruguayan served notice he can be one of the Championship’s most feared strikers this season.
With all doubt removed from the outcome, the only thing left to be decided was the margin of City’s victory. Bywater saved superbly from Hernandez’s shot after being teed up by the dangerous Grosicki but Burton’s overworked keeper could do nothing about the Tigers’ fourth soon after. Sam Clucas’ threaded pass set Hernandez clear and a calm finish secured the striker his first hat-trick since City’s 6-0 win over Charlton in January 2016.
The closing quarter was utterly one-sided. City players queued up to get in on the fun, with Henriksen firing wide from long range and Michael Hector heading narrowly off target from a right-wing corner. Seb Larsson, on as a late substitute, could also have netted a debut goal but for Bywater’s point-blank save.
Not that a crowd of 14,882 had many complaints. City’s approving supporters sang Slutsky’s name throughout the closing stages of an eventual procession as the Russian quickly took on the popularity of predecessor Marco Silva.
Allan McGregor, Ola Aina, Michael Dawson, Michael Hector, Max Clark, Jarrod Bowen, Sam Clucas (David Meyler 70), Markus Henriksen, Kamil Grosicki (Seb Larsson 73), Fraizer Campbell, Abel Hernandez (Adama Diomande 68)
Subs: Will Mannion, Ondrej Mazuch, Brian Lenihan, James Weir
Stephen Bywater, Tom Naylor, Jake Buxton, Kyle McFadzean, Matty Lund, Hope Akpan (Joe Sbarra 69), Jackson Irvine, Luke Murphy, Stephen Warnock (Lloyd Dyer 6), Lucas Akins, Marvin Sordell
Subs: Connor Ripley, John Mousinho, Tom Flanagan, Luke Varney, Matthew Palmer