Hull City 0 Manchester City 3
This was a third win in succession for Manchester City and, while not a vintage one, Pep Guardiola will take much solace from his side's renewed resolve in recent weeks. Yaya Touré and Kelechi Iheanacho were the City names on the scoresheet but the visitors seem mentally reinvigorated, and far more assured in the face of direct and physical opponents.
Hull certainly provided such a challenge and credit must also go to them after matching their far wealthier adversaries for much of the game. In the end City's quality saw them over the line, a Touré penalty' a fine team move finished by Iheanacho and a late Curtis Davies own goal ensuring they finished Boxing Day second in the Premier League table.
Given that Sergio Agüero has been missing since early December and the nature of City’s defeat at Leicester two weeks ago, Guardiola can point to a tangible improvement in his side’s recent performances, even if this was not a classic. Hull battled well but they have now not won in seven league matches.
John Stones returned to the City starting line-up having missed out on the recent victories over Watford and Arsenal, but the defender only lasted 18 minutes before an injury forced him off. Aleksandar Kolarov slotted in at centre-back, but neither side produced many moments of fluency during a drab first half.
City had more of the ball, but Hull were relatively solid in defence and limited their opponents to speculative efforts early on. Guardiola had selected a team without a striker once again – with Agüero serving the final match of his four-game suspension – so Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Nolito and Raheem Sterling regularly switched positions in a fluid attacking setup.
Touré, sitting further deep alongside Fernandinho, forced David Marshall to tip over his header in the seventh minute but the Hull goalkeeper was rarely tested throughout the first half. Hull's back three of Harry Maguire, Michael Dawson and Davies seemed relatively assured, happy to distribute the ball long up front to Dieumerci Mbokani,who was regularly tasked with holding up and finding the run of Robert Snodgrass.
Both teams, though, began the second half with more intent. Sterling had an enticing cross-shot palmed away by Marshall before Hull started to press. Maguire found himself in an attacking position and crossed from the right to the far post, where Sam Clucas met the ball with a half-volley that was blocked well.
Space was becoming more freely available for both sides and a swift break from City so nearly resulted in the opening goal in the 53rd minute, De Bruyne eventually receiving the ball down the left before cutting inside and firing a low effort onto Marshall’s right-hand post.
Hull then came extremely close themselves, with the tempo of the game increasing significantly. A series of crosses into the box had pinned City in, and when Dawson met a high ball with a looping header he seemed to have directed it superbly over City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo and into the net, but Bacary Sagna was in a fine position on the line to clear the danger.
Guardiola sent on Iheanacho in place of Nolito with just over half an hour remaining but it was Sterling who made the decisive impact. After 72 minutes the England forward darted inside from the right and was brought down in the penalty area following a clumsy sliding challenge from Andrew Robertson. There were no complaints from Hull, and Touré stepped up to finish emphatically from the spot.
The second, which killed the game six minutes later, was a fine team move. De Bruyne glided forward in the opposition half, waited calmly before playing a precise pass right to Silva, who then cut an excellent ball across goal for Iheanacho to finish into an empty net.
Davies’ late own goal – the result of a rapid Sterling break down the left – rubbed salt into Hull’s wounds.