Hull’s David Meyler (left) contests a loose ball with Alexander Scholz[GETTY]
Hull looked short on ideas for large parts of the match and Lokeren got a deserved win when Hans Vanaken robbed goalkeeper McGregor of possession in the 58th minute.
Hull must now overturn the deficit in the second leg at the KC Stadium next Thursday if they are to book their place in the group stages.
Little-known as Lokeren might be, their European credentials are far superior to Hull’s
For the Tigers, this is a first adventure into continental competition but Lokeren were in this round as recently as 2012. Their best effort was in 1981 reaching the quarter-finals of the UEFA Cup, which Ipswich Town went on to win.
Lokeren, currently sixth in the Belgian Pro League, won the Belgian cup last season for the second time in three seasons and joined the competition at this stage.
Hull are embarking on their maiden European voyage after reaching their first FA Cup final but it was close to being over almost as soon as it began.
A 2-1 victory over Slovakian side AS Trencin in the third-qualifying round came courtesy of a Sone Aluko goal 10 minutes from the end of a tie Hull were trailing on away goals.
Bruce promised to make wholesale changes to his team and duly delivered with nine fresh faces coming into the side after the victory over Queens Park Rangers on Saturday.
Bruce has made no bones about adopting a policy of switching as many players as possible between domestic and continental commitments. Only goalkeeper Allan McGregor and James Chester kept their places.
The Hull fans made sure their voice was heard inside the Daknamstadion [GETTY]
Bruce is without Robert Snodgrass, who has been ruled out for six months with a dislocated kneecap suffered at Loftus Road, and the sale of Shane Long to Southampton has prompted activity in the transfer market.
Hull had an £8m bid for Blackburn striker Jordan Rhodes rejected yesterday but remain interested, despite Rovers holding out for £12m.
The sale of Long leaves Hull light on forward options and Yannick Sagbo was deployed as a lone striker in Belgium.
The Ivorian had a great chance to give his side the lead in the seventh minute but his shot under pressure after Maynor Figueroa’s cross was tame and Dennis Odoi was able to clear from under his cross bar.
Sone Aluko showed neat skill to fashion a shooting chance 18 yards out but blasted his effort over the bar before David Meyler sent a shot narrowly wide from similar distance.
Lokeren came close to silencing the 1,236 Hull fans when Nill De Pauw sent a volley dipping over the bar after the visitors failed to clear from Jordan Remacle’s free kick.
De Pauw went close again just after the break when his stinging drive was palmed away by McGregor for a corner after Odoi raced forward from left-back to supply the pass.
Bruce’s charges started to show signs of fatigue and mistakes crept into their play. It proved costly in the 58th minute as the hosts took the lead.
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McGregor took a touch from Harry Maguire’s back pass and, as the goalkeeper tried to pass his way out of trouble, he was closed down by Vanaken, who then rolled the ball into the unguarded net.
Lokeren were in control and McGregor was tested again.
This time, he was up to scratch, pushing De Pauw’s effort around the post before brilliantly keeping out Sergio Junior Dutra’s header from the resulting corner.
Bruce sent on Nikica Jelavic and Tom Ince to give his side a greater threat.
Full-back Liam Rosenior headed tamely at Davino Verhulst from Figueroa’s cross before Meyler came close to bagging a precious away goal for Hull but saw his first-time shot from Aluko’s cutback pushed over by Davino Verhulst.
It was a night of tough challenges and dogged play as Hull came home empty handed [GETTY]
After the game Bruce said: “We’ve had our first lesson of what playing in Europe is about.
“Concentration levels are paramount and we’ve made a mistake which cost us.
“We had three of four wonderful opportunities to score late on but unfortunately missed them.
“If you make a mistake like that, at this level, it’s an awful way to lose a match. McGregor was a hero on Saturday when he saved a penalty but he’s made a mistake which has cost us.
“It will be difficult because we haven’t got an away goal. But we’ve got to try and win the game, it’s as simple as that.
“It will be a different game in a week’s time and we have to win it.
“We’ve got big games coming up and I have to think about that, but in hindsight I would pick the same team.
“This was never going to be a breeze, that’s disrespectful, no game in Europe is a breeze. It’s up to us to turn it around now and make sure we get to the next stage.
“They are great nights if you win. It will be a full house again and we have to win the match. We are capable of doing that.”
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