NO SOONER had Hull secured a place in their first FA Cup final than manager Steve Bruce began the mind games, insisting “all the pressure” will be on Arsenal when they return to Wembley next month.
Scorers: Hull City - Sagbo (42), Fryatt (49), Huddlestone (54), Quinn (67), Meyler (90); Sheffield United - Baxter (19), Scougall (44), Murphy (90)
A decade on from playing in the fourth-tier of English football, the Tigers secured their first major cup final appearance with a thrilling 5-3 defeat of Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United.
The League One outfit certainly played their part in yesterday’s semi-final and went in at half-time 2-1 ahead, only to be undone by City’s injection of top-flight quality at the break.
Matty Fryatt, Tom Huddlestone, Stephen Quinn and David Meyler all netted in a much-improved second-half display by the Tigers, setting up a return to Wembley on 17 May when Hull will take on the role of underdog against Arsenal.
“If you had said ten years ago that Hull will play Arsenal in the FA Cup final, people would have been scratching their heads,” Bruce said. “It just shows you what can be done.
“I’ve been in the competition 15 years and never been anywhere near. I’ve had good fortune being involved in FA Cups and today was a proper FA Cup tie. We don’t see games like that very often at Wembley.
“A bit like last year when it was Wigan versus Man City, Hull play Arsenal. All the pressure will be on Arsenal because they haven’t won anything in eight years. We’ve still got five weeks to go. We will enjoy it, we will enjoy the occasion and gain from the experience of today.”
That experience was certainly a nerve-wracking one for Hull fans, especially during what Bruce admits was an “awful” first-half.
Jose Baxter gave the Blades a deserved 19th-minute lead and, moments after Yannick Sagbo had levelled, Stefan Scougall ensured United went in to the break ahead.
Bruce’s decision to bring on Fryatt and Sone Aluko for the second-half quickly paid dividends as City got back into it, although the City boss was quick to highlight the half-time team talk given by captain Curtis Davies.
“I didn’t say much at half-time,” Bruce said. “My captain did it all.
“It’s a long time since I’ve been in a dressing room where the captain takes over. It used to happen a lot in my day. I just had a cup of tea and let him get on with it. He is a bit of a dying breed with the way football is nowadays.”
As well as lauding his players and Hull’s travelling fans, Bruce was quick to praise former club United for the manner of their performance at Wembley.
Few would have been able to tell City were the Premier League outfit as the Blades ran riot in the first half, giving their raucous travelling support genuine hope of progressing to the final.
It was not to be in the end but Nigel Clough’s side were given a standing ovation at the end of a display that belied their lowly standings.
“I am both proud and devastated at the moment,” United boss Clough said.
“I am certainly proud, I think that feeling will grow in the weeks ahead when we look back on what we’ve achieved in the FA Cup and very nearly today as well.
“We were close to making history as the first third-tier side to get to an FA Cup final and at half-time I thought we were well worthy of our lead.
“We played well in the first half and they changed it in the second half.”
Bruce, an FA Cup winner with Manchester United in his playing days, will take his share of credit for the turnaround, with Fryatt and Quinn scoring four and three minutes after being sent on as substitutes. But the champagne moment of the afternoon was reserved for Huddlestone, who scored his side’s wonderful third with a neat run and deft finish.
The game began at a brisk pace, although there was more nervous energy on show than composure on the ball.
Hull’s early forays were unconvincing, Ahmed Elmohamady muscled out of a good position by Conor Coady and Huddlestone chancing his arm with a 40-yard chip that drifted harmlessly wide.
But the Blades were palpably up for the contest and were good value for their 19th-minute opener.
John Brayford, a dynamic presence pushing up from right-back, played provider with a devilish whipped cross from the right touchline and Baxter did just enough to turn it home from close range.
Hull had plenty of time to cope with the setback but were deeply unimpressive for 20 minutes as they were outscrapped by United across the park.
Their equaliser, when it arrived in the 42nd minute, was as clinical as it was unexpected. Jake Livermore exchanged a one-two with Elmohamady before finding Sagbo at the far post with a threaded pass across goal.
Having timed his run perfectly, the Ivorian made no mistake with his first-time finish.
On the touchline Bruce cut a relieved figure but his frustrations returned inside two minutes. Murphy burrowed down the left flank for United and breezed past Liam Rosenior, who erred badly in allowing the winger to advance unchecked.
His cutback from the goal-line was begging to be buried and Scougall obliged with a fine finish.
Bruce hooked George Boyd and Maynor Figueroa at half-time, bolstering his attacking options with substitutes Fryatt and Aluko.
And it took Fryatt just four minutes to justify the gamble. A Huddlestone corner fell for Chester and his mis-hit effort fell kindly for the substitute, who stroked home from six yards.
The Tigers could sense an opening and took the lead for the first time five minutes later. It took a slice of class from Huddlestone, who exchanged passes with Meyler, shook off the attentions of Michael Doyle and shuffled the ball from right to left boot as he reached the penalty area.
By no means a regular scorer, he had the finish to match this time as he caressed the ball into the left corner.
Bruce went to the bench again in the 64th minute, Quinn replacing Sagbo, and the Irishman netted almost immediately.
Livermore claimed a second assist of the day with a dinked cross from the right and former Blade Quinn left Mark Howard no chance with a fine header.
At that stage there was a possibility that Hull could run riot, but that would have been unfair on Nigel Clough’s side.
Indeed, United invited yet more late drama as they poured forward and got their rewards in the 90th minute.
After pushing Hull deep in their own box the ball broke for Murphy, who volleyed home calmly.
The tantalising prospect of extra-time was briefly dangled but Meyler killed it with the eighth goal of a memorable day at HQ.