Which City team would turn up at Wembley? The one that knows how to win a game, responds Mark Sellers. Here’s how it went.
So, after a long, draining season City’s destiny all came down to one game, played in the Wembley sunshine against Sheffield Wednesday.
Play-off finals are always pivotal for any club, but this one felt even more so with the spectre of the much derided membership scheme looming. Win, and Premier League riches await, with a TV deal even larger than before. Lose, and the future would be less rosy, with dwindling crowds, a disintegrating squad, and less chance of the club being sold. This was certainly ninety minutes that would shape the long-term future of the Hull City.
The bookies had City as strong favourites, but after recent Jekyll and Hyde performances, which “Hull City” would turn up? Steve Bruce kept faith with the same starting eleven from the two Derby games, fielding –
Odubajo Dawson Davies Robertson
Elmohamady Livermore Huddlestone Snodgrass
– in the now familiar 4-4-1-1 formation.
The game started cagily, with Huddlestone the first to get a shot on target, though Westwood saved with relative ease. Shortly afterwards Wednesday attacked on the break, and Dawson brought down Forestieri as the Argentine was racing towards the City penalty area. The referee rightly showed the City captain a yellow card, which was a cause for concern with only ten minutes gone. The resulting free kick (followed by a second one when Diame committed a foul just outside the box) were the only real tests for Jakupovic in the opening part of the game.
On 28 minutes City won a corner, and the resulting ball found Hernandez who headed for goal. The ball was cleared off the line, and a goalmouth scramble ensued with City appealing for a handball. The referee was unconvinced and waved play-on.
The City midfield is controlling the game now, and a splendid ball from Diame found Elmo in the Wednesday box, but the Egyptian winger got the ball stuck under his feet. Soon after it’s Hernandez who is put through, and this time a blistering shot forces a great save from Westwood.
On 38 minutes Diame makes a barnstorming run into the Owls’ box, beating a number of defenders before unleashing a powerful shot that stikes the post!
This is a great spell of pressure, with City camped in the Wednesday half, but the first half ends 0-0. We’re looking by far the better side, but just like eight years ago, need the moment of magic to clinch it.
Both sides returned to the pitch unchanged, and it’s the Owls with the first attack of the second half. A long ball was uncharacteristically mis-controlled by Dawson and fell to Forestieri, who charged into the City box. Curtis Davies was lightning quick to respond though, and shot out a leg to put the ball out for a corner. A perfectly timed covering tackle, and one that if he’d got wrong would surely resulted in a penalty and a red card.
Then on 57 minutes Andy Robertson has probably the best chance of the match. Elmo plays a lovely ball onto Odubajo, who delivers a perfect cross into Robertson, who then inexplicably fired over the bar from eight yards out. Mumblings of “could it be one of those days” are heard amongst the more pessimistic City supporters, but there still looks to be only one team likely to win this, and it doesn’t come from South Yorkshire.
And then, on the 71st minute, comes that moment of magic. Snodgrass picks up the ball, and lays it off to Diame, who took one touch before unleashing an exquisite curling shot from 25 yards. Westwood could only get a fingertip to the ball, and joy was unconfined for the Tiger nation. The Wednesday support, which had been excellent throughout, was suddenly stunned.
Both sides make substitutions but City remain in control. Huddlestone and Livermore are absolutely controlling the middle of the park. City’s “big game” players have all performed today, and the experience in the Tigers side is starting to show. Wednesday’s chances are all long-range speculative efforts, which come to naught.
On 80 minutes the fresh legs of Clucas replace Snodgrass, and four minutes later Meyler comes on for Hernandez. Wednesday continue to huff-and-puff, but City’s house looks ever more solid.
On 87 minutes Harry Maguire replaces Diame, leaving City with little attacking options left on the pitch. This is a gamble by Bruce, as all subs are used, and it would only take a late equalizer to take the game into extra time. The gamble pays off though, with Maguire shoring up an already solid defence, and ably repelling anything that the Owls threw at him.
The five minutes of added time pass painfully slowly, but when the clock finally does tick down Hull City are back in the Premier League.
As we all know Hull City never do things the easy way, but this was a perfect end to a season that has both delighted and frustrated.
Mark Sellers @mrmarksellers