Prior to yesterday’s visit to Wembley, Hull had reached the semi-finals just once, when they lost to Arsenal in 1930. Revenge certainly will be served cold should they defeat Arsene Wenger’s side on May 17 and take the trophy back to Humberside.
By then, Allam may have a clearer idea whether his appeal against the FA’s decision to reject the planned name-change has any chance of succeeding and the businessman’s presence in the Royal box will no doubt cause some discomfort. That, though, will remain as a sideshow as Bruce and his players attempt to finish a job that appeared to be slipping from their grasp at half-time against League One Sheffield United.
For 45 minutes, Bruce’s side were out-played and found themselves trailing at first to Jose Baxter’s 20th minute opener and then to Stefan Scougall’s 44th minute strike after Yannick Sagbo had drawn Hull level two minutes earlier.
Two changes and a stiff talking to at half-time transformed the game with Matty Fryatt producing a second equaliser four minutes after the restart before Tom Huddlestone and Stephen Quinn established a two-goal advantage. Jamie Murphy’s 90th minute volley gave United hope but that was immediately snuffed out by David Meyler’s added time finish.
“I didn’t say much at half-time, my captain did it,” said Bruce, the Hull manager. “It’s a long time since I’ve been in a dressing room when the captain gets going. We made a few tactical changes but the rollickings were down to the captain.”
He added: “For Hull to play Arsenal in the FA Cup final. No one would have said that 10 years ago. All the pressure will be on Arsenal. We’ll enjoy the occasion.”
This was the semi-final that had failed to grab the attention, third on the bill on a day the main contenders for the Premier League title were in action. And in truth, it was hard to make a case for it deserving much more scrutiny until the contest finally fired into life in the final minutes of the opening half.
Ultimately, though, Hull proved too string for their less senior opponents and while Nigel Clough, the United manager, spoke positively of this being a springboard, it was hard to overlook the fact that this was an opportunity missed.
“I’m certainly proud and that feeling will grow in the weeks ahead,” said Clough. “But now we are disappointed at not becoming the first third tier side to reach the final. There was that feeling we could have done it, with 45 minutes to go. We thought we could have done it.”
Despite the two-division gap between the sides, Steve Bruce adopted an unnecessarily cautious approach, employing the limited Sagbo as a lone forward — regular strikers Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long are cup-tied — and overloading the midfield. It was no surprise, then, Clough’s side took advantage, when Baxter nipped in front of James Chester to stab home John Brayford’s cross.
Bruce’s side responded three minutes before the break when Jake Livermore moved in from the right and slid a superb ball between the United centre-backs towards Sagbo, who finished high into the net.
Scougall struck almost immediately to restore United’s lead and it was clear changes were required if Hull were to avoid an upset.
Bruce responded by introducing strikers Sone Aluko and Matty Fryatt and the impact was immediate, Fryatt stabbing home from close range after United passed up a number of opportunities to clear a left-wing corner. Huddlestone put the Premier League side ahead in the 54th minute before Quinn headed home from Livermore’s cross in the 67th minute.
Murphy’s volley ignited the final moments but Meyler’s assured added time finish ensured there would be no shock.
HULL CITY (4-5-1): Harper 6; Rosenior 6, Davies 7, Chester 4, Figueroa 4 (Aluko 46, 7); Elmohamady 7, Huddlestone 7, Meyler 6, Livermore 8, Boyd 4 (Fryatt 46, 8); Sagbo 6 (Quinn 64, 7).
Subs not used: Jakupovic, Bruce, Koren, Faye.
SHEFFIELD UNITED (4-5-1): Howard 7; Brayford6, Maguire 7, Collins 7, Harris 6 (Hill 90); Flynn 7, Scougall 8 (Porter 82, 6), Doyle 8, Coady 6, Murphy 7; Baxter 7 (Davies 82, 6).
Subs not used: Long, McGinn, Freeman, Kennedy.
Referee: A Marriner.