And so after finishing 2013 and starting 2014 in 10th place in the Premier League (just take that in for a moment….okay, carry on…) it was time for Hull City AFC to experience the magic of the FA Cup once again. The potential for irony, nay sarcasm, in those words is considerable, but in the aftermath of Liverpool away in the League (tries to find link to match report…fails), there was actually some degree of optimism among the travelling City support.
Precisely why, I don’t think anyone was too sure. It certainly wasn’t anything to do with the club’s record in the competition, nor recent history against Boro. And no City fan would be naïve enough to think that Steve Bruce would field anything other than a radically changed starting line up from the one that had been so consistent over the Christmas period, and thus unspokenly aligning himself with Paul Lambert’s thinking.
However there was something about the tie that made everyone think that this could actually be a good day out, and that successful progression through to the next round was a distinct possibility.
Everyone was right.
In terms of everything off-the-pitch, this clearly had the potential to be a million miles better than the trip to Anfield on New Year’s Day. No tourists; no half and half scarves; everybody who wanted to stand was able to; no “City fans” creaming themselves over an opposition player warming up; and, most importantly of all a loud, proud Tiger Nation singing “City Till I Die” at 19:04 and much more besides throughout the game. We got all of the above. The City support numbered circa 1,500 in a Riverside stadium crowd of 15,571. Far more than most predicted. Clearly the £10/£15 price helped.
On the pitch the inevitable changes were made by Bruce with City fielding Harper; Rosenior, Faye, McShane, Figueroa; Boyd, Meyler, Quinn, Gedo; McLean, Proschwitz. Matt Fryatt was a minor casualty of the warm up and was replaced in the starting line up by the big German having “felt his hamstring”.
Wearing the blue away strip for no discernible reason, City started steadily retaining plenty of possession against a Boro side that was not too far off their full strength Championship team. Up front the home team clearly had plenty of pace in Marvin Emnes, Curtis Main and Luke Williams which could potentially have caused City issues with the far from quick centre backs plus Figueroa in attendance. In reality though any real threat was mostly snuffed out at source by David Meyler and Stephen Quinn in centre midfield who were quietly majestic throughout.
Then in the tenth minute City were in the lead. A Meyler shot was deflected awkwardly towards Aaron McLean who just about managed to bring the ball under control, albeit at a stretch, before toe-poking past goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos. 1-0. And the Middlesbrough drum machine was thankfully silenced for most of the rest of the half – a half that continued in similar vein with City in control barring the occasional unproductive burst from Emnes. Half time beers were supped contentedly.
Boro made a couple of changes for the second half with Albert Adomah and Lucas Jutkiewicz replacing Williams and Emmanuel Ledesma. This resulted in their best spell of the game and they had a good ten minutes of bossing the possession stats and firing wide of Harper’s goal. City remained calm and then sure enough came the second goal to “put the game to bed”.
It was far and away the best piece of football of the game. Following a City comer Liam Rosenior put Paul McShane through into space to the right of the penalty area. The ginger magician found George Boyd in the area with a delightful reverse pass which enabled the long haired one to shimmy past Ben Gibson before crossing for Nick Proschwitz to hammer the ball into the top corner from ten yards out. It was 2-0 and ostensibly game over. Callum Jahraldo-Martin made a bright and breezy appearance for the last ten minutes and in doing so earned himself a song. Boro threatened for a while in the last five minutes, with a header into the side netting being the closest they came to a goal.
So yes, McLean and Proschwitz both scoring. Amazing stuff. But aside from the strikers this was in many ways no reserve team that City put out. The Premier League experience of the back 4 and goal keeper; the quality of Boyd, Meyler and Quinn in midfield; even Gedo, playing left midfield for most of the game, all looked far stronger than some of the City teams to have “graced” Cup competitions in recent years, Maybe, just maybe Steve Bruce has worked his magic on the squad as a whole, and not just the Premier League starting line-up and bench.
So after rousingly applauding the players off the pitch at full time and collecting the flags, the City faithful headed off home. This time with that rare feeling after an FA Cup game. That we could actually make some serious progress in this competition while achieving the target of 17th place or above in the League. Aaaaagghhh!