MATCH REPORT: City 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday

Wembley scoreboard (28-5-2016)

Hull City AFC at Wembley. Before the game yesterday, we exhorted ourselves to relish the experience of seeing our beloved side grace the national stadium, to not permit dismay at the Allams’ antics or the relative frequency of our visits mask the stunning surreality of City actually being there.

However, those past visits have also brought with it a certain understanding of what a play-off final actually is. Once you’ve taken a selfie on Wembley Way and gaped in wonder at just what an astonishing stadium it is, there’s a match to be played and a prize to be won. Or lost. At no point is that enjoyable. It’s agonising, gut-wrenching stuff. We knew what was coming.

Did Sheffield Wednesday know? It cannot be disputed that they were up for it – indeed, based upon on excitable social media comment they could comfortably have sold out several dozen Wembleys alone. And however gauche they were on Twitter their fans were brilliantly loud inside the ground, a slightly saddening reminder of what we were in 2008.

By contrast, we feel almost careworn. Wednesday are a coming (or perhaps reviving?) force, and their return to the top flight after a lengthy absence is just a matter of time. We’ve been there. Done that. Seen both the glamour and the seamier side of the mid-2010s top-flight. Neither the journey nor the destination are new.

Also not new is the rotten attitude of the owners, with whom we’ve been engaged in an exhausting cold war for three energy-sapping years. They’ve alienated so many, both the passionately engaged and the loosely attached – how could there NOT be thousands of empty seats?

But enough! Because amid the off-field controversies, ticketing chatter and faintly distasteful focus on this being the “richest game ever”, there was an actual football match. Steve Bruce had some sizeable decisions to make prior to it.

Some were forced upon him. The ongoing injury to Allan McGregor necessitated Eldin Jakupović deputising, as he has throughout the play-offs. But there were hefty dilemmas elsewhere. Three stood out: Clucas for the slightly underperforming Snodgrass? Bench a permanently inconsistent Diamé? Beef up the midfield by swapping Huddlestone for Meyler?

Big calls for a big match. In the end, Steve Bruce gave the XI that limped over the line against Derby another go, resisting the temptation to freshen things up and going for might be considered his biggest stars.

Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal made a single change to the side that did enough in the second leg of their play-off against Brighton, bringing Sam Hutchinson back into the side for Álex López.

It was a warm afternoon in the capital, with frequent spells of sunshine dazzling those clad in black and amber. City began kicking towards the half million or so Sheffield sorts and had the first effort on goal, a rasping drive by Tom Huddlestone forcing a save from Keiren Westwood. However, Wednesday were generally making a bright start, and they had a real opportunity on ten minutes. Dawson was correctly cautioned for clobbering Fernando Forestieri, presenting the Italian with a sickeningly handsome-looking chance from the resulting free-kick. However, his shot was too central to be a serious danger, even if Jakupović looked a little uncertain when paddling it over.

That was a worry, with Dawson having to spend the whole of the rest of the game on a caution and tasked with supervising Forestieri, a notorious diver. He wasn’t the only one who didn’t settle quickly, Diamé becoming the next to cough up a dangerous free-kick. This time Ross Wallace had the shot, and again Jakupović’s positioning was good and his handling was, well, good enough.

Not a great start, and those familiar concerns about City beginning a game slowly were hard to keep at bay. Happily, those set-pieces were the only threats we faced in the opening exchanges, and as the first half wore on City began to impose themselves with greater success.

On 28, a Snodgrass corner found Abel Hernández being loosely guarded by the Sheffield defence and his header had to be cleared off the line. From the resulting mêlée, involving Michael Dawson, hands were raised seeking a penalty – it was impossible to tell from our distant vantage point at the time, though the message quickly came through from those watching back home that it’d have been exceptionally harsh.

City were the growing force in the game as Wednesday began to falter, and increasingly the game was being played at the far end to us. A sharp Diamé through-ball caught out the Wednesday defence, who were only able to slow it – Hernández collected possession and swished a left-footed shot when perhaps a right-footed effort would have been better; Westwood had raced off his line to deflect it over. A great save, though Hernández has scored harder chances this season.

A minute later Moses Odubajo cut in from the right and sent a curling left-footed shot comfortably wide of Westwood’s near post – not the greatest effort, but City were increasingly getting into shooting positions and Wednesday began to look a little ragged.

Back came City again, applying the first concerted pressure either team had managed to this point. Diamé, influential and bristling with determination, fastened onto possession and executed an array of stepovers to advance goalwards, only for his eventual left-footed shot to thud against the motionless Westwood’s near post. A great piece of play and so close to the game’s first goal.

On we went, with Westwood again the Sheffield saviour – this time haring off his line to block Odubajo when it seemed for a moment he’d have a shooting opportunity. Excellent goalkeeping, though he may have justly wondered why his defence wasn’t providing better cover.

There was just time before the break for Tom Lees to steer a header from a corner straight to Jakupović before the whistle blew for the interval, and we retired to Wembley’s vast concourses to reflect on what’d gone before us.

But first, a word for Wembley. Not our first such observations, for it’s become thrillingly familiar territory for the Tiger Nation. But it still possesses the ability to awe. The stands are vast, steepling upwards seemingly forever. The views are terrific. The noise, whoever’s making it, is fantastic. The concourses are enormous and stylishly appointed. Even little things, such as the unfussy and low-key stewarding and the speed of refreshment dispensing, are impressive. It is a wonderful venue, and we should fervently hope that we make many more visits during these (on-field) halcyon days.

The mood among the City fans was good, too. The Wednesday din wasn’t being duplicated at our end, for reasons that ought to keep Ehab Allam awake at night, but it seemed fairly clear that City were on top on the pitch. But could we convert it into a victory and a third promotion to the Premier League?

Neither manager made a change at the break, and the first opening of the second 45 came fairly quickly when a rapid clearance upfield by Westwood was miscued by Dawson, presenting Forestieri with a run on goal. However, for all his guile he isn’t blessed with blistering pace and Curtis Davies was able to scurry back, snake out his left leg and divert the ball out for a corner. A fantastic covering tackle – had this gone wrong it’d have been a penalty and red card, however the City centre back was impeccable in his timing. Not even Forestieri claimed a penalty on this one.

That alarm notwithstanding, the pattern of the game hadn’t changed noticeably from its pre-interval disposition, with City enjoying possession in more advanced areas and Wednesday struggle to construct anything meaningful close to the Tigers’ area.

Shortly after the Forestieri scare, Dawson could have scored himself – a Snodgrass cross evaded everyone apart from him, and while his first touch was assured and his shot low and hard, Westwood had yet again raced into action and blocked the shot. More outstanding keeping.

Wednesday were beginning to look tired. When, we mused, would Carvalhal change things and give his toiling side a necessary boost?

On 58, the best chance of the game came to Andy Robertson. Odubajo crossed low from the right, and for a moment it seemed as the though the full-backs were going to combine as they did for the decisive third at Derby a fortnight earlier, but Robertson clumsily spooned his shot over from barely ten yards. A horrible miss, and thousands of heads went into thousands of pairs of hands.

Meanwhile, the Wednesday fans were making a terrific racket despite seeing little of the action at close quarters. Our on-field supremacy was encouraging the City fans as well, and the atmosphere inside the ground was quite fantastic, a real pleasure to experience.

The brush with disaster that’d come with the Robertson chance finally prodded Carvalhal into action, and on 63 he withdrew the ineffective Wallace for Jeremy Helan. It helped a bit too, as City didn’t create a clear chance in the minutes after his arrival – the next effort was actually from a man in blue, the tireless Hutchinson blasting over.

We were not to be denied for long. On 72, a poor clearance was collected by Robert Snodgrass. He cut inside, drew two markers and shifted the ball right to Diamé, in a couple of vacant yards of space. He took one touch and almost instantly crafted a simply gorgeous curling shot that flicked the tips of Westwood’s fingers and nestled happily in the net.

The City fans convulsed with manic joy, limbs contorting in utter ecstasy as our new Wembley hero was mobbed by team-mates and substitutes alike in front of us. 1-0 City, and a goal of Windassian quality once again saw us lead a Championship final at Wembley.

For Wednesday, a shattering blow. They reacted quickly, bringing on Atdhe Nuhiu for Hutchinson, who’d spent the entire afternoon gamely seeking to stem the tide and received scant assistance.

City were in a gloriously strong position. Leading a game they’d had the better of with barely a fifth remaining and possessing a strong defence surely capable of shutting out a side for twenty minutes or so, it must have felt a tall order for the Wednesday millions.

The next chance fell to the Tigers when Huddlestone fed Odubajo on the right, however he slashed his shot into the side-netting when a little more composure could have ended the game.

Surprisingly it was still mostly City. Loovens had to block a Hernández shot, however with ten minutes remaining Steve Bruce began systematically dropping anchor with three substitutions designed to make an already secure defence essentially impregnable. Off went Snodgrass for Clucas, a little miffed at being withdrawn, then Meyler for Hernández, and finally Maguire for Diamé.

This was pretty risky stuff from Bruce, leaving City almost wholly shorn of attacking players – how would we cope in extra time if Sheffield Wednesday burgled an equaliser? They’d brought on Lucas João for Pudil in one final roll of the dice, neither side saving a substitute for any additional period – this was high stakes big lads’ stuff. It was unbelievably exciting and miserably stomach-churning all at once.

Five minutes of injury time.

Harry Maguire headed the ball away, a lot. He does that. If magically transplanted into pre-decimalisation football, you just know he’d prosper more than anyone else in City’s squad. He’s even got a proper olden times centre-half’s name and he must have loved the half-hearted jeers he received for his Sheff Utd past.

Luckily, Wednesday played thoughtfully into our hands, chucking lots of high stuff up for Maguire and his fellow colossi to head clear.

Tom Huddlestone did lots of attractive and damaging passing. Meyler raced around a lot. Clucas looked both touchingly grateful just to be out there and possessed by demonic energy. And then there was Moses Odubajo, who was everywhere, doing everything and looking every inch a Premier League player.

One more chance as time seemed to stand still when a loose ball fell for Keiran Lee on the left. He teed up Helan on the edge of the area and seventy thousand people held their breath…he screwed the ball over to the dismay of the Sheffield gazillions and the utter delight of everyone else.

Thirty seconds later, Hull City AFC were back in the Premier League.

Suddenly we can look forward again. The astonishing TV riches will make our huge debt manageable. Our club will be an appealing prospect for new owners to rid us of the Allams. We will be back in the Premier League, an unthinkable prospect fifteen short years ago, mixing it with some of the biggest clubs on earth. The 2017 City of Culture portfolio contains a Premier League football team in our very own home city.

We have a future again.

It’s been a strange season, and not awfully enjoyable for large parts. The team has shown sporadic excellence but have often unperformed, while Steve Bruce has not always inspired confidence. The club’s owners and management nakedly despise the fans and continue to spite them at every opportunity.

And yet, it’s ended like this. It’s ended with Michael Dawson aping his older brother Andy by lifting a trophy for City at Wembley. It’s ended with the most successful manager in our history repairing his reputation by gaining a quite amazing fourth promotion to the top division. It’s ended with Jake Livermore’s personal and professional salvation. It’s ended with Mo Diamé, Tom Huddlestone et al finally, finally delivering when there were no second chances. It’s ended with the Hull City Association Football Club winning a Championship play-off final at Wembley courtesy of a resolute performance and a magnificent goal to gain promotion to the top tier. And we, the supporters of this marvellous, maddening and truly unique club, have hope again and a summer of celebration to look forward.

Enjoy that summer, Tiger Nation, and thank you to Steve Bruce and his team for giving it to us. And let us dream dreams of what may be around the corner…

12 replies
  1. hovetiger
    hovetiger says:

    Fantastic summary of the game and goings on. Great effort by the fans, but swathes of empty seats at the City end provided the most profound and poignant rejection yet of the Allam regime. Bruce called this game a cross-roads for the club: financially and footballing wise this may well have been the case, but for me the next few weeks will shape the short to medium term future of the club. Surely the Allams have to take the apparent opportunity to sell up. Do so and new owners could almost immediately repair the self-inflicted damage that has been wrought by the Allams on the fanbase. Stay, and internal division, apathy and a slow withering away of the fanbase will continue to poison the club’s efforts on the field.

  2. Bosco
    Bosco says:

    A great match report and fabulous day

    It seemed much more fraught being there, yet having now watched the highlights (several times), City were the better team and should have won by a bigger margin.

    The pre-season is now going to be particularly interesting.

  3. ann guy
    ann guy says:

    Thanks for a brilliantly descriptive and evocative report, spot on. A bittersweet day for many, however I’ve just been informed, that premier league club rules state , all clubs should provide concessions. Any truth in that anyone?

  4. tiger1971
    tiger1971 says:

    re. Premier League Rules – they do indeed state that concessions must be offered to children and oap’s.
    This could get interesting, unless they wheedle it round to mean on matchdays.

  5. JohnK
    JohnK says:

    If I was to describe this season it would best be summarized by likening it to trying to date Claudia Schiffer. You spend endless hours wining and dining, at significant cost, being on your best behavior, trying your hardest to be charming, witty and attentive, and spending long nights soul searching on whether you are doing the right thing. And then out of blue after several months Claudia turns up on your doorstep at 2am and declares her never ending love, devotion and commitment to you and just to add some spice to it, drops her coat to the floor to reveal, well I will leave that to your own imaginations.
    There is no question, as stated by Steve Bruce, Saturday’s 90 or so minutes were a crossroads for the club. Clearly it was great to see our class show and although a healthier goal margin would have been nice, and deserved, the fact is the off field impacts of the result were stark and extreme. Thankfully, and with thanks, Hull City prevailed and now we have the opportunity to have optimism and positivity. Certainly there are more questions to be answered; potential new owners, Steve Bruce, new signings etc. etc. but hopefully Saturday’s result will herald a new era for our club and give the Allam family the opportunity to be remembered for taking on a club on the verge of bankruptcy and possible closure and leaving it as a member of the richest most sought after league in the world, with an FA Cup final and European competition along the way. Over time the other stuff will become just white noise and that’s how it should be. The past is for resonance not for residence!

  6. gjhdurham
    gjhdurham says:

    A fourth visit to Wembley highlighted some of it’s faults for me and so don’t relate particularly to the eulogies to it above. The steadfast, autocratic, dogmatic refusal by the stadium not to open the outer toilets until 3pm…in spite of outside stewards asking them to…is rather typical of the way Britain is drifting IMO. First time I’ve been there so early, but there were sufficient around to merit some action on the toilet front. The tannoys are crap too. Just get the impression Wembley are a bit smug and sitting on their laurels and not looking at improvement.
    On to more positive thoughts… The Wendies fans were superb! What a noise, and loved the much critised inflatables and balloons! The ones I talked to on the train in and out were sensible, realistic and very grounded. Good luck to them. The empty seats at our end left a bad feeling in the stomach. How could so many think it made sense to miss out on such an opportunity? It might never come again. I had the old scarf round my neck again, who’s late owner never had the chance to see the Tigers at Wembley… As for Ticket Master…..!!
    Very, very nervous before the game and everyone I spoke to was wondering whether City would turn up! It was more universal than anything I’ve come across!! Think it explains a lot of empty seats…
    As it happened, I wouldn’t criticise any player, they all had decent games. Jako was good and very positive and Curtis immense!! Thudd managed to find space by working hard and they only caught him out a couple of times. Actually Diame does more work than you think with his big stride and lazy, deceptive style of running. Great goal!!
    A nervous ending…and just when you’re thinking positive thoughts, along comes Brucie with his weird substitution routine! Seemed it was just to give some of the lads who’d worked hard in the season a run at Wembley. What if we’d gone to extra time SB? Confirmed…I really do want a different manager next season!!!
    We now live in interesting times again. COYH…get it right in the close season!

  7. Ambertigerfan
    Ambertigerfan says:

    Well done City! Now let’s replicate Leicester’s form and win it next season!

  8. Rottenborough
    Rottenborough says:

    Wondering which City team would turn up had, in my view, little or nothing to do with the thousands of unsold tickets.

    I believe the reason can be summed up in two words.


  9. Bill Carson
    Bill Carson says:

    Just as 2008 was surreal, so too was this visit but in a different way. Quieter, more subdued and disappointing / embarrassing at all of the empty seats.
    Ticketmaster should refund all the £3’s as they made booking tickets so arduous a task.
    Inside Wembley it was very nervy but watching the highlights the next day, we should have won 3v0.
    Anyone a little wary of American owners?
    Hasn’t worked out too well at Villa or Man Utd, where the Glaziers are hated.

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