1. After putting in arguably the best performance of the season in Derby on Saturday, the exact same eleven put in a wretched, stomach ulcer-inspiring display just three days later. Indeed Tuesday night ranks among the worst of the campaign, yet at the end we were compelled to celebrate the prospect of yet another trip to Wembley. It took us 104 years to qualify for a game at the national stadium, yet on Saturday we’ll journey there for the fourth time in nine seasons.
2. The 2-0 loss to Derby serves as a timely reminder that play-off finals are usually endured, rather than enjoyed, at least until the final whistle. Remember the injury to Bradley Orr that held up the game soon after Dean Windass’ spectacular strike? That just allowed nerves to seep in and mash with our heads, as we contemplated having something tangible to lose. We’re excited about the game with Sheffield Wednesday now, but when that whistle blows to signal kick off beneath the giant arch of Wembley, that’s when 90 minutes and maybe more of harrow begin.
3. How on earth did City come so close to a disastrous reverse with no precedent in play-off history? Firstly, Derby were excellent. They had nothing to lose and everything to gain after being so comprehensively outplayed in the first leg, and played as such. However, it cannot have been beyond the collective wit of Steve Bruce and his players to realise that their visitors would pour forward from the start and that taking the sting out of the evening with some possession, territory and a bit of calmness would quickly see them subside. We could scarcely have got it more wrong.
4. It wasn’t until the introduction of David Meyler shortly after half-time that City establishing anything approaching a foothold in the game. Prior to that the side was an inch away from outright panic, and had Derby levelled the tie there’s little doubt they’d be going to Wembley this week. As it was, if City deserve meagre credit for anything, it’s that they did at least tough out the final half-hour, belatedly getting themselves organised and ultimately denying Derby any real chances. When Tom Ince, gratifyingly hopeless in both games, spannered over a shot from very long range with time running away from Derby, it finally began to feel like our night.
5. We cannot agree with the Derby manager’s assessment that his side merited a final place more than City. When the tie was 0-0 only one team turned up; Derby didn’t play until it was virtually lost. We understand his disappointment, because coming so close to making history will spend all summer hurting. But as good as Derby were at City, City were better at Derby.
6. The club’s decision to ban that cretin who needlessly squared up to Richard Keogh was pleasingly swift and correct. It’s frustrating that pitch invasions, largely spontaneous expressions of joy, are increasingly being treated as criminal offences (after all one of the most famous sporting events in English history has a well intentioned pitch incursion at its heart, “some people are on the pitch, they think it’s all over…”), but some of that is down to bell-ends such as the one who decided screaming at Derby’s captain was preferable to celebrating City’s achievement.
7. So, to the final. On paper, City are comfortably a stronger XI than Sheffield Wednesday. It is, as most games have been this season, essentially down to what Steve Bruce’s charges do. And the play-offs have reminded us that forecasting City’s mentality is impossible – we can be as brilliant as we can be terrible, often with little inbetween, within a short period of time, and in games criticial and routine. It’s infuriating.
8. Therein lies both a strength and weakness: if City really turn up in the final, we’ll be promoted. But there’s a significant chance that they won’t, and if that happens then Sheffield Wednesday are definitely good enough to beat us. It’s a worry that they’re going to want it so much. Seeing South Yorkshire types on social media declare themselves moral victors in advance because they’ll probably sell more tickets is growing tiresome, but it does demonstrate how enormously important this is for them. With their lengthy top-flight exile and a first Wembley appearance in a generation, how could it not be? We’ve been in the Premier League twice and graced the Wembley turf three times since. Be in doubt: we’ll be up against dangerous, determined opposition.
9. Was it really necessary to charge £98 for some tickets for the play-off final? £64 for a behind the goal view?
10. So, we’ll see you at Wembley. It’s almost tempting to be a little blasé about it, though a quick recap of our fascinating, storied but broadly glory-free history should remedy that. But for one day only, let’s forget all of the crap that surrounds the club at the moment, and relish visiting one of world football’s greatest arenas to watch our beloved Hull City AFC. It could just be glorious. Again.