For Steve Bruce and Hull City, the 2013/14 season has brought much encouragement. Back in the Premier League after a three-year hiatus, the Tigers’ good form at KC Stadium - where they have taken 25 points - looks set to keep them in the division. Hull are nine points clear of the relegation zone, effectively 10 when their goal difference is factored in, with five games to play and, but for an implosion in the season’s final month, Bruce will soon be able to plan for another campaign at English football’s top table
The FA Cup has brought further joy. Hull faced Premier League opposition only once en route to the semi-final stage - beating Sunderland 3-0 in the last round - and have conceded just twice in a five-game run that started by beating Middlesbrough at Riverside Stadium and also took in Southend United and Brighton and Hove Albion.
Bruce won the competition three times while playing at Manchester United but has not yet added to that haul as a manager. He may be without strike duo Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic - both cup-tied - but Sunday’s game represents a clear opportunity to guide Hull to their first ever FA Cup final.
Not that Sheffield United can be underestimated - just ask Aston Villa or Fulham. The Blades began their journey to Wembley with an away victory against Colchester United in November 2013. They won at Cambridge United and then knocked the Premier League duo out. Nottingham Forest were seen off at Bramall Lane before Ryan Flynn and John Brayford settled the quarter-final against Charlton Athletic.
The appointment of Nigel Clough has significantly aided the Blades and has helped turn around a season that began with hopes of promotion and, at one stage, threatened to end with relegation to League Two. That United lost three more games in the first 16 matches of the season than they have in Clough’s first 35 in charge is evidence of the 48-year-old’s impressive start to life in the Steel City. One win in four recent League One games has probably ended hopes of reaching the play-offs but Clough is still guaranteed at least one trip to Wembley before the season finishes.
He will hope to make it two - and should have a fully fit squad to choose from. The FA Cup was the only major domestic title that eluded his father, Brian, during an illustrious managerial career and Sheffield United may be 18/1 outsiders to win the trophy for a fifth time (they haven’t won it since 1925) but, on the basis of their run to the semi-finals, they will provide Hull with a tough test.
KICK-OFF: Sunday, 4.07pm
PAST THREE MEETINGS…
Sheffield United 2 (Evans 2) Hull City 3 (Simpson 2, Bullard), Championship, December 2010
Hull City 0 Sheffield United 1 (Yeates), Championship, October 2010
Hull City 2 (Naughton og, Halmosi) Sheffield United 1 (Sharp), FA Cup, February 2009
The last three times Sheffield United have reached the FA Cup semi-final, Arsenal have won it
Hull have reached this stage of the competition for the first time in 84 years
Both past FA Cup matches between the sides have required replays
Sheffield United have lost their last four FA Cup semi-finals
Sheffield United have lost on both of their visits to the new Wembley; Hull won on their only trip (all matches were play-off finals)
Hull City to win: 1.70
Sheffield United to win: 4.80
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