Many of the elements of a potential Cup upset were in evidence on the Essex coast on Saturday and for an hour there appeared to be every chance of the majority in a full house being treated to one. Then Matty Fryatt scored the first of his two well-taken goals and Hull City were on their way to a second successive 2-0 away win in the competition.
As in the previous round against Middlesbrough, Steve Bruce made nine changes – enabling him to rest several senior players for the League game at Crystal Palace on Tuesday – and got away with it. He could not have been sure of doing so for some time. The Tigers faced fired-up League Two opposition beaten only once in their previous 15 matches and a pitch that was slippery from the start and almost waterlogged in the torrential rain by the finish.
Hull are one of those clubs who would find a good Cup run agreeable, but know their priority is staying in the Premier League. Normally straightforward for a team in 11th place, that task is made more tricky by an awareness that, firstly, a mere five points separate them from the relegation places; and secondly that under Phil Brown five years ago they were sixth at Christmas and only secured top-flight survival on the last day.
That period was bookended by Brown’s two most famous moments at the club: a half-time team talk on the pitch when 4-0 down at Manchester City and a discordant rendition of Sloop John B to celebrate staying up. Yesterday he was proud of the performance of his Southend side and “just disappointed that the final third was the difference between the teams”.
His team tried to play, even if the pitch was not conducive to passing. Had Michael Timlin’s 30-yard drive dipped a fraction lower instead of thudding against the crossbar, who knows how the contest might have panned out? That was just after half-time and within ten minutes Fryatt had wriggled through to score at the other end.
Southend, who are planning to move to a new ground the season after next, kept hoping, and playing, but in the final minute Fryatt cut in from the opposite flank to beat the highly-regarded young goalkeeper Daniel Bentley again.
“It was always going to be trench warfare,” Brown said. But Hull dug in. “We showed the right desire and attitude,” Bruce said. “We can’t win the Premier League but we can win the FA Cup, as Wigan proved last year.”
The world knows what happened to them, but Hull’s controversial owner Assem Allam, who still wants to change the club’s name, has improved their chances of staying up by paying some £12.5million for strikers Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long. Although Danny Graham, with just one goal all season, again looked a forward bereft of confidence, Fryatt’s opportunism suggested he can still have a part to play.
Southend Utd (4-3-3): Bentley; Thompson, Phillips, Prosser, Coker; Timlin (Woodrow, 69), Leonard, Atkinson; Hurst, Corr (Eastwood, 87), Straker (Payne, 79).
Hull City (4-4-2): Harper; Rosenior, McShane, Faye, Figueroa; Boyd, Meyler, Quinn (Bruce, 87), Sagbo (Livermore, 82); Graham (Brady, 72), Fryatt.
Referee: Lee Mason.
Man of the match: Fryatt (Hull)
Match rating: 6/10