Hull City 2 Cardiff City 2 match report: Tigers triumphant after a day of ups and staying downs
'I've never seen anything like it,' says Steve Bruce as he leads his side to Premier League riches
the kc stadium
Sunday 05 May 2013
"We have a score from Vicarage Road…" the PA announcer shrieked. "It's Watford one..." he paused. "Leeds United two!" Some erupted, some stared ahead disbelievingly and others flooded the pitch.
Every single one of the Hull City supporters celebrated in their own way, but none could quite fathom what they had witnessed in front of them on Humberside.
This is the Championship: the best league in the world, where the main aim is to hoist yourselves into the self-proclaimed best league in the world. Nothing is easy, nothing straightforward and the unpredictable is entirely predictable.
With two minutes of stoppage time to go in the final game of a 46-fixture League season, the Tigers were safely in the Premier League: 2-1 up and cruising, referee Keith Stroud pointing to the spot. Nick Proschwitz had a chance to add gloss to Hull's promotion to the top flight for the first time in three years. Fans were ready to see the net bulge, invade the pitch and be on their merry way, planning trips to Old Trafford, the Etihad and the Emirates.
It promised to be a story-book finish, but the striker, who had earlier scored the first goal to put Steve Bruce's side within touching distance of promotion, fluffed his lines.
No matter, they still led and were up against a 10-man City, who had seen Andrew Taylor sent off minutes before. But then Stroud adjudged that Abdoulaye Faye had handled in the box. Nicky Maynard blasted the penalty past David Stockdale. Let the drama commence.
Watford now needed to win their game against Leeds – which still had some minutes to play due to severe injuries – to go up instead.
A hush fell over the KC Stadium. Surely this was not how it would all end? Hull had had their chances in previous weeks and it seemed inconceivable that they had blown it after drawing against Bristol City and losing at Barnsley last week.
"People thought it was all finished with when we got the penalty," Paul McShane, who had scored the second goal, said. "I thought we were done, I was getting my head around that we were in the play-offs. Someone on the pitch said Watford were 2-1 up. I was devastated."
But then news filtered through that Ross McCormack had scored for Leeds at Watford, and the anxiety lifted in one swoop. Breathtaking. Pulsating. Confusing.
"We came in and watched the last 15 minutes of the Leeds game. All credit to them, because they had nothing to play for," said McShane, beer in hand. "You can't write it really – it was up there with Man City and United in the Premier League last year. It's been a whirlwind. It was surreal watching the Watford game in the tunnel – it was like a dream. People went absolutely wild."
At 11:30 in the morning, during a walk through the park adjacent to the KC Stadium, I asked a travelling Cardiff fan why they have finally managed promotion. He grinned and said: "To be honest, mate, we've just had more bottle this year."
It looked in recent weeks as if Hull were missing that vital ingredient, even more so when they went behind. Kim Bo-Kyung had time to pick out half-time substitute Fraizer Campbell, who coolly clipped it beyond Stockdale in the 49th minute.
Hull were stunned into action. Stephen Quinn's industry picked out Proschwitz to bundle in a 58th- minute equaliser. As this mental final day unfolded, Bruce's men saw their stars line up, the Premier League now in sight. One goal would seemingly do it, and it came five minutes after they had drawn level.
Robbie Brady sent over a wicked corner which found the most unlikely of heroes in McShane, the defender ramming it home with the same verve with which he plays.
That was all before the sensational ending to the closest season ever at this level. The finale summed up the nine months of Hull's season; they don't do comfortable wins.
Bruce said: "I've been in the game a long time and I've not witnessed anything quite like that. It was ridiculous having to wait for it. There were people waiting in tunnels, in corridors and hiding in toilets.
"We might not be as naturally talented as others, but they're a great bunch and have huge desire. It's been a fantastic effort by everyone. We've had horrific injuries but have kept quiet and ploughed on. The resilience of the squad has got us here."
With celebration comes realism, though. Bruce was keen to pay homage to the club's owner, Assem Allam, who he says has saved the club from becoming the next Portsmouth.
"I'd like to thank the chairman – this club would be down the tubes without him. To pump something like £50 million in is remarkable."
There was no singing on the pitch, no gimmicky soundbites, and they have no huge earners. This is a new Hull City, one which will deservedly benefit from the riches promotion brings.
Hull (4-4-2): Stockdale; Rosenior, Chester, Faye, McShane; Elmohamady, Meyler, Quinn, Boyd; Brady (Fathi, 88), Simpson (Proschwitz, 45).
Cardiff (4-5-1): Marshall; McNaughton, Turner, Nugent, Taylor; Noone (Maynard, 85), Gunnarsson, Kim (Gestede, 64), Mutch, Conway; Velikonja (Campbell, h-t).
Referee Keith Stroud.
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