In a game dubbed the most valuable in world football, Mohamed Diame produced a rare moment of quality to match the occasion, ensuring that, 370 days after they were relegated from the Premier League, Steve Bruce’s Hull City side secured their return.
Having seen their challenge for automatic promotion fade in the final weeks of the season, Bruce’s side, who eventually finished fourth, have been sufficiently revived to take their place alongside Burnley and Middlesbrough in the top-flight. The financial rewards are clear - promotion comes with a guarantee of around £170m revenue rising £290m if they survive their first season – but for Bruce and his players, status is everything and their play-off final victory at Wembley emphatically drew a line under last year’s disappointment.
Diame’s 72nd minute goal, a superb, curling shot struck from 25 yards, proved the difference and while Sheffield Wednesday believed they might have been awarded a penalty when Lucas Joao’s shot struck Michael Dawson’s arm, the reality was Hull created the better chances and would have won more convincingly but for Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood.
Bruce admitted after that the financial implication of relegation from the Premier league last season had left the club in trouble, and believed that Hull’s wastefulness in front of goal would end up costing them dear. Luckily for Bruce, it didn’t.
“I said at the start of last season it’s arguably the most difficult period,” Bruce said afterwards. “We didn’t sign a player until the back end of July. We had to repair the financial hole of relegation. That’s never easy - people lost their jobs. Thankfully we had enough in the squad to get us back up there.
“That game summed us up. You keep thinking ‘are we just relying on Hernandez?’ The goal was a wonder goal, which would grace any final.
“I thought we’d had too many chances. You can’t keep missing them. We probably had five or six and when I saw Robbo knock it over I didn’t think it was going to be our day.”
Bruce was also quick to praise match-winner Diame, who has returned from injury this season to help fire Hull back to the Premier League.
“Diame’s produced that bit of magic and I’m pleased for him after a serious knee injury. His quality has got us back,” he added.
“It’s been a long five weeks since we realised we couldn’t get automatic promotion. I thought I went through the ringer against Derby. Today, in the last 15 minutes when they put the land of the giants’ on, I thought ‘oh dear’. We deserved to win the game.”
The question now for Bruce is can he keep Hull afloat next season?
“Nobody gave us a cat in hell’s chance of staying up three years ago. We did it,” he said.W”e know we’ve got to be at our maximum, to invest well. When you’re a club like Hull, trying to get people to improve you is going to be very difficult.”
Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal admitted that Hull deserved to win, and was keen to stress that the Owls should be proud of their run to the final, even if they fell at the final hurdle.
“We tried to do our best but we usually play better than this,” said Carvalhal. “But the emotional tie between the players and the supporters after the game, I think we woke up the genie. Sheffield Wednesday will be respected more after this. It was a very strong sign for the future and everything will not be like in the past for Sheffield Wednesday.
“I think Hull deserved to win, they created the chances and scored the goal. So I don’t want to create anything by talking about whether we should have had a penalty.”
Back at Wembley for the first time since the FA Cup final replay in 1993, Wednesday were hoping to return to the Premier League for the first time since 2000. They were also bidding to follow in the footsteps of Blackpool in 2010 and become only the second team in eleven years to finish sixth and still gain promotion. Their resilient performance in the second leg of their semi-final with Brighton suggested they were capable of bucking the trend and the confident manner in which they started the game did nothing to undermine that view.
An early effort from Tom Huddlestone, the Hull midfielder, forced Westwood into an early save, but that moment aside, Bruce’s side appeared inhibited during the opening half hour while Wednesday approached the game with a more confident air.
Fernando Forestieri had been accused of being a serial diver by Hull midfielder Robert Snodgrass on the build-up to this game but the Italian could not be accused of drawing on the dark arts when he was cynically chopped down by Michael Dawson in the tenth minute. The Hull captain was cautioned but Forestieri almost inflicted more significant punishment with the resulting free-kick that tested keeper Eldin Jakupovic‘s reactions and confirmed Wednesday’s upbeat start.
Yet despite spending long periods in their opponents’ half, Wednesday were guilty of failing to put enough pressure on Jakupovic’s goal, allowing Hull to establish a foothold in the game and develop a period of momentum that should have seen them ahead before the interval.
Kieran Lee, the Wednesday midfielder, was well placed to clear Abel Hernandez’s 30th minute header off the line although Dawson was convinced Lee used his hand as he diverted the defender’s follow-up away to safety.
Three minutes later, Hernandez again came close, this time after being sent clear on goal by Diame, with his toe poke drawing outstanding reaction save from Westwood. Then it was the turn of the woodwork to come to Wednesday’s aid after Diame struck the woodwork. The Hull playmaker was growing increasingly influential and benefitted from poor defending as he skirted around three Wednesday players before striking an angled shot that deflected to safety off Westwood’s right hand post.
Wednesday were reeling but Hull’s inability to make more of their opportunities ensured that, while they were relieved to reach the interval on level terms, Carvalhal’s side were strengthened by the sense they had earned a reprieve and started the second period in a similarly positive way to the first.
Nevertheless, Hull remained the more threatening side in the final third and it took another excellent save from Westwood to beat away Dawson’s half-volley from Snodgrass’s cross. And the keeper was entitled to think this could be his day when Hull left-back Andy Robertson skied over from close range after making a long run forward to meet a low cross Moses Odubajo.
But having wasted their easiest opportunity to score, Hull went ahead when Diame collected Snodgrass’ s pass and finally found a way past Westwood with a fine finish from 25 yards. Wednesday were deflated and remained incapable of finding an effective cutting edge.
Hull City (4-2-3-1): Jakupovic; Odubajo, Davies, Dawson, Robertson; Livermore, Huddlestone; Elmohamady, Diame (Maguire 89), Snodgrass (Clucas 83); Hernandez (Meyler 85).
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Loovens, Pudil (Joao 87); Wallace (Helan 63), Lee, Hutchinson (Nuhiu 76), Bannan; Forestieri, Hooper.
Referee: R Madley.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies