Friday, 17 May 2013

Tigers Squad Review 2013 - Forwards

2012/13 report

The Hull City forward line. A cause of concern and debate for the past three seasons. For all the good football we've played and for all the chances we've created, we haven't scored the goals we should have. We've scored enough (just) but aside from Matt Fryatt's near 1 in every 2 starts and Robert Koren's 8 or 9 from midfield, we just haven't had players who threaten the net enough. Fryatt missed almost the entire season this time with an achilles injury. The few games he did manage were irrelevant, he was nowhere near fit. His absence initially left The Tigers with three "natural" front players. Nick Proschwitz, the German signed for big money from Paderborn in the summer, looked to be the big front player we'd been desperate for since we dropped out of the Premier League. He never really settled though and struggled to impose himself in games. He wasn't quick enough, wasn't strong enough wasn't brave enough and wasn't good enough with his back to goal. He had some highlights. His late brace to see off Ipswich was crucial, his tremendous volley  at Leyton Orient in the FA Cup was the goal of the season and he nicked an equaliser against Cardiff on the final day that was, quite simply, priceless. Aaron McLean started only a handful of games before leaving for a loan spell at Ipswich in January. He's a willing worker but lacks the quality around the box in the Championship. Jay Simpson was the other "striker" in the squad. He's a good player, has decent feet, under-rated strength, intelligent movement and an eye for a pass. Outside the box, he brings a lot to the side but he doesn't have a strikers instinct and is erratic in front of goal. His heading is occasionally brilliant but often weak and his first touch is either sublime or ridiculous. He was often left out because he wasn't scoring goals but work his way back in because he was a good foil for others.

Frustrated with the efforts of his supposed strikers, Steve Bruce turned often to Sone Aluko and Robert Koren to play up or off the front in the first half of the season. Aluko was a revelation. He's got incredible balance and is able to evade challenges while stumbling or turn a defender while facing the wrong way. He's a really exciting player, the sort people pay to see and as a free signing from Rangers, was one of the bargains of the summer. Had he played the whole season, he'd have been in contention for Championship player of the season, he'd have got close to 20 goals and we'd have been promoted in March. Probably. As it was, his season was cut short in January by another achilles injury and he proved difficult to replace. Koren fell just short of double figures for the third season in a row. His impact wasn't quite so spectacular, probably as a result of having better players all around him.

With goals proving hard to come by despite the Tigers lofty league position and Bruce frustrated by fruitless pursuits of two muppets called Campbell in the January window, we instead took a chance on a previously unknown Egyptian called Gedo. Unknown in Europe that is, Gedo had a strong reputation in Africa having enjoyed Nations Cup success with his national team. He'd make a spectacular entry into English football. After a nondescript debut as a substitute at Brighton, he scored 5 goals in his next 5 games, all at the KC Stadium. He went off the boil a little thereafter, City losing the next 4 games he was involved in, with a foot injury being the probable reason for the loss of form. A final dip into the transfer market saw the arrival of George Boyd from Peterborough, initially on loan but with an agreement in place to sign permanently in the summer. He also settled quickly, used mainly as a front player, and scored 4 times in his first 6 appearances including a strike in the first minute of his home debut and a fantastic and vital winning goal at Huddersfield. He then faded as the long season took it's toll on the Tigers squad and ended the season with a whimper. In fact, his record of 4 win in 13 appearances isn't at all impressive. It's a wonder we got promoted at all!

The Future

Jay Simpson will not be retained when his contract expires at the end of June and neither will youth product Mark Cullen, who has never really hit the heights he first threatened to. I don't think Bruce will pursue the permanent signing of Gedo and I have a feeling Nick Proschwitz may well return to Germany if we can find a buyer. Aaron McLean will also be allowed to move on, I'm sure. A fit Sone Aluko and Matt Fryatt will provide a boost in pre-season, Aluko especially if I'm honest. However it has to be said that without doubt, we must find a goal scorer. Because of our tight defence, we've gotten away with profligacy time and again but we can't realistically expect to do so in the top flight. Good teams will punish you far too often for missing chances. We need at least two strikers, perhaps even three if a clear out ensues.

We've already been linked with moves for Jordan Rhodes of Blackburn, who we surely can't afford, and Burnley's Charlie Austin. Both are good finishers who deserve a crack at the big league. I wouldn't turn down either.

Five to consider

Peter Odemwingie (West Brom) - A real figure of fun after his ridiculous antics in the January transfer window. This overshadows the fact that he's a very good front player with a decent record in the Premier League. He has pace to burn, he occupies and worries defences, he has good technical ability and that eye for a goal. He comes with baggage and probably a bit of a sideshow but he's a proven commodity at a bargain price.

Luchiano Becchio (Norwich) - It hasn't happened at all for him since he left Leeds for Norwich in January. We were interested then but couldn't compete realistically. Norwich may well cut their losses with the imminent arrival of the wonderfully named Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and we could be at the head of the queue. Becchio is a strong front player, a big threat in the air and decent finisher. If we set up again to get crosses into the box, he'd thrive on that.

Dwight Gayle (Peterborough) - January signing for the Posh from Dagenham and Redbridge. He made an immediate impact in the Championship with his quick movement and his composed finishing. He's a nippy front player who plays off the shoulder and continues to improve at a rapid rate. Rumoured to be a target for Aston Villa.

Marlon King (Birmingham) - Just kidding.

Fraizer Campbell (Cardiff) - Kidding again! Sorry.

Adam Le Fondre (Reading) - An absolute born goalscorer. He just has the knack, the intangible that you can't really teach. He's a "right place, right time" sort of player. His all-round game isn't great, though t is improving. He's not going to win the ball in the air, pull down long balls and bring people into play but if you put the ball in good areas, he'll score goals. His asking price could be high if there is sufficient interest in him but as neither of his last two managers have shown the faith in him to be a Prmeier Legae striker week in, week out, he could be tempted.

Darren Bent (Aston Villa) - I'll admit, I don't see this one. He's on something like £80,000 a week and Villa want to recoup a decent amount of the £24m they paid for him. He'd have to take a 50% pay-cut to become the second highest paid player in our history. He's also been less than complimentary about us in his past! I'll add that I'm not a massive fan of him at the top level. I've never thought he had the all-round game to play for England or in a top four team. What's indisputable though is that with his pace and his finishing ability, when he's part of a team that's set up for him, he's a goal scorer. He has history with Steve Bruce and he needs a home and we need a goal scorer. So it fits. But it's 5% likely I think and that's being generous.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Tigers Squad Review 2013 - Midfielders

2012/13 report

The area of the team that evolved the most over the course of the season. We started with a four man midfield for the opening couple of games but for the most part, we'd play a three with two wing backs thereafter. We also started with Robert Koren and Sone Aluko as part of the midfield but they were generally considered for the front line afterwards, while four of the regular five in midfield arrived (and departed) throughout the season.

Steve Bruce was always looking to get more "beef" in midfield. It was obvious from the start he thought we were too small and lacked strength in that department. Despite playing a big part the previous season and starting this, Paul McKenna was swiftly cast aside. If Bruce felt he lacked the bite and size he wanted, the stupid red card at Doncaster and resulting three match ban didn't endear him to the manager either. He played sporadically after that and was sent to Fleetwood on loan. Corry Evans was another vertically challenged player who struggled to hold down a regular place. Unlike McKenna, Evans has the mobility to make up for it but despite his generally stellar performances, he was often left out for someone a bit bigger or nastier. He had a dip in form in the new year (put down to coping with having a new baby by the manager) but was always a key part of the midfield when we played well. The manager attempted to get some of the height he craved in the team by calling on forgotten man Seyi Olofinjana. Like Paul McShane, Olofinjana was in the last year of a lucrative contract and had been cast aside by previous managers. Bruce eventually found out why. While capable of the odd strong performance, moving the ball around midfield, Oily is generally a passenger. He's forgotten how to tackle and track runners and he's got no idea what that big white rectangle thing at the end of the pitch is for. He ended the season at Sheffield Wednesday on loan. Cameron Stewart started on the opening day against Brighton; his only league start of the season. He took in loan spells at Burnley and Blackburn and didn't play there either. Tom Cairney didn't manage a single league start despite being praised for his conditioning on his comeback from injury. Youngster Dougie Wilson broke into the first team reckoning for the early rounds of the FA Cup and then went to Grimsby to get a bit of experience. Ahmed Fathi came in with Gedo in January but never made a break through. His big chance came against Wolves when he started the game, played very well and then gifted them the ball to score the winning goal.

On the final day of the summer transfer window, Bruce picked up Ahmed "Elmo" Elmohamady on loan from Sunderland and stole Stephen Quinn from Sheffield United for a fee maxing out at £100,000. Their first three games for the Tigers were the 3-1 win over Bolton, 4-1 drubbing of Millwall and the 3-2 win at Elland Road. I wonder if any player has ever had such success in his first three appearances? Quinn was a revelation in midfield. A busy, biting figure with a shock of ginger hair. He works incredibly hard but it's never wasted effort, it always has a purpose, be it covering his full back at one end or arriving in the box with a beautifully timed run at the other. He made a massive difference to our game. As did Elmo who became the regular right wing-back. His impact became obvious in January when he was recalled for a spell by Sunderland. Even a full back as good as Liam Rosenior couldn't fill his boots at wing-back. We missed Elmo's drive, his strength and particularly his ability to dig out a cross from anywhere in the attacking third. A season of marauding from goal-line to goal-line eventually took its toll on him but his contribution, regardless, was massive.

In November, Bruce completed his midfield. Firstly Robbie Brady arrived on loan from Manchester United to cover the injury to left back Joe Dudgeon. Brady spent the previous season on loan with us and while he had obvious ability, he could also be incredibly wasteful, making terrible decisions around the box. He'd shoot when he should pass (and not score) and try and beat a man when he could get a cross in (and lose the ball). I'll be honest, I didn't see him as a left back (or even wing back) in a million years. He'd prove that to be very wrong. He's not perfect, he still combines wrong decisions with over hit crosses and woeful set pieces but the ratio of good to bad is much higher. Defensively he was rarely found wanting and he provided his fair share of goals and assists. When the threat of a promotion rival pinching him in January became apparent, the club shelled out £2.5m to sign him permanently. He paid that off in one afternoon with a magnificent performance in the final day shoot-out with Cardiff. The other November addition was Sunderland midfielder David Meyler. He has a lot of the aggression and size that Steve Bruce had craved since day one. His initial loan move was also turned into a permanent deal in January for a similar fee to that spent on Brady. It also proved good business as he stiffened us up, linked well with Elmohamady and chipped in with five goals. His passing can be erratic and what he brings isn't always appreciated but when he was absent through suspension late in the season, we missed him big time.

The Future

Midfield looks to be our strongest area, squad wise. When you add-in forwards Boyd, Koren and Aluko, we have a fair number of options. Bruce would probably still like a big defensive midfielder and will have to replace Elmohamady, either as a wing back or a right winger. He'd probably like to buy Elmohamady but will be keeping his options open.

It's the end of the line for McKenna, Olofinjana and probably youngster Danny Emerton, who are all out of contract. Cameron Stewart has no future here either. I'd also be surprised if we pursue a permanent deal for Fathi. An interesting case is that of Tom Cairney. He has obvious ability and performed well in the Premier League last time but has never really taken on the Championship. I wouldn't be shocked if he was sold. Nor would I be completely stunned if Corry Evans moved on. I'd be disappointed but I've never felt like Steve Bruce really rates him.

Five to consider

Mile Jedinak (Crystal Palace) - This guy needs to be playing Premier League football next season, regardless of whether Palace win the Play-off final. He's a big presence in midfield, he's good in the air, solid in the tackle and can play a bit too. He's probably the sort of leader we've been missing for a good couple of seasons. Real captain material.

 Liam Bridcutt (Brighton) - Terrific little defensive midfield player, a product of Chelsea's youth system. He breaks up play incredibly well and launches attacks from the back. He's comfortable on either foot, quick over the ground and switches play with accurate long passes. His height would possibly put Steve Bruce off and his price tag may well be prohibitive too. If he was our player, I'd be wanting £3m for him, minimum.

Rodolph Austin (Leeds) - Jamaican international brought to Leeds last summer by Neil Warnock. Stoke tried to sign him during our original sojourn into the Premier League but couldn't get a work permit. He's a hulking defensive midfielder who loves a tackle and has a decent shot on him. Can cross the line between committed and undisciplined so is a risk but is a good athlete and a commanding presence.

Bakary Sako (Wolves) - The one bright spot in an awful season for Wolves as they escaped the Championship at the first time of asking, but through the wrong door. A lightening quick winger with tricky feet and a real eye for goal. He's capable of delivering good crosses. He's had a good footballing education, he's only 25 and has a season in England under his belt. Well worth a look.

Luke Murphy (Crewe) - The latest star off the Gresty Road production line. 23 year old central midfielder already approaching 200 career appearances. Tidy, mobile, often inventive and with an eye for goal. He's going to get a big move soon and it would be nice to see City use a rare position of strength to snap up a genuinely brilliant prospect.

Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Tigers Squad Review 2013 - Defenders

2012/13 report

I don’t know when Steve Bruce came up with the idea of playing three centre halves, whether it was always his intention or something he fell into but one of the first things he did last summer was increase his stock of centre halves. Following Jack Hobbs injury the previous season, Nick Barmby had been forced to use Liam Cooper and Sonny Bradley in the centre of defence. Bruce wasn’t planning to do the same. With the two young lads out of the equation and only a useless ginger Irishman as backup, Bruce had to find help for James Chester. Chester, our crown jewel, had another fine season. Whether in a back three or four, he’s always the same. Composed, assured and confident, capable of bringing the ball out of defence and launching an attack. He’s quick over the ground and strong in the air for one so, relatively, small. He generally times his tackles beautifully though it does go spectacularly wrong occasionally. There are areas where he’s still learning, he gets too tight at times and has to concede fouls and he can get over confident with the ball at his feet. Bruce strengthened the back line with the popular signing of Abdoulaye Faye and the less popular signing of his son, Alex Bruce. Faye produced what most thought he would. He was rock-like at the back. He proved valuable in the air in both boxes and calmed everyone with his vast experience. At times his age caught up with him and he had to be rested or picked up niggling injuries. Because of the competition, this often meant missing numerous games until his chance came again which must have been deeply frustrating. At the crucial point of the season, when fatigue and expectation overcame most players, he produced his best performances of the season, proving himself a big game player.

Alex Bruce suffered from the “nepotism” tag when he joined. His reputation was also damaged by having been part of the habitually pathetic Leeds United defence prior to joining. His performances in black and amber made a mockery of it all. He barely put a foot wrong when called upon to play in defence. Even when asked to play in midfield to provide a bit of bite, he gave it everything and played his part in two vital away wins at Millwall and Burnley. He’s not technically gifted but he’s got bottle and determination by the lorry load. Speaking of which, Jack Hobbs returned in December, having suffered a serious knee injury 8 months prior, and looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. He settled back in quickly and produced the same consistent level of performance as he had before the injury, even though the Tigers were now playing a back three. He’d obviously been taking everything in whilst sitting on the sidelines.

It was fortunate for Steve Bruce that he had five centre halves available to him because Chester apart, they all suffered injuries at one time or another throughout the season. Whenever one went out, someone else came in and did a good job. The most surprising of those was the aforementioned useless ginger Irishman. Paul McShane's Hull City career was going nowhere in September. He was counting down the days until his contract ended and he could go elsewhere. The fans were counting down the days until we didn't have to pay him anymore. Then he played. And he was good. And he played again. And he was good again. Game by game he turned everyone around. To the point where there'd be disappointment on the terraces if he was missing and fans were demanding he be offered a new contract. And then he recovered from a season ending injury in about 5 minutes and scored the goal that won promotion. Redemption.

It' difficult to judge the Tigers full backs this season. Joe Dudgeon was a fixture at left back early on and looked much improved before his season was cruelly ended by injury. The always reliable Liam Rosenior was sidelined by the wing back system and the form of Elmohamady. Andy Dawson rarely featured in his testimonial season, a sad end to a "hall of fame" career for Daws at Hull City.

The Future

Several defensive players are out of contract this summer. Youngsters Danny East and Sonny Bradley have already moved on to Portsmouth with new contracts not being offered. Andy Dawson looks set to see his time at the club come to an end. Liam Rosenior should be offered a new contract, we won't find a more committed and versatile defender for free. Paul McShane will definitely be offered a new deal too. Abdoulaye Faye has triggered another year due to his appearances last season.

James Chester had another year on his contract but the club are desperate to have him extend it, for obvious reasons. He looks to be our one genuine Premier League quality defender. Faye obviously has been in the past but I wouldn't want to have to rely on him most weeks given his lack of pace. Alex Bruce, as good as he was last season, isn't a Premier League defender. Jack Hobbs has a way to go before he is too. And this may not be popular but I don't think Paul McShane is good enough either. It's been great to see his recovery and he deserves a new contract and another shot at it but he's still not quick enough or big enough. Hopefully the rashness has gone with added experience.

I'd be surprised if we take the 3-5-2 system into the Premier League. Regardless, I think we need at least one top class centre half and competition at full back on both sides.

Five to consider

Curtis Davies (Birmingham) - Davies has already been linked with The Tigers. If he's the sort of player Steve Bruce is looking at, it justifies everyone's faith in Bruce as the man to take us forward. Davies has always had the size and athleticism to be an impressive centre back but has shown the maturity and knowledge of the position in the last few years. There'll be strong competition for him, from his old boss Chris Hughton at Norwich for starters, but he'd be a very astute signing.

Maynor Figueroa (Wigan) – I'm surprised this link hasn't appeared in the national press yet, it's such a good fit. Figueroa was brought to England by Steve Bruce. He can play as a left back or as a left sided centre half in a back three. He's got good size, pace and strength, he attacks well and he's capabale of the odd spectacular strike on goal. I'm unsure of his availability after Wigan's relegation but he'd be a fine addition to a young, hungry squad.

Rhys Williams (Middlesbrough) – This is a questionable one, I'll admit. Williams was building a terrific career for himself, progressing from the youth setup at Boro to become club captain and attracting interest from some top sides. He then suffered an injury in 2012 and has never recovered his previous form. Because of that, his asking price will be significantly lower and the competition for his signature less stiff. It'd be a gamble but he's a fine player and with a fresh start and a good pre-season, he'd be a useful addition, fitness permitting. He's versatile, mobile and only 24 years old.

Craig Dawson (West Brom) - England U21 international and Great British Olympian who signed for WBA in 2010 but has never quite made a place his own. Enjoyed an impressive loan spell at Bolton and proved his worth at both ends by scoring twice against the Tigers on one particularly miserable afternoon at the Reebok Stadium. He's still only 23 and will improve with regular football.

Matthew Upson (Stoke) – Ex-England international who has spent the last two season in the career graveyard known as the Britannia Stadium. Has recently enjoyed a loan spell at Brighton where he's found some of his old form. He may be 34 but he's still fit enough to play at least another year at a decent level. He's a left sided centre half who'd give good balance, he can play out from the back and he doesn't mind a battle. He's available for free this summer. He wouldn't be first on my list but he'd be a decent Plan B.

Tigers Squad Review 2013 - Goalkeepers

2012/13 report

The Tigers used four goalkeepers throughout the league season while 18 year old Joe Cracknell, who has just signed his first pro contract, had to sit on the bench for the three FA cup ties. On-loan Manchester United ‘keeper Ben Amos started the season as Steve Bruce’s preferred number one. Having another loanee between the sticks was far from ideal but the England U21 international came with a good reputation. He settled well but mistakes crept into his game, small ones at first but they lead to howlers against Bristol City (away) and Blackpool (home) that shattered his confidence and Bruce lost faith in him. Amos returned to Manchester United before Christmas and was replaced by another loanee, Fulham’s David Stockdale. The big former-Darlo stopper made solid impression on most City fans and his confidence helped the defence recover their composure and he played a part in wins at Forest and Watford. Stockdale was recalled from his loan in December forcing Bruce to turn to free signing Eldin Jakupovic. The Bosnian also started well enough, despite looking shaky under crosses, but met a similar fate to Amos as his season imploded in spectacular fashion against Sheffield Wednesday at the KC Stadium. Robert Koren had just equalised for The Tigers when Jakupovic threw a harmless looking corner into his own goal. He was then injured in trying to recover the ball and left the field on a stretcher. That led to a City debut for Mark Oxley. He was signed from Rotherham in the glorious summer of 2008, one of the few promising players picked up while City enjoyed a rare position of strength, but had only managed unused sub appearances prior to this cameo. Bruce had to act following Jakupovic’s career suicide and was able to bring Stockdale back from Fulham for the rest of the season. That proved crucial in the run-in. Stockdale wasn’t flawless, he’s capable of dropping a cross or punching poorly, but he’s decisive and he’s brave enough to come for the next cross after dropping one. He was a steady influence on the defence when it mattered.

The Future

Loanee Stockdale has returned to Fulham and despite Steve Bruce’s interest in signing him permanently, it appears that Fulham’s asking price (speculated to be £3-4m) will prove prohibitive. Jakupovic will never be anything more than a back-up, probably relegated to third choice over the summer. Oxley is one of a number of players out of contract. At 22, he’s perhaps worth holding onto for another year. However, if Steve Bruce and GK coach Gary Walsh don’t think he’s likely to trouble the first team, he’ll be on his way. A first choice, permanent goalkeeper is number one on the priority list this summer.

Five to consider

Kasper Schmeichel (Leicester) – The son of Manchester United and Denmark great, Peter, Schmeichel is well known to and admired by City fans having impressed in the nets for Leeds and Leicester in opposition in the past few years. He’s confident and agile, lightening quick off his line and has excellent reactions. Not being the biggest, he can be troubled by crosses and his distribution isn’t the best. Leicester paid around £2m to take him from Leeds and will at least want their money back. At 26, he’s a good age and is desperate to play in the Premier League.

Simon Moore (Brentford) – The 22-year old has earned rave reviews starring for play-off finalists Brentford. He’s been a regular in the League One side for the past couple of seasons having been plucked from non-league Farnborough. He’s tall and agile and exudes confidence for one so young. He’s nowhere near the finished article and unlikely to be a Tigers number one but he is someone the club have had watched.

Shay Given (Aston Villa) – Experienced, international ‘keeper who at 37 has spent a season on the bench at Villa, watching ex-Tiger loanee Brad Guzan establish himself as number one. Manchester City paid £6m for Given four years ago but a similar fate befell him there as Joe Hart took over. He’d be an  ideal signing for a lower half Premier league team. He has bags and bags of experience having clocked up 400 appearances for Newcastle and 125 international caps. He’s a terrific shot stopper and while his height means he won’t wade into a crowded box and take crosses, it’s not held him back. Will surely be allowed to leave Villa Park for free despite having 3 years left on his contract.

Vito Mannone (Arsenal) – Another well known figure amongst City fans having spent two spells on loan at the KC. Had Nick Barmby stayed on as manager last summer, Vito would have been his number one summer target. He may not be on Steve Bruce’s radar however. He should be though, he’s a solid keeper, he’s vocal and he has terrific distribution. He’s coming to an age now where he needs to play first team football. His career is passing him by at Arsenal. Should be valued at around £1.5m.

Boaz Myhill (West Brom) – Why? He’s Boaz Myhill.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Hull City 2 Cardiff City 2

"It's written in the DNA of this club to do it the hard way" - Steve Bruce, April 2013

Never was a truer word spoken. And never will Saturday 4th May be forgotten in Kingston-upon-Hull, East Riding Of Yorkshire, Centre Of The Universe. The most unpredictable club in the world aiming for promotion from the most unpredictable league in the world. What could possibly go wrong?

For The Tigers, the mathematics were quite simple. A victory over Cardiff City = promotion to the Premier League. Any failure to do so would have to be matched by Watford for us to be successful. "The form book went out of the window" and "it's like a cup final" may be cliches but they were appropriate. City failed to win or even score in three games against Wolves, Bristol City and Barnsley, three of the four poorest teams in the league. Two of those performances were woefully shy of the standards we'd set during the season and anxiety had well and truly set in. We feared that they'd "hit the wall" as athletes often do or that the pressure of having had a golden ticket for the Premier League thrust upon them two weeks ago had proven too great. They didn't want it, they'd bottled it, blown it, choked, you name it, they'd done it. None of that mattered though. All we needed was one last performance. Despite their promotion having been confirmed weeks earlier we couldn't rely on Cardiff not turning up. They're the best team in the Championship on merit and their manager is a consummate professional. We had to win. Probably.

The atmosphere at the KC Stadium prior to kick-off was amazing. It was by far the best I've witnessed since we moved homes 10 years ago, including that play-off semi final against Watford in 2008. There was an electricity in the air. Despite the negativity in the streets, the workplaces and on the internet in the previous week, there was a positive energy around the stadium. A belief, I think, a collective belief. The sun soaked half the ground, the early kick-off didn't affect the merriment, the clapper-banner thingies left out for the kids made a racket and everyone was in good voice. The Cardiff fans stood in the North Stand looking ridiculous in fancy dress but not giving a damn. They were here for the party and to perhaps spoil ours. The segregation meant the sell out crowd was around 23,800 (that needs sorting) and despite our bravado, we were bricking it.

Despite having played with wing backs all season, the rumour pre-match was that Bruce was planning to play a back four and move left wing-back Robbie Brady up front. Brady has the ability to play as a forward but to change things so drastically on the last day of the season took balls the size of grapefruits. It would prove to be a move of genius, or the act of a desperate man.

Tigers 4-4-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Rosenior, McShane, Chester, Faye [M] Elmohamady, Boyd, Quinn, Meyler [F] Brady, Simpson.

I'm not sure there's another manager in the league who'd dare be so different and so bold in a match of such enormous importance. I'm also not sure how many times in his career Paul McShane has played as a left back. The idiots who'd decided we were a negative side because we performed poorly on TV a few times and haven't scored a lot of goals would have to eat their words. That perception really bothered me. It shouldn't really I know we were second in the league for a reason but it did. We've played some of the best football anyone has played this season, at times. The Leeds home game was the most complete Hull City performance I can remember. The destruction of Birmingham, twice, the win at Elland Road, the victories at Watford and Forest, going toe to toe with a terrific Leicester side on Boxing Day, slaughtering Millwall, whacking Bolton and Blackburn. None of those were on Sky so they don't count. I hoped we'd turn it on for the cameras on the final day. I hoped people would see what this side is capable of. Even though I shouldn't really have cared.

The first half passed without too much incident from our end. The Tigers played well. None of the tension of Oakwell came through, we moved the ball well on a pitch that's improved a lot in the past month and created a few opportunities. David Marshall was only called upon to make one save but save for a few moments when Cardiff broke at pace, we were in control. Andrew Taylor picked up a yellow card for blocking off Elmo who was then booked himself for a trip in their half. A nonsense decision. The crowd played their part, replacing the moans and groans at mis-hit passes and over-hit crosses with applause and encouragement. Before half time, Jay Simpson pulled up with an injury, looked like a hamstring, and was replaced by Nick Proschwitz who it's safe to say hasn't provided value-for-money for his £2.6m transfer fee.

The real drama of the half came 200 miles away at Vicarage Road. The Cardiff fans, enjoying our tension while they sat without a care in the world, had some fun by cheering in unison and chanting "1-0 to the Watford". 21,000 people checked their mobile phones while staining their underpants! It was a wind-up but a good one. News then came through that the Watford 'keeper had been seriously injured and there was a ten minute delay in their game (which ended up being 16 mins of first half stoppage time). I must have said a hundred times "We have to win this now, we can't be waiting around at the end for their game to finish, THAT WOULD BE AGONY!". No one listened. There was a cheery mood around the KC Stadium at half time though, courtesy of a Leeds goal at Watford. Yes, we cheered a Leeds goal (very loudly). Ten Hail Mary's all round. News of the goal spread as people listening to pocket radios leaped up and everyone else slowly caught on. I love it when that happens. There was a celebratory atmosphere at the KC that felt slightly premature. That was confirmed as Watford equalised during half time.

The second half kicked off with the situation just the same as at the start. Cardiff introduced a substitute. Fraizer Campbell. You might have heard of him. He received a mixed reception. I applauded him, I wasn't tempting fate. Unfortunately, fate didn't need tempting, she was already hanging over the KC Stadium on Saturday lunch time spitting on those in black and amber. Within three minutes Cardiff knocked a long pass between our centre halves, Campbell raced onto the ball and finished first time beyond Stockdale. For the first time in the afternoon, Watford were up, we were in the play-offs.

I had a moment of doubt, I admit. We don't win from behind. We've done it rarely in the past three seasons. A Leeds win at Watford was still as likely as Marlon King going a season without being arrested. We were in massive, massive trouble. If this team deserved to go up to the Premier League. If they had it in them to turn around three and a half matches without a goal or a win, now was the time to show it. Now was the time for heroes. Just for one day?

Step forward Nick Proschwitz. He'd caused them a few problems since his introduction. He worked his way into the game nicely and had caused enough distraction to allow Robbie Brady to get on the ball around the penalty area and give them problems with his dribbling ability. I thought we should have had a penalty when Brady was brought down in the box. I was a long way away but the Cardiff players' guilt was immediately evident. Just before the hour, a Tigers corner was cleared to the edge of the box before Kim presented it to Stephen Quinn. He curled in a delightful low cross and Proschwitz got enough on it for it to nestle in the corner of the net. Pandemonium ensued. I've not heard noise like it at the KC.

If you doubted the spirit and bottle in this Hull City side, and some have, the next five minutes would smash all of those doubts to smithereens. We put our foot on the accelerator and went for it. Another Tigers corner. A superb delivery from Robbie Brady put it low, six yards out, Paul McShane met it with his out stretched boot and it wandered into the same corner of the net. Redemption. It blew the roof off the place. I jumped around like a maniac. I cut my thumb, I don't know how. I kicked my trainer down the steps. I hugged a complete stranger in front of me. It was pandemonium times two. Of all the people to score the goal, McShane deserved it more than anyone. He's taken a kicking the last two years and he's accepted it without ever causing a fuss. When given a small opportunity to rescue his Tigers career, he took it. Both hands. A year ago, the thought of McShane getting a new City contract was utterly ridiculous. Now, we demand it. The chorus of "Don't Sell McShane" was long and loud. I joined in, breathless from jumping around like a lunatic and crooking like a sick frog. Ashbee at Yeovil, Barmby at Bradford, Deano at Wembley. This was up right up there. What a moment. It's beyond description. Enough to bring a tear to a grown man's eye.

Promotion was back in our hands. News came through that Watford were down to ten. Cardiff lacked a bit of interest. We were coasting. The ground was rocking and as the clock ticked past 80 minutes, the pitch invasion readied itself. Fathi replaced the excellent Brady who took in a standing ovation. Then came the most incredible few minutes of the season. Remember that quote from the beginning? The easy way was about to present itself to us. In stoppage time, David Meyler was shoved over in the box. Penalty. Some thought it was all over and invaded the pitch. The game was held up while the stewards and Police cleared the pitch. Nick Proschwitz spotted the ball, went to the 'keepers left and saw his shot palmed away. That was the moment to seal it. We'd have to hang on now. We hung on for about 20 seconds. A shot from the edge of he box smacked Faye on the arm. Penalty to Cardiff. It looked harsh. It was torture. It was unbelievable. And yet, given that this is Hull City, quite believable. Nicky Maynard sent David Stockdale the wrong way. It was out of our hands. 

The whistle went. The pitch was invaded halfheartedly. I wandered across it. My web connection had gone 10 minutes earlier. My texts wouldn't send and I couldn't call my brother to get him to commentate on the Watford game. All I could do was stand on the pitch, ignore Cardiff fans cheering in unison again to wind us up, and wait. This could have been the most glorious moment of the season. Instead, it was the hardest. It felt like an eternity. Occasionally the PA produced an update of the time remaining at Watford. Then it happened, Leeds United scored again. This time it spread it like wildfire. We could see from the pitch the groups of people huddled around listening going wild. Cheers flew up from around the TV's on the concourses. For the third time of the afternoon, it was utter mayhem. Watford, down to ten, needed to score twice. It was ours. That was confirmed minutes later. The Allams looked delighted. The players came out of the directors boxes and took the deserved ovation. Steve Bruce eventually joined them to an incredible roar. I looked up and saw the scene on the pitch on the big screen. It was incredible.

I stayed around as long as they'd let me. The Allams were still cheering and waving long after most had gone home. An impromptu game of football started up in the North Stand goal. I've no idea where the ball came from. Eventually the stewards got fed up of stewarding and insisted we all clear off to the pub.

I couldn't be prouder of this group of players. This is the biggest achievement in the 109 year history of Hull City AFC. We shouldn't lose sight of that. Had they failed to go up, I would have been distraught for them because they put so much in. No-one gave them a prayer. It wasn't quite as big an "against the odds" story from the inside though. Despite the massive odds offered outside of East Yorkshire and despite bookies fancying promoted clubs for promotion more than us, we should remember we finished 8th last season. We were at the very least the 8th best side in the league when it started. Not second though, we were nowhere near the second best team, Steve Bruce has done that. From the first week in the job, he identified the gaps in the squad and he went out and filled them. He's been measured in defeat, he's been gracious in victory and he's driven the group of players on to achieve. The Allams have backed him in a way you never felt they'd back Nick Barmby and have also got their just rewards.

The performance on the day was pleasing. No-one can doubt that we deserve to finish second. They can't doubt our quality or positivity. The goals for column may still be unimpressive but it was never for the lack of trying. I thought Robbie Brady was the pick of the players. He justified Steve Bruce's decision. He drove at them, he worried them and, for the most part, he made good decisions around the box. Everyone played well though. Stockdale showed great distribution that's oddly been missing from his game before now. Liam Rosenior stepped in like he'd never missed a game. McShanecould have played left back all his life. Boyd was refreshed and worked up and down the line. Meyler and Quinn were busy, carried the ball well and offered options all the time. Elmo was another who made the most of his second wind. Simpson and then Proschwitz took the hard knocks up front. The German did the better job though, he troubled Turner with his height and held the ball up. Debate about who is and isn't a Premier League player is for another time. They deserve their moment of glory first.

Hull City are a Premier League team again. It's still only ten years since we didn't even make the Division Three play-offs. After falling out of the Premier League last time with serious money issues, I wasn't sure at times that we'd even have a club in three years. We do have a club. It's healthy and it's thriving. Those fans who were there against Brighton on the first day of the season and every step of the way since deserve this moment. You backed them and believed when not many (relatively) did.

Thank you Nigel Pearson.
Thank you Nick Barmby.
Thank you to every player for the contribution the past three seasons, big or small.
Thank you Mr Allam.
Thank you Steve Bruce.
Thank you Paul McShane.

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