Four in a row for Bruce


Hull City 1-0 Sheffield Wednesday –

In a league as competitive as the Championship, it is not easy to win one promotion, let alone four in a row. That is what Steve Bruce has achieved, after his Hull City side won 1-0 against Sheffield Wednesday in the play-off final, thanks to Mohamed Diame’s stunning strike.

Although his team had finish higher than their Wembley opponents, their season had been more turbulent. Wednesday approached the campaign with hope rather than expectation, they have played memorable football and almost always been comfortably in the play-off places, without threatening the top two.

Defeat on Saturday would not have hurt more for Hull, but it might have felt more like failure. The Tigers had pre-season ambitions of automatic promotion and when they fell away over March, before losing 4-0 at Derby in early April, questions were asked of Bruce and the pressure was on. Late goals in key games after that bad run re-kindled belief, as Abel Hernandez returned to form.

The Uruguayan had a quiet opening as Hull saw little of the ball, but the team showed their organization in a tense first half hour. Sheffield Wednesday had long spells of possession but were wasteful from set pieces and did not have an alternative outlet to Fernando Forestieri, to whom Hull cut the supply lines.

Thanks to battling displays from Jake Livermore and Tom Huddlestone in midfield, the East Yorkshire side forced Wednesday back, giving themselves a grip on the game. In the latter stages of the half, they built on that and showed more attacking quality. Kieran Lee was forced into two goal-line blocks, one of which allegedly with his hand though the referee gave nothing, before Hernandez was denied one-on-one by the outstanding Keiron Westwood. Diame’s power was key to their attacks and the midfielder went on a surging run, hitting the post with a close-range drive.

Hull had pressed well in the first half but their energy levels dropped after the interval. Equally, Wednesday got further up the pitch and displayed the kind of tenacity they had lacked earlier. Westwood’s route one kick found Forestieri, whose run forced a last-ditch challenge from the impressive Curtis Davies. The former Birmingham centre-back and partner Michael Dawson defended manfully, meaning Wednesday could not convert pressure into space in the final third.

Hull’s full-backs combined on the break for the team’s previous goal at Derby and nearly did so again. The industrious Moses Odubajo crossed for Andy Robertson, but the left-back could not replicate his strike in the East Midlands. Hull’s match-winning moment would instead come on 72 minutes. Diame was not closed down and the midfielder unleashed a wonderful effort from range which curled into the net.

Hull looked more comfortable holding onto their lead for 15 minutes with the same system and personnel, than they did after defensive changes. Once Hernandez and Diame came off, for holding midfielder David Meyler and centre-back Harry Maguire respectively, they lost their counter-attacking impetus. Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal gambled with four strikers on the pitch, substitute target men Atdhe Nuhiu and Lucas Joao encouraging ball after ball into the box which Hull were forced to deal with. At that time, they could have done with another quick player on the pitch, capable of carrying the ball forward to give the defence some breathing space.

However, Bruce’s decisions, both on Saturday and throughout the season, had been vindicated when the final whistle blew to signal Hull’s victory. It was disappointing for Sheffield Wednesday, who have been arguably the most enterprising team outside the top flight. They deserve credit for the progress they have made and with some defensive tweaks this summer, the Owls will expect to mount another promotion challenge next term.

On the other hand, Hull will play Premier League football next season. The question is whether their current manager will be in the dugout when they do, the 55-year-old suggesting he may consider his future, which could depend on boardroom matters. Bruce has mastered the Championship – to convince his doubters however, he must now achieve more in the top flight.