Tigers are a good team too
16 May ~ It is disconcerting to be going to Wembley this weekend to watch my hometown team in an FA, rather than Rugby League Challenge, Cup final. The notion of the underachieving Tigers being the successful sports club in Hull is only just starting to sink in as the build-up gathers momentum. For a while, the players and management also seemed to be struggling to locate the balance between being happy to be there and seizing the opportunity to land the club's first ever major trophy. The signs are, though, that they have found the formula and are raring to go, even if recent developments have increased the scale of the challenge.
Arsenal have rediscovered their form on the back of their best players returning to fitness. Conversely, Hull fell away badly during the last few weeks of the season and have injury concerns about key players such as James Chester and Sone Aluko.
Despite this, there are a number of factors that give them a serious chance on Saturday. Hull's late season loss of focus can be dated precisely to the semi-final and, somewhat perversely, suggests a strong will to win at Wembley. For many of their players, this final might be their only chance of winning something big in their careers and they are likely to perform accordingly.
The players have been competitive against the top sides this season. One of their strengths is an ability to adopt different systems, according to the circumstances. Some of this flexibility stems from the manager, Steve Bruce, who has become a smart operator. Bruce benefits from an absence of vanity: if his initial plan is not working, then he acts decisively to change it, as he did to spectacular effect in the semi-final.
Then there are the intangibles, such as Hull's proud 100 per cent record at Wembley and several great stories waiting to happen. Matty Fryatt missed over a year with an achilles injury and has had to wait for his chance. A classic goal poacher, he will be unfamiliar to Arsenal and has repeatedly been the Tigers' saviour during their Cup run. Midfielder David Meyler was told four years ago that he might never walk properly again after a knee injury described by Bruce as “arguably the worst any player has ever had”. And goalkeeper Allan McGregor almost lost a kidney at West Ham six weeks ago. He was not expected to return until well into next season but will now play on Saturday and has the ability to be the hero.
Of course, the usual cliches come into play. To win, Hull will need to be at their best and for Arsenal to feel the pressure. If the Gunners play well, they could win comfortably. But, as us longstanding fans sometimes have to remind ourselves in pessimistic moments, City are a good team too these days and not as big underdogs as some who have won the Cup in the past. Paul Knott