NO SOONER had Hull City secured a place in their first ever FA Cup final than manager Steve Bruce began the mind games, insisting "all the pressure" will be on Arsenal when they return to Wembley next month.
A decade on from playing in the fourth tier of English football, Hull secured their first major cup final appearance with a thrilling 5-3 defeat of Sheffield United.
The League One side - full of battling Scots - certainly played their part in yesterday's semi-final and went in at half-time 2-1 ahead, only to be undone by City's injection of top-flight quality at the break. Matty Fryatt, Tom Huddlestone, Stephen Quinn and David Meyler all scored in a much-improved second-half display by Hull, setting up a return to Wembley on May 17 when they will take the role of underdog against Arsenal.
"If you had said 10 years ago that Hull will play Arsenal in the FA Cup final, people would have been scratching their heads," Bruce said. "It just shows you what can be done.
"I've been in the competition 15 years and never been anywhere near. I've had good fortune being involved in FA Cups and today was a proper FA Cup tie. We don't see games like that very often at Wembley.
"A bit like last year when it was Wigan versus Man City, Hull play Arsenal. All the pressure will be on Arsenal because they haven't won anything in eight years. We've still got five weeks to go. We will enjoy it, we will enjoy the occasion and gain from the experience of today."
That experience was certainly a nerve-wracking one for Hull fans, especially during what Bruce admits was an "awful" first half.
Jose Baxter gave United a deserved 19th-minute lead and, moments after Yannick Sagbo had levelled, former Livingston playmaker Stefan Scougall ensured the third-tier side went in to the break ahead. But Bruce's decision to bring on Fryatt and Sone Aluko for the second half quickly paid dividends, although the Hull manager was quick to highlight the half-time team talk given by captain Curtis Davies.
"I didn't say much at half-time," Bruce said. "My captain did it all. It's a long time since I've been in a dressing room where the captain takes over. It used to happen a lot in my day. I just had a cup of tea and let him get on with it.
"He is a bit of a dying breed with the way football is nowadays."
As well as lauding his players and Hull's travelling fans, Bruce was quick to praise former club United for the manner of their performance at Wembley. Few would have been able to tell City were the top-flight side as the underdogs ran riot in the first half, giving their raucous travelling support genuine hope of progressing to the final.
It was not to be in the end but Nigel Clough's side were given a standing ovation at the end of a display that belied their lowly standings.
When Jamie Murphy - formerly of Motherwell - volleyed in on 90 minutes, it sparked a fervour among the United fans, who sensed that their side might have a chance. It was not to be. "I am both proud and devastated at the moment," said Clough. "I am certainly proud, I think that feeling will grow in the weeks ahead when we look back on what we've achieved in the FA Cup and very nearly today as well.
"We were close to making history as the first third-tier side to get to an FA Cup final and at half-time I thought we were well worthy of our lead. We played well in the first half and they changed it in the second half. Their second goal just after half-time was the killer blow for us, it got them totally going.
"They were rejuvenated and scored another one pretty quickly."