Thursday 22 February 2018

Bruce's tame Tigers bow out with a whimper

Hull City 0 Manchester United 0

Hull City’s Irish internationals Stephen Quinn and Robbie Brady look dejected at the end of yesterday’s scoreless draw with Manchester United
Hull City’s Irish internationals Stephen Quinn and Robbie Brady look dejected at the end of yesterday’s scoreless draw with Manchester United
Paul McShane lies injured after a collision with Marouane Fellaini, resulting in a red card for the United midfielder
Stephen Quinn, David Meyler, Sone Aluko, Robbie Brady and McShane are all alone with their thougths
Phil Jones consoles Paul McShane after the final whistle
Hull City manager Steve Bruce couldn't hide his emotions during his side's match against Manchester United at the KC Stadium yesterday

Henry Winter

The cost of relegation lay all around the KC Stadium.

Hull City fans gathered afterwards by the Manchester United coach, seeking a close-up of Wayne Rooney and Ander Herrera. When would the KC see their illustrious like again?

The fans also waited, clutching their camera-phones, for their own players, wondering how many of them they would see in the Championship.

Nearby, around 50 Hull fans briefly lurked near the car belonging to the owner, Assem Allam, until police formed a cordon.

Some had chanted against Allam at the final whistle, voicing anger over his desire to change the club's name.

But this was a day of numbness over changed status, not a time for recrimination. It was a day of frustration over inconsistency and injuries during the season, of the strikers' failure to take chances in the damaging home losses to Burnley and Leicester City.

The atmosphere afterwards was of a quiet wake, of an acceptance of their fate.

"The supporters are unique; they gave us a standing ovation but we let them down,'' said Steve Bruce, a dignified, measured figure amidst the debris of relegation.


Maybe the fans were simply appreciative of the shift put in by players like Paul McShane, Michael Dawson and Robbie Brady in attempting to defy the odds, and events at St James' Park.

Hull attacked and attacked, even when news spread of Moussa Sissoko's goal and then of Jonas Gutierrez's, even when their relegation to the Championship after two years in the elite division was confirmed as the update from up the coast revealed Newcastle had won.

They attacked a bit more, valiantly but vainfully. There was no way back. Only down. The final whistle could have been replaced by the tolling of the bells.

Hull's fans chanted "City till I die,'' and they will be through thick and thin, through trips on the country's B roads as well as when rubbing shoulders with A-listers like United.

The cost of relegation is emotional and financial, affecting prestige and purse strings.

Hull took great pride in being a Premier League team, knowing how important it was for the city's reputation, nationally and globally. Relegation will affect local business.

It will affect Hull's accounts. Parachute payments of £60m over four seasons, including £25m in 2015-16, will soften the blow slightly.

However, the fact remains that Hull's Premier League 2013-14 income was £84.5m - a huge hike on their 2012-13 Championship income of £11.1m. Contingency planning was already in place with some players set to see their wages halved. Sales are inevitable and there was something particularly distasteful, almost cynical, about Abel Hernandez's 74th-minute punch on Phil Jones.

It looked the act of a player who did not care about his future at Hull, who knew that a three-match ban would simply accelerate his exit.

The offence was missed by Lee Probert but not the cameras and a call from the English FA.

Probert also failed to take action over Rooney's kick at Brady, although he did notice the sly deed.

Gaston Ramirez and Dame N'Doye may not take to life in the Championship and are expected to follow Hernandez out of the KC.

Hull have spent £40m this season to no obvious effect.

The £12 million received for Shane Long was welcome but they lost a hard-working striker who has not been prolific for Southampton but whose brace against Aston Villa last week showed his abilities.

As well as the gloom of relegation, and the assorted costs, Hull should also be concerned about Bruce's mood afterwards.

He was composed but clearly hurting deeply, and kept taking all responsibility on to himself, ignoring that players like Hernandez let him down.

A fighter by nature, Bruce is not the type to walk away but he freely admitted he would reflect on the situation. "At the end of the day I've not been good enough,'' Bruce admitted.

Old friends sent him down. This was Bruce's 18th failed attempt to beat his old club.

It had to be this emblem of the glamorous, moneyed Premier League as Hull's final-day opposition, a reminder of what they would be missing.

It had to be a game against Rooney and Herrera, the type of stellar opponents Hull crave pitting themselves against season in, season out.


Knowing how much the odds were against them, Hull did everything to try to inspire the players. They handed out free black-and-amber scarves to fans outside the ground.

The Beverley Brass Band played Can't Help Falling In Love as a hen party strolled past, enjoying the warm weather.

Inside the KC, Hull's fans paraded a banner proclaiming 'In Bruce we trust' and a six-year-old held up a home-made sign pleading 'Steve Bruce - Keep Us Up'.

Some fans sat there with headphones on, or checking phones, awaiting updates from St James' Park.

"Let's hear you take the roof off this place today," screamed the stadium announcer.

Hull's players needed to take the back of the United net off first. They had to score.

Dame N'Doye went close from a Brady cross but not close enough.

Hull fans were then up out of their seats, cheering when Victor Valdes fumbled, allowing McShane to place the loose ball in the net but it was correctly ruled offside by Darren Cann.

Valdes then demonstrated his excellent shot-stopping abilities, dropping quickly to his left to push away Ahmed Elmohamady's header.

It was a stunning save, a reminder of the quality United have in reserve when, as sadly seems inevitable, David de Gea departs for Real Madrid in the summer.

Valdes, though, can look vulnerable under pressure at set-pieces.

Cann then spotted that N'Doye was offside as he flicked Stephen Quinn's effort past Valdes.

Two offsides and a wonder-save. Hull were going close but the equation demanded they score otherwise the Championship beckoned.

Their fans sighed, and then sang in support again: "Steve Bruce, Steve Bruce".

United's travelling contingent were in typically good voice but the team were largely quiet, barring a shot from Rooney that touched Harper's crossbar.

Even wearing all white was not enough to inspire Angel di Maria, the former Real Madrid player who departed injured after 23 minutes and was replaced by the busier Adnan Januzaj.

In the second half, word of Sissoko's goal accelerated the descent towards the Championship.

Then, cruelly, a rumour swept around the KC that West Ham had equalised.

Hull fans were punching the air, hugging each other, believing what proved false information.

The hubbub subsided like a balloon deflating.

Valdes saved brilliantly from Nikica Jelavic before Marouane Fellaini departed for a studs-showing challenge on McShane as Hull, ultimately, left the Premier League quietly. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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