Play-Off Awesomeness

Saturday 14th May 2016 – Derby County 0 – 3 Hull City AFC

Championship Play-Off SF 1st Leg @ Pride Park, Derby

“…..Sheffield Wednesday, we’re coming for you…..”

Wow. Just wow. It is a rare moment when a performance just comes together, but when it does it is truly amazing. Fans, players, manager and occasion all joined forces and created something simultaneously remarkable and devastating.

Derby were well and truly ‘mauled’ yesterday; I hope I am not eating these words at 10pm on Tuesday, but this tie looks dead already. Forfeit now! The second-leg is surely a formality?! I’m not going to apologise for the arrogance or over-optimism in this post. If you can’t enjoy being 3-0 up half way through a two-legged tie, then when can you boast and gloat?!

After a season of never quite getting out of second gear, but always staying near the top, City left the automatic promotion spots towards the end of March, like somebody sneaking out of a party because the girl he was looking to chat up had snogged his best mate. It was an anti-climatic end to the season both on and off the pitch (more on the latter later) that ended with the aim of the last 3 games being to ‘grab 4th’ and have the benefit of the second leg at home.

And 4th it was. And our opponents? Derby County. A team that had beaten us 2-0 and 4-0 already this term. Nobody really wanted the play-offs; the club, the manager, the fans, and probably not the players – there has been an air of superiority around the club this season, and deservedly so. If this was Football Manager we’d have walked the league.

But we didn’t. And the play-offs it was. And on a sunny, but slightly nippy, May Saturday, the Tiger Nation ventured to the East Midlands.

I have only ever been to Derby for the football. I have therefore never been in the City centre. It could be beautiful (it probably isn’t though). But the location of Pride Park (or more recently, the iPro), whilst close to the train station, is not central. The early kick-off for Sky also meant there was little time for exploring beforehand – an 8am start from Kent, I arrived just after 11am, and made my way to the ground.

To get to Pride Park from the station is relatively simple, and depending on the length of your legs, takes 10-15 minutes. Like a lot of new builds, this one is through a retail park. Once you have ventured past the car dealerships and resisted the temptations of Chiquitos however, the ground itself is quite a sizeable affair. Capacity is just shy of 34k, making it one of the bigger grounds in the Championship (until next season when Villa and Newcastle arrive).

The club is to applauded however as despite the location, there are a myriad of food and drinks options outside the ground, including a small fans park (which looked like home fans only…), the usual burger fans joined by a host of pop-up options, a Starbucks and a Greggs!!! This writer opted for a pop-up burger which at £3.50 was deemed reasonable value, but I stopped short of the egg-cup sized portion of chips on the side (an extra £3).

Sup that day was in the ground – about £3 a pint. Nothing special. Lager, bitter or cider. But it did the job.

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Hull fans were situated in one of the corners. To our left was the rowdier of the home fans also behind the goal. The inside of the ground is pretty neat – it came almost as a surprise as it was probably about 7 years since I had last been. Despite being right at the back, the view of the pitch was fantastic. A stadium, that without sounding cliché, would not be out-of-place in the league above.

As it was play-off day, a great scene was made for Sky, who were no doubt throwing out all the usual “such a difficult league”, “so close to call” type superlatives beforehand. Derby opted to provide flags and confetti for the home fans to throw around and provide some ‘passion’ for the cameras.

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City fans opted to lift red cards en-masse instead, a protest aimed at the Allam family who continue to persist in ‘not fucking off’. Many have written on the subject much more eloquently than I will attempt, but a ticket price structure that sees kids and OAPs pay as much as adults is lunacy and could have a serious impact on the long-term supporter base of the club. Stop it now.

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But on with the show…

Protests over and City fans got behind their team. The stewards didn’t attempt to make anybody sit down, and cap tipped, were genuinely good value all day from what I saw. Once the flag waving fun was over, the Derby fans were relatively more subdued despite their team having most of the possession and being the better side in the opening exchanges.

On the half hour mark though City struck first. Hernandez shot from just outside the area and 1-0 it was. From where I was stood it looked like Carson should have saved it. But I wasn’t going to complain!

Derby had looked good before that, and I was expecting them to come back all guns blazing given the occasion.

Not to be. Being blunt, they shat it. They completely imploded and it looked like half-time could not come quickly enough for them. A bit (ok a lot) of luck was involved for the second; a shot from Odubajo (he’s magic you know….) ricocheted off the arse of Jason Shackell and Carson was beaten again. Chaos in the away end. The Derby lot started filing out for their half-time brews five minutes early. City fans were suddenly feeling confident enough to start singing about Wembley.

My mate booked his hotel in London at half time.

After the break I was again expecting a response from Derby but nothing came. Perennial continental butter fingers Eldin Jakupovic deputized for Alan McGregor on the day which had me worried, but Derby didn’t really test him.

The second half seemed much of a nothing. Derby tried to get forward. They even brought on Darren Bent. But City were in control. The fans just enjoying the occasion.

A third would have been nice but we weren’t feeling greedy. But a third we got. I didn’t really see it that well from my vantage point, but deep into second half injury time Robertson slotted home to send the tie to the mortuary. More chaos in the away end. Game. Set. And match. Barring nothing short of a total meltdown on Tuesday, Hull City will play their final game of the 2015/2016 season at Wembley Stadium. Our fourth visit since 2008. And a high likelihood of being in with a chance to say we have beaten both Sheffield clubs at our national stadium.

There are some games that live long in the memory. This will be one of them.

City are ace again. Bring on 28th May.

 

Footnote / Special Mention

I can’t end this blog entry without mentioning North Ferriby United; FA Trophy Winners in 2015 and promoted to the National League ‘proper’ (Conference for us traditionals) this weekend after an extra time 2-1 against AFC Fylde – a fantastic achievement. This is a club which at the start of the season looked like it was going down a couple of leagues to make the books balance. A village of 4,000 mixing it with fallen giants. Hope they enjoy the moment!! I look forward to seeing them when they travel south next season!

 

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