THESE have been a costly few weeks for Hull City.
Since booking their first appearance in an FA Cup final midway through last month, the Tigers have taken just one point from a possible 18.
In the process, Steve Bruce’s men have slipped from 12th in the Premier League to 16th. While this still represents Hull’s highest league finish, the late collapse in form, no doubt precipitated by thoughts of taking on Arsenal at Wembley, has come at a price.
Namely, £4,507,000, the difference between the £10,140,750 that Swansea City will bank in prize money for finishing 12th and the £5,633,750 coming Hull’s way in 16th.
To put that sum into context, it is a little over twice what Curtis Davies, voted Player of the Year last week, cost a year ago and only £725,000 or so less than Tom Huddlestone’s transfer fee.
It would have been worse, too, with Hull only holding on to 16th place thanks to Stoke City beating West Bromwich Albion courtesy of an 87th-minute winner from Charlie Adam.
Of course, Premier League status means the Tigers will not go hungry this summer with the best part of £62m flowing into the club’s coffers from broadcasting rights, both at home and abroad, for 2013-14.
That said, a £4.5m loss in prize money is one that will be keenly felt and, no doubt, reflected in the transfer budget handed to Bruce.
Not that this will perturb too many right now, not with the biggest game in the club’s history coming up next Saturday.
In recent weeks, it has been clear that Wembley has been dominating minds in Hull.
Not just in the stands, where the singing of ‘Que sera sera’ has become de rigueur since Sheffield United were beaten in the semi-final on April 13, but also on the pitch as the Hull players have edged ever closer to a day that promises to be the highlight of their careers.
Nowhere was this more apparent than at Old Trafford last Tuesday, when the Tigers could not have made it more obvious that minds were on the Cup final if they had come out of the tunnel singing ‘Abide With Me’ and carrying a replica of the trophy made out of tinfoil.
The result was a largely lifeless performance with no one in Hull colours making a tackle for an hour and Manchester United winning at a canter.
Hull were not as bad yesterday. But, much to Bruce’s frustration, Everton still coasted to all three points thanks to goals either side of half-time from James McCarthy and Romelu Lukaku.
The Tigers chief said: “My chairman will be disappointed (to finish 16th) because it is £1.3m per place. I am aware of that.
“So, to finish two or three places higher could have been a new player for next season.
“But we would have taken 16th and a Cup final to look forward to. Let’s try and look forward to it, as for eight months of the season we have been fantastic.”
Bruce’s response to the Manchester United loss had been to bring Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, both rested on Tuesday, back into the starting line-up along with a trio of players attempting to prove their fitness ahead of Wembley.
Allan McGregor, just 34 days after leaving intensive care in a London hospital following treatment for a damaged kidney and three cracked ribs, was one of those returning after a lengthy absence. It was not long before the Scottish goalkeeper was picking the ball out of his own net.
Just nine minutes, in fact, had elapsed when neat inter-play between Lukaku and Steven Naismith saw McCarthy played through. McGregor raced from his line and managed to get one hand on the former Wigan man’s shot only for the ball to loop into the net.
Everton should have doubled that advantage on 21 minutes when Gareth Barry had sufficient time to pick out Naismith, who, unmarked, shot wide.
It was a let-off for the Tigers, though one that would not be repeated as the visitors made it 2-0 just 46 seconds after the restart.
Neat play in midfield was again the home side’s undoing, as Leon Osman and Naismith exchanged passes before a delightful through ball from the former put Lukaku through.
Paul McShane, one of the three Hull players returning from injury, tried to rectify the situation with a hack at the Belgian. Lukaku, though, was too strong and finished with aplomb past McGregor.
The game was up for Hull, though at least Bruce’s men did start to ask more questions of the Everton defence.
Liam Rosenior was the first to sting the hands of Tim Howard, whose only save of note in the first half had been a routine block from Maynor Figueroa.
A wonderfully flighted corner by Huddlestone created a gilt-edged opening for Davies, but he could only head wide before Robert Koren, on what is likely to be his last appearance at the KC Stadium, brought a flying save from Howard
That left only the obligatory end-of-season lap of honour by a Hull squad now free from distraction ahead of next Saturday.
As exciting as that prospect is, however, there is no getting away from just how disappointing the second half of the season has been for Hull.
Since the turn of the year, the Tigers have claimed just 14 points from 19 games.
That tally is only two points more than in the relegation year of 2009-10, meaning there is plenty for Bruce to ponder in terms of just how much strengthening Hull need this summer.
Hull City: McGregor; McShane (Rosenior 63), Bruce, Davies, Figueroa; Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Livermore, Quinn; Aluko (Koren 78), Jelavic (Fryatt 54). Unused substitutes: Harper, Boyd, Sagbo, Long.
Everton: Howard; Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Baines; Barry, McCarthy; McGeady (Deulofeu 69), Naismith, Osman (Pienaar 77); Lukaku (Traore 89). Unused substitutes: Robles, Hibbert, Alcaraz, McAleny.