WHEN Steve Simonsen blazed over from 12 yards last May to settle the most epic penalty shoot-out the rebuilt Wembley has seen, Sheffield United suffered a familiar sinking feeling.
Promotion to the Championship, a prize that had seemed theirs for the taking for much of the regular season, had been snatched away by Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town.
As goalkeeper Alex Smithies disappeared under a seething mass of celebrating Terriers, having hit home the penalty which had made it 8-7, the Blades were left to reflect on yet another play-off disappointment.
Six appearances in the end-of-season promotion deciders had, following goalkeeper Simonsen’s penalty miss, brought six excruciating and painful failures.
And, as one of only two survivors – Nick Montgomery being the other – from the Blades team beaten three years earlier at Wembley by Burnley in the Championship final, Stephen Quinn felt that pain as keenly as anyone.
Since then, the 26-year-old has moved across Yorkshire to Hull City, but the memories of those two defeats at the national stadium linger on.
So, as the Tigers travel to the Amex Stadium today looking to reclaim a place in the automatic promotion places, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that the Dublin-born midfielder is desperate to avoid going through the play-offs again.
“I would certainly much prefer to go up automatic than the play-off route,” Quinn told the Yorkshire Post. “There is no doubt about that.
“The void between success and failure (in the play-offs) is so marginal that it is untrue. I lost two play-off finals so know exactly how it feels. It is gut-wrenching.”
Simonsen’s wild penalty last May was not only cruel on the then Blades goalkeeper, who had pulled off a couple of stunning saves during the game itself to ensure it went to penalties in the first place.
It was also cruel on manager Danny Wilson’s side who, in the process, became only the second side in history – Peter Reid’s Sunderland in 1997-98 being the other – not to go up after claiming 90 points or more in the regular season.
Quinn added: “Whether it is good or bad, you take a lot of experience from those times.
“At Sheffield United last year, we found out it is never over until it is over and we know here that we will have to battle every step of the way.
“This season, there are three or four teams along with us who are trying to get second place and maybe even top spot as I think (leaders) Cardiff can still be caught.
“The main motto to myself after losing two play-off finals is not to get carried away. It is horrible when you fall short so there’s no point building yourself up.”
Hull’s win at Millwall a week ago has, along with the deadline day return of wing-back Ahmed Elmohamady on loan from Sunderland, re-ignited optimism in the East Riding that a return to the Premier League may be on the cards.
A big test will come in today’s tea-time encounter as manager Steve Bruce takes the Championship’s best away record to play-off hopefuls Brighton & Hove Albion.
Hull have, in fact, claimed more points away from home this term than at the KC Stadium.
“I hadn’t realised until I looked at the table on Monday morning just how well we are doing away from home,” said Quinn when asked about the Tigers’ 27-point haul on the road.
“We do go away from home with a game plan, but it is not a case of sucking pressure in, otherwise teams are going to gobble you up and get their goals.
“We go to defend well, but when we need to attack we don’t hold back. Goals win games and we know we have to attack.
“There is no point sitting back and hoping for the best. That is why we’ve been so successful on the road this season and long may it continue.”
Included in the Hull squad for the first time today are Gedo and Ahmed Fathi, the Egyptian international duo who signed on loan from Al-Ahly in the final few hours of the transfer window.
Both have this week been granted work permits to further bolster a squad that in January also saw David Meyler and Robbie Brady brought in for a combined £3.5m plus loan deals agreed to bring goalkeeper David Stockdale and Elmohamady back to the KC.
The prospect of one or even both of Gedo and Fathi being on the bench is an enticing one for Hull fans keen to get a first glimpse of the vastly experienced pair.
Fathi has had a previous spell in English football, spending six months at Bramall Lane after being signed by Neil Warnock during the club’s one-year stay in the Premier League.
Quinn, who made 15 top-flight appearances during that ill-fated 2006-07 campaign, said: “I was telling the boys this week that I played alongside him in the Premier League. He got a few games here, but then went back to Egypt.
“He has had a great career, such as winning the African Cup of Nations. So he will be a great addition to us.
“January has made us stronger. The likes of David Stockdale and ‘Elmo’ coming back has been vital.”
Whether Hull’s work during the window – and there may be more to come with Bruce having this week admitted to being a fan of Peterborough United’s wantaway midfield player George Boyd – can be decisive in the race for the top two remains to be seen.
But Quinn believes the Tigers are now much better equipped to push on.
He said: “I wouldn’t say it was nerves that crept in during January (when Hull failed to win in the league), it was just a very disjointed month.
“There were a lot of cup games and the bad weather, too. So, we knew what we were still capable of. It was just a case of getting back to what we do best.
“Luckily enough, we put in a good performance down at Millwall (in winning 1-0) and the lads are back enjoying it.
“Brighton will be completely different to the challenge of Millwall.
“They are a really good passing side under Gustavo Poyet. Brighton are easy on the eye like ourselves, so it has got the makings of a really good game.”