Hull City 0 Derby 2 (Hull win 3-2 on agg): Tigers put their fans through hell before sealing Wembley showdown with Sheffield Wednesday

ON the second anniversary of Hull City's only appearance in an FA Cup final, Steve Bruce's men booked a return trip to Wembley that means a Premier League return is tantalisingly close.

Abel Hernandez at full time. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

That is the good news. What was less palatable from the Tigers’ perspective was just how close the club came last night to making a total hash of what should have been the simplest of tasks.

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Hull City's Jake Livermore (left) and Derby County's Will Hughes battle for the ball. Picture: PA.

Three goals ahead thanks to a polished performance at Derby County in Saturday’s first leg, Hull’s job seemed a simple one.

Keep things tight, deny the Rams any encouragement that there may be a way back into the tie and get the job done.

They did the latter. Just. And that, of course, is what matters, as was clear at the final whistle when thousands of fans poured on to the pitch in celebration.

But for Hull to have flirted with what would have been the most embarrassing collapse in play-off history was alarming in the extreme considering the final is just 10 days away.

Abel Hernandez is hugged by fans after Hull City reached the Championship play-off final on aggregate despite last nights 2-0 home loss to Derby (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

Certainly, Sheffield Wednesday will not be losing any sleep over facing Hull on May 28 if last night’s game is anything to go by.

Bruce’s men were second best all night against a Rams side who had Will Hughes dictating play in midfield and sufficient pace out wide to pin back their hosts for long periods.

Derby fans had coined the Twitter hashtag #Istanhull during the build-up in a bid to inspire their players. If Liverpool could overcome a three-goal half-time deficit in the 2005 Champions League final against AC Milan, why not the Rams?

The stunt worked a treat, the spirit of Istanbul being well and truly alive at the interval thanks to Darren Wassall’s men having cut Hull’s aggregate advantage to just a solitary goal.

Ahmed Elmohamady moves away from Marcus Olsson. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

The first blow for the Tigers had come inside eight minutes when Johnny Russell tapped in at the second attempt from close range after Chris Martin had headed Cyrus Christie’s deep centre back across the six-yard box.

That set Hull nerves jangling and the night took another turn for the worse nine minutes before half-time when the Rams grabbed a second goal.

Again, a failure to close down a County full-back cost the hosts dear as Marcus Olsson was allowed to race down the left flank.

His cross was intended for Martin, but a slight deflection off Curtis Davies saw the ball land at the feet of Andrew Robertson, who got himself in such a tangle that he could only put through his own goal.

Hull City's Jake Livermore (left) and Derby County's Will Hughes battle for the ball. Picture: PA.

It meant, as the two teams left the field at the break, that the tie was very much back in the balance.

A few boos met the Hull players as they left the field, though many in the 20,470 crowd stayed behind their team.

The one crumb of comfort to be had at the break for those Tigers fans was that their side had come close to scoring despite so many players being way below their best.

Jake Livermore was perhaps the most unfortunate not to find the net, his shot bouncing just wide of a post after taking a deflection.

Abel Hernandez had squandered a decent chance, while only a desperate block by Jason Shackell prevented a weaving run from Moses Odubajo ending with a shot that would surely have tested Scott Carson in the visitors’ goal.

The hope among the locals at the break was that Hull could build on these moments of attacking promise after the restart.

Abel Hernandez is hugged by fans after Hull City reached the Championship play-off final on aggregate despite last nights 2-0 home loss to Derby (Picture: Bruce Rollinson).

Instead, it was Derby who again started the stronger and they really should have levelled the tie in the 49th minute.

A powerful run from Andreas Weimann down the left created an opening for Craig Bryson just four yards out that he somehow spurned.

As the pace slackened, Will Hughes fired narrowly over before Eldin Jakupovic beat away a shot by Martin after Hull had failed to clear a corner.

Derby continued to press, but tired legs became evident as the game wore on and Hull saw the game out.

It meant Steve Bruce’s 200th game as Tigers manager will, ultimately, be remembered for all the right reasons.

What Hull can not afford, however, is a repeat of last night’s insipid efforts when they face Wednesday at Wembley in world football’s richest game.

Hull City: Jakupovic; Odubajo, Dawson, Davies, Robertson; Elmohamady, Huddlestone (Meyler 52), Livermore, Snodgrass (Maguire 90); Diame (Clucas 90), Hernandez. Unused substitutes: Duciak, Bruce, Maloney, Akpom.

Derby County: Carson; Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Olsson (Camara 89); Bryson, Hughes, Hendrick; Russell (Bent 83), Martin, Weimann (Ince 60). Unused substitutes: Grant, Buxton, Johnson, Butterfield.

Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).

Ahmed Elmohamady moves away from Marcus Olsson. Picture: Bruce Rollinson