MOVE over Dean Windass, Hull City has a new Wembley hero.
Mohamed Diame, the Senegal international who for much of this Championship season has flattered to deceive, chose the optimum moment to deliver the biggest performance of his Tigers career.
His crowning moment – and what, ultimately, means he joins Windass in Hull footballing folklore – was the 72nd-minute winner that sent the Tigers back to the Premier League in style.
Collecting a pass from Robert Snodgrass, Diame took one touch before curling a quite exquisite 25-yard shot beyond the reach of the previously unbeatable Keiren Westwood.
Such was the quality of the strike that Tom Huddlestone, standing fully 20 yards or so further away from the Owls goal and directly behind the path of the shot, raised his arms in celebration before the ball had even passed the penalty spot.
It was a fitting way to win any game, never mind the richest in world football. When Windass had done the same in 2008, promotion to the Premier League had been worth £60m to the Tigers.
Now, a place back among the elite is worth more than three times that amount – underlining just what was at stake on Saturday in terms of ensuring the financial well-being of a club that has now been promoted to the top flight three times in eight years.
Windass’s place in Hull’s footballing pantheon of greats is, of course, assured. But, if anything, Diame’s contribution to the Tigers winning the first all-Yorkshire Championship play-off final was even greater.
At times, Diame bordered on unplayable. His vision and pinpoint passing accuracy created several gilt-edged chances for team-mates, while one run and shot left three Owls players so mesmerised that they had been reduced to spectators long before the ball crashed against the post.
Only Huddlestone came even close to matching Diame’s contribution to a City victory that, but for Westwood and some wretched finishing, really would have been much more convincing.
Along with Diame’s shot that struck a post in the first half, Hull created and then spurned no less than seven excellent openings before Diame finally settled a one-sided contest.
Andrew Robertson’s was the worst of the lot, the full-back somehow blazing over with the goal at his mercy shortly before the hour.
But Moses Odubajo and Ahmed Elmohamady also should have done much better when well placed. Abel Hernandez and Michael Dawson could at least point to Westwood as a bona fide reason as to why they failed to take excellent opportunities, with City’s club-record £10m signing Hernandez also left frustrated by a goal-line clearance from Kieran Lee.
“On big occasions you can’t keep missing chances,” said Steve Bruce, after clinching a record-breaking fourth promotion to the Premier League as a manager.
“When Robbo (Robertson) knocked that one over the bar, I thought, ‘This is not going to be our day’.
“But Mo produced a bit of magic for us. His quality has got us back into the Premier League. It was a wonder goal which would grace any Cup final.”
Diame arrived at the KC Stadium shortly before the closing of the summer transfer window in 2014. He settled quickly and scored four times in his first five games, the first of which, by a quirk of fate, came against the club he had just left, West Ham United.
But then a serious knee injury struck and Diame had two lengthy spells on the sidelines. His absence was keenly felt and City were relegated.
Fast forward to this season and the big hope was that the 28-year-old’s undoubted quality would light up the Championship.
The reality, however, was rather different with games often passing Diame by. There were still moments of quality, such as the delightful floated pass that set up Hernandez’s volleyed goal at QPR on New Year’s Day.
Vital strikes also came from Diame in victories over Ipswich Town, Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough.
But there has been no disguising the feeling that Diame should really have been bringing more to the Championship. Still, big occasions call for big players and Diame delivered when it mattered most at Wembley.
For Wednesday, their first trip to the rebuilt national stadium was a chastening one. The attacking verve that had characterised much of the season for Carlos Carvalhal’s side was absent, as was any semblance of fight in midfield during a first half that ended with Westwood having to bale out his team-mates with alarming regularity.
Matters did improve marginally after the break and there was not quite the yawning chasm that had separated Wednesday’s midfield and attack in those opening 45 minutes.
But, still, the Owls rarely threatened with Gary Hooper starved of service, Fernando Forestieri drifting to the fringes and Barry Bannan unable to bring his usual drive to proceedings.
It made for a team performance that could not have been more contrasting to the electric atmosphere generated by the 40,000-strong travelling army of fans who had descended on Wembley from the Steel City in expectant mood.
Those hopes of a 16-year absence from the Premier League being ended were dashed but Wednesday should take heart from a season that has seen a long overdue sense of pride restored to one of football’s famous old names.