FA Cup: Tigers edge beyond Blades after Davies rallying cry

STEVE BRUCE revealed how an impassioned half-time speech by captain Curtis Davies helped power Hull City to their first FA Cup final.

Hull City's Tom Huddlestone celebrates his goal with Matty Fryatt (Picture: Simon Hulme).

The Tigers, badly out-of-sorts in the first half, trailed 2-1 to League One Sheffield United at the interval and looked in very real danger of being beaten.

But, following Davies’s inspirational words and a couple of substitutions that saw Matty Fryatt and Sone Aluko brought off the bench, Premier League Hull hit back to claim a memorable 5-3 victory and book a Wembley return to face Arsenal on May 17.

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Delighted Bruce said: “I didn’t say much. Our captain said it all. It is a long time since I have been in a dressing room when the captain takes over.

Hull City's Tom Huddlestone celebrates his goal with Matty Fryatt (Picture: Simon Hulme).

“It used to happen a lot in my day. The old players would vouch for me on that. But not so much now. We made a couple of tactical decisions but the rollicking was down to the captain. He is a bit of a dying breed.

“I just let him say his piece. Whatever he said to them was right. I quietly sipped my cup of tea and let him get on with it.”

Davies, vying with Tom Huddlestone to be Hull’s Player of the Year in what is shaping up to bring not only a first Cup final appearance but also a highest ever league standing, added: “I told the players we weren’t playing good enough and we needed to up it.

“We were playing a League One side and they were outplaying us. It is one thing to be out-muscled and maybe they work a bit harder, but we were being outplayed by them and that was embarrassing.

“I am just glad what I said got the right reaction and we didn’t have shrinking violets with people hiding.

“I am usually the type to put my arm round people and encourage their abilities but I couldn’t do that because it was just poor.

“I wasn’t happy with the way we weren’t keeping the ball and we were doing silly things with it.

“The goals we conceded were sloppy. I told them we needed to up it because I didn’t want to go home upset.”

Davies’s words clearly hit home, as Hull were transformed after the break.

The double substitution definitely played a part as well, though, with Fryatt netting the all-important equaliser on 49 minutes and then later creating a goal for Stephen Quinn.

David Meyler rounded off the scoring for Hull in stoppage time to add to strikes by Huddlestone and Yannick Sagbo.

United’s goals came from Stefan Scougall, Jamie Murphy and Jose Baxter.

It was the fourth time eight goals had been scored in an 
FA Cup semi-final, the last coming when Manchester United beat Fulham 5-3 back in 1958.

Bruce, who sprang a surprise by sending his side out with just a lone frontman, said: “I have to take responsibility for the first half. We have played with two strikers all season but I changed it.

“Unfortunately, the new system didn’t suit us. We weren’t anywhere near. You can talk about systems but we just didn’t perform at all.”

Asked why he had opted to abandon the 3-5-2 and 4-4-2 formations that have served Hull so well this term, the former Cup winner with Manchester United replied: “I am always wary (about Fryatt and Aluko) because they have had horrible (Achilles) injuries. Plus, if I didn’t start them, I knew I had something up my sleeve if it wasn’t going right.

“Sometimes you have to make these decisions. We got it wrong in the first half but then right in the second. We threw two up top and it worked straight away, which was fantastic.”

Bruce’s joy at the final whistle was in stark contrast to that of his Blades counterpart Nigel Clough, who admitted afterwards that his feelings were a mixture of pride and dejection.

He said: “I am proud and that feeling will grow in the weeks ahead. When we look back on what we achieved in the FA Cup, and very much this semi-final, that is quite right. We very nearly became the first third tier side to get to an FA Cup final.”

Amid the inevitable sense of disappointment felt by the 33,000 Blades fans in a crowd of 71,821 was also a belief that Clough has got the South Yorkshire club moving in the right direction again.

For his part, the United manager is determined to finish the season strongly and then hit the ground running again in August.

Clough added: “Sheffield United are halfway up League One, and yet we were at Wembley playing a Premier League side and going really close to reaching a Cup final.

“That puts everything into perspective. I told the lads how proud I was of the Cup run. But now we want to get out of League One.

“Days like the semi-final can take you one of two ways. You can either go on a bit of a downer or use the second half of the season as a springboard.

“We want success. That is why these last five games are important for us. We have to keep this feel-good factor around the place and we can do that by winning those five games.”

FA Cup semi-final report and reaction inside: Pages 2-5.