Progression to the FA Cup final was supposed to be somewhat straightforward for Hull City, but they ran into a very worthy opponent in Sheffield United on Sunday. Nigel Clough got his tactics perfect from the outset while Steve Bruce's experimentation failed, leading to the Blades going up twice. But Hull adjusted and outlasted their opponents in a 5-3 slugfest that both fanbases should remember forever.
Hull strangely set up with Tom Huddlestone -- as pure of a holding player and passer from deep as there is in the game -- as their most advanced midfielder. With Sheffield United defending deep in organized lines, he didn't see much of the ball early, and it led to the Blades dominating the early part of the match. They turned that domination into a goal in the 19th minute, when former Everton wonderkid Jose Baxter turned in a cross from John Brayford.
After that, Hull went back to their normal setup with Huddlestone sitting deep while Jake Livermore and David Meyler cover ground in both directions. They slowly got a hold of the match as the half wore on, but their eventual equalizer came from nowhere. Livermore set it up with a great pass into the box that found Yannick Sagbo, who finished off the move.
Bruce probably figured he'd dodged a bullet with his team's poor start and that they'd head into the half level, but his defense conceded a poor goal just before the halftime whistle. Jamie Murphy set it up by torching Liam Rosenior on the left, then delivering a low pass for Steven Scougall to direct into the back of the net.
In reaction to Hull's poor first half, Bruce made two dramatic changes. Maynor Figueroa and George Boyd exited for Sone Aluko and Matty Fryatt, shifting Hull into a 4-3-3 with three true strikers. Boyd, in particular, was very poor in the first half and hit more passes directly to opponents than his teammates. Ahmed Elmohamady and Liam Rosenior moved into the back four from their previous wingback positions.
It took no time at all for Hull's changes to pay big dividends. Sheffield United weren't much of a threat to Hull's reduced defensive capabilities and didn't have an answer for the increased pressure on the other end. Hull had the lead by the 55th minute, with Fryatt and Huddlestone scoring their next two goals.
Fryatt's came in the 49th minute off a huge scramble on a corner kick. Multiple players had shots blocked before James Chester found Fryatt in space on top of the six-yard box, and the substitute finished. Six minutes later, Huddlestone made an uncharacteristic run forward with the ball to set up his goal. Clough could only watch in horror as a 6'4", 220-pound man strangely dribbled around multiple defenders before finishing past Mark Howard.
Stephen Quinn entered the game for Hull in the 64th minute and scored three minutes later, seemingly putting the match away for his side. Hull looked comfortable for a while, but they were in for a nervy finish. Sheffield United stunned the Hull fans silent in the 90th minute when Murphy pulled back a goal, scoring from 10 yards after Ryan Flynn's header was blocked.
From there the finish was a wide-open mess, with Sheffield United taking all kinds of risks in search of an equalizer. Central defender Harry Maguire did his best Huddlestone imitation in stoppage time with an equally uncharacteristic dribbling move that beat multiple defenders, but his shot was blocked. That led to a counter in the other direction, ending in a goal for Meyler to seal the result for Hull.
Hull City: Harper, Rosenior, Figueroa (Aluko 46'), Chester, Davies, Boyd (Fryatt 46'), Livermore, Huddlestone, Meyler, Elmohamady, Sagbo (Quinn 64')
Goals: Sagbo (42'), Fryatt (49'), Huddlestone (55'), Quinn (67'), Meyler (90')
Sheffield United: Howard, Harris (Hill 90'), Brayford, Maguire, Collins, Murphy, Doyle, Coady, Flynn, Scougall (Porter 83'), Baxter (Davies 83')
Goals: Baxter (19'), Scougall (44'), Murphy (90')