They say it’s the best way to win promotion, and few inside Wembley wearing black and amber would disagree after the Tigers secured their passage back to the Barclays Premier League with a 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday in the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Final at Wembley.
Forget all the tension, anxiety and torture it puts you through during 90 intense minutes – one second of pure quality from the right foot of Mohamed Diame is all we need remember.
It came 72 minutes into a tight contest, albeit a contest that the Tigers enjoyed the better of, and it was the sweetest of strikes as the Senegal international curled home a shot from 25 yards.
Steve Bruce’s side had had their chances before that – Abel Hernandez seeing a header cleared off the line and another first half effort brilliantly saved by Keiren Westwood, and Diame had also tested the strength of the woodwork – but in the end it only needed one to be taken and Diame duly obliged.
Unsurprisingly, Bruce named the same starting eleven that had tackled Derby County over two legs in the semi-final, meaning Eldin Jakupovic continued in goal in Allan McGregor’s injury-enforced absence.
Tom Huddlestone fired an early shot straight down the throat of Westwood, although it was Sheffield Wednesday who did much of the early running with Fernando Forestieri forcing Michael Dawson into a tenth-minute challenge that brought the Tigers’ captain a yellow card. Forestieri’s free kick was pushed over the bar by Jakupovic.
Another Owls’ free kick brought another save out of Jakupovic, the goalkeeper beating away Ross Wallace’s effort before the Tigers really began to grow into the game midway through the first half.
First Hernandez saw a header from a Robert Snodgrass corner blocked on the goal-line by Kieran Lee before penalty appeals were turned down when Dawson’s follow-up effort appeared to strike a Wednesday hand.
Hernandez then brought a fine save out of Westwood after latching onto Diame’s clever pass, the striker seeing his shot brilliantly turned over the bar and Diame himself then fired against the post after some fine footwork had seen a shooting opportunity open up.
Moses Odubajo sent a shot wide from 20 yards before the right back found himself through on goal, but a heavy first touch allowed Westwood to rush from his line to block.
A late Wednesday set-piece brought a far-post chance for Tom Lees but his header was well saved by Jakupovic.
Into the second half and Curtis Davies was forced into a making a well-timed challenge on Forestieri inside the box while at the other end, Dawson controlled a Snodgrass cross at the far post before seeing an effort saved by Westwood.
The Tigers really should have been in front just after the hour mark when a quick counter-attack had Odubajo away down the right. He crossed low into the centre where Andrew Robertson was arriving, but he could only balloon a shot high over the bar.
Hutchinson fired over at the other end before Diame’s match-winning moment arrived 18 minutes from time. Collecting a Snodgrass pass after the Scottish international had seized on a poor clearance, Diame turned and curled an absolute beauty over Westwood and into the top of the net from 25 yards.
Wednesday now had to throw men forward which meant they were leaving gaps at the back and Odubajo almost exploited that when running onto Huddlestone’s chipped pass but a half-volley only found the side-netting.
Hernandez saw a shot well blocked by Glenn Loovens, but it soon became about making things rock solid at the back. Hernandez, Diame and Snodgrass were all withdrawn as David Meyler, Sam Clucas and Harry Maguire entered the action.
There were still half-chances for the Tigers in the final ten minutes as Davies headed a difficult chance wide and Huddlestone dragged a shot across goal, but it was an aerial bombardment that Bruce’s men had to withstand, and they did.
A final corner deep into added time, which saw goalkeeper Westwood pushed into the attack, was defended and cleared and the final whistle signalled a return to the big league.
Hull City: Eldin Jakupovic, Moses Odubajo, Curtis Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Abel Hernandez (David Meyler 85), Robert Snodgrass (Sam Clucas 81), Jake Livermore, Mohamed Diame (Harry Maguire 88), Michael Dawson, Andrew Robertson, Ahmed Elmohamady.
Subs Not Used: Dusan Kuciak, Alex Bruce, Harry Maguire, Shaun Maloney, Chuba Akpom.
Sheffield Wednesday: Keiren Westwood, Sam Hutchinson (Atdhe Nuhiu 75), Glenn Loovens, Gary Hooper, Tom Lees, Kieran Lee, Jack Hunt, Ross Wallace (Jeremy Helan 63), Daniel Pudil (Lucas Joao 86), Barry Bannan, Fernando Forestieri.
Subs Not Used: Joe Wildsmith, Marco Matias, Alex Lopez, Vincent Sasso.
Referee: Mr R. Madley.