Wednesday, 16 April 2014

We Are Proud Of You

Sheffield United 3
Hull City 5
Wembley Stadium
Attendance 71,820
Away Blades 33,000
Away Hull Fans 26,000

It is now three days after the Semi Final was left in the history books, I would like to apologize for being so late with this match report, I have to be honest, it has taken me three days to get over the raw emotion coursing through every fiber in my body since Jose Baxter put us ahead, and I got to hear that almighty roar of a goal celebration for the first time at the New Wembley.

It was a memorable day and one I will look back on my entire life, it was a strange day, the usual pressures, the expectation the nerves, they were all replaced by a strange calming sensation, and I don't mean the beer. We were heavy underdogs, we had nothing to lose, the eyes of the word were not watching, judging lashing expectation upon us to progress to the final, we were here to win it yes but we knew that we had the freedom to go out and play without having to please anyone else but ourselves.  

Fans left Sheffield in their thousands, coachloads, carloads, I am pretty sure I even witnessed a few limo's haul past us on the motorway with red and white flags from the windows dancing in the wind, all of us together on our way to watch the team we love finally give us what we deserve, a day at Wembley that wont hurt every time we reminisce. And as the fans filled pubs surrounding the National Stadium, singing songs, having a red and white party the players made their way into the famous stadium. Not in suits like Hull, but in their team training gear, after all we are a football team, not celebrities dressing to impress in front of the worlds media.

As I climbed the stairs from the concourse to the stand my eyes took time to adjust, what I came to see was a sight to behold, the teams were walking onto the pitch, the grand stadium on one half was packed to the rafters, the full half, the red half stood in unison welcoming their heroes onto the field, family's, friends young and old filled the London air with noise, emotion, pride and loyalty for our team it was all on show today. 

As spontaneous minutes applause payed tribute to the ninety six Liverpool fans who never made it home on that dreadful day twenty five years ago. Whilst it was planned to be a minutes silence the round of applause ensured that no blemish was left on the moment, and also showed that we applaud the life's of those innocent men, woman and children who should still be here today.

The roar as the referee's whistle ended the minute shook the foundations of Wembley, it was time to put the occasion behind us and let the football take centre stage. A more familiar team took occupied the starting eleven than in the last game against Rotherham, Captain Michael Doyle along with Mark Howard, Neil Collins, John Brayford, Conor Coady, Stefan Scougall, Ryan Flynn and Jamie Murphy all being recalled after taking a well deserved rest midweek. The opening few moments couldn't prepare us for the ninety minutes of drama that awaited us as both teams looked slow to settle or get into any kind of rhythm. In the nervy opening the Blades tested the waters of the defense pushing forward's, this lead to Meyler picking up the first yellow card of the game after a fowl on Scougall. Just before the twenty minute mark The Blades ended the Wembley goal drought and rewarded the thirty three thousand with a goal that will last long in the hearts a mind's of us all, a Coady throw in landed at the feet of John Brayford, he took the ball forward and hit a delightful cross into the Hull danger zone, and in front of the opposition support Jose Baxter managed to force himself onto the ball, it hit the back of the net in what felt like slow motion, the Hull fans sat in silence as the West end of the stadium erupted, people were stunned. I myself opened my mouth to cheer but I
remained almost silent, it felt as though I had no breath in my body, the tips of my fingers and toes ran cold and numb, my legs felt lost beneath me as though I was learning to walk, I hugged anyone one who came within a yard of me, people embraced each other in euphoria, scenes like this usually accompany a last minute winner, but this, this was what a goal at Wembley meant to every single Blade here, two previous visits of pain with no goal, we had seen that goal now, and it felt better than any drink, drug or thrill seeking experience anyone anywhere could possibly offer me, but not just me. Sisters nearly in tears held each other, men hugged their sons and daughters close, and my dear old dad raised the picture of his fallen brother high in the air with pride, his brother dreamed of seeing us play at Wembley but passed away whilst watching the Blades before his dream could come true, for my Uncle and his family that misses him, that was the goal that would honor his memory. And as Baxter, born in Liverpool, a son of the City that lost so much those twenty five years ago it was the goal he dedicated to them, kissing the memorial armband before raising it to the heavens. As we all came to terms with finally witnessing a big game goal, the reality was League One Sheffield United One Premiership Hull City Nil.

It could have been two moment's later as Scougall came close, but his effort was to high on this occasion and drifted over the bar. It took twenty five minutes for Hull to register their first shot at us, and it was from Huddlestone, the only Hull player who looked of any real worth so far for Hull, his shot deflected wide on this occasion. United dominated from here, passing the ball between ourselves, closing the door on our opponents, and the fans cheered every pass, five passes felt like a hundred, when it surpassed twenty five we felt as though we were just passing for fun with no competition. But before the break of half time the frustrated Tigers lashed out at us, after finally managing to disposes us (which at times felt like it would never happen) Elmohamady played a clever ball into the path of Sagbo who slid in to bludgeon the ball into the back of Mark Howard's goal and equalize, he celebrated by shushing the Blades fans who had been in full
voice since the first whistle, but his arrogant behavior didn't have the desired effect, we grew louder, we heaped encouragement on our lads, and it payed off, as just two minutes later the lead was ours again. The urgency of Jamie Murphy saw him dart down the wing and out muscle his opponent, he then slid in a ball to
the waiting Stefan Scougall, the young Scottsman thumping the ball into the net before dancing with his team mates in celebration, and as Sagbo looked back all he could see was a sea of red and white, again surging to the soundtrack of a emotional roar. Shortly after the referee blew his whistle and called and to a fantastic half of football, we had to pinch ourselves and check that this was really happening, The Blades marched down the tunnel a goal to the good at Wembley. 

Now I hate cliches, but to say that football is a game of two halves is the most understated way of describing the rest of the game. Stern words and tactical changes saw Steve Bruce make a brave double substitution at half time, strikers Fryatt and Aluko replacing Boyed and Figueroa, and unfortunately for us it payed off for them. A corner took a few touches before luckily dropping directly into the path of Fryatt, he took his chance and fired Hull level. It was a sign of things to come, Fryatt then having one disallowed before Hull got their third leaving our hearts to sink, a neat bit of football saw Huddlestone and Meyler link up well with a sublime one two, a faint touch allowed Huddlestone to get the better of our defense and he calmly slotted the ball into the net giving Hull the lead, and as much as it pains us all with the way things were going in this second half it was now a deserved lead just as ours was int he first. United never gave up and neither did the fans, we never stopped backing our heroes and they never stopped fighting. Coady almost set up Ryan Flynn, but he was closed down and crowded out of the game denying him a chance to produce a dangerous effort. Substitute Stephen Quinn was brought onto the pitch by Bruce, and the ex Blade cult hero was unfortunately the one to break the hearts of those that still love him. A good ball into the box by Livemore was met by the compact Irishman who had timed his run superbly, he headed home and put Hull two goals into the lead, he held his head in his hands as his team mates celebrated around him, a class act to the end, a quality goal by a quality player, but one we wish he hadn't. The fans and the players still didn't know how to say die and we continued to try and get ourselves back into the game, it was frustrating as things had now gotten frantic, but we all still believed. Murphy tried to hit in a overhead kick from a set piece but Harper was relieved to see hit drift over the crossbar. Goal scorers Scougall and Murphy were substituted, Davies and Porter their replacements as Clough tried to reshape. We had a glimmer of hope tantalizingly dangled in front of us as Murphy pulled a goal back in the last minute of regulation time. Harris played like a man with nothing to lose skinning two players before chipping in a delicate but world class ball to the unmarked Flynn, the winger attempted to head the ball low into the goal but it was deflected, the deflection fell for Murphy who kept his composure to hit the ball hard into the ground forcing itself into the goal. The fans went bezerk and we urged our team to carry on this fight, and they did, they threw everything at Hull. Centre half Harry went on one of his mazy runs forward as United threw nine of their eleven men forward, no one was able to stop the talented youngster of disposes him, he found himself at the edge of the Hull box, cry's of shoot, and Harry was happy to oblige, but sadly, it wasn't meant to be. His shot was desperately blocked (I think I
counted four Hull players panic and dive for the ball) before it got a chance to test the keeper, and with so many forward we were hit on the break. Meyler scored Hulls fifth and booked their return for the final, five three to Hull. But we did not swarm for the exits, we didn't boo, we did not sit in silence, we stood and we applauded, we applauded our warriors in red and white, we applauded them for taking the fight to Hull, we applauded them because we were proud of them. We applauded our players until the final whistle a few seconds later, we only stopped applauding so we could sing, and sing we did. We may not have won the day, we may not have gotten to the final, but we did ourselves no injustice, we came here to do ourselves proud, and despite the scoreline we can finally say we left Wembley with our heads held high.

-Jonathan Gascoigne

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