It was a stirring effort and it left Hull City badly shaken, but it was not enough to redeem the embarrassment of Saturday. Derby, who were so inexplicably feeble in the first leg of this semi-final, made it look as though they had simply decided to give Hull a bit of a headstart here, as they dominated the first half at the KC Stadium.
Everything that had been bad at home was good away. The midfield three of Hendrick, holding, with Bryson and Hughes further up the pitch, passed smoothly and found alarming space, with Hull reduced to chasing shadows and taking tactical yellow cards on the edge of their own box.
But despite Johnny Russell’s early strike and Andy Robertson’s emphatic own goal, forced by a peach of a cross from Marcus Olsson, Hull will go to Wembley and the Rams’ season has come to a premature end.
From the first whistle, Derby played with the tempo that had been so alarmingly absent from Saturday’s non-performance and it was no real surprise when they scored in the seventh minute. Carson threw the ball to Christie, who charged the full length of the field before crossing to the back post. Martin managed to stand a header up, with Bryson and Russell lurking – and although Russell’s initial header was blocked by Curtis Davies, it dropped for him to lash past the helpless Jakupović from point-blank range. Game on.
Another one-touch move saw Hughes release Olsson, whose fizzed cross had no takers this time. Derby had utterly dominated the first ten minutes, to the point where Moses Odubajo was warned by referee Michael Oliver for timewasting as early as the 12th minute.
Hughes’ dangerous dribble resulted in the ball dropping to Russell on the edge of the box and he was fouled for the first of several free kicks the Rams would win in shooting positions. This one was placed over the wall but wide by Russell.
Snodgrass was the first man into the book for an ugly lunge on Bryson in the 21st minute, as Hull struggled to get to grips with Derby – who were having the lion’s share of possession and, unlike Saturday, actually looking a threat with it.
Hendrick’s inclusion at the expense of Bradley Johnson did wonders, bringing the fluidity back to the Rams’ play which had been so completely lacking in the first leg. Oliver spoke to Hull again as they dawdled over a free kick, before Mo Diamé finally had the home side’s first shot of the match, in the 26th minute.
Andreas Weimann, left out of the 18 by Darren Wassall on Saturday, did great work in the 26th minute to win the ball and lead a counter. He fed Russell, but a promising position was wasted as the Scot got his cross all wrong.
At this stage, the question was whether Derby could keep up their early momentum, or whether a strong Hull side would be able to regain their grip on the tie. Jake Livermore was the next man to go into the book, after Bryson fed Martin on the edge of the box and Livermore’s panicked lunge brought the Wardrobe down, inches outside the box. Hendrick tried to lift the free kick over the wall, but it struck a Hull head before Bryson unleashed a quite vicious drive from 25 yards, which fizzed agonisingly just wide.
Hull went down the other end and Abel Hernández almost got his first sight of goal before being crowded out by some last-ditch defending in the box. Hull were starting to find the odd gap as Derby drove forward, but it was impossible to fault anything about the Derby performance at this stage. They had fought incredibly hard and fully merited their lead. Hull finally knew that they were in a play-off semi-final.
They certainly knew all about it in the 35th minute, when the Rams struck again. Another fluid move allowed Olsson the chance to send in another cross and he took it, measuring a devillish low ball, which full back Andy Robertson crashed emphatically past his helpless keeper, with both Martin and Weimann breathing down his neck.
Hull needed to respond and the rapid wideman-cum-fullback Odubajo showed Olsson a clean pair of heels before driving into the box. Odubajo is a dangerous player, but has a disspiriting tendency to dive and tumbled convincingly under pressure, only to be waved to his feet by referee Oliver. Replays showed it was an excellent call from a calm official, who had an excellent game overall.
Hull went close to a goal back and a 4-2 aggregate lead when Odubajo wriggled inside from the flank and smashed a shot which was half-blocked by the head of Shackell and flew over the bar. You wondered at this stage if maybe it would be Derby County’s night – on Saturday, the deflection went straight into the net, this time, not so.
Hughes then launched into a mesmerising dribble, beating three men as he sauntered into the box, only to be crowded out by the fourth. It was not the only time he would leave trails of Hull defenders bewildered in his stately wake and his unearthly ball control will doubtless have had any watching scouts drooling, yet again.
At half-time, anything looked possible. Hull had conceded the early initiative, apparently with the idea that their three goal lead was unassailable, but Derby had fired a reminder of their fitful but undoubted quality.
Within three minutes of the restart, Martin ambled into space on the left and fed the overlapping Weimann, whose smashed low cross hit Bryson, who had arrived in time to convert what should have been a tap-in. A little more control on the ball from Weimann and the Rams would have been level in the tie. It was agonisingly close – but it would prove to be as close as Wassall’s team would come.
Hughes was soon demonstrating unreal skill again and this time, Odubajo was forced to haul him down just outside the box to take a tactical booking. Another chance was missed though, with Martin’s shooting through the wall, only to see the effort blocked by a defender.
Steve Bruce had seen enough of Derby’s quicksilver passing through the lines – none of that diagonal longball shit that marred Saturday was on show tonight – and promptly withdrew the cumbersome Tom Huddlestone for the more mobile midfielder David Meyler. The change made a difference and Hull started to gain more of a foothold in the game, proving the importance of a manager proactively using the three subs. Wassall was forced into his first change soon after, when Weimann, who had played well, limped off to be replaced by the roundly booed Tom Ince.
At this stage, with 65 gone, Derby’s midfield continued to have most of the ball, but in scenes almost reminiscent at times of the Wembley game against QPR, the Rams were now struggling to find a route through to goal, with Hull happy to sit in and counter where they could. Diamé served notice of his threat by surging powerfully to the edge of the box before missing the target with a poorly struck shot.
Derby came close twice on 70, when Ince so nearly beat the final defender in the box, only to be tackled out. From the resulting corner, Hull failed to clear and Martin rode a challenge before curling a firmly struck drive, which Jakupović punched away for what had been his first proper save of the semi-final. The stand-in goalkeeper never convinced and will probably not feature at Wembley, but he did enough on the day, claiming a series of looped crosses easily enough and making no major mistakes.
An enthralling game started to draw towards its close and the effort Derby had put in meant that their legs started to go – Russell, in particular, looked shagged. For the first time, Hull managed to put a meaningful spell of possession together in the Rams’ final third and it was starting to look like they could manage the game out.
Wassall finally made a second substitution – too late – with Bent replacing Russell after 81 minutes, but Derby had started to give away a series of needless free kicks, their weary limbs unable to keep up with willing minds. Hendrick, who hadn’t played in weeks, was a particular culprit and candidate to be replaced, but he had played much better than I thought he could in the holding role.
Wassall finally made his final change – too late – in the 89th minute, with Abdoul Camara, a player the interim manager had studiously ignored for his entire tenure, offered five minutes to make himself a hero. The Rams tried to give the left winger the ball, but the game was up. There were a couple of scrambles in the box, before Hendrick floated a ball which Dawson was forced to head out for a corner – Camara scuffed the corner, a half-clearance fell to Hughes, whose savage blast towards goal was blocked at source and Hull cleared their lines.
That was that. It had been a terrific effort and the home side had been roundly, deservedly beaten. But they will still go to Wembley.
Now Derby’s season is over and huge decisions await for Mel Morris and Sam Rush, as the planning for another season in the second tier begins.