Hull need to beat United for chance of survival
Hull boss must beat his former club for first time in 17 years to have chance of survival
HULL CITY v MAN UNITED
(Tomorrow, 9.55pm, Singtel TV Ch 104 & StarHub TV Ch 229)
A year ago this week, Hull City supporters touched heaven.
They wandered down Wembley Way and peeked over the Pearly Gates for a full 17 minutes.
They were 2-0 up in the FA Cup final. Manager Steve Bruce turned a brighter shade of crimson on the touchline. The Tigers roared on the pitch.
And then Arsenal pulled a goal back. Slowly, inevitably, the curtains came down on an unlikely dream. Hull's nightmare began in the 18th minute of that FA Cup final.
A year later, the suffering endures.
Tomorrow, Bruce's battered campaigners entertain Manchester United in the final game of a wretched season.
The math is cruelly simple. Calculators are not required. Any result other than a home victory sends the Tigers tumbling through the relegation trapdoor. And if they win and Newcastle do likewise, Hull still go down.
To defy the odds, their manager needs to defy personal history. He must succeed where he has failed in 20 previous attempts across 17 years.
Bruce must defeat United.
The club that defined the player's past will now shape the manager's future.
Paul Scholes certainly believes in miracles, particularly if they're associated with United old boys; men programmed to play to the bitter end, seasoned veterans of the stoppage-time winner.
Earlier this week, the retired United midfielder championed Bruce's longevity in a volatile, fickle industry.
Scholes backed his old skipper to prevail on the final day. The Magpies would flap, but Bruce would not falter.
The trouble is the indomitable force of natural leadership isn't on the pitch; he's in the dugout and presiding over traumatised Tigers who left their mojo in the Wembley dressing room last year.
And just about every relevant stat conspires against them.
In seven Premier League meetings with United, Hull lost them all.
In their previous fixture, a 2-0 defeat by Tottenham, the Tigers failed to score in an EPL game for the 16th time this season.
Indeed, Hull's loss at White Hart Lane encapsulated their season. Some tidy possession, particularly from Stephen Quinn, was undone by the Tigers' exasperating inability to create enough chances or convert those that they did.
The footballer formerly known as Nikica Jelavic remains rustier than a bike left in the rain. And yet his eight goals for the campaign are still three more than the equally hapless Dame N'Doye.
Even Tom Huddlestone has struggled to recapture the attacking dynamism that initially made his £5 million ($10.4m) transfer fee look like a bargain.
Instrumental in last season's cup run, but peripheral in key fixtures this time around, Huddlestone's inconsistency has been contagious.
Bruce has laboured in vain to shuffle the deckchairs on the Titanic, tinkering constantly to either reinforce his three at the back or support the front two with an extra body in midfield.
His cause wasn't helped when Jake Livermore turned into a hapless spanner, throwing himself into Bruce's works by getting himself suspended after testing positive for cocaine.
But the pragmatic manager, a battle-hardened veteran of many a relegation dogfight, knows his chances depend more on United's personnel than his own.
A leader who was famously intolerant of complacency among the Red Devils is now banking on precisely that.
He needs United to bring buckets and spades rather than boots to the KC Stadium. The Tigers have a slender shot at salvation if their opponents are already on the sun loungers.
United's race is run. Fourth place is secure. Louis van Gaal has stepped away from this campaign's carnage to begin preparations for next season, signing Memphis Depay and chasing Raheem Sterling (presumably while still under the influence of all that wine at the club's awards night earlier this week).
The final match offers the Dutchman an opportunity to throw a few potential rejects in the shop window. Or he could perhaps give the kids like James Wilson and Adnan Januzaj a final run around the playground.
If van Gaal picks the hopefuls and the has-beens for a last hurrah, Hull have half a chance of pulling of a miracle of the biblical kind.
From player to manager, Bruce is still relying on the Red Devils for redemption.