Hull daring to dream in FA Cup

Posted by Philip Buckingham

Lindsey Parnaby/AFP/Getty ImagesSteve Bruce's Hull City can book a place in the FA Cup quarterfinals with a win at Brighton.

Hull City and the FA Cup tend to mix like oil and water. In coming this far, a fifth round tie at Brighton and Hove Albion on Monday night, the Tigers find themselves in the last 16 of the competition for only the second time in 25 years.

- Report: Hull City 0-1 Southampton

A run to the quarter-finals, meanwhile, is as rare as hen's teeth. On only five occasions have City ever reached the last eight of the FA Cup since their formation in 1904 and four of those came more than 40 years ago. The semi-finals have only once welcomed representation from East Yorkshire. A replay defeat to Arsenal in 1929-30 continues to stand as the closest City have ever come to a final. Oh to be a bridesmaid, let alone the bride.

But who's to say this will not be the year when everything changes?

Until last May, City had never won automatic promotion to the top-flight and had spent 107 of their 109 years staring enviously up at the elite. The modern era of this club is simply not in keeping with its history and a quiet belief builds that it could soon extend to the FA Cup.

City have arrived in the last 16 almost by accident. Nine changes were made when conquering Middlesbrough with ease at the Riverside, before another nine ensured an upset was sidestepped at a Southend side managed by Phil Brown, the boss that last took City to the quarter-finals in 2008-09.

Another kind draw saw them spared Premier League opposition for the third time and, all of a sudden, Brighton are all that stand between the Tigers and a rare foray into the last eight.

Bruce is the first to admit the FA Cup will only ever play second fiddle to survival in the Premier League. The crisp memories of his former club Wigan toppling Manchester City at Wembley nine months ago are uplifting for the romantic in Bruce, but the Latics' subsequent relegation to the Championship was a warning of the pitfalls that come with an FA Cup adventure. Juggling the two can be an awkward act.

That understanding has brought wholesale changes in rounds three and four, but ahead of five there has been a subtle change in Bruce's outlook, a sense that his side may be standing on the cusp of something very exciting. "Why can't we keep it going?" he asked this week. Bruce struggles for an answer now when before there were several.

City, like any side, still require a helping hand from Lady Luck. Sunday's quarter-final draw will include a handful of opponents unable to strike fear into a competent Premier League side, and if one of those can be paired with the winners of Monday's date at the Amex Stadium, then a Wembley semi-final will not feel far away at all.

Unusually, the Tigers will head to the Sussex coast knowing the path that could take them to the national stadium for only the second time in their history, but focusing on what lies ahead would only invite a stumble at Brighton.

The Seagulls cannot be taken lightly. Clinging to the coat-tails of the Championship play-offs under Oscar Garcia, they are comfortably the best side City have faced to date in this season's competition. Just four points separated the two clubs in last year's final Championship table and the Tigers were beaten 1-0 when last visiting the Amex Stadium in March. Bruce has full respect for his hosts, but does not expect his FA Cup journey to reach the end of the line now.

Bruce's team selection is one to watch with interest and though there will be guaranteed changes with Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long cup-tied, and Paul McShane out for the season with ankle ligament damage, it will be a starting XI where each and every player has featured in the Premier League this season.

Abdoulaye Faye, Stephen Quinn, George Boyd, Yannick Sagbo, Robbie Brady and Matty Fryatt are players that could grace any Championship side and that they have combined to ensure progress this far has been serene. With a sprinkling of regulars such as Ahmed Elmohamady and Maynor Figueroa, it will be a side Bruce believes can keep things rolling.

Then there is Sone Aluko. The mercurial playmaker made his City debut against Brighton 18 months ago and after two serious Achilles injuries, he is promising to force his way back into the spotlight. He is a matchwinner, no question. The only dilemma is to wonder if his fitness can take it. Bruce will not take chances. The Premier League is too important and so, too, is the FA Cup. A little bit of history is on the line.

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