Yannick Sagbo

FA Cup Final preview: Will Arsenal end their trophy drought?

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The FA Cup final kicks off on Saturday, with Arsenal and Hull City meeting at Wembley at 12 noon ET.

It’s all new for Hull, who’ve never made it to the FA Cup final before – and who, no matter what the outcome, will be headed into the Europa League next season. But that doesn’t meant the Tigers will be staring around naively as Arsenal run circles around them. They proved themselves capable of causing trouble in the league by beating Liverpool and topping Newcastle (back when Newcastle could still score) and they might have an upset left in them.

But even the most die-hard Hull fan likely admits that Arsenal have the edge in this one. Hull picked up just one point from their last five league matches, and that was a draw to Fulham. The Gunners, meanwhile, have won their last five, including a 3-0 victory over Hull back in April.

Plus, Arsenal may be fired along by just a touch more desire. A trophy’s been a long time coming for the club, with the last one lifted an FA Cup, back in 2005. And although Arsène Wenger insists that his contract extension does not hinge on his team finally picking up another piece of hardware for the cabinet, it may very well figure in to the deal that’s yet to be announced.

With Hull known to be pragmatic (or, to be frank, a bit boring) will this be a dull 120 minutes, finished off by a penalty shootout? Or will Steve Bruce throw caution to the wind, telling his team that they have nothing to lose by attacking Arsenal?

The road to the final

Arsenal: The Gunners’ FA Cup adventure started off in the most satisfactory of ways, with a 2-0 victory over North London rivals Tottenham. Then came an easy 4-0 victory over League One side Coventry City. The Gunners must’ve felt nervous when Liverpool came to town, as they’d just lost 5-1 to the Reds the week before. But Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain scored early, and Lukas Podolski added a second shortly after the restart. Steven Gerrard’s penalty put the visitors on the board, but in the end it was a 2-1 Arsenal victory.

Next up it was Everton. Despite another early goal, this one from Mesut Özil, the sides were level at the break. Then the Gunners scored three in the second half. The 4-1 win took them to Wembley to face cup-holders Wigan – who proved to be their toughest opponents yet. Per Mertesacker got a late equalizer to force a penalty shootout, in which Lukasz Fabianski played the hero by saving two of Wigan’s strikes.

Hull: After forcing Tottenham to extra time in the Fourth Round of the League Cup, only to crash out on penalties, Hull may have felt rather confident about their chances in the FA Cup. A Third Round draw to Championship side Middlesbrough made it easy for the Tigers to progress, 2-0. The next round was even easier, with Hull drawn against League 2 side Southend United. Another 2-0 win and it was off to Brighton to take on one of the best sides in the Championship. Hull came unstuck, needing a late equalizer from Yannick Sagbo to force a replay, which they won 2-1.

Hull’s easiest match was, surprisingly, against Sunderland, their only Premier League opposition in the tournament. Curtis Davies, David Meyler, and Matty Fryatt all scored inside ten minutes in the second half. Then it was on to face League One side Sheffield United in the semi-finals at Wembley. The Blades had already disposed of Premier League sides Aston Villa and Fulham, and looked set to do the same to Hull. But the Tigers kept roaring back, eventually sealing a 5-3 win to move on to the final.

What they’re saying

Hull manager Steve Bruce, on his club’s chances“The pressure will be on Arsenal because they have not won anything for a while,” Bruce said, way back in April, after the conclusion of the semi-finals. “They are a great side, they have great tradition and great history with a top-class manager. We are up against it but we will do our best.”

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger on that pressure“There is a huge desire for us to finish the job in the FA Cup. There is a pressure there, a big one, but a positive one and we want to take that opportunity,” said Wenger“It’s an opportunity for us to crown our season. There is always a huge expectancy. It brings pressure but we played many games in the season under that pressure and tension. That experience will help us in the final.”

Prediction

No surprises in this one. Bruce is not likely to deviate from his plan, but Arsenal’s attack – particularly with Aaron Ramsey back – will be able to pick apart the Hull defense. The Gunners will finally have another trophy to polish up.

Aston Villa 3-1 Hull City: Villa have likely saved themselves (video)

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Had Hull won at Villa Park on Saturday, they’d have been safe – and Aston Villa would’ve been in serious trouble. Instead the hosts put in one of their most impressive home performances this season and, although they’re yet to be mathematically deemed safe, they almost certainly saved their season.

The game got off to a fantastic start for the hosts, who scored with less than a minute played. Despite what appeared to be a defensive setup from Paul Lambert, Villa were off and running from the start. Gabby Agbonlahor burst down the left, putting in a cross that fell perfectly to Marc Albrighton. The wideman wiffed it, but Ashley Westwood was there to put in the goal.

Injury struck Agbonlahor once again, before thirty minutes were up. Lambert put on Jordan Bowery in his place, perhaps thinking him more experienced than U21 star Callum Robinson. Andi Weimann very nearly created a goal for Bowery minutes after his introduction, but the Austrian failed to get in the pass.

Villa were left ruing the missed opportunity when Hull equalized shortly thereafter. Ron Vlaar’s foul on Shane Long gave the visitors a free kick, which Tom Huddlestone took short. Liam Rosenior’s shot took a deflection off Bowery and landed in the back of the net.

The Tigers, knowing that a win would ensure their own safety, pressed on to find another goal. Brad Guzan did well to ensure his side stayed level, flying to his right to keep out a long-range effort from Huddlestone.

It took the hosts some time to regain their footing, but in the 39th minute, it was Steve Harper’s turn to take center stage. The Hull keeper made two fine saves in quick succession, first denying a shot from Weimann, then keeping out a strike from Bowery.

Villa continued to press forward. A series of corners saw two headers from Nathan Baker, the first blocked, the second saved by Harper. The third try was the charm: Weimann managed to put in his header, nudged in from close range.

The Austrian was determined to silence those who’d critiqued his performances this season, calling for him to be benched. In injury time, Weimann put in another, a sharp header into the bottom corner. Credit to Bowery, too, as his work down the left ensured Villa went into the break up 3-1.

Villa looked determined to close out their home games on a good note. Rather than allow Hull City back into the game, the hosts kept pressing, with Bowery making a convincing argument for more playing time. The forward, once again combining with Weimann, nearly added a fourth for Villa, but Harper managed to push his shot over the bar.

While Steve Bruce made an attempt to change up the visitors’ attack, replacing Nikica Jelavić with Yannick Sagbo, the Villa defense, surprisingly, held firm. Huddlestone forced a save from Guzan in the 75th minute, but that was about the last action seen in this one.

LINEUPS

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Vlaar, Clark, Baker, Bertrand, Westwood, Delph, Albrighton (El Ahmadi 76), Agbonlahor (Bowery 24), Weimann (Bacuna 82)

Goals: Westwood 1′; Weimann 41; 45+3′

Hull City: Rosenior, Figueroa, Chester (Bruce 43), Davies, Meyler (Quinn 45), Huddlestone, Livermore, Jelavic (Sagbo 69), Long, Elmohamady

Goals: Bowery o.g. 28′

Premier League Preview: Fulham vs Hull City

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  • Only Sunderland (12) have scored fewer points at home than Fulham (16).
  • Only Cardiff City (10) and Norwich (8) have scored fewer points on the road than Hull City (11).
  • Hull have won four of their five-ever Premier League matches against Fulham, with the Whites winning the other.

It’s last-chance saloon…again…for Fulham as they host Hull City at Craven Cottage at 10am ET on NBCSN or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

With the bottom of the Premier League table a cluttered mess, things are dire once again for the Whites as they face a team that beat them 6-0 at KC Stadium in the reverse fixture.

However, the Tigers have just 12 total goals since that meeting. Despite that, Hull are gunning for their best-ever top-flight finish and a win could potentially put them as high as 12th.

Fulham are full-strength other than Kostas Mitroglou, who Felix Magath has said is back at training but not match-fit.  Aside from the Greek striker, the Whites will have Kieran Richardson and Mahamadou Diarra back, both important pieces in the win over Norwich two weeks ago.

They’ll also have on-loan midfield creator Lewis Holtby eligible again, as he was unable to face his parent club Tottenham last week.

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Hull City also receive a double boost, with strikers Sone Aluko and Shane Long both back in action from injury scares. Aluko missed out last week at Arsenal with a hamstring injury, while Long came off at halftime with a calf problem.

It’s a mystery who manager Steve Bruce will pick up front, with Nikica Jelavic, Matt Fryatt, and Yannick Sagbo all available in addition to Aluko and Long.

What they’re saying:

Fulham manager Felix Magath on Hull: “Hull are six points ahead so they will be fine. The manager of Hull [Steve Bruce], he is a very experienced and good manager, and he will be telling everybody that they have to make points because they are not safe. But six points ahead is a lot going into the last three games so I think the teams with 37 points should not be afraid of relegation.”

Bruce on Hull’s position: “The players have worked incredibly hard this season to come this far and just need to get over the line. We’ve not been lower than 14th all season and that’s a reflection of how well we’ve done as a newly-promoted team. They’ve been a terrific bunch of lads and a pleasure to work with. All it needs now is one more result and we want that to come at Fulham.”

Magath on other relegation teams: “In my opinion I think the atmosphere at Norwich or Sunderland or Cardiff will be more nervous than here. We are under pressure, but not so as under pressure as these clubs from the small towns where the whole town is behind the club.”

Prediction:

With Fulham looking for points and Hull City likely playing for little to gain, the home side certainly has the advantage on the mental stage.  The match will struggle for goals, with both teams looking to stay secure at the back, but a 1-0 Fulham win will muddy the waters at the bottom of the table even further.

Hull player earns fine for perceived support of quenelle celebration

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The ‘quenelle’ lessons continue to be learned, and this time it’s hitting a Hull City player in the wallet.

Yannick Sagbo made the mistake of posting a photograph of Nicolas Anelka’s now infamous goal celebration on Twitter along with a message of support, and the perceived high-five to anti-Semitism is going to cost the striker about $25,000.

The Tweet earned him the charge of aggravated misconduct from the Football Association. Sagbo admitted the charge and was warned over future conduct. He’ll also have to attend a class, and the player and FA can appeal the decision.

The celebration has now cost Anelka a job, West Bromwich Albion some sponsors and Sagbo some money. It’s also gotten its inventor, French “comedian” Dieudonne, banned from the United Kingdom.

Hatred: it’s not-so-hilarious.

Hull manager Steve Bruce had apologized on behalf of Sagbo:

“It’s difficult with Yannick, we need to use an interpreter. He doesn’t speak a lot of English. It’s broken.

“He doesn’t understand why he’s been charged. He tweeted that Nicolas Anelka’s a legend. In some people’s eyes, he is. That’s nothing to do with his gesture. He’s been a great player.

“But we’ve now got into the realms of what offends people and what doesn’t. If we have offended anyone, on behalf of the club, I can only apologise.”

Pretty see-through.

Hull joins Arsenal in Cup final after wild 5-3 win vs Sheffield United

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Wembley’s stage proved a thriller for the second-straight FA Cup semifinal, though this one was dramatic from front-to-back.

Hull City and Sheffield United traded goals in a fun tie that ended with the Tigers clinching their first FA Cup final appearance in a 5-3 match.

Hull trailed 2-1 at halftime.

David Meyler was a maestro with a goal and multiple assists, while Yannick Sagbo, Matty Fryatt, Tom Huddlestone, and Stephen Quinn scored for Hull.

Jamie Murphy, Stefan Scougall and Jose Baxter netted for Sheffield United, which led twice.

The Blades struck first thanks to a left-footed shot from Jose Baxter in the 19th minute, inspiring the traveling Sheffield faithful with a 1-0 lead.

After Sagbo rescued an equalizer for Hull in the 42nd minute, the Blades took the lead just 90 seconds later. Scougall’s tally in the 44th gave Sheffield United a lead it could take to halftime.

Steve Bruce’s halftime substitution of Fryatt for George Boyd paid almost immediate dividends, as he was in the catbird seat to left-foot home a goal in the 49th minute. The Tigers would strike again, and it wouldn’t take long.

Meyler’s deft pass found Huddlestone, who simply danced through the Blades defense before calmly giving Hull its first lead of the match at 3-2 in the 55th minute.

And Meyler started the fourth Hull goal with a quick ball in to Jake Livermore, who chipped a touch that Quinn headed home to double the advantage in the 67th minute.

But wait! Just into the first of three minutes of stoppage time, the Blades pulled one back. Murphy’s right-foot had given Sheffield United hope, but Meyler took it right back with the eighth goal of the match.