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Mar 9, 2014

Hull are off to Wembley

There are some things in life you never quite expected to hear. Those statements too far-fetched and fanciful. But here's one to digest: Manchester United's Premier League date at home to Hull City next month has been postponed due to the Tigers' involvement in the FA Cup semifinals at Wembley.

A club more accustomed to embarrassment in this famous old competition, losing to the likes of Kettering, Hednesford and Crawley in the last 20 years, has set up its greatest FA Cup since 1930 following a cocksure victory over Sunderland on Sunday. Wembley, too, will be visited for just the second time in the club's history. Manchester United can wait.

- Randall: Sunderland's cup capitulation - Report: Tigers cruise to Wembley

Clinching a place in the last four of the FA Cup, there is an unshakable belief building that the club's greatest season is unfolding before appreciative eyes. Not only are Steve Bruce's men on course for their highest ever league finish this spring, they are just 90 minutes away from their first major Cup final.

They even have lady luck in their number. The reward for brushing aside Sunderland at the KC Stadium was the kindest possible semifinal draw, facing League One side Sheffield United in the first all-Yorkshire semifinal for a generation. The League One side cannot be taken lightly after dumping Aston Villa and Fulham out of this year's competition, but City were licking their lips when the two old rivals were paired together.

If Arsenal were able to deny Wigan Athletic a further upset in the other semi-final, a place in the Europa League would become the additional bonus on offer for City and Sheffield United.

Heady days indeed, but the Tigers were not about to be denied their shot at creating history at the weekend. In East Yorkshire's first FA Cup semifinal since 1971, City overpowered a Sunderland side lacking the same appetite for the competition. Hungover from the Capital One Cup demise at the hands of Manchester City seven days earlier, the Black Cats were harried into a feeble submission.

The only question was when City's fate would become certain. Sone Aluko's missed penalty in the first half cast doubt over the outcome as Sunderland held firm deep within their shells, but Curtis Davies' towering header above John O'Shea began a procession through the final 22 minutes.

Profiting from the inexplicably poor decision-making of Lee Cattermole, David Meyler and Matty Fryatt duly sealed a place in the last four of the FA Cup, 84 years and three days since Bill McCracken's City side last managed the feat with victory over Newcastle United.

Meyler celebrated with a headbutt of the corner flag to make light of the altercation with Newcastle boss Alan Pardew eight days earlier and City had done the same against Sunderland for a third time in the season. "You wish you'd kept Steve Bruce," was the chant aimed at over 4,000 travelling fans from Wearside.

The full-time whistle triggered a pitch invasion as supporters danced their way into a landmark day, but there was still time for further good news. On the concourses beneath the stands came another round of celebrations as TVs played out the dream draw in Yorkshire. All of a sudden the FA Cup final is calling.

Bruce must begin to wonder if there is a new name to be etched on the trophy in May. The former Manchester United captain cradled the FA Cup three times as a player but this is already as far as he has journeyed in management. Middlesbrough, Southend, Brighton, Sunderland and Sheffield United is as inviting a path to the final as a team is ever likely to enjoy and though Arsenal may well lie in wait on May 17, stranger things have happened.

Groundbreaking days at Wembley await Hull City in more ways than one. A week in the capital next month may not just create history but it could also shape the club's future. In the days preceding semifinal weekend, the Football Association are expected to deliver their verdict on a proposed name change to Hull Tigers. Regardless of the FA's final decision, the build-up to the semifinals is sure to be unique.

What will be, will be on April 9 and in the days that follow, but in the meantime City must concentrate on ensuring they have the points on board to enjoy their big day out against Sheffield United. Fifteen Premier League points are up for grabs between now and then, and two wins ought to be enough to ensure there are no distractions on board the team bus to Wembley.