JAMES Chester could not have wished for more of a dream start to Hull City’s debut appearance in an FA Cup final.
The former Birchwood Community High School student broke the deadlock for the Tigers inside four minutes, becoming the first player from Warrington to score in an FA Cup final since Roger Hunt in 1965.
World Cup hero Hunt had to wait until the 93rd minute to open the scoring for Liverpool that day as they went on to win the trophy at the expense of Leeds United – unfortunately for Chester the dream was not to last.
The 25-year-old reacted quickest to Tom Huddlestone’s bouncing volley from a well-worked corner routine to direct the ball inside the post with his left foot and shock Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Four minutes later and it was two, the Tigers again sent up their defensive trio of Chester, Alex Bruce and Curtis Davies for a set piece and when keeper Lukasz Fabianski failed to clear the danger Davies fired home.
Hull, ranked widely as the underdogs before kick-off, had dominated the opening eight minutes and fully deserved their lead, but the second goal sparked Arsenal into life and Chester and co were about to face an onslaught of attacking football.
However, despite added impetus on the Gunners’ behalf, Steve Bruce’s side could have furthered their advantage when Chester, Davies and Bruce filed forward once again for another set piece on 12 minutes, only for the boss’ son to see a looping header nodded away by Kieran Gibbs on the far post.
But four minutes later and Bruce was caught in a tangle with the London outfit’s Santi Cazorla 30 yards out.
The Spaniard took to his feet to bend a free kick into the top corner to the reduce the deficit.
Bruce’s side began to sit deep with former Winwick Athletic star Chester and his teammates absorbing the pressure well and even witnessing Tom Huddlestone fizz a long-range effort narrowly over before the half time whistle.
Huddlestone became the accused after the interval as he tugged at Arsenal’s OIivier Giroud in the area, doing enough to put the France international off in one of three penalty shouts for the Gunners.
Then, with less than 20 minutes remaining, the inevitable equaliser came. Substitute Yaya Sanogo glanced a near post flick wide, but referee Lee Probert deemed it to have touched Davies on its way out.
From the resulting corner Bacary Sagna’s deflected header fell to Laurent Koscielny and the French defender span in the six-yard box to fire between Allan McGregor’s legs.
Hull and Chester looked deflated, but rode out a late Arsenal flurry, including youngster Sanogo dragging a shot wide, to take the game to extra time.
Birchwood boy Chester had been a doubt during the week after a hamstring injury, but was now set to play 120 minutes for Bruce’s side.
Arsenal came out on the offensive and Giroud headed against the bar from Aaron Ramsey’s cross before Gibbs blasted over from six yards.
But with 109 minutes on the clock Ramsey, in magical form at the beginning of the season before suffering a series of injury set-backs, popped up to deal Hull City and Chester’s dreams of lifting the FA Cup the decisive blow.
The Welshman flew onto Giroud’s deft backheel to neatly slide the ball right-footed past McGregor at his near post for the winner.
Substitute Sone Aluko had Arsenal heartbeats, and that of the cup engraver who had already started etching the Gunners’ name onto the trophy, racing when he beat Fabianski to the ball with the keeper well out of his goal.
The quick forward took aim for the empty net but could only slide the ball across goal out of his teammates’ reach from distance as Hull’s final chance went begging.
Moments later Probert blew the final whistle and it was the north London club, not Chester and Hull City, who had their name on the trophy.