• Steve Bruce's men indebted to Leeds win at Watford
• New striking power required to keep the Tigers up
Manchester United alumni are never going to be bosom buddies with anyone at Leeds United but Steve Bruce acknowledged a debt of gratitude to the old enemy, whose victory at Watford on Saturday enabled his Hull team to flop across the promotion finishing line like spent marathon runners.
As a result of events at Vicarage Road, Hull return to the Premier League as the runners-up to Cardiff, with whom they drew in the most dramatic of denouements. Had Watford won instead of losing 2-1, they would have gone up instead, condemning Bruce and his dog-tired players to ordeal by play-off.
It would be a curmudgeon (or a Watford fan) who begrudged Hull or their popular manager their triumph after the travails of the past few years. They have succeeded against the odds, on a miser's budget and with a threadbare squad that was further depleted by injuries, and Bruce is fully entitled to feel that his reputation has been handsomely restored after a sacking by Sunderland that he maintains was harsh.
That said, when the heads clear after a weekend of celebration the future is all ifs and buts. Hull have hardly been an irresistible force in the Championship, taking just two points from their last four games. They lost to relegated Wolverhampton Wanderers and could only draw 0-0 at home to Bristol City, who finished bottom of the table by a country mile.
Their supporters will argue that they came good when it mattered, but the fact remains that they did not beat Cardiff and needed that favour from Leeds to complete the job. Substantial reinforcement is required if they are to hold their own at Premier level. It is the first time that the teams promoted automatically have not had a player score in double figures.
Cardiff can point to the fact that their principal striker and record signing, Nicky Maynard, played only three times before rupturing cruciate ligaments and that he scored on his comeback on Saturday.
Their manager, Malky Mackay, also contends that Fraizer Campbell, signed in January, would have contributed 20-plus had he been available all season. As it is, a predator's finish against former teammates left him with seven in his first 12 appearances. Campbell and Maynard both have the potential to succeed at the higher level.
Hull possess no striker of whom that can be said, and Campbell's case should worry supporters. Bruce wanted to take him back to the KC Stadium in January and agreed to pay Sunderland's £600,000 asking price, only for the player to opt for Cardiff because the personal terms on offer there were much better. The hope must be that the purse strings will be loosened, given the £100m promotion is said to be worth, otherwise Hull's latest stay among the elite is likely to be even shorter than the first.
Those who bemoan the proliferation of foreign owners in British football should note that Hull, like Cardiff, were saved from bankruptcy by Egypt's Assem Allam and Vincent Tan (Malaysia) respectively. Together, these two foreign businessmen have invested £100m to give down-at-heel Championship clubs a shot at the big time. How Hull got there on judgment day is a story that will resonate down the years as an "I was there" occasion.
Without a goal in three previous games, Bruce ditched the 3-5-2 formation he had used all season in favour of an orthodox 4-4-2 and was rewarded with an improvement which saw Hull dominate.
At the interval Cardiff withdrew Etien Velikonja, their £2m centre-forward from Slovenia whose first start in the Championship had been unpromising, and sent on Campbell, who gave them the lead within four minutes, rolling home a classy finish after a long through pass from Kim Bo-Kyung had bisected Hull's defence.
The packed stadium fell silent, but not for long. First Nick Proschwitz bundled in the equaliser from close range, then Paul McShane did likewise to give Hull a 2-1 lead. Cue raucous celebration and a premature pitch invasion in the 90th minute, when what the crowd took to be the final whistle in reality signalled a penalty for Ben Nugent's foul on Ahmed Elmohamady. When the pitch had been cleared Proschwitz took the kick, which was saved by David Marshall. No matter, Hull had won and were up – but wait.
Cardiff went straight down the other end and gained a penalty of their own, for Abdoulaye Faye's handball. Maynard showed Proschwitz how such things should be done and at 2-2 sackcloth and ashes suddenly seemed more appropriate than those tiger costumes.
The fact that Watford's goalkeeper had been injured, contributing to 16 minutes of injury time, left the KC crowd in limbo. Was it to be the promised land or the purgatory of the play-offs? Those Hull players and staff who could bear to do so watched events unfold on a television in the tunnel while others paced the corridors or adjourned to the toilet. Eventually Ross McCormack, a former Cardiff player, scored Leeds' winner and it was party time on Humberside.
Man of the match Paul McShane (Hull)