Few defeats can have felt as deflating in this Premier League season that Hull City’s home loss to Burnley at the weekend. In a minefield of a run-in, it was the fixture that offered genuine succour. Whether taken by overconfidence or gripped by nerves, the bottom line is that the Tigers blew it, and now face “a mountain to climb”, in the words of their coach Steve Bruce.
The market certainly agrees with him, with Hull hot favourites to join Burnley and Queens Park Rangers in next season’s Championship at [1.44]. For context, however, it’s worth knowing that Sunderland (priced at [6.0]), Newcastle ([8.8]) and Leicester ([36.0]) are all still within touching distance, at two, two and three points away respectively with two games left to play.
So why the sense of impossibility? It is normal to feel a real flatness after the manner of Saturday’s defeat, as well as the identity of the opponents, a sense that was considerably accentuated that Burnley’s win had not saved them. Yet it’s not as if Hull have been hopeless for weeks, like – and we have to say it – Newcastle. They were outstanding against Crystal Palace and Liverpool, and they need to remember that. This is not the time to throw the baby out with the bathwater.
When talking about Hull’s run-in from hell, nobody considered the degree to which Tottenham would slouch towards the end of the season. Saturday’s visit to White Hart Lane is winnable for Bruce and company, before we even get to recalling the fact that Hull have lost just once of the previous three Premier League visits there.
Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore, who should be providing the power from the centre of midfield, were particularly flat against Burnley, but you would expect them to be considerably sharpened by the prospect of a weekend return to their former club. Now, more than ever, they really have something to prove. Bruce has goalscorers at his disposal too, with Dame N’Doye, Abel Hernandez and Nikica Jelavic more than good enough to do the job.
The last day meeting with Manchester United at the KC Stadium is intriguing already. It was this very fixture, at that very moment, that looked like shaping Hull’s destiny in 2008/09, though the 1-0 defeat for Phil Brown’s team was ultimately not costly, as Newcastle slumped at Aston Villa.
Given United’s patchy away form, Hull are not to be discounted. They will hope that United arrive with little to play for, as they did in 2009, so a failure to win for Louis van Gaal’s side against Arsenal and a subsequent Gunners victory against West Bromwich Albion – meaning United would definitely finish fourth – would work for them. If United have the prospect of snatching third place, the Tigers’ task would become more tricky.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, though. Even if Sunderland’s meeting with Leicester this weekend means that Hull cannot be officially relegated on Saturday whatever happens at Tottenham, they must concentrate solely on the next challenge. If they fail to get what they need in north London, whatever happens in the United match will probably be anecdotal.
It will be tough, but Newcastle’s lack of nick and Sunderland’s remaining fixtures (they follow in-form Leicester with visits to Arsenal and Chelsea) means that Hull still have every chance of making this happen.