Win at Fulham would fend off any Hull angst
Twelve months ago it was a cruel and protracted torture. What appeared to be routine final steps towards promotion out of the Championship turned into an emotional assault. In the end it was worth it as Hull City clinched a place in the Premier League on an iconic final day, but that final fortnight of the season was agony.
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After winning 2-1 at Ipswich Town, their fifth to last game of the season, City's march towards the top-flight staggered and lurched into a dangerous collapse. A 1-0 loss at a Wolves side relegated two weeks later was followed by a 0-0 draw at home to a Bristol City side already condemned to League One. Even then a win at Barnsley would have been enough. But oh no, an abject 2-0 loss at Oakwell in front of 5,000 travelling fans brought complete and utter deflation.
"Typical City," was the conclusion of most supporters a year ago this weekend. This, after all, is a club where the easy way is shirked and so it proved in the season's last drama. A 2-2 draw with Cardiff City dragged supporters through a mangle at the KC Stadium and only when Leeds' shock victory at City's promotion rivals Watford was confirmed 15 minutes after the full-time whistle was top-flight football finally secured.
Those fraught weeks robbed manager Steve Bruce of the last dark hairs on his head and deepened worry lines deep across his forehead. A coveted reward eventually arrived but the City boss is desperate not to relive those days in this year's Premier League relegation scrap. It has been a fight for others all season and now is really not the time for the Tigers get involved.
If only for the sake of Bruce's nerves, Saturday's trip to Fulham needs to bring a 37th point of the season. A defeat would not be disastrous given the six-point cushion between City and the bottom three but with away games at Aston Villa and Manchester United to come before the season finishes at home to Everton, the same anxieties felt this time last year may yet be invited back. Perish the thought.
City, however, should relish this weekend's fixture. Having beaten the Cottagers on four of the five occasions they have met in the Premier League, no opponent has been more profitable in the top-flight. And then there are vivid memories of December 28. A 6-0 win at the KC Stadium was the brilliant highlight of this excellent Premier League campaign.
But above all else City should enjoy being the team free of pressure at Craven Cottage. While Fulham will carry the weight of their expectant followers in a game they dare not lose with chances fast running out, Bruce's side should be the carefree visitors capable of taking full advantage. The away wins at Sunderland and Cardiff in February provide the obvious blueprint.
City's record against their relegation rivals should also sound a warning to Fulham fans banking on a win. In their 16 games against sides currently in the bottom half of the table, the Tigers have only lost four games on the way to racking up 28 of their 36 points. Fulham have only managed two more than that all season.
Bruce’s dilemma will be whether to target a point or three. His every instinct will be to set up cautiously to frustrate his hosts, paving the way for a draw that would mean the world to his side and next to nothing to Fulham. But against the Premier League's worst defence by some distance, there will be a temptation to go in search of something more. Fulham have only kept five clean-sheets in 35 games this season and worsening that run would take a typically tight City side halfway there.
The time of the year has arrived when games somehow mean more than three points. One set of fans will file out of Craven Cottage skipping along the Thames and the other will be more inclined to throw themselves in. So long as it’s those decked out in black and amber in a merry mood, Bruce will know a survival mission that began in August is now finally complete. Just no more "Typical City", please.