Marco Silva, relegation-threatened Hull begin crucial stretch at West Ham
Make or break, do or die. Call it what you wish. But Hull City's Premier League season has arrived at a week like no other. On Saturday Marco Silva's side host West Ham United and next Wednesday it is the visit of Middlesbrough. The stakes could scarcely be higher in the Tigers' fight against relegation.
Although the next seven days cannot clinch another season in the top flight, it can be the period where Hull lurch towards the Championship. Fail to find a victory and surely their number will be up.
A three-point gap between the Tigers and safety is far from insurmountable but this feels like a week when the charge must begin. Although Hull still have to welcome Watford and Sunderland to the KCOM Stadium, the next two games are as attractive as any left on the calendar.
The 4-0 loss at Everton that led Hull into the final international break of the season has again steepened the gradient of their path towards survival. No sooner were they back in touch with victory over Swansea, an all too familiar away defeat has resumed the thankless game of catch up.
And these are the fixtures where ground can be clawed back. Middlesbrough are one of only two teams below Hull in the table, while West Ham are without a win in five and sit 12th. Slaven Bilic's erratic side are hardly a soft-touch but nor are they an opponent to fear. Both of these games are firmly in the column marked "winnable".
Hull, at least, are no strangers to high stakes moments this season. Back in mid-January, with a run of games against Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal looming, Silva's first Premier League game was a visit from Bournemouth. Just 13 points were on the board at that stage and the circumstances cried out for an overdue victory. It arrived with Silva's men beating the Cherries 3-1 at the KCOM Stadium.
The visit of Swansea earlier this month was much the same. A four-point gap had opened up between the Tigers and safety and Silva accepted anything less than a win would inflict damage on a faltering survival bid. His players handled the occasion and duly squeezed out a 2-1 win.
Silva now is looking for the hat trick. Failing to beat West Ham would likely leave Hull needing to win half of their remaining eight games just to stand a chance of avoiding relegation. The odds would be stacked against the Tigers down a final straight that includes games against Manchester City and Tottenham.
Hull need heroes in the next week and it remains a shame that one will be in the West Ham ranks this weekend. Robert Snodgrass was the undoubted star of this season until joining the Hammers for £10m in January and replacing his goal threat has so far eluded Silva.
The reception that greets Snodgrass at the KCOM Stadium is likely to be split. Some will appreciate his efforts in helping Hull rise up from the Championship and not begrudge the Scot a long-term deal at an established Premier League club. Others will resent his readiness to move on from a club that had supported him throughout a 16-month spell on the sidelines.
One thing uniting every Hull supporter will be dread should West Ham win a free kick on the edge of their hosts' penalty area. Snodgrass is yet to score for the Hammers and the stage is ominously set.
Silva, though, has other concerns. A three-match suspension for Tom Huddlestone leaves a gaping hole in a midfield already missing Ryan Mason. Sam Clucas could well be the man asked to drop deeper, leaving the door open for David Meyler, Markus Henriksen or Evandro to step up, but Hull will undoubtedly be weaker without Huddlestone's calming presence. None have performed as consistently as the former England man since the turn of the year.
Elsewhere, there will be a clamour for Silva to start with both Abel Hernandez and Oumar Niasse, the pairing that proved so decisive in beating Swansea last time out at the KCOM. Silva will not rule it out but he is not one for bowing to public pressure. The 4-3-3 remains his favoured approach. Hull, he believes, are not strong enough to come out throwing haymakers from the first whistle.
Silva will know the value of a win against the Hammers but he will also be wary of the damage that would come with defeat. These are no longer times suitable for the faint-hearted.
Philip Buckingham is ESPN FC's Hull City blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @PJBuckingham.