WHEREVER Hull City captain Michael Dawson looks ahead of kick-off today, there is likely to be a familiar face.
Glance towards the home dugout and the defender will catch sight of Steve Bruce, the manager who three years ago brought him back to Yorkshire.
Further along the Villa bench, Dawson will be able to catch glimpses of Stephen Clemence and Gary Walsh, two of the coaches at Hull who he, first, endured relegation alongside in 2015 and then enjoyed clinching promotion back to the Premier League with at Wembley a year later.
Someone else who experienced that huge swing of emotion alongside the Tigers captain was Ahmed Elmohamady, now in claret and blue following his recent £1m switch to be reunited with James Chester.
It is, however, John Terry’s presence that is most likely to stir memories within Dawson as it was Villa’s new captain who gave way when the Northallerton-born defender made his England debut as a second-half substitute in 2010.
“I was surprised at John Terry coming to the Championship,” admitted the 33-year-old to The Yorkshire Post.
It is a big challenge in this division and he is a manager who gets the best out of players. He puts his arm around you and brings confidence to the group. His promotion record speaks for itself.Michael Dawson
“I know what a top player he is and there were Premier League teams in for him. But it just shows what a Chelsea Blue he is because he doesn’t want to play against them.”
Terry’s insistence that he could not bear to play at Stamford Bridge in the colours of a rival club is a big factor in why the 36-year-old will be shaking hands with Dawson shortly before 5.30pm today as a Championship player.
That and the persistence of Bruce, the Villa manager having bombarded Terry with text messages after the defender had called time on his 22-years at the Bridge.
Dawson knows all about how persuasive the former Manchester United captain can be, having been lured north from Tottenham Hotspur a couple of weeks into the 2014-15 season.
European football and a desire to build on City’s historic appearance in the FA Cup final the previous May were the selling points but things did not quite pan out as hoped.
Relegation and an early exit from the Europa League in the qualifying stages on the night Dawson was introduced to the KCOM Stadium crowd came as a huge blow to all in the East Riding.
Amends were made, however, and a year later the Tigers captain was celebrating on the Wembley pitch after Mo Diame’s goal had beaten Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship play-off final.
Bruce cut a relieved figure at Wembley after promotion had been clinched but, just two months on, he was gone following a disagreement with the Hull hierarchy. This tea-time will bring his first reunion with the club he led to those two promotions and three Wembley visits.
“It was a strange situation when he left,” said Dawson when asked about Bruce’s departure 13 months ago. “Our aim was to get promotion at the start of the (2015-16) campaign. We were top at Christmas, went through a blip and had to go up the hard way – albeit what a day it was.
“Then, we came back for pre-season and two or three weeks later we lost our manager. It was a shock and we had to deal with that.
“Mike (Phelan) took over, we got off to a good start but then we struggled. That is the Premier League for you, it is the best league in the world.
“But to lose Steve at that moment was a strange one. He brought me to the club and I was sad to see him go.
“That, though, was down to him making that decision.”
Bruce’s two promotions to the Premier League took his personal tally as a manager to four, a record he is strongly fancied to extend come May at the helm of Villa.
“Steve Bruce has had good players,” said Dawson when asked why his old manager has been so successful. “He signs players he knows who can deal with the Championship.
“It is a big challenge in this division and he is a manager who gets the best out of players. He puts his arm around you and brings confidence to the group.
“His promotion record speaks for itself. But, no, we haven’t spoken this week because it is about what we do now.”
City head to the West Midlands on the back of a summer that brought several high-profile departures following relegation.
At one stage, Dawson was the only central defender on the books but that has since been rectified. Nevertheless, at least five new signings are wanted by Leonid Slutsky in his attempts to turn Hull into a genuine force.
Victory today against a Villa side led by Terry can surely only help that push by proving to prospective signings that the club means business.
As for Dawson, he is looking forward to a reunion with the man who gave way as the then Spurs defender came off the bench against Hungary to make the first of four appearances for England.
“John Terry is a great guy to have around a club,” said the Tigers captain. “But this is a new challenge for him. What he will have to deal with is every centre-forward being excited to play against him.
“It is 12 years since I first played against him at White Hart Lane and it was amazing, the kind of player every kid wanted to play against.
“Now, he is in the Championship and all the centre-forwards will want to test themselves against him.”