Hull City are about to embark on a run of five away games that could make or break their Premier League season. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
DESCRIBING a club sitting 10th in the Premier League table in mid-January as being at something of a crossroads in their season seems strange.
But, with just five points separating Hull City from the relegation zone and the next five away games for Steve Bruce’s men being against teams in the bottom six, there can surely be no doubt that 2013-14 is approaching its defining stage for Yorkshire’s sole top-flight representative.
With that run of games on the road beginning on Saturday with a trip to Norwich City, defender James Chester knows Hull’s away record – one win and five points from 10 games – has to improve.
“Games like Chelsea are bonus games,” said the former Manchester United trainee about Saturday’s 2-0 defeat to Jose Mourinho’s men at the KC Stadium, pictured.
“We have done well against the big teams this season and given everyone a game. But the gaffer said after the Chelsea game, ‘Fixtures like this will not define our season’.
“We knew what he meant and that we have a big week or so coming up with games at Norwich and Crystal Palace.
“If we get points from those games, we will be all right. We are still 10th in the league but the gap is not that big on the teams that are below us.”
City’s fixture list has been somewhat one-sided with the first half of the season bringing trips to all but Manchester United of the nine sides above them.
It is, therefore, perhaps no surprise that Hull’s away points tally is the joint lowest in the Premier League with Stoke City. Chester added: “We have been to all the big clubs away from home. It can be difficult at those grounds, taking points off them can be hard. The games against those below will define our season.”
That run begins with Saturday’s trip to Carrow Road and the January 27 visit to Selhurst Park. Sunderland’s Stadium of Light is the next away game on February 8, followed a fortnight later by the trek to Cardiff City.
A visit to West Ham on March 8 completes the five game-run on the road and confidence is high among Bruce’s squad that a decent return of points will be earned with Chester pointing to the Chelsea game as proof of how far City have come this season.
“I think everyone (at Saturday’s game) could see we have come a long way since the opening day.
“That first half-an-hour (in Hull’s 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge on August 18) was probably one of most difficult 30 minutes I have ever had on a football pitch.
“I thought we showed in the first half (on Saturday) just how far we have come. We could possibly have nicked one.
“Unfortunately, in the second half you could see how much money Chelsea have spent on players. They have some great quality and with quality like that they are always going to cause teams problems and score goals.”
Boosting hopes that Hull will still be in the Premier League this time next year are the intensive efforts that have gone in to strengthening the squad.
Bruce wants to spend a combined fee of £14m on Nikic Jelavic and Shane Long, something that Chester – who joined City early in 2011 – finds hugely encouraging.
“It is exciting to see bids like those two go in,” said the Tigers defender. “This club has come such a long way, even since I joined. We are being linked with some big players now and for a lot of money.
“We brought in Tom (Huddlestone) during the summer and that was frightening. If he (Bruce) can do it again, even better for all of us.
“Scoring goals has been a factor since I signed, really. We do make it hard for ourselves at times because we have to be on top of our game defensively all the time.
“That can be the case week in, week out. If the gaffer could get a couple more in to help out then that would be great.”
On the road to top-flight safety
Hull City’s forthcoming run of away games and position of opponents:
Jan 18: Norwich City 15th
Jan 28: Crystal Palace 20th
Feb 8: Sunderland 19th
Feb 22: Cardiff City 18th
March 8: West Ham 17th
Hull also travel to Fulham, 16th, on April 26.