ANOTHER step on the road to the Premier League or a chink of light for Watford?
Only time will tell on that score after promotion-chasing Hull City were held to a goalless draw on a frustrating night at the KC Stadium.
Needing three points to pile the pressure truly onto nearest rivals Watford, the Tigers could claim just one from a dour contest with a Bristol City side whose survival hopes had been extinguished three days earlier.
The upshot of Steve Bruce’s men being held is that Watford can today cut Hull’s advantage to four points by beating Blackburn Rovers.
Crystal Palace, too, were a beneficiary of the Robins’ dogged resistance as they can also – mathematically, at least – still claim second spot by winning their final four games.
For the Eagles to prosper, however, Hull would have to lose both their remaining fixtures. The reality, therefore, is that the battle for second place remains a straight scrap between Hull and Watford.
The Yorkshire side remain overwhelming favourites, but there was no mistaking the air of frustration among the 18,595 crowd at the final whistle.
With good reason, too, after the home side had produced arguably their poorest performance of the season. So insipid were the Tigers, in fact, that it took until the 92nd minute for Tom Heaton to be truly tested when David Meyler smashed a shot goalwards that the Robins’ goalkeeper did well to parry to safety.
That apart, though, Heaton had a quiet night as Hull produced a strangely lacklustre display on a night when they started slowly and failed to up the tempo until it was far too late.
George Boyd being moved into midfield was a factor, the side looking imbalanced as a result. It was not just that, however, with too many players looking jittery.
Considering how much was at stake, perhaps that was inevitable. But, even so, considering how well Hull have played on their own patch this season, last night’s struggles did come as something of a surprise.
Chances were at a premium at either end throughout with Hull’s most promising opening of the first half ending in groans as Robbie Brady attempted to pass rather than shoot after latching on to a poor defensive header by Richard Foster.
That allowed the pass to be cut out, and even the quick thinking of Stephen Quinn could not retrieve the situation as the one-time Sheffield United midfielder shot over the top.
Gedo also had a header that flew over during a turgid first half, while at the other end the visitors went closest when Steven Davies’s header from an incisive cross by Neil Kilkenny was blocked at the back post.
During those insipid opening 45 minutes, manager Bruce cut a frustrated figure on the touchline,
The hope for all but the 98 visiting fans who had made the long trip from Bristol was that the Tigers’ boss would be able to cajole a decent second-half performance out of his side with a half-time pep talk.
It proved to be a forlorn hope with the Robins, who will finish bottom of the Championship regardless of their last couple of results, looking the most likely to break the deadlock in the early stages of the second 45 minutes.
Albert Adomah twice shot straight at David Stockdale, who also made a hash of trying to cut out a cross from Davies before James Chester cleared the ball to safety.
Hull had another nervous moment midway through the half when Richard Foster drilled a shot just wide after the home defence had only half cleared Kilkenny’s free-kick.
Finally, the hosts were stung into action as Quinn had an appeal for
a penalty when he went down under a challenge from Greg Cunningham before Heaton had to rush from his line to claim the ball ahead of Nick Proschwitz.
Then, in stoppage time, the chance the crowd had waited for arrived as neat play on the edge of the Robins’ penalty area saw the ball worked to Meyler.
He took one touch before unleashing a ferocious shot that Heaton did brilliantly to keep out to ensure all Tiger eyes will be on Vicarage Road.
A Blackburn win together with Palace failing to beat Leicester City will have the champagne corks popping across the East Riding come 5pm. Anything else, however, and the scrap for second place will go to the penultimate weekend.
Hull City: Stockdale; Chester (Rosenior 86), Faye, Hobbs; Elmohamady, Boyd, Meyler, Quinn, Brady; Gedo (Simpson 67), Fryatt (Proschwitz 67). Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Cairney, McShane, Fathi.
Bristol City: Heaton; Moloney, Bates, Nyatanga, Foster; Adomah (Anderson 85), Kelly, Kilkenny, Cunningham; Davies (Burns 89), Baldock (Howard 90). Unused substitutes: Gerken, Wilson, Carey, Ayala.
Referee: M Oliver (Northumberland).