The last few weeks have been something akin to a phoney war for Hull City.
Ever since a chastening night against Derby County at the start of April that saw Steve Bruce’s men slump to the heaviest defeat of his near four-year reign, everything has effectively been on hold as the Tigers await the real battles getting under way.
Sure, league points have been up for grabs but, with Hull’s hopes of automatic promotion having ended with that 4-0 loss in the East Midlands and a play-off place all but guaranteed thanks to their form during the winter months, little of true consequence has happened at the KC Stadium.
All that, though, is about to change. Once today’s final game against Rotherham United is out of the way, the Tigers’ ambitions of an instant return to the Premier League will firmly be put on the line.
Curtis Davies appreciates that the play-offs are now where Hull will be judged for the 2015-16 season, admitting that anything but victory in the Championship final on May 28 will mean the Yorkshire club have failed.
“The next three weeks will decide if the season is a success,” said the 31-year-old to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s clash with Neil Warnock’s Rotherham United.
“It is the be-all and end-all. Once Rotherham is out of the way, the 46 games count for little. We are in the play-offs and now we have three games to get ourselves in the Premier League. That is the bottom line.
“Forget form and how we let ourselves down at times or how we beat certain teams, the good runs and the bad runs. All that is gone. None of it matters. We have three games to achieve our objective and a good enough squad to get into the Premier League.”
Hull’s quality cannot be questioned, their squad dripping with Premier League experience and class. What has not been so apparent at times, however, is the heart and desire required to prevail in a league as fiercely competitive as the Championship.
Defeats such as last week’s at already relegated Bolton Wanderers point to a squad that can take its eye off the ball against struggling teams.
This notion is backed up by Hull having dropped points against all but Fulham of the bottom eight, today’s visitors Rotherham, then sitting one place off the foot of the table, having triumphed 2-0 against Bruce’s men at the New York Stadium in December.
It is a damning statistic, and one made all the more galling by Hull having thrashed Burnley and Middlesbrough 3-0 at the KC this term.
Those triumphs were two of the undoubted highlights for the Tigers, but Davies is adamant that even those notable scalps, plus the 6-0 hammering meted out to Charlton Athletic, will count for nothing if the East Riding club fall short in the play-offs.
“The season cannot be considered a success if we do not go up,” said the defender, who recently signed a new two-year contract. “Not even when considering the heights we have hit at times this season, definitely not.
“I look around the training pitch and the dressing room at our quality and it would be a failure not to go up.
“We were relegated last year and this is a great opportunity to bounce back. We pushed the top three all the way until the last month, when we fell away. But this is our second opportunity to put that right.
“I came down (from the Premier League in 2011) with Birmingham and we lost near enough 10 or 12 players that summer, but still got to the play-offs. In those circumstances, that was a case of ‘well done’ because we had to restructure the whole team.
“At Hull, we didn’t lose that many. So, we have no excuse to say, ‘We were rebuilding’.
“We have tweaked it, fair enough, and certain lads have come in.
“But we have been together a good time now. So, personally, it would be failure (if Hull fall short in the play-offs).”
Earlier this week, Davies was named as the club’s inaugural winner of the Rob Brown Award for Special Contribution for his work in the community.
Along with supporting various charities such as Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) and the Teenage Cancer Trust, Davies befriended devoted fan Rob Brown during the latter’s three-year battle against leukaemia.
He died aged 21 and Hull fans held a minute’s applause during the 21st minute of January’s home game against Charlton in his honour.
“Rob’s story touched me and it was good to be able to help him out during a bad time when getting treatment,” said the Tigers defender. “We got close.
“I was told about the award, but I misunderstood and thought it was named after Rob and we were going to present it to someone in the community doing good things. I had no idea the award was being presented to me.
“That is why when I went up to collect the award, I was a little bit choked. I just hadn’t been expecting it. But it was the proudest award I have ever received because it has Rob’s name on it.
“I just wanted to be a friend to Rob and help him through the treatment, take his mind off it really.
“I had been trying to score for ages. Then against Charlton, I went up for a corner bang on 21 minutes and got a header. I really thought it was meant to be that I would score for him. But it didn’t go in.
“I finally got the goal for him (against Bristol City on April 2) and dedicated it to him. I want to get promotion for him, too.”