AS a possible second taste of life in the Premier League beckons, Stephen Quinn’s mind has perhaps inevitably been straying back to how previous club Sheffield United booked their return to the top flight seven years ago.
Along with Reading, the club who went up as champions with a record-breaking number of points, the Blades set a truly stunning pace from the very start and were never outside the top two after the opening week.
By Christmas, the Royals led the way with 59 points from 24 outings while Neil Warnock’s United boasted five fewer points from the same number of games. Third-placed Watford, meanwhile, were a colossal 14 points behind and even though Leeds United threatened to make a late surge during the Spring, the division’s two leading lights were able to toast promotion over the Easter weekend.
As Quinn looks to repeat that success in the colours of Hull City this time around, he is the first to admit there are not too many parallels between this season and the Championship of 2005-06.
Cardiff City may have led the way since November but the last few weeks have seen Malky Mackay’s side lose their way and a points advantage that once stood in double figures is now down to just four. Clearly, the Welsh club will not be threatening Reading’s record points tally of 106.
As for the chasing pack, control of second place has been more akin to a game of pass the parcel with all manner of clubs having had a spell in the top two before soon being usurped by a rival.
In Hull’s case, Monday night’s win over Burnley was the third time this season that the club has moved into the automatic promotion places. That their previous stays lasted 19 and 11 days, respectively, shows Steve Bruce’s men have been just as susceptible to frittering away possession of second place as anyone else in the division.
To some, this has been taken as a sign that the Championship lacks the quality of previous years. For Quinn, however, he is adamant that nothing could be further from the truth with the competitive nature of the second tier instead being an indication of increased standards across the board.
“When Sheffield United went up, ourselves and Reading were clear all season long,” said the 26-year-old ahead of today’s home encounter with in-form Nottingham Forest.
“That hasn’t been the case this time with even Cardiff having been dragged back in of late. That shows the quality of the division and how it has improved. It gets better year after year and I am sure any neutral watching would say it is better than the Premier League.
“There are a lot of very good teams in the Championship, as even those dropping down from the Premier League a year ago, like Blackburn and Wolves, have found out.
“You only have to look at the league table to see how many teams are close together at the top. The race for the play-offs is even hotting up with all sorts of teams going on a run.
“Teams beat each other all the time and it is making it such an unpredictable league and so, so tough.”
Quinn, who made 15 Premier League appearances for the Blades in 2006-07, has played a major role in Hull’s push for a top flight return.
Under the terms of the switch that took one of the highest earners at Bramall Lane across Yorkshire, the Tigers must pay the Blades £2,000 per game up to a maximum of £100,000.
Bruce has already hailed Quinn’s transfer as a “real bargain” and that view will not be altered if City do trigger a clause in the deal that will see a further six-figure payment made to the Blades if they make a Premier League return while the copper-haired midfielder is still at the KC Stadium.
As it stands, the Tigers are well placed to clinch a return following Monday’s win at Burnley – a result that Quinn believes underlined that the East Riding club has the qualities needed to prevail in a battle for automatic promotion.
“It was a hard night,” said Quinn, whose second-half winner was his first goal for City since early October. “Everywhere you go is a real battle. That is what I mean about the standard of the Championship improving over the last few years.”
Forest travel to the KC today buoyed by a five-game winning run that has propelled the East Midlands club into the play-off places.
It means City will be facing yet another testing encounter ahead of the international break, which will be followed by Bruce’s men travelling to Huddersfield Town on Easter Saturday and then facing a potentially season-defining home game against Watford the following Tuesday.
Quinn added: “We don’t look too far ahead. I know it is a cliche about only taking one game at a time but that is because it is true. Forest at home is all that matters right now, especially as they are on a good run.
“That is what I mean by this being such a tough league to do well in. The gaffer says it is the teams who make the least mistakes who are successful in the Championship and that is right.
“So, if we can cut out a lot of our mistakes and then take the chances when they come along, then we have a chance. I definitely find this team is one of the best I have played in.”