Hull depart Premier League in pain but with show of pride

A young Hull City fan receives a consoling hand after relegation had been confirmed yesterday (Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire).
A young Hull City fan receives a consoling hand after relegation had been confirmed yesterday (Picture: Lynne Cameron/PA Wire).
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A SEASON that began 298 days earlier with Hull City fans toasting what promised to be an exciting new era for their club with a pint of local Slovakian brew costing just 80 pence ended yesterday with those same supporters needing a stiff drink or two to ease the pain.

Relegation is never easy to take, no matter how it is confirmed.

And the Tigers’ second demotion from the top flight in five years was made all the more frustrating by the knowledge that much of the damage had been self-inflicted.

Not necessarily yesterday, where Hull battled gamely to end a 10-game losing run against Manchester United.

But across a season where missed opportunities – both of the goalscoring kind and an inability to build on encouraging results – have been the norm,

Hull have no one to blame but themselves for slipping out of the top flight.

What the Tigers did do, at least, was depart with a sense of pride – a point underlined by the home fans in the 24,745 crowd affording their distraught players a warm ovation at the final whistle.

Chants about winning promotion next season also reverberated around Hull’s home during the final few minutes of a contest that had been made irrelevant by Newcastle United having opened up a 2-0 lead at home to West Ham United.

The pain of going down, though, was apparent everywhere.

From the forlorn look on manager Steve Bruce’s face to the dejected body language of the players who returned the applause of the crowd, there was no doubting just how much the failure to stay among the elite hurt.

All such a far cry from those heady days of late July last year, when the East Riding club had made their competitive bow in European competition.

Zilina, Slovakia’s third biggest city, was the venue for that historic debut as Hull ground out a goalless draw against FK Trencin. Around 600 fans were there and as they began the long trip back to East Yorkshire either immediately after the game or the following morning, the talk was of further exciting adventures to come.

They never came as, after edging past Trencin in the return, Bruce’s men became the first Premier League side to bow out of the Europa League before the group stage since Aston Villa in 2010.

Yesterday’s fall from grace was, of course, much more dramatic but the clues that this was not going to be the season everyone at the KC had anticipated were there in that untimely Europa League exit.

The Belgian minnows really should not have proved too difficult a hurdle for the 
FA Cup runners-up to negotiate in August’s play-off round.

But Allan McGregor’s blunder in the away leg ultimately set the tone for much of what followed.

Admittedly, there were some impressive displays in the opening weeks and months of the league campaign, most notably at home to West Ham and during the opening hour at Newcastle.

Battling draws were also earned at Arsenal and Liverpool but, before long, it had become clear that the Tigers’ early exit from Europe was merely the prelude to a long and difficult winter.

November was horrendous. The loss at Burnley prompted an irate Bruce to label his players ‘big-time Charlies’ but it did little in terms of sparking a reaction, as the sorry surrender at Old Trafford just three weeks later proved.

By Christmas, the Tigers had won just two of 16 league games.

Form did improve after that but not enough for Hull ever really to convince, especially with a run-in that always smacked of being enough to drag the club down.

So it proved, with yesterday bringing the curtain down on not only a desperately disappointing season but also Hull’s two-year stay among the elite.

As others have proved, the path back to the Premier League is a tough one to negotiate.

A big summer awaits in the East Riding.