ON taking charge of Hull City in January, Marco Silva admitted a “miracle” was needed to keep the failing club in the Premier League. He was wrong. He now needs a second one.
The Tigers’ defeat to relegated Sunderland coupled with Swansea’s victory over Everton a couple of hours later means the Yorkshire side is staring into the abyss.
They are a strong side and this is a strong league. We needed to win, we don’t deny that. But we didn’t, so next week we have to win and, hopefully, we can.Harry Maguire
Another three points for Paul Clement’s Swans at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and Hull’s return to the Championship after just a year breathing in the rarefied atmosphere of the top flight will be confirmed the following day by defeat at Crystal Palace.
It is a scenario few saw coming ahead of the weekend, not least because of the footballing miracle Silva had already performed at the KCOM Stadium.
By bringing hope where there had been none and restoring togetherness at a club riven by rancour and recrimination, the Portuguese had pulled off what many had considered in January to be an impossible task.
Now, though, Silva has to go to the well once again. Back-to-back wins from Sunday’s trip to Selhurst Park and Tottenham Hotspur’s final day visit are likely to be City’s only hope. It is a tall order, though one captain Harry Maguire insists is not beyond them.
“It is still all to play for,” he said ahead of a run-in that also sees Swansea host West Brom on the final day. “People might say we always fall at the last hurdle, but you have to look at our previous home games as well.
“We have won five out of six so people who say we crumble under pressure are wrong. We have all handled pressure games in the past, we delivered in ‘must-win’ games in the past against Boro, West Ham, Watford.
“So who says when we go to Palace we won’t deliver? We also know from our game that Swansea going to Sunderland next week isn’t as easy as people think.
“They are a strong side and this is a strong league. We needed to win, we don’t deny that. But we didn’t, so next week we have to win and, hopefully, we can.”
If, as the bookmakers expect, City kick-off next season in the Championship then this loss to Sunderland can join similar defeats against Portsmouth and Burnley in previous relegation years as the moment when the survival bid was truly derailed.
At Fratton Park in 2010, Hull let slip a 2-1 lead with two minutes remaining to lose by the odd goal in five against the Premier League’s bottom club. It was Iain Dowie’s first game as interim manager but the deflation felt by all in the Tigers camp at the final whistle was such that he never stood a chance of keeping the club up.
Five years later, Burnley, like Sunderland on Saturday, arrived in the East Riding propping up the table with three games remaining and yet left with three points. In doing so, the Clarets as good as dragged City down with them.
Looking around the KCOM shortly after Neil Swarbrick had blown the final whistle to confirm Sunderland’s second win since Christmas, it was hard to escape amid a sea of crest-fallen faces the sense that an identical fate awaits Silva’s Hull.
City were not actually that bad against Sunderland. But for Jordan Pickford in the visitors’ goal, they may even have claimed a win.
His save to deny Lazar Markovic in the second half with the score goalless was stunning, his block to deny Abel Hernandez late on even better.
Sam Clucas also had cause to curse the former Bradford City loanee in the first half after his low, drilled shot was beaten away by a goalkeeper who is surely destined not to join Sunderland in the Championship.
If it was not Pickford then Hull’s profligacy was to blame for Silva’s men having the unwanted distinction of being the only side not to score at least once against the Black Cats this season with Alfred N’Diaye making a hash of one glorious chance. This miss by the Senegal midfielder against his former employer came just seven minutes into the second half.
It felt, though, to be a decisive moment as any side battling relegation cannot afford to squander such gilt-edged opportunities.
Sure enough, City and N’Diaye were made to pay when Billy Jones ghosted in unmarked to head John O’Shea’s flick-on from a corner beyond Eldin Jakupovic.
Twenty-two minutes remained at that stage and Hull threw everything at the visitors but it just was not meant to be, a point reinforced in the first minute of stoppage time when Jermain Defoe tapped in from close range for his first goal in the Premier League for three months.
That the England international had clearly been standing in an offside position merely added to the sense of frustration among the locals who felt referee Swarbrick had turned down three big shouts for a penalty.
Only one, however, had much substance, O’Shea raising his elbow to block an overhead kick from Oumar Niasse at a distance that nudged the ‘offence’ into ball-to-hand territory.
“Maybe in May the miracle happens, we will see,” is how Silva introduced himself to English football at his first press conference in January. City fans must hope he can deliver on those words.