Richard Sutcliffe: White Rose Premier ambitions have again proved pipe dream

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WHEN the final whistle blows at Upton Park tomorrow afternoon, Hull City and their supporters will be witnessing either a party or a wake as the Championship promotion race reaches its climax.

West Ham United have to win and hope Coventry City can upset the odds and deny Southampton the three points that will be enough to guarantee a return to the Premier League for the south coast club at the expense of the Londoners.

Should the afternoon develop as the Hammers hope, the Tigers will be the uninvited guests at what the East End locals will no doubt later describe as a ‘right old knees-up’ and if that proves to be the case then it will be difficult not to feel for Nick Barmby’s men.

Just six weeks ago, City were sitting sixth in the table and a play-off place seemed theirs for the taking. However, in pretty much a microcosm of how Yorkshire has fared as a county in this season’s Championship, Hull’s challenge fizzled out to ensure 2011-12 will end in disappointment.

So, if West Ham do prevail tomorrow lunchtime and pip the Saints to second place, having to watch the celebrations that will follow at the Boleyn Ground can surely only add to the frustration felt by City’s players and supporters as they contemplate what might have been.

Unless Middlesbrough can leapfrog Cardiff City to claim the final play-off place that for so long has looked theirs for the taking, a similar feeling will also be apparent among the ranks of the county’s other Championship representatives come around 2.30pm tomorrow.

Leeds United, for instance, have failed miserably to build on the encouraging seventh place finish of a year ago, while Doncaster Rovers have endured a miserable time as their four-year stay in the second tier ended with a whimper.

Across south Yorkshire, Barnsley may have survived but there can be no denying that the campaign is closing on a flat note for Keith Hill’s men courtesy of taking just five points from their last 14 games.

All in all, therefore, a disappointing nine months for a county that set off in August with high hopes of ending a two-year spell without a Premier League representative.

However, amid the gloom and the conducting of inquests into what has gone wrong, there have been reasons to cheer this season.

Luke Steele saving two penalties as Barnsley won 2-1 at Reading in August deserves mention, as do the Tykes’ two victories over Leeds United. The 4-1 triumph at Oakwell, in particular, was a stunning effort as the Indian sign the south Yorkshire club have enjoyed over their rivals from up the M1 continued.

For Doncaster fans, there was the seven points claimed from Dean Saunders’s first three games in charge that suggested survival may be possible after all.

Nigel Pearson’s acrimonious departure from Hull was the big event of the season in the East Riding so the subsequent win over his new club Leicester at the KC just three weeks later was especially sweet, as was the 3-0 win at Cardiff in mid-March that suggested Barmby’s men were destined for the top six.

As for Leeds, a hugely disappointing season has been short on enjoyable moments with perhaps the comeback wins over Burnley in January and Doncaster the following month being the highlight to leave the Elland Road faithful, in common with the county’s other fans in the second tier, hoping for a big improvement next time around.

Roll on August 18.