The two clubs are locked together on 77 points, half-a-dozen ahead of sixth-placed Sheffield Wednesday, who have just two games remaining. Carlos Carvalhal’s men also possess an inferior goal difference.
Home advantage in the second leg seems the only matter to be decided for the teams currently sitting fourth and fifth in the table, something the Tigers can take a giant step towards securing tonight with victory at home to Brentford in what represents their game in hand.
With a trip to bottom club Bolton Wanderers to follow this weekend, two days before Derby head to Brighton, Hull are favourites to secure fourth place and a semi-final second leg tie at the KC Stadium on either Monday, May 16 or Tuesday, May 17.
Whether that proves telling in deciding who goes forward to Wembley on the final Saturday of May remains to be seen but, if as seems likely it is Derby, then the Midlands club will have one psychological advantage of their own, courtesy of the club’s two meetings this term.
Not only are the Rams, as it stands right now, the only visiting Championship team to triumph in the East Riding all season but Hull’s 4-0 hammering at the Ipro earlier this month was every bit as emphatic as the final score suggests. It also represented the heaviest league defeat of Steve Bruce’s reign.
Curtis Davies played in both games so knows just what dangers the Rams can pose. However, ahead of tonight’s penultimate home fixture, the 30-year-old believes the slump in form that included that loss in the East Midlands is behind the Tigers.
“We are getting there in terms of turning the corner,” he said.
“We were on a downward spiral, if we are honest, but there was no panic stations or massive meetings. We knew we had to buck our ideas up because there was one point when it looked like we could drop out of the play-offs if we had lost many more games.
“But we got ourselves together and now we have taken seven points from the last three games. It is all going towards getting a bit of confidence back.”
The play-offs, of course, are wonderfully unpredictable. What can appear to be a big factor in one side’s favour going into a tie can prove to be exactly the opposite.
A glance through history also suggests that a third-place finish is the most likely to be followed by success in the final. Taking out the first two seasons of the play-offs – when the team who finished one place above the relegation zone in the top flight were involved – 10 teams who finished third in the second tier went on to triumph in the final.
That represents a 37 per cent success rate and is followed by seven triumphs for the team sitting fifth (26 per cent), six for those who finished sixth (22 per cent) and just four for those who occupied fourth place (15 per cent) when the regular campaign came to a close.
“I don’t really read too much into it,” said Davies when asked if league position or past form can be a major factor in deciding a semi-final. “Derby have beaten us twice this season, but we just need to be ready on the day.
“How you approach the play-offs can be difficult. If you rest players (once qualified), you are not playing the team you might take into the play-offs. Or if you play people, they might get injured. It is a juggling act. We need to find a formula to get us playing like we did in that first half and winning games again.
“What has been good lately is that Abel (Hernandez) has got going again. Any striker that gets 20 goals in a season has done well and we are hopeful he can keep that form up going into the play-offs.”
Last six games: Hull City WLDWWD, Brentford WWWDWW.
Referee: D Bond (Lancashire).
Last time: Hull City 2 Brentford 0; November 27, 2004; League One.