FIRST, the good news for Hull City.
Not only is the points tally to guarantee Championship safety this season likely to be well below average but the fate of Nigel Adkins’s men remains very much in their own hands.
If Millwall is going to be the wake-up call, then it is the wake-up call.Hull chief Nigel Adkins
The run-in is potentially kind to the Tigers, too, compared to those facing the current bottom three. Burton Albion, for instance, face eight of the current top 10, while Birmingham City tackle Wolves, Cardiff City and Fulham during a schedule that features meetings with just Hull and Bolton of the clubs in the bottom third of the table.
Rock-bottom Sunderland, four points adrift of safety and with just two home wins all season, also travel to Craven Cottage and then host champions-elect Wolves on the final two weekends.
Even sides chasing a place in the Premier League would find such a run-in tough, never mind three sides scrambling around at the wrong end of the table.
Hence why the accepted target of 50 points to stay up – or even the actual average tally of the past decade, 46 – is likely to prove way beyond not just the bottom three but probably Hull and Barnsley as well.
That, though, is where the good news ends at the KCOM Stadium.
Tuesday night’s awful defeat at home to Millwall has seen to that. Any optimism felt from the battling win over Sheffield United and draw against the Reds that ended last month was swept away by the sheer ineptitude of the performance against the Lions.
Even Adkins, a manager who prides himself on remaining positive no matter how bad things seem, snapped.
Branding his side “mentally weak” and their first half performance “a disgrace”, the 52-year-old captured what many in the 13,524 crowd had been thinking when heading home on a bitterly cold East Riding night.
Singling out Angus MacDonald – Adkins admitted his only January signing could have been substituted inside the first minute rather than at half-time – may have been harsh, not least because he was far from the only man in amber and black to struggle.
But, by calling out his side so publicly, the Tigers chief firmly put the onus on a squad that has so spectacularly under-performed this season.
The response he gets today at home to Norwich City will speak volumes for what this group of players is about.
“Consistently, I have talked about performances the players have given,” said Adkins. “They have been good.
“If Millwall is going to be the wake-up call, then it is the wake-up call. I do believe in them. That is why I was flabbergasted in the first half.
“But we have put this to bed and focus on Norwich. It is a totally different game. I have to get the mentality right.”
Adkins’s team selection against the Canaries will be fascinating. Abel Hernandez’s goal-scoring return from six-and-a-half months out with a ruptured Achilles was welcome but he is not ready for a start.
Kamil Grosicki and Marcus Henriksen were also back after lengthy lay-offs but neither did enough to hold on to a starting place, while it is hard to see how MacDonald can start after the criticism he faced on Tuesday night.
What should not be overlooked, however, is how the tendency of both full-backs to bomb forward at every opportunity together with no-one in midfield dropping back to help the defence meant MacDonald and Michael Dawson were left far too exposed against the movement and pace of Lee Gregory and Tom Elliott. City cannot afford to be as wide open again today.
One man who surely has to be worth a recall is David Meyler. The midfielder, named on Thursday in the Republic of Ireland squad to face Turkey later this month, could not even make the 18 against Millwall after appearing just four times under Adkins in the league.
His desire and willingness to give everything for the cause was sorely missing against the Lions.
Whether Adkins feels the same remains to be seen but the City chief is demanding a reaction today from his players.
“We have a big squad,” he said. “There were several not involved (against Millwall). That is why I was so surprised by the performance.
“Maybe people can’t deal with the competition for places, maybe they can’t deal with the relegation scrap we are in and the pressure situations. We will find out.”