Blackburn Rovers v Hull City: Snodgrass to heed promotion lessons from past

Robert Snodgrass is chased down by George Boyd.
Robert Snodgrass is chased down by George Boyd.
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ROBERT SNODGRASS knows all about how pressure can impact on a promotion race.

Six years ago, the Scot was part of the Leeds United side that came within a whisker of blowing what had seemed an insurmountable lead at the top of League One.

Robert Snodgrass in his Leeds United days.

Robert Snodgrass in his Leeds United days.

Eleven points clear of eventual champions Norwich City in third place at the turn of the year and having just dumped Manchester United out of the FA Cup at Old Trafford, the Elland Road club stumbled badly in the pursuit of a place in the Championship.

Four straight defeats in March were the nadir, as Simon Grayson’s side slipped to fourth in the table, before a late rally – and a dramatic final-day victory at home to Bristol Rovers when reduced to 10 men following Max Gradel’s red card – saw the runners-up spot grabbed.

Snodgrass missed just two games that campaign, so appreciates more than most the potential ups and downs facing Hull City in their pursuit of an instant Premier League return over the next 17 games.

“There will be twists and turns,” said the Scot to The Yorkshire Post ahead of today’s trip to Blackburn Rovers. “That is just how the Championship is. Since the last time I was in this division (with Leeds in 2012), it has got harder.

“Teams have great quality and great squads. It isn’t about the best individuals, it is the best team on the day. Especially if away from home, if things aren’t going well, then you have to grind it out as a team.

“I saw the Fulham result, when we didn’t play great but won 1-0, as sweeter than 6-0 at home to Charlton. If you are not at your best but grind out a result, that is what it takes to get promoted.”

Snodgrass and his Leeds team-mates certainly did that in 2009-10 following that Spring stumble to provide the Scot with a lesson that he believes could be invaluable this time around.

“When Leeds went up,” he added, “we were a lot of points ahead at one stage. But then we probably took our eye off the ball.

“The focus became actually about being promoted, when we weren’t there yet. Thankfully, we got it just in time and went up on the last day. But I think that shows why you have to approach each game on its own, and not look too far ahead.

“Just focus on your next game, especially as every team is different in the Championship in terms of what you face. Fulham like to pass it, and others go long ball like Burnley. That is the beauty of the competition.

“That said, I don’t like focusing on other teams. With the squad we have got and if we play to our strengths – and work hard – we will beat anyone on the day. I firmly believe that.”

Just six points separate the top six as Hull head to Lancashire for the third consecutive weekend knowing that a point could, thanks to Middlesbrough not being in action at Elland Road until Monday, be enough to reclaim top spot.

As Snodgrass suggests, many, many twists and turns are likely to lay ahead as the Tigers chase what would be a third promotion to the Premier League inside eight years.

Considering the club’s first 104 years failed to yield so much as a single season of top-flight football, City, even allowing for the relegations of 2010 and 2015, are enjoying a golden period in their history.

What would surely cap that off is a first league title in 50 years and only their third in total, something that Snodgrass feels has to be the target.

“We don’t just want to get promotion,” said the Scot, “we want to win the league. We want to be winners. That is why we work so hard on the training ground.”

Whether the current City squad can match their forefathers of 1965-66, who lifted the Third Division title, remains to be seen. But the Tigers certainly do not lack for experience, be it on the coaching staff or in a squad that is dominated by players with a Premier League CV.

“Experience is a big thing,” said Snodgrass.

“We have the manager, who has won promotion before, and Mike Phelan. The lads have also been promoted here. Then, there are those who have played at Champions League and Premier League level.

“There are also those who have played internationals at World Cup level. The experience is there and we have to use that to guide us through to top spot.”

Snodgrass, of course, missed Hull’s relegation last season. A dislocated kneecap on the opening day of 2014-15 kept the 28-year-old out for 15 months.

It was a bleak time but he kept in touch with football, even going along to last May’s play-off final between old club Norwich City and Middlesbrough.

“I was pleased to see Norwich promoted,” he added. “Even though I have a lot of friends at Middlesbrough. There are a lot of good people on the staff at Norwich and I took to the place. So, I was delighted for them.

“It was a strange weekend. We got relegated on the Sunday (at home to Manchester United) and the play-off final was the following day. At the time, whether I was going to be in the Premier League or Championship was out of my hands due to the injury.

“But the moment I got back, my mindset changed. Promotion this year would be terrific, probably one of the best things I will have achieved. Especially because of what I have come through with the injury.

“Then coming back to be part of it and helping this club back to where we all want to be. This is one of the best dressing rooms I have ever been in. Superb.

“We have all got each other’s backs. When you support each other like that, it is a nice feeling. We have 17 Cup finals in front of us. We have to be ready to roll our sleeves up and be ready for a fight.”