Critical stage for Tigers as fans fight for ringside seat

Stephen QuinnStephen Quinn
Stephen Quinn
THE ‘sold out’ sign adorning the ticket office window at the KC Stadium yesterday afternoon is a clue. So, too, is how much of the talk in the East Riding over recent days has been dominated by Nigel Pearson and whether the Leicester City manager can do his old a club a massive favour on Friday night.

Hull City’s push for the Premier League is reaching a critical stage. They could go up on Friday. They could go up on Saturday. Or – and this is where all Tigers fans will have to take a deep breath – the two-way fight to join champions Cardiff City in next season’s top flight may well go all the way to the final day on May 4 before being decided in the favour of either Hull or Watford.

In a season where fans in the Championship have become resigned to expecting the unexpected, no-one can surely say with any confidence how the fight for automatic promotion is going to pan out.

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City travel to Barnsley – the subject of those ‘sold out’ signs at the KC after the last of the club’s 5,000 allocation were snapped up yesterday – on Saturday before rounding off the season with a visit from Cardiff. The Hornets, meanwhile, travel to Leicester on Friday before ending with a home clash against Leeds United.

Considering those remaining fixtures and the current gap between the two clubs, Hull should prevail. A four-point advantage with two games remaining is one that no self-respecting promotion-chasing team should ever let slip.

But this time of year – which Steve Bruce has already labelled ‘tickly’ – does strange things.

For the Tigers, this has become apparent via lacklustre displays in back-to-back games against Wolves and Bristol City that delivered just one point. For Watford, meanwhile, last Saturday’s resounding win over Blackburn Rovers followed a run of seven games that had yielded a solitary victory.

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Clearly, nerves have been jangling in both camps under the weight of a £100m prize on offer to the side who claims second place.

One member of the Tigers squad who has been through all this before is Stephen Quinn, who was part of the Sheffield United squad that suffered the double blow of being pipped to automatic promotion on the final day of the 2008-09 season and then losing the Championship play-off final to Burnley.

“There probably were a few nerves on Friday,” said Quinn, City’s newly-crowned Players’ Player of the Year. “There is a lot of pressure on any side chasing promotion to the Premier League.

“We know it is not just another game because of what is riding on these fixtures. It is around £100m. But what the gaffer has stressed to us over the last couple of days is that we have just got to relax and be calm.”

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Such advice is, of course, spot on. Doing and saying, however, are two very different things, as was evident in Friday’s goalless draw with already-relegated Bristol City.

The refreshing air of freedom that the Tigers have played with for much of the season was conspicuous only by its absence as the hosts laboured for long periods. Hull could have won it at the death when David Meyler had a fine chance but, on the balance of play, a draw was a fair result.

With Watford making light work of Blackburn the following afternoon, Gianfranco Zola’s men can now move to within a point of Bruce’s men by winning at Leicester on Friday night in front of the live Sky cameras. It is a game Quinn admits the Hull squad will be glued to.

He said: “All eyes will be on the TV on Friday night to see how Watford are doing. It is a tough game they have got against Leicester.

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“We will be watching, of course, but the big thing is our destiny is in our hands this weekend, no matter what happens at Leicester.”

Hull’s trip to Barnsley has, understandably, become the hottest ticket in town after the remaining 2,000 tickets were snapped up.

City have requested an additional 1,500 tickets, something that in recent years has been granted to both Leeds United and Sheffield Wednesday when taking bumper support to Oakwell.

However, Hull’s request has been turned down on safety grounds by South Yorkshire Police, who have also instructed Barnsley to make the fixture all-ticket.

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Home supporters wishing to attend must buy a ticket before 11am on the day of the match.

The Yorkshire Post also understands the police rejected a request four weeks or so ago from Sky TV to move the kick-off to 5.20pm on similar grounds.

On the trip to Barnsley, Quinn said: “We need to do exactly what we have been doing all year because we are not second in the league for no reason. If we do that then we will be fine.

“There is no point panicking now. The gaffer has just tried to instil a little bit of calmness.

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“People expected us to go out and beat Bristol City 3-0 or 4-0 but that is never going to be the case in this division. Maybe we were a bit uptight but there are no easy games.

“We know that we are a very good side and that it is important just to go out there and enjoy it, no matter what is at stake.”