A WEEK offering tussles with Bristol City and Watford would, under normal circumstances, be enough to leave most Hull City supporters with a warm glow.
Eight years ago, Phil Brown’s Tigers beat the Hornets in the Championship play-off semi-finals to set up a Wembley date with the Robins which Dean Windass famously won with ‘that’ volley.
It was a magical time to be in the East Riding with even the stirring run to the 2014 FA Cup final being unable to match the sheer, unadulterated joy that greeted Kingston-upon-Hull ending its long, long wait for top-flight football.
Fast-forward to this week’s double-header, however, and the prospect of taking on those same play-off opponents from 2008 does not elicit a sense of excitement or even a misty-eyed dose of nostalgia.
Instead, Hull’s troubles – laid bare in two chastening Premier League defeats to Bournemouth and Stoke City – means the mood surrounding the club is very much one of despondency.
Yesterday’s assertion by Lee Johnson, a half-time substitute as Bristol City side were beaten at Wembley, that the Tigers were favourites going into the EFL Cup fourth-round tie drew just a resigned shrug of the shoulders around Hull and the retort, ‘Yeah, right’.
Amid this doom and gloom, Mike Phelan and his Hull players must try to plot a path into the quarter-finals. Jake Livermore, who has started 10 of the club’s 11 league and Cup outings this term, believes it can be done.
“It is not a crisis just yet,” said the former England international ahead of the Ashton Gate tie. “We put our trust in the manager at the start of the season and that has not changed. He has trusted his players and that has not changed either.
“We just go back to the drawing board, it is another game to try and build on what we want to do.
“Maybe we can use the Cup to work on certain things. We need momentum and if we can get that against Bristol City then so be it.
“Everyone in that changing room is disappointed at the minute, no more so than myself or the manager. But we will do whatever it takes to start getting results. If that is Tuesday night at Bristol then so be it.”
Hull’s cause tonight will not be helped by Robert Snodgrass being unavailable due to the ankle injury sustained in the weekend defeat to Stoke.
Phelan may also choose to tread carefully with Michael Dawson, who only returned last Saturday from a knee injury sustained in pre-season.
Three games inside eight days could be asking a lot of the Tigers’ captain. Abel Hernandez and Adama Diomande, though, are expected to be recalled up front.
Whoever gets the nod will be tasked with bringing back the urgency, desire and resolve that characterised the opening week of the season as Phelan’s caretaker stint in charge got off to a flying start courtesy of victories over Leicester City and Swansea City.
Asked what had changed since those relatively heady days of mid-August, Livermore replied: “I don’t know. It is something we will look at but we will all stick together.
“There are no separations within the squad, we all want the same thing – which means some sort of success for the club. We are all striving forward for that.
“Confidence goes hand-in-hand with results and we are losing games at the minute. So, that hasn’t helped. But we are going to try and do all we can to keep our morale up. It is going to be a tough few weeks.
“We will have to be strong but, let’s be honest, we have come through a lot worse as a group.
“We have got a fight on our hands now and sometimes that is when we are at our best as a club, when everyone writes us off.”
Phelan yesterday added Neil McDonald to his backroom staff as assistant head coach. The former right-hand man to Sam Allardyce at several clubs, McDonald is one of several appointments that the Tigers chief wants to make in order to bolster a set-up that, since July, has lost Steve Bruce, Keith Bertschin and Stephen Clemence.
McDonald will be in the away dugout tonight as Hull look to breathe fresh life into their flagging campaign.
Phelan added: “We have to look at the Bristol City game as an opportunity to start again and gain some confidence and some rhythm that we can take into the league.
“We have lost players to injury, but we have a couple of promising young kids that we will have a look at.
“I am sure they will see us as a scalp because of the situation we find ourselves in. But every game is different. Every game has to be approached in the right way and we are looking forward to it.”
Last six games: Bristol City WWWLLW, Hull City LWLLLL.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire).
Last time: Bristol City 1 Hull City 1; November 21, 2015; Championship.