A YEAR ago this weekend, Hull City fans were being put through the emotional wringer as their side continued to stumble in the promotion race.
After taking one point from meetings with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bristol City, both destined to be relegated, the Tigers headed to Barnsley on the final Saturday of April knowing victory would be enough to clinch a return to the Premier League with a game to spare.
Almost 6,000 expectant City fans descended on Oakwell but they were to leave disappointed courtesy of a 2-0 win for the home side. Hull were abject that afternoon and a sizeable number of those despondent supporters returning to the East Riding were convinced the initiative had swung Watford’s way in the race for second place.
Come the final day, of course, and everything went right for Hull, who thanks to the Hornets’ shock defeat at home to Leeds United, were able to clinch runners-up spot with a 2-2 draw at home to Cardiff City.
Twelve months on at the KC Stadium and the gut-wrenching tension that characterised last season’s run-in has gone, replaced by a serene calm as the Tigers move ever closer to guaranteeing their top-flight status.
A draw today at Fulham could be enough, depending on results elsewhere, and David Meyler –one of four from that starting line-up at Oakwell who began last weekend’s defeat at home to Arsenal – admits that cannot come soon enough.
“We fell over the line last year,” said the 24-year-old Irish midfielder. “But this time we are looking to get the points on the board as early as possible.
“In a way, Barnsley last year was more memorable than Cardiff. There were 5,500 supporters that had come to watch us but we certainly weren’t great that day.
“The big thing is we have learned from that experience. You look at the XI that started that game and the XI that will start at Fulham and there have been a lot of changes.
“There is now a lot of experience in the side, players who have been in the Premier League for a lot of years. We are a bit more mature a year on and it will stand us in good stead for this run-in.”
City sit six points ahead of third-bottom Cardiff City and Fulham, who have three games remaining to the four that Steve Bruce’s men still have to play. Sunderland are a point further behind at the foot of the table.
With Sunderland hosting Cardiff at noon tomorrow, the relegation picture is likely to be a lot clearer by the end of the weekend.
Meyler added: “It is a big incentive for us to know we can be safe. That means this is a big three points at stake. Same goes for Fulham, too.
“They are at home and they are fighting for their lives. Fulham have picked up some good results recently and they will be thinking they can beat us.
“The pressure will be on them but they are professionals who are able to deal with it. It is part and parcel of the game.
“I am expecting Fulham to come out and try to play against us but that will suit us as it means we will get chances. I want to win the game. You only enjoy games if you win them and we will not be going there looking for just a point.
“That said, we have worked over the last few days on being difficult to beat.
“We pride ourselves on not conceding many goals. And even though it is six in the last two (Sheffield United at Wembley and last Sunday’s defeat to Arsenal), we will go there and look to keep it tight.”
Meyler has been one of Hull’s big success stories this season. After starting the opening game at Chelsea, he initially fell out of favour due to the arrival of Tom Huddlestone and Jake Livermore.
By October, however, Meyler was back in the team and recent months have seen the Republic of Ireland international dovetail delightfully with Livermore and Huddlestone in midfield.
His goal at Wembley earlier this month as City clinched a first FA Cup final appearance was the pinnacle and the £2m signing from Sunderland admits keeping his mind off that return visit to the national stadium has not been easy.
“My neighbours, Graham and Sue, are always on to me saying they are going down and what a great day out it will be,” laughed Meyler yesterday when speaking in the media suite at the KC.
“I have just driven to the stadium and there are hundreds of fans queueing for tickets outside. It is fantastic to see and great that the supporters have got Wembley to look forward to.
“But we have got to be professional. Our focus is on Fulham first. It is the first of four massive league games and we want to finish as high up the table as we can.
“The great thing with football is that there’s a game week-in and week-out. So, for the players, after Sheffield United, the Cup was forgotten for us.
“We can’t look too far ahead. The manager doesn’t need to remind us that because it’s common sense.
“At the start of the year, our whole ambition was to stay in the Premier League and that is what we intend to do. That needs to be taken care of before we start looking at the final.”
Words that manager Bruce will surely echo after the dramas of last season’s run-in that not only did for his last few remaining dark hairs but also added a few wrinkles to his brow.
Or, as the Tigers manager succinctly put it yesterday, “We don’t want to go through that s*** like we did last season. Christ, that did age us all. It was a wonderful spectacle for everyone but, let’s be fair, it was agony.”
Over to the Hull players to ensure there is no repeat.