ONE HUNDRED and 26 days have elapsed since Hull City last breathed the rarefied air that accompanies being outside the Premier League relegation zone.
To put into context just how long ago the Tigers fell into the bottom three, Claudio Ranieri was still basking in the glow of the most unlikely title win of all time and Mike Phelan had been permanent head coach at the KCOM Stadium for just a fortnight.
Sure, it is a difficult game for us and it is true that they are comfortable in the table. But we need to prove our qualities.Hull City manager, Marco Silva
Much, of course, has changed since that October day when Stoke City’s comfortable victory in the East Riding left Phelan’s men sitting 18th, but one constant has been the unlikelihood of the Tigers clawing their way out of the drop zone.
Now, though, Hull, revitalised under the stewardship of Marco Silva and refreshed from a week’s warm weather training in Portugal, have a golden opportunity to do just that.
Victory today over a Burnley side with just a solitary point to their name on the road this season will mean Hull finally escaping the bottom three.
Leicester City, who are not in action against Liverpool at the King Power Stadium until Monday night, and potentially Middlesbrough could both be looking up at the Tigers come 5pm. It is a tantalising prospect as Hull chase a fifth straight win under the Portuguese on home soil.
“I want to be out of the relegation zone on May 21,” said Silva when asked about what was at stake today.
“It would be good (to escape the bottom three), but this will only happen if we win the game and take the points.
“For us, Burnley is one more good chance to take points because it is the next game. We will take it step-by-step, game-by-game. The game against Arsenal (a fortnight ago) was a chance (to get out of the bottom three) and this is another chance to take points. That is all.
“Plus, if we get out of the relegation zone against Burnley and then come down again, it will not be the best. On May 21, I want to see our team out of the relegation zone.
“We want to win against Burnley, but if something doesn’t happen and we don’t win the game, I don’t want anyone to put the towel on the floor because we have to keep working. This game is important, but it’s not the last game of the season.”
Silva’s message that Hull must not throw the towel in even if today goes against them is one he has reinforced during the squad’s recent week away in Portugal.
Hull’s FA Cup fourth-round defeat at Fulham meant the players were away as Burnley slumped to a humiliating exit of their own against non-League Lincoln City.
Just what psychological impact this may have on the Clarets remains to be seen but Sean Dyche, surely a contender for manager of the season if his side can stay clear of relegation trouble, has been in bullish mood ahead of the trip along the M62.
He claimed the pressure was off Burnley due to their next four games all being away from Turf Moor and, instead, on their opponents.
“I am comfortable with the pressure,” said Silva when asked about Dyche’s comments.
“I don’t care about this. Always in my life as a manager, I have lived with pressure behind me. It is not a problem.
“I want my players to be comfortable, too.
“Sure, it is a difficult game for us and it is true that they are comfortable in the table. But we need to prove our qualities.”
Abel Hernandez is a surprise inclusion in the squad after initially being ruled out until next month after limping out of the February 1 goalless draw at Manchester United.
Last season’s top scorer continues to be linked with a big money move to China, Beijing Guoan understood to be keen to sign Hernandez for around double the £10m Hull paid in 2014.
Reports have suggested that the Uruguayan’s agent is in the Far East ahead of Tuesday’s deadline, but Silva insists there have been no bids for the striker.
“I saw Abel in the training and he was happy,” he added. “I spoke with him for a little bit before training and the player said nothing about this situation (the reported interest from the Chinese Super League).
“I am honest with you when I say I know nothing about the possible transfer of Abel.
“No one at the club has said to me there has been an offer for the player and for this I am comfortable with the situation. I want the player only focused with our training and our games.”
Hernandez, who netted three goals in Silva’s first three games as head coach, could go straight into the starting XI.
Midfielder Sam Clucas’s suspension following his late red card at Arsenal means Silva is contemplating starting with two strikers against a Burnley side whose only point away from home this season came from a goalless draw at Old Trafford in October.
Kamil Grosicki, whose potential move to Turf Moor from Rennes collapsed in late August, is also in line for a third start since joing Hull for £8m in January.
“We can survive,” added the Polish international. “That is why I came here – to help them stay in the Premier League, and I really believe we can do it.
“Last summer, Burnley couldn’t come to an agreement so it didn’t happen. I was a bit disappointed, but I knew a new contract would come and I am happy to get my chance here.
“Hull spent a lot of money on me, so I can help them. But I don’t feel any pressure. I just go out and play matches. I have had two hard opening games, but soon the Premier League will know me. It is my dream to play here.”