FAILING to qualify for the African Cup of Nations was bad enough at the time for Sone Aluko.
But the past couple of weeks have really brought home to the 25-year-old just how much Nigeria are missing out after being knocked out in the qualifiers for one of world football’s highlights.
Aluko, a veteran of previous tournaments, has caught as many games as possible on television and he admits it has been a frustrating experience.
However, it is also one that he intends using in Hull City’s fight against relegation from the Premier League.
“Watching the African Nations has been like watching the Premier League before you play in it,” said Aluko, who scored both goals as Nigeria crashed out of the qualifiers with a 2-2 draw against South Africa.
“You just wish you could be there. It is awful to miss out and that is how we will all feel if Hull are not in the Premier League next season.
“If you taste something, to have it taken away from you is painful. That is one of the worst things that can happen in your life. And it is why we are very hungry to stay in this league.”
With three of their next four games at the KC Stadium, City have an opportunity to get their fight for survival up and running.
Newcastle United are the first to head to the East Riding today, followed by Aston Villa on February 10 and QPR 11 days later.
All three games are eminently winnable and with the lower half of the table being so concertinaed that just six points separate the bottom eight clubs, an improvement in Hull’s home form could not be more timely.
“It is hard to say why we haven’t done as well at home,” said Aluko of the disappointing tally of two wins that Hull have claimed at the KC this term.
“I don’t think it is anxiety. Not at all. It is a tough league and maybe we are not a surprise package any more.
“Teams come here knowing that we will give them a good game, unlike last season when people thought we were just going to go down and get relegated. They sometimes thought all they had to do was turn up against Hull.
“Now, after the season we had last time with (getting to) the FA Cup final, we are a well-respected team. So, that might have changed things.”
Pressed on Hull no longer being an unknown quantity in the top flight, Aluko added: “Just from the games I personally played last year, I felt players didn’t know as much about me.
“I had come from the Championship and felt like I had a slight advantage because they didn’t know that much about me.
“This year, though, we don’t have that and once you spend the money we spent (in last summer’s transfer window), the opponents think: ‘They’re going for it’. And that changes things.
“Also, when you don’t win a few games at home, the pressure builds. When you play away from home, you try to keep the home fans quiet and once your own fans get on your back, it makes it tougher.
“It is a tactic we use against teams so obviously teams will use it against us. It is another obstacle we have to jump over.”
With last weekend having been blank following City’s FA Cup exit at Arsenal, Bruce took his squad to Portugal for five days.
A lack of gas to the club’s Cottingham training base plus the heavy nature of the pitches made it a no-brainer for the City manager.
The hope today is that some sunshine and an opportunity to train unhindered every day will help the Tigers claim a fifth win of the season.
Victory would help banish the memory of back-to-back defeats in their last two Premier League outings at West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United.
The 3-0 loss to the Hammers was particularly disappointing because of how Hull – and, in particular, Aluko – failed to capitalise on what was a hugely impressive first half display.
“It sometimes happens,” said the striker, who missed three excellent opportunities that had largely been created by his own trickery.
“We did well in the game, especially in the first half. I missed chances, (Ahmed) Elmohamady missed a chance but that doesn’t mean you should lose the game.
“You look back on the goals we gave away and you think, ‘How’s that happened?’
“One of them was straight down the middle of our pitch. Even if we had scored and given away those goals, it is a mountain to climb.
“At half-time, we said the worst-case scenario was this should be a 0-0 draw. We were so dominant, we shouldn’t have lost that game.
“As well as not scoring, we gave away such sloppy goals so would not have won in any case.”
In many ways, the Upton Park defeat was a microcosm of City’s season as a bright start gave way to a familiar feeling of dejection.
The challenge now is to get the feelgood factor of the first few weeks back, starting today against John Carver’s Newcastle United.
“Our season has been below-par,” admitted Aluko. “We are in the relegation zone. There was a false sense of security (at the start). Just because we did well last season, it doesn’t mean the Premier League will give us a free pass this year.
“We are going to have to work for every single point, just like we did last year. Every point is hard to get. You have to grind them out.
“But I do believe we are getting there. We knew it was going to be tough, the second season always is for promoted teams.
“So, in that respect, our position is not a massive shock. But we are disappointed with where we are and how things have gone this season.”