HULL City captain Michael Dawson is unequivocal when asked about his only previous brush with relegation.
“It was the worst day of my career,” said the defender about the final instalment of a 2014-15 Premier League season that had begun amid talk of a bright new era in the East Riding following a record splurge in the transfer market and the club’s imminent debut in European competition.
Needing to beat Manchester United on the last day and hope West Ham could do them a favour by claiming at least a point at Newcastle United, Hull’s hopes floundered on both counts.
Dawson’s face as he returned the applause of the capacity crowd at the final whistle betrayed the pain of demotion and it is a feeling he does not want to repeat.
“We under-achieved and I hope I don’t have to go through that feeling again this year,” he added. “That is something I am not thinking about, especially as I do believe that – with this squad and management staff – we have enough to stay up.”
Head coach Marco Silva’s arrival is behind this belief that, unlike two years ago, Hull possess enough quality to avoid the drop.
The Portuguese has had a galvanising effect on all at the KCOM Stadium, perhaps the best measure of just how big an impact he has made coming via a glance back to last summer.
Hull endured a close season of nightmare proportions as Steve Bruce quit, the club’s pursuit of Chris Coleman failed and progress in the transfer market stalled to such an extent that the season began with interim manager Mike Phelan having just 11 outfield players at his disposal.
Relegation seemed a certainty, even allowing for how Phelan then somehow wrung back-to-back wins out of the season’s opening eight days.
“We were in the Premier League last summer so always had the opportunity,” said Dawson when asked by The Yorkshire Post if, with hand on heart, he honestly believed survival was possible when this season kicked off.
I hope I don’t have to go through that feeling again this year.Hull City’s Michael Dawson.
“Look what Leicester did two years ago. They were written off. We went to there (in mid-March), drew (0-0), but should have won and they were something like nine points behind us.
“Then, though, they went on a huge run and stayed up, as we went down. As for now, you look at hitting form at the right time. I said the same last year in the Championship. We went through a bad time (in the Spring), but hit the right vein of form at the right time to get promoted.”
Hull’s stirring home form under Silva is why many believe that the current crop can succeed where Bruce’s side failed two years ago.
Sixteen points have been claimed from the Portuguese’s half a dozen league outings at the KCOM, a stadium that has also witnessed Cup wins over Manchester United and Swansea since the turn of the year.
With today’s clash against Watford being followed by the visits of Sunderland (May 6) and Tottenham Hotspur (May 21), the Tigers must maintain this hot streak in front of their own fans.
“We have shown real character in our home games in recent weeks,” said Dawson.
“Before (this month’s back-to-back wins over) West Ham and Middlesbrough, there was Swansea, Bournemouth and Liverpool.
“The Hull faithful are behind us and we all know how important this game is. Come 5pm on Saturday, we hope we have had a great result and things have gone our way elsewhere, too.”
Hull’s focus today is solely on beating Watford. But Swansea City’s home game with Stoke City will also be in the minds of supporters able to check how things are going at the Liberty Stadium via their mobile phones.
Two points separate third-bottom Swansea from Hull with five games remaining. With 16th-placed Bournemouth being a further five points in front of the Tigers and the bottom two clubs looking doomed, the fight to avoid the drop is shaping up to be a two-way affair.
Dawson, however, insists there is too much football still to play for that to be the case and points to two seasons ago for proof of how quickly things can change.
“You can never say it is just two teams with five games to go,” added the former England international. “The bottom three or four teams have teams above them to play and a win can drag others in.
“You look at Bournemouth on 35 points and think maybe one more win will be enough for them. The one thing I have always said is that what we do counts.
“Maybe two years ago that wasn’t what we concentrated on because we were out of it. But then the form dried up and we couldn’t get that win we needed.”
To illustrate Dawson’s point, Hull were sitting 15th and four points clear of the relegation zone with four games to go in the 2014-15 season only to be overtaken by Sunderland, Leicester and Aston Villa during the final weeks.
“The great thing is it is about what we do,” added Dawson. “It is in our hands. It is great we have put ourselves in that position because, for long periods of this season, we were in the bottom three.
“I look back at games where we should have got more points at home. The two that stand out are Everton and Palace. But we have now got ourselves into a position where we can still be a Premier League club at the end of this season.
“The manager has done an unbelievable job since coming in, he is a guy who has high expectations and he is certainly getting the best out of us. We know if we don’t deliver, we are out of the team.”
As for Dawson, the ideal scenario is that Hull will be safe before taking on his title-chasing former club on the final day.
“It certainly would be nice to have everything sorted before Spurs,” he added. “The fans and everyone would then be able to enjoy it.”