WHEN Hull City walk out at Wembley next month, Sone Aluko admits the target is that Premier League survival will be all but assured.
Then, the theory goes, the Tigers will be able to relax against Sheffield United in the first all-Yorkshire FA Cup semi-final for a generation.
With Steve Bruce’s men facing four winnable games before that April 13 trip to the national stadium, Aluko is confident City can make good on that vow.
However, the 25-year-old has also been in football long enough to know that even the best laid plans can go awry and he insists that Hull will be able to cope with whatever this quartet of games brings.
“We haven’t been lower than 13th place all season and that means we have probably surprised other people,” said Aluko, who missed a large chunk of the season with Achilles trouble before returning in early February. “But we haven’t surprised ourselves.
“Last summer, we always believed this was going to be the case. It is a tight league and we are towards the bottom but I never thought we’d be 20th and not being able to win games.
“We have got a strong squad and I always thought we would surprise teams. It would be good if we could finish that off and stay safe. That is why the next few weeks are massive.”
After today’s visit of fifth bottom West Bromwich Albion, Hull travel to West Ham United on Wednesday and then Stoke City a week today. The East Riding club’s last game before Wembley is then Swansea City at home.
Aluko added: “All that we have done this year has lead to this stage in the season. Every team will be thinking the same. We have done a lot of the ground work and now we have to execute the final part.
“If we can get two or three wins, it can mean safety almost. It would go a long way.
“The sooner we do that, the better. We can then go into a semi-final confident and knowing that we are safe. That means you can enjoy the game a bit more.
“Obviously, the flip-side is that things don’t go well. But that is how tight the league is. If that is the situation we find ourselves in, then so be it.”
Aluko moved south to Hull in the summer of 2012 after the collapse of Glasgow Rangers. His time since then has been one of contrasts, the forward enjoying a fantastic start to both seasons only to then be cut down by an Achilles problem.
Last term, the injury struck in January and kept him out of the promotion run-in. This time around, Aluko starred in the first eight games before his campaign came to a dramatic halt courtesy of an Achilles problem he sustained during the warm-up to the 1-0 win over West Ham on November 2.
A three-month absence from the side followed and since returning his only starts have come in the Cup as Bruce rotated his troops to cover for ineligible duo, Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic.
The strike duo, signed for a combined £14m in January, will start today against the Baggies, meaning Aluko will be on the bench.
Asked about an injury that has now twice kept him out for long periods, Aluko said: “It as a lot better now. This has been my best week of training, physically. That is what the stats say, along with all those things they analyse.
“It has felt like my best week, so I’m happy about that and it shows I am going in the right direction. The thing with the Achilles is it is a part of the body that everything goes through.
“So, you can’t really work around it. You are a little bit slower off the mark and you don’t have as much power. Little things like that I could feel before. But now that has cleared up.”
Quizzed as to whether he was ever worried about the long-term implications, Aluko replied: “I can’t say I was worried about my career. Obviously, you want to get to the bottom of it but it was never a problem in that respect.
“There are very few injuries these days that are career-threatening, so I never got to that stage. It was more frustration at missing games and the tail end of the promotion season.
“Then, in your first year in the Premier League, you want to show how well you can do. So, it was more frustrating than worrying.”
The challenge for Aluko now is to force his way into Bruce’s starting XI. To do so, either one of the expensive January acquisitions will have to give way or City’s formation will need tweaking.
Aluko, who played alongside Jelavic at Ibrox, added: “Him and Long has worked. There has been some games where it’s not been as effective but that is always going to happen.
“But he always seems to get half chances here and there and he puts himself about. Once he gets in that form when I first saw him at Rangers, he will do well.
“It was the same when he arrived at Everton. You don’t lose that overnight. He’ll reach his top form again.
“Right now we are very fortunate to have Sagbo, Jelavic, Long, Fryatt. They’d walk into most teams near us in the table.”
Details have been revealed of how City plan to ballot season ticket holders over the proposed Hull Tigers name change.
Supporters will be asked to place a tick alongside one of three options: 1, Yes to Hull Tigers with the Allam family continuing to lead the club; 2, No to Hull Tigers; 3, I am not too concerned and will continue to support the club either way.
Season ticket holders aged 16 and over have until midnight on Friday to register their vote.