HULL city defender Curtis Davies knows all about the sinking feeling that accompanies relegation from the top flight.
He has fallen through the trapdoor marked ‘Football League’ on three previous occasions and admits the experience does not get any easier.
Which is why the 32-year-old is desperate to avoid the same fate this time around with Hull, the club he has called ‘home’ for the past four years.
“Relegation is hard to take,” said Davies ahead of today’s clash with West Ham United, the first of two home assignments inside five days that surely justify the tag ‘must win’.
“I had it at West Brom (2006) and at Birmingham (2011), though I don’t really count that second one as I didn’t play – and I had it here, obviously, as well.
“The back end of that season (2014-15) was harder to take because I wasn’t able to help keep us up. You have the feeling that you have let yourselves down. It is never one game, the last day of the season, that sends you down. It is about the 38 games where you haven’t been good enough as a team.
“After relegation, a week passes and you are in the Championship and starting to think about how to get out of it. Your focus has to change quickly.”
Hull’s relegation on the final day two years ago hurt everyone at the KCOM, as the distraught look on then manager Steve Bruce’s face at the final whistle vividly illustrated.
But, amid that dejection, there was a sense that Hull, armed with a squad that contained a lot more quality than the one relegated five years earlier, would be in with an excellent shout of bouncing straight back. That, of course, duly happened courtesy of last May’s play-off final victory over Sheffield Wednesday.
This time around, however, the picture would look much more uncertain if the Tigers were to fall into the Championship come May.
Not only would head coach Marco Silva be heading through the exit door at the end of his short-term deal, but his entire backroom staff and the host of loanees brought in during January would be doing the same.
Throw into the mix the likes of Andrew Robertson, Harry Maguire and Abel Hernandez being into the final year of their existing deals, and wanted elsewhere, and there will be huge gaps to fill.
Clearly, therefore, the stakes are high for Hull heading into these final nine games.
“Ultimately, every club wants to be in the Premier League,” added Davies. “You see that more and more now, even in the Championship with teams being bought out and getting new investment.
“I am not talking negatively because I believe we can stay in the Premier League, but, in terms of the club and the club’s structure, it would be tough to take going down.
“The parachute payments means there are teams in the Championship spending £15m on players and if you are not one of those teams you could end up never coming back or maybe falling further.”
Hull’s home form is likely to decide their fate this term. After hosting West Ham United today, the Tigers’ remaining opponents at the KCOM are Middlesbrough, Watford, Sunderland and Tottenham Hotspur.
All bar Spurs on the final day are eminently winnable fixtures for a team yet to be beaten in six home league and cup games under their Portuguese head coach.
“I look at our run-in but not others,” said Davies when asked how closely he was following Hull’s fellow strugglers.
“There was a weekend recently when Swansea were going to Liverpool. You would think Liverpool would win, but Swansea did.
“You can’t look too closely at other teams and their run-ins because, ultimately, it is about what you do. You have got to look at a realistic number of points you can get. In your head, you need an idea about what you can do. If you do your best as a team, you just hope it is enough.”
This last comment begs the question, ‘How many points will Hull need to stay up this season?’
“I have always said if you can get up to a point a game,” replied Davies. “That is going to be tough because you are looking at 14 points from these last nine games. That is a tough number to ask for.
“It might be less than that, but that is what you have to aim for.
“It is better to aim for that and fall slightly short, but stay up, rather than thinking you will be all right getting to 34 points only to then get relegated.”
For the record, Hull’s two previous relegations from the Premier League came after accruing 30 points in 2009-10 and 35 two years ago.
Last season, Newcastle United went down with 37 points.
“We are hopeful that whatever points total we get will be enough,” added Davies.
“With these two games coming up now (at home to West Ham and Middlesbrough), if we were able to come through it and be out of the relegation zone then it would make it that little bit easier looking forward.
“A point here and there might then become a bit more favourable.
“If you are looking at having to win the next game, it becomes difficult.”
Of Davies’s previous relegations from the top flight, Hull’s demise in 2015 and Birmingham’s four years before that both came on the final day. West Brom’s fall in 2006, meanwhile, came with two games still to play.
“The big thing needed in a relegation fight is character,” said Davies. “Character is needed, more so when you lose a game. Winning is easy, as you get confidence from that.
“But, losing a game when you should have taken points from it or seeing a rival pick up a win can sometimes lead you to start thinking, ‘Oh, we are struggling’.
“It is vital to look at the table and think about how many games you have got left to catch up. You need to be strong that way.
“You also need to be good enough to win the games you should. It is all well and good saying, ‘There is always next week’. But the games are counting down now. You have to beat – or not lose – to the teams around you – and then do your best against the likes of Manchester City and Tottenham.”