AND then there were two.
Hulll City and Watford. The Tigers and the Hornets. Two clubs who know that the next five games will decide who joins Cardiff City in next season’s Premier League.
A guaranteed cash booty of well over £100m is on offer to the side that prevails, a sum that will go a long way to securing the mid-term future of either City or Watford. It is, however, the promise of a return to taking on the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City in league combat that is firing the imagination of supporters and players alike.
For Hull, that means taking a minimum 13 points from those final five games. Anything less and Watford will be handed the opportunity to pip their Yorkshire rivals to the post.
Manager Steve Bruce admits that the promotion picture could become clearer by the end of the coming week, which sees both clubs vying for the second automatic promotion place playing three games.
“This is a huge week,” admitted the Tigers chief ahead of back-to-back away games against Ipswich and Wolverhampton Wanderers plus Friday’s home encounter with Bristol City.
“It is the biggest part of the season yet. Three games in six days will be judgement week for us. I wouldn’t be surprised if we knew a lot more about what the future has got in store at the end of that week.”
Like City, Watford’s week involves two games on the road – against Peterborough United and FA Cup semi-finalists Millwall on Tuesday – before Blackburn Rovers head to Vicarage Road a week today.
Gianfranco Zola has already made an attempt at mind games, the Italian this week having claimed that, in contrast to the Tigers, his side would head to London Road this weekend “free of pressure”.
Bruce, though, is too experienced a campaigner to be sucked in and has, instead, backed his side to hold on to second place.
The City manager said: “Over the last month or six weeks, we have clung on to our form when other teams haven’t. We might suffer a bad result but we have shown that resilience to come back again.
“I am not taking anything for granted, though. I know that any team in the Championship is capable of going and winning three games on the spin, while another one loses three. That is the type of division it is.
“I am confident we will pick up the points we need. We’ve been there to be shot at for months and we’ve managed to hold on.”
Asked if he had a points target in mind, Bruce replied: “Can we go out there and pick up nine or 10 points from the last five games? I think that will be sufficient.”