RARELY have three relegated sides arrived back in the Championship with a plop rather than the expected splash.
Sunderland, just 14 games into the campaign, are already flirting with a second consecutive demotion and sources on Wearside suggest manager Simon Grayson will be axed if tonight’s home game with rock-bottom Bolton ends in anything but a win.
The other two sides who were rubbing shoulders with the elite as recently as May have not suffered quite such a chastening return to the second tier. Neither, though, can Hull City or Middlesbrough be happy with how things stand ahead of tonight’s meeting at the KCOM Stadium.
Boro sit 12th in the table despite a £40m splurge on transfers last summer, while the Tigers are even further off the pace with manager Leonid Slutsky’s men a point closer to the relegation zone than the play-offs.
In Hull’s case, such a slow start is perhaps more understandable considering the huge turnover in personnel that took place during the summer. It is a point captain Michael Dawson is keen to stress.
“I hadn’t personally experienced a summer with as much change as we had last summer,” the 33-year-old told The Yorkshire Post ahead of taking on Boro. “It was strange to lose as many as we did.
“It started in the summer with Curtis (Davies) and then we came back to lose Robbo (Andrew Robertson), Harry (Maguire), Tom (Huddlestone) and a few others.
“Big players and big characters, the core of the team that kept the dressing room together. Then we look at January this year, when we lost Jake (LIvermore) and Snods (Robert Snodgrass).
“We have had a big turnover in players and that means there has to be a period where things need to settle down.”
An illustration of the upheaval at Hull comes via the starting XI when Boro were last at the KCOM in early April. Just Kamil Grosicki and Abel Hernandez remain and the Uruguayan is out until the Spring with a ruptured Achilles.
We have had a big turnover in players and that means there has to be a period where things need to settle down.Hull City’s Michael Dawson
Of the others who started that 4-2 victory over the Teesside club, seven are still in the Premier League, Andrea Ranocchia is back in Serie A with Inter Milan and Alfred N’Diaye has become a mainstay in the Wolverhampton Wanderers side breathing down the neck of leaders Sheffield United.
Replacing this drained talent has not been easy and things are still settling down, as was underlined by the disappointing weekend defeat at home to Nottingham Forest. Dawson, though, believes progress is being made.
“I do feel we are getting there as a team, 100 per cent,” he added. “We had a new squad in the summer and it does take time to settle down.
“People moving isn’t always easy. Look at Ola (Aina), this was probably the first time he had left London.
“It can be hard. I knew Hull and the surrounding area when I moved up (from Spurs in 2014), but others have to learn all about it, while trying to find a house and so on.
“As captain, I tried to help the new lads settle. I wanted to make them feel at home from day one. Go out for food together and make them feel welcome, that is the key. When you are happier off the field, it makes it easier to play on it.
“Some players are louder than others. Fraizer (Campbell) is one of those. You need that in a dressing room, senior heads that keep everyone together when the hard times come along.”
The turnover in personnel at the Riverside has also been marked since relegation, but the considerable transfer outlay under manager Garry Monk meant expectation was much higher when the season got under way.
As yet, Boro have failed to live up to those demands and head to the East Riding sitting 12th in the table.
This disappointing standing means Boro, Hull and Sunderland are, over the past decade, the worst-performing relegated trio 14 games into a season.
Last term, for instance, Newcastle and Norwich were first and third, respectively, at the corresponding stage, while even the next worst performing season of 2010-11 saw Burnley in eighth place as November dawned.
Slutsky, however, believes his side can start moving up the table of a division where the competition is incredibly tight.
“It is a big test,” said the Russian about tonight’s all-Yorkshire affair.
“The quality of the teams, there is no big difference. Nottingham Forest and Middlesbrough is one good game after another. Each match, not only for us, but 90 per cent of teams in the Championship, will be unpredictable.”
Grosicki could be rested after Slutsky admitted the winger has looked jaded.
Last six games: Hull City DLWDWL Middlesbrough LDDLLW.
Referee: T Robinson (West Sussex).
Last time: Hull City 4 Middlesbrough 2; April 5, 2017; Premier League.