AS someone who missed just a handful of games as Leicester City went within a whisker of going from League One to the Premier League inside two years, Jack Hobbs knows a thing or two about a promotion challenge.
It is one of the reasons that Nigel Pearson, once his manager at the Walkers Stadium, was so keen to bring the 23-year-old north at the first opportunity last season after the defender had fallen out of favour under Sven Goran Eriksson.
Pearson may be long gone, enticed back to the East Midlands at the start of November. But Hobbs is still in Hull and a key member of a squad that, with each passing week, looks more and more capable of lasting the pace in the race for the top flight.
Five wins from seven games under Nick Barmby have propelled the Tigers up to fourth ahead of today’s visit to Middlesbrough. More importantly, they have created a momentum at the KC Stadium that is already drawing comparisons with the 2007-08 season that ended so gloriously for Hull at Wembley.
Hobbs may have been a Liverpool player at the time but he has first-hand experience of how the rocking atmosphere of the KC Stadium during that run-in helped push Hull towards the top table of English football.
“I came here with Scunthorpe a couple of months before Hull went up,” recalls the Tigers defender of his loan spell at Glanford Park.
“We lost 2-0 and Henrik Pedersen had a great game against me at right-back.
“But what I remember most about that day is the momentum Hull seemed to have. Put it this way, I wasn’t surprised when they went up a couple of months later.”
Hobbs, of course, is hoping for a repeat of 2008 when Hull’s long wait for top-flight football finally came to an end.
If that hope is realised, the former England Youth international will certainly have played his part if the first half of the season is anything to go by.
Not only has Hobbs played every minute of every league and cup game this term, a distinction he shares with James Chester. But he has helped turn the Tigers into one of the meanest defences around, the 22 goals conceded by the club being bettered by only three teams – Boro (19), Crystal Palace (20) and West Ham (20).
Barmby’s promotion to the top job has also seen Hull’s strike rate improve dramatically, his seven games having yielded 12 goals – a record that compares favourably with the 14 in 15 games under Pearson.
All in all, therefore, the season seems to be shaping up nicely for the Tigers, leaving Hobbs hoping that the upcoming transfer window will see the squad remain intact.
He said: “Keeping everyone together in January is key. Football can change quickly but I would hope we can all stay together. I would hope anyone who did have the chance to leave would look round at what is happening at Hull and want to stay.
“We are in and among the promotion challengers and there is no reason why we can’t go up. Bigger things are hopefully going to happen here than anywhere else.
“Hull City is a happy place to be. There is no arrogance in the squad with everyone’s mentality being to work hard for each other. We have a good bunch, whose main foundation is to work hard.
“We are all willing to improve and there is a great attitude. Throw that in along with the gaffer’s experience and that of all the other coaches, and it makes for a good mix.”
It is not just results that are making the KC, in Hobbs’s words, “a happy place to be” with Barmby’s management style having ensured the club negotiated what could have been a difficult transition period following Pearson’s departure with ease.
Despite that, the former England international, appointed caretaker manager last month, has still not made his mind up as to whether to take the job on a permanent basis.
Hobbs said: “The players want Nick to take the job. It would be fantastic. Everyone knew him before but he has stepped into the job really well.
“Results show how much we enjoy working for him, as does our style of football.
“He is very approachable and keeps us on our toes. He doesn’t allow anyone to get carried away. We had a meeting last week to go through where we could improve on a few things. That is what the gaffer is all about – how we can get better.”
So far, 2011 has been a productive year for the Tigers with 45 games having yielded 74 points. It is an admirable return but Hobbs believes next year has the potential to be even more exciting for Hull.
“This year has been a good one for everyone at Hull City,” says the defender who joined initially on loan in February before making the move from Leicester permanent last summer in a £850,000 deal.
“The aim when I came in was to push on. We did that and results went well. Unfortunately, we had left ourselves too much to do and fell a bit short (of the play-offs).
“We then made a few additions over the summer but had a slow start. We soon turned it round, though, and things are looking good.”
A quick glance at the Championship table shows just what a promising position Hull are in, Barmby’s men being six points clear of Reading in seventh place and just four off West Ham in the second automatic promotion slot.
Hobbs added: “We want promotion. With the lads we have and the quality there is in the team, then I think we are up there on merit. In fact, we could even deserve to be higher.
“We seem to be under the radar a bit, but that is fine by us. We feel confident. Promotion was something I thought was a possibility from the very start.
“The squad felt the same and it was our main aim when we started out. Nothing has happened to change that.”
On the race for the Premier League, Hobbs said: “The top two can be caught. Southampton are wobbling a bit. We pushed them right to the edge down there and were unfortunate to lose 2-1 after going ahead.
“It was the same with West Ham (who beat Hull 2-0 at the KC in what turned out to be Pearson’s last act as manager). We will find a bit more about ourselves on Boxing Day when we take on the team with the best defensive record.”