What a season it's been at the KC Stadium.
Back in October, Hull City AFC were living the fairytale dream. They were the slumdog millionaires.
A rags-to-riches story had seen Hull transform itself from a club contemplating relegation to The Conference 10 years ago to a team that were on course to qualify for the Champions League, after securing 20 points from its opening nine Premier League fixtures.
As happens with many newly-promoted teams, their low-profile squad of British journeymen—hungry young guns and little-known foreigners—rode their luck at times and their fearless, free-flowing football titillated their fans and win over their initial cynics.
They seemed destined to prove that they could repeat the triumphs of Steve Coppell's Royals of 2006-'07. The attacking verve of Geovanni, Dean Marney and Daniel Cousin impressed no less than the resolute barrier to their goal that Boaz Myhill, Kamil Zayatte and the inspirational Michael Turner had constructed.
But where once there were Tigers, now there are cubs. Their defeat at home to fellow strugglers Tottenham Hotspur—an average side, at best, on their travels—meant that they have picked up just eight points from a possible 51 and have suffered humiliating defeats against Sunderland and Manchester City.
So miserable was their performance during the first half of the latter that Phil Brown felt the need to drag his players into the centre circle for a halftime dressing-down.
At the same time that Hull were flying high on top of the league and the world, Tottenham were in the doldrums, virtually dead and buried. After Monday night's victory over sinking Hull, it seems only a matter of time before they reach the sandy shore of survival.
Johnathan Woodgate's soaring 83rd minute header epitomised the energy and belief which has emerged amongst the Spurs squad as they have surged through the cup competitions.
In truth, a revival of their league fortunes would have come sooner did their players not have a disposition to switch off late in matches.
Hull have not shown the quantity it takes to win games for a long while and are likely to join West Brom back in the Championship next season.
So, one relegation place remains and none of the other bottom 10 sides are safe.
Upwardly mobile Newcastle and Tottenham should survive by dint of their superior squads and finances—and their healthier goal differences—and Sunderland and Bolton should already have secured enough points to ensure that they are not sucked in.
This leaves Portsmouth, Stoke, Blackburn, and Middlesborough.
Portsmouth and Blackburn, although fragile defensively, have attacking options which should ensure their survival: Peter Crouch and Roque Santa Cruz have more goals in them.
Middlesborough and Stoke, like Hull City, have endured a torrid 2009 and have found league wins increasingly difficult to come by. Yet, last night's demolition of a capable West Ham team showed that Middlesborough have the quality it takes, especially if wing wizards Stewart Downing and Adam 'Jinky' Johnson can continue to wreak havoc with their pace and trickery on the flanks.
Stoke are one-dimensional and too reliant on their home form to stay up.
20. West Brom
19. Stoke City
18. Hull City
Key Match Days
Saturday, 4 April
Blackburn v Tottenham; Bolton v Middlesborough; Hull v Portsmouth; West Brom v Stoke
Sunday 24 May
All teams, with the exception of Blackburn, have very difficult fixtures and a pluck draw could make all the difference.
West Brom: Johnathan Greening
Middlesborough: Stewart Downing
Blackburn: Roque Santa Cruz
Stoke: Scott Carson
Portsmouth: Peter Crouch
Newcastle: Michael Owen
Tottenham: Robbie Keane
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