Will Hull City win promotion? 20 games in, history says yes
ON THE eve of a new Championship season Hull City vice chairman Ehab Allam bullishly outlined the club's ambitions for the nine months ahead.
"We need to be in the Premier League next season and I don't see any reason why we can't be," Allam stressed emphatically back in August.
Having already overseen two shortfalls during their progressive stewardship, finishing 11th under Nigel Pearson in 2010-11 and eighth under Nick Barmby 12 months later, it was hoped the appointment of Steve Bruce would be the catalyst for a leap into the top six.
A public declaration of their great expectations was bold in the extreme. Some would even call it ill-advised.
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But after passing the 20 game mark with the Tigers starting to call the play-off places home, the City board's unadulterated show of ambition is almost halfway towards being realised.
Bruce, a two-time promotion winner out of the Championship, will be quick to place the emphasis heavily on the word "halfway."
Experience is the deadweight keeping the 53-year-old grounded. This breathless division can make fools of the over-excitable.
However, downplaying City's promotion hopes is becoming an increasingly onerous task.
Since winning 2-1 at Bristol City on October 27, City have been ever-presents in the Championship's top six. Much longer and they will be part of the furniture.
A 2-1 win at Nottingham Forest on Saturday, their 11th victory of the season, was the latest result to reaffirm a largely unspoken belief that this can be the Tigers' year.
Sustaining the current average of 1.75 points a game would bring 80 points and guarantees of the play-offs or more.
HOW THEY COMPARE AFTER 20 GAMES
Nigel Pearson, 2010-11
• Points 23
• Final points 65
• Final position 11th
Phil Brown, 2007-8
• Points 27
• Final points 75
• Final position 3rd
Nick Barmby, 2011-12
• Points 33
• Final points 68
• Final position 8th
* First 15 games under Nigel Pearson
Steve Bruce, 2012-13
• Points 35
• Final points ?
• Final position ?
Not since 2004-05, when Peter Taylor's men clinched a place in the Championship with promotion out of League One, have the first 20 games of a season returned a greater tally than the current figure of 35 points.
Amassing such a haul has been no accident. City have outplayed a string of opponents and, to boot, done it in some style.
The seven defeats suffered along the way ensures the Tigers lag behind the top two of Cardiff and Crystal Palace, and reveals potential fault-lines running through their challenge.
But on each occasion where City have badly needed a result to stir flagging momentum, Bruce's men have duly responded by stoking the fires. Think Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol City and Birmingham.
Only once this season, when losing in consecutive fixtures to Leicester, Peterborough and Blackpool, have City gone three games without a win. To lend the quirky word invented by one-time boss Iain Dowie, it suggests the Tigers have "bouncebackability" in abundance.
If the spirit displayed time and again is one hallmark of a side on the up, another is the depth now at Bruce's disposal.
With Tom Cairney and Jack Hobbs back in the travelling squad at Nottingham Forest, the City boss had an 18-man match-day squad supplemented by the two returning stars, Ben Amos and Andy Dawson with him in the East Midlands.
All, you suspect, will be needed for the rigours of the month ahead – especially if David Meyler returns to parent club Sunderland – but City appear well-equipped for a run of six games in 24 days beginning at Watford this weekend.
Even with Matty Fryatt and Joe Dudgeon ruled out until next summer with cruel season-ending injuries, City's squad extends far deeper than previous promotion challenges under Pearson and Barmby.
Should a natural goalscorer be sourced in January, it could be the telling final piece of the jigsaw.
Goals, or a lack of them, have derailed City's promotion hopes for the last two years.
Last season, in particular, saw the good work of Barmby's boys undermined by a paltry return of 10 goals from their final 11 games. Another player in double figures alongside Robert Koren and Fryatt and it could have been different.
Bruce is unwilling to take a similar risk and, even after marked improvements with 29 goals in the first 20 games, he is understandably beginning to search for solutions. Nothing will be left to chance.
If history offers us a yardstick with which to measure Bruce's side, their credentials cannot be easily ignored after facing almost every side in the division.
City are currently eight points better off than Phil Brown's promotion-winning side of 2007-08, who were being thumped 3-0 at Preston five years ago today.
Worse was to come within days when routed 4-0 at Southampton but a superb second half to the campaign would eventually bring 75 points, third place and a route to immortality at Wembley.
Bruce's men, game by game, are showing enough to suggest they could yet follow in those famous steps back towards the top flight.
The giddy amongst City's following are even eyeing up the top two, citing room for further development as the case for automatic promotion.
The Tigers have produced too many off-days to keep pace with Cardiff and Crystal Palace through the opening four months of the season, but Peter Taylor's class of 2003-04, who went on to finish second in the old Division Three, were only two points better off after their opening 20 games.
As Bruce would be happy to hear, though, this will end with a word of warning for those already beginning to plan their parties for next May.
The last time City had amassed this many points after 20 games in the second tier was back in 1987-88 when Brian Horton's final year in charge brought 37 points by the end of November. Six months later, the Tigers' tally had risen to just 57 points to bring a sorry final standing of 15th.
Be wary but be optimistic, 2013 is shaping up to be a bright year.