Ian Ashbee tips Hull City for automatic promotion
HULL City's ground-breaking former captain Ian Ashbee believes the stage is set for Steve Bruce's side to eclipse the Tigers' achievements of 2007-08 and clinch automatic promotion to the Premier League.
Five years after ending a 104-year wait for top-flight football under Phil Brown when winning the Championship play-off final at Wembley, City are on course to write another magical chapter in the club's history.
A two-point cushion separates the second-placed Tigers from their nearest promotion rivals and, with just eight games remaining, Ashbee is tipping the class of 2013 to sidestep the play-offs for a direct path to the Premier League.
"They've got a massive chance," said Ashbee, who captained City in their play-off final win over Bristol City, as well as back-to-back promotions in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
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"There's a quality squad that Steve Bruce has assembled and you couldn't wish for a more experienced boss in the last few weeks.
"I don't see many weaknesses in this side and if they can carry on as they have all season, there's no reason why they can't win automatic promotion.
"I think they'll finish second, I really do.
"They're good enough and play a lot more football than we ever did.
"I said at the start of the season they were good enough for the play-offs but to be second with eight games to go, it would be a disappointment not to go up in second place.
"I can honestly see them going one better than us and that would be fantastic."
As the Championship takes its last breath during the international break before a frantic chase for the finishing line, the Tigers hold down an enviable position in the automatic promotion battle.
Despite losing 2-1 to Nottingham Forest on Saturday, City are still two points better off than Watford and three ahead of fourth-placed Crystal Palace. Forest, back in fifth, are cut eight points adrift.
City also hold a huge advantage over Brown's side of 2007-08. At the same point of their last promotion season, the Tigers had only amassed 59 points – nine less than the current crop.
It was during the final weeks of March that City launched their last charge for the line, taking 16 points from their last eight games to finish third, and Ashbee accepts the pressure will be a burden.
"There's probably more pressure on them than there was on us because there's expectation now," he added. "The crowd and the city has experienced it before and they want more of that.
"They've dealt with it up to now and they've got to keep going with one last push over the final hurdle.
"You don't want to be left with any regrets so they've got to just go for it and stick together."