James Chester: Hull City's squad is bigger and stronger, but we can't get carried away
THE parallels between this year and last are striking as Hull City bounce towards the halfway point of their season at Derby County tonight.
Just as a perfect run through December had given Nick Barmby's side the chance to jump up to third at Middlesbrough on Boxing Day of last season, the same carrot dangles before Steve Bruce's in-form side as they travel to Derby this evening.
Three points would even inspire a climb to second.
But as a giant leap into the Championship's top two beckons for the first time since City's promotion campaign of 2007-08, James Chester is keen to learn from the lessons of history.
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A 1-0 loss at the Riverside 12 months ago began an unhappy Christmas for football fans in East Yorkshire, with further defeats against Burnley and Derby inflicting a throbbing New Year hangover.
City have shown enough to suggest the same fate can be avoided when Derby represent the first of four challenges inside 12 days tonight, but Chester is wary that the good work of December can quickly be undone.
"If you'd have asked me this time last year I'd have said we had a very good chance of getting into the top six," said Chester.
"It was a decent position we were in 12 months ago but we fell away at the end when we picked up a few injuries.
"We had a disappointing Christmas last year. I can remember going into it on a similar run to the one we're on at the moment but that's what the Championship is about. One minute you're on a high, the next you're losing three on the bounce.
"We're all aware that can soon happen to us again but if we keep our feet on the ground I'm sure we'll be all right.
"This year's squad is bigger and stronger, and there's also a lot of confidence in the squad."
Three consecutive wins against Nottingham Forest, Watford and Huddersfield ensures City head to Derby as the league's form team.
A rich bounty of 41 points from 22 games sees the Tigers clinging to the coat-tails of the division's pace-setters Cardiff and Crystal Palace and a fourth consecutive victory tonight would guarantee a move up to second ahead of the weekend fixtures.
Chester said: "We can be pleased with where we are.
"The manager has come in with a new formation and we've adapted well quickly.
"We're scoring goals, that's the main improvement.
"We found it very difficult last year. We were keeping clean-sheets but not getting the goals. We've improved going forward and it helps you a lot when you're scoring."
Chester's focus remains set on reaching the Premier League as soon as possible and City will hope he can soon be tied down to a new long-term deal.
The Mail understands a new three-and-a-half-year contract has been tabled with improved personal terms bringing the defender in line with his senior team-mates at the KC Stadium.
Although Chester is yet to put pen to paper, he admits he has been encouraged by recent talks.
"My agent was happy with how it went and it sounded good to me," he added.
"We're talking about the next three or four years of my life so there's not any particular rush.
"If everything's right and I'm happy with it, I'll sign it tomorrow, but there's just a few little things left to do."