When Marco Silva became Hull City manager on January 5, the Tigers were bottom of the table and two points behind 17th-placed Sunderland. Even Silva used the word “miracle” when asked what was required.
That just four months later, Hull’s defeat to Sunderland was a shock – at least according to the bookies – on a similar scale to Manchester United’s defeat to Watford in September, illustrates just how far Silva has taken the Tigers. While Sunderland had picked up six points and a relegation from 13 games, Hull had claimed 21 points and self-determination from 15 matches.
Hull took to the field against Sunderland knowing that Crystal Palace – next week’s opponents – had been comprehensively dismantled by Manchester City and that victory would take them within a point of Sam Allardyce’s men and make it a genuine three-way battle to avoid one relegation place.
And they cocked it. Like, really cocked it. They were nervous, they were rushed, they were lacking all the qualities that had given them the appearance and form of a mid-table side since Silva’s arrival. After four months of excellent work, this one result – coupled with Swansea’s victory over Everton – has once again made them odds-on favourites to join Sunderland and presumably Middlesbrough back in the Championship. Having manoeuvred themselves into a position to see the finishing line, they fell over.
“We didn’t play well, we tried to do everything too fast, and fast and well is not easy,” said Silva. “In a balanced game with more possession, more of the ball in the middle, who knows. I felt our players had a bit of tension, too much anxiety, and you need to be calm in the game to play with shape and energy.”
Perhaps Hull’s players were not helped by reports in midweek that Silva is a target for West Ham, Southampton and Watford, all of which have been outperformed by a rag-tag bunch of journeymen, loanees and raw talent since his arrival. Hull are punching way above their weight with Silva and their only hope of keeping him beyond the end of the season was to end the campaign as a tour de force. Against Sunderland, the pressure appeared too much.
Whispers from the club are that Silva has actually signed a contract until the end of next season, but not even the most one-eyed Tiger would expect him to stay and manage in the Championship. This is not a repeat of the love story between Newcastle and Rafa Benitez; Hull are no sleeping giant with an endearingly massive fanbase. If they are relegated now, they would attract a Championship-calibre manager and they could easily be subsumed by the division. If it can swallow up Aston Villa, it can certainly swallow up Hull City.
Having come so far, it would hurt far more to fail now. It’s the hope that kills you, and Hull have had four months of real hope.