by Andrew Lawton
HULL City must use this window of opportunity and return to the big time, according to Curtis Davies – or risk losing the core of last season’s Premier League team.
The Tigers have dropped off the automatic promotion pace following a spotty run of form exemplified by last week’s head-scratching defeat to already-relegated Bolton.
It’s now play-offs or bust for a team that managed to retain its backbone after dropping down from the Premier League last year, including midfield generals Mo Diame and Tom Huddlestone, plus centre-back pairing Michael Dawson and Davies.
Failure to beat Derby over two legs and then win at Wembley could spell the end of an era, with the Premier League’s new £8bn TV deal sure to be used as ammo to whisk some of the Championship’s best players away.
And in light of that potential windfall, Davies admits the rewards for play-offs glory are just as huge as the risk of failure from a Tigers perspective.
“I have always said the first opportunity is the best. We are not a depleted squad and we have managed to keep the core squad together,” said the 31-year-old.
“We are in a good situation in that sense. If it went another year there are people here who want to play in the Premier League.
“People have given it a go but another year in the Championship may not appeal and people may want to move on.
“It would be great to get to Wembley but we wouldn’t be there for a day out, we would be there to get to the Premier League.
“The occasion is brilliant for the fans and the neutrals but, for us, we don’t care where the game is – we just want to win that game and get to the Premier League.
“If we don’t get up this year whoever comes down, Aston Villa and whoever else it is, will be strong. You have clubs coming down with £90m ready to spend.
“We are talking about the richest game in football, the play-off final, which has just got richer again.”
Perhaps the most worrying element of Hull’s recent form is their defeat at the hands of play-off rivals Derby last month, having been soundly beaten 4-0 as the Rams completed a league double.
But Davies has moved to reassure fans that the club is keeping their powder dry ahead of Derby dates that matter – the two semi-final legs on May 14 and May 17.
“When we went into April and had eight games to play, the manager (Steve Bruce) made wholesale changes so the players would be fresh,” Davies added.
“When you are winning and it’s Saturday-Tuesday it’s easier to get ready, but when you’re not in form it’s tougher on the mind.
“I think we just want to get going with the play-offs. We have not been in great form lately, we lost to Bolton, but before that we were five games unbeaten.
“We know we have not been playing well. It’s important to get momentum but, ultimately, it’s three games of football to get to the Premier League.
“We know we have a strong squad and the belief, so hopefully we can cause a mini-upset.
“We have got to nullify the confidence that Derby have taken from their two wins over us and if we get the first goal it changes their mindset.
“It will be tough but we know what needs to be done – it all comes down to this.”
*This article was originally published in The FLP on 8 May 2016.