Anxiety on the rise at the KC Stadium

Posted by Philip Buckingham

Jason Puncheon Crystal Palace celeb vs Hull GettyImagesJason Puncheon put Crystal Palace ahead against Hull.

What a difference a month makes. After welcoming 2014 with a giddy sense of optimism bubbling around the KC Stadium, Hull City will begin February with anxiety on the rise.

The 6-0 victory over Fulham that ended 2013 on a breathtaking high seems a dim and distant memory after four consecutive defeats in the Premier League. Famine has followed the feast and the Tigers are in growing need of a lift.

Respectable defeats to Liverpool and Chelsea were instantly forgivable at the start of January, but the more recent losses at Norwich and Crystal Palace, two rivals for survival, have been uncomfortable to digest. From being carefree in 10th and seven points clear of the relegation zone, City have gradually slid to 13th and to within four points of trouble.

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That cushion provides Steve Bruce with ongoing comfort, but the wily old boss will know the rot needs to be stopped before the excellent work of 2013 begins to be undermined.

Only Hull City and Cardiff City are still without a point in 2014 and that is not good company for the Tigers to be keeping at present. Just to compound a worrying spell, supporters are still waiting to toast their first goal since running riot against Fulham on December 28.

Tuesday night's defeat at Palace was the final installment of a flat month. City had their complaints when denied two first-half penalties, at least one should have been awarded, but their wounds were self-inflicted when failing to find the goal an improved second-half performance warranted. A point should have been the least they took from Selhurst Park. Instead, a rival that once trailed them by 10 points is now back level.

The losses to Norwich and Palace in the last fortnight have been damaging blows, but a long way short of knocking City off their feet. The six wins already under their belt means that another four should still be all they need. Finding the first of those soon is the key, ensuring a sense of panic building is nipped firmly in the bud. After all, it is just one victory in 10 Premier League games now.

January was a poor month on the field, overlooking FA Cup progress to the fifth round, but an excellent one off it. The €14 million spent to recruit Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long has ensured they have finished the month with a stronger squad than when it began and only deadwood has been allowed to leave.

Jelavic and Long are the gambles who now hold the key to survival. Joining a side that has consistently struggled to find goals (11 of 23 Premier League games have seen them draw a blank) they are the pairing that must shoulder great expectations. Their first outing together came in the 1-0 loss at Palace and showed flashes of their quality. Long, in particular, was slick and impressive.

The two costly new arrivals need to deliver something around eight goals between them in the final 15 games of the season to justify their moves and, providing those modest targets are met, there is cause to believe Bruce's side can continue to observe the fight from their wing mirrors.

Saturday's visit of Tottenham could begin with City even closer to the bottom three. Success for West Ham and Sunderland in the lunchtime kick-offs would reduce the gap to just a point. That would do little to ease the tension around the KC Stadium but a date with Tottenham might, just might, be a good fixture for City.

The onus will be on Tim Sherwood's men to find a win that would keep their top-four hopes alive and that should give the Tigers opportunities to explore. So long as City play at the KC Stadium, too, they have a chance. Only three of 11 sides have left East Yorkshire with all three points this season and only Chelsea could really claim to have done it comfortably. Even then, a 2-0 win for Jose Mourinho's side endured the odd early fright.

When the Tigers last lost to Palace at the end of November their remarkable response was a 3-1 win over Liverpool at the KC Stadium. It made little sense but should serve as a timely reminder that Bruce's men are capable of much more than they have shown in 2014. Even just a point would be a huge result for City. The thought of travelling to Sunderland seven days later on the back of five straight defeats is not a pleasant one.


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