Here it is, we’ve got to the end of the three-legged race. Hull and Watford are the sole remnants of an undistinguished group, the rest of which have bowed out, felled by their own curious inability to put one foot in front of the other. The Tigers, in their scruffy, rarely-washed PE kit, are in the lead, their solid tripedal action unseemly but rarely wavering. Watford, decked out in their Kappa trackies from home, are hot on their tails. Despite picking daisies when the starter’s pistol went off and having an unhelpful propensity to occasionally sack off the race to turn and wave at adoring parents, they’re right in it, having showed some startling bursts of speed. It’s the final stretch, and Hull’s shoelaces have come undone.
It’s both amazing and infuriating that we’ve reached this stage of the season with a chance of cementing automatic promotion. To think in late September, when this very writer wrote off the campaign as an ‘experimental assault on mid-table’, that we’d be here, excitedly eyeing the pond on the High Street, would have been far-fetched. To think that it would come after a month or two of slovenly play and missed opportunities would have been lunacy. But we sit here today, anxiously willing the next few days to scuttle past, mulling on what could have been had victories against Bristol City, Boro, Charlton and Wolves been secured. All told, we’ve dropped 24 points from winning positions this season, the fifth-worst in the division.
But let’s not sweat the small stuff. This is better than we could have realistically hoped for last summer, and at the very least taking it to the last day has made second place seem a real prize. In case you’ve been living under a rock for the past week, or aren’t all that interested, it’s fairly simple: we have to better Hull’s result at home to Cardiff. Yes, that Cardiff. Twitterer extraordinaire @WatfordTalk has been whiling the week away building his straw collection and boning up on the stats, among them:
• Watford’s last day form in the last decade – Won: 5, Drawn: 2, Lost: 3
• Leeds’ in the last nine years: Won: 2, Drawn: 2, Lost: 5
• Hull’s in the last eight: Won: 0, Drawn: 2, Lost: 6
• We won’t go into Cardiff’s – we’re trying to keep things positive.
Hull haven’t won on the last day of the season since 2004, when they beat Bristol Rovers 3-0 at the newly-built KC Stadium to cap off a season that saw them promoted from the New Old Division 3.
None of which means a jot, of course. A stat that might perhaps have a bit of worth is that the five times before QPR failed to do so in 2011 a Championship club has gone into their last game having already secured Champion status, they have won them all. This might do something to soothe those who think that Cardiff will be seeing this dead rubber as a pre-holiday jaunt.
There’s a certain irony that a club with a throng of ex-Watford players and staff could be the team that helps to secure our promotion. Malky has previously said that he hoped that Watford would be the club to join his BlueRedbirds in the Premier League and overseeing a victory over Hull would go some way towards silencing the few dissenting voices that remain amongst Watford fans regarding the Scotsman’s integrity, loyalty and suchlike.
The fact that there are so many of our alumni in the Welsh ranks must surely work in our favour. Though it seems that Heidar, who joined just too late to be promoted with us in 1999 and left just too early for 2006, won’t be playing a part – in this or any future Cardiff match – there’s still Tommy Smith, Don Cowie, Andrew Taylor and Jordon Mutch. The latter two may not retain too great an affection for the club, so short was their time here, but Smith and Cowie, who were both talented players in a side who just didn’t have enough depth to reach the playoffs in their last few years in Hertfordshire, must surely harbour some sort of hope that they will face us again next season.
Moreover, virtually every Cardiff player has their own future to think about. Vincent Tan, who as well as the tradition and culture of British football seems to hold absolutely no knowledge of how to dress himself, has pledged £25 million to bring his squad up to Premier League code. There aren’t too many Cardiff players who can be certain of their place as key players next season, so they’ll surely be hoping to make one last sell to their moustachioed owner.
It’s all irrelevant, of course, if we can’t get a win out of our game. Yes, we turned them over in the return game, but nothing is certain in this league. After the 4-0 romp over a truly terrible Blackburn side and a professional victory over the flagging Leicester, we seem to be getting somewhere towards our best. Suspensions to midfield lynchpin Rudy Austin, whose injury beckoned open the floodgates at Elland Road in November, and El Hadji Diouf, who may be a prize berk but is still fairly handy, significantly weaken a Leeds side who have had a dour, disappointing season.
Will Zola choose Vydra or Forestieri to partner Deeney up front? Will the players cope with the pressure of a capacity crowd half-expecting to be partaking in a pitch invasion come half past two? Will Hull, fresh from a hiding from lowly Barnsley, be feeling sorry for themselves, or will they rise to the occasion – the last of many chances to secure promotion? All these questions will be answered on Saturday, and will no doubt be contemplated in the meantime by all those restless minds counting down the minutes until the games kick off.
Football, bloody hell.
Hull vs Cardiff – Sky Sports 2
Watford vs Leeds – (red button)
Saturday 4th May, 12:45