While predicting results in the Championship has proved practically impossible, there was a lingering feeling at the KC Stadium on Saturday that Hull City and Crystal Palace have not yet seen the last of each other this season.
Both sides head into the final round of fixtures on Sunday with everything to play for. Should West Bromwich lose their last two games or Stoke be beaten by Leicester, then a win for Hull at Ipswich – defeated just once at Portman Road all season – would bring top-flight football to Humberside for the first time. Any other combination of results and they will finish third.
Palace, in sixth, need to beat Burnley at Selhurst Park to be sure of holding their position – but remarkably could yet finish anywhere between fourth and ninth. Somehow, though, whether in the two-legged semi-finals or at Wembley, there appears every chance of a play-off rematch. Unlike many of their rivals – Watford and Bristol City spring immediately to mind – Hull and Palace both possess momentum.
The former were 18th as recently as late October but have lost just four of their last 24 games while Palace, second-bottom at one point shortly after Neil Warnock's arrival last autumn, have climbed the table in similar fashion and this was their first defeat in 11 games.
"The KC has become a fortress to us," said Phil Brown, the Hull manager. "We've got here on merit and made bits of history all season, so maybe we can make some more at Ipswich next week."
Hull's resurgent form has coincided with the arrival on loan from Manchester United of the outstanding Fraizer Campbell. His drag back and shot from the edge of the area resulted in a 15th goal for the young forward since joining the club in October. But Hull were only ahead for 20 minutes before another highly rated Premier League talent, Scott Sinclair, drew Palace level following Wayne Brown's failure to clear.
It was the 85th minute before their captain, Ian Ashbee, met Dean Marney's corner with a header to keep hopes of automatic promotion alive. "It's the most important goal of my career so far," said Ashbee. He is a lifelong Birmingham City fan so would love nothing more than for Hull to be promoted at the expense of West Bromwich. "If we can win at the Hawthorns we can win anywhere in this league, so why not at Ipswich?"
Goals: Campbell (18) 1-0; Sinclair (38) 1-1; Ashbee (85) 2-1.
Hull City (4-3-3): Myhill; Ricketts, Turner, Brown, Pedersen (Doyle, 32); Marney, Ashbee, Hughes (Barmby, 68); Folan, Campbell, Windass (Fagan, 24). Substitutes not used: Duke (gk), Walton.
Crystal Palace (4-5-1): Speroni; Butterfield, Fonte, Hudson, Hill; Sinclair (Ifill, 70), Soares, Derry (Scannell, 87), Watson, Moses; Morrison. Substitutes not used: Ashton, Hills, Bostock.
Referee: R Booth (Sutton Ashfield).
Booked: Crystal Palace Derry.
Man of the match: Campbell.
Attendance: 24,350.Reuse content