Iain Dowie admits Hull are "running out of games" as they try to preserve their Premier League status. The Tigers would have drawn level with 17th-placed West Ham with a win in their game in hand against Aston Villa on Wednesday night but instead they slumped to a 2-0 defeat.
Hampered by a vastly inferior goal difference, Hull know they must win two of their last three games to have any chance of staying in the top flight for a third successive season.
Defeat at home to Sunderland tomorrow coupled with a West Ham win over Wigan would effectively relegate Dowie's side, but he is retaining a positive focus. "I choose to say we've got to win the game," he said. "But we are running out of games. Saturday is a must-win."
Dowie has failed to lift Hull's form since replacing Phil Brown last month, winning only one of his six matches in charge. The former Crystal Palace and Coventry manager, though, insists there can still be a silver lining.
"When we came here it was one win in 17 games, if we get two wins in seven that's a turnaround, so let's make sure we take care of our business," he added.
As relegation draws closer, attention has increasingly focused on the club's finances and the implications of a return to the Championship.
The Hull chairman, Adam Pearson, used Wednesday night's programme notes to attack his predecessor Paul Duffen, who resigned in October, allowing Pearson to return to the role he had previously held between 2001 and 2007.
"In my personal opinion, the decisions made by Mr Duffen were extremely short-sighted and lacking in business sense and specific football knowledge," Pearson wrote. "He seems, albeit with the advantage of hindsight, to have had no understanding of the industry, Hull City AFC or the city itself."
He went on to accuse Duffen, who led Hull into the Premier League, of "poor business sense" and a "lack of moral responsibility" while describing the money spent on agents as "morally abhorrent".
Duffen, though, hit back in a statement yesterday, maintaining that Hull have "one of the lowest squad wage bills in the Premier League and amongst the lowest levels of debt". He added: "The successes were not achieved through financial muscle but partnerships, ambition, team spirit, collective positive attitude and a stubborn refusal to fail.
"I firmly believe that if those qualities remain at the club then Hull City have every chance of playing a third season in the Premier League and I wish them well."
There was some welcome good news for Hull yesterday, with the results of Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink's CT scan showing no damage. The striker was knocked unconscious in a collision with Villa's Richard Dunne and taken to Hull Royal Infirmary, but he has now been released and is recovering at home.
However, the 31-year-old will definitely be unavailable for tomorrow's match and is not expected to return to full training until the end of next week.
Villa's focus is at the other end of the table, with Wednesday night's result keeping them in the hunt for the fourth Champions League place.
Martin O'Neill's side are still outsiders, though, and have a three-point deficit to make up on Tottenham, who also have a game in hand. O'Neill knows they cannot afford any slip-ups, starting against bitter rivals Birmingham at Villa Park on Sunday.
He said: "I said after the game against Everton [a 2-2 draw last week] that for us to have any chance of anything at all we would have to win the last five games and that still stands. It's a tall order, but it would be great if we could get a victory against Birmingham for every reason under the sun, obviously."
Villa have been particularly impressive away from home this season, with Wednesday's win making it nine on the road. Only Manchester United have a better record and O'Neill added: "I don't think you can come away from home against crowds and win the number of games we've done without a bit of character in the team, and they've shown that all year."
Dunne, Stephen Warnock and Stiliyan Petrov all picked up knocks against Hull and could be doubtful for the derby game.
The Sunderland defender Michael Turner is hoping his former club Hull escape the drop – as long as they wait until after his return to launch their fightback.
Turner, who joined Sunderland from Hull for an undisclosed fee during the summer transfer window, is keeping everything crossed for the club at which he spent three years, although there will be no room for sentiment for the 26-year-old tomorrow.
He said: "Things look tough for them at the moment, but they have to pick themselves up and concentrate on staying up. They have still got everything to play for, and that includes the game against us.
"I would like them to stay up – I have got friends still there and I would like to see them stay in the Premier League.
"I have moved on now, though, and all my focus is on Sunderland and getting us as far up the table as possible."
Steve Bruce's men mathematically confirmed their own presence in next season's top flight with a 2-1 win over relegation candidates Burnley last weekend, and are likely to end the campaign in a comfortable mid-table position whatever happens over the next three weeks.
However, their blistering start to the campaign had the more optimistic of Wearsiders dreaming of Europe and, like his manager, Turner knows things could have been much better but for a 14-game winter run without a league victory.
"We had a tough time of it in the middle of the season, and that was disappointing after spending the first half of the season in the top half of the table," Turner told the Sunderland Echo.
"We had hoped to be higher at this stage, but the good thing is that we have turned our form around in recent weeks and I have really enjoyed being part of a good run of games where we have scored goals, won games and defended well.
"It has really put a spring back in people's steps and what we want to do now is finish the season strongly and go into the close season in a really positive frame of mind.
"We know it won't be easy with our last home game being Manchester United and the other two away from home, where we haven't done ourselves justice.
"But it would be nice if we could get a few more points on the board in these last few games, and we will be looking to use the Hull game to push ourselves higher up the table."Reuse content