Welcome to doomsday. By this evening Hull could be mournfully contemplating a return to the Championship, and even worse if the apocalyptic warnings of chairman Adam Pearson are to be believed.
Defeat for Hull at home to Sunderland combined with a win for West Ham, against Wigan at Upton Park, and Wolves taking at least a point at home to Blackburn and they will, barring a freak feat of goal-scoring in their last two games, accompany Portsmouth out of the Premier League. The similarities may not end there; Pearson has raised the prospect of administration at the KC Stadium if they go down. Not even the proposed extension of the parachute payments from two to four years will seemingly soften the blow.
If Burnley follow those results by losing to Liverpool at Turf Moor tomorrow, the relegation places will be fully booked. Burnley, though, will drop on to their feet financially. The Premier League has privately been impressed with their business model – even if the odd decision to appoint Brian Laws as the first value-for-money manager has not been so well received – which is one of restraint and contrasts starkly with many of those around them at the foot of the table.
Hull may not be as financially bedraggled as Portsmouth, but Pearson's attack on Paul Duffen, his controversial predecessor, this week for "his poor business sense" is sign of the turbulence that lies ahead if Sunderland are not beaten this afternoon. Some of the spending under Duffen's watch, notably a claimed £6m on agents fees, was, said Pearson, "morally abhorrent".
After laying out his doomsday scenario midweek, Pearson yesterday sought to ease the hefty burden resting on the playing staff after two dire home performances, a dismal 4-1 defeat by Burnley and a dishearteningly tepid 2-0 loss to Aston Villa, had suggested a squad ill-equipped to handle the ever-increasing pressure.
"I certainly feel the players have been doing their best and if we are not good enough we should go down with dignity," said Pearson, who also cleared Iain Dowie of any blame for the club's on-field predicament. Since Dowie took on the surely unique role of football management consultant after Phil Brown was sent home to see to his garden, Hull have managed one win in six Premier League games. "It's not [Dowie's] fault we are in the position we are in," said Pearson.
Sunderland's awful away record – one win from 17 – offers hope to Hull today, but then Burnley had no wins from 17 when they arrived at the KC Stadium two weeks ago. If Dowie can mastermind a victory followed by another at Wigan a week on Monday that may prove enough to keep the Tigers up and him in a job, but only if Wigan can provide a sizeable favour today.
"It's a game for heroes," proclaimed Dowie, a man who rarely fails to talk a good game. "We've got to make sure that we play with all the enthusiasm we have, we've got to make sure we close them down, we press them, we get balls into their box and make them have to defend.
"We've got to keep our concentration and we cannot afford fundamental errors at crucial times because they're game-defining moments. It's about finding a way to win but not forgetting about the things we're doing right. We've got to replicate what we did on Wednesday but show more craft in front of goal, take the chances when they come and deny opportunities to others. Being first in both boxes is the key element." In other words Hull have problems scoring goals and keeping them out.
The chairman's decision to chose the pivotal week of the season to draw attention to the dire consequences of relegation cannot have thrilled Dowie, who tried to play down the problem. "I'm aware of what the figures are, I've seen the wage bill," he said. "I don't see it as an issue. Adam's obviously had a look at the situation and felt it was right for him to comment on it. It's for another day at the end of the season to deal with it."
Bolton (Odds: 66/1 to go down)
Today Portsmouth (h); Sat 1 May Spurs (a); Sun 9 May Birmingham (h).
Today West Ham (a); Mon 3 May Hull (h); Sun 9 May Chelsea (a).
Today Blackburn (h); Sat 1 May Portsm'th (a); Sun 9 May Sunderland (h).
West Ham (7/2)
Today Wigan (h); Sun 2 May Fulham (a); Sun 9 May Manchester City (h).
Today Sunderland (h); Mon 3 May Wigan (a); Sun 9 May Liverpool (h).
Tomorrow Liverpool (h); Sat 1 May Birmingham (a); Sun 9 May Spurs (h).
Odds by CoralReuse content