Relegated twice but you can't keep Hunt down

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The Independent Football

Relegated with Reading. Relegated with Hull City. Second from bottom with four games left with Wolverhampton Wanderers. Stephen Hunt is in danger of becoming an expert in plummeting out of the Premier League. "Not so much a relegation expert," says the Ireland midfielderwith a self-mocking laugh, "more a relegation disaster."

But a disaster, according to the tousle-haired 29-year-old, that can still be averted. Wolves face a high-noon derby at Birmingham today, and Hunt, having enjoyed one of the few highlights of his first, injury-blighted season at Molineux when he scored the winner in the clubs' meeting last November, is adamant that Mick McCarthy's side can survive. There are positives to be drawn from his personal history.

"Last year I was voted player of the year at Hull although I only played for six months because of injuries," says Hunt. "At Reading I was also player of the season when we went down. I'm not going to win it this time, so that should be a good omen."

After a hernia operation, Hunt made his latest comeback in a 3-0 drubbing at Stoke on Tuesday, ending up with Robert Huth's hands around his neck during a typically spiky substitute's cameo. He hopes to return to the starting XI at St Andrew's, where Wolvesneed to find the form thatsaw them beat Aston Villa on their previous trip to the Second City.

The old-gold faithful are baffled as to how Wolves can defeat the elite – Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool – but labour so wretchedly against lesser opposition. "You can do all the preparation and have all the focus, but on the day it doesn't happen," Hunt explains, evidently as bewildered as any supporter. "Birmingham are a decent team but we have to try to play with freedom, as if we're a mid-table side, and forget the pressures. I'm sure they'll be thinking, 'If we win, we're safe'.

"That's what [Blues manager] Alex McLeish will be thinking. We have to win not only for ourselves but to keep them involved in the relegation battle.The gap is still fairly tight. There's usually one team you can say have gone by now. Not this time.

"We have to go back to basics – do the nasty side, track back, work. Then let the football do the talking in the right areas. I saw Sky Sports News yesterday – [Roberto] Martinez, [Ian] Holloway. We all want to stay up, we're all saying the same things.

"But it's performances that count and whoever plays the best will deserve to stay up. We're hoping it's Wolves and we end up with a smile on our face."

The expert, the one-man disaster area, knows all too well what to expect if he endures a third demotion. "Relegation kills your summer. The little time we have off anyway, with internationals and stuff, you can't enjoy it. It breaks your heart. There's a sick feeling in your stomach.

"But I'll tell you what," says Hunt, exuding optimism again. "If we stay up, I'm going to have a week of fun. I won't begrudge myself that. But first of all we have to survive."

Birmingham City v Wolverhampton Wanderers kicks off at 12pm today