On May 14th 2017, Hull City Football Club were relegated from the Premier League. Not so surprising for most that the Tigers eventually succumbed to their pre-season prediction of falling through the trapdoor but that it took so long to do so should be something of note.
Rewinding back all the way to July in their preparations for the season to come, I caught the friendly between Hull and Mansfield Town. Steve Bruce had a bare bones squad, filled with youngsters and missing spots on the bench along with Peter Odemwinge on a trial, that only just scraped past a League Two side with a 1-0 win.
To add insult to the many injuries they had coming into the evening’s game, Michael Dawson had to be taken off in the first half.
This also went down as Bruce’s last game in charge, leaving three days later due to a lack of funds in the transfer window.
In came, well, no one. Bruce’s assistant Mike Phelan was promoted to caretaker manager while the owner continued to keep his purse strings tight as the team kept weltering. Without enough new faces to supplement the stricken and no injection of quality needed for top flight football, it always looked like it would be an impossible season for the club on the Humber.
They started shockingly well, winning their first three games in all competitions, which included a victory on the opening day against reigning champions Leicester City. A late defeat to Manchester United, however, saw the spiral down the table with heavy defeats of four, five and six goals.
Phelan was initially promoted to full-time manager, only to see himself replaced by Marco Silva in late January. The Portuguese was an unpopular appointment with some sections of the media, questioning his experience despite winning the Portuguese Cup with Sporting and the Greek title with Olympiacos.
What he did within the time he had was astounding to say the least.
To start with, he saw two of their best players sold. Robert Snodgrass was shipped off to West Ham United, the Scotsman still standing as the club’s top scorer some five months on, while Jake Livermore saw his chance to flee south to West Bromwich Albion.
Saying that, they did pull in more faces than in the summer but most came in the form of loanees. Lazar Markovic, Oumar Niasse and Andrea Ranocchia were all bundled through the door in the last few days of the window, with Kamil Grosicki making a permanent switch from Rennes.
However, the rag-tag group was brought together and started playing football on both ends of the pitch.
Before his arrival, Hull had scored just 17 and shipped a staggering 44 goals this season. While the scoring hasn’t moved an enormous amount, the Tigers have two more goals in three less games, their defence has almost taken on another personality altogether.
They shipped just 29 in their last 17 games, not spectacular numbers but a drastic improvement from before. They added three more clean sheets to the one they had right at the start of the season, which shows that they were in an upwards trajectory.
Gone were the days where they would mix between a 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-4-1-1 or even a 4-3-2-1 for what seemed like what position the sun was in the sky. Silva gave them a 4-2-3-1 base to work from, instilling graft and when a little bit of zest was needed, a switch to 3-4-3 seemed to do the trick.
He grew their relatively solid home form, where they have only lost to the top six excluding Tottenham Hotspur (who visit on the final day), Stoke City and Sunderland, the result that killed their hopes.
They also played in a more adventurous, do-or-die kind of way. The wingers were swashbuckling, everything was with commitment and they would go down swinging, shown by their eight defeats under the Portguese were by more than one goal as they left themselves a little open in the pursuit of a comeback.
In fact, that’s what became their Achilles heel all season long. Only four of their 21 defeats were by a single goal, showcasing that they could never keep it close even in games they were playing well in.
The manager gets plenty of plaudits and will rightfully have interest across Europe this summer. Whether a spot in the Premier League will open up for him is debatable but with a number of attractive options in France, Italy and even with FC Porto at home, he could be under new employers soon.
Some of the players showed enough to stay as well. Sam Clucas showed both quality and effort, Harry Maguire is finally filling in the promise he showed at Sheffield United a few years ago, Andrew Robertson has looked like a left-back for a bigger club for years now while both Markovic and Grosicki glimpsed enough quality to get interest from elsewhere too.
In the end, the disappointment for the fans will be that up until that Sunderland game, they really had it within their own hands. In reality for most, who thought it could be a Derby 2007/08 scenario, they’ve done much more than many could have even imagined.