Hull City's miracle working boss can still oversee a great escape
When Marco Silva was first unveiled as Hull City's manager in the first week of January, he spoke of needing "a miracle" to stay in the Premier League. Four months later and the same rules apply.
Last weekend saw to that. If a 2-0 defeat at home to Sunderland was not difficult enough to digest, Swansea City's 1-0 win over Everton the same evening put the tin lid on a truly catastrophic day.
Two games in the space of four-and-a-half hours have transformed the mood around the KCOM Stadium from cautious optimism to utter dismay. All of a sudden, Premier League survival feels as unlikely as ever before in Silva's reign. The gap to Swansea is only a point, an advantage enhanced by a superior goal difference, yet the Tigers might now need to win both of their remaining games to stand a chance of avoiding the drop. Away to Crystal Palace and at home to Tottenham, an uphill task has become mountainous.
As big a job as finding six more points is the task of picking City up from the canvas. Defeats have not been uncommon this season (20 and counting) but losing to Sunderland, an opponent already planning for life back in the Championship, stung badly. Recovering from such a setback will take the strongest of wills with so little time left to put things right.
Silva and his players have predictably spent the week accentuating the positives. "The fight continues. Nothing is lost," the head coach has insisted. Convincing supporters, though, will need something special. A timely show of resolve to keep the fight alive for another week.
City were simply not good enough when losing to Sunderland. Although Jordan Pickford was excellent in the visitors' goal, there was a nervousness and anxiety about the Tigers. When the pressure was on they wilted. Too many big players were found wanting, not enough were prepared to seize the moment.
That did not bode well. Silva and his players must be braced for things becoming even bleaker before they kick off at Crystal Palace. Swansea's trip to Sunderland on Saturday afternoon provides the chance for Paul Clement's in-form side to join Palace on 38 points. That distinct possibility would effectively mean anything less than a win at Selhurst Park would see City relegated with a game to play.
Favours are needed yet there is still a glimmer of hope. Winning both games would leave Swansea needing to do the same, albeit against the less daunting threats of Sunderland and West Brom, and also ask pertinent questions of Crystal Palace.
Finding that elusive away victory at Selhurst Park could make things very interesting at the foot of the table. Although Swansea are the easiest team to catch, there is still a vulnerability about Palace. All that would disappear with a point or all three, but Sam Allardyce will not want to see his side's fate resting on a final day trip to Manchester United. A two-horse race can yet find room for another.
So that reality will ensure City get no favours on Sunday lunchtime. A point is all Palace need. On the flipside, the failure to secure safety by now will also generate a tense atmosphere in front of a sell-out crowd. Allardyce has already pleaded for patience in a fixture where defeat would be unthinkable for the Eagles.
City, though, can only look after themselves. Win both games and hope for the best. To reach 40 points and still be relegated would be cruel in the extreme. Especially so when considering Silva inherited a team that had amassed just 13 from its first 20 games this season under Mike Phelan.
And that has to be the message drummed home ahead of facing Palace. A great escape that was four months in the making under Silva's meticulous planning cannot end with a meek surrender. City have been better than last weekend's defeat suggested since his arrival. Much better.
To serve up another flat, disjointed performance in the spotlight would not do the second half of this season justice. It might still be insufficient away to Palace and then at home to Tottenham but City cannot die wondering. They owe that to the head coach who has never stopped believing in miracles.
Philip Buckingham is ESPN FC's Hull City blogger. Follow him on Twitter: @PJBuckingham.