Hull City could relegate Sunderland next weekend: Why their revival poses difficult questions for Black Cats rebuild

Marco Silva has done a superb job at Hull City
Marco Silva has done a superb job at Hull City
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It is an unlikely scenario, but given Hull's remarkable revival, far from impossible.

Should Hull beat Watford on Saturday, they will move 12 points clear of Sunderland. Defeats to Middlesbrough and Bournemouth over the next week for Sunderland would then leave Marco Silva's side needing just a point against Southampton to seal the Black Cats' fate.

Sunderland will point to an improved display against the Hammers as a sign that they can push the relegation fight all the way, but even if that is the case, hauling the Tigers back in looks a tall order.

The turnaround poses tough questions for Sunderland and how things have developed this season, particularly since the turn of the year. Hull, like the Black Cats, have been hurt by injury, weakened in the transfer market by off the field problems.

They started the season in sensational form while the Black Cats floundered, but when Marco Silva arrived they were sinking, Sunderland pulling two points ahead. The Stadium of Light win was a rare high point this season, a thumping 3-0 victory as the sides looked to be heading in different directions.

So what went wrong?

The gamble

Early indicators were that Hull would replace Mike Phelan with Gary Rowett, so the decision to go with the relatively unknown (on these shores at least) Marco Silva, drew derision.

Initial league results were far from spectacular but by the time Liverpool were beaten 2-0 at the start of February, it was clear that the unpopular regime at Hull had pulled off a masterstroke. By luck or by judgement? Ultimately, it matters not.

Part of it, of course, is down to the inevitable short-term bounce that a change of manager brings. Swansea had it with Paul Clement, but after the initial surge they have somewhat reverted to struggle.

Silva, however, seems to be reaping the rewards of an intense regime focused on organisation and discipline.

Before Silva's arrival Hull were shipping 2.2 goals a game. That has been slashed to 1.6 per game. At the other end, they have gone from scoring 0.85 goals per game to 1.2.

In that time, Sunderland have scored just seven goals, even if their defence remains superior over the course of the season.

Silva has moulded his squad, which many would say is not fit for Premier League purpose, into a ruthless counter-attacking force. It is an impressive feat that somewhat undermines the argument that Sunderland are going down due to a lack of quality. Lacking quality they clearly are, but have their resources been utilised well enough? Wahbi Khazri's West Ham performance suggests not.

January business

Sunderland rightly resisted any attempts to sell Jermain Defoe to West Ham in January, recognising it would be the equivalent of raising the white flag.

Hull, however, had no such qualms in moving on Robert Snodgrass, a player whose attacking output the side were relying on almost as heavily as Sunderland on Defoe.

That looked like being the end of their chances, but here Silva truly worked wonders.

Outcasts Oumar Niasse and Lazar Markovic were brought in, as well as the Polish winger Kamil Grosicki, often linked with Sunderland in the past. All three had a point to prove and crucially, have brought pace to a pedestrian front line.

That has been key to allowing Silva to implement his counter-attacking style.

Andrea Rannochia also arrived on loan, forming an excellent partnership with the blossoming Harry Maguire. Hull had a weak hand but played it brilliantly, to the surprise of all who were underwhelmed by their business.

The Black Cats, as has been well documented, struggled to attract key targets but those who did arrive had not been able to address the side's lack of creativity and speed.

Sunderland's attacking play hit the rocks in Anichebe's absence and it has cost them dearly.

Fortress KCOM

Hull have found it difficult to fill their ground this season amid anger at many decisions taken by the Allam regime.

The Supporters Trust have made their displeasure at a number of discussions known, but when Silva arrived they wrote an open letter pledging their full support to the team.

A boycott was held for Hull's first home win under Silva, over Swansea City in the FA Cup. That makes Hull's home form all the more remarkable, winning six of their seven games since his arrival at the beginning of January.

That, in a nutshell, explains why they have surged away so dramatically.

In contrast, Sunderland are yet to win a game at home in 2017. They have scored only five times.

Silva's brilliance will almost certainly condemn the Black Cats to the drop, and exposes some of the poor decision making and wretched performances at the Stadium of Light this year.