It’s perfect timing. With six games to go, Hull City have come on the rails. Three points behind the Championship leaders. Bang in form. And, they have momentum. Up till now, expectations will have been fairly easy to manage for Tigers boss Phil Brown. But from this point on, everything changes.
Suddenly the focus will be on Hull City. Can they do it? Are they ready for the Premier League? What will promotion mean to the city? Now, they are no longer just another team vying for a play-off spot. The media spotlight will be on them.
So how does Phil Brown handle this expectation? Firstly, he has previous. His spell as assistant to Sam Allardyce at Bolton Wanderers, will have given him the insight and knowledge of how to keep a team relaxed and focused as they approach a Championship title run-in.
Secondly, his time at Blackpool in 1996 will also be invaluable. Again alongside Big Sam, he saw The Seasiders blow a big points lead, to fall out of the automatic places in the final weeks of the season. Then, surrender a two-goal first leg win at Valley Parade, Bradford, to go out 3-2 in an unforgettable play-off choke at Bloomfield Road. It cost the management duo their job.
Some managers believe you can try to ignore promotion pressure. Don’t talk about the ‘P-word’. And this is reasonable. But it may not be effective. Better to speak directly about the pressures. Management and team together. What are the external pressures that we are facing? How might these pressures impact on performance? What are the warning signs to watch out for? What will we do to counteract any negative effects?
Hull City have momentum, because they are doing certain things very well. Momentum is a by-product of a confident team, that now believes in itself. If they try to change what they are doing, then that momentum will come to a halt. The team dynamic they have carefully built, will start to fracture.
And why would they change? Because expectations can make players feel they have to be better than they are. Try to show they are Premiership players in-waiting. Forget the basics that got them into the top three. Or, alternatively, expectations can lead to fear. Players become frightened of making mistakes. Hand responsiblity over to others. Not want the ball.
Phil Brown took a big risk when he left Sam Allardyce to strike out on his own. He wanted to test himself as a manager. Despite failing at Derby County, he has come back stronger and wiser. If he has absorbed the valuable promotion lessons from Bolton Wanderers and Blackpool equally well, then the Tigers momentum could prove to be unstoppable.