Tense times as Hull feel relegation pinch
Every season in the Premier League, three teams get relegated. There's no getting away from it, and once again we're at the point of the season where it's do or die.
At Hull, the tension is certainly showing. Wednesday night's provocative programme notes from chairman Adam Pearson, impugning the decision-making of the previous incumbent, Paul Duffen, amount to classic business-end-of-season stuff.
But what was Pearson's purpose? To wind up the atmosphere and create a sense of urgency about the KC Stadium, which might just transfer itself into the players?
If so, it didn't work, judging by the commentary on 5 live and the club's fans hardly need reminding (although they probably will be in the next set of notes) that 'every game's a cup final now'.
With three games to go, Sunderland at home, Wigan away, Liverpool at home, Hull are three points behind West Ham with a vastly inferior goal difference - their fate is out of their hands.
Perhaps Pearson's intention was to deflect some of the heat away from the management team - fans were chanting Phil Brown's name last night, the manager put on gardening leave by Pearson in favour of Iain Dowie.
Defeat by Aston Villa leaves Hull with a nail-biting finale as the season comes to an end
The fans have also been directing their ire at the board, so summoning up a common enemy (in this case Paul Duffen) is an old ploy, one often used in times of extremis, and a favourite of chancellors at budget time, blaming the previous regime for the monetary ills being suffered in the present.
Hull's financial predicament has been the subject of much debate, a smouldering fire fanned by accountants last October who concluded the club's ability to continue as a going concern was in doubt and warned of a £21m cash shortfall should they drop to the Championship.
There has been speculation, denied by owner Russell Bartlett, that relegation could lead to them going into administration.
To be honest, it's difficult to tell. On the face of it, Hull's last accounts don't look too terrifying - they made a £2m profit on turnover of just over £50m, with a wage bill close to £40m.
Duffen, in his riposte to Pearson's broadside, pointed out that the wages - and the club's debt -are among the lowest in the league. The trouble is, there's a substantial sum outstanding in unpaid transfer fees, plus the usual tax bills and obligations to other creditors, not least the banks, who've lost their sense of humour with football clubs.
Clubs who are relegated start to hit cash-flow issues very quickly unless they've been extraordinarily prudent, and you can probably count those on the fingers of one hand.
Football ownership is the art of balancing risk. Conventional wisdom says if you take none, you'll get nowhere. Take the right amount, and points will mean prizes. Knowing where to stop, the perennial gambler's problem, is the tricky bit.
Those who overcook it, like Portsmouth, unravel very quickly, with dire consequences for the unsecured creditors, let alone the fans.
Understandably, there is nervousness at Hull, exacerbated by the accountants' warning and the slump in form on the pitch. Adam Pearson's latest programme notes are an interesting way of keeping everyone calm...