Sometimes it is one game that defines a player. Sometimes it is just one incident. George Boateng was left unconscious when he was caught in the face by the boot of Sanli Tuncay, the Stoke player, during Hull's game at Stoke at the start of this month. "There was blood all over the place," said Boaz Myhill, his teammate, afterwards.
A week later, Boateng was leading the side against fellow strugglers Burnley, His performance was described as "outstanding" by Iain Dowie, his manager, despite a demoralising 4-1 defeat. Courage and commitment are characteristics the Ghana-born Dutch midfielder, 34, has displayed throughout his career. According to Myhill, "George is as brave as a lion and that's why he has had the career he has had."
Boateng relishes a challenge too a reason he relinquished Champions League football with Feyenoord to join Coventry, then a struggling Premier League side. It is that desire to succeed that Hull need now more than ever. Tonight is their game in hand on their relegation rivals. Never have they needed three points more than against Aston Villa, a club Boateng left in 2002 because he did not feel appreciated. A lack of awards was another factor.
It might be a case of deja vu when you consider the case of Martin O'Neill. The Villa manager has developed an exciting side that has challenged on three fronts this season. Despite missing out on the FA and Carling Cup, a top-four finish remains within reach. Three points will be the gap to Tottenham if they can tame the Tigers at the KC Stadium. But it could be a case of so near and yet so far, as the talk remains strong that O'Neill could depart in the summer because of his frustration at the lack of future funds to add more quality and much-needed depth to his squad.His efforts have brought admiration from managerial rivals, including Dowie.
"Martin's done a terrific job there. The money he's invested [has been for] great players," he said in his pre-match press conference. "We're well aware of the threat that Villa pose; I think they're the third best team away from home in the league. We know what they bring." But Dowie will have to find a weakness in the Villa side, aware that victory would take them level with West Ham on 31 points, but still in the drop zone on goal difference.
What is vital is that Hull show the same effort as they did in the goalless draw at Birmingham on Saturday. They owe it to their supporters. The words "disgraceful" and "dark time" were used to describe the outcome of their last home game, the heavy loss to Burnley. Dowie added: "We deserved the brickbats for that second half against Burnley, but I guarantee the fans will get a committed display. "We played very poorly for a half against Burnley, but we go into this [game against Villa] off the back of a performance at Birmingham, where we have covered more ground than we have done all season, passed the ball more than we have done, had more shots on target, more crosses coming in. We have got to build on that.
"We need four more replica performances, but hopefully a bit more of an end product. There's four games to go and we have to make sure that come the last game of the season we have the chance to stay in the Premier League." O'Neill has set his targets much higher. "We are playing catch up, we know that and have been doing that for a few weeks and the situation is really straightforward," he said yesterday.
"It is that we cannot afford to slip. To give ourselves a chance we have to win every single game. "We will keep battling and while the chance is there, we are going for it." firstname.lastname@example.org Hull City v Aston Villa, KO 10.45, Showsports 1