Steve Bruce thinks only complacency can now prevent his Hull side from reaching the Sky Bet Championship play-off final.
The Tigers have at least one foot in the Wembley showpiece later this month after producing an almost perfect away performance to stun Derby 3-0 at the iPro Stadium – the scene of a comprehensive 4-0 thrashing during the regular season just last month.
Bruce, who led Hull to promotion to the Barclays Premier League three years ago, felt his players’ top-flight experience told on Saturday as the Tigers try to make an immediate return to the promised land.
With largely the same team which was relegated last season, Hull weathered a period of Derby pressure before taking the lead against the run of play through Abel Hernandez after half an hour.
Thereafter Hull settled, Derby’s confidence drained away and a Jason Shackell own goal five minutes before half-time put the visitors in control.
The Rams toiled in the second half as they tried in vain to get back into the game and Andy Robertson delivered what could be a killer blow to Derby’s promotion hopes deep into injury time on the break, sealing what in the end what was a comfortable victory to take into the return leg on Tuesday night.
Bruce said: “In big games you want your big players to turn up and I thought today our experience, apart from the two full-backs, all our lads had played in the Premier League and it certainly showed.
“It was a really, really good performance from start to finish – which in a big game is great to see.
“We know we’re capable of that but what we have got in our locker is complacency, and we’ve got to guard against that on Tuesday. The reason why we haven’t made the top two is because we’ve thrown in a curve-ball every now and again.
“If you look at us at Bolton a couple of weeks ago compared to that, then that’s our Achilles heel. We’ve been up and down a little bit too much this season but we looked a very, very good team today and if we perform to the levels we’re capable of then it’s going to take a very good team to beat us.”
It was only Darren Wassall’s 17th game as head coach of Derby since succeeding Paul Clement in early February, and it was easily his worst.
Asked if the result was as bad as it could have been, the former Rams academy director said: “Yes, certainly.
“It’s not the result we wanted and certainly not the result we expected, considering how well we’ve played at home over the last few weeks. But it’s the result that we’ve got and we’ve got to deal with it.
“We’ve got two choices – we can either throw the towel in now, which is not what we’re going to do, or we can regroup, show some character and resilience and dust ourselves down and go again on Tuesday, which is what we’re going to do because we can’t end the season on a performance like that.
“The third goal was unacceptable. To score from us having a corner and then 10 seconds later the ball is in the back of our net, it’s probably the most disappointing aspect of a hugely disappointing afternoon.
“We’ve given ourselves a massive, massive mountain to climb but nothing in life is impossible and we have to believe that. We certainly have to restore some pride.”