Rookies arrive

LONDON - Survival is the only target for Hull, Stoke and West Bromwich Albion going into the Premier League season, but the top-flight newcomers would probably settle for avoiding total humiliation.

LONDON - Survival is the only target for Hull, Stoke and West Bromwich Albion going into the Premier League season, but the top-flight newcomers would probably settle for avoiding total humiliation.

While fans of all three clubs started to dream about holding their own against Manchester United, Liverpool and company as soon as they won promotion, at the back of their minds lurked the ugly spectre of Derby's woeful performance last season.

No club was more relieved to hear the final whistle blown on the 2007-08 campaign than the Rams.

It was torture from start to finish for Paul Jewell's side. They won just one game, collected a dismal 11 points and suffered four six-goal thrashings during the worst season in Premier League history.

So although emulating the likes of Bolton and Portsmouth, who have punched above their weight for years, is the main target for the new boys, keeping out of the history books for the wrong reasons won't be far behind.

The mood at all three clubs is downbeat already.

Before the financial gulf between the Premier League and the rest of English football became wider than the Grand Canyon, it was possible to build on promotion without breaking the bank.

Now it takes major investment to have even a fighting chance of survival, so Albion boss Tony Mowbray's admission that he is operating on a tight budget hardly gives reason for optimism at the Hawthorns.

"We've got a wage structure at West Brom and the players all understand that," Mowbray said.

"Hopefully, the bigger picture is we do well this year and this time next season we are adding again and continually improving."

Hull are finally about to compete with England's elite clubs for the first time in their 104-year history and there will be a celebratory atmosphere at the KC Stadium at the start of the season.

Whether the feel good factor engendered by watching Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney and Cesc Fabregas will survive a few heavy defeats remains to be seen.

Tigers boss Phil Brown has made plenty of signings but George Boateng, Bernard Mendy and Craig Fagan - a member of Derby's relegated squad - will hardly strike fear into opponents.

"We've got to hit the ground running come August 16," Brown said.

"We've got to be fitter than any other team we come up against because we know we haven't quite got the quality of other teams."

If Stoke manage to stay up, boss Tony Pulis will be entitled to stick two fingers up at the critics who insist his side's long-ball tactics will add nothing to the Premier League.

Pulis has no intention of changing his philosophy, as the signings of Reading targetman Dave Kitson and Nigerian enforcer Seyi Olofinjana underline. - Sapa-AFP

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