Tottenham Hotspur 1 Hull City 0: Tigers not blown away by Spurs but storm of protest hits Lane
AS the locals battened down the hatches yesterday afternoon in readiness for what was forecast to be the biggest storm to hit London in more than a decade, Hull City seemed set for a similarly rough ride in the capital.
Missing a host of first-choice players through an untimely spate of injuries, the Tigers were also without midfield lynchpin Jake Livermore due to the loanee being unable to face his parent club.
Throw into the mix that Tottenham Hotspur, widely considered to be genuine title challengers this season after an impressive recruitment drive last summer, were at full-strength and perhaps it was no surprise that some bookmakers had priced an away win as high as 9-1.
They clearly thought Steve Bruce’s men were in danger of being blown away just a few hours before Storm St Jude – named after the patron saint of lost causes – was set to strike London.
Hull once again, though, proved to be no lost cause – even if they did make the return trip north last night empty-handed after a controversial late penalty by Roberto Soldado settled what had been a largely even contest.
Bruce was rightly furious with referee Michael Oliver for adjudging Ahmed Elmohamady to have handled Jan Vertonghen’s cross.
Fourth official Graham Scott bore the brunt of the Tigers manager’s fury as, in between a flurry of expletives, he was asked: “Would we have got that decision at the other end?”
It was a question that deserved an answer, not least because Elmohamady had been stood just a couple of yards from Vertonghen when the Spurs man had fired the ball into the area and it appeared to brush the Egyptian’s thigh first.
No doubt adding to the Hull manager’s sense of frustration was just how hard his side had worked at nullifying the threat of their big-spending hosts right up until the game’s decisive moment arrived 11 minutes from time.
Overcoming the considerable handicap of having to make six enforced changes from the side that had lost at Everton just eight days earlier, Hull put in a tireless shift and even the most one-eyed among the White Hart Lane faithful must surely have thought the visitors harshly done to by having nothing to show for their endeavours.
Yannick Sagbo, playing as a lone frontman, epitomised the industry of the Tigers, while Tom Huddlestone looked every bit as good as any of the team-mates he left behind last summer when becoming Hull’s record signing.
At the back, Curtis Davies also shone on an afternoon when Bruce, in response to losing so many key players during the build-up, opted to field a three-man defence for the first time in the Premier League.
Last season, of course, such a formation proved a big hit in the Championship thanks to the wing-backs providing an extra attacking dimension to Hull’s play.
In the early stages yesterday, however, Manuel Figueroa and Liam Rosenior effectively joined Davies, Alex Bruce and Paul McShane in what amounted to a five-man back-line.
This meant Hull were far too deep in that opening quarter, which in turn meant that every time the ball was cleared it was inevitably returned to the visitors’ territory almost instantly.
During this initial territorial dominance for the hosts, Spurs went closest to breaking the deadlock when Lewis Holtby floated a free-kick into the six yard-box and Paulinho volleyed just over.
Steve Harper also had to get down smartly to keep out Andros Townsend’s drive before the Tigers finally heeded their manager’s bellowing from the touchline and started to push men forward. The result was instant with the forward runs of both Rosenior and Figueroa allowing Hull to start to make inroads.
Suddenly, Tottenham’s defenders were being asked serious questions as Sagbo held off a challenge from Sandro before bringing a fine one-handed save from Hugo Lloris.
The Spurs goalkeeper also had to deal with George Boyd’s shot before brave defensive blocks kept out efforts from both the Scottish international and Sagbo in quick succession.
As Hull’s belief soared, Huddlestone was then left unmarked on the edge of the penalty area, but he could not keep down his volleyed effort after the hosts had only half-cleared a corner.
The second half began with Spurs showing more urgency and it took a fine save from Harper to deny a prodded effort from Soldado 10 minutes after the restart.
As the game wore on, however, the home side’s efforts began to take on a more and more desperate air with shots from distance by Townsend and Paulinho drifting harmlessly wide.
The home fans were becoming increasingly restless with several cries of ‘get the ball forward quicker’ as Tottenham continued to play the patient passing game that Andre Villas-Boas prefers.
Oliver’s awarding of the penalty could not, therefore, have been more timely for the Portuguese manager and Soldado made no mistake with a cool finish from 12 yards that sent Harper the wrong way.
Bruce, after making his point forcibly to the officials, made a trio of attacking substitutions as Robbie Brady, Aaron Mclean and Nick Proschwitz were brought off the bench.
It proved, though, to be to no avail with Brady firing a free-kick straight into the hands of Lloris.
Then, as the game moved into the fifth and final minute of stoppage time, Hull won a free-kick on the edge of the penalty area.
Huddlestone, on his first return to the club where he played for eight years, stepped forward but any hopes of a perfect – and just – end for Hull vanished as the resulting free-kick flew inches wide of the post.
An audible sigh of relief was evident on all four sides of the Lane, testament to not only Huddlestone’s skills but the threat Hull had posed all afternoon.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Walker, Vertongen, Dawson, Chiriches; Sandro (Dembele 46), Paulinho; Lennon (Defoe 70), Holtby (Eriksen 59), Townsend; Soldado. Unused substitutes: Friedel, Lamela, Naughton, Sigurdsson.
Hull City: Harper; Bruce, McShane, Davies; Elmohamady, Rosenior (Mclean 83), Huddlestone, Meyler, Figueroa; Boyd (Brady 85), Sagbo (Proschwitz 86). Unused substitutes: Jakupovic, Koren, Gedo, Quinn.
Referee: Michael Oliver (Northumberland).