Monday, 6 October 2008

07: Tottenham Hotspur 0 - 1 Hull City - 05/10/2008

Say it's a crazy old world if you wish, but it's beginning to feel eerily normal for Hull City to win a Premier League match against one of the old guard, the big cheeses, the head honchos. And to do so in their own backyard - again - sweetens the feeling even more.

Given that we'd polished off Arsenal at the Emirates thanks to sublime tactics and ruthless determination, it was almost an insult, after a week of praise and begrudging offers of congratulation, that most experts predicted a Spurs win at White Hart Lane. After all, they're Spurs. They're the establishment. They have a trendy foreign manager, heritage, a big ground, a long list of honours. We're not like that.

Spurs, however, also have a severe lack of Premier League standard firepower, a shaky defence which hates pace and a strange inclination to play good players out of the position which makes them good. They hadn't won before playing us. They still haven't.

Phil Brown, happy in his quiet preparation for a new game while everyone still scraped out the giblets of the old one, selected the same XI. How could he have done differently? The element of surprise had gone - nobody plays a 4-3-3 at Arsenal, nobody - but then again nobody should be afraid to pick a 4-3-3 at Spurs when they are in such a rudderless, confused state.

Fraizer Campbell
was selected to play up front for Spurs on a day when he was the main feature of the match programme. As if already aware of his frustrations, all the Campbell chanting from the Tiger Nation was positive - indeed, strains of his song of last season rang out from the away corner when he picked up a second half caution. But it wasn't his day, and the slump of his shoulders - and his applause of the Tiger Nation at the end of the game - signalled that he seemed to be wishing he was back in the other team on show.

Still, he was the enemy for 90 minutes as the game began. Initially City needed to defend, with the imperious Kamil Zayatte clearing an early opportunity off the line and Boaz Myhill batting out a Roman Pavlyuchenko header from close range which Paul McShane then bravely swept away as further Spurs players sniffed a rebound.

In attack, City began as brightly as one could now reasonably expect after such a good time on the road lately. Geovanni hit a bouncing shot over the bar from a good range after a subtle knockdown from Daniel Cousin, then lined up a free kick after Cousin was scythed down from behind. Andy Dawson, as heroic as anyone else of late, also sized the chance up, but the sparkling Brazilian took control, swerving a divine shot over the wall and inside Heurelho Gomes' near post with the Tottenham keeper not moving even a toe.

Nine minutes, the boy from Brazil's done it again. More mayhem in north London courtesy of one glorious strike. An early lead, and now we must defend it.

Tottenham's efforts to respond were a mixture of desperate and tepid. The goal had come early, but this didn't mean that they didn't require to exercise some urgency in trying to make amends. This factor is going to be as crucial to Hull City in the acquisition of points as goals and clean sheets - the attitude of the opposition. Despite an appalling start to the season, despite the Tigers' growing reputation, despite the stress in the dugout and the woe on the terraces, Tottenham seemed to assume that as they were at home, and as it was Hull, the equaliser was inevitable.

Play into our hands, why don't you? We're not going to pitch in with any objections.

Aaron Lennon, who seems to be Theo Walcott with quicker feet but less directional sense, began to receive ample ball down his flank. On one occasion, Ian Ashbee sent him tumbling and Rob Styles, as under pressure (and as lucky, after last week, to be doing a top tier game) a referee as there has been, showed the skipper a yellow card. Gareth Bale, talented but unmotivated, swerved a left-footer over the wall which Myhill got fingers to as it hit bounced off the bar and behind.

City's possession was less frequent but always looked calm and unflappable. A splendid bit of chasing from Dawson robbed Lennon of possession and the ball was quickly steered into the line of Dean Marney's sight. The ex Spur then fed Marlon King, whose shot was spilled by the comical Gomes but nobody could follow up.

The Tigers then carved out a move of genuine artistic beauty, beginning with King combining with Geovanni near the corner flag. The interplay gave the Brazilian room to look up, but he smartly fed Ashbee square and his ball was flicked instantly by Cousin into Marney's path. The instant shot on the turn did Gomes all ends up but bounced back off the post. Delightful, glorious football, and such a pity that having put spectacular goals away, City were paintwork away from scoring a divine team goal.

Spurs lose Pavlyuchenko with injury and replace him with Darren Bent. They then up the pressure a bit, in possession at least, as City spend the last stages of the first half on the defensive. Still, there's nothing wrong with that - it's why you have defenders, and with Zayatte and Michael Turner playing so magnificently at the back it's as entertaining and sometimes as gripping watching the Tigers soak up whatever the illustrious figures in the other kit put their way. Turner was marvellous in blocking and clearing, but also in reading where the ball was going to go. An immense performer, he seems to become more immense by the week.

He probably didn't know much about the Jonathan Woodgate shot from close range which hit his side and bashed the post as a result, but he got in the way and the deflection was the difference between 1-1 and staying ahead. That was the last chance of the half and again City sauntered back to the changing rooms, totally satisfied and, according to the booming reception from the Tiger Nation, totally satisfying.

The second half. City make the first chance but not of many - Cousin's smart turn gives him the space but the shot is too high. Tottenham have had a severe dressing down from Ramos, presumably translated by Poyet, and they're having a real go at us. None of this fancy stuff to suggest they think they can outplay us. It's sharp, quick passing, jugular challenging. City's work ethic needs to be stand true now.

Bent had the best chance, just before the hour. Put clean through, his diagonal run was adjudged to be timed with perfection and his dink over Myhill was destined, from the long distance vantage point among the away support, for the far corner. It missed. Relief? Yes. A let-off? Possibly. The offside trap hadn't worked this time. City need to focus again, and tighten up.

Brown relieves the midfield pressure by bringing on Bernard Mendy for Cousin. It's a 4-4-2 now as Spurs maintain almost exclusive possession of the ball. Jermaine Jenas, maligned by many but clearly a focal point of Spurs' attacks and a willing taker of the ball, begins to rule the match. David Bentley, an odious figure with a sense of colossal self-importance, is brought on to provide overlaps and crosses. Turner and Zayatte continue to defy the home side as the minutes tick by. It's essential viewing, if not entirely comfortable. At times, it seems more likely Spurs will score than Arsenal would a week earlier. But Spurs' final ball is either met with a dreadful finish - Luka Modric smacking an unmarked volley into the ground and over being a prime example - or a brave, win-at-all-costs block, interception or piece of general courage by a defender. It's momentous stuff. And we're still a goal up as the last 15 minutes come along.

Peter Halmosi replaces Geovanni as City try something new. Natural width and fresh legs together should help retain a bit more ball and relieve the pressure on Turner and Zayatte, McShane and Dawson. Instantly, Marney has time to take a King pass and put a shot just over - could have done better maybe, but the movement and creation did wile away a few precious seconds.

King then took advantage of a rare City counter, haring on to George Boateng's ball and closing in on Gomes, but the keeper with slippery gloves - he didn't catch a thing all game - saved the goalbound shot with his legs. No matter, more time is wasted and Spurs look spent. King does too, hence why Caleb Folan came on in his place and spent his brief period on the pitch being caught offside.

Injury time was called as Spurs, who had resorted to diving and ungentlemanly stuff to try to penetrate the City rearguard, flew forward again. A foul is committed and a free kick is awarded. Bale takes ... and it's a yard wide. Styles blows his whistle before the ball can even be retrieved from the crowd and another famous day out with the Tigers is completed. Ramos steps closer to the guillotine, Brown steps closer to freedom of the city.

Again, we found a way of combining our obvious skill and incisiveness up front with dogged fortitude at the back. Geovanni won the game in scoreline terms, but the back four - and especially Turner and Zayatte - were beyond words in their commitment to keeping Tottenham at the bottom. In midfield, the work-rate and flair of Marney was the pick, though Ashbee and Boateng's spoiling and plotting was as effective as you'd expect. Spurs were intricate but profligate, a lack of any kind of ruthless centre forward being as obvious in practice as it seemed on paper to those of us who saw Defoe, Keane and Berbatov allowed to walk away.

Ten points from four games, which were against Newcastle, Everton, Arsenal and Tottenham. Most would have predicted a fat zero for those four games. Another away win - still unbeaten on our travels - and a first, crucial clean sheet of the season too. Only Chelsea and Liverpool are above us in the table. Maybe it won't stay that way. Maybe we'll end up above them too.

No, all Tiger feet are on the ground - but I'm glad the chairman and manager aren't asking the fans to stay close to the earth's crust too. This is beyond the wildest of wild dreams.

Tottenham: Gomes, Gunter (Bentley 55), Corluka, Woodgate, Bale, Lennon (Giovani 74), Jenas, Zokora, Modric, Pavlyuchenko (Bent 35), Campbell. Subs not used: Cesar, Dawson, O'Hara, Assou-Ekotto.

Hull: Myhill, McShane, Turner, Zayatte, Dawson, Marney, Ashbee, Boateng, Geovanni (Halmosi 71), King (Folan 81), Cousin (Mendy 60). Subs not used: Hughes, Duke, Garcia, Ricketts.