Thursday, 20 August 2009

02: Hull City 1 - 5 Tottenham Hotspur 5 - 19/08/2009

Well, this wasn't in the script. Though on reflection, it may have been in Tottenham Hotspur's script, given their victory over Liverpool and phenomenal energy and quality. They may well have told themselves to go to Hull and give them a thorough seeing-to. And there was nothing the Tigers could do about it.

City were largely poor but in all honesty, it was one of those occasions where you just have to acknowledge how magnificent the opposition were. Ruthless, incisive, positive, skilled. They tore shreds off the Tigers until nothing remained, dominating every area of the park and grafting to a man to make sure there was always an outlet, a way forward, an opportunity to create.

Phil Brown picked the wrong team, saw them go 2-0 down in the opening 15 minutes and, to his credit, had the balls to acknowledge he boobed on his selection and made a worthy substitution. It worked for a bit, but the game stayed was blatantly beyond City's reach from almost the start.

Dean Marney's injury meant that Brown could opt for an orthodox 4-4-2, choosing to field Daniel Cousin up front and leave the midfield short of someone who could knock out a reasonable pass as well as put in the mileage. Cousin, however, was little short of abysmal. His attitude has often been question but perhaps it has never quite gained the scrutiny it merits as ultimately he is still far better at finding the back of the net than either Caleb Folan or Craig Fagan. Now, however, we have seen before our disbelieving eyes just how short on heart and dedication he really is. His touch was non-existent, his presence irrelevant. It came as no real surprise that he was the one given the shepherd's crook by Brown in order to introduce Geovanni to the action; what was perhaps the only surprising - nay, enlightening - aspect of it was Brown's decision to be big enough to accept he had erred.

By then, it was too late. Noble, but too late. Tottenham were 2-0 up thanks to Jermain Defoe's tidy shot across Boaz Myhill after George Boateng lost possession in midfield, and then a similar finish from Wilson Palacios following a clearance by Heurelho Gomes which was helped along the toothless City back line by Aaron Lennon and finally Robbie Keane. Prior to all this, Myhill had been beaten by Defoe's chip which also just cleared the bar and Steven Mouyokolo had managed to get in a strong block tackle on Luka Modric as he prepared to shoot from the left side of the area. It was all Tottenham, and devastatingly so.

Upon Geovanni's entrance, the atmosphere and the performance perked up. Michael Turner's wonderful long pass gave Stephen Hunt chance to cut inside Alan Hutton, but his scissor lob bounced a long way wide. Geovanni was then clattered to the deck on the opposite flank, and Hunt's swirling free kick avoided every single body jostling for a touch in the box, and also the gloves of Carlo Cudicini - on for the hobbling Gomes - to bounce apologetically into the Spurs net. A goal back, game on.

Hunt then had another chance when played in with splendid intricacy by Geovanni, but Palacios got a late and crucial boot to the ball. Folan, whose endeavour will earn him as much admiration as his profligacy earns him scorn, picked himself up from a tussle with Sebastien Bassong to slot a cute shot home, but referee Chris Foy had blown, oddly, for a foul by the Tigers striker.

It was hopeful, even though it was obvious that the would was healing superficially and Spurs could break and increase their lead whenever a decent opportunity presented itself. Such a chance came right on the break when Lennon's through ballw as flicked round the exposed Turner by Defoe, who then bashed his shot past Myhill with the authority of a fine centre forward.

After a subdued interval, Mouyokolo was replaced by Nick Barmby, with the mercurial (too much for his own good and for our sanity) Bernard Mendy dropping into defence. Mouyokolo patently isn't a full back, but he is deemed the best available (despite Nathan Doyle's presence in the squad) while City seek a long-term successor to Sam Ricketts. Mendy's repositioning in the defence suggested we were just going to attack, attack, attack in the second half, as with him as the last line of that flank, we weren't likely to defend, defend, defend.

Keane mishit a gilt-edged chance which then struck Boateng and nearly carried through as an own goal, then Turner was bamboozled by Keane's impeccable shimmy but the Irishman's cross for Defoe was blocked by the impressive Anthony Gardner.

A resurgence from the Tigers was led by Hunt, who looks - at this early stage - to be a sound and very astute acquisition, with his insistence on making his marker think and commit himself every time he gained possession of the ball. A good combination with Folan forced a corner which led to Geovanni taking a tumble and no penalty forthcoming. The Brazilian then had a set piece clutched by Cudicini and a looping header tipped over by the sub keeper after Turner had flicked on Myhill's long free kick. It wasn't brilliant, but it was resourceful and kept everyone hoping that the chance would come to pull back the deficit and launch an all-guns-blazing effort in the latter stages to steal a point.

It wasn't going to happen. After Turner had superbly robbed Defoe as he shaped to finish a chance for his hat-trick, Spurs held off City's best attempts at goal and countered from one of them with amazing precision and pace. Lennon eventually reached a position to swing in a tempting cross which Keane, rising above the out-of-sorts Turner, flicked past Myhill.

Keane lapped up the plaudits and then immediately left the field to be replaced by Peter Crouch, who aimed a header straight at Myhill from Lennon's cross. Injury time began and there was time for the fitting swansong for Defoe, who exchanged passes with Lennon before battering in a vicious shot which Myhill simply never saw, completing a fine hat-trick.

You wonder whether anything can be learned from this performance, given that much of it was down to the brilliance of the opposition rather than the featurelessness of the Tigers' own play. Certainly one hopes that a little more creativity is offered in the starting XI - ie, Geovanni in the side, and maybe Barmby too - by the time Bolton Wanderers turn up on Saturday. We may have a right back by then too. There shouldn't be any panic stations just yet but these famed gameplans have to be right more often as too many teams like Tottenham exist who will bury any team whose naivety is in evidence. City suffered.

Hull City: Myhill, Mouyokolo (Barmby 46), Dawson, Turner, Gardner, Olofinjana, Boateng (Ghilas 69), Mendy, Hunt, Folan, Cousin (Geovanni 22). Subs not used: Duke, Zayatte, Halmosi, Kilbane.

Tottenham Hotspur: Gomes (Cudicini 16), Hutton, Bassong, Corluka, Assou-Ekotto, Palacios, Huddlestone, Lennon, Modric (Bentley 85), Keane (Crouch 81), Defoe. Subs not used: Naughton, Chimbonda, O'Hara, Pavlyuchenko.