Sunday, 17 January 2010

21: Tottenham Hotspur 0 - 0 Hull City - 16/01/2010

Boaz Myhill will never play a better game of football in his career.

This was all about Hull City's long-serving keeper and his charmed gloves. On four occasions he made saves that he had no right to make, especially against the expensively assembled Tottenham Hotspur strike force to whom goalscoring is second nature, and yet the Welsh international pawed and batted away efforts that on literally any other day would have passed him by and condemned the Tigers to defeat.

The Tigers were distinctly second best but a gritty defensive performance and Myhill's receipt of a sprinkle of stardust earned a superb point, one which seemed an unlikely prospect before kick off but ended up being wholly deserved.

Unlikely the prospect may have been, but the side Phil Brown picked was as optimistic as a 4-5-1 could be. George Boateng was at the base of the midfield, with the varying attacking talents of Nick Barmby, Richard Garcia, Stephen Hunt and Geovanni all supporting Craig Fagan's lonely efforts at the top. Paul McShane was restored at right back.

Tottenham attacked from start to finish and a goal did seem inevitable, even when Myhill wasn't prompted to turn superhuman. The home side were sometimes most profligate when given the chance to score, and the Tigers back four threw their beings at plenty more opportunities to great effect. It was stunning, nailbiting, heroic stuff.

Luka Modric made room for a shot with a fine stepover but the low effort was watched and hoofed clear by an alert Kamil Zayatte, then the Croatian again swivelled into a big enough gap to give Niko Kranjcar a chance to shoot but fired way too high.

City responded with Barmby and Hunt exchanging passes beautifully in an advanced position, but the Irishman was reluctant to shoot with his right foot and was forced away by Spurs defenders. Garcia then sent Fagan scampering down the left and followed up his pass, stretching to win the header from Fagan's cross but being unable to direct it on target.

Spurs countered when referee Martin Atkinson didn't give Fagan a foul on halfway and Wilson Palacios hit a piledriver along the ground that Myhill pawed out, prior to leaping up and palming Robbie Keane's rebound over the bar when he had no right.

It was absolutely stunning. And he wouldn't stop there.

Kranjcar then took an incisive Tom Huddlestone pass and got a sniff of the target but fired a long way wide. It seemed inevitable that a goal would come, but the next chance to get one was for City. McShane chipped forward for Barmby to nod on to the Garcia instep, but with glory in his sights the Australian miskicked the volley out for a throw in.

Three minutes were added and it seemed City's work for a grafting but fulfilling first half was done. But with the Tiger Nation pleading for the whistle, Jermain Defoe found himself put clear on goal. Hearts sank in the away end as the man who scored a hat-trick at the KC in August seemed destined to add to that personal tally against City. Myhill's phenomenal handiwork made sure he didn't.

The second half began in much the same manner as City were placed firmly on the back foot. Modric fed Defoe on the right of the area but Andy Dawson chucked his legs in the way for a corner, which the defence dealt with comfortably.

Modric then saw a shot kept out by Myhill but Defoe was following up from just five yards out. He should have been more thorough in his finishing but Myhill's block with his sprawling body was still superb. The third astonishing stop of the match.

The noise from the Tiger Nation grew as the game got tastier and the belief in the players got bigger. The Spurs players sensed the growing confidence from all connected with their opponents too as the Tigers began to make headway at the other end.

Initially it was of Spurs' own making. Gareth Bale played a shoddy pass across his own defence that Hunt intercepted. The chance was on but again Hunt was not keen on hitting the shot with his much weaker right foot and so fed the supporting Barmby, who was a little too wide as he shaped to shoot and found the side netting.

It was such a big chance.

City remained inspired, however, and Fagan won a free kick on the edge of the box after a trip from Sebastien Bassong, unhappy at being nutmegged seconds earlier. Hunt swung in the kick and the clearance reached Boateng, whose shot was deflected to Barmby. His effort was also desperately blocked.

Anthony Gardner then got in the way of a Defoe shot before Spurs tried a different way, throwing on Peter Crouch for Keane. City shored up a tiring (and ageing) midfield by introducing the more prosaic Kevin Kilbane for Barmby, who was applauded from the field by all sides of the ground.

Crouch soon got involved, banging a shot wide after flicking a long clearance to Defo and then taking a return. City responded with Garcia making a progressive run inside from the right flank but slicing his shot high and wide from a decent position.

Jermaine Jenas, also on as a sub, then crossed towards Crouch hose header across goal was met by Modric, but Myhill got down well to smother the effort. City removed the quiet Geovanni and put on Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink in order to provide a viable target for hacked clearances and higher balls. Instantly, Vennegoor of Hesselink flicked on a Myhill goal kick and Hunt almost had a free run but Michael Dawson got a foot in at the final moment to sweep the ball clear.

Myhill batted away a distant Jenas shot and then Bale sized up a free kick conceded by Boateng but hit a well-assembled wall with the shot. Garcia was withdrawn as City threw on the extra defender in Steven Mouyokolo.

City forced a throw and Zayatte, for the hell of it, hurled in a rare long one. Boateng almost got into a shooting position from the weak clearance but Bale got in the way to force another throw. Then, as Spurs cleared their lines and looked again for the elusive goal, Myhill thwarted them yet again.

Huddlestone aimed for Crouch at the far post and the Spurs centre forward inevitably climbed highest to head for the corner from just six yards out, yet Myhill somehow worked his reflexes to the limit again and pawed it away. Just magnificent.

Six minutes were added but Spurs were demoralised, adding just one more effort at goal courtesy of Jenas giving Crouch another chance, but Myhill made the tight angle count and pushed the drive out with some ease.

The final whistle was greeted with the sort of noise usually reserved for unexpected wins, but it certainly felt like one nonetheless. The team had performed superbly, but Myhill deserved - and indeed got - special, exclusive praise. This was the sort of goalkeeping display which will make Myhill's legend. It really was that good.

Tottenham Hotspur: Gomes, Corluka, M.Dawson, Bassong, Bale, Palacios (Jenas 55), Modric, Kranjcar, Huddlestone, Keane (Crouch 62), Defoe. Subs not used: Alnwich, Naughton, Bentley, Rose, Pavlyuchenko.
Hull City: Myhill, McShane, A.Dawson, Zayatte, Gardner, Boateng, Barmby (Kilbane 65), Garcia (Mouyokolo 83), Hunt, Geovanni (Vennegoor of Hesselink 75), Fagan. Subs not used: Duke, Mendy, Cairney, Ghilas.