Not for the first time this season, Spurs toiled against a team with less talent but exemplary organisation. Hull deserve credit for their energy and application and none whatsoever for starting their time-wasting tactics in the first quarter of the match, but in the end despite all our travails we made and missed four gilt-edged chances, and with them the opportunity to bank valuable points in pursuit of fourth place.
Hull came with a plan to restrict and stifle our flowing football, and we fell right into their clutches by allowing them to dictate the tempo in the first half. We had precisely the midfield to combat their pressing game but chose instead to waste possession and play the long ball far too often. Searching for scraps, Modric and Kranjcar came inside and were enveloped in the Hull defensive blanket. Without Lennon there was no escape in width.
The time-wasting and staying down at the slightest knock is enormously frustrating (Bolton did this a few years ago when of course Brown was their assistant manager) but we have to be big enough and strong enough to rise above it. Instead, we failed to just hold the ball and shift it around and were sucked in. By the middle of the second half, Hunt had succeeded in winding up Hud to the point where he kicked the Hull player in the back. Hunt protested but in reality he was delighted – he had Hud exactly where he wanted him.
The long pass to Keane and Defoe, who were running centrally between their central defenders, looked like team orders, but our opponents learned from the away fixture earlier this season and played deeper, therefore there was little space between back four and keeper for the ball to be played into. Their cause was greatly assisted by Huddlestone’s poor performance. Time and again he went for the long ball, ignoring simpler but more effective alternatives. Everyone has a bad one from time to time, but this was a match where as the playmaker he should have taken on the responsibility of directing operations. He did indeed set the tone for the team, but being caught in possession and over-ambitious passing ripe for interception was not what we had in mind.
As the first half wore on, and time went very slowly yesterday, we gradually dragged ourselves into the match but Keane and then Defoe missed the chances. We expected more in the second half but it was only the introduction of Jenas to up the pace and to drive on from midfield that finally kick-started our game. Crouch won everything and we looked more dangerous, but for the most part the final ball in the box eluded us or heroic blocking from the massed Hull ranks prevented better opportunities.
Myhill had a fine match. My usual Saturday night routine is to look forward to MOTD and then fall fast asleep after the second match, so although I missed our highlights I’m assuming that Lineker’s trail of the ‘best goalkeeping performance for years’ referred to him. I feel duty bound to point out, however, that we placed the ball close to him on several occasions when we should have done much better. Keane was fatally hesitant when those rebounds fell to him, one in each half. For the first, Myhill did superbly to get up and back into position, his best save, but Keane had a lot of the goal to aim at, as did Crouch for his late header.
Keane’s form is highly concerning. Once again he was ineffective and approached his chances in the manner of a man who knows he is way out of sorts. At the moment we cannot rely on him in any way.
Bale was our best player. He showed total application, understood what he was supposed to do and defended well enough, although he was not seriously tested. Still, he will benefit from games like this. Modric and Kranjcar, two of my favourite players, disappointed, being absent for long periods. In the second half they and we fell into the trap of pushing ten or fifteen yards too far forward. Playing against teams with a blanket defence, one or two forwards have to drop back to start each move, to begin the pass and movement style, and they are experienced enough to know this, rather than hang around up front waiting for the ball in areas where defenders can more easily handle them. Dropping back also tempts their marker to follow them, thereby creating a fraction of space. I would have brought on Rose for Hud, with Modric in the middle, to give us the option of width and pace plus more craft in the centre.
Daws made a couple of fine tackles towards the end, one of which I would hail as magnificent if it weren’t for the fact that it was necessitated by defensive hesitation.
The question hanging over the Lane at full-time was, ‘why can’t we beat the teams at the bottom?’. The reason is that Wolves, Stoke and now Hull come with limited horizons. I don’t blame them: it’s just a fact. They can get ten or eleven behind the ball because winning is not the primary aim. Teams with greater ambitions will have a more open style because they will be attacking for at least some periods of the match.
To be a top team, we have to dictate to them, not the other way around. It’s not easy playing through and around defensive teams but we have to find a way. This was out biggest failing against Hull. Two points lost.