Hull City vs. Tottenham Hotspur: 6 Things We Learned
The home side had opened the scoring after recent signing Shane Long caught out a momentarily flat-footed Jan Vertonghen to get on the return from a header he initially won. The striker raced towards goal and fired past Hugo Lloris.
Tottenham equalised on the 60 minute mark when Christian Eriksen played a free-kick short to Danny Rose whose attempted shot found the unmarked Paulinho. The Brazilian controlled and turned in one swift motion, then coolly blasted beyond the reach of Steve Harper.
Chances came and went for both sides in the last half hour, but neither proved clinical enough to earn all three points.
Neither club will be especially happy to have lost ground on the teams around them at either end of the table. A point was probably the fair result, however.
Read on for a few things we learned from this mid-winter clash.
Sherwood's Faith in Bentaleb Is Genuine, Even with Other Midfielders Returning
Nabil Bentaleb was given a schooling on the subject of midfield play by the Premier League's foremost practitioners in the position this past Wednesday.
Though not alone in the Tottenham team in being outclassed by Manchester City, as a recent arrival to the first-team fold, it was a particular noteworthy experience in the teenager's ongoing learning curve.
With other midfield options returning to fitness, this writer had wondered pre-match if Tim Sherwood might decide to try someone different to Bentaleb for Hull following this chastening experience.
The Spurs boss' decision to stick with him spoke volumes about his faith in the young Frenchman.
As it was, Bentaleb's subsequent display demonstrated there is still clear room for development. However, he did show again that he is largely comfortable against this level of opposition, at least.
Once he settled following a slightly-fraught start, Bentaleb's passing was generally in keeping with his measured and tidy best of recent weeks—completing a solid 84 percent, as recorded by Squawka.com.
What Spurs will need to see more of was the way he asserted himself on occasion in dispossessing Hull.
Just prior to the half hour mark Bentaleb showed good urgency to win the ball and instigate an attack for his team. Ten minutes into the second half, a similar interception saw a Hull counter-attack nipped in the bud.
This ability to impose himself on opposition teams beyond his passing will be crucial to Bentaleb's progress. But also to the team as a whole, in a position that requires quality on both sides of the ball.
While it is clear Sherwood trusts the youngster, less certain is the manager's plans for his midfield moving forward.
The return of Paulinho from injury has given Sherwood a different kind of option in choosing how he sets up centrally in the position. Less involved than the absent Mousa Dembele has typically been, the Brazilian nonetheless showed his class in the second half against Hull.
His forward thinking played a part in his goal, and throughout the half ensured he was involved in many of Spurs' more dangerous attacks. Sherwood must consider how to utilise Paulinho's threat in conjunction with those around him.
It Is Hard for Eriksen to Be Spurs' Heart on the Periphery
Expanding on from the previous page's look at Tottenham in centre midfield, the role of Christian Eriksen in the team is particularly intriguing right now.
Ostensibly operating from a starting point of left midfield against Hull, as the above heat map shows—via Squawka—he was far from confined to that side.
Tim Sherwood has spoken about his belief in a less-than-strict approach to formations. Yet even with Eriksen being granted license to roam and influence across the pitch, it is hard to escape the notion he something of a luxury player in the manager's mind.
He was deployed more centrally against Swansea City and Manchester City when Spurs used just one striker. Even then, however, it felt like he was given a peripheral status in a team where others have more defined jobs.
This notion may be misplaced, and does feel a bit of a shame considering Eriksen was involved in the majority of Spurs' best moves against Hull.
He was part of an exquisite triangle also involving Aaron Lennon and Paulinho that led to an Emmanuel Adebayor volley being tipped just over. The Dane was also prominent in launching several attacks from deep for Spurs, among them a couple led to opportunities either side of the interval where Lennon and Roberto Soldado might have done better.
Eriksen played in centre-midfield proper in Sherwood's first couple of matches in charge. He showed he was no light-touch in the real heat of the battle then—though that would have to be tested against some of the division's tougher opponents.
Revelling as he mostly did in the greater influence afforded him in such a prominent role, his continued influence on a lot of Spurs' work suggests he deserves a further chance to become the heartbeat of the team.
As noted already in the article, that would mean some further, serious thinking for Sherwood about his midfield.
Vertonghen Will Relish Being Back in the Thick of Things in Central Defence
Jan Vertonghen's return to the Tottenham team following injury did not have the best of starts.
When Shane Long beat him to a header in the middle of the Spurs half, the Belgian was slow to react when he raced onto the subsequent return from Nikica Jelavic. With Michael Dawson having gone to help Danny Rose deal with Jelavic, Long had the space to get the jump on the flat-footed Vertonghen.
It was in keeping with Spurs' overall sleepy start (a concerning theme in recent games). Rather than defensive mistakes from the centre-back pair, it was more credit to the Hull front-duo's perseverance in out-hustling them.
Spurs were a good deal more solid for the remainder of the game. Though Hull would have their chances, Dawson and Vertonghen particularly also gave Jelavic and Long as good as they got.
It was clear than Vertonghen was relishing being back in his preferred central position, having played his last games prior to his ankle problem at left-back.
At the time of writing, there was no specific reason why Vlad Chiriches was absent, allowing the Belgian to make his first appearance of 2014. Regardless, moving forward Sherwood will have an extremely motivated performer in the form of Vertonghen.
He has proved himself more than a capable left-back, but he is undoubtedly a player who excels with the greater influence granted in the middle.
There is less requirement on pace bringing the ball forward here. He is also better suited to defending with the wider-ranging perspective of encroaching attacks granted a centre-back, than in the one-on-ones a full-back more often has to deal with.
Hull Have Reason to Be Optimistic About Their New-Look Attack
Newly-promoted Hull City's first few months back in the top-flight have been more than credible. Manager Steve Bruce has been around long enough, however, to know that steady form can soon give way to the problematic kind as the games mount.
That has been the case for the Tigers in January. After thrashing Fulham 6-0 at home just prior to the turn of the year, heading into the Tottenham game they had not recorded a point or even scored in the Premier League that month.
The Cottagers win demonstrated Hull have goals in them, but they were not coming consistently over the course of a run of fixtures.
A win was not forthcoming against the Spurs, but based on the performances of the two signings—Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long—brought in to alleviate this problem, there is reason to be optimistic.
The front two combined for Hull's opener and gave a battling performance, the courage of which was sullied only once, when Jelavic pathetically tried to make something of a legitimate challenge from Kyle Walker.
The pair's work ethic leading the line for Hull was admirable, with them often maneuvering Spurs into more uncomfortable positions than they would have liked.
Beyond Long's goal, they combined excellently at times too. The best of the rest came just after the hour mark. The Irish forward controlled a pass in the right hand side of the penalty area, then proceeded to loft a cross deep to the back post which Jelavic prodded against the post.
It is fair to say, though, that the Spurs defence dealt well with them for large periods of play, too. With neither Long nor Jelavic proving prolific in their Premier League experiences at West Browmich Albion and Everton respectively, the onus is particularly on them now to find ways of scoring the goals Hull will certainly need.
Time and Points Are Running out for Both Hull and Spurs
With the 2013-14 season now having reached February, the division's clubs are right on the edge of what could be termed the campaign's home-stretch.
Hull and Tottenham still have time to fulfill their ambitions this year, but it is running out.
The Tigers currently sit only two points above the relegation zone. By Sunday evening, they could be fourth bottom if West Brom and Crystal Palace beat Liverpool and Arsenal respectively—unlikely though that may be.
With games against Sunderland and Cardiff City coming up this month (as well as Southampton at the KC Stadium), Steve Bruce and his team will know they at least have to take points from the teams around them now.
Spurs are looking a potential five-point gap between them and fourth placed Liverpool by the weekend's climax. Tim Sherwood was careful to give praise to Hull, but in speaking to Spurs' official Twitter page post-match clearly viewed this as two points blown:
"We’re disappointed because we thought we'd come here and win," said Sherwood. "But you have to give credit to Hull. They are fighting for their lives."
After a bright start to his reign as manager, Sherwood is facing a challenge in getting Spurs' top-four hopes legitimately back on track.
This week has hurt those hopes, but Spurs still have enough quality at their disposal that should not be close to calling this campaign quits. With games against European rivals Everton and Newcastle United coming up—as well as the recommencement of the Europa League—that could soon change if they do not start recording wins again.
Hey Football Head! Photographers Have Great Timing
On a couple of this article's pages, certain subjects have been doubled up on to afford a place of its own for the above photo—a testament to one of the less-serious moments of an otherwise tense and feisty encounter between Hull and Spurs.
In all honesty we have not learned much here other than photographer Tim Keeton has impeccable timing, and that the medium itself is not necessarily flattering to footballers in the middle of a game.