The scenario for last weekend’s Premier League match against Hull City was simple and both teams were in need of the points but for differing reasons.
It was an opportunity for Tottenham to re-stake their claim for a top 4 finish and bounce back from the heavy defeat against City. There had been extenuating circumstances surrounding that loss to City with Michael Dawson’s disallowed goal, Danny Rose having been sent off and the resultant penalty doubling the visitor’s lead at the start of the second half. Prior to that Spurs had won 5 of their previous 6 league games and had 5 successive away wins to their record.
By contrast, Hull had not won a league game in 2014 and hadn’t scored a league goal in those four matches during the month of January. While, they were in 13th position, they were only 4 points ahead of the relegation zone.
DesireThe difference in the two teams on Saturday afternoon was desire. Hull’s desire for the points was much greater than that of Tottenham. They snatched the early initiative in the game and rarely let their grip on it loosen. While Spurs were unfortunate not to go ahead after 10 minutes when Harper pulled off a good save from Emmanuel Adebayor’s shot, Hull had already set the alarm bells ringing in the Spurs defence and a minute later took the lead with a goal from Long on his home debut. The team who hadn’t scored in 4 games needed only 11 minutes to get on the score sheet against Tottenham. It wasn’t a wonderfully crafted goal – it came when the ball was hooked on from a goal kick and Spurs central defenders were unable to prevent Long getting through to beat Hugo Lloris with ease.
Hull showed the greater desire and as they had done in the two previous games this season, they battled and fought every inch of the way. They defended in numbers but broke quickly when the opportunity arose with Long and Jelavic being a constant danger. For Spurs only Dawson and Adebayor looked fully committed and played with a passion and a desire.
Hull allowed Tottenham to dominate possession (62%) but made the greater use of their limited time in possession and refused to allow Spurs time or space to play near their own penalty area, quickly responding to any possible threat. Their desire for the points saw them through the game to a deserved point and to finish the stronger.
Tottenham played as individuals and a team lacking in confidence. Understandably, the heavy defeat against City put a dent in their self-belief but this game was an opportunity to put that performance behind them and get their season back of track. There was no indication, however, of that sort of approach from the players. The team started tentatively and only occasionally did they show any improvement from that.Some of the players are low in confidence. The season hasn’t gone well for them individually and they are struggling to make an impact. The obvious example of that is Roberto Soldado. He came with a reputation of a goalscorer but has failed to deliver and there’s no indication of him rediscovering his goalscoring touch any time soon. His goals for Valencia were scored from inside the penalty area but with Spurs the service has been so limited that he now rarely takes up a position where he could score – he’s no longer putting himself into such positions, holding back rather than taking the gamble on the run to meet a cross into the box.
As confidence drops, players are no longer willing to take on their opponent or make a telling pass, preferring to pass sideways and allow someone else to do it. Aaron Lennon, is not taking on his man to get to the bye-line as he would have done in the past. He was well marshalled by the hull defence and took to cutting infield and going across the pitch with no end product. After getting his first goal of the season against Stoke and playing well at Old Trafford, Lennon has made less of a contribution as an attacking player. He continues to work hard covering back in defence but his attacking threat is missing.
The loss of confidence in individuals and the team, brings frustration which was evident at times on Saturday. Lloris complained bitterly about what was happening in front of him when players weren’t taking up positions to receive the ball and Adebyor who worked hard, but found no-one had committed themselves in the area when he played a dangerous cross in from a wide position.
With confidence low, the players needed direction.
The team looked lost and devoid of ideas against Hull and Emmanuel Adebayor looked to be the only player who might create something to turn the game in their favour. It was said when Tim Sherwood took over, that he had released the players from the restraints of the previous manager, that they were given the freedom and encouraged to take risks. He might have released the hand-brake but they never got out of first gear against Hull.
Spurs started the game slowly, a common trait this season – they haven’t scored a goal in the first 15 minutes of any league game. Their earliest goal coming in the 18th minute from Kyle Walker against Manchester United at White Hart Lane. After going behind they kept plugging away but without causing Hull too much discomfort and while Paulinho equalised in the second half, ithey never looked like building on that to go on and take all three points.
In that situation, the team needed direction and the sight of Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand in discussion didn’t inspire confidence as they both looked bewildered and look on their faces suggested that they had no idea on what to do to turn the game around. They decided to leave it as it was and do nothing, Harry Kane only coming on in the 89th minute when Adebayor went off with an injury.
Harsh, especially when the team is within touching distance of 4th and a Champions League finish. There is, however, little belief among supporters, that Spurs will make the top-4. Yesterday’s poll on HotspurHQ has 5th or 6th as the most likely finishing place for Tottenham at the end of the season.
This weekend’s match against Everton is another opportunity for Spurs to stake a claim for a Champions League spot against one of the other teams in a challenging position. A win and it’s a possibility once again, a defeat and the chance will be slipping further away for another year.