A topsy-turvy game that flipped on a bizarre sending off saw us snatch a dramatic late winner, as our Premier League clash finished Hull 1 Spurs 2.
Our third away win of the season arrived as the other two before had done, as a late strike snatched all three Premier League points. After Eric Dier came up trumps on opening day and Harry Kane’s free-kick winner against Aston Villa, this time it was Christian Eriksen’s turn to provide the heroics.
The match seemed to be heading away from us until Gaston Ramirez was involved in a rather bizarre and soft sending off that swung the momentum of the game. Prior to that, Hull had controlled the first half, taking advantage of our rather disjointed side.
Hull between the lines
When the team sheets were announced, the major talking point was that ours didn’t contain a defensive midfielder. Both Etienne Capoue and Benjamin Stambouli were left out of the starting XI and Mousa Dembele was tasked of playing at the base of our midfield.
Dembele is strong and likes to dribble with the ball, but he always looks more comfortable when he has a proper holding player alongside him. In the opening 20 minutes Hull really took advantage of this. They were immediately on Dembele to capitalise on him wanting time on the ball, as they looked to strip him of it and break.
Positionally Dembele is not a holding player. However, when combined with the more attack-minded Ryan Mason, the space between our lines of defence and midfield was left extremely open. Hull players and runners in to this space were not picked up and they could’ve been two or three up and out of sight by half time.
It started with Hull’s opening goal, as a cross from the Ahmed Elmohamady was only partially cleared. Jake Livermore raced forward in to the huge vacant space where one of Mason or Dembele should’ve been, but the gap between the two was massive. Dembele was more at fault, stationing himself in the backline, as Livermore drove his shot in to the corner of the net.
If that was a warning, we didn’t heed it. Minutes later and Hull were in again. Robbie Brady fired over, as he was the one to run in to the space between the lines and off the back of Dembele this time.
Next it was Hatem Ben Arfa’s turn to arrive unmarked in this space. Hugo Lloris palmed Gaston Ramirez’s shot out, but Ben Arfa could only blaze over when it looked easier to score.
Hull should’ve put the game to bed, but were not taking full advantage of our disjointed formation.
Spurs’ disjointed formation
There was something Tim Sherwood-esque of going without a defensive midfielder. Last season’s interim coach had famously expressed his love of box-to-box players in the centre of the park rather than having a more defensively focussed player.
Just as his team had been exposed by the better sides that could get between the lines – Chelsea, Man City – it was noteworthy how Hull were doing the same here.
But it wasn’t just going without a defensive midfielder; the whole formation was very disjointed.
We started out in a 4-2-3-1 with Harry Kane as a second striker from the number ten position. However, it was designed to be fluid as Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela floated across the pitch switching places. Kane and Soldado also changed roles, as did Mason and Dembele. Maybe there was too much changing, as the whole system seemed to not be functioning as fluidly as it should have. At times we looked in a 4-3-3 and others a 4-4-1-1, but often we had too many players centrally.
As a result we rarely created in the first 45. Christian Eriksen managed to get in-between the Hull lines of defence and midfield as he set up a shot for Erik Lamela.
At the end of the half, he fizzed a ball across the penalty area that missed everyone as Soldado was caught on his heels.
Half time and early switches
With us being so narrow Mauricio Pochettino made two good changes. One at the interval and one just after Gaston Ramirez received his marching orders.
Both substitutions introduced width to the right hand side and allowed us to start to open Hull up.
Vlad Chiriches came on for Eric Dier and was much more attack-minded to get up the right flank.
Aaron Lennon came on for Moussa Dembele just after Hull were reduced to ten men and played as an orthodox winger. As Lennon came on he signalled to Eriksen and Mason to play as a midfield two as we went to a 4-4-2 system.
The changes, combined with Hull retreating and trying to play narrow, saw us create two good opportunities from the right.
Vlad Chiriches fizzed in a beautiful low cross along the ground that Roberto Soldado should’ve finished. The Spaniard saw his scuffed shot role agonisingly the wrong side of the post.
Then Lennon got free to whip in a delicious ball for Harry Kane who could only nod it past the post from close range.
In the first half, many of our opportunities came through the inside channels with us being so narrow.
After the interval, we were now getting behind the full backs to generate opportunities from wide areas. An area the Tigers can be exposed in that we looked at in the Hull vs Spurs tactical preview.
Ryan Mason’s curled cross that saw Soldado knick the ball wide with his off foot was another chance missed.
Central free kicks
Despite creating from wide areas, our equaliser arrived from a free kick in the centre. Throughout the game, but more so after Hull went down to ten men, we were getting players between their lines of defence and midfield and then getting fouled.
Tom Huddlestone committed several of these offences as his lack of speed was exposed. In the first half he was lucky not to be booked as our players surrounded the referee complaining it was his third such foul. Harry Kane could only put the resulting free kick in to the Hull wall.
The pattern was there though and our free kick equaliser arrived after we again got players between the lines.
Both Harry Kane and Roberto Soldado pulled in to this space. Erik Lamela passed the ball first to Kane; got it back; then to Soldado, who was fouled trying to spin Curtis Davies.
Christian Eriksen hit a wicked dead ball that was clawed on to the post, deflecting back off goalkeeper Allan McGregor’s head and then gobbled up by Harry Kane.
Christian Eriksen between the lines
Having scored from a free kick after we got two players between the lines, it was apt that Christian Eriksen would get open in this space to score the winner.
The Dane had become the central force in the game after a somewhat subdued first half. He wasn’t helped by the formation whereby he was drifting from the left. He worked across the pitch, but rarely influenced in the opening 45, except for his pass for Lamela’s shot and ball across the goal.
After the switch of formation and being positioned in the centre of a midfield four, Eriksen ran the show in the second half as he drifted in-between the lines.
He was in this space as Harry Kane took control of the ball on the edge of the Hull box, with Vlad Chiriches once again free on the right.
Instead of playing Vlad in, Kane twisted and found Eriksen completely free with time to take a touch, turn and fire.
Joyous scenes broke out as the whole side raced to bundle Eriksen by the corner flag in front of the hoards of away fans, just as the team had done at Villa Park.
Hull 1 Spurs 2 overall
It was a really tough performance to judge given that we were very average before Gaston Ramirez’s crazy red card.
Mauricio Pochettino “didn’t think it had a big impact” and that he was “sure that at the end it would have been the same result.”
If this was his view, he was being very economical with the truth. Our side was very disjointed, narrow and lacking in structure before the dismissal.
The change to bring on Chiriches was a good move. Given the earliness of Ramirez’s sending off, it was hard to tell just how much of an impact it would have made. It was also difficult to tell if he would have still brought Dembele off if it had remained at 11v11, as Hull were exposing our lack of a defensive midfielder.
The switch to bring Lennon for Dembele was another good one given how narrow we were, but would Pochettino still have made it if both sides were at even strength?
Chances were made with the increased width, but the game was won by getting between the lines. Firstly to win a free kick, which Hull conceded too many of in central areas. Secondly by Eriksen to fire home the winner.
Hopefully this will give the players a real confidence boost ahead of Partizan on Thursday and an extremely tough match with Everton next Sunday.
Final score: Hull 1 Spurs 2.