Saturday 24 February 2018

Bruce faces his old employers needing a win to avoid the drop

Tottenham 2-0 Hull

‘The travelling fans fell silent; Steve Bruce looked crestfallen and things got worse for Hull shortly afterwards’
‘The travelling fans fell silent; Steve Bruce looked crestfallen and things got worse for Hull shortly afterwards’

David Hytner

For Steve Bruce, it now comes down to one match against Manchester United, the club at which he is fondly remembered from his days as a rugged centre-half. He and Hull City must beat United at the KC Stadium on the final day of the season next Sunday and hope that Newcastle United do not win at home against West Ham if they are to avoid the drop into the Championship.

Another lifeline might come if Sunderland were to lose their last games at Arsenal and Chelsea.

The hope has not yet died but this was an afternoon of deflation for Hull against a Tottenham team who hardly excelled but pieced together a couple of nice moments in the second half. Erik Lamela and Ryan Mason teed up goals for Nacer Chadli and Danny Rose, leaving Tottenham on course for another Europa campaign.

The focus was on the battle-hardened Bruce and his players' increasingly desperate attempts to dig themselves out of the mire. Hull were the better team in a forgettable first half and Nikica Jelavic hit the woodwork in the 19th minute. But they could not bring sufficient quality to bear and after Chadli's opening goal, the die felt cast. Hull have never won a Premier League game in May.

This time last year, Hull had been at Wembley for the FA Cup final against Arsenal but, after a tumultuous season, they arrived in north London feeling the unforgiving pull of relegation. It felt as though they had to win and Tottenham's recent form might have given them hope.

White Hart Lane afforded warm welcomes to a pair of former Spurs - the hugely popular Michael Dawson and Tom Huddlestone - but not a third, with the reasons for Jake Livermore's absence having made for the pre-match headlines. The midfielder faces a lengthy ban for his positive test for cocaine.

The quality of the football was low but from Hull's point of view, the result was the only thing that mattered. Mauricio Pochettino, the Tottenham manager, paced his technical area and he howled his frustration at the errors from his players. It was that sort of afternoon.

Hull had their moments in the first-half against a defence that continued to give the home crowd palpitations and, but for the upright, the visitors would have taken the lead. Ahmed Elmohamady crossed from the right and after David Meyler - who replaced Livermore - had thrown himself at the ball, it fell for Jelavic at the far post. The striker, starting his first game in two months, slammed his shot against the top of the near post.

Moments earlier, after Federico Fazio's poor clearance, Dame N'Doye's cross had been just too heavy for Jelavic, who stretched to head off target, while there was the flicker when Jelavic burst through only for Eric Dier to snuff out the danger. Jelavic also sent an overhead kick wide. But that was about as good as it got for them.

Neither goalkeeper was worked in the first half, with Tottenham labouring to make any serious inroads. Lamela was their most prominent performer. He saw an early shot deflected wide while he sent over a 13th-minute corner from which the unmarked Dier headed wastefully wide. Lamela almost got on the end of a cross from Harry Kane while he scooped an effort past the post following good work by Mason.

Tottenham roused themselves and it was a moment of high class from Lamela that got them in front. The weight of the through-ball that he slipped in on James Chester's blindside was matched by its vision. Chadli darted in, rounded Steve Harper and tucked home his 13th goal of the season.

The travelling fans fell silent; Bruce looked crestfallen and things got worse for Hull shortly afterwards. Again, the assist was stamped with quality, Mason chipping delicately over the Hull back line and Rose timing his run and an eye-catching volley, which fizzed into the roof of the net. Rose sported a new, hi-viz red hair dye. Nobody in amber and black spotted him.

Hull toiled on, with Paul McShane glancing a header wide from Huddlestone's cross. There was also a remarkable scramble in the 70th minute, when the substitute, Abel Hernández, hit Dier with one shot and then saw his follow-up effort cleared off the line by Fazio. On the third bite, N'Doye's shot dribbled wide. Bruce put his head in his hands. Hull are on the brink.


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