Tigers boosted by returning players
23 November ~ Today's visitors Tottenham Hotspur have long endured a reputation as a talented team who are too often a soft touch. Meanwhile, hosts Hull City are hearing whispers that they might be surprise contenders for that unwanted tag. This might be symptomatic of the short-term way in which modern football is assessed. For several seasons, City have been characterised by their work ethic and tactical discipline. One under-committed performance at Burnley last time out should not undermine that reputation.
However some fans saw signs of psychological weakness earlier in the season, both in the ambivalent approach to the club’s once-in-a-110-year-lifetime opportunity of a European campaign and the serial concession of late goals.
The latter failing means Hull have fewer points than their intermittently sparkling play should have earned them. The dreaded “too good to go down” phrase (with its unspoken coda “but too weak to stay up”) is already being muttered by some pessimists. Their concern is that the club may have spent heavily on securing more skill but sacrificed some spirit. Some of the new signings, such as Hatem Ben Arfa and Gastón Ramírez, have yet to prove their worth, perhaps justifiably as both are on their way back from long-term injury problems.
The £10 million Uruguayan striker Abel Hernández made a bright start but has faded recently. The near-universally accepted explanation for this is the absence of his more workmanlike forward partner, Nikica Jelavic, through injury. Hull fans are hoping that his probable return this week will end the team’s run of three games without a goal.
Aside from some of the new boys, several established players have also started to struggle. Since the Burnley game, attention has focused on Tom Huddlestone, who was hauled off after 51 minutes at Turf Moor and described his own performance as “shocking all round”. Huddlestone risks being dropped but has a lot of credit in the bank from his stellar showing last season and the feeling is that facing his old club might be exactly what he needs to raise his game.
Contrary to the standard wisdom that another game soon afterwards is the best way to shake off a bad performance, Hull might also benefit from the international break obliging them to wait two weeks to redeem their Burnley failure. Five players will all come back boosted after excelling for their countries.
This afternoon Spurs may sense an opportunity to overcome their troubles, away from the gaze of their cranky home crowd, while Hull look to calm their fans' concerns. If the home side can make a steady start, the better balance provided by Jelavic’s return could see them prevail. Paul Knott