It’s one thing when a striker frightens the bejaysus out of defenders with searing pace. It’s another when that striker also manages to put the ball into the net with ease and style after winning the race.
Shane Long has been around a long time but now, as a Hull City player, we’ve seen first hand just why he’s so highly rated by those who watch him, play alongside him and coach him. He can’t half shift. He’s bright and forward-thinking and very wily indeed. And it took him just 12 minutes to show exactly what we have bought – and what we have been missing.
Formation and personnel changes were in the offing after the midweek defeat at Crystal Palace, with Steve Bruce switching to a 4-4-2. With Allan McGregor suspended, Jake Livermore ineligible and Alex Bruce dispensable, the Tigers lined up thus: Harper; Rosenior, McShane, Davies, Figueroa; Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Meyler, Brady; Jelavic, Long.
City began tidily, with Liam Rosenior and Ahmed Elmohamady putting together a sweet combination of passes down the inside right channel which forced a corner off Michael Dwason, which Robbie Brady overhit. Danny Rose, playing after a midweek red card was overturned, then fouled Elmohamady and Huddlestone’s clipped free kick was flicked over by Jelavic with the outside of his foot.
Spurs, in their elegant azure change kit, made their first mark on the game when Emmanuel Adebayor had a volleying chance from a deflected cross and Harper athletically stretched to tip it over the bar. Paulinho then sliced a good chance high and wide after Roberto Soldado characteristically mishit a shot which rebounded his way.
And so to the 12th minute. The build-up was somewhat direct but the execution of the goal was superb. Harper thumped it forward, Jelavic managed a flick (the only one he won all game), and Long sprinted clear of the two Spurs centre backs, forearms keeping them at bay before guiding a sublime shot past the onrushing Hugo Lloris and into the top corner.
It was a smashing goal for all kinds of reasons. For the early lead. For the quick settlement as a City player of Long. For the first strike in the Premier League of 2014. For the knowledge that we now have a Premier League striker who can properly finish. For the way it rattled Tottenham, who spent the next 20 minutes misplacing passes and being out-fought by the Tigers. It was a goal that transcended the meagre achievement of putting a team 1-0 up.
Eventually, Spurs made a chance through a corner which Michael Dawson flicked on and Soldado, who does genuinely appear to be useless, volleyed way too high at the far post. Dawson then fouled Long in a two on two situation at the other end and Jelavic’s free kick was just inches wide.
Soldado’s rubbishness was affirmed further when put through by Adebayor for a great opportunity but chose, inexplicably, to take a further touch and was ushered into no-man’s land by Paul McShane. During the two added minutes before half time, Christian Eriksen went on a dazzling run that included nutmegging Huddlestone before shooting slightly too high from the edge of the area.
So, half time, satisfying indeed. Hard work in midfield, nails in defence, pace from Long. The more spoiled among us wanted Jelavic to win more flicks and sort out his first touch, but at least the game was City’s to hold on to.
Elmohamady won a free kick near the corner flag a minute after the restart but Brady, epitomising a sluggish and careless performance all round, couldn’t beat the first man with the delivery and a really good chance had gone.
Spurs won a free kick which was half cleared to Eriksen who blootered it over the bar, then a deflected Paulinho shot fell for the wretched Soldado, whose volley was kept out well by Harper. It was clearly that Tottenham were tightening their grip on the game.
Then a controversial moment as David Meyler challenged teenager Nabil Bentaleb and seemed to take the ball cleanly, only for the Frenchman to roll over in methodical agony and referee Anthony Taylor to give the free kick. Meyler was eventually fortunate just to get a reprimand as the urgency of the referee’s whistle and the close-up protests of the Spurs players suggested initially a red card was in the offing.
Punishment duly came of a worse kind, however, as the ball was played short to Rose whose shot was ineffectual but for a smart stop and swivel by Paulinho, who rammed it past Harper into the roof of the net. It was just past the hour mark and Tottenham were level.
City, creditably, went straight back at Spurs and nearly re-took the lead when Jelavic hit a combination of post and the foot of Lloris with a poked effort from Long’s lovely chipped pass. It soon became an end to end game, and Curtis Davies made one stunning challenge inside his own six yard box with Harper out of position as the azure shirts piled in.
Long then played a phenomenal crossfield ball to Rosenior that set up a counter that finished with a rare shooting chance for a generally uninfluential Huddlestone, and he sliced it.
The manager then freshened it up with a very wise like-for-like substitution as George Boyd replaced the frustrating Brady, while Elmohamady’s lack of impact also prompted a change, with Robert Koren coming on.
Jelavic could have scored with a tad more power in his shot after he reached Huddlestone’s pass and flicked the ball goalwards past Lloris, but Dawson was able to get it clear before it crossed the line. Spurs’ response was to force a couple of corners, one of which was cleared on to the boot of Bentaleb, whose round-the-ball volley landed inches wide.
Eriksen put a free kick wide and Jelavic saw one good chance blocked by Lloris’ feet after another visionary pass by Long but as injury time came a draw felt both fair and satisfactory. Jelavic got a deserved ovation when he was replaced late on by Yannick Sagbo – the Croat was lumpen in the first half but sharp in the second – and City nearly nicked it when Long was fouled near the box and byline, and Huddlestone’s thumped free kick fizzed right across goal with nobody getting a touch.
Even after this, Boyd almost carved out a moment to define his career when he weaved through three challenges into the box but was denied a shooting chance by a last-ditch Tottenham foot. The final whistle seemed to come as both a disappointment and a relief, as the game could still have been won, but the rot had finally stopped and against a side with Champions League pretensions, it was no shoddy point to take.
The new boys had a topsy-turvy afternoon, with Long sparkling at the start and fading towards the end, and Jelavic pretty much the opposite. But at their best they were each a massive handful and also seemed to be gelling and learning as a duo, also gallantly operating down the flanks once it was clear Brady and Elmohamady were not enjoying their day. McShane and Davies were tight and fearless at the back, Harper made three excellent saves and Boyd’s cameo at the end was enthralling. Maybe a game like this is what City needed to just click again; the paying crowd could feel fortunate that the run of defeats ended with a game that was outstanding to watch.