Three Points: Christian Eriksen's winner helps Tottenham edge Hull
KINGSTON UPON HULL, England -- Three observations from Tottenham's 2-1 win over Hull City at the KC Stadium.
1. Win may hide Spurs' struggles
If nothing else, Tottenham are quite good at playing against 10 men. It is only when they face 11 that they struggle. Had opponents kept a full complement of players on the pitch, Spurs would probably have lost their last five league games.
Instead, Mauricio Pochettino's side beat Aston Villa after Christian Benteke was dismissed and defeated Hull, scoring both goals after Gaston Ramirez saw red. Both comebacks could be used to suggest that the club has spirit, and with Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen both scoring and impressing, this was the second time they turned defeat into victory. All three of their away wins have come against 10 men.
Yet Pochettino should be troubled by Tottenham's first-half performance. It was abject. Hull's superiority should have been reflected by a second goal, which might have put the game beyond Spurs' reach. It was one-way traffic when Tottenham had a one-man advantage, but there is a sense the eventual scoreline papered over the cracks.
The absence of eight players -- the suspended Kyle Naughton and seven who are injured -- cannot be used as an explanation on its own for such a wretched start. Not when Spurs have assembled a squad of this size, or at such a cost. The starting 11 commanded fees of around 125 million pounds. It is an understatement to say that wasn't all spent well.
It is a problem, too, that they lack an identity. Southampton were playing Pochettino's brand of football within weeks. Three months into the season, Tottenham certainly aren't. The high-energy pressing game came from Hull, until they had to concentrate on defence. Spurs were invited to come forward and had just enough quality to capitalise. While Kane justified his belated promotion to the league side with another goal, his ninth in 10 club games, Pochettino looks no nearer to finding his strongest 11.
At least a victory should quell talk of crisis. Indeed, such is the strange nature of this season that Tottenham remain in the hunt for a top-four finish.
2. Ex-factor almost costs Spurs
Hull have been happy to build a side around Spurs' rejects, so there was something inevitable about the identity of the scorer of the opening goal. It was merely a question of which of the Tottenham old boys, Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone or Jake Livermore, would be the man deliberately not celebrating against his old club.
It was the youngest. Livermore was ineligible to face Tottenham last season, as he was on loan from White Hart Lane. Hull purchased the midfielder outright in June, and within eight minutes of his first game against his former club, he struck. He latched on to Federico Fazio's poor header and drilled a 25-yard shot past Hugo Lloris. If Livermore was looking for revenge against his former club, he seemed to exact it with a challenge on Ryan Mason that some felt merited a sending off.
Meanwhile, his sidekick Huddlestone was one of the signings of last season. He has struggled to replicate the same form in the current campaign, to the extent that there have been rumblings in East Yorkshire that he might deserve to be dropped, but he was one of the five to keep his place. He illustrated why as he combined well with Livermore to control the midfield before the break.
Dawson is the most recent arrival at the KC Stadium. His lack of pace was an ever greater issue at White Hart Lane, especially when managers such as Andre Villas-Boas wanted to operate with a high defensive line, but his character often enables him to compensate for weaknesses in his game. His willingness to head and block anything was apparent again. Steve Bruce, who had similar traits as a center back in his playing days, surely appreciated his defiance.
There's no doubt Spurs felt they were upgrading their squad in allowing each to leave. Both their results and the performances of some of their replacements would suggest they haven't. While the points were procured by the Londoners, this was a day to suggest Hull did the better business for Dawson, Huddlestone and Livermore.
3. Hull get the performance, but not the result
The last time Bruce watched his side play, he declared it their worst performance in the Premier League during his reign. His unhappiness with his team's display at Burnley in a 1-0 defeat was still apparent 15 days later.
Bruce made six changes and switched formation. It amounted to a drastic response, but it was also justified. Hull were more energetic, more intense and altogether more admirable. It was notable how bold Bruce was, playing a 4-2-3-1 that, at times, almost looked like 4-2-4.
The newcomers gave them more of a cutting edge, with the fit-again Nikica Jelavic offering purpose in attack and flair players Ramirez and Hatem Ben Arfa adding invention. Both deadline-day acquisitions have been restricted to bit-part roles so far, but for 49 minutes, Bruce's gamble on his mavericks was justified. Then Ramirez's first start for Hull was brought to a premature conclusion as a result of his own stupidity.
The Uruguayan kicked out at Jan Vertonghen to receive his marching orders and incur a three-match ban. Indirectly, it led to Ben Arfa's departure. Bruce sacrificed a man who rarely defends to bring on the more solid David Meyler.
It wasn't enough to stem the Spurs tide, and the Irishman had been on the pitch for only a few minutes when Kane leveled. Some 29 minutes later, Eriksen condemned Hull to a defeat, which means they have won only once in 11 league games. Yet the fans' frequent choruses of Bruce's name indicated that this is not a club at war with itself.
The 53-year-old had been very critical of his players. He demonstrated he was able to get a response from them. The shame for him is that the recklessness of one of them cost them dearly. They are now only just outside the relegation zone.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.