Jelavic and Long chemistry has Hull humming

Posted by Philip Buckingham

You get what you pay for, they say, and for 14 million pounds, you want a lot. Hull City expect Premier League survival for such a sum and the opening return on their investment arrived with a first point of 2014.

- Report: Hull City 1-1 Tottenham

Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic made the Tigers English football's third biggest spenders during the January transfer window, behind only Chelsea and Manchester United. In Europe they were eighth.

From manager Steve Bruce and owner Assem Allam, it was a New Year statement of intent that this was not to be a one-season adventure, that City now had the firepower to stave off any lingering threat of relegation back to the Championship.

The results of this gamble will not become clear until May 11, but if the home debuts of Long and Jelavic were a gauge of things to come, the Premier League's East Yorkshire outpost will remain in service.

Against a Tottenham side still in pursuit of Champions League qualification, Long scored and Jelavic could have had a hat-trick. A point was about fair, but if one side had the loudest grumbles it was City.

Bruce was a satisfied man nevertheless. A run of four consecutive defeats through January had the Tigers stuck on 23 points for what was an uncomfortably long time. The wheels had slowed and were threatening to come to a halt.

City needed forward momentum and it has thankfully arrived in the shape of Long and Jelavic. Although their first night together had been a frustrating one when defeated 1-0 at Crystal Palace in midweek, the seeds sown on that night quickly grew into something far more attractive on Saturday.

Long needed just 12 minutes of his home debut to become a favourite at the KC Stadium. Collecting a clever flick from Jelavic to burst through on goal, the Republic of Ireland man kept his cool with a resounding finish.

It is hard to recall the last time a City player was presented with such a chance. Very, very rarely have the Tigers got in behind defences since winning promotion to the Premier League, but Long has that quality. Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen were never fully comfortable with him all afternoon.

Long was grateful for Jelavic's helping hand and did his level best to return the favour after Paulinho's crisp strike had made Spurs' second-half pressure count with an equaliser.

Twice Long presented his partner with decent opportunities. First with an instinctive deep cross and then with a sumptuous back heel, but Jelavic was thwarted by a post and Hugo Lloris. The Croatian forward had an even better chance in between when released by Robert Koren, only for his shot to lack the power before being cleared by the covering Dawson.

It is three games without a goal for Jelavic, but Bruce is certain the tide will turn. That trio of games has seen Jelavic hit the woodwork twice and had at least 10 attempts on goal. It is unclear if Danny Graham, whose loan from Sunderland was terminated on deadline day, had that many shots in 20 games for the club.

One game fails to offer conclusive evidence that Long and Jelavic can be the real deal, but first impressions have been pleasing. Bruce calls them his "little and large" pairing. Long goes in behind and Jelavic has the physical presence to worry defenders. "I wouldn't have liked to play against them," said the former centre-half Bruce.

And that's the difference. Too often City's front line has been easily quelled this season. Only Sone Aluko, back in action for the reserves next week, and Yannick Sagbo, albeit in flashes, have really given defenders problems on their own. If Long and Jelavic did it to Spurs, they will surely do it to others.

The two new boys capped a much-improved performance from City in what had become a vital fixture. Wins for West Ham United and Sunderland ahead of kick-off had stripped the cushion down to one point, so avoiding defeat a fifth defeat on the spin was a must. The picture looks better with two points the gap, but there is still little room to breathe.

A group of teams sit together on 24 points and one of those presents City's next big challenge. The trip to Sunderland, a club where Bruce will not expect a warm welcome, is the latest in a long line of vital games away from the KC Stadium. There the Tigers can ill-afford a repeat of the defeats at Norwich and Palace but there is optimism restored with Long and Jelavic prominent in the picture.


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