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Saturday, Oct. 4, 2008

PREMIER REPORT

Loss to Hull could push Ramos closer to the door


LONDON — At the start of the season Sunday's Premier League fixture between Tottenham and Hull had the look of a game between one team riding comfortably high with the other in the relegation zone.

Christopher Davies

And so it will be, only unexpectedly it is Hull which is sixth and Spurs who are rock bottom.

Hull returns to North London eight days after beating Arsenal 2-1, and if coming away from Emirates Stadium with three points was a surprise, a similar result at White Hart Lane — or Pain as it's called now — would raise few eyebrows. Whether that says more about Hull or Spurs is open to debate.

Spurs manager Juande Ramos may not quite be a dead man walking yet but the fans are turning on him and chairman Daniel Levy has proved patience is not one of his strengths.

Tottenham is in a sorry mess. Just about every player is playing badly so the failure is individual and collective. For this the manager must take the lion's share of the blame.

While he has been here only a year, such has been the turnover of players, this is Ramos' team, not the one he inherited from Martin Jol.

The Spaniard still finds communication in English difficult, so the voice the players and press tend to hear is that of Ramos' assistant, Gus Poyet, which doesn't help matters.

So why are Spurs looking up at the rest of the Premier League?

Their poor form is a continuation from last season — since beating Chelsea in the League Cup final last February, Spurs' record is P 18 W 3 D 7 L 8.

In the equivalent of almost half a season, Spurs have won just 16 points, which translates to 33 over the 38 games of a Premier League campaign.

Anything less than 40 points usually means relegation.

It was astonishing to hear Poyet — who else? — say that strikers Darren Bent and Roman Pavlyuchenko are too similar to play alongside each other.

So Spurs, who knew Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov (who scored 45 goals between them in each of the past two seasons) were leaving, replaced them with a Russian who is not a natural partner for Bent. In any language that is madness.

Croatian international Luka Modric is an outstanding midfielder but has been played too deep or on the left.

David Bentley, a consistent attacking force for Blackburn last season, has been a pale shadow of the player Tottenham bought during the summer.

Giovanni, who arrived from Barcelona in July, seems lightweight.

The experienced English contingent cannot escape blame. Jermaine Jenas and Aaron Lennon are not producing the goods, while Ramos' constant tinkering with the team and tactics doesn't help.

On paper Spurs have more good players than most clubs, but defeat against Hull's collection of no-names, expertly welded together by manager Phil Brown, would push Ramos one step closer to the departure gate.

* * * * *

JUANDE RAMOS probably earns four times the £500,000 Hull manager Phil Brown is paid by the Tigers. Brown has been a breath of fresh air to the Premier League, his extrovert personality reflected in the way his team plays.

Last month Brown, whose stock is rising like his side, signed a new three-year contract and said: "It's flattering to be linked with big jobs as it shows you must be doing well, but I'm an honorable and loyal guy. I'm very proud to have been given the contract I've got at Hull and the way I see it, I've got a massive job to do here. My future is most definitely with Hull."

He came to Hull in October 2006 as first-team coach to manager Phil Parkinson after a shakeup of the backroom staff. A month later, Parkinson was sacked after a run of poor results and Brown was made caretaker-manager.

Hull won 10 points from its first six games under Brown, which prompted chairman Adam Pearson to make him manager until the end of the season.

Brown succeeded in keeping the Tigers in the Championship, Pearson offered Brown the job on a permanent basis with a 12-month rolling contract.

In his first full season in charge, City finished third in the Championship, securing promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs.

Brown will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief when Hull reaches the accepted 40-point safety mark, but it is a welcome change to see an English manager making a mark in a Premier League dominated by foreign coaches.

The rise and rise of Hull also gives hope to the lesser lights of English football that access to the promised land of the Premier League is not necessarily an impossible dream.

* * * * *

ARSENE WENGER has none of the fears about his future that Juande Ramos does but despite Arsenal's 4-0 Champions League triumph over FC Porto, its hopes of winning the Premier League are already fading.

History shows that the would-be champions lose five or six matches maximum. Arsenal has already lost two — to Fulham and Hull — and they are not the sort of games that should prove banana skins to prospective title winners.

Chelsea won at Stoke, Arsenal lost at home to Hull.

The top four teams usually only lose to each other, not upstarts. Those who love their football to be free-flowing, inventive and entertaining hope Arsenal succeeds, yet there is still a lack of ruthlessness and killer edge that Chelsea possess.

However, Chelsea's march toward more silverware has not been helped by yet another long-term injury.

Didier Drogba sustained a serious knee injury in the Champions League tie against Cluj and may not play again this year. He joins Michael Essien, Deco and Ricardo Carvalho as Blues absentees and Chelsea suddenly has few options in attack apart from Nicolas Anelka.

Christopher Davies covers the Premier League for the London Daily Telegraph.


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