Sheffield Utd 2 Tottenham 1: Hulse paves way as Blades put Jol under pressure

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The Independent Football

No longer is it a question of whether Sheffield United will win their survival battle; rather, it is whether they are in one at all. This merited victory from behind extended the gap over the bottom three into double figures - substantial breathing space before trips to Liverpool and Chelsea.

Tottenham Hotspur are now only three points ahead of Sheffield and, with more meagre away pickings than all but those teams in the relegation places, have recorded a third as many Premiership wins on their travels as their latest conquerors.

Rob Hulse led from the front by scoring once and hitting the woodwork twice. His efforts put into the shade those of opponents who ended with their four established strikers on the field. "That's as proud as I have felt," the home manager, Neil Warnock, said. "We're playing as well as anybody at the moment and got our just deserts."

Sheffield, beaten in the 94th minute at Blackburn, had to do it the hard way after trailing inside 120 seconds. Jermaine Jenas, one of five changes from the side dismantled by Man-chester United, ran behind a square defence on to Robbie Keane's lifted pass and expertly lobbed Paddy Kenny.

Spurs' stylish opening salvo should have produced more, Keane driving a whisker wide of the far post, Dimitar Berbatov squandering a free header and Jenas miscuing following another surge through the middle of a cut-up pitch. By that time, though, Tottenham were also vulnerable. Jenas cleared off the line after Hulse headed Colin Kazim-Richards' free-kick against the underside of the bar, then Paul Robinson saved Michael Tonge's header, only for the resulting corner to bring a 27th-minute equaliser.

Hulse climbed high between Michael Dawson and Ricardo Rocha from Richards' right-wing delivery and saw his header bounce high off the relaid six-yard area to elude a cluster of defenders and an again unconvincing Robinson.

With Bramall Lane buzzing, Jon Stead twice threatened from 20 yards and Richards had a shot deflected to safety. Hulse got in front of Robinson to head Richards' corner against the bar before the second breakthrough just past the hour. From Richards' half-cleared centre, Teemu Tainio clumsily brought down Stephen Quinn just inside the area, leaving Phil Jagielka to score from the penalty spot.

Martin Jol introduced Jermain Defoe and saw the striker and Jagielka booked straight away for a shoving exchange that threatened to provoke a mass set-to.

Tottenham's response was negligible and they still seek their first Premiership victory since Boxing Day. Their bye in Europe comfortably remains their best result for some time.

"We're very concerned about getting it right," Jol admitted. "We're not as strong this year, but it's a fine line."

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