At face value it has not been a good week for Tottenham. A humiliating first Premier League defeat under Tim Sherwood's stewardship, zero January acquisitions and a maiden donation to Hull's 2014 Premier League points total. Not the stuff of a team harbouring thoughts of Champions League qualification.

Delving beneath the surface, however, all the noises hanging on the Humber sea fret were positive. Numerically disadvantaged, they were unable to halt Manchester City's juggernaut a few days earlier but their high-intensity response to trailing at the interval here further highlighted how they intend to claw back lost ground.

Sherwood rendered it a point gained at a venue where Liverpool were comfortably beaten not so long ago. Significantly, it was also the match that witnessed the return of a raft of internationals. The Brazilian midfielder Paulinho, whose quality finish cancelled out the home debutant Shane Long's early opener, and Jan Vertonghen, the Belgian defender, returned from ankle injuries while France's Younès Kaboul was on the bench. Sandro and Andros Townsend are nearing full fitness.

"They're all like new signings," said Sherwood, defending a dormant January. "When they're all fit we've got loads of numbers and we've got a nice blend. We didn't want to add to it because we didn't think we needed to."

Now is time for continuity. Less than six months ago, his predecessor, André Villas-Boas, assembled a new-look squad with a bounty of £110m. The one thing that Sherwood has invested in, according to those in the dressing room, is freedom of expression.

"He feels the connection with the players and everyone is happy with him," Vertonghen said. "Every manager has his own thing. Tim is maybe a little bit more direct. You never know what the best thing is for the team but I think this is working out quite well."

Sherwood's blueprint for success was certainly not lost on his dugout adversary Steve Bruce, whose skirmishes with Villas-Boas earlier this season saw Hull lose to a "dubious penalty" and then exit the Capital One Cup on spot-kicks.

"Certainly AVB wouldn't have played like that – two up top," Bruce said. "I thought they played four up top, really. They played the two strikers, they played Aaron Lennon high and Christian Eriksen off the front. So Tim's philosophy is: 'We're going to come here and beat you'.

"Good luck to him, if that's the way that he wants to play. It's quite refreshing. [Emmanuel] Adebayor has got a spark and when he is playing like he is at the moment, I don't think there is a better No9."

Statistically, there are few worse front men than the recalled Roberto Soldado, the £26m signing from Valencia paired with Adebayor here. He has scored only once from open play in the league this season, and the lack of conviction in his finishing contrasted to that of his Spanish compatriot Álvaro Negredo, who also arrived in England last summer.

"He's been playing for Man City, hasn't he? So it's not a level playing field," was Sherwood's defence. "To be fair, when you arrive from another country and a different league, it takes a while to get used to. But I am confident he can be a striker for Tottenham for many years and score loads of goals."

Bruce has similar belief that Long – already nicknamed 'the Rat' by the Hull captain, Curtis Davies, for his nuisance value to defenders – and Nikica Jelavic can fire Hull to safety. Long provided the first return on the £14m joint outlay by converting his only chance and the former Everton striker Jelavic peppered Spurs' Hugo Lloris throughout.

"I thought to myself at times, 'I wouldn't want to be playing against those two', because they did everything that they possibly could to score," Bruce said. "We're hoping they'll make the difference for us."

Man of the match Curtis Davies (Hull)