A contentious second-half penalty gave Tottenham Hotspur a fortunate 1-0 win over Hull City that moves them up to fourth.

Roberto Soldado netted the spot kick on 79 minutes after Jan Vertonghen’s cross struck the arm of Ahmed Elmohamady from close range.

Tom Huddlestone fizzed a free kick inches wide from the edge of the area with the last kick of the game as Spurs escaped with three points having struggled to break down Hull for most of the 90 minutes.

Steve Bruce’s side defended doggedly from the kick off and forced the better chances in the first half.

Spurs dominated possession in the second half but rarely looked threatening as Hull piled men behind the ball.

Tottenham needed a bit of luck and they got it when referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot after Vertonghen’s cross struck Elmohamady’s arm.

Steve Bruce on the Hull bench was furious with the decision and, with the position of Elmohamady’s arm not far from his body and his close proximity to Vertonghen’s delivery, Hull could count themselves a touch unlucky.

Spurs had started the game brightly but grew increasingly frustrated as Hull battled to break up the play with some tight pressing and determined tackling.

Paulinho went close when he volleyed Lewis Holtby’s curled free kick over the bar from close range and Townsend drew a good save from Steve Harper with a long range effort.

Hull pressed and hurried Spurs and began to rattle the home side, producing a good spell of pressure and arguably the better chances in the opening 30 minutes.

Yannick Sagbo got beyond last man Sandro and drilled a low shot across goal that Lloris did well to get down and block.

Tottenham were forced to defend a succession of free kicks and corners delivered with dangerous precision from former Spurs favourite Tom Huddlestone.

And the midfielder almost capped his return to White Hart Lane with a goal when he lashed a volley just over the bar from outside the box.

Spurs were struggling to break through a compact Hull, who packed everyone behind the ball whenever Tottenham had possession.

Townsend made a rare breakthrough with a dazzling run in which he skipped through the despairing tackles of three Hull defenders but Harper got down low to his left to palm away the winger’s angled shot.

Christian Eriksen replaced Holtby with 30 minutes left but Spurs continued to find it difficult to open up the visitors and Paulinho sent an ambitious long-range effort over the bar to increase the frustrations of the White Hart Lane crowd.

Defoe joined Soldado up front when he came on for Lennon as Villas-Boas attempted to add more firepower to his struggling side with 20 minutes to go, but Hull were doing their best to frustrate the home side and run down the clock, with Harper taking an age at every goal kick.

The delays resulted in five minutes of added time which culminated in Huddlestone’s piledriver of an effort that narrowly whistled past the post.

Tottenham: Lloris; Walker, Chiriches, Dawson, Vertonghen; Paulinho, Sandro (Dembele, 45); Townsend, Holtby, Lennon; Soldado. Subs: Lamela, Naughton, Defoe, Sigurdsson, Eriksen, Friedel

Hull: Harper, Rosenior, Figueroa, Bruce, Davies, McShane, Elmohamady, Huddlestone, Meyler, Boyd (Brady, 83), Sagbo. Subs: Jakupovic, Quinn, Koren, Gedo, Proschwitz, Mclean

Bookings: Rosenior, 38, Chiriches, 58, Boyd, 71, Meyler, 76, Dembele, 82.