For all the domination of the first half Tottenham had, they entered the
half-time break just a goal ahead at 3-2 and faced an onslaught in the
second half, as Stoke City pushed in vain for an equaliser, with the
three points staying in London with no further score in the match.
And it was a match that Tottenham needed to
win after faltering in the league and losing on Tuesday in the Champions
League. With some tired legs, it was not surprising that the first
half display was full of verve, but with the heat from the blazing sun,
the Spurs thrust faded and Stoke came into the game the longer it went
on and their particular brand of football tested the resolve of the
Tottenham defence to the limit.
Spurs started by moving the ball around
confidently and Luka Modric stood on the ball as he went through and
then Jermaine Pennant stuck his foot in on Bale after the ball had gone,
after Wilkinson had deliberately run in Bale's path as he went to
receive a return pass. Kevin (the Stoke player's) Friend decided
to take no action in either case. A second tackle by Pennant on
Bale brought a talking to and no booking.
It took five minutes for Spurs to have a
shot on goal and when it came, it was the midfield duo of Huddlestone
and Modric that created the chance for Bale to come inside from the left
wing to a central position, from where he hit a left foot shot that
Begovic had to dive down to his left to save. Bale was a handful
on the left and he left Wilkinson for dead, as he whipped a low ball
into the near post and as Pav went for it, Robert Huth slid in just
before him to kick it out for a corner. However, in the 11th
minute, Stoke could do nothing to stop Tottenham take the lead.
A short corner saw Pavlyuchenko cross to
the far post, where Peter Crouch went some way to redeeming himself for
the midweek sending off at the Bernabeu by getting above Ryan Shawcross
to powerfully head into the net past Begovic. It was a classic
Crouch goal, but one scored with his head ... sometimes a rarity for the
big man !!
At this stage, Stoke were struggling to
get into the game, as Spurs were picking off their passes and picking up
the loose balls, leaving the Potters frustrated and having to chase back
for a large proportion of the time. It took until the 18th minute
before Tottenham breached the Stoke defence again and it was a
well-crafted goal when it came. Pav was again the creator with a
little ball into Modric's path on the left side of the box and the
little magician shifted the ball away from Huth as he came in, giving
him enough time to slide the ball under Begovic and through his legs
from a narrow angle for 2-0.
The bright beginning continued with Spurs
working the ball wide to try to pinpoint Crouch's head or played through
the mass of red and white striped shirts in the middle to see if there
was a way through to the penalty area that route. However, in the
27th minute, Spurs were undone and it was old boy Matthew Etherington
who scored to get Stoke back in the game. A high ball out of
defence saw Charlie Corluka get stuck underneath it, leaving Etherington
to take control of the ball on the halfway line, before he knocked it
past Dawson and was involved in a foot race with Tom Huddlestone.
Having just come back from a long time out, Tom kept up with him to the
penalty area, but once there, the Stoke winger got to the line and had
Jones available to pull it back to, but he went alone and as Gomes
dived, Etherington stuck the ball across him and into the net to make
the margin 2-1.
Stoke's physicality knows no bounds and
as Crouch went for a van der Vaart touch on, he went down under a shove
from Huth, with the ball nowhere near and it ran through to Begovic,
with Friend waving play on. It was something he chose to do all
afternoon, regardless of the severity of the offence and did not go back
to book players when he did eventually stop the game. However, it
didn't worry Spurs, who continued to play their game and the expansive
passing lead to the third goal.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto had the ball on the
left and knocked it across the width of the pitch to Corluka on the
right flank. The Croat knocked it back on the volley to
Huddlestone and the big midfielder crossed first time to the far post,
where Crouch got the jump on Shawcross once more for a header that hit
the back of the net in the middle of the goal. At 3-1, it looked
like Spurs would go on and score more in the game, but four minutes from
half-time, Spurs were the architects of their own downfall
Playing a long spell of passes to keep
possession and calm things down a little, the ball was played up to
Gareth Bale on the halfway line and he had it nicked off him, with it
running to Kenwyne Jones, who took the ball to the edge of the penalty
box and thumped the life out of it as Gomes had no chance in stopping it
flying into the top left corner of his goal. It was a cracking shot, but
one which we should have avoided by keeping possession away from the
other side and by playing the game in the other half.
With a total of four minutes to add on
for nothing more than the time wasting Stoke had been employing,
Tottenham did play the game in the right third for the rest of the half,
but at 3-2, the game was on a knife edge for the coming second half.
Stoke started the better and with
Tottenham getting pulled into situations where fouls were conceded and
the referee was getting suckered into giving them, it piled pressure up
on the back four. Gomes punched one free-kick away and Huth was
penalised for lurching into a Spurs defender, then the Tottenham keeper
had to be alert when Pennant tried to beat him at his near post with a
free-kick from out on the Stoke right in the 50th minute. from the
goal-kick, Tottenham went up the other end and Pavlyuchenko took the
ball into the area, but could not get his shot on target, powering it
into the side netting as he took it left. Then the moment arrived,
when it looked like Stoke had scored again. Jones went past
Assou-Ekotto on the Tottenham left and got to the dead-ball line,
pulling it back, waist high across the goal, beating Gomes with his
cross in the 53rd minute. It left Jonathan Walters the simple task
of putting the ball into an empty net from a yard out, but he had to
stretch for the ball and with goal written all over it, the word post
must have been on the other side of the ball, as it smacked against the
upright and was kicked away. It was an amazing miss and one which
may be important at both ends of the table at the end of the season.
Ten minutes after half-time, Pennant went
into the book at last, for another foul - this time on Benoit, while in
front of goal, the sides exchanged missed opportunities from headers,
with Pav diving to meet Bale's cross and not being able to run it enough
to hit the target, while Jones got above Dawson to head Pennant's cross
wide of the goal in the 58th minute.
66 minutes had gone when Rafael van der
Vaart curled in a corner and Begovic grabbed it, but falling backwards
fumbled the ball and Pav was on hand to smash it high into the net, only
to hear Friend come to Stoke's aid by blowing his whistle to give a foul
by Kaboul, who went up with the keeper. Five minutes later,
Begovic did better when Pav hit a pile-driver of a shot from 2r5 yards
out and the keeper could only beat it out.
Gomes had to dive low to get behind a
half-hit Pennant shot in the 73rd minute, while a long ball was headed
down to Jones to crack a shot at goal from 27 yards out and the
Brazilian stopper did well to get a strong palm on the ball to take it
over the bar, as it looked like it might dip under it. As
expected, the triple substitution by Pulis was intended to give a late
intensity to the game by piling the ball into the Tottenham box.
Time after time, it came in from open
play or dead ball, with Huth insistent on trying to pull Gomes away when
hew as trying to go for the ball and Gomes made sure he was getting
something onto the ball ... usually a good punch. When he didn't
Peter Crouch was there to put in some important defensive clearing
headers to protect the lead. And on the other occasion Gomes
didn't punch, he caught a high cross and then Friend finally blew the
final whistle to hand the three points to Tottenham and to hand Stoke a
worrying time, as they seek to stop their slump towards the danger zone.
It was perhaps a more substantive win
than the score-line suggests, but the score does not tell lies and the
way the two goals were conceded were of worry, with the defence
contributing to both. However, it was good to see Huddlestone back
today, taking the ball off the back four and linking with the forwards
through the midfield with his deft passing.
The partnership of Pav and Crouch, while
an unlikely one, looked to have some merit and the movement with van der
Vaart and Modric coming through from midfield caused Stoke problems
until they tired.
While not well-received by certain
sections of the crowd who thought this was a poor Tottenham performance,
it was a much needed win that will hopefully spark a run like at the end
of last season that took us to the Champions League. Once more and
without the breach and it might happen again !!