This game promised more than it actually delivered and when it finished,
with referee Halsey blowing for time to avoid a furore over a foul to
Middlesbrough/corner to Spurs, it was perhaps symptomatic of what had
gone before, as neither team seemed to know how to finish the other off.
A draw seemed the right end result, although Tottenham might be happier
with it than the Smoggies.
sides had reasonable draws the week before, with Spurs betting a point
at Blackburn, while Boro took one off Man U. With Tottenham's form
faltering since the League Cup Final and Middlesbrough only winning one
in seven, it was not the highest of quality on display, but both sides
had a go at going forward and there was a fair bit of goalmouth action.
In fact, Boro might have been ahead as
soon as the second minute, with a sloopy start by Pascal Chimbonda being
the cause. He had already given the ball away and slipped over,
before he lost his footing again and let Gary O'Neil cross to Jeremie
Aliadiere on the edge of the box. He cracked a low shot in first
time and Radek Cerny did well to get down and save, but the ball bounced
off him and Alfonso Alves was first to it to knock it past the stricken
Tottenham keeper. Unfortunately for him, he was offside when the
first shot came in and thus the goal was ruled out.
The warning spurred Tottenham on and they
started to get into the game. A minute later Jermaine Jenas hit a
shot that flew a half a yard over the bar, while Robbie Keane, playing
his 250th game for the club, stood up a cross to the middle of the goal
and Berbatov got his head to it, but put it straight into Schwarzer's
arms. Chimbonda's poor game continued, when Lennon's astute
through pass put him in on the left, only for him to put in a first time
cross that went way over the bar.
With 18 minutes gone, Robbie Keane played
the ball back to Jenas and he broke into the box, but was eased out
wider than he wanted to go by Pogatetz's arm and Schwarzer came out to
block his effort. Jenas, Keane and Hutton linked passes on the
right and Keane's back-heel almost put Lennon in on goal, but was just
Then, the opening goal arrived in the
26th minute. A through ball saw Keane leave it, as he was walking
back from an offside, but Jenas ran past him in the opposite direction
to seize on the opening. However, the ball bounced up high and his
run took him past the ball, but he salvaged something from it, by
nudging it out to Berbatov, who put a high cross into the box.
Coming in from the right wing, Lennon met the ball on the volley and as
it went goalwards, it struck the knee of Jonathan Grounds and took the
ball past Schwarzer.
It was no surprise when Pogatetz received
a yellow card for his umpteenth foul on Hutton, whose pace he could not
deal with. With one goal under the team's belt, Spurs were now
showboating, with flicks and tricks on display, but what they really
needed was a second goal ... but it didn't come. Some good
defending kept the ball away from Cerny and the back four looked pretty
solid in the first half. When Spurs did attack, they worried the
Boro back line and Arca was booked for going through the back of
Berbatov. From the resulting free-kick, Jenas tried his luck and
his luck was out, as it so often seems from dead ball situations since
he scored at Old Trafford last season.
Some half-time promotional prize draw by
the Tomtom sat-nav company saw two enormous red hands prowling around
the perimeter of the pitch. Some cruel wags suggested that they
might be coming to the aid of Mark Schwarzer !!
But Boro bucked their ideas up in the
second half and produced an improved performance which could have taken
the result. Having said that Spurs could have put the result
beyond doubt in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, but the
lack of the killer instinct meant that missed chances came back to haunt
them like a familiar ghost.
After David Wheater headed an O'Neil
corner to the far post, the unlikely figure of Aaron Lennon popped up on
the line to head it away !! It almost served as a kick up the
backside to Tottenham and they broke away with Malbranque setting up
Keane for a shot, that never had enough power to beat the Middlesbrough
goalie. In fact, Keane had a poor game on his landmark appearance.
The blocks from the Spurs players became
more frequent, with Dawson, Woodgate and later Gilberto all throwing
themselves in the way of shots on goal. But then a well worked
move saw Lennon released down the right and his cross reached Dimitar
Berbatov, who got away his shot that hit Pogatetz before leaving
Schwarzer stranded and bounced out off the goal-post.
It was at this point that things went
wrong. Steed made way for Huddlestone and Lennon switched to the
left wing. This is not a tactic that seems to work and even though
the little wide-man got a ball in that just eluded Woodgate and
Berbatov, he was not at his best on that side, when he had the beating
of Grounds on the right wing. On two occasions, it looked like
Zokora might score ... no, really !! He played a couple of return
passes as he burst towards the edge of the box, but the ball was taken
off his toe just as it looked like he might be able to shoot and then a
rocket from 30 yards struck a defender in the head as it seemed to be
arrowing it's way into the top corner.
Tottenham's inability to hold onto a
single goal lead is a worry. The way that Downing picked up the
ball on the left, cut inside moving forward as he went and nobody came
to shut him down, allowed him a shot on goal. When you have a 1-0
lead, anything can happen and the shot must have taken a deflection to
leave Cerny so flat-footed as it hit the back of the net. But
there was nobody to blame other than the players.
It almost got worse, as Boro pressed
forward. A long ball saw Dawson commit himself and the ball bounce
past him, leaving Alves a clean run on goal, but as he went left, with
Cerny closing the angles, he pulled his shot too far by a couple of feet
across the goal and missed the far post. Aliadiere did the same a
few minutes later and Spurs were left with one final chance as Jenas
tapped a free-kick back to Huddlestone to hit a low shot that Schwarzer
spilled and nobody could follow up on.
It was another desperate second half
performance and while the points we have picked up in the last eight
days might be enough to ensure Premier League survival, the prospects
for next season do not seem great unless lessons are learned super
quick. A season of mid-table mediocrity beckons with any more
displays like this, whether or not it is difficult to get "maximum
motivation" for the team to play. On their wages, it should not be
a case of being motivated to play well. That should be a minimum
Ramos needs to spell out to the players
the duty they have to the fans. I am not saying they are not
trying, but that they are not trying hard enough. We all have days when
we don't feel like work, but they are days we have to work through it.
With four games left, perhaps we could try and pick up maximum points as
a minimum target.
It might not happen, but it might show
that Spurs can go out and win games from whatever position we find
themselves in. As that will be a necessity next season.
Otherwise, the fans might make maximum noise to show their displeasure.