In a match that featured a dull first half, you could hardly have
guessed what was to come after the break, with a quick goal, a sending
off, a penalty and a winning goal leaving Spurs triumphant 2-1 winners
over the remaining ten men of the Stokies.
With injuries in all parts of the squad,
Harry Redknapp deployed Younes Kaboul as the destructive midfielder,
chosen ahead of Palacios. In attack, the two first picks of Peter
Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko lined up at the kick off, with Crouch's
height no doubt in Harry's mind to help out the defence at City's
set-pieces. And it was a combination of Gomes, Bassong, Dawson and
Crouch's defending that stopped Rory Delap's flat long-throws causing
the problems they usually do. One of the keeper's charges to clear
was reminiscent of last season, as he collided with Corluka, low down
this time and no stretcher was required for the Croatian, as he just
bumped into his goalie.
As early as inside the first minute the
Irish midfielder was at it, slinging in a long throw that Dawson was
there to head away. Not all the clearances were as effective as
others, with Gomes having to come through a crowd of players to punch
and some of the headed clearances not going too far, but there were no
direct threats from either the throws of corners that Stoke had.
It is a shame the referee did not defend Gareth Bale a bit more in the
first half, when the home team's player seemed intent on putting him out
of the game with three or four heavy tackles on him; some of which were
punished with free-kicks, but not with cards. In the home league
match, the Stoke winner came after they had removed Aaron Lennon from
the game and maybe the wing play of the Welshman was too much of a
threat to allow to go un-hindered. Fuller did get booked for a
crude hack at Bale as he ran away from him, with Whitehead picking up a
yellow later for a similarly rash challenge on Modric in midfield.
It took 18 minutes for a Spurs shot in
anger to reach the Stoke goal, when Pav laid the ball into Nike
Kranjcar's path to hit a low shot that Sorensen got behind but could not
hold. Although Crouch was homing in on the loose ball, the Danish
keeper got up to grab it first. Halfway through the first half,
there was a chance at the other end, when Gomes fisted a corner away,
but not far, with Whelan helping the ball back into the area, where
Kitson flicked it on and Abdoulaye Faye reacted to get his head to it
and if it had been on target, Heurelho might have been troubled.
Luckily, the ball flew wide off the midfielder's head. Ten minutes
from half-time the Brazilian keeper had to dive across his goal to palm
out a Kitson header, but it looked a s though it was going wide.
Roman had been holding the back of his
thigh for a little while and in the 36th minute was replaced by Eidur
Gudjohnsen, as Spurs began to run out of strikers. He was involved
in a move just before half-time that saw Gareth Bale released down the
left and as he got into the penalty area, the long leg of Faye extended
to nick the ball away from him with a very well-timed tackle.
Going into added time a couple of good chances arose, but were not
Fuller muscled Bassong off the ball and
went into the box, but produced a powder puff shot straight at Gomes,
while a 30 yard free kick at the other end failed to trouble Sorensen,
as Bale dipped it too late as it went over the bar.
The interval saw no change in personnel,
nor in the weather as the rain continued. What did change was the
score-line ... within just 20 seconds of the re-start. Spurs
kicked off. lost the ball, got it back and Crouch dinked a little pass
over the Stoke defenders for Gudjohnsen to chase, out-pace them and then
strike a powerful rising shot past Sorensen to give him no chance and
give to Spurs the lead.
Things sot quickly worse for Stoke within
a couple of minutes, when Modric ran through the middle of the pitch and
into the centre circle, where Dean Whitehead blocked his progress and as
he got up from the challenge, he found himself facing a second yellow
card and a red to follow. The extra space produced by the sending
off should have been to Tottenham's liking. Modric immediately
looked more effective with a darting run that ended with a shot from 18
yards out, which required Sorensen to dive down to his left to keep out.
The chances were coming Tottenham's way
more regularly now, with Kaboul skying a couple high into the stand,
Kranjcar having a low shot blocked and Assou-Ekotto fired in a shot from
a clearance that took a flick off a Stoke player, otherwise it might
have nestled in the bottom of the net. A cross from Kaboul on the
right was almost met by the head of Bale, but it looked as tough a red
and white shirted defender was pushing him as he came in, making him
miss the ball.
With 62 minutes on the clock, a
speculative ball into the area from the left found Benoit climbing on
Kitson's back and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. A
booking for the Cameroonian, but more importantly a chance for the home
team to equalise. And Etherington took the kick, slotting it the
other way to Gomes' dive to hit the net.
Playing against ten men has never been
Tottenham's forte, but they needed to knuckle down, hold the ball and
make Stoke do the hard work. 11 minutes remaining and Corluka puts
in a poor header at a Stoke corner and the ball drops nicely for Delap
to shoot at goal, but he dragged the shot across the goal front and
Ricardo Fuller was there to shoot at goal. How he managed to get
it over the top when only three yards out is anyone's guess.
It proved a costly miss, as in the 77th
minute, Tottenham worked the ball down the left and Assou-Ekotto on the
over-lap put a low ball back to Gudjohnsen in the box. The
Icelander stepped over the ball for Niko Kranjcar coming in behind him
to smash the ball home from 13 yards out. It was a well-created
goal and one worthy of the way Spurs played towards the end of the game.
However, it wouldn't be Tottenham if they
didn't do things the hard way, but a leave by Dawson and a weak
back-header by Bassong left Sibide in and the big striker failed to make
much contact on the ball as Gomes came out to meet him. And with
that the opportunity to get anything from the game disappeared.
In truth, Stoke deserved little from the
game. When they did pass the ball, they looked more dangerous, but
they fell back on the set plays from dead balls and Spurs had a tactic
to counter it with Crouch's height at the heart of the ploy.
Even with a wobble at the end, Spurs
looked confident in their own ability and while the past might have seen
Tottenham taken apart as "Southern Softies", they stood firm, even with
a lot of players missing from the team.
The three points keep Spurs fourth, but
they have a tough programme to come and need to keep things going to
have a chance of being there at the end of the season.