Never has a team come to White Hart Lane looking for a point more than
Portsmouth did today and I am happy to announce that they didn't get
what they came for. With two goals, albeit late ones, Spurs
ensured that the negative approach adopted by Hangdog Harry Redknapp -
even without a few first choice players - did not achieve the aim of a
team pushing for a UEFA Cup place in the league and an FA Cup Final
Tottenham dominated the
first half to such an extent that it was surprising that one of the best
chances in the first 45 minutes fell to Portsmouth, when Spurs old boy
Sean Davis produced a fine chip over Paul Robinson, which the keeper did
well to back-peddle to touch over the bar.
However, by that time, Tottenham should
have been goals ahead. Too often the crowded final third and
Pompey's tactic of sticking a man in front of the back four and then
another in front of their midfield four made it difficult for Tottenham
to penetrate. Aaron Lennon was finding some good possession on the
right, but his final ball was not always what was required. One
early cross saw Chimbonda challenge David James for the ball and the
danger was cleared when Distin came in to knock the ball away with his
Keane turned to run onto a pass in the
area from Huddlestone, but his slow shot was straight at the keeper and
then when Tom tried his luck with a 25 yard free-kick, the shot beat the
wall but was straight at James in the centre of the goal. It was
just after the quarter hour mark that Davis produced his moment of
skill, but the save by Robbo kept it out and the corner came to nothing.
Even Keane's party piece of hiding behind the goalpost as James was
about to clear by dropping the ball on the floor to kick upfield, Robbie
almost got to the ball before the Pompey crowd behind him managed to
attract his attention and prevent Keane opening the scoring. And
when a cross was cleared up in the air to the edge of the box, Pascal
Chimbonda watched it studiously come down and struck a firm volley that
left James standing and fizzed inches past the goalkeeper's left hand
Lennon was showing some nice tricks to
get around the plainly out of his depth Aubey, who I had never heard of
before and on this form might never again. One low ball in was
cleared at the near post and it dropped for Jonathan Woodgate to strike,
but his shot went way over the top. Things were beginning to
frustrate Tottenham, as the massed ranks of blue shirts in front of them
showed no intention of being pulled out of their defensive shape.
When Huddlestone fed Robbie Keane and he played Berbatov through, the
Bulgarian rounded James expertly to slide the ball into an empty net,
but the lineman's flag had been raised a while before he shot across the
One moment of anxiety arrived when Kanu
muddled his way into the box on the left hand side of their attack and
pulled the ball across the face of goal with no blue shirt on hand to
touch it home. Thank goodness Defoe was in the crowd, as he might
have been odds on to score that one. As it was the ball passed
across the box and was taken away by Chimbonda.
With Tottenham's next attack, they almost
broke the deadlock with a corner that dropped invitingly to Michael
Dawson, who took a touch and took his time to fire a shot on goal that
had such power that after it had struck the crossbar, it rebounded out
to the part of the pitch beyond the penalty area. Another chance
came when Hutton played a low ball into the box and it came to to Keane.
Robbie put it through to Berbatov and the striker size dup his options,
but could only curl it wide of the goal, with James unable to move.
It was a great chance and one which might have opened up the game with
ten minutes to go before the break.
With time running out until the half-time
whistle, Tom Huddlestone almost produced a wonder goal, when Aaron
Lennon's corner was headed out and Hud hit it back at goal first time,
with a full-bloodied volley, but it missed the target by not a lot.
Shots on target were what was needed, but
Lennon's first action of the second half was a long run and a cut
inside, only to hit a weak bobbling effort wide of the goal as the
weather changed for the worse. But it should have been to
Tottenham's advantage ... playing in all white in the snow !!
It really needed a piece of inspiration,
luck or a late run from someone into the area for Spurs to break the
stranglehold that Portsmouth gripped this game with. Their
defensive formation did not allow the free-flowing football that we had
seen of late, but like an envelope asking me to watch your TV for all
the big programmes, it sealed up any sparkle in Tottenham's performance
and threatened to get stuck in the post.
Spurs were being thwarted by some
desperate last ditch defending and when it looked as though Robbie might
score, his shot from inside the box was relieved of all it's sting when
Distin got a foot in the way, making it easy for James. Things did
not get a lot better soon after Bent and O'Hara came on for Lennon and
Michael Dawson, as the young midfielder was in a good shooting position,
but pulled his shot harmlessly wide.
In fact, the substitution nearly blew up
in Ramos' face, when an aimless long ball evaded the defence and with
Robinson looking for off-side against Kanu, the Nigerian carried on and
nodded the ball over the keeper, who made a late rush out to confront
him, but the header lacked power and the diligent Zokora was covering
such an event and was on hand to hack the ball away from a yard out in
front of an empty net. It was a nervy moment, but four minutes
later Tottenham were ahead and were not to look back.
The ball bounced around the Portsmouth
penalty area. Malbranque headed back into the edge of the area and
Dimitar Berbatov looked to drill in a volley, but got it wrong and the
ball bounced up off the floor and as it looped into the air, Darren Bent
made sure he got to it first and nodded it past a flat-footed James from
close range. It was the bit of luck Tottenham needed to get past
the defensive line-up the visitors had constructed in front of goal.
And it was good for Bent to score for the second time in three home
games, as he has had little opportunity to show what he can do.
And when Tottenham did play to his
strengths, he did well. A minute later, a long ball beyond
Hriedarsson in the right back position found Bent racing away beyond
him. Taking the ball down and running to the by-line, Darren
thoughtfully pulled the ball back into the six yard box, where Robbie
Keane missed it at the ear post, but coming into the middle of the box
with a late run, Jamie O'Hara steered the ball into the net under
pressure and with Johnson on the goal-line. It was a well-worked
goal, with Bent showing strength and presence of mind to put someone
else in with a goal-scoring opportunity.
His part in the lead was obviously the
confidence boost Bent needed, as he had two more shots on goal before
the end. One blocked by Hriedarsson and one into James' chest,
while he was also through and tried to square the ball to Berbatov.
Hopefully, it will prove to be a bit of a turning point for him in his
Credit must be given to Juande Ramos for
the double substitution that changed the game and going with three at
the back, with Zokora helping out there, when Keane dropped back a
little to allow Bent to play up front. It certainly seemed to be
the change that brought about the goals the team had been searching for
up until that point.
Perhaps missing S.Cumball, Defoe, Papa
Dioup and Muntari made Redknapp adopt a more pragmatic formation in
trying to stop Spurs, who have been free-scoring, but in the end, it
might only have kept the score down. James was not tested enough,
as the home side found it hard to find a yard's space to get shots in on
goal, but the volleys on goal and Dawson's crossbar hit in the first
half, coupled with some good breaks into the box without any telling
final ball, showed Tottenham were desperate to win this game.
If they can keep that going for the rest
of the season, it will be a tough job for Ramos to decide who he might