While the Stoke City style of play may be effective for their purposes,
it is not to the liking of my taste and from the booing, quite a few
supporters who sat near me, who watched Spurs be bored into a 0-1 defeat
by some of the most blatant gamesmanship seen in many a long year.
Eighteen minutes had passed when the first
instance of time-wasting occurred, to be followed by kicking the ball
away, constant dissent to match officials and when all three Tottenham
substitutions had been made, some rash challenges which saw Aaron Lennon
have to leave the field and leaving Stoke to enjoy the space that ten
men left them to score the winner.
It was only three minutes into Jonathan
Woodgate's return to the middle of the Spurs defence that he sustained
an injury that saw him substituted after 14 minutes, with Michael Dawson
coming on. A long ball to the far post was hit down into the
ground by Etherington and the shot deflected off Kranjcar, taking it
over Gomes, but Woodgate made a brave clearance off the line with
Beattie closing in and they clashed heads before the ball went out for a
corner. Woody staggered off and rejoined play, but it was only
temporarily, as Daws came on and did a good job in his place.
Ledley King had not been selected, perhaps with the Arsenal game in
mind, but it left another new partnership in the middle of the back
four, as Spurs started to build moving forward again.
Stoke were quickly getting two lines of
five back behind the ball and Spurs were aiming towards the far post,
where they hoped to get Peter Crouch in behind the back.
Unfortunately, not all the crossing was of top quality and when they
did, his efforts on goal were kept out one way or another and he had a
good game, but an unlucky one. His first header was looping into
the goal just inside the post until Simonsen, a late replacement for
Sorensen, who went down ill in the warm-up, used his feet well to get
across his goal and push the ball wide.
Kranjcar was coming inside to trouble the
Stoke defence and his rasping shot from outside the box dipped just
before it reached the Potters' keeper and he had to fall on the parried
save to ensure the ball didn't get away from him. Aaron Lennon was
giving the visitors' defence the run around and he picked up the ball on
the right and raced across the pitch as he headed for the corner of the
penalty area, but quickly stopped, sending two defenders to continue
running, before curling a right footer that would have gone in had
Simonsen not made another very good save in the 24th minute. From
the corner, Simonsen did well to knock away the second ball back in
aimed at Crouch, but it dropped in front of Sebastien Bassong, who
volleyed wide from a few yards out beyond the far post. If only it
had fallen to one of our attacking players.
In the 27th minute, Tottenham came even
closer to scoring, with a cross from Lennon on the right finding
Crouch's head and his effort was placed over the keeper and seemingly
into an empty net, but James Beattie came from nowhere and hooked the
ball away before it crossed the line with his left boot. And still
the bad luck dogged Spurs, when, a minute later, as Niko Kranjcar struck
a low shot that beat Simonsen this time, but didn't beat the goal-post,
as the ball bounced off it and away to safety.
Spurs had dealt well with the low
trajectory long-throws of Rory Delap and there had not been another
effort direct on goal after Woodgate's clearance. One of the
worries at the run-around was the lack of success in converting the
chances made in the first period.
Within the first five minutes of the
second half, Tottenham had chances to go ahead. A sloppy foul, one
of many that the over-lenient referee Probert allowed to go unpunished,
as well as taking an hour to speak to the Stoke keeper about taking a
long time over each goal kick, gave Spurs a dead ball situation in a
central possession. Kranjcar took it and hit the target, unlike
Huddlestone and Jenas later, but Simonsen grabbed the ball before Keane
pounced. Then a well worked passing move saw Palacios play Keane
in on the right side of the box and he turned to hit a low shot that
Simonsen stopped and two defenders managed to get away before Crouch
could get to the loose ball in the six yard box.
A warning was handed to Spurs, when a
long cross was won in the air by Beattie and he put it wide, but then
Tottenham had a chance of their own with another Crouch far post header
jointly cleared on the line by the keeper and Beattie, only for the ball
to bounce off another visiting defender to fall into Simonsen's arms.
Pavlyuchenko came on for a disappointing Robbie Keane and he worked a
yard for himself, but hit his shot over the top and then a few minutes
later, the Russian hit one straight at the goalie.
The turning point of the game came when
Stoke substitute Whelan had three goes at kicking Lennon as he took the
ball back towards his own goal, before succeeding in putting him out of
the match and obtaining a yellow card. There was so much foul play
by Stoke that it came as a surprise when Probert eventually booked Diao
for the mildest of his four fouls. Down to ten men and with two
players hobbling after picking up kicks following Lennon's departure,
the consequences of the lack of bookings and the ability to have a go at
a Spurs player, meant that the obvious was coming. Tuncay
manoeuvred around Assou-Ekotto and pulled his shot across the face of
goal before a break down the right saw Fuller turn inside and slip pass
into the path of Whelan, just inside the right hand corner of the area.
He steered his shot past Gomes and into the far side of the goal to give
the Potters a lead with just four minutes left.
Stoke then brought a defender on for a
forward and although Spurs piled forward, with Bassong in midfield and
Dawson up front, the ball would not sit kindly for our players in the
box and when Kranjcar ran across the penalty area and went down under a
challenge, there was no interest from the referee, who had barely given
one outside the area all game.
It was always going to be a tough game,
as Stoke's way is to hustle and give other teams little time to do what
they do best. Sometimes the Tottenham players were knocked off the
ball too easily, sometimes they played with little urgency, but there
were still enough chances to win the game, but on the day it wasn't to
be. Gomes had little to do in comparison with Simonsen, but with
the bulk of possession and opportunities, Tottenham should have won it.
Games like these have always caused us
problems. We still need to learn how to dismantle a packed defence
and although we were lacking the guile of Modric, we need to find a way
to win such matches without him.