Boxing Day used to be typified by a rumbustuous game between two London
sides, so fans didn't have to travel too far. Nowadays, because of
the cost of and the lack of Police cover, the opponents have to come
from outside the capital and thus some of the impetus behind the festive
game is lost. Also, the atmosphere is not the same when the away
club take up their whole allocation, but only sell 60% of it. Vast
tracts of blue seats do not add to the experience and I can sympathise
with Villa fans facing an early start and a long trek down to the Smoke
for a 1.00 p.m. kick off off the back of seven games without a win, but
all it meant was a flat atmosphere and a game of football that hardly
inspired any great excitement.
Villa came and offered exactly what you
thought they would. Organised and hard-working, with some tough
tackling, you could have stuck blue shirts on them with Walkers adverts
on the front and you could have been transported back six years to a
game against Leicester City.
Sometimes, just sometimes, do you ever
think that some people in football are wearing the King's new clothes ?
Martin O'Neill had done well with limited resources at Leicester, but
that doesn't make him a footballing genius. He won the SPL title
and got Celtic to a UEFA Cup final. Fine achievements, but the
quality of the Scottish league, means it is not of the same standing as
the EPL and reaching the UEFA Cup final puts him on the same level as
There is no doubt that he is a good
man-motivator, but are his tactics that hot ? Remember the
deployment of some long-forgotten Leicester defender to stifle David
Ginola in the League Cup Final of 1999 ? Did it result in a
Leicester win ? No. Because it screwed up their own
So, what did we see today ? A side
set up to try to steam-roller through the midfield, with James Nesbitt
look-a-like Gavin McCann playing the role of Robbie Savage. With
Gabriel Agbonlahor trying to knock Ledley King over every time he went
near the ball and having had previous for going down under challenge at
Villa Park to win a penalty, his frequent flopping led to Uriah Rennie
being sucked into giving him a series of cheap free-kicks. Milan
Baros was the darting Steve Claridge, Gary Cahill starred as Matt
Elliott, Olaf Mellberg as Steve Walsh and Craig Gardner as Neil Lennon.
Luckily for Spurs, the result was not the
same as many of those games against the Foxes, as we have moved on.
Not a long way in some respects, but in others, light years.
I always thought Villa were a lot like
Spurs. Played decent football, but under-achieved.
Now, with a big money backer and a top
name manager, the Midlands club need to step up a gear. Whether
the club are up to it is something to be judged in a few years time.
But on this performance, there is much work to do for Martin O'Neill.
Martin Jol has done a real job on
Tottenham. There is still some way to go for us until we are the
finished article, but his achievements in the two years he has been in
charge should not be under-estimated.
What Villa achieved today was to bring
Tottenham down to their level. Both sides were sloppy, conceded
possession cheaply and often, while they managed to make the midfield a
war-zone instead of an area where good football was created.
The turning point in the game might have
come just after the half hour when Berbatov went on a run into the heart
of the penalty area. With the open space in front of him, it must
have looked inviting, but Mellberg and Hughes converged to stop him, but
failed to prevent Berba getting a shot on goal that Kiraly held.
Unfortunately, the two claret shirted defenders crashed into each other
and the former Newcastle man had to be helped from the pitch, while
Mellberg limped on until half-time (having done the same in trying to
stop Defoe, when he slid into Barry), when he was replaced by Bouma and
the ineffective Petrov by Isaiah Osbourne, with the defence being
While neither Hughes nor Mellberg had
been that effective, they were used to playing together and the new men
allowed Spurs the ability to cash in on the gaps that were left in the
final third. But Tottenham had failed to trouble the loon panted
Villa loan keeper in the first half, with only Hud's long range bomb
making him tip the ball over the top. The Palace goalie managed to
stop Berbatov's low shot with his legs, after a delightfully played pass
over the defence had picked out the Bulgarian striker just before the
break. Then again, Robbo only had a Gardner drive from 30 yards to
deal with and he dropped on it to pull it into his chest.
With both sides turning over possession,
perhaps it was not surprising that the match stats showed 50% each, but
the match was being played out in the middle of the park.
However, when the Spurs goals came, they
were good ones. Though Villa claimed offside against Berbatov as
the ball was played forward after a clearance from the visiting defence,
Dimitar slipped the ball into Defoe on the right edge of the box and he
took the ball on a stride, before sweeping his shot across Kiraly and
into the bottom left corner of the net. It had taken 57 minutes,
but at last there was some light at the end of the tunnel.
With a quarter of an hour left, Robinson
launched the ball forward and Berba won the header, flicking it on
towards the Villa goal. Defoe raced onto it on the left hand side
of the box and smashed an unstoppable shot past Kiraly without
hesitation. It was a confident piece of finishing, which has come
from a successful run in the side and we are now seeing the Defoe we
While Tottenham had gone into a 2-0 lead,
it was suddenly a bit nervy as Gareth Barry forged into the box and ran
across it, without a decent challenge on him. While he shrugged
off Michael Dawson, looking like it might be a foul, he was left with
the opportunity to put the ball past Robinson from six yards out.
This heralded an new tactic from Villa
for the last ten minutes. The ball was launched high into the
Tottenham goalmouth at every opportunity and Robbo punched clear under
pressure from McCann and Jol brought on Davenport for Defoe,
specifically to counter this line of attack. It failed to pay off,
as Tottenham defended in numbers with Berbatov back doing his share of
defensive heading duties.
So, another three points and three which
might have been lost in the past. The need for home points is
heightened by our poor away form and maybe that will change, but we
stand in seventh place and just imagine where we could have been had we
picked up even a few more away points.