When a team turn up at White Hart Lane dressed as Watford, there is
little more than they can expect other than a defeat and a consolation
goal, as Spurs finally began their season with the best forty five
minutes so far, followed by a period when they had the old "what do we
do to defend a three-goal lead" syndrome.
The three points were vital in any attempt
to try and get away from the bottom of the table, but the performance
was equally as important after two dodgy cup showings away from home.
It is an unusual feeling to be writing
about a Spurs performance that was sparkling and we have waited a long
time to see the team play like this. However, it wouldn't be the
same without an early scare and it came when Higginbotham put in a free
kick from the left and it came in at the near post, where James Beattie
failed to get a decent touch on it and it went through comfortably to
Carlo Cudicini, who was making his debut after signing on a free
transfer this week.
In Tottenham's first attack, Modric
shifted the ball away from the Stoke defender in front of him and tried
to put his shot on target, but missed the goal by a yard, when he should
really have worked Sorensen in the away goal. Especially when the
Tottenham goal came under threat when Matthew Etherington, returning to
the scene of his spat with the Spurs crowd when a Tottenham player,
curled in a right wing corner and Shawcross got his head to it first,
but Dawson's challenge was enough to make him miss the target.
Then, when Dawson headed away a long ball
through into the Stoke half, Jermain Defoe controlled it on his chest,
bringing the ball down and ran at his marker. Cutting back inside,
the striker threaded a pass wide left to where Aaron Lennon was playing,
as Bentley had begun on the right. Lennon took on Wilkinson on the
outside, but the defender had not pushed him wide enough and as Aaron
ran into the box, he hit a low left footer that went through Thomas
Sorensen's legs and should have done better with the shot.
Whatever you say about Lennon's final ball, there is no doubting that he
makes life difficult for defences and when he gets into the box, he is a
player who can finish himself.
The early goal was what Spurs needed to
give them confidence, but we had seen that even that can evaporate away
as United came back with two quick goals to seal their win. The
expected threat from set-pieces started to be realised, with Delap's
first long throw being cleared away by Jonathan Woodgate, then the
Etherington-Shawcross pairing worked again from a free-kick, but the
header flew too high. Sloppy play gave the ball away and Beattie
went past Assou-Ekotto, but hurried the shot that went into the
With twenty minutes gone, Spurs scored a
goal that was expertly crafted. Pavlyuchenko held the ball up and
played it to Zokora, who slipped it inside to Modric. The Croatian
returned a pass to Roman and his astute assist played Defoe in on the
right hand side of the penalty spot and his powerful drive went in the
narrow side to his right, with Sorensen dropping to the floor the other
way. It was the sort of goal we were scoring for fun last season.
but have been harder to come by this time around.
Tottenham were in the ascendancy with
another shot testing Sorensen from Bentley's free-kick, which would have
gone in under the bar had the keeper not palmed it over. With a
corner, it was worked short by Bentley to Modric and Luka put a left
footed cross into the six yard box, where Michael Dawson lost his marker
and powered a free header into the net. Team-mates swamped him as
they celebrated a 3-0 lead with 25 minutes gone. But, as we well
know, a 3-0 lead is a most dangerous one for Spurs. So, they
decided to try and extend it, with Lennon setting up Defoe for a shot on
goal from inside the penalty area that beat the goalie, but Wilkinson
was at his side to kick the ball away before it got to the line.
Bentley showed his willingness to get
stuck in a bit more and clattered Higginbotham, getting a yellow card,
which rules him out of the Arsenal match, while the Stoke defender
wreaked his revenge when he went straight through the Spurs number 5 in
what could easily have been a red instead of a yellow card. It was
an intriguing performance by Mike Riley, who seemed to accept that
Stoke's game is based on muscle and every time the ball was played up to
Lennon, Defoe or Pavlyuchenko, they were hit from behind with varying
force, but the ref allowed their physical approach to go unpunished on
A scramble from a corner fell to Corluka,
whose shot was blocked, then Defoe hit the ball as it dropped and
Sorensen was down at his post to block the effort. Lennon had
another shot deflected wide, while that was the end destination of
Pavlyuchenko's shot after his left foot had hit it across the goalie.
Stoke added a bit more fight to the team
after the break, when they brought on Andy Griffin and Ricardo Fuller,
the two players who were involved with each other in a clash at West
Ham. Griffin was joined when Sonko came on at the break to shore
up the defence. Spurs had a couple of shots in the early stages,
with Roman making room for himself to get a shot on target, but it was
well saved by Sorensen, then five minutes after the break, Carlo
Cudicini was called upon to make the first decent save of his Spurs
career. It was straight at him from Beattie's free-kick, but it
bounced just in front of him, but he held it securely.
However, in the 57th minute, Stoke broke
down the left after Dawson had a pass intercepted by Delap.
Etherington got in on left and knocked the ball across the box to
Beattie where he took a quick touch and then rifled a shot back across
the Spurs keeper low into the far corner to make it 3-1.
Would the nerves return to scupper
Tottenham's hopes of a much needed win ?
Well, a free-kick from outside the Stoke
box was curled narrowly wide into the side-netting by David Bentley,
then, just as Corluka got forward and looked like he was about to get a
shot away, he was tackled well by Sonko. Stoke tried to pile on
some pressure with throws and crosses into the box, but Tottenham dealt
with them well by defenders heading them away or Cudicini coming for
them, dropping only one, which he regained possession of.
With five minutes remaining, Andy Griffin
swung in a cross from the right wing and for once, Cresswell lost Dawson
and got a free header on the ball, but he put too much glance on it and
missed the goal completely from about ten yards out.
With Tottenham taking the steam out of
the last few minutes, it left Stoke chasing something from the game, but
they were unable to force any mistakes out of the home side's defence,
as this might have been the only way they could get something back.
They were playing poorly and it is not hard to see how they have dropped
from a position of safety. As for Tottenham, their first half
performance was enough to take the points and it is a step in the right
direction, but one which needs to be followed up with another. An
away trip to Bolton is perhaps not the most inviting prospect, but it
will show how determined Spurs are to get some return from games like
Away from home, the team still have a lot
to prove. Wins are still needed, so the three points will be in
another crunch game, which most of them will be until the end of the