it was a gem which Spurs should have wrapped up with ease, some tired
play in the second half gave Boro hope of getting something from the
game and left Spurs reliant on the excellence of Paul Robinson's
reflexes and the goalscoring sharpness of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie
With Boro sitting near the
relegation zone, this match saw both sides need the three points
available. For Tottenham, the need to get back amongst winning ways
would be the ideal preparation for the remaining there games of the
The game was not the greatest technical
extravaganza, but it did contain enough entertainment to keep you
gripped right to the end. But then that is typical of Tottenham !!
An early Robbo clearance nearly set Keano away,
but the offside flag pulled him up as he prepared to run onto it.
One thing Spurs have been guilty of this season has been the lack of
concentration in maintaining possession and a loose Didier Zokora pass
let in Yakubu for a shot that didn't unduly trouble Robinson and Ghaly
set up Dimitar for a curling shot that went within Schwarzer's reach.
The Bulgarian should have done better with his next effort in the ninth
minute, but he hit his shot wide, when an on-target one would have
beaten the Boro goalie.
Twelve minutes into the match, Steed Malbranque
played a delicate little pass through to Berbatov, who showed his
languid style by going past Pogatetz and Woodgate on the left and then
dragging the ball back square for Keane to side-foot in past Schwarzer
from about ten yards out. It was a well-crafted goal and
maintained Robbie's good scoring record at the moment.
It might have been 2-0 moments later when a
corner was headed back at the far post by Chimbonda, but Schwarzer
grabbed the ball before it got to Keane. Middlesbrough started to
get the ball down and play, using Viduka to hold up play and trying to
play Yakubu in off him, but the Tottenham defence was bolstered by
Ledley King, who helped marshal the back four effectively. Spurs
were now hitting Boro on the break and Ghaly nearly set-up Berbatov for
a goal, when, halfway through the first half, he took on Taylor before
powering his shot over the top from a narrow angle. The
distribution from Paul Robinson has been a feature of our build-up play
this season and his quick throw-out put Steed away on the left of
midfield and he almost put Hossam Ghaly away, had Downing not tracked
back to intercept.
While the home team got into some promising
positions, their crossing was poor, with a high percentage of them
ending up in the crowd, Robbo's hands or on the heads of the Tottenham
defenders. With Boateng and Pogatetz trying top unsettle the Spurs
midfield with their tough tactics, the passing game made them run a lot
in the heat and Spurs manoeuvred the ball around quite well.
Berbatov's first touch gives him a great advantage over defenders, as
his bringing down of a Dawson clearance showed and he was an inch or two
away from providing Robbie Keane with a second goal, as his cross edged
agonisingly out of the Irish striker's reach.
The two starting up front seem to be developing
a good understanding, but there were times when Dimitar looked at his
partner in disgust when the ball failed to arrive when he was in space
or it sis not arrive in time. However, ten minutes before the
break they combined to play in Zokora, but his shot was curled wide of
the goal, as he sought his first Tottenham goal. A couple of
second half chances went the same way, as Freund Mk II looks like the
bookies safe bet for "goals scored at any time" !!
Boateng had a shot blocked and Cattermole
headed a corner wide, with that being his last contribution to the game,
as Southgate hauled him off with 39 minutes gone, as he was having such
an atrocious game. Straight away the new line-up struck, with a
spell of pressure that saw three crosses cleared before Yakubu laid the
ball back for Mark Viduka to hit a low shot that grazed the outside of
the post as it went off for a goal-kick.
As the teams trooped off at half-time, thoughts
of last week's derby match came back, wondering if it would be a hollow
second half performance by Spurs, that would allow Middlesbrough back
into the game and leave us with nothing from another trip up to the
North-East (as is Tottenham's wont). Within two minutes of coming
back out, it was Tottenham who took the initiative.
Jenas spread the ball out to Hossam Ghaly on
the right wing and his cross was met by Berba with a falling volley on
the edge of the box and the shot nestled neatly in the bottom corner of
the net, leaving Schwarzer helpless to stop it. It was a fine goal
and Ghaly's ball was similar to that which set up Huddlestone's goal at
Manchester City. It makes it all the more frustrating when the
Egyptian shows he can do something like this, yet, a lot of the time, he
concedes possession and does not bother to chase back that hard.
As for Berbatov, he is making a habit of scoring fine goal and let's
hope he continues doing it for us !!
Malbranque's crude challenge on Taylor earned
him a yellow card and from the free-kick, Downing tried to beat Robinson
with a curler, but failed to make him make a save. Boro started to
get a bit desperate, so when Rochemback smacked a long range free-kick
way over the bar, the home crowd started to get a bit restless.
They did try to get their team to attack a bit more, with Spurs looking
like they might be starting to flag in midfield. King got in the
way of a Viduka drive, before Tottenham moved the play to the other end.
Ghaly ran through onto a long ball, but Mark
Schwarzer headed outside of his box, with the Australian keeper having
to make a similar dash from his line as Steed played Keano through.
Robbie tried to lift the ball over the goalie, but in doing so, just
failed to get it on target, when it should really have been the
opportunity to make it 3-0 just ten minutes into the second half.
Just after the hour, it could have been a Boro goal to record, with
Rochemback slipping the ball between two Tottenham players in the area
to Viduka. The Aussie striker did what he does best and turned to
strike an early shot that rose over the bar, luckily for Spurs.
Boro brought on Arca for Davies and pushed
Boateng back to full-back and within a couple of minutes, Stewart
Downing was allowed space and time to put in a right wing cross for
Vidula to get onto the end of with his head and the ball looped lazily
in from about 10 yards out. Robinson was furious ... as he should
have been. There was little pressure on the cross and little
pressure on the header too. He wasn't that happy two minutes
later, although he should have been. Going the wrong way as Viduka
met Boateng's cross well, he changed direction and managed to palm the
ball away with a great save. It was an important save at the time,
but became even more so in the context of the game by the end.
Having left Aaron Lennon on the bench, Martin
Jol decided that with twenty minutes left, it was the time to introduce
him to relieve the pressure building up on our goal. It didn't
work straight away, as Viduka once more tested Robbo's keeping, but the
England Number One pushed aside the fierce drive, then Arca hit the
follow-up into a Spurs body and Dong-Gook Lee fired wide. Another
reprieve came when a Jenas foul on Johnson allowed Rochemback to strike
a fine free-kick that flicked off Zokora to go just wide, even though
the referee awarded a goal-kick. Keane almost scored when put in
by Lennon, but Pogatetz nipped the ball off his toe, but from a
following corner, the ball came out to Jermaine Jenas. He passed
inisde the full back to Lennon on the right and although he took the
ball tight to the line, he pulled a great pass back for Robbie Keane to
lift the ball into the roof of the net as he pulled back from the two
defenders running back to the goal and to make it 3-1 to Tottenham.
Lennon's introduction had proved valuable and gave Spurs the cushion
they were looking for.
With ten minutes left, Boro would be seeking to
make a dent in the lead and then pressure Spurs to get an equaliser.
And so it proved. The pressure built and when a corner was
conceded, Pogatetz rose unchallenged to head home. For the fourth
game running, Spurs had failed to pick up a man and allowed an
unchallenged header to lead to a goal against us. With a minute
and then four added minutes left, Boro aimed to make life difficult for
Tottenham. Rochemback let fly and it flew over with the closest
the home side came to threatening the Spurs goal.
Tottenham didn't get off easy at the end, but
they could have done by not letting in a soft goal and making the last
dew minutes hairy.
Once more, going forward, Spurs looked like a
team who could challenge for the title, but at the back, we looked like
West Ham's poor relations. With injuries to experienced defenders
at the moment, it makes it hard to judge whether there would be a
problem when they come back, but more focus and an awareness of who
players should be marking at set-pieces might make an immediate impact
on our defending.
Still, going away and winning at Boro, where we
don't usually come back with much from. is a result and one which would
have been beneficial if Liverpool hadn't fielded a weakened side against
Portsmouth, allowing the home side to win 2-1 and stay above us.