|DATE||Saturday 29th December 2012|
|VENUE||Stadium of Light|
While Sunderland put in an all action closing game against Manchester City in their 1-0 win, Spurs had a bit of a stroll against Aston Villa winning 4-0 without too much effort. So, Tottenham's trip to the far North-East will be an interesting match-up with a Sunderland side, who had been flirting with the bottom three, but after a good run of three wins out of four and three clean sheets, the Wearsiders will be looking to maintain their good run of results. As will Spurs, who boast only one defeat in the last seven matches.
Belgian keeper Simon Mingolet took a while to adapt to the needs of Premier League football, but has now been part of the reason the defence have kept a run of clean sheets. Can make good reflex stops, but sometimes, he leaves his near post open and one on one, he sometimes does not get out quick enough to narrow the angles.
The defence in front of him could contain Titus Bramble, although he is more likely to be on the bench and with Wes Brown out with a knee injury until after the New Year, Sunderland will be lacking a few defensive options as Spurs defender Danny Rose will not be eligible to play against them, because of the conditions of his loan. Rugged defender Phil Bardsley will probably be the one to cover for Rose, but he lacks the attacking option the Spurs man offers and will be deployed to try and force Lennon out of the game. Matthew Kilgallon and Carlos Cuellar have been the preferred central defensive pairing recently and with John O'Shea doubtful as he has been ill over Christmas, they will probably be selected and while they are capable in the air, the movement of Adebayor and Defoe might be too much for them, especially with Bale breaking through the middle more these days.
In midfield, Sunderland have former Gooner Sebastian Larsson is a dead ball expert and has a fierce shot from range, while the industry could come from fringe players such as Jack Colback and David Vaughan, both who usually start on the bench. Skilful winger Adam Johnson has been struggling to settle since his move form Manchester City and Spurs were interested in him a year or so ago, but he scored the winner against his old club earlier this week and can produce some tricky wing-play.
The one that Sunderland have high hopes for is Irishman James McClean. A headstrong young man, he has upset people by not wearing a poppy on his short for Remembrance Day and changing his allegiance from North to South in Ireland in international terms. Made a big impact on his introduction into the Sunderland first team last season, but has faded from the limelight a little. A strong boy, his running from midfield (or sometimes full back) can make him a dangerous opponent. Prone to rushes of blood, he may be a little bit of a liability on occasion.
Benin international midfielder Stephane Sessignon is the main creative danger from midfield and can also get up to support the forwards, but with Lee Cattermole out injured until after New Year, that only leaves former Aston Villa battler Craig Gardner to fill the gap, although he is better at free-kicks than Cattermole.
With the main goal-scoring threat for the Black Cats coming from Steven Fletcher, he will need to be carefully watched, as he is in good form and also looks to have developed from the crash and bash striker he was with Wolves into a forward who can deftly take a chance as well as use the power he possesses. Two old faces in the shape of Frazier Campbell and Louis Saha are in the Sunderland squad. Campbell was on loan at Spurs and then moved to Sunderland after his return to Old Trafford, but has been hit by injury and has had limited opportunities in the side, while Saha was let go by Spurs and has been used primarily as a substitute for Sunderland and is yet to score for his new club ... always a dangerous situation and a prime case of the "ex" factor. Other options up front are Korean Dong-won Ji, who hasn't featured this season; the journeyman free transfer capture James McFadden, who managed to pop up and played for Everton against us last season and the youngster they signed from Ipswich Town - Conor Wickham, who hasn't had the chance to show what he can do, but is a strong forward on the ball and a good goal-scorer, but he hasn't been handled well since leaving East Anglia.
Having turned in a performance full of attacking promise against a shell-shocked Villa, Tottenham now have to do it against a team with more confidence and with a good defensive record. The attacking threat on the wings are the main ones that could open up Sunderland, but if they double up on Lennon and Bale, Spurs need to use the power of Dembele through the middle and need good movement off the ball to try and create space to move into around the box.
Three points would round off a very successful period of the season up the New Year, but Sunderland will not roll over and let Spurs play as Villa did, so expect a packed midfield of red and white striped shirts and the Spurs players spending most of the game trying to break through it. For that reason (and knowing Martin O'Neill), I predict the year's games will end with a point apiece.
|PREDICTION||Sunderland 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1|
|Click here for more info on opponents - stats v thfc , history, etc.|
Danny Rose cannot play as he is on loan from Spurs, while Wes Brown and Lee Cattermole are both out until next year with knee injuries. John O'Shea has been ill recently, so might not be fit to be included in the match day squad just yet.
HOTSPUR TEAM NEWS :
Spurs will be missing Younes Kaboul, but Clint Dempsey's groin injury and Tom Huddlestone's knee injury have both improved to allow them to be ready for consideration, as will be Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who has got fit after his knee surgery. Mousa Dembele took a knock at Aston Villa, but is available and Scott Parker has featured in the last three matches, so could get a start if Andre Villas-Boas rests one of the midfield.
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Sunderland 1 (1)
Saturday 29th December 2012
Venue : Stadium of Light
Tottenham Hotspur 2 (0)
Kick off 15:00
Cuellar (o.g.) 48
Cuellar (foul on Lennon) 47
Dawson (foul on Sessegnon) 69
Dembele (foul on Gardner) 78
Bale (diving) 81
|Crowd : 41,168||Weather : Rainy during the game|
|Referee : Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire)||Assistant Referees : Mr. S. Burt; Mr. P. Kirkup|
|Fourth Official : Mike Dean||-|
|Spurs kicked off and played towards the Metro Radio Stand in the first half.|
|Sunderland :||kit||Tottenham Hotspur :||kit|
Matthew KILGALLON ( 9
Frazier CAMPBELL 62)
14 Jack COLBACK
26 Steven FLETCHER
Scott PARKER 83)
|Manager : Martin O'Neill||Manager : Andre Villas-Boas|
|Sponsor : Invest In Africa||Shirt sponsor : Aurasma|
|Kit Supplier : adidas||Kit Supplier : Under Armour|
Three minutes at the start of the second half decided this match in Tottenham's favour with two goals giving them the win after going in at half-time a goal behind, which came much against the run of play as Sunderland tried to maintain their reputation as a tight defensive outfit, but failed to keep another clean sheet.
With Michael Dawson and Steven Caulker being paired in the middle of the defence, the rest of the team was as it has been of late and Sunderland lined up with one player up front - Steven Fletcher. From the line-ups, you might have been able to predict how the game would go.
Spurs kicked off and the play went mainly towards the Sunderland goal for much of the first half. With Lennon giving Kilgallon an awful time turning him one way and then another on the right, Bale took the opportunity to come inside to cause problems, while Naughton offered an option outside him. Bale set up Adebayor for an early chance, but the Togo striker could only hit a weak shot on the stretch making it easy for Mingolet to grab the ball and then the play switched to the other end and Gardner hit a 25 yard free-kick, that Defoe rushed and got a touch on, which luckily took the sting out of it, allowing Lloris to field it without any panic. Lennon and Walker were linking well on the right wing, with the full back playing a delightful; pass inside the full back with the outside of his foot, with Aaron skinning McClean before pulling the ball back to Mousa Dembele, but his touch let him down and the chance was gone.
While there was not too much pace about the game in general, it was moving from end to end, with McClean picking out a run by Johnson behind Naughton, but his low pull-back into the box was not met by any supporting team-mates and Michael Dawson cleared the ball away. Then Sandro had a shooting opportunity from the right of the goal at an acute angle, but his low drive forced Mingolet to a save, which needed a second grab to hold the ball as it popped up off him. The game was developing much the same as that against Aston Villa, with Spurs building pressure with a series of corners ... none of which came to much, but when Lennon played Adebayor in on the left after McClean had stood on the ball trying to break forward, the Spurs forward was closed down by the keeper and a defender, blocking his shot from point blank range. Spurs produced attack after attack, with the best chance coming after Lennon stood up a cross from the right to the far post and Gareth Bale came in to win the ball in the air, but it wasn't an easy header, with the ball a little behind him, resulting in the effort drifting a yard wide of the Sunderland goal. Adebayor came close to scoring when Defoe found some space in the box on the left and played a delicate low ball into the six yard box, where it caused confusion, leaving Ade to run in on it and poke it past Mingolet, who had closed him down, putting the striker off and making him shoot up and against the bar from a yard o0ut. There were also a couple of shots were fired in on goal, but both rose high over the bar.
Then, with 38 minutes gone, Kyle Walker tries to do a drag back, as McClean closed him down ten yards inside his own half, but the ball slipped under his studs and the Sunderland midfielder passed to put Sessegnon away down their left. There was little immediate danger, but in his haste to win the ball back, Walker shoved Sessegnon over to conceded a free kick. From it, the ball was whipped into the near post area by Sebastian Larsson and in a group of players challenging for the ball, it dropped to Steven Fletcher, whose shot at goal was well stopped by Lloris, but the ball fell kindly for John O'Shea to shoot into an unguarded net right in front of him from about six yards out. To say the goal was against the run of play would be a massive understatement, as Sunderland had looked less like scoring than the ground opening up and swallowing their fans, who seemed to want every decision going their way ... even when there wasn't a decision to be made.
So, 0-1 behind at the break and Spurs would have to come from behind and then not let goals in during the last ten minutes of the match ... or so the media would have you believe.
Sunderland started the second half looking lively and won their first corner of the match, but when Lennon broke down the left in the 47th minute, he skipped past Cuellar, only to cynically be brought crashing down to the turf. From the free-kick, he headed the ball away and it went off for a corner. From the corner, which Walker put in with come pace on it, Cuellar jumped higher than Gardner and from about eight yards out, headed the ball past Mingolet probably better than our players would have done. It was all Tottenham's good play deserved.
Anyway, Sunderland looked gutted by the own goal and when they kicked off again, they looked dispirited and turned the ball over quickly. A ball forward was touched back by Lennon to Sandro, who then played the ball back to Aaron, 25 yards out from goal. But, as only he can, the ball was manoeuvred around to cut inside going towards the edge of the box. He played the ball off Kilgallon, put it one side of O'Shea and ran round the other, getting to it just before Kilgallon slid in and expertly side-footed it wide of Mongolet's left hand to give Spurs the lead in a crazy three minutes.
Immediately, Adam Johnson tried to repeat his goal against Manchester City, with a low shot heading just inside the post from outside the box, but Hugo had worked out what he would do and dived to his left to push the ball away. On the hour, Spurs should really have wrapped the game up. Bale raced away on the left and pulled a low ball back to Jermain Defoe, who was five yards out and took a touch before shooting at goal, with the net at his mercy, but somehow, Mingolet got back to throw an arm up and keep the ball out on the line. With the form that Defoe is in at the moment, you would have bet that he would have scored. it was a fine piece of goalkeeping and kept Sunderland in the match.
A series of free-kicks and corners were lobbed into the goalmouth, but Hugo Lloris has obviously decided his tactics from set-plays and he came for them with good punches and even when he got hit by Steven Fletcher, he still managed to punch the ball away before the free-kick was given to Spurs. If there was any doubt about his ability to deal with the physical side of keeping in English football, he seems to have developed a means to do so with goalkeeping coach Tony Parks.
Another two chances to wrap the game up came Tottenham's way in a couple of minutes. In the 81st, Bale ran from 35 yards out and into the penalty area and Craig Gardner came across to challenge him, with an arm around Bale's middle and hitting his knee against the side of Bale's knee. Down went the Welsh midfielder and up went the arm of Martin Atkinson, holding a yellow card and not pointing to the penalty spot. Bale was past Gardner and the Sunderland man made not attempt for the ball, so how could it be a dive? But then we are talking about a referee who can't tell if the ball is over the line or not, so perhaps we shouldn't be too harsh in judging him. He is a living embarrassment to referees in this country and even if he was in a position where he couldn't see, perhaps he should have been ... or at least had the decency to consult a lineman who might have had a better view.
But as it was, Spurs fashioned another chance soon after, when Emmanuel Adebayor should have made it 3-1. On for Defoe, Clint Dempsey went through the middle and produced a cheeky back-hell that put Ade through on Mingolet, but his shot lacked the width to beat the keeper, who stuck out a leg to keep the ball from entering the net. At the moment, he doesn't look that confident in front of goal and needs one to restore that finishing ability.
Spurs continued to play their passes with confidence and had a couple of shots on goal that didn't threaten to beat the keeper, while one worrying moment for Spurs came when Johnson went down the left and pulled a low ball back into the six yard box, but while Fletcher was waiting with his foot ready to fire the ball in, Kyle Naughton got to the ball and played it away. With Sunderland trying, but failing to play any decent balls into the box, time ticked away and Spurs earned another good three points.
This game highlighted the difference between the top teams and those other teams in the Premier League. For all Sunderland's closing down and hard work, which seems enough to satisfy manager Martin O'Neill, they lacked the quality to hurt Tottenham and their main threat was through set-pieces. Their work in open play was not up to the standard of teams who want to move up the table. Sessegnon is not getting enough support from his team-mates to make other teams fear them and there is little other creativity in the Black Cats side, as their team consists of battlers and runners. Sunderland fans might have hoped that Adam Johnson would have shown why the club bought him, but his crossing was poor, he rarely went past players and constantly looked to the touchline to seek guidance as to what he should be doing. This is a player who was an England international four months ago. Makes me grateful that Tottenham didn't sign him.
Tottenham looked more comfortable with their lead and even though Sunderland pressed, there were few moments of concern and maybe they are settling into a pattern of play that will see them tighter towards the end of matches and hopefully make some more of the chances they create to finish teams off.
Another tough game comes in a couple of days time with Reading visiting the Lane and with a win today against West Ham, they will fancy having a go at Spurs. Without Bale, because of a yellow card that cannot be appealed, Spurs will have to play a different midfield, but with a choice of Dempsey, Sigurdsson or Townsend to replace Gareth, there should be enough to secure a win at home.
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|What you thought|
|Other scores during this week :|
|Aston Villa||0||Wigan Athletic||3||Saturday|
|Manchester United||2||West Bromwich Albion||0||Saturday|
|Norwich City||3||Manchester City||4||Saturday|
|Reading||1||West Ham United||0||Saturday|
|Queens Park Rangers||0||Liverpool||3||Sunday|
|7||West Bromwich Albion||20||10||3||7||28||25||33||+3|
|12||West Ham United||19||6||5||8||22||23||23||-1|
|20||Queens Park Rangers||20||1||7||12||16||36||10||-20|
Position before match :
Position after match : 3rd
Position after the weekend : 4th
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