The news of Ledley King and Dimitar Berbatov's absence from the
Tottenham starting line-up hardly filled me with hope and the poor
playing conditions swayed me more towards pessimism as Liverpool proved,
by snatching a scrappy winner, in a match they scarcely deserved to win.
With Mark Halsey having a match where he
a) decided to let play go on at every opportunity ... except when
Spurs looked like they might have a good chance
b) got in the way consistently ... even to the extent of knocking
the ball forward with his arm, when Spurs tried to get a pass to one of
c) letting some bad tackles (and Gerrard's assault on Davenport)
go, as he seemed determined to go 90 minutes without using a card of any
it made it even harder for Spurs to achieve the goal they needed to get
a deserved draw from this game.
But they had enough chances to earn a
The problem was that the team was set up
in the first half to counter Craig Bellamy's pace and it played into
Liverpool's hands. Sitting deep, it let the Reds push onto our
midfield, who were stationed 5-10 yards outside our own area. The
gap between them and the forwards was too big and therefore, it was
difficult to get the ball to stick when it hit the forwards and the
midfield found it hard to link up with them by getting forward to
The tactic allowed Gerrard huge expanses
of midfield to exploit and he seemed to be dictating play, although
Liverpool produced few efforts that made Robbo save. Apart from
having to hurry to clear a poor back-pass from Lee, a low effort from
Bellamy and a deflected effort off Davenport saw him brought into
action. Other than that, it was only to pick the ball out of the
net that made ENO work. That was right on half-time, when
Chimbonda played a short pass to Zokora outside our own area and he
attempted a pass that Gerrard picked off and his shot was half blocked
by Davenport into the path of Garcia, who could only bumble the ball in
a way that confounded Robinson and slowly crawled over the line.
It was a poor goal to give away at any time, but just before the break
made it even more of a cheap one to concede.
Spurs could have been going in level if
Mido had taken a great opportunity that came his way. Defoe went
in for a ball with Agger and it dropped to Mido, with Reina in front of
him, but he hit the shot well wide, despite it being on his favoured
left foot. Then again, Kuyt should have scored when he was set up
by Bellamy, but his deliberate shot curled inches the wrong side of the
post, with Robinson stranded. Alonso struck a low skidding shot a
yard wide and Mido rose to head a Lee cross wide, but it looked as
though he took his eye off the ball at the vital moment.
The rain had fallen in the first half to
speed up the pace of the ball off the turf, but a massive downpour into
the second half left the crowd soaked and the players splashing around
on the sodden grass. it is a testament to the players that there
were few bad tackles, with players diving in, but Gerrard was guilty of
that twice on Davenport and Huddlestone, as he was frustrated in the
second half, when Spurs pressed forward with more conviction.
Bellamy brought a low save out of
Robinson early on, but Benitez's selection peculiarities continued by
replacing the Welshman three minutes into the second half and then
playing Kuyt up front on his own. This helped Tottenham get a
foothold back in the match.
Gerrard was forced to drop deeper and the
ball was being turned over more often in their last third. With
some good passing, Spurs started to get into the Liverpool half more
often and although Mido was having a bit of a mare, others were coming
up from behind to give weight to the Tottenham attack.
Signs of the impending pressure building
on the Liverpool goal came when a free-kick was floated into the area by
Huddlestone and Reina, under no challenge, dropped the ball behind him,
but there was no white-shirted player to take advantage. When such
unforced errors occur, it is surprising that Spurs failed to put the
keeper under greater test by firing shots in at him, rather than trying
to walk the ball into the net.
Just before the hour, Jol introduced
Berba in place of the disappointing Mido, with Murphy already having
replaced Zokora. Danny got stuck into his former team and showed
some good passes, always making himself available to receive a pass.
Crouch was brought on for Aurelio, mainly because he was the player
furthest away from the tunnel and therefore, his slow walk could waste
more time than the Scousers had already done by kicking the ball away at
almost every occasion. I suppose it should be taken as a
compliment that they wanted to run down time from early in the second
half, but to me it indicated that they did not have enough faith in
their own ability to keep their lead and that they should try to put in
a "professional" performance to ensure they took the three points.
Unfortunately for them, Spurs woke up and
tested their defence in the last quarter of the game. It was only
a couple of Garcia chances that broke the pattern of play. One an
opportunistic overhead kick went straight at Robbo, while he should
really have done better with a free header after a cross went over
Dawson's head, but the Spaniard could only pick out Robinson's hands.
Five minutes after Berbatov's entrance,
he conjured a fine cross from a tight space on the dead ball-line and
Finnan, running back towards his own goal, smashed a header against the
bar and out. Twice Ghaly was in front of goal and twice failed to
hit the target. One when Reina fumbled a shot from Defoe, Hossam
failed to wrap his foot around his shot and it went straight, but wide
of thegoal and the second opportunity, again from a Reina save to a
Defoe shot was a tougher one and his reaction volley went wide with the
goal gaping in front of him. Berbatov missed out on a long ball
through the middle of the Liverpool defence, with him only being able to
get a light touch on it and directing it through to Reina, but he had
earlier slid to try and get the ball as it went towards goal, only for
him to slide off the pitch and into one of the rotating advertising
Five minutes from the end, it seemed as
though we might have got something out of the game, but the linesman's
flag denied us that. Lee put in a good cross from the left and it
found it's way to the far post, where Ghaly lurked and put the ball back
into the six yard box. Berbatov stuck the ball in the net, but
offside was given against the Egyptian.
The rain continued to pelt down and the
ball continued to be played into the Liverpool box, but they put in a
rearguard action that kept Spurs at bay.
On this evidence, Liverpool are not
streets ahead of Tottenham in personnel or ability, but the first half
tactics handed then the initiative that became hard to wrest back from
them. It was certainly a game of two halves, but in the first half
Spurs played it like it was an away game. And we know what happens
away from home.