What had been a dull game in the first half really kicked into life with
ten minutes to go when Middlesbrough equalised, but ultimately, the
points went to Spurs.
And the fact
that a quick winner from Robbie Keane decided the scoring,
obviously was too much for Boro to take and their fighting spirit
spilled over into a number of ugly incidents. At the forefront was
the double sending off of Boateng and Zokora. Lennon's clash with
the Dutch midfielder looked harmless enough, but the Boro man was
incensed and he got up ready for a fight with Tottenham's mini-marvel.
Unfortunately for him, he was confronted by Didier Zokora and threw an
arm into his face. Riled by this, Zokora found his way to Boateng
barred by about twenty players who had steamed in, but the Ivorian
pushed the maul until they fell over the advertising hoardings and he
had his short ripped as they clung to him as they fell. After
consulting both linesmen, the referee produced red cards for them both.
What should have happened after than is
something I will come back to.
It had all started so tamely. Boro
were desperate for a point and defended deep and in great numbers, with
Woodgate head and shoulders above the Tottenham attack and in ability,
the rest of the Middlesbrough defence. Spurs did carve out
chances, but failed to take any of them. From Lee's cut inside
from the left wing to hit a shot that was always going wide, through to
Huddlestone's 50 yard run and 20-yard shot that ended in the same place
as Lee's, Spurs showed the most attacking intent. However, it was
Boro who had possibly the best chance of the first half when a corner
found Pogatetz, but he failed to find the target (unlike later in the
game) and missed with a six yard header
Spurs peppered the Boro goal from
distance, with Zokora missing wildly and Hud smashing a shot that
swerved all over the place, causing Schwarzer to have to push the ball
out and luckily for him it went safe. Defoe and Berbatov were
linking well and Jermain had the bulk of the chances in the first half,
but was thwarted by Schwarzer. He had a shot blocked by
Woodgate, a free-kick just over the top, was denied by a good save from
the keeper when he thrashed a shot on goal and when out in by
Malbranque, he hit one wide.
Lennon didn't see too much of the ball in
the first half, but still managed to trouble the Boro defence. He
put a good cross in from the right that nobody attacked, then Zokora
laid him in after running 50 yards with the ball, but Woodgate was there
again to block his shot. The crossing was better, today, helped by
Huddlestone's and Malbranque's delivery into the area, but Lee got into
a good position, only to hit it chest high across the box, when a low
ball would have caused a lot more trouble.
Just before half time, there was one
hilarious incident that nearly led to a Spurs goal. Huddlestone
won the ball off Boateng and then just took too heavy a touch on the
ball, which ran away from him. He was determined to win it and Lee
Cattermole came in for the challenge, saw it was Hud and completely
bottled out, leaving Tom to walk on with the ball and hit a shot that
went wide. Cattermole was not having a good half, as he tried to
control a fiercely struck cross-field ball on his chest. The only
problem was, it wasn't intended for him, but a team-mate 20 yards behind
him. As the ball dropped for Steed, who took off towards goal, the
Boro midfielder could hardly run, he was so winded by it !!
The game had 0-0 written all over it.
Boro showing little willingness to go out and win it, with Spurs not
being able to. However, within two minutes, Tottenham were ahead.
A Hud free-kick was headed back to Berbatov from outside the far side of
the penalty area by Pascal Chimbonda. As the ball dropped Berbie
swung a lugubrious boot at it and it arced over the diving keeper to
give Spurs a 1-0 score-line. it wasn't hit hard, but
expertly placed out of Schwarzer's reach.
The defence had opened up with Arca
coming on at left back to be a bit more attacking, which gave Aaron
Lennon the space he needed to operate. He took a free-kick that
Michael Dawson got to first, but couldn't direct on goal, while Zokora
slipped a well weighted pass into the path of Defoe, but Woodgate denied
him with a well-timed tackle.
Spurs worked an ingenious free-kick
routine, when the Boro wall encroached to within about five yards of the
ball. It was touched to Defoe, who chipped it to the far post,
where Chimbonda was unmarked, but he could not control his volley and it
hit the side netting, when he should have tested Schwarzer.
Malbranque hit a couple of efforts over the bar and the keeper had to
throw his legs at Defoe's shot after Berbatov's back-heel put him clean
in on goal.
In between, Huth hit a free-kick from the
edge of the box that the wall offered him a lot of the goal to aim at.
Robinson had obviously lined it up right, as the shot was really
powerful, but straight at him and although he could not hold it, he
could get enough on it to get it to the edge of the area and Morrison
hit the rebound towards goal, but missed the target by a few inches.
Then, without any particular warning,
Boro equalised. A corner came in from Stewart Downing, about the
only thing he did in the game and on this showing, I hope Martin Jol
spends his money elsewhere, because my eyes tell me that he was to blame
for England's poor result against Macedonia if he played anything like
this. Malbranque got the ball off the line from Huth and then a
couple of Spurs players headed the ball straight up in the air, but when
it dropped, it fell to the German defender again and he struck it into
the net through a crowd in the box. At that stage, you couldn't
see Tottenham coming back to get all three points.
But ... on came Robbie Keane.
Arca got a yellow card with 82 minutes
gone, for a cynical foul on Lennon, but when another foul gave Spurs a
free-kick 30 yards out, Tom Huddlestone quickly slipped a short forward
pass to Keane, who wasted no time in lashing it past Schwarzer and into
the net to put Spurs back into the lead at 2-1. He put so much
power in it and Boateng felt it deeply, as he sank to the floor with his
shirt half off (a bookable offence surely).
However, this was not the end of the
excitement. The Boateng/Zokora bout ended and then almost
immediately after Chimbonda and Pogatetz clashed after Spurs had been
given a free-kick. You could see that the Austrian had a throbbing
vein in his temple and when the free-kick was played short, the Boro
defender was not too particular about how he was going to take out.
Unfortunately for him, it was Hud who was fouled and then stamped on,
but once more Mark Halsey did not see it and consulted his linesman,
before producing a yellow card ... for something much worse than two
players had been sent off for.
Then Halsey made another gaffe. A
high ball saw Huddlestone rise again for a header, but Huth decided that
an elbow in the head was what Tom needed. Much worse than Hossam
Ghaly's offence against Blackburn three weeks ago, so what do you think
happened ? A yellow card !!
It was all a sign that Boro's ineptitude
was exhibiting itself in other ways. Gareth Southgate does not
have the qualifications to be a Premier League manager and it is
showing. With many more performances like this, West Ham and
Newcastle won't have to worry, as Middlesbrough look like they might
For Tottenham, the game should have been
wrapped up in the first half. Only Woodgate and Schwarzer stopped
that. And our profligate finishing.
Another win against Charlton on Saturday
would propel us up towards the UEFA Cup places. but a win against
Charlton should not be taken for granted and the fight shown tonight (in
footballing terms) us what we need to get into those positions.
MEHSTG TOP MAN : - TOM HUDDLESTONE