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Premier League

Saturday 12th April 2008

Never one of the most eagerly looked forward to fixtures of a season, Middlesbrough arrive at White Hart Lane having grabbed a draw with Manchester United at the Riverside, while Spurs were pegged back in their away game at Blackburn last week.

While no great prospect is in sight, with Tottenham's season leaving them little to play for but pride and cash in rising places up the table, although Boro might feel they need to win a couple of games soon to make sure they don't get dragged into the relegation whirlpool.  It is often a dull game when they come to town, but this season might yet top that (unless the fans manage to do that to themselves with the boredom they might witness).

Schwarzer has been in goal for Middlesbrough for years and has survived manager after manager and although a solid enough goalie, he lacks the big match temperament in my opinion, making too many basic errors despite his giant frame being highly useful for shot-stopping.  You would have thought that he would be good in the air ... but no.  A real weakness in the back five, it could be to Tottenham's advantage if they can turn it that way.

The defence features ex-Spur Luke Young (most recently seen in the crowd at Wembley), who has had a steady season despite having had a lot to contend with in terms of on-pitch action.  He likes to overlap and someone like Lennon could catch him too far upfield if the ball is played right.  Pogatetz is not one of my favourite footballers, as I regard anyone who can perpetrate tackles like he does might have little regard for other players.  His rashness in tackling shows a lack of cool decision making going on and his propensity to gather cards is a failing that lets him down sometimes.  In central defence, the new defender David Wheater has the look of Iain Dowie having lost a fiver, but he has had a rapid promotion to the England Under-21 side with some lauded performances in the heart of the Boro back four.  If Huth is injured, then Southgate will move Pogatetz inside and he might call Julio Arca into defence or pull back George Boateng from midfield.

Arca prefers to play midfield too, where his tricky wing play can cause the other side's defence problems.  Having been out for  along spell with injury, he is back now and looking to make up for lost time.  Boateng is a combative midfielder, who likes a scrap, but might be suspect in some respects at full back.

With Stewart Downing signing a new deal at Boro, it perhaps shows that he believes they are a club going somewhere.  Where he thinks that is might be at odds to where others think it might be.  Having said that, he has played better since his future has been sorted out, but his service is erratic and he drifts out of games if the ball isn't player to him.

Former Portsmouth man Gary O'Neil has been a fairly regular pick in midfield, but while he still has the ability to cover a lot of ground and get up into attack, he has lost the knack of scoring goals from midfield (although having said that he probably will now).  Brazilian Fabio Rochemback has shown that signing a Barzilian is not always a flamboyant answer to your problems.  This one has looked heavy since his arrival and although he has the skills, he does not appear to relish the physical side of the game at all.  Lee Cattermole and Adam Johnson are young talents from the Academy, with Johnson being coveted by a few sides, including this match's hosts.  A tricky winger, he had a good spell on loan at Watford and has played England U21 football too.  One to watch out for.  Cattermole has been less high profile and his physique is more suited to the grafting role, which is what he does.

There are a decent number of good strikers at Boro these days.  They will be without Mido, who has suffered a groin problem and will be out for the rest of the season.  Lucky they brought in another Brazilian who was playing for Heerenveen in Holland - Alfonso Alves.  Tall and rangy, he looks unco-ordinated when running with the ball, but he has a good ides of where it is going to end up and his two goals against Manchester United prove that he can calmly hit the net.  Former Gooner Jeremie Aliadiere looks like he could be a decent enough player, but he fails to score reguarly and his play sometimes makes you clear as to why he wasn't retained at Highbury.  Turkish international Tuncay has had a good first season with some flashing goals scored, but he needs to do the hard work required of forwards in the Premier League, rather than be happy enought o let others do the running.  Young-Pyo Lee's mate Dong Gook Lee has failed to set the North-East alight with even the tiniest glimmer of a flame, making his exit sooner rather than later a racing certainty.  His lack of composure in front of goal makes you actually wonder how he made it in the profession.

It will not be an easy game for Spurs and they need to be up for it.  If not, they will slip to another home defeat and that will not go down well.  With it being Robbie Keane's 250th Tottenham match, I am sure he will want the side to play to their potential and therefore, I take Spurs to win by the odd goal in three ...

PREDICTION : -  Tottenham Hotspur  2    Middlesbrough  1

For more information on the opponents and their history, including full result history of matches between the two teams, click here.


TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR : -  Ledley King (knee); Benoit Assou-Ekotto (knee); Gareth Bale (foot); Jamie O'Hara (foot); Paul Robinson (ankle); - (-);

MIDDLESBROUGH :  -  Mido (groin); Brad Jones (thumb/wrist); Robert Huth (foot); - (-);


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Tottenham Hotspur   1    Middlesbrough   1      (Half-time score : 1-0)

Premier League
Venue : White Hart Lane  
Saturday 12th April 2008
Kick Off :  3.00 p.m.
Crowd :   36,092
Referee :  Mark Halsey (Lancashire)
Middlesbrough kicked off and Tottenham played towards the Park Lane end in the first half.
Weather :  -  Cloudy and chilly, with some warm sunshine intervals
Teams : - 
Tottenham Hotspur :


Chimbonda (Gilberto 71)

Lennon (Bent 76)
Malbranque (Huddlestone 61)

Keane (c)

Unused subs: 

Middlesbrough :


Pogatetz (c)    
Grounds (Johnson 65)

O'Neil (Tuncay 75)
Arca     (Rochemback 68)


Unused subs: 

Colours : -  (kits courtesy of http://www.colours-of-football.com)
Tottenham Hotspur

Scorers : -  
Tottenham Hotspur

Grounds o.g. 27


Downing 69

Cards : -  
Tottenham Hotspur  





Pogatetz (foul) 30
Arca (foul) 44
Young (foul) 90 


Match Report : -  
This game promised more than it actually delivered and when it finished, with referee Halsey blowing for time to avoid a furore over a foul to Middlesbrough/corner to Spurs, it was perhaps symptomatic of what had gone before, as neither team seemed to know how to finish the other off.  A draw seemed the right end result, although Tottenham might be happier with it than the Smoggies.

Both sides had reasonable draws the week before, with Spurs betting a point at Blackburn, while Boro took one off Man U.  With Tottenham's form faltering since the League Cup Final and Middlesbrough only winning one in seven, it was not the highest of quality on display, but both sides had a go at going forward and there was a fair bit of goalmouth action.

In fact, Boro might have been ahead as soon as the second minute, with a sloopy start by Pascal Chimbonda being the cause.  He had already given the ball away and slipped over, before he lost his footing again and let Gary O'Neil cross to Jeremie Aliadiere on the edge of the box.  He cracked a low shot in first time and Radek Cerny did well to get down and save, but the ball bounced off him and Alfonso Alves was first to it to knock it past the stricken Tottenham keeper.  Unfortunately for him, he was offside when the first shot came in and thus the goal was ruled out.

The warning spurred Tottenham on and they started to get into the game.  A minute later Jermaine Jenas hit a shot that flew a half a yard over the bar, while Robbie Keane, playing his 250th game for the club, stood up a cross to the middle of the goal and Berbatov got his head to it, but put it straight into Schwarzer's arms.  Chimbonda's poor game continued, when Lennon's astute through pass put him in on the left, only for him to put in a first time cross that went way over the bar.

With 18 minutes gone, Robbie Keane played the ball back to Jenas and he broke into the box, but was eased out wider than he wanted to go by Pogatetz's arm and Schwarzer came out to block his effort.  Jenas, Keane and Hutton linked passes on the right and Keane's back-heel almost put Lennon in on goal, but was just intercepted.

Then, the opening goal arrived in the 26th minute.  A through ball saw Keane leave it, as he was walking back from an offside, but Jenas ran past him in the opposite direction to seize on the opening.  However, the ball bounced up high and his run took him past the ball, but he salvaged something from it, by nudging it out to Berbatov, who put a high cross into the box.  Coming in from the right wing, Lennon met the ball on the volley and as it went goalwards, it struck the knee of Jonathan Grounds and took the ball past Schwarzer.

It was no surprise when Pogatetz received a yellow card for his umpteenth foul on Hutton, whose pace he could not deal with.  With one goal under the team's belt, Spurs were now showboating, with flicks and tricks on display, but what they really needed was a second goal ... but it didn't come.  Some good defending kept the ball away from Cerny and the back four looked pretty solid in the first half.  When Spurs did attack, they worried the Boro back line and Arca was booked for going through the back of Berbatov.  From the resulting free-kick, Jenas tried his luck and his luck was out, as it so often seems from dead ball situations since he scored at Old Trafford last season.

Some half-time promotional prize draw by the Tomtom sat-nav company saw two enormous red hands prowling around the perimeter of the pitch.  Some cruel wags suggested that they might be coming to the aid of Mark Schwarzer !!

But Boro bucked their ideas up in the second half and produced an improved performance which could have taken the result.  Having said that Spurs could have put the result beyond doubt in the first quarter of an hour of the second half, but the lack of the killer instinct meant that missed chances came back to haunt them like a familiar ghost.

After David Wheater headed an O'Neil corner to the far post, the unlikely figure of Aaron Lennon popped up on the line to head it away !!  It almost served as a kick up the backside to Tottenham and they broke away with Malbranque setting up Keane for a shot, that never had enough power to beat the Middlesbrough goalie.  In fact, Keane had a poor game on his landmark appearance.

The blocks from the Spurs players became more frequent, with Dawson, Woodgate and later Gilberto all throwing themselves in the way of shots on goal.  But then a well worked move saw Lennon released down the right and his cross reached Dimitar Berbatov, who got away his shot that hit Pogatetz before leaving Schwarzer stranded and bounced out off the goal-post.

It was at this point that things went wrong.  Steed made way for Huddlestone and Lennon switched to the left wing.  This is not a tactic that seems to work and even though the little wide-man got a ball in that just eluded Woodgate and Berbatov, he was not at his best on that side, when he had the beating of Grounds on the right wing.  On two occasions, it looked like Zokora might score ... no, really !!  He played a couple of return passes as he burst towards the edge of the box, but the ball was taken off his toe just as it looked like he might be able to shoot and then a rocket from 30 yards struck a defender in the head as it seemed to be arrowing it's way into the top corner.

Tottenham's inability to hold onto a single goal lead is a worry.  The way that Downing picked up the ball on the left, cut inside moving forward as he went and nobody came to shut him down, allowed him a shot on goal.  When you have a 1-0 lead, anything can happen and the shot must have taken a deflection to leave Cerny so flat-footed as it hit the back of the net.  But there was nobody to blame other than the players.

It almost got worse, as Boro pressed forward.  A long ball saw Dawson commit himself and the ball bounce past him, leaving Alves a clean run on goal, but as he went left, with Cerny closing the angles, he pulled his shot too far by a couple of feet across the goal and missed the far post.  Aliadiere did the same a few minutes later and Spurs were left with one final chance as Jenas tapped a free-kick back to Huddlestone to hit a low shot that Schwarzer spilled and nobody could follow up on.

It was another desperate second half performance and while the points we have picked up in the last eight days might be enough to ensure Premier League survival, the prospects for next season do not seem great unless lessons are learned super quick.  A season of mid-table mediocrity beckons with any more displays like this, whether or not it is difficult to get "maximum motivation" for the team to play.  On their wages, it should not be a case of being motivated to play well.  That should be a minimum requirement.

Ramos needs to spell out to the players the duty they have to the fans.  I am not saying they are not trying, but that they are not trying hard enough. We all have days when we don't feel like work, but they are days we have to work through it.  With four games left, perhaps we could try and pick up maximum points as a minimum target.

It might not happen, but it might show that Spurs can go out and win games from whatever position we find themselves in.  As that will be a necessity next season.  Otherwise, the fans might make maximum noise to show their displeasure.



Reaction : -



Wyart Lane's take on the Boro game can be read at the Times Fanzine Fanzone









Other scores this weekend and midweek :
Birmingham City 1 Everton 1 Saturday
Bolton Wanderers 1 West Ham United 0 Saturday
Derby County 0 Aston Villa 6 Saturday
Portsmouth 0 Newcastle United 0 Saturday
Reading 0 Fulham 2 Saturday
Sunderland 1 Manchester City 2 Saturday
Liverpool 3 Blackburn Rovers 1 Sunday
Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1 Sunday
Chelsea 1 Wigan Athletic 1 Monday
Everton 0 Chelsea 1 Thursday



League Table
  P W D L F A Pts GD
1 Manchester United 34 25 5 4 72 18 80 +54
2 Chelsea 35 23 9 3 60 24 78 +36
3 Arsenal 34 20 11 3 64 29 71 +35
4 Liverpool 34 18 12 4 60 26 66 +34
5 Everton 35 18 7 10 50 29 61 +21
6 Portsmouth 34 16 9 9 47 33 58 +14
7 Aston Villa 34 15 10 9 62 44 55 +18
8 Manchester City 34 14 10 10 39 40 52 -1
9 Blackburn Rovers 34 13 12 9 44 42 51 +2
10 West Ham United 34 13 8 14 35 41 44 -6
11 TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 34 10 11 13 63 57 41 +6
12 Newcastle United 34 10 9 15 40 58 39 -18
13 Middlesbrough 34 8 12 14 31 48 36 -17
14 Sunderland 34 10 6 18 33 52 36 -19
15 Wigan Athletic 34 9 8 17 30 46 35 -16
16 Reading 34 9 5 20 37 63 32 -26
17 Birmingham City 34 7 10 17 39 52 31 -13
18 Bolton Wanderers 34 7 8 19 31 52 29 -21
19 Fulham 34 5 12 17 32 56 27 -24
20 Derby County 34 1 8 25 16 74 11 -58



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