Saturday, November 1, 2008

EPL Week 11: Spurs 2-1 Liverpool - Redknapp Inspires Another Tottenham Comeback

For the second game in a week Tottenham Hotspur have left it late to comeback into a game when they looked dead and buried. On Wednesday Spurs shocked Arsenal to come from two down and draw 4-4. Today, against Liverpool they went one better. Scoring two late goals to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat...

Roman Pavyluchenko scored in the 90th minute to snatch a win for Spurs at White Hart Lane against Liverpool today, after the Red's had failed to build on their early domination. In scoring Pavlyuchenko not only handed the 3pts to Spurs but the win also took Spurs off the bottom of the table for the first time this season.

Spurs went into today's encounter with Liverpool full of confidence. Since Juande Ramos' sacking last Saturday they have enjoyed their best run of results since March.

Harry Redknapp took over on Sunday, just in time for him to take charge against Bolton. And Spurs duly responded with a comfortable 2-0 win, but Wednesday nights 4-4 draw with Arsenal and all the media attention that went with it meant that today's match with high flying Liverpool was the match of the day.

Alan Hutton was dropped for Ledley King, as Vedran Corluka started at right full with King coming in at centre half. Elsewhere Darren Bent, who had scored in his last three games was preferred to Pavyluchenko.

Liverpool have had their best start to a Premiership campaign ever and sat in pole position going into this crucial tie. Torres was left out of the squad as he wasn't deemed fit enough to play, as Liverpool fielded their strongest possible side.

Robbie Keane who had scored Spurs last three goals against Liverpool started as Rafael Benitez sought to keep their un-beaten start to the campaign going.

Liverpool started the match on fire, and took the lead with their first meaningful attack. Robbie Keane controlled the ball at the edge of the box and fed it to Dirk Kuyt, his initial touch seemed to take him too wide but from an acute angle he drove the ball past a hapless Gomes.

From a Liverpool point of view it was a great finish, and Kuyt has been in prolific form of late, scoring six goals this term. Stepping up as his team missed the influential Fernando Torres.

From a Spurs point of view, it was a terrible goal to concede. No keeper should be beaten at his near post. And had Gomes stood tall the ball would have been chest height. Instead he appeared to kneel down allowing the ball to travel over him.

Gomes decisions are already subject to an inquisition at White Hart Lane. The summer acquisition from PSV has been poor of late, and his poor decision-making skills have already ensured that Redknapp will be looking to bring in a goalkeeper come January.

When playing against the defensively set-up Liverpool, the last thing you want to do is give an early goal away. Chelsea paid the price for such an error last week, as Liverpool put in a fantastic performance to record a win at Stamford Bridge.

As Spurs struggled to get into the game, Liverpool threatened to add a second. And came close as Steven Gerrard drilled a corner towards the near post. Without pressure from a Liverpool player, Darren Bent swung his left boot at the ball but misjudged it completely as the ball struck his right knee and spun towards the goal. It struck the bottom of the post as Spurs' thanked the gods for their first stroke of luck.

After being dominated in the opening exchanges, Tottenham began to make in roads to the match. Vedran Corluka and Luka Modric going close from distance.

The first half finished evenly, but Liverpool had yet to be really tested and they looked comfortable as Spurs tried to break them down. But if Rafael Benitez has done anything at Liverpool, he has turned them into one of the most tactically astute teams in Europe, and they are notoriously hard to breach.

With the advent of the second half, Harry Redknapp made two changes to his team as they chased a result. Alan Hutton and Roman Pavyluchenko came on for left sided players Benoit Assou Ekotto and Jamie O'Hara as Harry re-jigged his team.

Out went the 4-5-1 as Spurs changed to a standard 4-4-2. Corluka switched to left full and Modric moved to left midfield. Redknapp signalling his intent to go more direct as Spurs looked to bypass midfield and hit the forwards early.

Initially the changes handed the impetus to Liverpool as they went in search of the second goal. In the early exchanges of the second half Liverpool dominated completely. Spurs' changes at half time only served to confuse them as Liverpool strode forward.

And they went close on numerous occasions most notably within an eight minute spell where they hit the post twice.

A number of shots were blocked on the edge of the Spurs box, and as the ball sat up Steven Gerrard caught it beautifully on the volley and sent it rocketing towards the goal. King who had blocked Keane's initial effort spun to block this shot and the ball ricocheted off his elbow, driving the ball into the turf. As the ball spun towards the top corner Gomes dived full stretch and tipped the ball onto the post to save Spurs. In doing so Gomes produced one of the saves of the season.

However, if this was Gomes at his best we were about to see him at his worst.

The ball was played back to him and as he went to pass it to Ledley King he left the pass short. Robbie Keane showed tremendous reactions as he nipped in to pass to Gerrard, who produced a chip of sublime quality from the left hand corner of the box.

Gomes could only look on as Gerrard's chip bounced off the cross bar as lady luck shone on Spurs for the third time in the game.

Liverpool would go close again moments later, as Riera's vicious cross was met by an un-marked Alonso at the far post. And with Gomes beaten he headed wide.

These constant waves of attack seemed to wake Spurs up as they went on to dominate most of the second half. After looking uncomfortable in his new role at left full, Vedran Corluka began to make some forward runs as Kuyt's influence began to wane.

Alan Hutton on the right was dominating Riera, and Liverpool struggled to find an out ball. Huddlestone and Zokora were by this stage matching Alonso, Mascherano and Gerrard as Spurs began to get on top.

And once again lady luck would play her part.

Bentley swung a vicious corner towards the near post. And with Liverpool employing their zonal system Jamie Carrager jumped with Pavlyuchenko and Agger only to see the ball glance off his head as Reina stood still.

In Jamie Carrager's career he has only scored seven goals in a Liverpool shirt. Four for Liverpool and three for Tottenham!

With Tottenham back in the game, their fans began to find their voice as everyone involved sensed that Spurs could win the game.

Spurs pushed forward in search of a winner as Woodgate beat Reina to a Bentley cross but he failed to guide his header towards goal. By this stage Tottenham were getting as many crosses into the box as possible to take advantage of the physical presence of Pavyluchenko.

But Liverpool weren't out of it yet as Alonso's wicked volley looked like it had goal written all over it until Huddlestone threw himself in the way.

On 77 Rafa sent Benayoun on to counter the forward runs of Hutton as Riera made way, but Hutton continued to be of a huge influence. Defensively he was excellent and he was available every time Spurs attacked.

It was from one of his crosses that Spurs went close. Huddlestone won the ball in midfield and sprayed it wide to Hutton but his cross was just a fraction too long for Pavlyuchenko as Carragher struggled to find his man.

Another late chance fell to Spurs as Bentley won a 50-50 with Dossena. He lofted his cross into the box but Reina punched clear. The ball only going as far as Pavlyuchenko who fired over as defenders scrambled back onto the line.

In the 89th minute Spurs got their just reward as David Bentley picked the ball up out on the left. He drove towards goal, side stepping Mascherano and fired a tremendous shot at Reina, who produced a fantastic save as the ball dipped and swerved.

Unfortunately for Reina he didn't get enough on the ball to put it out for a corner and Darren Bent reacted quickest as he put the ball back across the goal into Pavyluchenko's path who's deft finish won the game for Tottenham.

Spurs will obviously be buoyed by the result, and after picking up seven points in their last three games (Redknapp's first three games) things are looking up for the North London club. But today, as in Wednesday's game they rode their luck. And on another day Liverpool could have been out of sight.

That they weren't is testament to Spurs working much harder under Redknapp than they did under Ramos. But Harry has been around the game long enough to know that luck will only bring you so far. Sooner or later it will run out and Spurs will have to dig deep as they have in their previous two games.

"We rode our luck, but our character was fantastic" Redknapp said after the game, he added "They closed down the space so well we really couldn't get out, we were more direct in the second half with two up front, I wanted us to hit them earlier and we did that much better"

Rafa was understandably frustrated as the loss, "We played really well and were creating enough chances to win the game, we were unlucky not to win. We have to win the next game but the mentality of the players will be high again"

Liverpool were unlucky today, no doubt about it. And on another day they could have been three up before Spurs responded. But once Spurs did get into the match they were the better side, to progress up the league they'll have to start playing before the 65th minute.

Football has a funny way of evening results out over the course of a season. And while a case could be argued that Liverpool deserved all 3pts today at Spurs, they have rode their own luck this season too (Middlesbrough, Sunderland) getting full points when they barely deserved them.

I've seen enough in Liverpool to say they are an excellent, well-oiled team and hopefully they'll run United and Chelsea a little closer this year.

And Spurs should have no problem avoiding relegation either. Their performances over the last few games have given the team bags of confidence so they should slowly move out of the danger zone. Judging by the teams current form and spirit, that shouldn't be a problem

twitter / WillieGannon