Saturday, October 24, 2009

Superb Defensive Display Sees Stoke Beat Unlucky Spurs 1-0 at White Hart Lane

Stoke came to White Hart Lane and denied Tottenham Hotspur a chance of going top of the table with a superb defensive display. A solitary goal from Glen Whelan was enough to give the Potters all three points, and deny Spurs a win on Harry Redknapp's one year anniversary as manager.

This was to be one of Spurs' biggest test so far, having been comfortably beaten by Manchester United and Chelsea, albeit in games they were expected to lose, Harry Redknapp had set his team a target of Champions League football. To even challenge for that much this was a game they were expected to win.

Something that has not sat well with Spurs teams over the last 25 years.

Both Pulis and Redknapp are 442 traditionalists so both sides lined out in attempts to snuff out each others attacking flair. The duo were together at Bournemouth in the early '90s, as manager and assistant and Pulis succeeded Redknapp in 1992 when the now Spurs manager took over at West Ham.

Stoke took the early initiative with a massive long throw from Rory Delap, just inside the Spurs half. His huge effort was dealt with comfortably by Crouch and the returning Woodgate who cleared for a corner. From the corner. Gomes took the ball easily and released Keane on a swift counter attack, but the Irishman's control let him down.

The Potters appeared to have pin-pointed Vedran Corluka as a weak point in the Spurs team and tried on more than one occasion to release Matthew Etherington down the left, his pace and directness causing the Croatian international plenty of problems.

Equally Spurs strived to get Aaron Lennon clear as often as possible. The little English man has been is fantastic form since the turn of the year, and has forced himself into Fabio Capello's plans for South Africa.

Twice in the first 10 minutes his pace took him away from Ryan Shawcross and Etherington and his crosses almost led to Tottenham taking the lead after he found Peter Crouch at the far post but Simonsen clawed the effort around the post. Moments later Crouch went close again, this time the provider was Krankjaer, but again Sorenson's replacement was equal to the effort.

Spurs had to swallow a bitter pill after all their good early work as Jonathan Woodgate had to leave the pitch with an injury to his thigh. It was the centre half's first appearance of the season following severe injury problems, his replacement was Michael Dawson who had only played for four minutes thus far this season.

Lennon continued to be Spurs most creative force, and his superb cross was met by Peter Crouch who directed his header towards the top corner with the 'keeper well beaten only for James Beattie to acrobatically clear the goal bound effort with a hooked clearance.

Moments later Niko Krankjaer smashed a shot off the foot of the post as Spurs began to turn the screw in search of the opening goal.

Stoke were devoid of creativity apart from Rory Delap's long throws. In setting up his team Redknapp went with Palacios and the ever present Tom Huddlestone in central midfield, and Crouch up front in place of the suspended Jermaine Defoe.

The extra height that Crouch and Huddlestone provided at the back gave Spurs a firm foundation for dealing with Stoke's inevitable aerial attack through set plays. And their lack of ambition in their play gave all the impetus to Spurs, but this Stoke team are more than capable of a smash and grab and as the two teams trotted in at half time it was easy to see which manager was the happier.

Spurs started the second half in the same vein as the first, Aaron Lennon broke away from ex-Manchester United player Shawcross on the right of the box and found Keane with a slide-rule pass, the Irishman's first time shot was brilliantly saved by Simonsen but the ball squirmed free of his grasp and Crouch slid in to capitalise, but a brilliant defending tackle by Faye denied Spurs a certain goal.

The ineffective Delap was replaced by his fellow countryman Glen Whelan in the 60th minute as Tony Pulis looked to stem the flow of Tottenham's incessant attacks, but Spurs went close again moments later.

Tom Huddlestone's shot was deflected wide for a corner, and from the resulting set-piece Steve Simonsen pulled off a miraculous save from Crouch after he had leaped like a salmon to meet Krankjaer's corner.

With Spurs piling on the pressure, Redknapp then chose to change things around and the hard working Robbie Keane made way for Pavlyuchenko as Harry signalled that Spurs would go more direct for the last half hour.

There has been all kinds of transfer speculation surrounding the big Russian this year, and at one stage it looked as if he was on the verge of a transfer back to Spartak Moscow for a reduced fee of £10 million only for Spurs to pull out of the deal at the 11th hour.

The Potters then almost snatched the lead after Matthew Etherington tore down the left and found Beattie with a brilliant cross. The ex-England international rose between Bassong and Dawson but he headed wide with Gomes flat-footed in the Spurs goal.

The tiring Tom Huddlestone and James Beattie then made way for Jenas and Tuncay respectively as both managers looked to eek out a winner in this tight affair.

The match was becoming a midfield battle of attrition before Jermaine Jenas broke from the centre with a driving run on goal, but his penetrative run was brought to an abrupt halt by Salif Diao who received a yellow card into the bargain.

The freekick was in an ideal position, 20 yards from goal and slightly to the right. Assou-Ekotto lined himself up from the free but Jenas took the kick and it went high and wide, much to Harry Redknapp's annoyance as he thought the young Cameroonian was going to take it.

With 10 minutes to go Spurs were dealt a hammer blow as Aaron Lennon was forced off the pitch with an injury, as Harry had already made his three substitutions Spurs were forced to play out the game with ten men.

The extra space due to Lennon's departure gave the impetus to Stoke who sensed blood and all of Tottenham's hard work was then undone as Ricardo Fuller's powered down the right with a forceful run. He powered into the box past Assou-Ekotto and cut the ball back for Whelan who guided his sublime shot into the top corner to give Stoke an unlikely lead. (Spurs 0-1 Stoke)

Fuller had been picked out as the danger-man by Harry Redknapp in the pre-match press conference and his old player did everything Harry thought hw would. He worked the Spurs back-line tirelessly, chasing lost causes and causing all sorts of problems.

As the game moved towards it's end, Spurs launched attacks from all directions but Stoke dealt with them easily. Steve Simonsen collecting the ball from Peter Crouch's head just when his team needed him to be big and justifying his man of the match performance.

Spurs cried foul as Ryan Shawcross seemed to bundle Niko Krankjaer over but it was no foul and the Tottenham players pleas fell on deaf ears as Stoke deservedly ran out 1-0 winners.

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