FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
TUESDAY 5TH DECEMBER, 2006
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (0) MIDDLESBROUGH 1 (0)
Referee: - Mark Halsey
Attendance: - 34,154
Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, King (Capt.), Lee; Lennon, Zokora, Huddlestone, Malbranque (sub Keane, 80) (sub Murphy, 90+); Berbatov, Defoe (sub Tainio, 88)
Subs not used: - Cerny; Stalteri
Sent off: - Zokora (Violent Conduct, 87)
Middlesbrough (4-4-2):- Schwarzer; Pogatetz, Woodgate, Huth, Taylor (sub Arca, 46); Xavier, Cattermole (sub Viduka, 56), Boateng (Capt.), Downing; Yakubu, Christie (sub Morrison, 46)
Subs not used: - Jones; Parnaby
Booked: - Arca, Pogatetz, Huth
Sent off: - Boateng (Violent Conduct, 87)
Two quality goals in the second half from Dimitar Berbatov and substitute Robbie Keane were enough to give Spurs a much needed three points that put them back into the top half of the Premiership, but the win was not achieved without the usual worries and edge of the seat viewing for the home fans. Whilst Mark Schwarzer was easily the busiest of the keepers, Middlesbrough were close enough to give their travelling support of about 1000 die-hards some encouragement, especially when centre back Robert Huth gave them an 80th minute equaliser from a corner that Spurs gave away a little too cheaply. Spurs had plenty of chances to have put the match out of sight – not an unknown experience this season! The match finished in something of a frenzy, as Zokora and Boateng were both sent off for raised arms, after Zokora had taken exception to a challenge by the “Boro” skipper on Aaron Lennon near the touchline. Emanuel Pogatetz may have been lucky to just see yellow a minute later for another heavy challenge.
Martin Jol made predictable changes to the starting line-up following Saturday’s disgrace at The Emirates Stadium. Young-Pyo Lee replaced Benoit Assou-Ekotto, who didn’t even make the bench, and both Tom Huddlestone and Jermain Defoe were given welcome starts. Huddlestone was the more defensive of the two central midfielders, but to be honest, turned out to be the most effective offensive of the two, having several good shots on goal, one of which was desperately tipped over by Schwarzer, and also proving to be an effective free-kick merchant, having a creative hand in both Spurs goals.
The wind-chill factor was quite high on an otherwise temperate evening, with a high wind swirling round the ground, making conditions less than ideal. The game was played at a decent pace, with possession being equally shared early on. It was “Boro” who came nearest to drawing first blood when Yakubu received a ball from the left, hitting a left footed shot just wide of Robinson’s right post. Five minutes later, Defoe hit a shot from a short free kick that curled over the bar. A minute later, Zokora went on one of his rampaging runs, making it all the way into the Boro penalty area, before being blocked. The ball ran in Defoe’s direction, but was cleared for a corner.
Berbatov’s great skill 35 yards out on the left channel preceded a ball to Defoe, whose shot was saved by Schwarzer. In the follow-up, there was a half-appeal as Berbatov went down in the box, to no avail. Malbranque made a great penetrating run down the same channel, feeding Defoe, who this time fired just outside the target. Spurs had done enough to warrant a lead already, and yet the goals just would not come. Now they were dominating possession too, and Defoe started a good counter-attack when heading the ball back to Zokora, who was able to make a run, then feed Lennon, who seemed to get barged about two yards, but won no sympathy from Mr Halsey.
Defoe was blocked again as he got into the box, and Lennon’s cross reached Tom Huddlestone lurking 25 yards out on the left side of the area. “Thud” hit a powerful drive that Schwarzer did well to tip over at full stretch. Just before the break, Huddlestone won a midfield challenge when his opponent seemed to bottle out of a fifty-fifty challenge. After carrying the ball a little way, Tom hit a shot from the other side this time – just wide.
Gareth Southgate made what appeared to be two un-forced changes at half-time, replacing left back Taylor with Julio Arca –surprisingly playing in that position, and replacing Christie with Morrison. Within three minutes of the re-start, Spurs took the lead with a quality goal. Huddlestone swung a long free kick across the area, which was headed back by Chimbonda. In one movement, Dimitar Berbatov shaped up, faced the ball and volleyed it past Schwarzer’s right hand from 12 yards.
After 54 minutes, Huddlestone won the ball in the middle and made a short pass to Zokora. Zokora passed ahead to Defoe, who got into the box, and was blocked. In the following play, Defoe was brought down on the very edge of the area, and from the free kick, Spurs worked the ball to Chimbonda beyond the far post in space, and seemingly with the goal wide open. Pascal could not hit the target.
Spurs fans’ favourite Mark Viduka was brought on, and Southgate had now played all his cards, with over half an hour to go. Paul Robinson made a good reaction save from Huth’s driven free kick, after Dawson had been penalised just outside the box, and then at the other end, after great inter-play between Berbatov and Defoe, Jermain hit a shot that was deflected for another corner. Berbatov and Defoe were involved again, as Lennon hit a shot just over the far corner, and then Lennon cut in from the right, setting up Defoe who was one on one with Schwarzer, who managed to save yet again.
We all feared the worst as Spurs gave away a corner a little cheaply, which they then struggled to clear. Robinson had had to make one quite desperate save, before Huth put the ball in the net from close range to equalise with just ten minutes of normal time left. Luckily for Spurs, the lead was re-instated by substitute Robbie Keane, whose first touch was to receive a short free kick from Huddlestone, before hitting a great right footed shot past Schwarzer’s left hand, just inside his post. It was a great goal for Robbie and for Spurs fans, which Keane celebrated in his traditional style. Schwarzer would be disappointed after having had such a good game.
Then came the fractious closing stages, where Mr Halsey was obliged to get his cards out. Spurs came closest to scoring again, when Keane hit a shot across the goalmouth after another Huddlestone pass
Zokora’s suspension for the next three games is not good news or Martin Jol, but Huddlestone did enough tonight to justify selection in his place. This was a much better performance from Spurs, who, after all, have had a great season on their own patch, winning 6 of their 8 games. It was not enough to take away the distaste of last Saturday’s defeat, but a good win next week-end against Charlton would certainly help to restore spirits.
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