Subs not used: - Cesar; Ekotto; Huddlestone, O’Hara; Campbell
Booked: - Hutton, Woodgate
Sent off: - Bale (17 – professional foul), Dawson (90+ - violent conduct – foot high in tackle)
Stoking up Ramos’s Pyre
Spurs are on target to become the worst ever Premiership team. With two points from 8 games, and hardly any matches played so far against the “Top Four Cartel”, they are on course statistically to fail even to match Derby’s pathetic 11 points of last season. How have we come to this disastrous scenario? Everyone is looking for a scapegoat, and Sporting Director Damien Comolli is the most popular choice amongst the fans, and the media.
Personally, I blame the man at the head of an organisation that is ruled by financial and not football issues. This organisation has dismantled a Carling Cup winning side; sold three decent players to Sunderland, two of whom could have been providing some of the much needed strength in the engine room ( I refer to squad quality Tainio and Malbranque); and of course has sold three International strikers in the last 10 months. As a unit, Spurs have failed to adequately replace those who have departed. Daniel Levy will say that the coach of the day has the final say on who comes and goes, but it was not Ramos who made a mess of the transfer window. Spurs haggle too much over a million or two that can make the difference between getting the right players or not. Rumour has it that Spurs are about to announce handsome profits for the year ending June 30th (that excludes most of the summer transfer business). For a club now having to seriously contemplate Championship football next season, profit is irrelevant, if not sinful.
I have no doubt that the blame will be swiftly deflected onto Juande Ramos, but he, or whoever does take charge cannot change the personnel before January, by which time it may be too late to buy ourselves out of trouble. Levy & Co will have a difficult AGM of the PLC, whenever they have the courage to announce the date.
Most of you know now that everything that could go wrong for Spurs did go wrong. Yesterday’s events could be remembered in Spurs history for a long time for the wrong reasons.
We welcomed back Alan Hutton, but felt the absence of Ledley King. We might have liked two strikers up front, but had to settle for Bent, who whilst scoring the equaliser once again got scant service overall from our skilful but light-weight midfield. Stoke are just one of the other 19 teams in this league (and like most professional teams anywhere) that have guts in the engine room. Players with muscle and power. Players with determination that wins the ball and does something with it. Where, oh where can Spurs find that attribute?
There was too much space given to Stoke early on, when Spurs fan Dave Kitson headed down for Delap, who spread the ball to his right where former Palace man Tom Soares should have scored, but saw his effort well saved by Gomes. Jenas threaded a ball through to Bent, whose shot was blocked and then rebounded off the striker for a goal kick. Bent then had a header on target after 16 minutes from a Bentley cross. Bentley was playing on the right of midfield, with Lennon on the left and Jenas, Zokora and Modric in the middle. Modric had a good half, spraying some good passes around and having an effort or two himself, but like the rest of his team-mates, he was not at the races in the second half.
Disaster struck Spurs after 17 minutes, when Bale tried to retrieve his own error with an honest, but illegal tackle on Soares. The award of a penalty was bad enough for Spurs, but the straight red displayed by referee Lee Mason seemed rough justice indeed. I assume it was deemed a professional foul, as Bale was the last man, but there was another defender adjacent to him. Bale’s unwanted hoodoo of never yet featuring in a Spurs Premier League win goes on. Mind you, quite a few of this team have the same record this season!
After much delay, because the wind kept blowing the ball off the spot, Higginbotham planted the penalty beyond the reach of Gomes’ left hand. Zokora moved to left back, and Spurs tried and succeeded in keeping their formation essentially, with one less in the middle. Spurs in fact dominated the rest of the half, and got a deserved equaliser when Hutton’s cross was deflected into Bent’s path. Bent took a while to get the ball from under his feet, but beat Sorensen from close range. Stoke claimed offside, but maybe the defender’s deflection took the linesman’s eye, rather than the original cross. It was almost the only stroke of luck that came Spurs way on the day. Lennon had a shot on target but comfortably saved after 39 minutes, but for all their effort, that was the only pressure on the keeper.
Tony Pulis had obviously given his men the half-time proverbial kick up the back-side, and Stoke came at Spurs in waves of physicality. Almost before Spurs had taken a breath from the onslaught, they were behind, as Sidibe’s cross from the right crossed the 6 yard box, and Delap fired home from close range, with Hutton just beaten by the ball.
Despite being a man down, Juande Ramos took off a midfielder (Bentley) for Pavlyuchenko, and Spurs tried to work with a three man midfield, with Bent falling back to assist on occasions. Pavlyuchenko featured in Spurs best move of the half, exchanging with Modric, before Modric got the ball back off Sonko and hit a shot well over the bar.
Hutton was unfortunate to get a yellow card for his perceived challenge on Sorensen, when in fact Hutton pulled his foot away from the keeper and his own man (Sonko) caused the head wound that meant he had to be replaced by Simonsen.
There was a lengthy delay at the other end, after Corluka went down (for the second time), having been kneed by Gomes as he rose to clear a ball. Corluka was stretchered off, and had been given oxygen, but the news is of a complete recovery, after being examined at hospital. Dawson took Corluka’s place.
Abdoulaye Faye got a yellow card for a late challenge on Bent just outside the box, but Jenas dismally skied the free kick into the dismayed Spurs crowd. We saw the board go up with 11 minutes added time displayed. Pavlyuchenko fed the ball to Bent, who was closed down quickly. Jonathan Woodgate was penalised for a foul in the box – again on Soares – and this time substitute Fuller stepped up. His kick beat Gomes, but rebounded off the left post, then off the other post as it crossed the goal. A follow-up shot hit the bar and Spurs remained just one goal down.
It was around this time that I noticed Michael Dawson in the Spurs midfield. Just as I was wondering what he was doing in strange territory, he went into a tackle with what was held to be his foot up, and saw a straight red. Replays do show that Dawson hit the ball first and that his foot rolled up into his opponent’s shin, but whether there will be any sympathy at an appeal, I don’t know.
Fuller had another pop at goal, but his shot hit the bar.
So, here we are – stranded at the bottom of the table. We have one defender suspended for three games now, and another for one game. Then there is Corluka, who may have a concussion and have to be rested, and finally Ledley King. Thursday’s game in Italy seems as irrelevant as profit for an ailing football club. I’m dusting off my map of Plymouth.