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Spurs v Birmingham City, 29.08.09

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 29TH AUGUST, 2009
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (0) BIRMINGHAM CITY 1 (0)

Spurs scorers:-
Crouch, 72
Lennon, 90

Birmingham scorer:-
Bowyer, 75

Referee: - Mr. P. Walton

Attendance: - 35,318

Teams:-
Spurs (4-4-2):- Cudicini; Corluka, King (sub Hutton, 46), Bassong, Ekotto; Lennon, Palacios, Huddlestone, Modric (sub Crouch, 49); Defoe (sub Pavlyuchenko, 80), Keane (Capt.)

Subs not used: - Button; Naughton; Bentley, Giovani

Booked: - Hutton, Huddlestone

Birmingham (4-5-1):- Hart; Parnaby, Johnson, Queudrue, Carr; Larsson (sub McSheffrey, 90), Ferguson, Carsley (Capt.) (sub Benitez, 73), Bowyer, McFadden; O’Connor

Subs not used: - Taylor; Espinoza, O’Shea, Phillips

Booked: - Carr, O’Connor, (both for fouls on Lennon)

Brummies floored by Lennon

Birmingham players were literally left sprawling upon the pitch as Aaron Lennon’s winner in the dying seconds of added time thwarted the visitors’ game plan and deprived them of a point they so nearly won. I took a great deal of satisfaction from the fact that it was Stephen Carr’s error, losing the ball at the half-way line, that led to the winning goal.

Spurs go into the International break joint top of the league, with Chelsea marginally ahead on goal difference after a marvellous start of 4 winning games. This was arguably the hardest of all four though, with Alex McLeish’s side playing a 4-5-1 system that somehow managed to keep Spurs at bay, occasionally threatened to score on the break, and then when the situation demanded it, switched to 4-4-2 and quickly got an equalising goal, thanks to a mix-up between Cudicini and substitute Alan Hutton.

Amidst the joy and glory, there were a couple of injury worries for Spurs and England. Ledley King did not make it beyond half-time, and Luka Modric hobbled off within minutes of the re-start. There are rumours that Luka may be out for a couple of months with a minor fracture, and if true, Spurs will miss him sorely. Mind you, as Mark Lawrenson commented on Match of the Day, Luka’s replacement – Peter Crouch became the winning factor for Spurs, with his first Premier League goal for the club, and several other good chances too – one of which hit the bar, and another that was headed out by Lee Carsley from a position that looked suspiciously behind the line. Despite the lateness of the winner, it was a result deserved by Spurs, who hogged possession and the chances.

Spurs started with what is currently their traditional first choice side, whereas Birmingham set up with O’Connor as the lone front runner, supported by former Gooner Larsson and McFadden from the flanks, with skipper Lee Carsley at the back of midfield and Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer alongside. Stephen Carr was welcomed with plenty of cheers, but I prefer to recall that he left us for what he thought was a bigger club who had more chance of success. It didn’t work out that way, did it, Stephen? Carr was at left back, in an attempt to stem Lennon, but he was one of the two Birmingham players carded (there could have been others) for a sequence of fouls upon the ever elusive Spurs winger.

Spurs were on top from the outset, with Modric and Ekotto combining to get the ball into the middle where Robbie Keane was just not quite able to take advantage. Indeed a pattern throughout the first half was for Spurs to often get the ball to the feet of Keane, who one way or another was prevented from scoring. Too often by his own failures today for my liking. Modric made an advance after 6 minutes down the left channel, and his ball across the area reached Lennon, whose shot was parried then cleared. After a corner, Huddlestone’s shot was blocked and Keane’s effort was easily saved by Joe Hart.

Ledley King made a good block of a McFadden shot after Birmingham broke down the left side, and then from the other flank, Larsson cut in and got a shot on target, which Cudicini parried and then saw his defenders clear. After 13 minutes, Huddlestone sent Ekotto away with a great ball. The cross was met by Keane who put the ball into Defoe’s path, but Jermain could not quite reach it. Huddlestone had a great first half with many effective passes, but in the second, when Birmingham closed him down more and took more of the initiative, he faded somewhat, in my view. Palacios was consistent throughout, with his usual ball-winning skills. He hasn’t been booked yet this season either!

Cudicini was down to an on target shot by O’Connor before a flowing move from the back through Ledley, Modric then Lennon down the left side, ended with Lennon’s shot and a good save by Hart. Carr did not follow Lennon when he moved to the left. I also noticed that after Modric’s injury, Aaron was given the level of freedom usually granted to Luka, to turn up all over the pitch – as illustrated by the winning goal!

Ledley King demonstrated he still has legs by chasing and beating Lee Bowyer, to safely see the ball out of play for a goal-kick. Okay, so Bowyer is getting on a bit, but Ledley did have a bit of ground to make up.

After 19 minutes, Luka Modric got to the all important bye-line and sent the ball in across the box. Lennon met it with a good low drive, cleared from in front of goal by Carr. Larsson got another run inside at the spurs end and hit a shot wide across the goal. There were shots by Defoe and Modric, both of which passed wide, and the Spurs momentum began to slow. We’d been camped in the Birmingham half, but had failed to make a decent break-through against a packed defensive line-up. A better chance fell to Defoe after Huddlestone headed clear from the Spurs half. Jermain chose to run into a wall of two or three defenders instead of passing to Keane who was with him and in space on the left.

Spurs rhythm was upset by the loss of King and Modric, but Robbie Keane moved to the left side allowing Crouch to partner Defoe. Robbie was looking for the pass to receive and to give when he was ahead of Ekotto. Robbie found Defoe with the ball, but Jermain’s shot was blocked. After Carr had been booked for a foul on Lennon, Birmingham attacked and McFadden fell in the Spurs area, seeking a penalty, but in a situation which looked more like Eduardo-like simulation. Hutton and Corluka were the defenders giving McFadden close attention, but Hutton clearly shied away from a final tackle.

At the other end, Hutton became provider for Crouch, who firstly forced a save from a header then got another header in from an Ekotto cross a minute later. Suddenly Johnson and Queudrue had some height to deal with! Robbie Keane became chief corner taker, and another Spurs chance arose when Crouch’s header was blocked, Corluka headed it across to Defoe who tried a spectacular overhead kick, which went wide. Lennon took possession of a loose ball in the middle and sent Keane away down the left side. Keane crossed and Crouch’s header hit the bar. It looked like it was going to be one of those games. Then came the corner from which Crouch’s header looked to me to have been cleared from behind the line, but there were not too many protests by the players.

Hutton and Lennon combined on the right and sent a good ball to Crouch, who headed down for Keane, whose shot was fired over. At last, Spurs took the lead after McFadden fouled Lennon (no card), Huddlestone took the free kick and Crouch rose to head home in front of the Paxton Lane stand. The lead was short-lived though, as McLeish immediately withdrew Carsley for another striker – Benitez. Within three minutes, Birmingham were level. There was a degree of indecision and hesitation on Spurs left flank by Huddlestone and Keane, allowing the ball to be crossed, but the cardinal error was made by Hutton and Cudicini, as their communication failed. Hutton thought he was shepherding the ball for Cudicini, Cudicini failed to come for the ball, and Lee Bowyer stepped in to score from close range.

Defoe took a knock and was replaced by Pavlyuchenko, but it was Birmingham who nearly got a winner with Benitez feeding O’Connor, whose shot hit the side netting.

With a number of frustrated Spurs fans leaving the ground, the late, late winner came courtesy of a stumble by Stephen Carr near the half-way line, a short pass from Huddlestone to Pavlyuchenko, who raced away down the right and passed across the area to Lennon who moved round a couple of defenders, before beating Hart with his low drive for his second goal of the season. It was a goal that certainly sent me home happy, and will keep the smile on my face for the next two weeks until we face Manchester United on our turf. I can’t wait!

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