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Stoke v Spurs, 20.03.10

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 20TH MARCH, 2010
STOKE CITY 1 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (0)

Stoke scorer:-
Etherington (pen), 64

Spurs scorers:-
Gudjohnsen, 46
Kranjcar, 77

Attendance:- 27,575

Referee:- Mike Dean
Assistants:- Mr. P. Keane & Mr. A. Watts
Fourth Official:- Chris Foy

Teams:-
Stoke (4-4-2):- Sorensen; Huth, Abdoulaye Faye (Capt.), Higginbotham, Collins; Delap, Whitehead, Whelan (sub Tuncay, 84), Etherington; Fuller, Kitson (sub Sidibe, 84)

Subs not used:- Begovic; Wilkinson; Lawrence, Pugh; Moult

Booked:- Fuller, Whitehead

Sent off:- (Second bookable offence) Whitehead, 48

Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson (Capt.), Bassong, Ekotto; Kranjcar (sub Livermore, 90), Kaboul, Modric, Bale; Crouch, Pavlyuchenko (sub Gudjohnsen, 36)

Subs not used:- Alnwick; Dervite; Palacios, Parrett, Townsend

Booked:- Ekotto, Kranjcar

Eidur gives Spurs that “Gud” feeling!

It was as tough a game as expected in front of a pretty full house, as partisan as you could get. I didn’t hear any rendition of the Stoke fans’ theme “Delilah” and I didn’t see any “Delilahs” on the pitch as everyone gave their all to their cause. In Stoke’s case of course it was to gain three more points to seal their Premier League future (which I regard as assured anyway), whilst Spurs of course were seeking to maintain their grip on fourth place. In the end, largely thanks to two crucial contributions from substitute Eidur Gudjohnsen, Spurs got an oh so precious win that actually strengthens their hold on fourth, with Villa losing two points at home to Wolves on the same day. There is a long hard road ahead yet with eight games remaining.

Harry Redknapp made a not surprising change in midfield, protecting Wilson Palacios from that potential tenth booking, and playing the cup-tied Younes Kaboul in his place. Palacios stayed on the bench and will take his place in next Wednesday’s FA Cup quarter-final replay. I had my personal reservations about this move, but logically you couldn’t argue with Harry’s decision, and of course it paid off. I felt that Kaboul was nowhere near so prominent in the first half as Wilson would have been, but in the second half, when Stoke were chasing the game, his aerial strength was important both in midfield and at the back. Once again, Luka Modric did an admirable job in the middle, often being the source of Spurs’ better moves. Kranjcar was industrious throughout and was rewarded with the winning goal.

Roman Pavlyuchenko joined the too long ranks of Spurs injured, having to withdraw after just 36 minutes with a hamstring injury. That introduced Eidur Gudjohnsen to the game, and he was to be its hero with a great goal in the first minute of the second half, and a clever dummy to allow Kranjcar’s winning shot. Spurs were otherwise threadbare on the bench, filled with reserve and youth team players.

There was no sign of Ryan Shawcross for Stoke, and I didn’t hear any supportive chants for him either, as might have been expected from the Spurs fans at least! Spurs fan Dave Kitson partnered the powerful Ricardo Fuller in attack, and there were no doubts that his loyalties were with Stoke, as he begged for Bale to be booked for a foul in the second half.

Stoke don’t like referee Mike Dean, who has refereed them five times this season, and allegedly is not slow in sending players off. I was talking to a Stoke fan before the game who correctly anticipated such an outcome today. Dean’s victim was Stoke midfielder Dean Whitehead for two late challenges upon Luka Modric. The pundits feel that Whitehead’s second yellow was harsh, but I felt that it was a cynical enough challenge to stop Luka Modric in his tracks, as he was about to break into the Stoke half. The home fans booed Modric, and any Spurs player who had the audacity to get fouled and especially if they needed treatment, such as Gareth Bale. There must be some sort of agenda between the Stoke fans and Kranjcar too, as Niko was booed in the early stages whenever he was on the ball.

The Stoke fans’ chant of “Boring, boring Tottenham” was laughable really, as they have to watch their team’s grinding and gritty performances week in, week out. It’s a bit like watching a new Wimbledon really, but in fairness Stoke are not quite so physical, and rely less upon a long ball game. Stoke deserve another year in the top flight.

One of Spurs’ aims for the game must have been not to concede a throw-in in “Delap range”. They failed in this objective from the start, with Michael Dawson having to head clear Delap’s early rocket-launched throws into the 6 yard box. As the game progressed, Peter Crouch’s height was deployed as an effective line of defence against Delap’s throws. The whole stadium is keyed for the tactic as every ball boy has a towel for their hero, who takes an age every time he takes the throw. Surprisingly there was relatively little added time at the end of either half to allow for the time taken by Delap. Ultimately, on this day, the throw reaped no rewards.

Spurs had the clear territorial advantage in the early stages, without threatening goal, apart from a Bassong header over the bar from Bale’s corner. After 17 minutes and a Spurs throw, Kranjcar’s shot was parried by Sorensen and Crouch was lurking, but the keeper made his ground before the striker. Fuller got the first booking of the game for his crunching challenge on Gareth Bale, who worked as hard as always, but had more difficulty in passing his markers than of late. Delap and right back Robert Huth must take a lot of credit for some degree of neutralising Bale throughout the game. Sorensen had to stretch back to catch a good cross from the right by Kranjcar.

After 21 minutes, Michael Dawson was just edged out by Etherington, whose shot on target was deflected for a Stoke corner. After a subsequent Stoke cross from the left, Kitson got a headed touch to the back post, but skipper Abdoulaye Faye headed wide. Kranjcar took a corner on the right won by some battling by both Crouch and Pavlyuchenko. Kranjcar collected the returned ball and tried a left footed shot that was just wide of the far post. Whitehead then got his first booking for a foul on Modric.

Something that frustrates me at times is a habit of allowing a ball out of play, when it could have been played forward quicker. Corluka was the villain for me on one occasion, when he took so long in taking the throw that the opposition were allowed to form up. When the throw was taken it was given away, and Spurs ended up under some pressure, ending in a Kitson shot which Gomes saved. I would also have liked Gomes’ handling to have been cleaner and more commanding, but apart from the penalty, he was not beaten, was he?

Pavlyuchenko’s early substitution came as a surprise, as no injury was evident. It looked initially as if Gudjohnsen and Kranjcar were going to play off Crouch. A cross/shot by Kitson was punched clear by Gomes, and somewhat fortuitously the ball landed at the feet of Bale. In first half added time, Bale hit a dipping free kick just over the Stoke bar.

Spurs scored a great goal in the first minute after the interval, almost straight from the kick off, taken by the visitors. After a brief exchange of possession in the middle the ball was pushed forward and Crouch lobbed a ball over the defence which was chased by Faye and Gudjohnsen. It was Gudjohnsen’s strength that won the battle with the beefy Faye, and he battled into the box before unleashing a left footed shot high into Sorensen’s net in front of the ecstatic Spurs fans.

The Spurs mood was lifted even further minutes later, when Whitehead saw that second yellow and Stoke were down to ten. Kitson fell back to assist his defence, but for a while Spurs had Stoke under the cosh, as it looked as if they might increase their score at will. Modric and Kranjcar exchanged passed before Luka had a shot that was under strength saved by the keeper with a dive to his left. Bale and Modric connived at a short corner, and when the ball did come in, it was Ekotto’s shot that forced another save by Sorensen. Kranjcar just failed to make contact with a cross from the right, as the ball passed dangerously across goal.

Stoke had been on the rack, and yet Spurs allowed them back into the game. The referee might have been a bit too keen to award a penalty against Ekotto for a body charge on Kitson, and he pointed to the spot with gusto. Former Spur Matty Etherington was only too happy to step up, send Gomes the wrong way, and to plant the ball into the left corner of the net.

Kaboul had been having a number of attempts on goal, and gradually got them closer to the target, the best of which was only a yard or so outside the keeper’s left post. Spurs were defending too deeply at times, allowing the ten men to come at them, and it was a poor defensive header by Crouch that allowed a shot by Etherington which Fuller fired over from short range.

Spurs found their attacking feet again with fifteen minutes to go. First Kranjcar set up Kaboul, whose strong shot was parried by Sorensen, with no-one there to sweep up. Two minutes later, Spurs regained the lead as Ekotto hit a powerful low cross behind the six yard line, Gudjohnsen let the ball go through his legs, and Kranjcar fired home with great conviction with a super left footed shot. Tony Pulis replaced Kitson and Whelan with Sidibe and Tuncay, and did everything they could to equalise. Spurs had one more effort on goal, as Bale’s shot passed wide of the far post, but for most of the remaining time, it was a backs to the wall job to hang onto the lead, with that too deep defence.

Bassong, who had been such a cool customer throughout the game, made a couple of rash errors that led to Stoke chances, thankfully smothered and cleared. Spurs became the fifth team to gain a league win at The Britannia Stadium this season, and this was their sixth away league win. It keeps us in pole position, and with Portsmouth to face next week, there has to be confidence about going into those tough April fixtures against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man Utd. It is also worth remembering that when we lost at Stoke 17 months ago, Spurs were at a real low. Since then Spurs have played 60 Premier League games under Harry Redknapp, winning 30 and drawing 14 of those, gaining a total of 104 points, averaging 1.73 points per game. It’s quite a record!

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