My good friend, Paul Willcox watched the game on my behalf yesterday, and this is his excellent report. Thanks Paul!
Just as I turned around to my fellow spurs fans and said “we actually might win this”, out came the red card for what looked like a fairly innocuous aerial challenge by Mido on Chelsea new boy, Del Horno. For the remainder of the half, and if not the whole game, the majority of the White Hart Lane crowd were shocked & stunned by the decision, incensing a barrage of abuse towards today’s referee, Mr Rob Styles. Our hearts sank, and with it our chances of a point scoring result.
Having since seen the replays of the challenge on the television highlights, it looked like the kind of “foul” that we have seen Alan Shearer doing week in, week out for the past 10 or 15 years. However, although I disagree with the referee’s decision, from one angle the way Mido went in with his raised arm looked particularly uncompromising; although according to Robinson’s comments, he asked Rob Styles at half time if Mido had been sent off for using the elbow, and the referee stated something along the lines of “I didn’t really see it… I sent him off for an “overly aggressive challenge.”
What we have to remember here though is that our opponents today were in my opinion the strongest team we have ever had to play against in the Premierships 13 year history. Ok, so they are boring to watch, but oh so effective. Organised, disciplined, with 11 vs 11 men, this match was going to be difficult enough.
From the outset we started in the usual 4-4-2 fashion with Davids and Carrick in the middle of the park and Reid and Tainio playing out wide. Kelly replaced Edman at left back to play alongside a back four consisting of Dawson, Gardner and Stalteri. Preferred partnership Mido and Defoe began up front, with Cerny, Naybet, Brown, Lennon and Keane all starting on the bench.
We began brightly and before the 5th minute was over we had already seen Mido drag a shot off-target and Dawson head wide after Del Horno needlessly gave away a corner. On 11 minutes, we saw Defoe light up for the first time, picking up a loose ball and turning sharply to hit a decent volley with his left foot straight at Cech. Moments later, Reid tried a more ambitious volley from way outside of the area, shooting from the left towards the right hand side of the goal, but it was never going to worry the Chelsea keeper. We didn’t really see much from Chelsea until the 14th minute. A Lampard set-piece was deflected, leaving an easy save for Robinson to make, whilst Drogba hot a similarly positioned free kick wide.
Then came a real moment of controversy. In the 20th minute Davids was brought down just outside of the area after an excellent one-two between Tainio and Defoe which sliced through this stubborn defence. Essien appeared to clip the heals of Davids as he ran onto the resulting Tainio through ball, although Style’s decision of showing only a yellow card was perhaps justified with the positioning of Terry, who would have most certainly got to the ball before Davids. Then on 22 minutes Gardner was booked for a much lesser crime, standing in the way of Drogba’s path to goal. A harsh decision on poor Anthony although how we expect to qualify for Europe with him at the back is beyond me. He makes some crucial clearances, but looks so uncomfortable on the ball, getting caught out on a number of occasions with shocking control and passing ability. He would never have got the yellow card if he had dealt with the ball received by Drogba with proper authority, instead letting him muscle his way in, providing Didier with the opportunity to take him on.
Next up came the unfortunate sending off of Mido, who took an age to leave the field, obviously in some distress with the decision, choosing to cover his face with his shirt in frustration.
Now down to ten men, Edgar Davids started to work extremely hard to make up the numbers, battling for every ball without ever going in recklessly. In fact, he was winning the encounter against the opposite number 5, mega-million Chelsea signing Michael Essien. However, no matter how hard Davids laboured, the inevitable happened and up stepped Del Horno to head home a Lampard corner. Woeful marking and no cover on the back post meant this goal can only go down as a defensive error.
Chelsea were now allowed to knock the ball around a little more, finding space at the back to patiently build an attack with some rather dull (to watch) passing. Carrick struck a reasonable free kick right at the end of the half, but the break must have been welcome for both the players and fans alike.
Jol decided to change things a little a half time, bringing on debutant Aaron Lennon in the place of Tainio on the right side of midfield. It was a lively little performance from this action packed yousgster, who I am expecting to see again in the very near future after some impressive, fearless dribbling at the Chelsea defence.
It became increasingly difficult to get the ball off Chelsea, who must have mustered 60% or 70% possession for most of the half. We really did rally though later in the half, pressing Chelsea by harassing them at every opportunity. Typically, just as we started to look dangerous, up stepped Damien Duff to hit home from close range after excellent work by 63rd minute substitute Shaun Wright-Phillips gave him the room to drive a cross towards the Irishman. At the time it looked like an awful goal to concede – A completely miss-hit shot. Replays suggest though that this was quite a clever finish as the cross from Wright-Phillips was behind Duff and he somehow managed to stretch out a leg and get his foot (or shin!) on it to leave Robinson with no chance as he was left completely wrong footed.
Still Chelsea refused to lose their shape or discipline; no doubt with Mourinho watching over their every move with menace. Screams of “Boring Boring Chelsea” reverberated around the stadium, and yes, it really was boring. Robinson made a couple of great saves from Crespo late on to stop the lead being increased, but by this time our boys looked beaten, although with tremendous pride in tact as we battled and fought for everything we could.
Davids got his trademark booking, along with Reid who I can only think was booked for back-chatting because his backing in offence was hardly cautionable.
The remaining 10 or so minutes were played at a slower pace, with both teams happy to settle for the result.
The crucial decision to send off Mido ruined the game in my opinion. It would have been nice to see a fair, 11 vs 11 game so that we could judge our obvious improvement this season. Perhaps we will get the chance to prove ourselves against Chelsea again this term – A home tie in the F.A Cup at some point would be nice.
Meanwhile we have Liverpool to beat after the short break for international fixtures followed by a reasonable run against Villa, Fulham, Charlton and Everton. These are all games we should be confident of picking up points from and I predict us to be in the top 7 by the end of them.
· Read Declan Mulcahy's report here
· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
· Read the preview for this game.
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