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Match Reports
Spurs v Aston Villa, 26.12.06


Spurs scorer:-
Defoe, 58, 77

Villa scorer:-
Barry, 81

Referee: - Uriah Rennie

Attendance: - 35, 293

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Chimbonda, Dawson, King (Capt.), Lee; Ghaly (sub Murphy, 69), Zokora, Huddlestone, Malbranque; Berbatov, Defoe (sub Davenport, 88)

Subs not used: - Cerny; Ekotto, Ziegler

Booked: - Malbranque

Villa (4-4-2):- Kiraly; Hughes (sub Ridgewell, 36), Mellberg (sub Osbourne, 46), Cahill, Barry (Capt.); Petrov (sub Bouma, 46), Gardner, McCann, Davis; Baros, Agbonlahour

Subs not used: - Olejnik; Angel

Booked: - McCann, Cahill

Spurs had every reason to be thankful for the fitness and presence of Jermain Defoe, and especially for the emerging strike partnership he is forging with star striker, Dimitar Berbatov. Between them they have scored 10 of Spurs 16 December goals, and in this match Berbatov was the sublime supply line for excellent goals (scored from either side of the box and with both feet too) by Jermain Defoe. The understanding between these two players is growing week by week, and a continuation will surely be the key to any success for Spurs this season.

Defoe’s return (for Murphy) was the only change to the Spurs line-up after the defeat at Newcastle, and whilst the result was good, I cannot say that the performance was much different until the second half. Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa gave an excellent account of themselves, especially when you consider their lack of resources (currently), the injuries they sustained during the game, and their need to use young talent such as Cahill in defence, Osbourne and Gardner in midfield, and the established Agbonlahour up front. O’Neill had played all his cards by half-time, losing Hughes to injury after a crunch with Dimitar Berbatov, and subsequently Mellberg too from the same collision. One of O’Neill’s signings, Stiliyan Petrov was sacrificed at the break, presumably so that Bouma could shore up the ailing defence.

It was an open and quite entertaining game, with Spurs having the superiority in possession, but too often leaving large gaps in the middle, and failing with their important passes. If the supply to the front men had been better throughout, Spurs might have run up a more convincing score. As it was, we were all made to sweat it out (again!), due to Villa skipper Gareth Barry’s 81st minute goal. Villa have every reason to be thankful to Barry, who is their top scorer, with 5 penalties (and here’s a spooky statistic) and two 81st minute goals against Spurs!

Spurs were on the defensive early on, when Ledley King had to rescue Dawson against Agbonlahour, with a supreme saving tackle just inside the area, in front of the Paxton Road crowd. Our best chance of the early exchanges came after 10 minutes, when a cross from the left landed at the feet of the ever-industrious Malbranque, who tried a half-volley, hit powerfully just over the bar. Malbranque is winning a lot of admirers with his total commitment, but also with his considerable skill. Sometimes, his final challenge or pass does not come off, but he looks to be very much a part of Martin Jol’s plans.

After 17 minutes, Lee’s low ball reached Huddlestone, who hit a powerful drive, just tipped over the bar by loan keeper Gabor Kiraly, playing his third game in the absence of Sorensen and Taylor. Mid-way through the half, a Spurs attack broke down, after Huddlestone and Malbranque had led the advance, and Villa countered down the left flank. The ball reached Gardner in the middle who tried a long distance shot, held by Paul Robinson.

Berbatov forced his way into the Villa area after 32 minutes, and tried a punt and it was during this incident that Hughes and Mellberg sustained their injuries. Mellberg played out the rest of the half, but Liam Ridgewell replaced Hughes. Berbatov and Defoe fought hard in every department, and their “defending from the front” paid off after a Villa free kick had been cleared. Berbatov won the ball and sent Defoe away on a run. Jermain seemed to take a shade too long before pulling the trigger, and from where I sat, it looked like there might have been a Villa hand in the way as the ball ran out for a former, which was cleared. Chimbonda’s cross from the right was cleverly flicked on by Berbatov, to Defoe who was forced out to a wide angle by the defence. Defoe’s effort passed harmlessly in front of the goal. As half-time loomed, Huddlestone picked out Berbatov with an excellent chipped pass, controlled with style and panache by the Bulgarian, whose shot was saved. Ghaly (who was struggling to control the ball so often today) failed to take advantage of the loose ball, as it came to him on the edge of the box. Then Zokora crossed from the left, and Berbatov just failed to make contact as Villa gratefully put the ball out for a corner.

There were not so many clear cut chances in the second half, but Spurs still had the better of possession, whilst Villa fought hard. Spurs’ cause had not been aided by Mr Rennie’s lenience today, as Villa had got away without much more than a gentle word for a number of strong challenges. When, eventually he did get his cards out, you just knew that he was going to book at least one from each side, and Malbranque was shown yellow for a standard challenge

Spurs had the cutting edge though, and took the lead in the 58th minute, thanks to a beautiful low pass inside the defence for Defoe who fired home with his right foot. Defoe had been called offside at least two times on borderline decisions, but was behind the line this time! The second goal came thanks to Berbatov heading on Robinson’s clearance, into the path of Defoe, who this time was on the left of the area, and used his left foot to beat Kiraly.

Barry got the goal back as he forced his way past Chimbonda and Dawson from right to left across the Spurs area. Dawson fell under the strength of Barry, who was left with a simple finish to the left of Robinson. Defoe might have had a hat-trick, as he collected a deep cross by Chimbonda after an exciting run. Jermain’s shot was saved by the legs of Kiraly, and as Villa tried to pile on the pressure in search of an equaliser, Defoe was called off (to sustained applause) and replaced by Davenport to strengthen the Spurs resolve. There was a little desperation by Spurs, and Robinson had to make one save following a corner, but Spurs held out for a deserved win to maintain their marvellous home form (12 successive wins in all competitions), which will face a severe test on Saturday when Liverpool come to town.

I remember the “G-Men” of the Sixties (Gilzean and Greaves). Perhaps we should refer to Berbatov and Defoe as “Bravo-Delta Force”!

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
· Read the preview for this game.

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