FA BARCLAYS PREMIERSHIP
TUESDAY 22ND AUGUST, 2006
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (2) SHEFFIELD UNITED 0 (0)
Referee: - Peter Walton
Attendance: - 35, 287
Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Lee, Dawson, Davenport, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas, Davids, Tainio (sub Zokora, 68); Berbatov, Keane (Capt.) (sub Defoe, 81)
Robinson took over as Captain
Subs not used: - Cerny; Stalteri, Gardner
Sheff Utd (5-4-1):- Kenny; Sommeil (sub Montgomery, 60), Bromby, Morgan (Capt.), Unsworth (sub Nade, 60), Armstrong; Gillespie (sub Quinn, 79), Tonge, Jagielka, Webber; Akinbiyi
Subs not used: - Kozluk; Leigertwood
Booked: - Bromby
In what was almost a complete reverse of the result and circumstances of Saturdayís game at Bolton, Spurs bounced back in some style with two early goals and a dominating performance to send Neil Warnockís boys back North with a recognition of the 36 game battle ahead of them to survive in the Premiership. There were plenty of good performances out there for Spurs tonight, and my only criticism would be that they could and should have scored three or four goals to kill the game much earlier. As it was there were times when strong defence was required, as United got into threatening positions, but lacked the finesse to capitalise.
Neil Warnock was forced to make three late changes to his side, including Saturdayís goal-scorer Rob Hulse. In his place we saw Ade Akinbiyi, left to soldier alone at the front, as the rest of his team played a defensive role, with a clear aim to get a point from White Hart Lane. Akinbiyi was the player who caused much criticism for Peter Taylor when he paid a lot of money to bring the striker to Leicester. Now a veteran, Akinbiyi has come to Sheffield via Burnley and Stoke, as he reaches his 11th club in his thirteen year career, during which he has scored 130 league goals. Warnock also included Keith Gillespie and David Unsworth in the starting line-up, both of whom were substituted in the second half.
Martin Jol left Didier Zokora on the bench, with Teemu Tainio replacing him in the middle. Tainio in fact played left side, allowing Davids to partner Jenas in the central midfield. Davids was a great example to all around him all night, defending tigerishly, but fairly, supporting the attack, and getting one or two shots at goal too. Robbie Keane started too, and pulled the strings for Spurs in a thoroughly entertaining first half show.
I thought that Warnock got his tactics wrong at the start, as he seemed to pack the Spurs left flank, perhaps thinking that Aaron Lennon would start where he finished at Bolton on Saturday. As a result, Lennon enjoyed more space and teased United left back Chris Armstrong wickedly with his marvellous turn of speed, and great deliveries to the middle. After all the early moans from so many Spurs fans following the Bolton defeat, full backs Young-Pyo Lee and Benoit Assou-Ekotto will surely have impressed all present tonight. I thought both defended well and both did well coming forward. Ekotto is the cooler of the two, but Lee nearly got a super goal at the end of one of the more enterprising moves of the second half. Calum Davenport got a number of chances to venture forward, leading one or two moves, but should have scored in the second half when he had a golden opportunity to shoot, which he spurned.
The ground was full, except for some of the lower tier of the away section, which United failed to fill, and within five minutes they were nearly treated to a first goal by Berbatov as he just failed to make contact with Robbie Keaneís delightful cross from the left. They only had to wait a couple of minutes though, and Berbatov will not score an easier goal all season surely, as he got on the end of Lennonís low cross which followed another great ball by skipper Keane from behind the attack. Spurs pressed on, as Lennonís cross was headed down by Berbatov for Tainio to hit a rising shot over the goal
Keane and Berbatov were integral again, as Spurs doubled their lead in the 17th minute. Keane flighted a ball from the left, and Berbatov won a battle for the ball, dinking it to Jenas who had made a run to get ahead and then beat the keeper with a deft touch. Jenas is often castigated by Spurs fans, but he made plenty of strong winning tackles tonight, and whilst one or two crosses were too long, his application was there for all to see and surely admire.
United at last gave Paul Robinson something to think about, as Webber at least got a shot on target. A Keane corner was headed just wide by Davenport, and mid-way through the half, Ekotto started an excellent move. He had few options, but found Berbatov with his ball on a diagonal, just inside the United half. Robbie Keane tried a shot which was blocked, then Berbatov had an effort saved.
At the other end, Lee made a good defensive header to clear a cross from the right, and from the throw, United had a dangerous cross that passed Robinson, and everyone else too.
I got the impression that Spurs were not going to over-commit in the second half, and it was a while before we saw an incident of note. Webber was now pushing forward in support of Akinbiyi, and United were allowed more possession. After 55 minutes, Lee was at the start and finish of an excellent play. He did well in the first place to win and carry the ball in the United half, then putting a great ball down the right channel for Berbatov. The striker cut the ball back into Leeís path, and what would have been a great goal was denied because he hit his shot two feet over the bar. On the hour, Lee took an excellent quick throw (won by Jenasís good work) and Lennon was in space to collect, passing back to Keane who somehow skewed his shot wide, with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
Bromby saw yellow for a cynical foul on Tainio as he advanced into the United half, but this was the only occasion when Mr Walton was required to impose discipline. Spurs did have to defend desperately against efforts by Akinbiyi and substitute Nade, but Dawson and Davenport held firm. Davids was excellent just in front of the defence. Zokora replaced Tainio and was given the opportunity to find his feet more. Zokora is quite a graceful player, and is clearly still picking up the pace of the Premiership game.
United had their best chance after 74 minutes, when Nade hit a cross that Akinbiyi failed to reach. Lennon tried his hand down the left, and saw one cross intercepted for a corner, before Jenas picked out Keane who tried to pass the ball into the net, only to see Paddy Kenny hold the ball with ease. Keane was replaced by Jermain Defoe, who in an energetic cameo did his best to add to the score. Firstly, after a string of Spurs passes, Defoe tried a shot low to the left of the keeper, which was pushed round for a corner, and then Kenny made a good save to prevent a cracking Defoe right foot shot hitting the net. In the dying moments, Defoe laid back a ball for Davids who hit a great rasping shot, that Kenny finger-tipped over the bar.
We were thoroughly entertained, and will of course look forward to Saturdayís game against Everton with optimism. After all, we always beat the Toffees, donít we? It wasnít always easy tonight though, and Spurs will need to be sharper and more ruthless in future.
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