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Aston Villa v Spurs, 01.01.08


Villa scorers:-
Mellberg, 41
Laursen, 85

Spurs scorer:-
Defoe, 79

Attendance: - 41,609

Referee: - Mr. S. Tanner

Aston Villa (4-4-2):- Carson; Mellberg, Davies, Laursen, Bouma (sub Maloney, 83); Petrov, Reo-Coker, Barry (Capt.), Young; Moore (sub Gardner, 73), Agbonlahor

Subs not used: - Taylor; Knight; Harewood

No bookings

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson (Capt.); Zokora, Dawson, Kaboul (sub O’Hara, 56), Lee; Lennon (sub Keane, 53), Jenas, Boateng (sub Huddlestone, 46), Malbranque; Defoe, Berbatov

Subs not used: - Cerny; Taarabt

Booked: - Malbranque, Dawson, Zokora

Spurs' failed resolution

Juande Ramos made four changes to his starting line-up for this game. Some were enforced, such as the late illness of Pascal Chimbonda. Others were voluntary, such as the resting of Ledley King, being nursed back to 100% action, replaced by Michael Dawson who has been out for the last five games. In a game where perhaps Robbie Keane would have been the natural starter, Ramos gave the nod to Jermain Defoe, who – although scoring Spurs’ goal – was not as active throughout the game as Keane was when he replaced Aaron Lennon early in the second half.

For all Ramos’s tactical nous and boldness, and despite a decent second half performance by the away side, Spurs ultimately succumbed to two goals by Villa defenders, both from set pieces, thus destroying any New Year’s resolution that Spurs might have had to defend more effectively. The Villa defence had the better of the day, because apart from scoring, they also quelled any potential threat from Dimitar Berbatov, subject of course to intense transfer speculation.

Spurs lined up with Didier Zokora at right back, up against the challenge of zippy winger Ashley Young, who definitely had the better of the early exchanges, but as the game wore on, found Zokora a more competitive foe. I wondered if Young-Pyo Lee might have been a more successful opponent, as he is very fast on his feet, and of course does play at right back for his country! Boateng partnered Jenas in the midfield, but Spurs were on the back foot for too much of the first half, and could easily have gone three down, if not for a couple of glaring misses by Laursen and Agbonlahor.

Spurs suffered a good deal of pressure in this half, and were not helped by the novice Premier League referee, Steve Tanner, who booked two Spurs players in the first half hour; three in total; and never booked a Villa player. I mean, when Nigel Reo-Coker gets through a game without a card, you know something is wrong, don’t you! (He’s had eight yellows and a red so far this season)

Spurs struggled against the pace of Agbonlahor, Luke Moore and Ashley Young in particular. After just four minutes, Agbonlahor got the better of Kaboul just outside the area on the right side, passed inside to Moore, whose shot across Paul Robinson sneaked wide of the far post. Minutes later, Moore returned the compliment and fed the ball to Agbonlahor, who also fired wide. After 13 minutes, Michael Dawson conceded a needless free kick on the right side, and Paul Robinson punched the ball unconvincingly, which was cleared by his defence. I have to report that I did not see Robinson convincingly hold a challenging shot all night.

Malbranque seemed to get his card for the dissent after the foul, rather than the incident itself, and after that free kick the ball was only half cleared as far as Laursen, who should have scored, but hit the ball well over from 12 yards.

At last, after over half an hour, Spurs showed some threat in the opposition half. Jenas chipped a clever pass into the area, and Lennon was one on one with Scott Carson, who won a race for the ball that Lennon might have pursued with a little more commitment. At the other end, Paul Robinson had to get down and hold a long range effort from Stiliyan Petrov. Then Young crossed for Agbonlahor, who headed wide. It really was no surprise when Villa did take the lead five minutes before the interval. Boateng had committed another needless foul, and Spurs back line was failing to pick up Mellberg who was darting in and out of an offside position. He darted behind the Spurs line at just the right moment, and was allowed a clear headed past Robinson, from the kick.

Berbatov did have a decent effort saved following a Spurs free kick after 43 minutes.

The changes of Huddlestone for Boateng and Keane for Lennon were not forced, but then Kaboul had to be replaced due to injury, and O’Hara was on the field with Spurs having used all their substitutes with over half an hour to go. Huddlestone and Keane had already forced a couple of corners with deflected shots, and for most of this half, Spurs dominated possession. Jenas played as an attacking right back. Zokora partnered Dawson, and Malbranque partnered Huddlestone, with O’Hara on the left. Robbie Keane was given licence to roam behind Berbatov and Defoe.

Spurs forged their best chance of the game to date after 59 minutes. Keane fed Jenas, whose powerful low cross was left by Defoe and reached O’Hara at the back post with time to dwell on his shot rather than hit the rushed and weakfish effort he did manage. Villa had a good chance after 68 minutes, when Moore just failed to get a finish on Petrov’s low ball across the danger zone. Malbranque and Berbatov were involved in a move that ended with O’Hara’s ball to the edge of the box, and a run into the area by Keane. He seemed to be blocked by two defenders, and went to ground, but the appeal for a penalty was unheeded.

At last Spurs got a reward in the 79th minute. Dawson was still in the area following a dead ball move. Keane worked the ball to Dawson’s feet, and the ball rebounded to Berbatov, whose touch reached Defoe, who scored with a quite acrobatic right footed hook shot to the left of Carson. Of course, Spurs should have held onto what would have been a good point, but once again they failed at a corner, when nobody climbed with Laursen, who was allowed to head home in the 85th minute.

Spurs poor record in the Premier League at Villa Park continues (only 1 win in 16 attempts), whilst Martin O’Neill’s side continue their challenge to emulate Spurs by qualifying for Europe this season. Juande Ramos must look to Cup success to continue his good record in the UEFA Cup this year.

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
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