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Sunderland v Spurs, 11.08.07

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 11TH AUGUST, 2007
SUNDERLAND 1 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0 (0)

Scorer:-
Chopra, 90

Attendance: - 43,967

Referee: - Alan Wiley

Teams:-
Sunderland (4-4-2); - Gordon; Whitehead (Capt.), Nosworthy, McShane, Wallace; Edwards, Etuhu, Yorke (sub Miller, 57), Richardson (sub Collins, 71); Murphy, Stokes (sub Chopra, 71)

Subs not used: - Ward (GK); Connolly

Booked: - Whitehead

Spurs (4-4-2):- Robinson; Chimbonda, Kaboul, Gardner, Stalteri; Tainio (sub Bent, 58) Jenas, Zokora (sub Huddlestone, 86), Malbranque; Berbatov (sub Defoe, 78), Keane (Capt.)

Subs not used: - Cerny; Rocha

Booked: - Zokora

Sunderland’s £5 million striker, Michael Chopra scored a late, late goal to give himself and his team a dream start to their Premiership campaign, turning Spurs’ Champions League aspirations into pretensions. So-called novice manager Roy Keane, who took Sunderland out of the Championship in his first year in management out-thought and out-played the more experienced Martin Jol in several spheres. Most tellingly was to hold Chopra on the bench till late in the game, and also to switch left back Ross Wallace to attack, where he was allowed by Paul Stalteri to deliver the telling cross that left Chimbonda and Gardner flailing and flabbergasted as Chopra guided his shot past Paul Robinson.

Congratulations to Sunderland, but this is a Spurs match report, and the performance of our team and the manner of defeat was all too painful, but all too familiar as suddenly the season looks longer and less likely to bear fruit. Certainly, if Spurs intend to finish in a high position, this was just the sort of fixture they should have been winning. The point that looked like coming our way would have been almost satisfactory in the circumstances, but a late lack of concentration, effort and application led to disaster. Psychologically this is a blow Spurs need to recover from quickly.

It would be easy to make excuses like the fact we were missing three left backs (Lee, Ekotto, and Bale), two centre backs (King and Dawson – injured only yesterday as revealed by Spurs Odyssey) and the pace of Aaron Lennon. However, Martin Jol chose a cautious path, with no pace on the wing, and no place even on the bench for Routledge or Taarabt. Routledge is at least a pace player and might at least have managed to turn defence into attack, whereas Malbranque would receive and win the ball well in the middle, but fail to react quick enough to create a telling attack. Taarabt is the sort of player with the potential to turn a game, even in a cameo, but instead we had hardly any creativity from Jenas, Zokora or Tainio.

Where Roy Keane’s men closed our players down in all areas, Spurs players were too often found skiving, rather than put the home defence under pressure. Keane (the manager) had fast men on both sides (Edwards and Richardson), and his front men (Murphy and Stokes) were also runners who fully tested Gardner and Kaboul. Kaboul was one of the few Spurs players to come out of the game with honour, generally defending well, and making so much effort that he made two brilliant forays into opposing territory. With the dearth of Spurs shots on goal, Kaboul was almost our best attacker as well as defender! Sadly, things did not go so well for Gardner, particularly in the first half, when he missed several headers, sometimes struggled to get the ball out from under his feet, and generally mis-timed and mis-judged his attempts at interceptions. Luckily for Spurs, Sunderland rarely bothered Paul Robinson either, and the game must have looked pretty boring at times, although the crowd atmosphere sometimes disguised the quality of the football. Incidentally, not many Spurs fans noticed that Anthony Stokes is a former gooner, signed by Sunderland for £2 million last year, when he was on loan at Falkirk. Having seen him in a number of reserve games, I can vouch for his desire to see Spurs beaten. The home fans noticed Jenas though, and made sure they gave him the welcome reserved for all ex-Magpies, except those that sign for them – like Chopra.

It turns out that Keane (the manager) has signed a number of useful players, not least central defender Paul McShane, who won just about everything coming his way, frustrating Berbatov and later Bent. Spurs were also frustrated by the physical tricks of the “Black Cats”, by and large ignored by referee Alan Wiley who ultimately was kind to the home side, allowing a Berbatov penalty appeal to pass, and then giving them just enough time to score their winner! It is also frustrating that the veteran Dwight Yorke, and dare I say journeymen players such as Etuhu and Nosworthy often had the upper hand over Spurs so called artisans.

In a game of few chances, Spurs did dominate possession and over the course of the game territorial mastery, without ever producing a killer touch, and all too often taking too much time in the build up. As hard a worker as he is, Malbranque would more often than not pass sideways or backwards, but at least he was playing a full part in the game. Jenas would have one good touch and two poor ones today, and Zokora worked hard, but we know about his failings in the creativity stakes. It was as if the Spurs team thought it was just going to happen for them today.

Jenas did start and finish a decent move after 10 minutes with a good long ball to Malbranque, whose cross from the left was cleared off Berbatov’s feet, before Jenas hit a low shot well wide of the target. Five minutes later, Malbranque’s cross was just over Berbatov, and just beyond Robbie Keane at the far post. Keane lifted a ball over the defence for Berbatov mid-way through the half, but debut keeper Gordon successfully closed the situation down. Three minutes later Gordon held a Keane shot, after Tainio’s ball was headed down by Berbatov. Spurs had failed to take advantage of all their good possession, failed to properly test Gordon, and might have paid for their shortcomings before the half was out. Firstly Etuhu was left in the open and should have done better with his header from Stokes’ cross, then Gardner missed his attempt to clear a cross from the left, and Murphy’s shot was smothered by Paul Robinson.

Five minutes before the end of the first half, Berbatov was onto Keane’s ball lifted into the box, and with Gordon over-committed, Berbatov was round him then went down under Whitehead’s contact, but was denied a penalty by Mr Wiley. Berbatov was in space, and surely did not go down voluntarily, with a chance to shoot going begging? Sunderland countered with pace and Etuhu put a good chance wide.

Spurs won a free kick ten minutes after the re-start, and it was “Upton Park territory” for Berbatov. With insufficient height in Sunderland’s wall, Berbatov was able to lift his shot over the barrier, but also just over the bar. Most of the second half passed unremarkably, apart from a full set of substitutions. Jol solved the problem of how to keep his four strikers happy by using all of them, but of course none of them scored, or really looked like doing so.

With minutes to go, Gordon was at last tested by late substitute Tom Huddlestone taking advantage of a partially cleared Jenas corner, but then Robinson had to make a reflex save from Etuhu’s somewhat involuntary effort from a Miller free kick. Then came Chopra’s goal to send the home crowd into delirium and the away fans into despair. Chopra scored two for Cardiff last season here, and his last Premiership goal was for Newcastle at this ground. Needless to say, he’s a friend of Sunderland for life now

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