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Spurs v Aston Villa, 15.09.08

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
MONDAY 15TH SEPTEMBER, 2008
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0) ASTON VILLA 2 (1)

Spurs scorer:-
Bent, 87

Villa scorers:-
Reo-Coker, 5
Young, 54

Referee: - Steve Bennett

Attendance: - 36,075

Teams:-
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson (sub Giovani, 61), Woodgate (Capt.), Bale; Lennon, Huddlestone, Zokora (sub Bentley46), Modric (sub Jenas, 29); Pavlyuchenko, Bent

Subs not used: - Sanchez; Gilberto; O’Hara; Campbell

Booked: - Dawson

Aston Villa (4-4-2):- Friedel;L.Young, Davies, Laursen (Capt.), Shorey (sub Gardner, 86); Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry, A. Young; Agbonlahor (sub Harewood, 84), Carew (sub Milner, 62)

Subs not used: - Guzan (GK):- Knight, Cuellar; Routledge

Booked: - Shorey, Carew, Agbonlahor, Young

Playing statues against pace

So much was wrong with Spurs last night. The first and uppermost error in my view was the team selection. We all know that Villa are a team with loads of pace. The presence of Huddlestone and the absence of Jenas from the starting line-up was therefore both a major surprise, and ultimately one of the most costly factors in this game. Debutant Vedran Corluka is a strong but not pacy full-back, and whilst he obviously needs time to settle in, he suffered significantly against Ashley Young in the first half.

The second major factor is the decision to “rest” key players ahead of Thursday’s UEFA Cup tie. Last night’s game should have been the priority. Although of course Corluka and Pavlyuchenko will be “cup-tied” for Thursday, perhaps Chris Gunter would have been a wiser choice at right back. Corluka may be best played instead of Dawson whenever possible, as Dawson had one of his worst games in a Tottenham shirt – often playing like a rabbit in the headlights. Giovani, when he did finally make an appearance added threat coupled with his pace, which sadly Lennon had generally failed to do all night. Lennon was lively and played excellently until 25 to 30 yards from goal, when his final delivery or effort was below par. Ledley King’s absence was unexplained. We all know he is not going to play every game, or perhaps ever play two consecutive games again, but I’d rather he played last night than Thursday.

So much was wrong that I am finding it hard, even the morning after, to be composed about a report. There is hardly a good word to be said about any of the players last night. Gomes made two great first half saves to keep the deficit down to one goal, but blotted his copy book when failing to stop Young’s 25 yard shot. However, in my view Gomes’ error was not so cardinal as Huddlestone’s failure to match Young’s pace, or Dawson’s ineptitude when confronted with Young going headlong for goal. Even Woodgate (skipper last night) was not his usual composed self. Only Gareth Bale of the back four (and perhaps the whole team) impressed and he made a bad error late in the game that led to more panic in the Spurs area.

Pavlyuchenko made a bright start, and needs time to bed in, and whilst both strikers may claim lack of delivery as a defence, I am afraid I still name Darren Bent as incapable of filling the void left by the departure of Berbatov. There were high balls to be won that the Bulgarian would have done, adding control and distribution. So often, I’m afraid that Bent failed even to meet the ball.

There is so much wrong with Spurs that they will surely now be playing catch-up in the League until Christmas.

Corluka was involved in a bright early move which he started from the half-way line, and Huddlestone hit a pass which Pavlyuchenko turned towards Bent, who did win a corner with his effort. However, Spurs fell behind after only 4 minutes, when Huddlestone and Corluka were not quick or alert enough to deal with the threat of Young and Agbonlahor down the left flank. Young pierced the defenders with a ball for Agbonlahor, whose cross was dummied by Carew, and easily slotted home by the un-marked Reo-Coker, playing in an unfamiliar role on the right side of midfield. Modric carried the ball forward after the kick-off and had his shot held by Friedel, but Villa were threatening with every move into the Spurs half. Reo-Coker’s cross after 8 minutes had Gomes worried and in fact came back into play off the post.

The Spurs fans’ frustration was not helped by the refereeing of Mr Bennett who certainly was not a “homer” and won ironic applause for a decision in our favour after 13 minutes. Bale’s free kick caused some confusion in the Villa box, but Friedel punched clear. Shorey saw yellow for a cynical foul just inside his half when Lennon was racing away on the break, but of course the job had been done and Spurs’ attack had been stemmed.

Pavlyuchenko then had a shot cleared by Laursen from a throw on the left, but when the ball fell to Lennon he took too long on the ball when he might have had a quick shot. Once again, Spurs were looking good in the build-up but failing to deliver the crucial ball that might have led to a goal.

Gomes’ best save of the match came from Barry’s header which looked to be going into the net, until Gomes managed to stretch back and palm the ball out. He soon had to make another close range save from Agbonlahor, as Villa piled on the pressure. Ashley Young tried a curler which seemed to have Gomes beaten, but went wide. Sadly Modric took a knock and had to be replaced after 29 minutes by Jenas, who took on the role of advanced midfielder, with Huddlestone and Zokora supposedly in charge of more defensive duties. Huddlestone did have a shot parried after a little Spurs pressure, but the Villa lead was preserved.

At the break, David Bentley replaced Zokora, but played on the left side where he is less effective. His delivery was again below par most of the time. Spurs had an early break down the right channel, when Pavlyuchenko put Lennon in. Lennon got to the bye-line but his cross was behind three Spurs players. Jenas won the ball and headed onto Bentley, who passed to Lennon. Lennon hit a great rising shot that was tipped over the bar for a corner. Carew got booked for another cynical foul – this time on Bentley just outside the villa box. Perhaps Spurs need more cynicism to succeed. Soon after that we were two down. Jenas and Bentley were stranded down the left flank when the ball did not run for them, and was cleared to Ashley Young in the middle. Huddlestone was already 5 or 6 yards behind Young, and waved to his defenders to deal with Young’s advance. Dawson stepped up, but was rounded as easily as a traffic cone, before Young hit his 25 yard shot. Gomes should have held it, but the ball slipped beneath his body and into the net inside his right post.

Dawson was soon replaced by Giovani. Jenas moved to attacking right back, and Corluka moved inside to support Woodgate. Jenas won the ball in the middle and got it to Lennon who hit a great cross-field pass to Bale whose cross was met well by Bent, but headed wide. A low cross by Lennon was met at the near post by Pavlyuchenko, and even when his effort appeared to be blocked a goal-kick and not a corner was awarded. Spurs huffed and puffed and got one goal as a reward but that was unintentional. Jenas’s powerful drive would have gone wide, but it hit Bent’s legs and was diverted into the net to offer a little hope. However, even an equaliser would not have lifted us off the bottom, and Villa came closer to scoring when Bale made a mistake near the half-way line and Milner raced away. His shot was parried by Gomes, and then reached Harewood, whose shot was blocked by Jenas. Not for the first time, people were saying “How did Harewood miss that?”

This has been confirmed as Spurs’ worst league start since 1974, when they lost their first 4 games. Within a few more games, the legendary Bill Nicholson was to call it a day, and Terry Neill took over. That was the season when Spurs dramatically retained their top flight status with a memorable 4-2 last game win over Leeds. Despite all the summer spending on new players, on current form, it could be a long time before we breathe easily again.

Still, look on the bright side, ENIC are making money, Spurs made a profit on the summer transfer window, and last night’s game was sold out. Oh, and someone else won a copy of the £4,000 edition of the “Opus” – the book they just cannot sell!

· Squad numbers,appearances,bookings & goalscorers
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