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Middlesbrough v Spurs, 16.08.08

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 16TH AUGUST, 2008
MIDDLESBROUGH 2 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0)

Middlesbrough scorers:-
Wheater, 71
Mido, 86

Spurs scorer:-
Huth (o.g.), 90

Referee: - Martin Atkinson

Attendance: - 32,623

Teams:-
Middlesbrough (4-4-2):- Jones; Wheater, Huth, Pogatetz (Capt.), Taylor; Aliadiere, O’Neil, Shawky, Downing; Tuncay (sub Digard, 71), Alves (sub Mido, 82)

Subs not used; - Turnbull; Grounds, Williams; Emnes, Johnson

Booked: - Digard

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Zokora, Dawson, Woodgate, Ekotto (sub O’Hara, 75); Lennon (sub Bale, 64), Jenas (Capt.), Modric, Bentley; Dos Santos (sub Berbatov, 64), Bent

Subs not used: - Sanchez; King, Gunter; Huddlestone

Booked: - Jenas, Bentley

It was a case of déjà vu for a Spurs side that travelled for the second successive season to the north-east for their opening game, full of aspiration, only to be dented by a team against whom a result was expected, but who played with far more grit, steel and determination in the areas that counted. Juande Ramos’s side had seven changes to the starting line-up that ended last season, including of course the high profile and high value acquisitions of Gomes, Modric, Bentley and Dos Santos. Modric and Dos Santos in particular will have felt the physical impact of Premier League football, but Spurs as a whole looked lightweight in the middle.

Dimitar Berbatov was left on the bench, and personally I was disappointed with the reception he got from some sections of the Spurs crowd who booed him as he warmed up, then when he replaced Dos Santos for the last half-hour. It might be all done now, but such a reception was not exactly going to persuade the Bulgarian that it was worth him staying, was it? As it happened he provided more skill up front than had Darren Bent all game. Bent had scored freely in the pre-season, but got little chance today. The Spurs fans also greeted Berbatov with “I’m Tottenham till I die”. This was a more reasonable and telling comment, but of course, such loyalty is the domain of fans alone and not players these days.

Loyalty is a description that can accurately be aimed at club captain Ledley King, but he stayed on the bench, and it seems he will be used sparingly again this season. The Berbatov and King situations are examples really of where I’d like the club to be up front and not hide the facts from the fans. That’s an unrealistic dream, I suppose, as it would reveal too much to opponents.

The Riverside stadium was bathed in sunshine for a change, and also nearly full to the rafters, as Boro had rattled their home support into giving the very strong contingent of Spurs fans some opposition. Gareth Southgate improvised for the loss of Luke Young, with David Wheater deployed at right back. This was to prove a very successful ploy at both ends of the field. With Aliadiere causing problems on the right flank, and Tuncay and Alves on fire up front, the Spurs defence had their hands full from the start, with Woodgate the best of Spurs performers in front of his old crowd, who booed his touches.

Bentley had an early effort that went for a corner, but it was Boro providing most scares in front of goal. A cross from the left after 9 minutes was only partially cleared and Downing got a shot on target through the legs of Dawson, which Gomes held. Bent had Spurs best chance after 14 minutes, when a Woodgate clearance reached Dos Santos, despite a deflection. Dos Santos fed the ball across to Bent, who hit his right foot effort outside the post of Brad Jones, who remained largely untroubled throughout proceedings.

After 17 minutes, and a Spurs corner, it was Wheater who started a counter-attack with a great ball to Tuncay, who crossed quickly. Alves’ shot was goal-bound but well blocked by Ekotto. Spurs were playing some good approach football at times, but more often than not, their flair layers were being closed down successfully, and prevented from creating danger. Spurs were lucky not to go a goal down after half an hour, when Wheater’s header was disallowed, presumably for a foul on Michael Dawson. Gomes had spent too long talking to Bent for the Boro corner, and was therefore caught out of position. Aliadiere sent a cross over from the right and Alves fired over, as Boro failed to take advantage of their superiority. Alves hit another shot on the stroke of half-time, which was on target but held by Gomes.

Two minutes into the second half Bentley skilfully collected a Dos Santos header, and then received the ball later in the same move from Modric. Bentley’s shot was well saved by Jones with a dive to the left. Shawky tried a left foot shot from distance after Alves’ work on the left, which was well wide.

Dos Santos was replaced by Berbatov and Bale replaced Aaron Lennon, to go into midfield, allowing Bentley to switch to the right. Spurs had a great chance after some positive play when Jenas powered his way through the middle, exchanged short passes with Berbatov, but then had his short range effort saved by Jones. It wasn’t long before the home fans were rampant, after a corner, when Downing crossed, Alves effort rebounded off the bar and Wheater was on hand to prod home. Tuncay was immediately replaced by new signing Digard. Gomes had to save a header after 73 minutes, and both Jenas and Bentley saw yellow as Spurs started to feel more pressure.

O’Hara had replaced Ekotto, and Bale fell back to defence. A Zokora cross was dummied by Berbatov and fell to Bent who made room outside the box, but hit a shot wide. O’Hara nearly scored after a mix up between Wheater and Jones, following Bentley’s cross, but Jones recovered and cleared from O’Hara’s feet.

The ultimate irony for Spurs came from old boy Mido, who came on for Alves, and three minutes later deflected Digard’s cross/shot into the net with Dawson floundering. An own goal in added time when Huth headed in Bentley’s free kick came far too late to help anything other than Spurs’ goal difference in the longer term.

All in all, it was just another depressing day in the life of a Spurs fan – just in a different season.

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