BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SUNDAY 19TH APRIL, 2009
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (1) NEWCASTLE UNITED 0 (0)
Attendance: - 35, 850
Referee: - Mark Halsey
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson (sub Hutton, 33), Woodgate, Ekotto; Lennon, Huddlestone, Palacios, Modric; Keane (Capt.), Bent (sub Defoe, 74)
Subs not used: - Cudicini; Bale; Bentley, Zokora; Campbell
Booked: - Ekotto
Newcastle (4-4-2):- Harper; Beye, S. Taylor (sub Smith, 46), Bassong, Duff; R. Taylor, Nolan (sub Viduka, 60), Butt, Gutierrez; Owen (Capt.), Carroll (sub Martins, 60)
Subs not used: - Krul; Edgar; Guthrie; Ameobi
Booked: - Gutierrez, R. Taylor (foul on Lennon)
We slayed that Toon with One!
In a game where they were clearly the better team, Spurs kept their fans on edge until the very end of the game as a result of not extending their 24th minute lead given by Darren Bent after a fine move from defence. Amazingly in this season of such mixed fortunes and memories, Spurs remain on target for a record number of home clean sheets with this, their tenth league clean sheet of the season. For Alan Shearer’s Newcastle, the result leaves them four points adrift of safety with games running out fast.
Spurs made a couple of changes, with Michael Dawson getting a welcome game in place of Ledley King, who will be needed next week at Old Trafford as Dawson was stretchered off after only half an hour. Palacios returned and played next to Tom Huddlestone, whilst Darren Bent retained his place up front, with Jermain Defoe starting on the bench. Pavlyuchenko did not make the 18, due to his reported back strain.
Shearer made some interesting tactical changes, with Damien Duff moved to left back and given the challenge of trying to nullify Spurs player of the season nominee Aaron Lennon. Habib Beye was given the right back berth, and United had the veteran midfield of Nolan and Butt. Michael Owen was partnered by young Andy Carroll. Shearer was to try the kitchen sink approach in the second half, and certainly was not afraid to make drastic tactical changes.
The Spurs midfield worked well, with Palacios probably the best player on the pitch in the first half, winning ball consistently, but also able to pick a decent pass or two. Huddlestone had the licence to get forward, test the keeper with regular shots on goal, and spray some trademark passes around the field of play. I can even report Big Tom winning a crunching midfield tackle!
The game was preceded by a tribute and a one-minute applause in memory of the late Jimmy Neighbour, honoured by the visiting players and fans alike. Whilst of course this was a sad event, it was nice to see so many of Jimmy’s former team-mates standing at the touchline to honour a man who has left us far too early.
Spurs had a bright start with Keane and Modric combining after Ekotto’s ball, before Modric laid the ball up for Darren Bent who appeared to be fouled inside the Newcastle area. It was clearly much too early for Mr. Halsey to be considering a penalty, and he waved “Play On”. Spurs then continued to probe, without forcing too much work for Steve Harper. They also appeared to be using Lennon by not using him, with plenty of defensive focus on that area, allowing Ekotto and Modric to make regular moves down the left. Corluka would cut inside without utilising Lennon too.
Newcastle got a half chance when Owen latched onto a poor header by Woodgate, giving Gutierrez an opening which was well blocked by Dawson and Corluka. The Spurs defence was well in control generally, with Dawson winning everything in sight and Woodgate as reliable as ever. Ekotto has had an excellent season but I made him man of the match today for good defensive work, and consistent clever use of the ball.
Palacios sent a good ball down the right channel to Robbie Keane, and the skipper’s low cross went dangerously into the 6 yard box and was cleared. The Spurs goal when it came was deserved but did follow a Newcastle attack. Gomes threw the ball out to Ekotto, who passed to Modric. Modric’s ball ahead went to Bent whose first shot from the left side was well saved by Harper, but fell back to Bent’s feet. The Spurs top scorer latched onto the rebound and finished well from a very tight angle for his 16th goal of the season.
Two minutes later, Huddlestone threatened with a pile-driver that was just tipped over by Harper. This shot came after Keane and Modric worked the ball to Huddlestone’s feet. Michael Dawson fell heavily and had to be stretchered off, clearly unable to continue. I heard suggestions that he had broken a leg, but we can only hope his injury is less serious than that and that we see him back in action soon. Alan Hutton fitted in like a glove at right back, whilst Corluka moved inside to confidently partner Woodgate. Corluka took up the left-sided central defender’s duties.
After 36 minutes, Huddlestone sent in a good deep ball from the left which Keane collected and passed back to Modric. Modric’s shot was goal-bound but seemed to be involuntarily deflected into the grateful arms of the goalkeeper. Lennon was now getting more into the game and he took the ball to the line, passing back to Huddlestone for another power drive which seemed to be tipped over but this time there was no corner given. In added time, Huddlestone shipped the ball to Hutton whose cross was headed just over by Darren Bent.
After the interval, Shearer replaced a defender (Steven Taylor) with a midfielder (Alan Smith. Ryan Taylor fell back to the right back slot, whilst Beye moved inside to partner Bassong. Butt had the task of holding up the midfield with Nolan towards the left, Smith in the middle and Gutierrez on the right but switching to the left on occasions. Owen also fell back to support his midfield.
An early low cross by Hutton went to the near post but was cleared, and then Newcastle were in a little disarray as a long ball reached Robbie Keane, whose shot was also blocked. Spurs next decent chance came after 58 minutes, as Bent got away down the left sending in a low cross, which led to more blocked shots by Keane and a Palacios follow-up.
This led to more radical change by Shearer who replaced Carroll with Obafemi Martins, and Nolan with the old warhorse Mark Viduka. Now the Toon had three out and out strikers on the field, but Owen was tending to cover the midfield area. Newcastle did get a shot into the Spurs net after 62 minutes, but there was a clear handball before the shot, spotted by Mr. Halsey. The Newcastle formation was giving Spurs more to think about, but to be honest, apart from a couple of incidents, there was little that really tested Gomes.
Aaron Lennon had a good left footed shot on goal after an exchange with Keane, but the shot passed just outside the post. Then Lennon fed Hutton, whose ball to the near post was met by Keane but well smothered by Harper. Gomes held a Viduka effort after a little bit of a scramble in the Spurs area, before Darren Bent was replaced by Jermain Defoe who of course received hearty cheers. This move did not change the pattern of the game though, as Spurs were happy to maintain their shape and discipline and handle anything thrown in their direction.
There was an exchange of yellow cards, one for Ekotto, and then one for Ryan Taylor as he was late on the advancing Lennon, fed by Modric and Defoe. Modric took a corner from the north-east corner and Woodgate hit a really strong header that was well saved by Harper. Huddlestone tried one more long shot that went wide, and perhaps Newcastle’s best chance fell to Martins close in on the right, hooking a half chance high over the bar on the turn.
Spurs will travel with confidence to the very busy Manchester United next Saturday, whilst Newcastle have to wait till the following Monday for their chance to claw nearer safety. Their problem is (and this is not their only forthcoming Monday night game) that by the time they play they could have the added pressure of being seven points behind the field. Whilst Spurs have more than an outside chance of European qualification, let us pause for thought and be grateful for the run we’ve had since beating Hull on February 23rd. I have not forgotten how I feared this end of the season just three short months ago.
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