BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 11TH APRIL, 2009
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 1 (0) WEST HAM UNITED 0 (0)
Referee: - Mr. M. Atkinson
Attendance: - 35,969
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Woodgate, King, Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas (sub Zokora, 46), Huddlestone, Modric; Keane (Capt.), Bent (sub Pavlyuchenko, 56)
Subs not used: - Cudicini; Chimbonda, Bale, Dawson; Bentley
Booked: - Zokora
West Ham (4-4-2):- Green; Tomkins (sub Nsereko, 81), Collins, Upson, Ilunga; Boa Morte (sub Dyer, 71), Neill (Capt.), Noble, Stanislas; Di Michele, Tristan (sub Sears, 85)
Subs not used: - Lastuvka; Lopez, Payne, N’Gala
Booked: - Boa Morte, Neill, Di Michele, Collins, Noble
Spurs’ eastern promise beats West Ham
It took a long time, as a well-coached West Ham side proved to be resilient against the home side, but ultimately the east European factor did it for Spurs, as Corluka passed inside for Luka Modric, whose ball to substitute Pavlyuchenko was superbly converted for the only goal of the game. Thus Spurs have surpassed the magic 40 point mark, and climbed to eighth place overnight, and still have an outside chance of qualification for Europe next season. The Hammers hold that seventh place, and despite their considerable absentees, still fancy their chances of qualification, although they do face difficult games against Villa, Chelsea, Liverpool and Everton in their run-in. Spurs have formidable away games at Old Trafford, Everton and Anfield, so it will be an interesting battle.
Harry Redknapp made the one enforced change to his starting line-up, with Tom Huddlestone getting the nod in place of the suspended Palacios. This was Tom’s chance to assert himself and stake his claim to a midfield role, but despite the absence of Scott Parker for West Ham, Gianfranco Zola had inserted his captain, Lucas Neill into the midfield, to add teeth to Mark Noble’s flair. Surprisingly, Huddlestone started behind Jenas, with Jenas huffing and puffing in the forward positions, whilst it too a while for Hudd to find his stride. Big Tom did have at least three decent efforts on goal, but in my view faded from the game at times, to the extent that in the second half, when Zokora had replaced Jenas, it was Zokora who started spraying the ball around confidently to the wings.
There were some good individual performances in the Spurs side, and at times they do play with a new-found confidence that leads to skilful interplay, but as a team they did not threaten Green’s goal enough in the first half particularly. Modric was my man of the match, popping up everywhere, left and right, up and down the pitch, probing and inspiring his team-mates and crucially feeding Pavlyuchenko for the goal.
Modric nearly found Darren Bent with an early ball which was just too long, and after two minutes, Aaron Lennon had a half-chance as the ball was fed in from the right, skewing his shot badly. West Ham were using their pace intelligently, giving Corluka one or two problems down his flank. Boa Morte and Stanislas switched wings regularly, and after 10 minutes, Stanislas’s cross from the right reached Di Michele at the back post. The shot went wide back across the goal-mouth before going out for a throw! Woodgate showed strength to hold off a Boa Morte challenge and won a free kick.
After 16 minutes, Huddlestone got his first chance, winning a corner taken by Modric, and hitting a shot from outside the area wide of the post. Spurs had a big appeal for handball, after a Keane shot hit the ground then bounced up and appeared to be handled. The referee waved play-on and the West Ham fans had fun at our expense calling “handball” for every touch after that for a while. Keane had another shot after Jenas and Modric were involved in a good build up for Spurs, hitting a right footed shot from the left side of the area just over.
Ekotto was well involved throughout the game and showed great skill to send the ball down the line, before crossing for a Huddlestone header which was not quite firm enough. At the other end, Gomes had his first real test as he had to dive over an advancing Hammer to punch the ball clear, before Huddlestone showed skill to carry the ball inside the West Ham half, before drilling a low shot that Green saved well. In the follow up a good Keane effort was also saved. Modric and Ekotto combined well on the left and this time it was Bent who met the cross but headed wide.
The Hammers had a free kick after 35 minutes, and Di Michele’s shot was well saved by Gomes. Huddlestone had another opportunity receiving the ball on the right side and hitting an angled shot wide across the goal. Boa Morte got the first of five West ham bookings before the interval, having been warned earlier in the game over his persistent fouling.
Zokora replaced Jenas at the break. There was a suggestion that Jenas had suffered a bit of a knock, so it seems the move was not purely tactical. Spurs were enjoying territorial advantage but not getting anything to show for it. After 56 minutes, Bent was replaced by Pavlyuchenko, and suddenly Spurs were starting to link better up front. However, they still had a scare or two to suffer, as Woodgate mis-judged a ball when back-pedalling, giving Di Michele a chance which should have been converted, but which was saved by Gomes.
Keane and Lennon combined down the right flank after 63 minutes, and Huddlestone’s right foot shot was well saved by Green. Two minutes later, Spurs had the lead with a great goal scored at the Paxton End. Corluka passed the ball inside to Modric, whose touch was received by Pavlyuchenko with his back to goal. Pav turned Collins and hit a beautifully well-placed low shot across Green’s bows into the far corner for a clever rather than spectacular goal.
Zokora then tried to get in on the act with a shot zinging past Green’s right post. Kieron Dyer replaced Boa Morte for only his fifth (substitute) outing this season. Dyer of course suffered serious injury soon after being signed from Newcastle and his come-back is still in progress. He got an early chance to score though, hitting a shot just outside the post. Lennon and Corluka worked together on the right before Lennon’s cross was glanced wide by Pavlyuchenko. Lennon then had a cross/shot from deep on the left which Green had to push outside for a corner at his back post.
Zola rang the changes with his substitutions, pulling Neill back into the defence, but Spurs could and should have doubled their lead when Pavlyuchenko raced down the middle, and chose to tee up Lennon rather than have a go himself. Lennon’s shot was smothered by Green, and Keane’s follow-up shot was cleared off the line. At the other end, Di Michele had yet another chance, but Gomes was alert. During 4 minutes of added time, West Ham wanted handball when a Di Michele shot was blocked and Spurs fans reciprocated the earlier West Ham banter with more “handball” shouts.
The wait for the final whistle was more edgy than it should have been, but all was well as Spurs completed their first league “double” of the season.
My Easter week-end was truly saddened when I read the news of the passing of Jimmy Neighbour at the age of 58. Jimmy was never a Spurs legend, but was always much admired as a player and in recent years as a coach to the under-16 and under-17 sides. I had the pleasure of watching Jimmy play, and to meet him at Reserve games. On behalf of all those at Spurs Odyssey, I offer my condolences to Jimmy’s family.
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