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Aston Villa v Spurs, 26.12.10

(5.30 P.M.)

Villa scorer:-
Albrighton, 82

Spurs scorer:-
Van der Vaart, 23, 67

Attendance:- 39,411

Referee:- Martin Atkinson
Assistants:- M. P. Keane & Mr. P. Kirkup
Fourth Official:- Lee Mason

Villa (4-4-2):- Friedel; Lichaj, Cuellar, Collins (Capt.), Warnock; Albrighton, Hogg (sub Petrov, 46), Delph (sub Pires, 74), Downing; Agbonlahor, Heskey (sub Delfouneso, 39)

Subs not used:- Guzan; Clark, Reo-Coker, Bannan

Booked:- Hogg (foul on Modric), Delph (foul on Van der Vaart), Agbonlahor (foul on Lennon)

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Gomes; Hutton, Dawson (Capt.), Kaboul, Ekotto; Lennon (sub Jenas, 88), Palacios, Modric (sub Corluka, 90+4), Bale; Van der Vaart (sub Crouch, 74); Defoe

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Bassong; Kranjcar; Pavlyuchenko

Booked:- Hutton, Modric, Gomes

Sent off:- Defoe (26)

“V” for Victory!

How Spurs' “V” man Rafa van der Vaart loves playing against Aston Villa! In our home game on 2nd October, Rafa scored both Spurs goals in another 2-1 victory, and last night at Villa Park he repeated the trick with another special brace that ensured Spurs came away with all three points, despite having Jermain Defoe sent off in the 27th minute for a debatable elbow against James Collins as he jumped for a high ball. Ten-man Spurs managed some excellent possession football before half-time, but eventually succumbed to Albrighton’s goal, only after they had increased their lead with the goal of the game in the 67th minute. By co-incidence, Albrighton also scored the Villa goal at White Hart Lane.

On a day when another two Premier League games were lost to the big freeze in the UK, Villa Park’s under-soil heating did the trick and the match took place despite the freezing weather. Indeed, the paths and roads around Villa Park had more of a snow covering than my adopted home town in Chesterfield, despite that fact that we have been snow-covered since late November. It was great to have a game of football to watch after an enforced two week break.

That break enabled Spurs to bring back both Rafa van der Vaart and Younes Kaboul in a strong line-up against a young and inexperienced Villa team. That inexperience was felt in the midfield more than anywhere, and with the abundance of flair players in the Spurs side, such as Modric, Van der Vaart, Lennon, Bale and Defoe, Villa’s task would be tough whenever Spurs were in possession. However, the Villa strategy in the early stages was clearly to rattle the Spurs defence and their goalkeeper, seen as a target to the high ball into the area, coupled with plenty of physical stuff from one experienced player – Emile Heskey. Once again, Heskey didn’t see out the first half, but he had been well involved, not least when claiming a penalty when Gomes had clearly punched the ball away from in front of his knees, which led Heskey to writhe about beyond the bye-line whilst play continued. Apart from that early difficulty and a barrage of snowballs from the Villa fans (who occupy both areas behind the goals here), Gomes came through the match with his reputation intact, if not entirely convincing with his handling of the ball.

That early Villa pressure was firstly represented by Collins’ effort from a first minute free kick, parried by Gomes, falling to Albrighton, but blocked by Bale. Wilson Palacios was then subject to a heavy tackle, un-punished by referee Martin Atkinson, who was to cause the wrath of any Spurs connections before too long. Agbonlahor also had a header go wide in this very early spell of play. Spurs responded with excellent forward play by Modric and Lennon, before Defoe was inside the area onto the final ball, only to see Friedel out to smother his shot.

22 year old Jonathan Hogg, who has played just 5 league games for Villa, was fortunate to receive “words” from the lenient (towards the home side) referee, Mr. Atkinson for his heavy challenge upon Van der Vaart. Van der Vaart took the resulting free kick, and Bale headed over. After Heskey’s penalty appeal, there was more intricate play from Spurs, involving Lennon and van der Vaart who threaded the ball to Defoe for another shot on goal. This time, his effort was blocked by Warnock, but already one felt that Defoe could have done better with his chances.

Certain members of the Spurs defence were being exposed for a lack of pace, such as Dawson and Hutton. Downing got goalside of Hutton after 14 minutes, cut inside then hit a right footed shot which Gomes saved. Spurs then had the ball in the net after a Van der Vaart free kick. Hutton passed the ball back from the bye-line and Kaboul fired home, but the linesman was flagging. We thought the goal was disallowed for offside, but apparently the ball had been deemed to go out of play when Hutton passed back. The officials were having a difficult time keeping up with the pace of the game, which was of an open and end to end nature, until of course Mr. Atkinson took the fizz out of the contest with the early dismissal of Defoe.

After 17 minutes, Heskey’s physicality enabled him to win a challenge in midfield and flick the ball into the path of Agbonlahor’s run down the Spurs left flank. Agbonlahor’s shot was on target but Gomes parried, and when a second attempt came in, he was happy to concede a corner. Then Albrighton got the better of Kaboul, before Gomes was able to hold the weakfish shot on goal.

Spurs took the lead in the 23rd minute to silence the home crowd with a superb goal. Ekotto had started the move with some typical fine play on the left flank, before feeding the ball to Modric in the middle. Luka sent an excellent long ball down the right flank well ahead of Hutton who was able to make the ground to reach the ball and cross hard and low to the near post, where Van der Vaart made the neat finish.

Within minutes though, Spurs’ elation turned to dismay, when Collins fell down like a Heskey-type sack of spuds under Defoe’s risen arm in an aerial challenge. The referee clearly changed pockets to reach for the card. We feared the worst and indeed he did show Jermain a red card, which unless successfully appealed, will lead to a three match suspension and an enforced New Year’s rest for the England striker. That left Van der Vaart the lone front man, when he had been playing “in the hole” and sometimes deeper than Modric in the middle. Spurs sought to get behind the ball and keep Villa at bay. By and large they succeeded, but I would describe it as successful desperation defending, rather than consistent and controlled, commanding defending. That said, apart from the (soft) goal, Spurs did keep the home side at bay, and Gomes was rarely seriously troubled.

After 33 minutes, Ekotto was fouled and Van der Vaart took the free kick down the left channel, touching the ball to Kaboul, whose shot was deflected but still well saved by Friedel. Hogg finally did see yellow for a foul on Modric. Palacios carried the ball forward with panache and skill, and after a wall pass with Van der Vaart, Wilson hit a fine shot which hit the side netting. The referee awarded a goal kick, but had missed a good fingertip save by that man Friedel. Spurs then saw out the half with some fine possession football, which led to the “Oles” ringing out from the away support, who had plenty to be proud of, sending the team down the tunnel with cheers ringing in their ears.

Hogg was replaced at half time by club captain Stilyan Petrov, but Collins retained the captaincy for the game. Petrov was involved in early pressure by Villa, but the hardest save Gomes had to make was from an on-target effort by substitute Delfouneso. Now Delph joined the Villa yellow card club for his challenge upon Van der Vaart.

Spurs extended their lead in sublime fashion with a break started by Van der Vaart only a few yards outside the Spurs area. Facing the Spurs goal, Van der Vaart flicked the ball behind him in to the path of Bale, who made a penetrating extended run into Villa territory. Lennon and Van der Vaart were with him, and initially Bale fed the ball across the Villa box to Lennon who was towards the left side. He declined a shot, but passed back to Van der Vaart, who picked his spot superbly with a measured shot past Friedel’s left hand.

Villa came at us again, with Agbonlahor connecting with Warnock’s cross at the near post with a flicked header, which Gomes saved quite comfortably. Then Delph was replaced by the veteran Pires, who of course attracted boos and jeers from the Spurs faithful. At the same time Van der Vaart left the field to a great ovation, and was replaced by Peter Crouch, who probably spent more of the game helping out the defence than being at the front.

With fifteen minutes remaining on the clock, Agbonlahor had another effort, this time with his right foot, but Gomes made a good save. Gomes then attracted jeers as he needed some treatment, which probably led to at least two of the added minutes that Spurs would have to survive. The tension rose soon after when Villa scored what was a soft goal, as Albrighton’s cross from the left towards the far post actually went straight in, despite Collins diving to try and connect with a header. It was a goalkeeper’s nightmare, as Gomes naturally needed to prepare for a final touch. The home announcer needed a couple of replays to confirm who was the actual scorer.

Agbonlahor got a booking for a cynical foul on Van der Vaart, and Bale’s free kick passed just wide. Spurs were now struggling to keep the ball, generally booting it away. They did see out time though, not without attracting the ire of the referee. Jenas replaced Lennon with a couple of minutes left. Then Modric went in for a tackle, and suffered some cramp as a result, getting a booking for the tackle. Gomes then actually got booked for time wasting whilst Modric was down again, getting treatment from players for more cramp. Corluka was a late, late substitute and Spurs played out to the final whistle, without suffering any more great threats from the desperate home team that now has to face Man City and Chelsea away in its next two games. They are four points off the relegation places.

As for Spurs, this was a great away victory, achieved with some stylish football, great goals and stout defending in the adverse conditions of playing with ten men for over an hour. We have two home games to follow this week against Newcastle and Fulham, and can hopefully express ourselves and assert our claim for a top four place, not forgetting a possible tilt at the title of course!

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