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Spurs v Stoke, 09.04.11

BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SATURDAY 9TH APRIL, 2011
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 3 (3) STOKE CITY 2 (2)

Spurs scorers:-
Crouch, 11, 34
Modric, 18

Stoke scorers:-
Etherington, 27
Jones, 41

Attendance:- 35,702

Referee:- Kevin Friend
Assistants:- Mr. D. Bryan & Mr. M. Yerby (not as per programme)
Fourth Official:- Mr. P. Crossley

Teams:-
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Corluka, Dawson (Capt.), Kaboul, Ekotto (sub Gallas, 89); Van der Vaart, Huddlestone, Modric, Bale; Pavlyuchenko, Crouch

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Bassong; Jenas, Sandro, Rose; Defoe

Booked:- Huddlestone (foul on Jones)

Stoke (4-4-1-1):- Begovic; Wilkinson, Shawcross (Capt.), Huth, Wilson; Pennant (sub Fuller, 76), Delap (sub Diao, 76), Whelan (sub Whitehead, 76), Etherington; Walters; Jones

Subs not used:- Sorensen; Collins; Faye, Pugh

Booked:- Pennant (foul on Ekotto), Wilkinson (foul on Bale), Etherington (foul on Bale)

Spurs make us sweat!

Peter Crouch went from zero to hero in the space of four days; Spurs scored for the first time in five games, and won their first league game in five, but boy did they make us fans sweat a bit before we could celebrate the win, which keeps us in fifth place, eight points ahead of Liverpool, and within three points of Man City.

It was a glorious sunny day at White Hart Lane and the home crowd was very supportive of the team that had so disappointed when losing 4-0 in Madrid in mid-week. They were of course glad to see the return of Tom Huddlestone, and Younes Kaboul, both of whom were to have influential games. Huddlestone was returning for his first game in five months (to the day), whilst Kaboul’s last game was against Newcastle on December 28th. There was still no Lennon, but Spurs did play in attacking style, with a 4-4-2 featuring Rafael van der Vaart nominally on the right, but of course having freedom of movement.

Gareth Bale was to offer the genuine width for Spurs, whilst Crouch was given (and took) the chance to redeem himself, ably supported by the lively and effective Pavlyuchenko, who offered a couple of assists to the mix.

Stoke had width on both flanks with Pennant and Etherington. Etherington received a more positive reception from the Spurs crowd than I can remember for a long time, since he left us for “big club” West Ham 8 years ago. In return, he celebrated quietly after his quite special individual Bale-like goal. Tony Pulis’s side had not come to defend, with Jones supported by Jonathan Walters. Danny Higginbotham was replaced at the back by skipper Ryan Shawcross.

Tom Huddlestone was certainly to the fore in the opening passages of the game, offering plenty of creativity, but also winning challenges in forward areas to keep the pressure on the Stoke defence. Such an occasion arose after just 4 minutes, when he won the ball outside the Stoke area, developing a move which ended with a Modric ball to Bale in a central position. Begovic held the shot. Begovic is of course the goalkeeper who gained Spurs a sweet £1 million, when being sold by Portsmouth to Stoke, when he was supposed to have been coming to Tottenham as part of the Younes Kaboul deal. Now that was a good bit of business by Daniel Levy!

After 8 minutes, Pavlyuchenko got on the end of a Huddlestone header across the box and fed the ball sharply to Bale, whose cross/shot passed outside the target for a corner. All this action was happening in front of the vocal spurs support in the Park Lane end, where Stoke had only filled about half of their allocation – hence the lowish attendance. Huddlestone won the ball again in his half and started a move that ultimately led to the first Spurs goal in the 11th minute. Tom passed long to Bale on the left, who in turn passed inside to Pavlyuchenko, whose attempt was put out for a corner. The corner was taken by Van der Vaart, touched on by Pavlyuchenko and headed home by a joyous Crouch who was royally heralded by the Spurs fans, as he scored just his third league goal of the season, but 11th in all competitions.

Spurs maintained their domination, and seven minutes later increased their lead with a well-worked goal by Pavlyuchenko and Modric. The Russian slipped a neat ball for Modric’s run into the left side of the box, and Luka completed the move with a fine goal across Begovic’s out-stretched hand. It was only Luka’s third goal of the season, and his first since Bremen in November. It was all looking so good for Spurs, who had been rewarded for stylish attacking football, which had kept the visitors on the back foot. However, flaws were to emerge which made the game too close for comfort.

Matthew Etherington broke past Corluka in the 27th minute and Huddlestone tried and failed to chase him, as the Stoke winger entered the Spurs box, and beat Gomes with a low shot a la Bale.

Spurs retrieved their two goal lead with another fine move, started this time by Van der Vaart in the middle. He fed Ekotto, who switched the play with a beautiful ball across the field to Corluka. Corluka pulled the ball back to Huddlestone whose deep cross was headed back across the goal by Crouch for a fine brace.

Could Spurs hold onto the comfortable lead this time? The answer was “No”, as Bale lost the ball in the middle and Jones was given a free run on goal, firing home from the edge of the area. Spurs did put some more pressure on Stoke just before the break, with Crouch, Pavlyuchenko and Van der Vaart to the fore, but being held at bay by Begovic.

After the break, Spurs had a couple more early chances, when Van der Vaart picked up the play from Modric and had a shot deflected for a corner, whilst Bale fed Pavlyuchenko, whose shot hit the side netting. Referee Kevin Friend had allowed Spurs the advantage in this latter move. I thought Mr. Friend had a decent game, and was one of the better officials we have seen recently.

Spurs had a big scare though after 52 minutes, when Kenwyne Jones fired a powerful cross from the right and Walters’ effort hit the near post, with Gomes possibly getting a touch to the ball. Stoke had got tighter on Spurs now, and during the half, got three bookings for unfairly halting promising forward moves by Ekotto and Bale (twice). A flowing move featuring Corluka and Van der Vaart saw Bale make a run for the pass, and cross for Pavlyuchenko, who headed just wide.

After a Stoke free kick, Jones rose to a cross from the right but headed wide. Spurs did have the ball in the net after 65 minutes, but the referee deemed it was “Nat Lofthouse style”, whereby Younes Kaboul was adjudged to unfairly barged the goalkeeper, who couldn’t hold the ball as Pavlyuchenko made sure the ball went over the line. In 1958, such a goal was allowed at Wembley, but not these days. Stoke of course play Bolton next week for the honour of playing in this year’s FA Cup Final, against a Manchester side.

Pavlyuchenko surprised the goalkeeper after 71 minutes, when receiving from Huddlestone, then taking a pot shot from some 30 yards, which Begovic could only parry. At the other end, Gomes saved from Pennant, whilst Bale also tested the goalkeeper after a Spurs break. Stoke now made a triple substitution, and there was no question of them sitting back, as they are still looking for a few more points to be assured of their Premier League status. The only significant remaining chance was for Jones, as Gomes made a save to concede a corner.

Harry Redknapp made only one substitution, and that seemed rather perverse, as William Gallas replaced Ekotto, with only a minute of normal time left. Gallas went to right back, whilst Corluka played on the left.

Spurs are on 53 points after 31 games, which is five less than we had at the same stage last year. Then we were ahead of City, whereas they have the edge this time. We must hope that City lose points in Monday’s game at Anfield, but whatever happens, we will have a game in hand over them, and of course once again, we still have to go to Eastlands in May for what could be a battle royal. Spurs have two consecutive home league games coming up, but first there is the not quite finished business with Real Madrid on Wednesday night.

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