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Spurs v Sunderland, 18.12.11

3 P.M.

Pavlyuchenko, 61

Attendance:- 36,021

Referee:- Mike Dean
Assistants:- Mr. S. Burt & Mr. A. Watts
Fourth Official:- Mr. P. Gibbs

Spurs (4-4-1-1):- Friedel; Walker, Gallas, King (Capt.), Ekotto; Lennon (sub Pavlyuchenko, 27), Parker, Sandro (sub Livermore, 82), Modric; Van der Vaart (sub Rose, 89); Adebayor

Subs not used:- Cudicini; Bassong; Kranjcar, Pienaar

Booked:- Ekotto (foul on Vaughan)

Sunderland (4-4-1-1):- Westwood; O’Shea (Capt.), Bramble, Brown, Bardsley (sub McClean, 69); Larsson, Colback (sub Gardner, 75), Vaughan, Richardson; Sessegnon; Wickham (sub Bendtner, 46)

Subs not used:- Carson; Elmohamady; Cattermole, Ji Dong-Wan

Booked:- Richardson (foul on Modric), Vaughan (foul on Pavlyuchenko)

O’Neill’s bar breached

It certainly wasn’t easy and by the way in which the Spurs first team played in the first half, I thought they’d been playing cards at home instead of training whilst their deputies were playing the Europa League game in Dublin. Of that team, only Ekotto and Sandro started today, whilst we learnt at a late stage that Jermain Defoe was injured. More crucially perhaps, Gareth Bale was also a late absentee, allegedly through injury, but we must hope he is being saved for Thursday night’s Chelsea game. Aaron Lennon had to leave early due to a hamstring injury, and Harry Redknapp reported that he could be out for weeks. The busy Christmas fixture list looms with Spurs facing some problematic injuries.

It would seem that Martin O’Neill’s game plan was to get his men behind the ball, and by hook or by crook, prevent Spurs from breaching O’Neill’s bar from the Sunderland goal. The “Black Cats” succeeded in their quest for the first hour too. In the first half, Spurs seemed to be quite lack-lustre, and lacked the imagination or final pass or touch to get the vital first goal. There were glimpses of quality football from the back, but that final touch was too often under par, and didn’t threaten the “bar”.

Ledley King made a welcome return, and continued his great record of winning league games where he has played 90 minutes. Sandro filled Modric’s position, which put Modric somewhat out of joint on the left flank. Luka’s touch was not as reliable as usual in the first half, but the proverbial half-time team talk helped him and the team to find more form, energy and desire.

Of their recent alleged criminal miscreants, only Titus Bramble started today for Sunderland, whilst Bendtner and Cattermole were on the bench. As expected, Bendtner got booed when he replaced young Connor Wickham at half-time. The Spurs fans had a hoot when Bendtner missed a great opportunity late in the second half at the Park Lane End.

Referee Mike Dean seemed determined to let play flow. Sometimes this was to Spurs advantage, particularly when Sandro and Livermore were tenacious in the tackle in the second half. Early on though, Spurs were victims, when Luka Modric seemed to get shoved in the back, whereas this was perceived as a fair shoulder barge. After 10 minutes a cross by Aaron Lennon reached Ekotto outside the area towards the left. “Benny” unleashed a shot that might have been on target, but which was inadvertently diverted outside the goal by Rafa van der Vaart. Luka tried to release Lennon with a ball down the right channel, but it was just too far ahead of the Spurs winger. Van der Vaart teed up Sandro for a shot. Sandro hit it with his right foot, but it was wide across the goalmouth.

William Gallas was to the fore on several occasions in defence, and his good touch started a good move by Spurs, with Parker carrying the ball away from danger, before sending Lennon away. Lennon fell, and this was possibly when he sustained his injury. Lennon had to be replaced and the surprising move was to put Roman Pavlyuchenko on rather than a wide player such as Kranjcar, or Rose. Pavlyuchenko was making his first appearance since November 3rd . He worked alongside Adebayor, with Van der Vaart falling back to the midfield, but it was going to be down to the full backs to offer width. Quite often though, Adebayor would be found on the flank, and his work rate, as always was without question.

Kieran Richardson found space for a shot on the half-hour, but Friedel held this easily. Spurs caused themselves problems by rushing a clearance (Ledley of all people), and the ball came back via Larsson’s short cross which fell behind Richardson’s advance deep in the Spurs area, much to the relief of the home side.

Modric battled for and won a ball, before sending it down the line for Ekotto, who crossed but found no-one to put the ball into the net. The referee awarded a harsh free kick just outside the Spurs area, against Gallas. Larsson took the kick, and Friedel dived to his right to make a good save. Spurs’ best chance of the half fell to Pavlyuchenko, who is an easy target for many Spurs fans. Parker got to the bye-line and crossed. Westwood patted the ball into Pavlyuchenko, whose involuntary touch went wide. It could have rebounded off him into the goal.

Early in the second half, Sandro failed to hold the ball in the middle, perhaps by trying to be over-elaborate. Vaughan broke away for the visitors, but his shot was easily held by Brad Friedel. Ekotto too was guilty of over- elaboration and having lost the ball, committed a foul for which he got a yellow card. A great Spurs move featuring Ekotto, Modric and Parker led to a beauty of a ball for Adebayor, but he was offside. Another offside decision went against Adebayor, when I swear a defender was between him and the goal, and of course the Sunderland goalkeeper.

Van der Vaart had a shot deflected for a corner, and an Ekotto cross just hit the top of Adebayor’s head, going all the way to the far touchline. Walker was now getting involved more and more in the attack, and after one spurt, both Van der Vaart and Adebayor were available, but the ball was cleared by Bramble.

At last, Spurs took the lead and it was a quality goal for Pavlyuchenko, who has so few chances to prove himself these days. It was a great ball by Van der Vaart that gave Pavlyuchenko his chance, taken with style, hitting a low right footed drive across Westwood into the net. It was Pav’s first league goal of the season, but he has only made three substitute appearances in Premier League games this season so far. Pav was soon brought down on the edge of the area by Vaughan, who got a deserved yellow card. Spurs did nothing with the free kick though.

Sandro did some great work on the right flank in his own half to win the ball, and send it down the line for Van der Vaart. Rafa crossed inside to Adebayor, whose shot was blocked. Luka Modric followed up, should have scored, but scooped dismally well over the bar. Modric received a good ball down the left channel and lifted it to Van der Vaart, whose shot was held by the keeper. At the other end, Sandro was winning great acclaim for his determined tackles and ball-winning skills.

Van der Vaart had another free kick for Spurs after a foul on Pavlyuchenko by Bramble, which was deflected for a corner. After 84 minutes, Adebayor still had the legs to carry the ball inside from the right wing, getting goalside of Wes Brown, before hitting a shot from an angle which was saved by Westwood. Pavlyuchenko had one more chance, but hit it wide, before we had fun at Bendtner’s expense. The trouble was of course that Spurs had not won convincingly, and we had to sweat it out till the final whistle.

The win takes us back to third place two points above Chelsea, who we meet in a televised crunch game next Thursday night. It’s a game to relish and one which could give us a great lead in that third place. We will have to play a lot better though, and we will need a fit Gareth Bale too. I hope you were saving him Harry!

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