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Aston Villa v Spurs, 26.12.12

(5.30 PM)

Defoe, 57
Bale, 61, 73, 84

Attendance:- 36,863

Referee:- Mark Clattenburg
Assistants:- Mr. S. Ledger & Mr. M. McDonough
Fourth official:- Mr. A. Taylor

Aston Villa (5-3-1-1/4-4-1-1):- Guzan; Lowton, Herd, Clark (Capt.), Baker (sub Ireland, 45), Bennett; El Ahmadi, Westwood (sub Albrighton, 46), Delph; Holman; Benteke

Subs not used:- Given; Lichaj; Bannan, Carruthers; Bowery

Booked:- Delph (foul on Bale)

Spurs (4-4-2):- Lloris; Walker, Gallas (Capt.), Vertonghen, Naughton; Lennon, Sandro, Dembele (sub Parker, 66), Bale (sub Townsend, 85); Adebayor (sub Sigurdsson, 79), Defoe

Subs not used:- Friedel; Dawson, Caulker; Livermore

No Bookings

Bale’s Christmas carvery

For the second Christmas running, Gareth Bale made mincemeat of a Paul Lambert side. Last year he dominated in Spurs 2-0 win at Carrow Road, scoring both goals. This year he scored his second Spurs hat-trick, both of which were away from home. Spurs kept a clean sheet for the third successive game, and had their biggest win under Andre Villas-Boas. For Villa, I’m afraid that despite successful first half resistance, it was a case of the 12 goals of Christmas, after 8 conceded at Chelsea and another four here.

Lambert opted for a defensive strategy in the first half, with a five man back line. In fairness, the two on the flanks were supposed to move forward when Villa were on the attack, but that happened so rarely in the first half. El Ahmadi, Westwood and Fabian Delph were lined up behind Brett Holman, who supported Benteke, the lone striker. That defensive line was needed, as Spurs threatened to overwhelm the home side, winning 15 corners, just in the first half, against Villa’s 1. Spurs also had 11 attempts on goal, but few of them required a real effort by goalkeeper Guzan, who did make two notable saves.

It was looking a bit like Spurs’ last two home games, with Spurs unable to break down the opposition, and failing to open the floodgates. Lambert bravely opted to attack in the second half, and the game opened out, with Spurs taking full advantage, and Bale simply carving up the Villa Christmas turkeys.

Spurs had all the early possession, but could find no killer touch. Defoe was fouled on the edge of the area after 5 minutes by Chris Herd. Bale took the free kick, which was deflected, perhaps off the wall, for a corner. A Bale cross was taken off the head of Adebayor, and a Walker shot was deflected for another corner in front of the Holte End. Spurs, for once , were playing in their traditional colours, even with their navy blue shorts, seen so rarely this season.

Guzan made his first good save from a Bale shot, lashed from a central position. Guzan dived to his left and was more than happy to concede another corner. After 19 minutes, prompted by the big screens, the home crowd (joined by the away support) showed the now traditional vocal support for club captain Stiliyan Petrov, sadly still battling acute leukaemia.

A Defoe interception led to a ball to Lennon on the right, who won a corner. Gallas headed the corner from the near post, but Guzan held. Guzan then saved from Defoe’s advance on the left of goal, again conceding a corner. Villa actually had an attack after 29 minutes, following a mistake by Gallas, whose pass went for a Villa throw on their right flank. Villa had a play, which ended with a dangerous cross from the left by Bennett, which passed everyone across the goalmouth and went out on the other side for a Spurs throw.

Another Spurs corner, taken by Bale, was headed straight into Guzan’s hands by Adebayor. Naughton and Bale worked the ball down the left for a Bale pass back to Adebayor in the middle, whose shot had power, and looked on target. It hit the head of a defender, resulting in a corner. Villa’s best chance of the half came after 34 minutes, when Lowton got down the right wing and crossed to the back post, where the advancing Holman fired wide. I was losing count of spurs’ corners, and another was headed over by Vertonghen from the near post.

Guzan made a two-handed scooping save low down from another Bale shot, which dipped nastily for him. Villa withdrew Baker just before the break in favour of Stephen Ireland, who moved into the midfield, making it a definite4-4-1-1 formation for the home side, who made another change at the break, with Albrighton replacing Westwood. To their credit, Villa took on an attacking stance. Perhaps Lambert’s strategy had been to re-build confidence with out and out defence in the first half, after that Stamford Bridge battering, before seeking to make an advance. That early strategy resulted in a good effort by Lowton from the right of the box, which passed well over Lloris’s goal. Ireland was now playing the supporting role for Benteke, with Holman on the left flank.

Villa’s decision allowed Spurs to do what they do best though, with a number of breakaway attacks. The first of these came when the ball was cleared to Walker, in the Villa half. He headed to Adebayor, who returned the ball before Walker passed inside to Defoe, from whom the ball was cleared. Lloris had to make a great save from Benteke after 54 minutes, after Villa had advanced down their right flank, but Benteke had been adjudged offside.

Spurs finally took advantage of the game opening up, when Sandro carried the ball into the Villa half, and after a number of passes, one shot was cleared, only to Naughton, who threaded a truly great pass inside the line for Defoe to collect, and fire home. My good friend The “Lust Doctor” has described this as an Iniesta-like pass, and it was not an exaggeration, although the recipient had not made a sprint from deep to make the ground to receive the pass.

Villa had threatened again, but now Spurs were starting to prise open their defence at will. Defoe collected the ball just inside the Villa half and started a run down the right. Bennett’s interception fell into Bale’s lap, and Gareth’s first touch was sublime, to allow him to pass the central defence, waltz past Guzan’ left side, and finish with ease. The Sky camera on the touchline in front of the Spurs fans got a lot of use in the following minutes.

Dembele was suffering with a knock, and was replaced by Scott Parker, whose return to fitness has come at a great time for Spurs. Parker was active, and was often the source of Spurs moves forward from their area, with confident ball control, and accurate passes. Delph got the only booking of the game from Mark Clattenburg, when he halted Bale unfairly. Some of the Villa crowd were baying at Bale, but this was a clear foul, and Bale needed time to pick himself up and dust himself down.

Spurs’ third goal came after some good football down the right, with Parker and Walker in tandem. Walker passed inside to Lennon, who pushed the ball on to Bale in the middle. There were four defenders forming a box around Bale, but allowing too much space, as he hit the net again. Soon after that, Lennon and Walker combined, before the ball was delivered to Defoe, who scooped his shot over the bar with his first touch.

Adebayor was replaced by Sigurdsson, and he played a part inn Bale’s hat-trick goal. Spurs were now playing some showboating football down the right flank. Lennon chipped a pass down the line to Walker, who passed inside to Sigurdsson. Instead of shooting, Sigurdsson passed the ball inside to Bale for another easy finish. Villa fans had already started leaving in droves, but there was some stalwart support from a few left in the bottom of the Holte End.

Bale was immediately replaced by Andros Townsend, and in the closing stages, Lloris did have to hold an effort on goal by Albrighton.

Spurs moved back up to fourth, with an improved goal difference, and face a tougher game at The Stadium of Light, where Sunderland surprised Man City and won their second successive game to climb above Newcastle, and gain great confidence. As for Villa, they face a crucial home game against Wigan on Saturday, and an ongoing genuine fight against relegation. It seems that progress to the Capital One Cup semi-final and that win over Liverpool last week was just a diversion.

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