BARCLAYS PREMIER LEAGUE
SUNDAY 15TH MARCH, 2009
ASTON VILLA 1 (0) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2 (1)
Referee: - Steve Bennett
Attendance: - 41, 205
Aston Villa (4-4-2):- Friedel; Reo-Coker, Knight (sub Carew, 60), Cuellar, Young; Milner, Barry (Capt.), Petrov, Young; Heskey (sub Gardner, 82), Agbonlahor (sub Delfouneso, 79)
Subs not used: - Guzan; Davies, Shorey; Harewood
Booked: - Reo-Coker
Spurs (4-4-2):- Gomes; Zokora (sub Corluka, 35), Woodgate, King, Ekotto; Lennon, Jenas, Palacios, Modric (sub O’Hara, 82); Bent, Keane (Capt.)
Subs not used: - Cudicini; Dawson; Huddlestone, Bentley; Pavlyuchenko
Booked: - Zokora, Keane, Modric
Heroic win for Spurs
On the Ides of March, Spurs gained a heroic victory at Villa Park, where Aston’s Martin was definitely shaken by a result he and his team did not need. In two strokes at the start of both halves, Spurs delivered the goals that blew a hole in Villa’s Champions League aspirations, lifting themselves to their highest position of the season to date – 11th. The top half beckons now, and at the time of writing, seventh place (potentially a ticket to Europe remember) is actually closer than the bottom three. In the context of the season this was Spurs best result by far, and I would suggest it was the best team performance.
I understand that Sky’s Andy Gray was his usual anti-Spurs self, no doubt in sympathy with one of his former clubs, and I have also noticed how the BBC report describes Spurs as being under the cosh for most of the first half. Well, it that is the case, why was Friedel the busier and the harder tested of the two keepers? Gomes did not have to make one save of note, other than generally confidently picking crosses out of the sky, and stopping one or two routine shots.
Harry Redknapp selected Didier Zokora at right back, in the hope that Zokora’s pace would keep Ashley Young at bay. Whilst the strategy was understandable, sadly it did not work out, and Young rounded Zokora almost at will. Zokora had taken a booking and was replaced by a real right back, Vedran Corluka after just 35 minutes. Thereafter the threat of Young was by and large neutralised by the canny Corluka who read the game exceedingly well, and also managed to get forward in support of Aaron Lennon. Lennon was up against Luke Young for most of the game. Young had been switched to left back for the purpose, but didn’t have too much success. When the full backs switched in the second half, Nigel Reo-Coker fared little better, and he also had the added pressure of an early second half booking to bear.
There were many good performances for Spurs. Both Woodgate and Ledley King were immense, winning virtually all headers, and keeping the pace of Agbonlahor stemmed to the degree that he was substituted after 79 minutes. Ekotto played well, except for one or two blemishes, which do seem to be a feature of his game. Jenas scored that early goal, and whilst his critics will record the failed passes and hesitancy in decision-making, he does consistently get a foot in by making that vital extra half a yard of effort that fans so much want to see. “Tank” Palacios is still not reaching the best that we saw in the Ar5ena1 game, but not much passes him!
Skipper Robbie Keane did everything but officially score Spurs second goal, as Bent stole the glory on the line, but Robbie linked up well between his fellow striker and the midfield. Bent worked ever so hard, chasing back and winning one or two causes, but so many times I just wanted to see him control a pass and take the ball on further. Mind you, we were spoilt in the preceding seasons by the presence of Berbatov.
Spurs did surrender territory in the opening phase, with Ashley Young threatening down the left, and our midfield leaving space to be exploited by Barry and Petrov, but they did more than bounce back when Modric sent a great long ball across the field to Lennon who rounded Luke Young, sending in a powerful cross which Friedel parried only to see the advancing Jenas head it home. Spurs had got the much-sought early goal.
However, it is fair to say that Villa dominated possession for a long spell, with Barry and Petrov trying shots that didn’t really worry Gomes. Heskey met an Ashley Young cross in front of the near post, which he headed wide after 9 minutes. The Villa winger tormented Zokora again, and the Spurs defence was sorely tested by his next foray, without having to defend a shot in anger. Robbie Keane got the ball to Darren bent who might have hit the target, but saw his shot blocked. The ball ran to Jenas who also saw his shot blocked and cleared.
After Corluka had replaced Zokora, Ekotto made one of his occasional lapses on the other side which allowed Agbonlahor a run towards the area. The striker passed the ball back across the outside of the area and Ashley Young fired well over. Jenas challenged well in the Villa half and the ball reached Luka Modric who fired a shot on target which was blocked then cleared. In added time, Villa had two chances. Firstly Gomes held Petrov’s shot after Young crossed and Heskey teed up the shot. Then Heskey hit the bar with a header after another cross from the left.
Spurs took some early pressure in the second half, defending two or three corners, but they bounced back in the best possible style with Lennon getting inside Luke Young before Robbie Keane picked up the rebound when Friedel saved a Palacios shot, then took the ball almost to the bye line hitting a low shot that Friedel could not hold. The ball rolled across the goal and might have gone over without Bent’s touch, but Bent (who is Spurs top scorer this season) took the glory of the goal.
Lennon hit a decent shot after a Modric free kick that passed just outside Friedel’s left post, before Martin O’Neill took off a defender (Zat Knight) for a striker (John Carew). Such was the pressure upon Villa to try and regain their top four place from Spurs hated rivals – Ar5ena1. However, that commitment inevitably led to Spurs getting more chance to attack, and they did that after 62 minutes, when Corluka’s cross went through Lennon’s legs and those of Robbie Keane before Luka Modric hit a shot that Friedel parried. It was around this time I noticed that Reo-Coker had moved to left back to try and stop Lennon. Lennon was getting good support from Corluka, and the two of them work well together up and down the right flank.
Gomes was tested by Petrov’s 66th minute shot, but Spurs were regularly getting into good positions with Lennon, Keane and Bent to the fore. Keane forced another good save from Friedel after an early shot from Corluka’s pass.
It was inevitable that Spurs would make us sweat out the last five minutes (plus three minutes added time) when Carew rose to head home a cross from the right off the underside of the bar, but this time Spurs were not just hitting the ball anywhere but also finding their team mates with defensive clearances which eased the pressure greatly.
It is an irony that by beating Villa we have helped the gooners, but quite frankly, I don’t give a flying ****. All I care about is my beloved Spurs, and it heartens me to see them steering away from the wrong end of the table, where we have spent the whole season. Spurs are now unbeaten in six games (including the penalties Carling Cup “defeat”), and the team have the confidence and form to make the rest of the season enjoyable. Bring on Chelsea next Saturday!
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