Thursday, April 06, 2006

Spurs Look to City for Reward

Tottenham Hotspur have the two Manchester clubs as visitors to White Hart Lane in their next two home games. On Saturday, City will be hoping to end their poor run of form, no wins in four games and no away wins in five, while nine days later, on Easter Monday, United will arrive with their sights set on overhauling Chelsea at the top of the Premiership. The visitors will arrive with contrasting aims but Spurs aim on both occasions must be to take full points as they endeavour to hold on to fourth place.

Last Saturday's very disappointing result at Newcastle was a huge setback but during the week Blackburn and Wigan drew, while Bolton lost at Birmingham, so they have a little breathing space from some of the challengers. However, Arsenal are still making rapid progress and with the game in hand at Portsmouth, could overtake Spurs for the first time in months. It is to be hoped that Arsenal become distracted by their future Champions League games, although in the past they have always been able to keep a number of options going.

Spurs display in the first thirty minutes at Newcastle presented the game to the home team. By then Newcastle were in control and while Spurs had opportunities to score and in the early part of the second half their defence did start to wobble under some pressure, Spurs early ineptitude gave them the confidence to go on and win the game.

Spurs must up the tempo of their game in the early stages to unsettle their opponents. We're still waiting for a goal for Spurs inside the first 5 minutes of a game. An early strike could demoralise a team who are struggling for results but Spurs over cautious approach let's these teams settle and set up their own game. In the last three games, Spurs have played teams under pressure after poor results but on each occasion, Spurs have been put under considerable early pressure. Against Birmingham they weathered it and went on to win, against West Brom they went a goal down and it was only a late revival that saved them and at Newcastle they were one down in little over a minute but this time couldn't make up for their early failures.

The defence was very insecure at St James' Park and in the first attack, Kelly, Gardner and Dawson were all over the place. Without Ledley King, the defence showed little composure. King will undergo a fitness test on Friday on the ankle he injured in training a week ago. With Dawson absent for the next two games because of his sending off, King's return to the starting line-up will be even more important. Presumably, Gardner will partner him at the centre of the defence while Kelly and Stalteri vie for the place on the right side of defence. The midfield decisions concern Davids who was culpible for the early problems as he could not cope with Bowyer's running and gave away the penalty for the third goal. It may be time to rest him in favour of either Tainio or Murphy. Carrick, Jenas and Lennon should all start and Keane who has a goal a game in the past seven matches should start with either Defoe or Mido.

It was good to read during the week that Defoe has no desire to leave Tottenham and a starting place might encourage him and boost his confidence. Mido's return last Saturday was less than spectacular but he also has a fair scoring rate this season.

Whoever plays, they must match the early commitment of City whose manager will have them fired up to show a big improvement on their recent form. Stuart Pearce will not accept lack of effort from his players so Spurs should not be surprised by their play.

Spurs won at the City of Manchester stadium in the first game in January with goals from Mido and Keane, in one of their best performances of the season. Last season a Fredi Kanoute goal gave Spurs the points in December, 2004 and they won the home game in March by 2-1 with goals from Defoe and Keane. Atoube started his last game for Spurs and was later suspended for an off the ball incident not noticed by the officials.

Spurs have not produced a really convincing performance this season and it would be good to see an impressive win to build their confidence for more difficult games in the next few weeks. Self- belief is an important ingredient in any successful team and Spurs need to develop some after last week's failings and with teams hotly pursuing them for the European place. However, under the circumstances, any win will be acceptable if the ultimate goal is achieved.

There are some important games this weekend which could have a bearing on the final League positions. On Saturday, Portsmouth play host to Blackburn and Birmingham travel to Wigan. On Sunday Arsenal are at Old Trafford, Bolton visit Liverpool and Chelsea entertain West Ham. Spurs play first with a 12.45 kick off on Saturday and if the results go their way they could have a nice safety cushion by Sunday and European qualification would be securely in their own hands. However, more likely, the whole show of uncertainty and maybe will roll on for another few weeks towards the end of the season.


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