Sunday, December 11, 2011

Stoke City 2 Tottenham 1

Tottenham's unbeaten run came to an end at Stoke in a game where Spurs struggled defensively to cope with the home side's tactics but in the end were denied the opportunity of a comeback by a poor performance from the referee.

Stoke City 2 Tottenham 1
Scorers:  Etherington (2)                Adebayor (pen)

Team: Friedel; Walker, Kaboul, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto (Bassong); Lennon (Defoe), Parker, Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart (Giovani dos Santos), Adebayor.  Subs (unused): Gomes, Corluka, Sandro, Pienaar
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Tottenham's unbeaten run was ended by two goals from former player, Matthew Etherington, and the team's inability to cope with the home side's high ball tactics from throw ins and set-pieces.  The fact that Stoke were assisted by a poor refereeing performance from Chris Foy sounds like sour grapes but his leniency to their style of play and his blind spot for offences in their penalty area gave them a considerable advantage in the second half when Spurs were in command.

The only change in the team saw the return of Rafael Van der Vaart in place of Jermain Defoe.  Ledley King was still absent through injury.

Stoke started very quickly with a high pressure game giving Spurs no time on the ball and constantly harrying them.  As against Fulham, Brad Friedel had to make a sharp save in the opening minute to prevent Spurs going behind as Assou-Ekotto's headed clearance from a throw in fell to Etherington.  Unfortunately, Spurs didn't learn from this and were under constant pressure with defenders failing to clear the ball properly as they were having to simply kick it away as Stoke gave them no time to play it out as they usually like to do.  Often the ball was going out for throw-ins and Spurs weakness was immediately highlighted as the pressure built up on them.

In the past Spurs have had additional taller players in the team, Vedran Corluka and Peter Crouch, which eased the pressure but on this occasion they were struggling as a team and were now finding it extremely difficult to cope with former player, Crouch.  They stood off him and let him play the ball as he wished and Spurs paid the penalty after thirteen minutes.  Crouch had seemed to handle the ball as he controlled it but looked to have been shepherded away from danger by William Gallas.  From close to the line, at the near post, however, he managed to squeeze the ball between Friedel's legs, and it reached Etherington who scored.

Stoke continued to dominate and the Spurs defenders were under constant pressure and continually gave the ball away.  When they did get the ball to their midfield players, they found themselves surrounded by a the hard working Stoke players and lost the ball or gave it away with poor passing.  Spurs only forward progress was a couple of long range efforts which were saved comfortably.  It was on the half hour that Spurs started to exert some pressure and Aaron Lennon who switched to the right got a chance to take on Jonathan Woodgate who brought him down.  Woodgate was booked.  This heartened Spurs and they had much more possession and control but were unable to create any clear cut chances as Stoke were quite content to have all eleven men back behind the ball.  Another Spurs attack was stopped when Woodgate floored Scott Parker but the referee just allowed play to carry on as Spurs were in possession and took no further action against the Stoke defender.

Just as it seemed Spurs had enough control to get to the interval with no further mishaps, Stoke broke and from another throw in, Walters headed on and Etherington was following up to score his second, two minutes from half-time.

Harry Redknapp brought on Sebastien Bassong for Assou-Ekotto and replaced Lennon with Defoe.  Lennon was unfortunate to be taken off, Van der Vaart would have been more deserving of being replaced.  Stoke started as in the first half but Spurs were somewhat more composed and gradually started to gain possession and started to put the Stoke defence under pressure.  Bale was causing problems with running from deep and as Spurs built up a momentum, there was some encouragement for them.  On the hour after a period of sustained pressure, Luka Modric took the ball into the area and was brought down.  A penalty - Emmanuel Adebayor scored, sending the goalkeeper the wrong way.

Spurs were now in the ascendancy but good goalkeeping by Thomas Sorensen who saved from Parker and poor refereeing by Mr Foy and his assistant, kept Stoke in the game.  Spurs should have had another penalty within four minutes of the first when Kaboul was pulled down as he went for the ball at the resulting corner.  After this mayhem, Kaboul was booked for protesting.  Another hectic spell of Spurs pressure saw Defoe claim a penalty, Kaboul have a shot cleared off the line by Shawcross' arm and then an Adebayor goal in the follow up disallowed for off-side, which he wasn't. 

Sorensen saved from Van der Vaart and Modric and then in a rare break, Kaboul fouled Walters and was sent off for receiving a second yellow card with ten minutes remaining.  This took the impetus from Spurs and it was only at this point that the referee warned Stoke about taking so long over throw-ins and set-pieces.  Rather late as they had been doing it all afternoon to disrupt the flow of the game.  Even the five minutes of added time didn't make up for it.  In the closing minutes Stoke could have increased their lead when Shawcross was left unmarked at two identical corners - Friedel saved the first while the second went over after hitting the bar.

The refereeing situation is best summed up in a report from SB Nation:

'Knowing that Chris Foy wouldn't dare give Spurs another penalty so quickly, Stoke began fouling in the penalty box, breaking up attacks by simply barging players off the ball or kicking them quite hard. Foy and his crew were completely unable to cope, and lost control of the match entirely. There was one ten second spell where Tottenham were denied two penalties, a Stoke red card (Ryan Shawcross elbowed the ball off the line) and had a completely legitimate Adebayor goal disallowed for offside. It was, as they say in the business, a complete farce.'

Spurs run was bound to come to an end and this match with Stoke was where it was most likely to happen.  No one player was at fault, rather it was the team.  They were clearly unprepared to cope with Stoke's high intensity play and their use of the high ball.  They failed to cope with Peter Crouch, something I would have expected Spurs to have been able to do having played with him for two seasons.  The former Tottenham players were obviously well motivated for the game but it was disappointing that this was the match Etherington managed to score his first goals of the season and that Stoke scored their first goals of the season from throw-ins.

Spurs have coped with Stoke's tactics in the past two seasons but were clearly unable to do so today.  The team will now have to regroup and show that they can overcome this setback and start another run through Christmas and into the New Year.


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