Saturday, December 31, 2011

Swansea 1 Tottenham 1

A Swansea equaliser six minutes from time denied Spurs the opportunity to end 2011 with a win and move to within four points of Manchester United with a game in hand.  Rafael Van der Vaart had given them the lead just before half-time but in the end a draw was all that Spurs deserved.

Swansea City 1 Tottenham Hotspur 1
Scorers: Sinclair                                Van der Vaart

Team: Friedel; Walker, Gallas, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Sandro, Parker (Livermore), Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart (Defoe), Adebayor.  Subs (unused): Cudicini, Dawson, Rose, Kranjcar, Pienaar

Tottenham were unchanged from the team that played so well at Norwich but Swansea had made six changes from their draw with QPR.  Swansea started much quicker and denied Spurs time to play the ball out of defence and on four minutes Brad Friedel was called on to make a good save from Nathan Dyer after former Spurs player, Mark Gower, had robbed Scott Parker out on the left wing.  Three Swansea corners in quick succession caused Spurs problems as the home side competed all over the pitch but then ran with purpose when they gained possession.  Spurs were struggling to make an impression on the game and on ten minutes Friedel collected comfortably from a long range shot. 

Two minutes later, Spurs first attacking move ended with a shot from Luka Modric which went past the post.  Gareth Bale's first contribution saw the fullback, Richards, booked for a heavy tackle.  Spurs were unsettled by the Swansea players closing them down quickly and the two wide men were keeping Kyle Walker and Benoit Assou-Ekotto occupied.

Spurs looked dangerous after twenty minutes as they broke through Scott Parker but Emmanuel Adebayor was crowded out.  It was Scott Sinclair who then caused Spurs further alarm with a shot from outside the area which he curled wide.

Spurs were playing much too close and intricate football which encouraged the home players to pressurise them to try to pinch the ball.  Spurs players were never able to turn with the ball and move forward, always having to play it in the direction they were facing.   

It was almost half an hour before Spurs first corner and their first period of pressure around the Swansea area but then Gower took the ball off Adebayor and his long dangerous cross was cleared for a corner.  Spurs nearly benefited from a Swansea error when a short back pass to the goalkeeper fell to Adebayor but Vorm cleared the danger.  From a corner Assou-Ekotto shot just wide as Spurs started to match Swansea by pressurising the home players much more quickly, denying them time but they still had the greater possession which they used well with crisp, accurate passing.

Gareth Bale was having a quiet afternoon and he was booking for diving which created an even more hostile reception for his return to Wales.  Spurs got the break that their play didn't really deserve when Assou-Ekotto crossed from the left and it was deflected to Van der Vaart whose shot was also deflected past Vorm.  Spurs were grateful for that goal and the half-time lead.  Van der Vaart's goal was only the fourth that Swansea had conceded at home this season and in the previous seven games where they had conceded the first goal, Swansea had lost.

After the interval Spurs seemed to start with more purpose and had a break on the left from Bale but Adebayor put his cross just wide.  Luke Moore then had two quick chances for Swansea - a header wide and Wiliam Gallas blocked another attempt on goal.  Another break for Spurs saw Adebayor feed Van  der Vaart but he shot from distance rather than going on into the penalty area and the goalkeeper saved for a corner.  After an hour Bale shot wide after going through the middle from a pass by Adebayor.

Swansea began to exert greater pressure on the Tottenham defence and Friedel saved from Moore and from the resulting corner, a shot was volleyed past the post.  Swansea brought on Danny Graham, their leading goal scorer and with twenty minutes remaining Jermain Defoe replaced Van der Vaart and Jake Livermore came on for the injured Parker.  

Defoe was playing on the right of a five man midfield and Spurs were finding it increasingly difficult to thwart the Swansea attacks.  Sinclair shot and Graham headed over, Kyle Walker cleared a dangerous cross and Modric cleared off the line from the corner.  Walker relieved the pressure with a break and gave the ball to Bale.  He crossed for Adebayor who played in Modric whose shot was blocked and Vorm saved from Adebayor who'd picked up the rebound.
Almost immediately, on 84 minutes, Joe Allen played a long ball out from defence to the right wing and the quick cross was deflected by the lunging Assou-Ekotto but Friedel couldn't hold the cross which fell to Sinclair who scored into the empty net.  Disappointing for Spurs but only what Swansea deserved for their play and endeavour.

In the final minutes Spurs tried to regain the lead - a free-kick from Bale was deflected off the wall and into the hands of Vorm who then saved from a header by Sandro following a cross.

Swansea deserved a point and are probably annoyed not to have won the game.  Spurs will be disappointed to have dropped two points which would have closed the gap on Manchester United to four points with a game in hand but in reality they hardly deserved the single point.  Spurs looked slow in body and mind and never achieved the levels of skill or endeavour they've shown in previous matches.  It's been a tough schedule with two away matches following the home game with Chelsea which was another high pressure game.  Swansea never allowed Spurs to settle or to play their game, the home side dictated throughout and were quicker and more positive in their play.

Spurs missed an opportunity when those around them lost unexpectedly - United at home to Blackburn and Chelsea at home to Aston Villa.  Arsenal have moved into fourth but remain three points behind Spurs who have their game in hand.  Chelsea was a missed opportunity as was Stoke although there were extenuating circumstances.  Spurs can't afford to let many more opportunities slip past them so they need to take advantage of their next three games being at White Hart Lane.  They are then away to Manchester City, followed by a home game against Wigan.  By the end of January we might be in a better position to decide how damaging today's dropped points were in the bigger picture of the Premier League title race.

Swansea will not be an easy side to beat at home and their next opponents at the Liberty Stadium are Arsenal and Chelsea so let's hope they find it as difficult as Spurs found it on the last day of 2011 which has been quite an amazing year in the history of Tottenham and let's hope that the new year brings much more excitement from Harry Redknapp and his players..


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