Monday, December 19, 2011

Tottenham 1 Sunderland 0

Spurs regained third place in the Premier League after a hard earned victory over Sunderland with a goal from substitute Roman Pavlyuchenko.

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Sunderland 0
Scorer: Pavlyuchenko

Team: Friedel; Walker, Gallas, King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Pavlyuchenko), Parker, Sandro (Livermore), Modric; Van der Vaart (Rose), Adebayor.  Subs (unused): Cudicini, Bassong, Kranjcar, Pienaar

The Return of 'Super-Pav' (for a few seconds)

Roman Pavlyuchenko
The announce of the teams brought good and bad news for Spurs.  The return of captain, Ledley King, was greeted enthusiastically by spectators but the absence of Gareth Bale following a training ground injury was a major disappointment.  The absence of Jermain Defoe from the list of substitutes through injury also reduced the manager's options.  Sandro returned to the team in central midfield beside Scott Parker with Luka Modric playing on the left.

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Sunderland boosted by the appointment of Martin O'Neill and last week's win over Blackburn Rovers were just outside the relegation zone but have a very good defensive record and as would be expected from any team sent out by O'Neill they were very well prepared and organised, working extremely hard to deny Spurs the time or space to place their usual game.  Without Bale Spurs had lost the pace and drive on the left side of the team as Modric drifted in towards the centre from his starting position.  This put added importance on the play of Aaron Lennon and after a slow start just as Spurs began to take advantage of his pace, Lennon had to go off with an injury after half an hour.  The appearance of Roman Pavlyuchenko as his replacement was unexpected to say the least and his early non-contributions to the game before half-time didn't exactly endear him to the supporters.

Brad Friedel was the busier of the two goalkeepers with the best of his saves being in the first half when he dealt with a free-kick from Larsson.  The nearest Spurs came to a first half chance was a shot from Benoit Assou-Ekotto which Van der Vaart deflected wide and when the goalkeeper punched a dangerous Parker cross into Pavlyuchenko and it rebounded wide in the final minutes of the half.  Spurs had failed to get a shot on target during the opening forty five minutes - the first time that's happened since August, 2008.

Losing both wingers meant Spurs needed to rethink their approach and after the interval, the two full backs pushed forward more to provide pace and create width.  Sunderland had been encouraged by their first half performance and were still competing fiercely and keeping the pressure on Spurs.  The game was going from end to end but neither side was creating any clear goal scoring opportunities.  Rafael Van der Vaart started to have a greater influence and was to be the creator of the opening goal although it was a strong forward run by Kyle Walker after fifteen second half minutes which seemed to be the inspiration for a lift in the Spurs play.

Sunderland had almost worked a chance in the Spurs area but Sandro got back to clear the danger and then following a short period of play where Spurs followed Sunderland's example and harried and hounded their opponents which allowed Modric to pick up a free ball inside his own half and move forward before passing to Van der Vaart who with a lovely reverse pass released Pavlyuchenko to finish from the edge of the penalty area, shooting across the goalkeeper.

This relieved the tension around White Hart Lane and Spurs should have added to their score.  Van der Vaart with another exquisite pass sent Emmanuel Adebayor free into the area but the keeper blocked his shot but when it fell to Modric in front of goal he shot over the empty net.  Van der Vaart displayed the full range of his talent with a beautiful cross field volleyed pass from right to left to set Assou-Ekotto free.

Sunderland tried to find an equaliser but Bendtner shot wide and Friedel saved a dangerous cross in the final moments of added time.

Spurs overcame last week's defeat at Stoke but the absence of Bale and Lennon was a big loss to the team.  They managed, however, to score the important goal which lifts them to third ahead of Chelsea who could only draw at Wigan on Saturday.  The next fixture is on Thursday against Chelsea so it's to be hoped that Bale and Defoe will be available as the busy Christmas period is not a time to be struggling with injuries.  A win in that match would consolidate Spurs hold on third with a game in hand. 


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