Thursday, March 22, 2012

Tottenham 1 Stoke City 1

It took an injury time goal from Rafael Van der Vaart to rescue a point for Spurs after Stoke had taken the lead fifteen minutes from time.  The dropped points mean that Spurs are now in fourth place behind Arsenal who won at Everton.  Late goals by Manchester City hindered Chelsea's assault on fourth and a Champions League place - they are now five points behind Spurs. 

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Stoke City 1
Scorers:   Van der Vaart                     Jerome  
Team: Freiedel; Walker, Kaboul, King (Nelsen), Assou-Ekotto; Kranjcar (Defoe), Parker, Modric, Modric, Bale; Van der Vaart; Saha (Giovani)  Subs: (unused) Cuducini, Rose, Sandro, Livermore

A stunning goal from Rafael Van der Vaart in the second minute of added time earned Spurs a point against Stoke and brought to an end their run of three successive Premier League defeats.  It was a moment of rare class and precision as Gareth Bale's cross was met by Van der Vaart who headed into the net, getting in front of the Stoke defenders who to that point had blocked everything that Spurs had put before them.

Spurs started with four changes from the team that faced Bolton in last weekend's abandoned FA Cup tie.  Brad Friedel returned in goal, Younes Kaboul and Ledley King were in central defence while Niko Krnajcar replaced Jermain Defoe.  Stoke were captained by Peter Crouch who was returning to White Hart Lane for the first time since his summer transfer with Wilson Palacios who also started.  The biggest surprise in the Stoke team was the absence of either of their long throw specialists, a tactic which caused Spurs such problems in the game in December.

Stoke started the brighter with Jerome firing in two shots from distance.  Spurs then took control of possession as they did for most of the evening as the statistic of 71% possession over the game illustrates.  In the first half Spurs threat on goal came from a Van der Vaart shot which was just wide and then Luka Modric had two efforts across goal which also passed wide.  Kaboul had a header from a corner which hit the bar after half and hour but Louis Saha was adjudged to have blocked off a defender - quite ironic as Stoke are past masters of such tactics.  Late in the half Saha tested the goalkeeper with a powerful effort but it was saved comfortably.

Defoe was introduced at half-time for Kranjcar and initially seemed to bring some urgency to the team as Bale had a shot deflected for a corner but that quickly faded and for all Spurs possession they weren't really threatening the visitors defence.  Stoke defended in depth with defenders throwing themselves into tackles to block and deny Spurs any sight of goal or the time to create an opening.  

Stoke were always looking to get onto a knockdown from Crouch who constantly provided the outlet for them.  As Spurs built up the pressure with more men pushing forward in attack, Stoke broke at pace to try to take advantage.  Van der Vaart shot wide, Bale's dipping shot hit the bar with the goalkeeper beaten. 

Immediately after this, with fifteen minutes remaining, Stoke were awarded a free-kick on the left.  Huth won the ball in the air and a fortunate deflection off another Stoke player enabled Jerome to touch it past Friedel for Stoke's tenth away League goal of the season.  Spurs were staring at a fourth consecutive defeat for the first time since November, 2004 and Stoke were determined to hold on to their led.  In response to this setback, Bale's shot was blocked by the goalkeeper but Van der Vaart was unable to reach the rebound.

Into injury time and for the first time this season Spurs scored a late goal to salvage something from a lost cause (any other late goals had just consolidated victory).  Bale's excellent cross fizzed on to the head of Van der Vaart who arrived at the near post ahead of the defenders.  The point gained wasn't enough to hold onto the third place which Spurs have filled since their win over Aston Villa in November but it increased the gap over Chelsea whom they meet at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

A memorable season which has promised so much is slowly slipping away from Spurs.  The team, at the moment, seem incapable of rousing themselves to a performance akin to the flowing football that they produced earlier in the season.  The loss of Aaron Lennon to injury has restricted their options and is making it easier for opposing teams to marshal Bale's marauding runs.  Lennon's presence wide on the right, stretched defences and created more space for Bale while, in Lennon's absence, Bale is more prone to roam away from the left wing.  With Lennon and Bale wide on the wings, Spurs are at their most effective and Lennon also contributes defensively to allow Kyle Walker to attack on the right.

Tottenham had 18 attempts on target last night but only scored once, Stoke had two for their only goal.  In the past three games Spurs have had 68 attempts on goal for just two goals - a major cause for concern.

A lack of imagination and urgency in the January transfer window has left Spurs squad short, hit by injuries, Saha and Ryan Nelsen have failed to provide the quality which was needed to take the club that step forward and consolidate on what was then a chance of the title rather than what has now become a scramble to hold on to fourth and Champions League qualification.

This has been a season of many distractions - it started with the Luka Modric saga and the Tottenham riots, there has been the Redknapp court case and the possibility of him leaving at some point for the England manager's role.  At this point the team and manager seem distracted - the team lack inspiration on the pitch and Redknapp seems to have have lost that motivational impetus for which he is highly regarded.  Tottenham teams have so often lacked a player to lift the team on the pitch and that once again seems to be the case.  Rooney, Van Persie, the Chelsea '3', Gerrard and Tevez have all done it in the past and more recently for their teams but Spurs lack that player to step up and lift the team at a time of difficulty.  In last night's only positive, Bale and Van der Vaart combined at the death to rescue a point but it came just a little too late. 

Once again, the next two games against Chelsea and Bolton in the FA Cup are crucial games for Spurs season.  Someone needs to shrug off the disappointments of the past weeks and step up and put themselves forward as the player to lift the team.


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