Monday, April 09, 2012

Tottenham 1 Norwich City 2

Tottenham's defeat at home to Norwich City has left their aspirations of qualification for next season's Champions League competition hanging by a thread.  Ahead of the match, it was in their own hands but defeat has left them looking for Chelsea and Newcastle to slip up in their final games.

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Norwich City 2
Scorers: Defoe            Pilkington, Bennett
Team: Friedel; Walker, Kaboul (Nelsen), King, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon, Livermore (Va der Vaart), Modric, Bale; Saha (Adebayor), Defoe  Subs: (unused) Cudicini, Sandro, Kranjcar, Rose

Tottenham's objective, going into this game, was to take three points from a Norwich team who were comfortable in mid-table and sure of a second season in the Premier League having gained forty points.  Harry Redknapp made a number of changes to the team which struggled to break down a defensive minded Sunderland on Saturday.  Ledley King replaced William Gallas in central defence with Jake Livermore in central midfield with Luka Modric - Sandro dropping to the bench and Scott Parker not included.  Aaron Lennon started on the right wing with Louis Saha and Jermain Defoe as strikers.  Rafael Van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor were among the substitutes.

In the opening minutes Norwich showed more attacking intention than Sunderland had in the ninety minutes at the Stadium of Light at the weekend.  They put the Spurs players under immediate pressure and looked to get forward quickly themselves.  Early attacks by Spurs saw Gareth Bale receive the ball from Luka Modric on the edge of the area but he was crowded out and then a good pass by Benoit Assou-Ekotto released Saha but his attempted cross was blocked.  This was followed by a shot from Saha following a pass from Defoe, which the goalkeeper saved with difficulty and a defender hacked clear.

On ten minutes, a slip by Ledley King let Norwich in but it was cleared with difficulty through the combined effort of Assou-Ekotto, Kyle Walker and Brad Friedel.  Spurs had been warned that the visitors attack would provide a threat but it was one they didn't take note of as three minutes later they were behind.  Poor defending again caused confusion and rushed attempts to clear.  Younes Kaboul and King didn't deal with the early danger and then Walker's hacked clearance ricochetted off King into the path of Pilkington who scored.

King was having a difficult time coping with the strength of Holt who was putting the defence under constant pressure.  Following the goal Norwich were quite comfortable and Spurs early impetus had gone.  It was not until the midway point of the half that Spurs started to make a greater impression as Bale ran from his own half and had a shot blocked for a corner.  Then good work on the right between Livermore and Walker saw a cross miss handled by the goalkeeper but no-one was on hand to take advantage.

Another quick break by Norwich caused danger for Spurs with a free-kick awarded against them which Friedel clawed away for a corner.  Norwich then threatened from a free-kick following the corner.  Central, on the edge of the area, the shot was blocked and Bale collected the ball and ran the length of the pitch to put in a dangerous cross which Defoe just failed to reach.

After half an hour Norwich made strong claims for a penalty as King struggled to cope with Holt - the referee possibly feeling that Holt was leaning on King as they fell.  Immediately, Spurs gathered the ball on halfway and Livermore's pass released Defoe who took the ball on and lifted it over the goalkeeper.

Norwich responded at once and Friedel had to save a shot at his back post following a free-kick.  The game was played at a furious pace as both teams tried to establish their supremacy.  In the final moments of the half, Kaboul had a header over from a free-kick but then was taken off, having injured himself as he landed, with Ryan Nelsen replacing him.

Adebayor replaced Saha at half-time but it was Norwich who started the brighter.  An early run by Lennon nearly created an opening for Bale but it was the visitors who were quicker to the ball and their strong running was continuing to cause the Spurs defence problems.

After fifty two minutes Spurs nearly went ahead.  A good passing movement brought Assou-Ekotto into the game, he linked well with Adebayor to get through on goal with only the goalkeeper to beat. As he tried to lift his shot over the goalkeeper, Ruddy managed to get a hand to it and away for a corner.  Bale then saw a shot blocked for a corner after a good run by Lennon but Norwich again caused confusion in the Spurs defence as they broke forward quickly and Johnston shot past with the open goal at this mercy.

Only rarely were Spurs threatening the Norwich goal but a good run by Modric  ended with Bale shooting against the bar after sixty three minutes.  Three minutes later Norwich were ahead and Spurs again paid the penalty for failing to stop Norwich's forward movement.  As the defence again back pedalled, Bennett was allowed time to run and shoot powerfully from the edge of the box, giving Friedel no chance.

For the rest of the match, Norwich had good possession and when they lost the ball they harried the Spurs player in possession so that they had no time on the ball to make a positive pass.  Only rarely did Spurs threaten with a Assou-Ekotto cross headed over by Bale being one of few highlights.  Ruddy was rarely troubled and it would have been no surprise if Norwich had added to their lead, so shaky was the Totenham defence.

Spurs lacked inspiration and any sign of fight to get back into the match and no player could impose themselves on it to make a difference or find a way of rescuing the situation.

Tottenham's Champions League aspirations lie almost in tatters - from a position a few weeks ago where they were in total control, so bad has been their recent performances and results that they are no longer assured of making the top four.  This result now gives Arsenal the advantage and provides encouragement to Chelsea and Newcastle that they can also move ahead of us.  Spurs' season has tailed off badly at a time when Arsenal and Newcastle have gained a momentum through an excellent run of result while Chelsea have progressed with an abundance of good fortune.

The consequences of failing to achieve the objective of Champions League qualification are far reaching for the club - the best players, Modric, Bale, Van der Vaart and Lennon are going to be tempted by other clubs with the guarantee of playing at the highest level while prospective signings will shun Tottenham's advances due to their inability to provide that opportunity.  With Harry Redknapp the obvious appointment for the England manager's post, White Hart Lane might have a number of new faces next season, if Spurs don't find a way to turn around this disappointing end to the season.  From a season of such promise, it is in danger of turning into a repeat of 1986-87 when it was a matter of so near yet so far from success.  Even FA Cup success, which at the present time is looking very unlikely, would not be any compensation for the lack of Champions League which for much of the season had appeared to be a nailed on certainty.

The coming weeks will tell if the Spurs players can find  a motivation to drive them on to a greater effort to make it become a reality.


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