Tottenham v Stoke: Much More Of This And We'll Be Thursday Nights, Channel Five
There was a quiet unease about the pre-match atmosphere at White Hart Lane, with the thought of Fabrice Muamba still fresh in the minds of so many of the fans. It was difficult to see how the players would be able to get the right focus for an important Premiership game, and so it proved, with Stoke being the proverbial thorn in the side.
The match contained the full range of emotions, beginning with a fitting tribute and minutes’ applause for Fabrice Muamba to help raise the voice in the crowd. The overwhelming emotion which took over was of frustration and anxiety once the game kicked-off however, with Spurs struggling to shake off the hangover of a 3-match losing streak in the league. They couldn’t get out of the starting blocks and Stoke immediately put them on the back foot with the usual aerial assault towards Peter Crouch, with Jerome and Walters always circling nearby, and the midfielders working double time to close down the space 30-yards from goal, ensuring Spurs attacks ended at a congested line on the penalty area.
Spurs took a full 15 minutes to really begin to assert any foothold in proceedings, with Van Der Vaart and Modric both twice going close without really troubling Begovic in the Stoke goal. The absence of Lennon and Adebayor continue to cause Spurs problems which they can’t find answers for, and tonight both Saha and Kranjcar failed their auditions miserably, with Saha in particular unable to hold up the ball and trouble the defence anywhere near as effectively as his injured strike partner.
Finding themselves behind Arsenal for the first time since the Autumn will sit uneasily with many a Spurs supporter
The Introduction of Defoe for Kranjcar helped give Spurs more attacking options up front, but in truth changed little about the pattern of the game, with chances falling and being squandered regularly on the edge of the box. Bale and Modric continued to work over-time to create the openings, with Bale unlucky to see his dipping effort come back off the frame of the goal.
Harry Redknapp ought to sit the players down at the training ground tomorrow morning with a copy of the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ as they’re clearly unfamiliar with the term ‘rope a dope’, as that’s exactly what happened on 75 minutes with Spurs getting caught by the sucker punch in the form of a Cameron Jerome tap in from Jermaine Pennant’s beautifully swirled in free-kick. A fourth defeat on the trot was now a distinct and unappetising possibility, and with Chelsea to come on Saturday, you could feel the tension in the ground as the season continues to slip away at a rate of knots.
Credit to Spurs and the side Harry Redknapp has created however, as they picked themselves up off to salvage an equaliser in the 93rd minute with Rafa Van Der Vaart’s guided header from Bale’s swept in delivery. Previous Spurs incarnations would have capitulated altogether, yet this team, whilst clearly not firing on all cylinders and playing with the same gusto as pre-Christmas, still have enough courage and bottle to keep going till the last whistle.
Finding themselves behind Arsenal for the first time since the Autumn will sit uneasily with many a Spurs supporter, but the most pressing concern between here and the end of the season is to ensure that the club achieves Champions League football again and in doing so, will be required to hold off the challenge of a resurgent Chelsea, starting on Saturday at Stamford Bridge. Both Harry Redknapp and Roberto Di Matteo will do their best to convince the written media that it’s just one game from the remaining 9 fixtures, but privately they’ll be making sure the players know just how vital it’s likely to be in ensuring they avoid the dreaded penalty of having to play in the Europa League next season.