When Aaron Lennon limped off the pitch during Tottenham Hostpur’s 1-0 victory over Sunderland, there may have been a collective groan heard around White Hart Lane, but few could have predicted the impact his hamstring would have upon the side.
Although present in Spurs’ first two games of the season (the less said about those, the better), a groin problem kept Lennon from joining the ‘Scott Parker era’ until late October. He missed the emphatic wins over Liverpool, Villa and Arsenal, but since making his comeback, the spring-heeled winger has looked razor sharp right up until the moment that injury reared its ugly head again.
Bombing down the right wing, whipping in crosses and regularly swapping sides with Gareth Bale, the two wide men have left defences unable to cope; leading the charge for an exhilarating brand of swashbuckling football that saw Spurs win seven-in-eight with relative ease, with Lennon finding the back of the net on two occasions.
Of course Lennon was going to be missed, but with Spurs coping more than adequately during the six games he'd previously missed, his injury was nothing that couldn't be dealt with. And besides, there was Steven Pienaar, right?
Well, not exactly. With the South African clearly out of favour at the club, ‘Arry took to drafting in Sandro to beef up the midfield, dragging Van der Vaart out to the right. This currently undefeated Lennon-less formation has seen Spurs win eight points from a possible twelve but most amazingly, it’s seen the team concede only twice. Quite clearly, Sandro has added steel – something which has been missing since Wilson Palacios forget how to play football.
Spurs were forced to take on a different philosophy. The pacey wide play that the team has become synonymous with has been traded in for an intricate passing game; playing keep ball to dominate possession and create patient build-ups. It's been frustrating to watch at times, but the switch in tactics seemed to work wonders against Norwich.
Should Redknapp succeed in bringing both Hoilett and Samba to Tottenham, he may as well hand Steve Kean his P45
Enjoying a hearty share of the possession, Spurs' performance at Carrow Road was a lesson in how to pass a team to a slow death. It was the late Gary Speed who first played Bale on the right wing for Wales, but in Lennon's absence, Redknapp has fully capitalised on the player's incredible ability to adapt; granting him a free role against Norwich, which saw the Welshman marauding through the middle of the pitch to bag himself a brace and an add to an already impressive tally.
But when faced with stronger and better-drilled opponents in the shape of Chelsea, Swansea and even West Brom, there's been something missing. Despite securing an important three points against the Baggies last Tuesday night, Spurs looked sluggish, overly casual and to borrow some relevant imagery, like a cockerel with its wings clipped.
Without a naturally wide right player, it seems that the left wing has been neglected in the interest of symmetry. Bale, again, played through the middle but was largely ineffective, the full backs didn't put enough balls into the box and Adebayor spurned chances and gave the ball away on too many occasions. Far worse though was the sight of Sandro hobbling off in the first half – the only good thing to have come from Lennon's injury.
The rumours that Harry Redknapp is currently planning a double swoop for Blackburn winger Junior Hoilett and their talismanic captain Chris Samba, is most certainly encouraging.
Although Spurs have managed a decent set of results without Lennon, the team's performances have shown that the squad at current is simply not strong enough for a title challenge. There is now a huge gulf between the first team and their back-ups, with the likes of Rose, Kranjcar and Dos Santos no longer up to scratch. Spurs are in great need of a player who can go some way to filling the boots of Bale or Lennon, should either of them pick up an injury. Essentially Spurs are in need of a Pienaar… if he was good.
Junior Hoilett is surely a worthy candidate for this role; a gifted youngster who's looked promising in a sorry season for his team. He can play on either side, he's quick and he isn't goal shy. Should Redknapp succeed in bringing both Hoilett and Samba to Tottenham, he may as well hand Steve Kean his P45, but the move will result in adding a depth to Spurs' squad that most can only envy.
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