Tottenham Hotspur did not play particularly well against Stoke City, but we played well enough to win. Whilst readily acknowledging our opponents’ sterling defensive qualities and admirable teamwork, we dominated for long periods and should have put this one to bed long before Whelan’s late winner.
A bright start showcased Huddlestone’s long range passing, spreading the ball from side to side, stretching the defence and bringing Assou Ekotto and Lennon into the play. As the half wore on, Hud faded but Kranjcar took his place in the spotlight. In this period he showed for the first time what he can bring to the team, brilliant and intelligent passing, shrewd movement and a constant threat. It wasn’t easy but we found a way round Stoke’s pressing game. Crouch’s header looked certain to go in and Niko struck the post.
Lennon was outstanding and one of the few who maintained a high standard throughout the match, until his injury. His runs were mesmerising: I lost count of in one run not only how many players he beat but also the number of different tricks that he used. Pace, drag-back, feints, he has them all now and at the same time keeps the ball under control. His crossing is much improved, he went both to the byline and cut inside, and with the latter he has a consistently decent shot to back it up. Full credit to the little man for working so hard on his game, and to whichever of our many coaches who has helped him.
Woody came and went, his sole contribution a reminder of his quality, especially as it was just about his first touch back after so long. At the time I thought it was a serious alice band displacement problem, but it soon became clear that he could not continue. I assume it was because of a head injury, a new problem. If he started without being fully fit, then that was poor selection.
In the absence of our centre half, Stoke sensed blood at the resulting corner but Gomes moved decisively off his line to catch assuredly at the far post and move it on. A fleeting but significant moment, Gomes is now prepared to take on that level of responsibility at crucial moments to infuse teammates with confidence. It augers well for the future. Goodness knows he didn’t have much else to do. The stats show that Stoke had two shots on target but I confess I don’t remember the second one.
The first half rather faded away but after the break we upped the tempo and pressed Stoke back for much of this period. JJ’s timely arrival kept up the levels. City cover, press and get back behind the ball but for the most part are not a negative team, looking to get the ball forward quickly and support the front men from midfield. However as the second half wore on their ambitions became severely limited. Even when we had ten men for the last 15 minutes or so they did not come out of their shell until just before the goal. Dawson and Bassong looked solid, untroubled by the set pieces. Unlike previous games, we conceded few unnecessary free kicks or throws in danger areas.
We had sufficient opportunities to secure victory but lacked a cutting edge. Defoe enhanced his reputation still further by sitting in the stands. This match was crying out for his pace and sharpness. One such moment would have tipped the balance in our favour. Crouch was always a potential threat but far from forming a partnership as I had hoped in my preview, Keano became more detached and the game passed him by. Again. His flawed technique was evident at times. On two or three occasions he was in pole position for a long ball but took his eye off it in mid-air to check what options were around. Fine, but it gave the defender that extra fraction to get ahead of him and take it away, or meant that Keane lost sight of the trajectory and lost control when the ball finally arrived at his feet.
Also, Hud and Niko both disappeared from view and their second half performances were woefully inadequate. Big Tom missed a real opportunity here. His passing and crossing could have unlocked the packed defence but he failed to take advantage. He looked keen to come off, knowing he had let us down. Kranjcar meanwhile did not last the pace; effectively we had 9 men on the pitch for the final quarter of an hour. Wilson tackled hard but passed the ball poorly. That left JJ; we didn’t have a lot going on in midfield at that point. Stats also show that we had 22 shots, 12 of which were on target, but we created few proper chances.
Without the passing or guile, our play became narrow. Even the excellent Lennon was funnelled across field, rather than hitting the byline, and we seldom got behind the defence. Benny and Charlie should have got into the game more at this point. As a result, Stoke could pile bodies in the way and reduced us to ineffective long shots or weak one-twos, trying to thread the ball through gaps that weren’t there. Be patient, spread the ball around, keep possession and a high tempo, and the chances will come. Tom?
Even so, I was not expecting Stoke to score. Daws and Bassong were left exposed by a weak tackle from BAE, and that was that. Tuncay’s miss a few minutes before should have given me a hint of the impending disaster, or more to the point, given Harry the message to drop a couple of people back and secure at least a point. However, as I’ve said, despite it all we were on top and Stoke had not gone to attacking mode. I’m glad we kept pushing forward.
On the journey home the mood was glum but I was not overcome with the bitter and twisted feelings that usually accompany an injustice. Some of this was our fault. Not one to tell the grandchildren about. But, hey, I was there when Spurs had three captains in one game. I suspect even that isn’t a first.