Spurs started brightly, and an early chance fell to Niko Kranjcar. The Croatian connected well but blasted straight at Brad Friedel and the American pushed well over the bar. The home team retaliated by pressing down the right and forced a corner which Carlos Cuellar reached and his header was saved off the line by Benoit Assou-Ekotto, however the ball deflected to Agbonlahor who bundled over for his eighth goal of the season. Michael Dawson was then denied on the line by the omnipresent Cuellar who stretched flexibly on the line to stop a certain goal. Just after the break Peter Crouch laid a difficult ball into Kranjcar’s path just outside the area and again the creative midfielder took the half volley superbly well – striking with the outside of his right foot, the shot looked destined for the top corner but Villa’s stopper scrambled across to save with his fingertips.
The Clarets started the second half chasing shadows and launching long balls up the pitch as Spurs kept possession brilliantly, pressing the Villa defence back all the time. Jermaine Jenas replaced Wilson Palacios just after an hour as the Whites went for a more attacking approach. This seemed to be an inspired decision from Harry Redknapp as Tottenham then had a goal disallowed. Tom Huddlestone turned neatly and his quick-fire shot was parried by the Villa keeper, and Jermain Defoe forced the ball into the back of the net but handled in the process. However the Claret and Blue defensive line finally caved when yet another Tottenham corner resulted in Dawson chesting and then volleying into the top corner of the net from just inside the Villa area easily beating Friedel.
Harry Redknapp: “We dominated and I’m sure Martin (O’Neill) was quite pleased to hear the final whistle. There was only one team going to win it in the second half and it was just a case of getting the goal – once we equalised I was sure we were going to go on and win it.”
Martin O’Neill: “In the second half they got to grips with the midfield but we also lost momentum and rhythm and couldn’t get out of defence quickly enough. But overall I was pleased with our defenders.”
Both Villa and Spurs will want to finish in the top four this season and will certainly be fighting for the same position come May next year. Redknapp and O’Neill have improved on their squads over the summer and both have great strength in depth. Also on show tonight were at least 10 England hopefuls all vying to make it into Fabio Capello’s World Cup Squad for next summer and the Italian tactician sent second in command Franco Baldini to oversee proceedings. He would have been happy with Villa’s wide-men Ashley Young and James Milner who although did not receive much of the ball – worked hard depriving Tottenham’s wingers of any space, Young especially thwarted the lightning quick Aaron Lennon down the right side.
Villa have now only won one in their last six in the Premier League, a slight cause for concern, however they still sit in fifth place only three points from third. A good Christmas period could certainly see the midland club as contenders for a European place. Four of the last five Premier League meetings between the two sides have ended 2-1, and Redknapp certainly thought that his team deserved this victory. O’Neill can be also pleased with the way his back-four defended however the midfield failed to win the ball off Spurs for long periods and were pegged back in their own half for a huge chunk of the second half. Jermain Defoe was only left with half chances though and the leagues top goal scorer was blocked off at every turn. The Villans kept up their brilliant record at home with only one loss all season.
Kranjcar looked like an inspired midfield choice by Redknapp as the skilful attacker sliced through the heart of Villa on several occasions and his passing was also perfect. He was unfortunate that the game was not a little more open as his creativity could have produced many chances for the front pairing of Peter Crouch and Defoe. The fact of the matter was that Spurs weren’t good enough in the last third and Villa had a reply for everything that was thrown at them, which was mostly to lump the ball out of play. Redknapp will not be happy with the amount of floated crosses that the Spurs wingers chipped in to the back post where the colossus Crouch was waiting to pounce only to have the man in front of him easily head the ball clear. There also was not enough imagination in the middle and the Tottenham boss will be happy as soon as Luka Modric is back to full fitness.
Yet again the Clarets scored from a corner – they have scored the most goals from set pieces this season in the Premier League. However, effective as Villa were at guarding their goal they still managed to concede late on; and this was their ninth game on the bounce without a clean sheet. Tottenham look favourites to challenge Liverpool for fourth on this performance, and if their injury prone defence can stay off the physio’s table then they can almost guarantee European football next year.
Aston Villa 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur – Agbonlahor 10 – Dawson 77
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Friedel – Beye, Cuellar, Dunne, L Young – Milner, Reo-Coker (Sidwell 71), Petrov, A Young – Carew (Heskey 75), Agbonlahor,
Tottenham (4-4-2): Gomes – Corluka, Dawson, Bassong, Assou-Ekotto – Lennon, Huddlestone, Palacios (Jenas 66), Kranjcar (Keane 78) – Defoe, Crouch
Aston Villa – Tottenham Hotspur
7 – Corners – 9
12 (4) – Shots (on target) – 23 (17)
10 – Fouls – 8
0 (0) – Yellow cards (Red) – 1 (0)
0 – Offside – 1