It was a tale of two penalties at White Hart Lane as Tottenham blew the chance of a comfortable passage through to the FA Cup Fifth Round. Jermain Defoe spurned an early opportunity from the spot that would have given substance to Spurs’ early dominance and Leeds were still in the game when Jermaine Beckford was given a late, late chance to equalise.
With just an extra letter “E” on the Leeds striker’s name to distinguish him from his more illustrious namesake, Beckford raised his growing profile with a display that overshadowed Defoe and upset the odds. The England striker has looked a little rusty in recent weeks. After failing to find a way past Hull’s Boaz Myhill last weekend and being anonymous against Liverpool in midweek, it will have been galling for the former West Ham man to be upstaged by a League One marksman. It is not even as if Beckford has been in glowing form himself – his goals at the Lane were his first since his moment of glory at Old Trafford three weeks previous. Defoe’s penalty lacked confidence and conviction, the complete opposite of his Leeds counterpart who stuck away his last gasp chance emphatically.
For all Leeds’ fight and endeavour, it was a game that Spurs should really have had put to bed by half time. Such was the home team’s dominance in the early stages, United rarely were able to venture in to opposition territory. For a while it seemed that Casper Ankergren in the Leeds goal was going to do a Myhill and frustrate Tottenham for 90 minutes but there was no double-save when Crouch grabbed the opener. The goal came too late in the half for Spurs to capitalise with further strikes and half time only favoured one side.
Something that will worry Harry Redknapp is how apparent it became that the team are reliant on Wilson Palacios in midfield. Without the Honduran, Tottenham lacked assurance in their own half. It did not matter in their early period of dominance but once Leeds found a footing in the game, Jermaine Jenas struggled to cope. It was only when Redknapp lost patience and introduced Palacios that the tide turned back in his side’s favour. Much like Claude Makelele, the tireless, unglamorous work done by Palacios can easily go under the radar. Surrounded by classy artists, his anchoring role in the team can be too easily underappreciated. His addition to the ranks has given Spurs some backbone over the last 12 months and is something that had been sorely lacking before his arrival. Palacios is the player Didier Zokora should have been. The Ivorian arrived with a big reputation but proved to lack stability and consistency. Palacios’ importance to the team should not be underestimated and it was best highlighted by how much he was missed in his absence.
Palacios will expect to return to the starting line up against Fulham on Tuesday. The match offers Spurs the opportunity to improve on their Boxing Day showing against the Cottagers at Craven Cottage, a match in which Gomes had to play the hero for Tottenham as he earned the team a goalless draw. Roy Hodgson’s side are a curious bunch. Whilst still packed with quality players who deserve to play Premier League football, they are a team lacking in star names and their impact on paper does not live up to their performances on the pitch. Whilst stylistically different, they are a domestic version of the Northern Ireland national team, a side who appear to be punching above their weight but who are well organised and hard working. Brede Hangeland is a much-coveted centre-back and one of the few players around who can match up to Peter Crouch in the air. If anything, Fulham lack a physical edge and are not the kind of team to bully the opposition. With this in mind, the more dynamic qualities of Robbie Keane might be preferred to Crouch as it is not the kind of game where two small strikers like Keane and Defoe will be overpowered.
Fulham have not travelled too well in recent years and Spurs must make the most of home advantage. After the disappointment of failing to beat Hull and Leeds on their own turf, picking up the three points on offer will be the perfect way to bounce back. It is imperative that Tottenham win as often as possible at the Lane for the rest of the season now that the gap to the teams below is non-existent. The frustration of the draw with Leeds is diluted by it at least not impacting on the league table but an improved sense of ruthlessness will be required against Hodgson’s team if they are to avoid stumbling when it really matters.