The FA Cup is still very much on the agenda but Leeds did their best to cut the dream short. After 180 minutes of football and several stoppage time goals, Tottenham are in to the Fifth Round while their opponents can get back to their League One promotion effort with heads held high.
If the original fixture at White Hart Lane belonged to United’s Jermaine Beckford, it was Spurs’ Jermain Defoe who walked away with the matchball and the plaudits at Elland Road. The England forward could have had a triple-dart score of goals to his name if his shooting had been on a par with his movement. His wayward radar was not helped by the form of Leeds keeper Casper Ankergren. While not quite in the same bracket as Peter Schmeichel – the Greatest Dane – the shot-stopper put in another performance that his compatriot would have been pleased with. Try as he might, Ankergren could not keep Defoe quiet for too long. Even when not on top form with his shooting boots, Defoe will get you goals. The sheer number of chances he carves out for himself marks him down as a top striker and he more than merited his hat-trick. With a combination of electric pace, deft touch and clever runs, Defoe still found enough opportunities to bag a treble. On a better day, he would have rivalled his tally of five against Wigan. With Wayne Rooney in sensational form and Defoe hitting hat-tricks even when his finishing is below its best, England fans will hope that he can replicate his form in South Africa this summer.
After disappointing on his comeback match against Fulham a week earlier, it was good to see David Bentley looking much more like his old self against Leeds. He showed a lot more willingness to take control of the game, to be proactive rather than reactive, and his delivery for Defoe’s second goal was superb. With the prognosis not looking too good for Aaron Lennon at the moment, it is encouraging to see a natural right winger finding some form. His tackling left rather a lot to desire when picking up a late yellow card, but it is not his defensive qualities that have been his calling card in the past. Bentley’s ability to come inside will offer an alternative to Lennon’s more direct touchline-hogging style and it will be interesting to see what Harry Redknapp will do when the ex-Leeds man returns if Bentley continues to improve steadily in his absence. With the transfer window shut, there is no chance of Bentley departing for pastures new before the summer. Hopefully this will halt the speculation and allow the midfielder to focus on his football. His comments after the Cup tie were positive, with the key phrase being that he will not “take it for granted.” If he got overly-harsh treatment in this column last week, then he is going the right way about proving this critic wrong.
With Cup matters put on hold until Valentine’s weekend, the romance of the cup is replaced by the pragmatism of league affairs. Saturday sees the visit of Aston Villa, a key rival for a place in the 2010/11 Champions League quest. It is a game Spurs really need to win. Previously, a draw would have been acceptable, but after dropping points recently it is imperative that the wins keep coming on home turf. Manchester City look a more resilient side under Roberto Mancini and are still to blood Patrick Vieira and the promising Adam Johnson. City look like they are starting to move up the gears after a shaky opening to the season. With Mancini’s side enjoying two games in hand and only a single point deficit, Tottenham cannot afford to lose ground if a top four finish is to stay achievable. Dropping points to Villa will only serve to make things harder as Martin O’Neill’s team are still very much in the race too. A win over Villa would take Spurs five points clear of the Villans but a defeat would put them a point behind having player a game more.
Defoe will need to be at the top of his game against the Claret half of Birmingham. O’Neill has made some inspiring signings at the back in Richard Dunne and James Collins and their excellent form has seen Villa boast the best defensive record in the Premier League. At the other end, Spurs will need to be wary of the pace of Gabriel Agbonlahor who, like Defoe, has been in strong goal scoring form this season. The match promises to be an interesting affair, with both teams sharing similarities. Each side has a strong core with top class goalkeepers, tight defences and pacey attacks. With plenty of England internationals in each line-up, it is safe to say Fabio Capello will be keeping an eye on events while he is away for the Euro 2012 Qualifying draw.