The scoreline may not have been as emphatic as the last time the two sides met, but Tottenham can feel just as satisfied after digging out a win at Wigan on a pitch more suited to bog snorkelling than football.
After handing out a humiliating beating to the Latics in November, Spurs again came up trumps but were made to work far harder for the three points on this occasion. The dire standard of the marsh that acted as a playing surface meant the game took a while to bed down into any sort of contest. It had seemed fate was trying to send a message that there should not even be a game, with Chris Kirkland noticing before kick off that his goal had a sizeable gap between the net and the bottom of his post. After a false start, the problem was finally fixed and the battle was able to begin. With the centre of the pitch a quagmire, the players eventually worked out that their best strategy would be to keep the ball on the flanks as much as possible. The grass on Spurs’ left wing in the first half was in a reasonably good state and it came as little surprise that a move down the left led to the opening goal. Gareth Bale continued his recent resurgence with a fine overlapping run and his ball was inch perfect for Jermain Defoe to finish. Unfortunately for the home side, the quality of the linesman’s vision was not in the same league as Bale’s cross, Defoe clearly offside. Defoe himself seemed convinced of his own guilt, having a clear look across to the linesman before partially celebrating. The single-minded forward, Defoe did not look the gift horse in the mouth, particularly as he was lucky to still be on the field after going unpunished for an earlier lunge at Gary Caldwell.
The nine goals struck past Wigan at White Hart Lane three months earlier had marked the high point of Tottenham’s season but also ushered in a disappointingly patchy run of form. In the 13 league games between the two meetings with the Latics, Spurs had plundered just 13 goals, a goal a game record to follow nine in one match. The last six games had all been minus the flying Aaron Lennon and had brought just one win and three goals. For all the positives beginning to emanate from Lennon’s replacement David Bentley, the England winger has clearly been missed. What Tottenham have been lacking is an alternative way of finding goals to take the pressure off Defoe who has almost single handedly carried the Spurs goal threat in recent weeks.
Enter Roman Pavlyuchenko. The Russian striker has been something of a misfit and looked highly likely to depart the club in January. He remains in North London but his problems continued as recently as last week, publically slamming his manager Harry Redknapp for leaving him to rot on the substitutes bench. Pavlyuchenko expressed his frustration by claiming Redknapp has been making a laughing stock of him and he has told his boss that he cannot help the team whilst feeling this way. Redknapp has since brushed these claims off, joking that his player barely speaks English so would struggle to understand even if he did make fun of him. Whether his arrival from the bench in preference to Eider Gudjohnsen at the DW Stadium was an attempt by Redknapp to appease him or not, Pavlyuchenko made the most of his rare opportunity. His first goal was a neat finish to a good move, and his second was a baffling strike from an almost impossible angle after he showed a determined persistency to not let the chance get away after Chris Kirkland had blocked his original effort. If Pavlyuchenko had a point to make, this was the way to go about doing it and he will hope that he has given Redknapp something to think about when he makes his selection for the FA Cup replay with Bolton in midweek.
The scoreline at the DW may have flattered Spurs in what was an even contest that increasingly turned bad tempered, but it will be a win every bit as satisfying for all involved as the 9-1 was. Playing on a bumpy, muddy pitch does not suit Tottenham’s attractive style in any way but they showed a resilient edge that has been lacking of late to flourish in the difficult conditions. If Defoe’s five-goal haul was the highlight in November, then the biggest cheer this time will have been Pavlyuchenko’s cameo brace. With fourth place still well up for grabs, it is time for both Spurs and Pavlyuchenko to push on and really send out a statement to the rest of the league.
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