It seems that Tottenham’s profligacy in front of goal shows no sign on ending.
With Jermain Defoe only occasionally punctuating his and his strike colleagues’ lack of goals and failing miserably from the penalty spot of late, it was Tom Huddlestone’s turn to join the party. Huddlestone’s miss from 12 yards was the fourth time that Spurs have wasted a penalty out of the six that have been awarded to them this season. If that statistic is bad enough, what is worse is that the end result of this latest failure is having to replay a match that was there to win. Had the giant midfielder slotted home successfully, Tottenham would have been 2-1 up with less than 20 minutes to play in a game they were beginning to dominate. Now they face the prospect of a second FA Cup replay in two rounds and an extra game to sap the legs as the Premier League reaches the business end. With Robbie Keane and Defoe having missed from the spot already this season and Harry Redknapp having made it clear that Defoe would no longer hold penalty duties, it would make sense for potential replacements to have auditioned at training.
It transpires, according to left-back Gareth Bale, that practising penalties has not been a feature of Tottenham training and it is beginning to show. With his ability to thunderously strike a ball, Huddlestone makes a fairly obvious choice for a spot kick taker. Unfortunately, his accuracy did not match the power and the shot was far too close to a goalkeeper of the quality of Jussi Jaaskelainen to find the net. It might well be that Bale finds himself handed the responsibility next time given his set piece ability, although it is a long time since he last scored a goal of any sort. It was obvious from Redknapp’s team selection that he is serious about winning the FA Cup, and he deserves credit for picking as strong a team as he could when recent seasons have seen plenty of managers prioritise league matters by picking weakened teams in the competition. It would be a surprise if he was to now deviate from that policy and make sweeping changes for the replay but one must hope the additional fixture does not prove detrimental to their ambitions this season.
Not only will the extra match potentially hamper league form by robbing the players of a midweek rest, but it could also impede their chances of winning the Cup if they have overly tired first choice players in the later rounds. A more positive way of looking at the replay is that it gives the team a bonus opportunity to play their way back in to form. As the matches start coming thick and fast, form could play a big part in whether Spurs end up as Cup winners and 2010/11 Champions League qualifiers or whether they end up empty handed. If they can start taking their chances over the next few games and prolong this with victory over Bolton in the replay at White Hart Lane, then an extra 90 minutes of running might be a small price to pay. With European football hopefully back on the menu next season, a bit of practice now of playing twice a week regularly might come in handy for when the fixture list is even more demanding this time next year.
It was faintly amusing to hear the recent accusations of Spurs being long ball merchants repeated after the Bolton game, especially as the comments came from Trotters forward Kevin Davies, the finest exponent of the form in the Premier League. It is true that Peter Crouch has been utilised on a few more occasions than normal as a target man of late but that must surely be attributed to a lack of confidence rather than a deliberate change of emphasis. When short on goals, it is easy to look for the most direct passage to goal but it would be an insult to the ethos of the club to term the team long ball merchants. Redknapp has done his best to continue playing attractive football despite the disappointing results and this has been helped by the re-emergence of Bale and David Bentley who both look to play with the ball on the ground. Bale was the catalyst for the Tottenham equaliser and has been a massive plus point in the absence of the established Benoit Assou-Ekotto. What Bale now needs to do is rediscover the goalscoring form that earned him so many headlines as a young talent for Southampton and Wales.
If he can weigh in with some strikes from dead balls or cutting in off the left then it will be a massive fillip for a team struggling in front of goal. If he can score a couple of penalties too, then that would be the icing on the cake.