Club Focus – Tottenham – Afraid of the big bad Wolves

John Motson might have got the goal he had been craving but for Tottenham fans it came as a bitter blow. A second 1-0 defeat of the season to strugglers Wolves was not in the Spurs script and it came with what Harry Redknapp described as “the worst performance of the season.”

With positional rivals Aston Villa and Liverpool facing tough fixtures against clubs contending for the Premier League title, the chance was there for Spurs to bolster their hopes of 2010/11 Champions League qualification. With all due respect to Mick McCarthy’s team, this was a game that Spurs should have won without too much difficulty. Having had a warning shot delivered by Wolves two months ago when they stole the points at White Hart Lane, you would have expected Tottenham to be pumped and primed for revenge. Certainly the same mistake should not have been repeated but it was in a disappointingly limp fashion that Spurs surrendered three more valuable points. The result means that they have now dropped six points to a side who started the day in the relegation zone and who could potentially end the season there too. That is not the form of a side with realistic ambitions of finishing in the top four which, for all those fans who will claim just to be happy that the club has shown some progress this season, is ostensibly what Tottenham are.

Surprisingly, Redknapp made several changes to his line-up following the goalless weekend draw with Aston Villa. Despite failing to find the back of the net against Martin O’Neill’s side, Redknapp claimed to have not made any substitutions because his players were performing too well to take any of them off. It would have made sense therefore to name an unchanged side, apart from Ledley King who rarely manages to play two games in such quick succession. Bringing in Eidur Gudjohnsen for Peter Crouch was designed to address the one flaw in the armoury which had seen Spurs fail to score despite all the pressure they asserted on the Villans’ goal. What would have made more sense would be to have started Crouch who had otherwise played well and then eased Gudjohnsen in for his first action for the club from the bench.

What was more damaging was bringing in Jermaine Jenas for Wilson Palacios. The benefits of Palacios have been touched on in this column previously but it is a point worth making that Tottenham are a much better side with the Honduran at its centre than they are when devoid of his qualities. He was introduced at half time at Molineux as Spurs chased the game and ultimately was unable to have a match-changing influence, but that is not the role that he is tasked with performing. Spurs needed a creative spark in the second half but they needed their heartbeat from the beginning. Palacios is not going to unlock stubborn defences but he will run his body in to the ground and protect his own defence for 90 minutes. His presence was particularly missed as David Jones scored the winning goal for Wolves. The former Manchester United trainee started the move from outside the Tottenham box, playing the ball wide to Matt Jarvis on the Wolves left-wing. Jones continued his run in to the area but he was not tracked and found ample room to slot home from Jarvis’ cross. Palacios would have made a better fist of tracking Jones’ movement and would not have let his man enjoy such freedom. Palacios is the kind of player who you do not truly appreciate until he is not there as a lot of his involvement is the unglamorous dirty work that never earns a fair share of plaudits. Redknapp had the chance to play him from the start but did not and it will surely be something he thinks twice about doing again.

Attention now turns to the FA Cup and a tricky Fifth Round tie at Bolton. Spurs are yet to taste victory at the Reebok Stadium and are not showing the form to suggest that will change at the weekend. At the same time, the Trotters are hardly on fire themselves, finding goals even harder to come by than Tottenham. Owen Coyle is trying to adapt their style to something easier on the eye than the long ball offerings of the last decade but that will take time. Spurs may be the away team on Sunday but they need to take the initiative and boss the game. The pressure is diminished without vital league points to play for and progress in the Cup would be an excellent bonus with the draw really opened up now that Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal are all out.

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