TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 2
Pavlyuchenko 11, Modric 28
Tottenham Hotspur kept their Champions League hopes on track with a 2-1 victory over Everton in what started as a one-sided battering but became a thrilling encounter thanks to the Toffees’ second-half resurgence.
Spurs’ performance in the opening 45 minutes was so superior that if it was a boxing match, a benevolent referee would have stopped the slaughter during the break. It was as if the Tottenham midfield had taken a collective restraining order out against their Everton counterparts, such was the space they were afforded. Luka Modric in particular was omnipresent and Everton, despite having an extra man in midfield by virtue of their rarely-employed 4-3-3 formation, were totally overrun, falling behind to a Roman Pavlyuchenko strike and a 25-yard Modric stunner. Tottenham’s two-goal lead at half-time was fully deserved and in truth, flattered Everton.
It was a different Blues side that entered the field for the second period, re-finding some of the movement and assurance that deserted them against Sporting Lisbon on Thursday and in the first half at White Hart Lane. Leon Osman – Everton’s best player of recent weeks – was withdrawn and Phil Jagielka sent on in his stead for his first league appearance since April 2009. John Heitinga went into midfield and gave David Moyes’ men the stability they had lacked, providing the platform to launch wave after wave of attacks, although it took a Heurelho Gomes mistake to allow Yakubu to bundle Everton back into the game. Tottenham’s midfield having previously run the game, was now unable to hold on to the ball but remained dangerous on the break.
As impressive as Spurs’ first-half performance was, in some ways their efforts in the second were equally worthy. Everton located their style, moving the ball across the pitch well and Yakubu looked more like the player he was before injuring his knee on this ground in November 2008, but Spurs’ defence led by the impeccable Michael Dawson somehow stood strong, with only one clear-cut chance falling to Landon Donovan that the American somehow put wide. Dawson – so unlucky not to be in Fabio Capello’s England squad – produced a display of genuine quality, positively brimming with leadership and maturity. As good as Modric was at the heart of Spurs’ attack, Dawson was his defensive equal.
The style displayed by Harry Redknapp’s team in the first-half would overawe most Premier League teams but Everton’s lethargy made matters comfortable for the home side. The Blues stepped up a couple of gears in the second stanza and while they had Spurs reeling, Tottenham confirmed they are made of stern stuff and refused to surrender the advantage as they did when the two sides met in December. The race to fourth place will be a tumultuous one but these three points returned Tottenham to the driver’s seat. More performances with an even balance of the tenacity and technique shown here should ensure they stay there.