The nation’s attention may have switched to international affairs this week but the spotlight settled on a Tottenham player, as Peter Crouch enjoyed a matchwinning cameo from the substitute bench for England at Wembley.
Crouch will now hope that he gets the chance to play match-winner for his club on Saturday and earn himself a quick return to the national stadium. A trip to Fulham stands between Spurs and an FA Cup Semi Final date at Wembley, but for Crouch there is no certainty that his England heroics will translate into a starting spot when Harry Redknapp names his team. The giant striker has found himself slipping down the pecking order in recent weeks thanks to the resurgent form of Roman Pavlyuchenko. No matter what other qualities a forward brings to a team, it is goals that speak loudest, and the Russian has outperformed the Englishman on this vital statistic in the past few games. Crouch’s strikes against Egypt will have sent a timely reminder of his goal threat to Redknapp, particularly on a night when he outshone his club teammate Jermain Defoe who is ahead in the queue for club and country.
If only Redknapp had such riches to choose from in midfield against the Cottagers, with midfielders dropping like flies. Aaron Lennon – missing since December – is still weeks away from a return and he has been joined on the treatment table by Tom Huddlestone and Jermaine Jenas. Huddlestone was a casualty of the 2-1 win over Everton before the international fixtures and his ankle injury will require a visit to a specialist. Jenas would have been the obvious replacement in the centre of midfield had he not been injured, and with David Bentley having missed the Everton match with a tight groin, Redknapp has taken the precaution of recalling youngster Jake Livermore from his loan spell at Peterborough. An appearance in the Spurs first team would be a big step up for the 20-year-old after appearing nine times for the Championship’s basement club. While it is unlikely Livermore will play, with the likes of Luka Modric, Niko Kranjcar and Ledley King more than capable of playing in central midfield, it is still significant that he has been called back as cover. The Tottenham squad has looked impressively strong all season but the first signs of a crack in the depth of the squad are starting to show. Redknapp has not needed to turn to his youthful talents too often this season, allowing them to develop out on loan, but the recall of Livermore shows that a few injuries can cause problems to even the strongest Spurs squad in years.
The FA Cup game with Fulham offers the chance of a first proper return to the scene of Tottenham’s most recent silverware – the 2008 Carling Cup win over Chelsea. Spurs may have staged a pre-season tournament at Wembley which saw matches against Barcelona and Celtic, but it is the prospect of an FA Cup Semi Final that will really count for the Spurs fans. The battle for fourth place in the Premier League is still no easier to call, with Tottenham, Manchester City, Liverpool and Aston Villa still barely separated by the thickness of a rizla paper, but the path to cup glory appears much clearer. Reading may be the only side from outside of the top flight left in the draw but only Chelsea sit higher in the league rankings than Spurs. Villa are also quarter-finalists but face a tricky trip to the giant-killing Royals and Tottenham have no real reason to fear Portsmouth, Birmingham, Stoke and Fulham. A place in next season’s Champions League would be a huge step forward for the club but no one involved at White Hart Lane would turn down another trophy to add to the cabinet. Spurs have their best chance of walking away with the FA Cup in years and Redknapp will go all out to further their chances at Craven Cottage.
Whether or not Crouch is involved from the start will depend largely on whether Redknapp holds more stock in his midweek goals for England or in Pavlyuchenko’s recent hot streak. It is likely that the Russian will get the nod, with Crouch’s goals not even certain to net him an England spot, let alone a place for a club he has not been finding the net for. What Redknapp will be encouraged by is the damage Crouch did from the bench on Wednesday and the fillip that his striker will have gained from netting the brace. Having a confident forward of Crouch’s ability to bring off the bench could be a key weapon if the Fulham match is as tight as the Boxing Day goalless draw between the sides at Craven Cottage. Nevertheless, at present, few would bet against Pavlyuchenko having already settled the game.
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