A stunning second-half comeback against Fulham at White Hart Lane booked Tottenham’s walking wounded an FA Cup semi-final date with Harry Redknapp’s former team Portsmouth.
With Pompey’s financial troubles dominating the headlines this season, the Redknapp factor will not get quite the attention it would have had a year ago, but for the man himself, the chance to earn an FA Cup final spot with his current team against the side he won the 2008 edition with will be a highly significant occasion. It is a showdown that Redknapp earned with his daring but well-considered substitutions against the Cottagers. Handicapped by the injury problems that have kept the Spurs physio flush with overtime payments lately, Redknapp was forced to go with a strike partnership that had played together for barely more than an hour over three separate matches. Having Younes Kaboul cup-tied meant the lightweight Luka Modric was again called upon to play centrally, a role that does not suit him in the physically demanding English game. Modric can cause real damage through the middle going forward but is not blessed with defensive nous and was caught out for the opening Fulham goal netted by former Spurs striker Bobby Zamora. The Croatian was slow to get back and that left the space for the visitors to break.
Managers are paid to make big decisions and Redknapp earned his pay cheque with his bold decision to fix his team’s problems with a double substitution at half-time. Tom Huddlestone and David Bentley replaced Benoit Assou-Ekotto and Niko Kranjcar, with a re-jig seeing Gareth Bale switch to left back, Modric move out wide and Huddlestone bolster the midfield alongside the over-worked Wilson Palacios. Both subs spoke after the match about how the team needed to up their game and get in Fulham’s faces, and the new impetus paid dividends almost immediately when Bentley’s first touch saw his freekick from out wide find its way in to the back of the net. Redknapp’s half time changes certainly altered the course of the match, but he was forced to make another big call just minutes later when Vedran Corluka went down, unable to continue. The Tottenham injury list meant three young outfield players were making up the numbers on the bench, with just half-fit striker Roman Pavlyuchenko left from the senior ranks. Redknapp’s choice was in truth made easier by none of the youngsters being natural defenders, meaning he was going to have to reorganise whoever he brought on. The major gamble was how long the Russian forward would be able to last, having faced a fitness test before the game and having been earmarked for a 20 minute cameo. The score was still 1-1 meaning extra time was a real possibility on top of nearly 40 minutes of regular time. Had Pavlyuchenko broken down, Spurs may have faced a long period with 10 men, but Redknapp was soon proved to have made the right decision.
It is not just Redknapp who deserves credit. Praise is also due to the players struggling with ailments who put their bodies on the line for the good of their decimated team. Pavlyuchenko has already had a mention, but he was joined in exceeding physical expectations by Huddlestone and Palacios. Huddlestone had only had one day of training back from his ankle injury but came on to reinforce the midfield for the second half and ended up carrying out even greater defensive responsibilities when Palacios moved to right-back after Corluka limped off. Palacios remarkably lasted the full 90 minutes having been told on Tuesday that he had torn his groin and had no chance of making the Fulham match. To Redknapp’s incredulity, the Honduran turned up on Wednesday and announced he would be ok to play. Whether Palacios has caused further damage to his groin that could hamper him later in the season remains to be seen, but he deserves a lot of credit for making himself available and giving his all when Spurs really needed it. A lot was learnt about the character of the squad on Wednesday night, and the willingness of several players to muck in when far from peak condition spoke volumes.
It was a good midweek all round for Spurs with Villa only managing a draw with Sunderland and Manchester City losing at home to Everton. The Toffees victory may just see them join the fight for fourth place, but Tottenham’s position is gradually getting stronger. The consecutive games against the top three could see a barren patch likely to end with Spurs getting overtaken. However, this side has shown a lot of resilience so who would bet against them even against the likes of Chelsea and Arsenal right now?
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