Stoke City 1
Tottenham Hotspur 2
Bale 19, 30
Many would have thought Tottenham would have struggled with this fixture just three days after Wednesday’s Champions League playoff defeat to Young Boys. However, Spurs showed once more that they are a different side to that of three years ago. The Britannia Stadium has always been a tough place to go for even the best of teams in the Premier League, but after Tottenham’s 2-1 win yesterday, Spurs have now won their last two at the Staffordshire ground.
Harry Redknapp was still feeling the effects of Wednesday’s game with no fewer than four of his players being unable for selection. Jermaine Defoe, Robbie Keane, Luka Modric, and Roman Pavlyuchenko all missed out on the match with injuries. This forced Redknapp into a change in formation, resulting in Peter Crouch playing upfront on his own, in a 4-5-1. The injuries in turn were a blessing in disguise. Redknapp was without three of his four first-choice strikers, which obviously meant he had to go for a five-man midfield. The three central midfielders, Wilson Palacios, Tom Huddlestone, and the fit-again Jermaine Jenas all played their part in disrupting Stoke’s game plan. Stoke’s straightforward 4-4-2 meant they were outnumbered in the middle of the pitch, which allowed Spurs to dominate the first half. The trio’s work rate, energy and effective passing was a joy to behold at times, and Stoke simply could not deal with it.
Other keys areas of the pitch were Tottenham’s wide men. Aaron Lennon had a superb first half, running at defenders at will and causing havoc in and around the box. It was the pacey winger that helped Spurs score their second goal. Fine work down the right eventually got him into the box and instead of running into a crowd of Stoke defenders, Lennon opted to loft a neat lifted pass to an unmarked Gareth Bale, whose superb volley was an early contender for goal of the season.
Bale received many of the post-match plaudits, but the Welsh midfielder would have definitely appreciated the performance of the Tottenham backline. Spurs’ defence in midweek was a complete shambles, and at times the defence was nonexistent. Redknapp would have certainly addressed the problem during the week and whatever he said looked to have paid off. Sebastien Bassong was dropped for his shaky performance against Young Boys with Younes Kaboul coming into the side. Captain Michael Dawson and Kaboul looked the part in Tottenham’s centre of defence and they were helped by goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes’s solid performance in-between the sticks. Stoke dominated the latter stages of the game and felt they should have equalised when new signing Jonathan Walter’s header appeared to have crossed the line but the officials did not agree.
The last twenty minutes of the match showed how much Tottenham have improved at the back under Redknapp’s leadership. Many would have expected the Spurs backline to capitulate in the closing stages but they dug deep and held out for what was a brilliant victory away from home. The 4-5-1 formation, which is favoured by many managers in the modern era – could be something for Redknapp to consider in future matches.
22 Corluka – 20 Dawson- 04 Kaboul – 32 Assou-Ekotto
06 Huddlestone- 07 Lennon – 08 Jenas
03 Bale – 12 Palacios – 15 Crouch
87- 28 Walker on for 07 Lennon