Tottenham Club Focus – Spurs denied by refereeing controversies?

Tottenham Hotspur’s unbeaten run of form came to an end at the Britannia Stadium with a 2-1 defeat to Stoke City, Spurs’ first loss in the Premier League for over three months. An incident packed, controversial match saw yet another penalty and red card to now make four red cards and four penalties in the last four matches between the two at the Britannia. There may have easily been more in a game that left Spurs’ manager, Harry Redknapp fuming at referee Chris Foy.

Spurs lined up at kick off in their now normal 4-4-1-1 formation with the first choice eleven, the exception being William Gallas for the injured Ledley King. Stoke started the match at a furious tempo, continually pressuring Spurs’ players when on the ball, closing down space and giving the Lilywhites no time to settle on the ball. The hard work paid dividends; at times Spurs players, especially their creative ones, looked bereft of ideas and some of the pass selection was poor.

Stoke put Peter Crouch up against full back Benoit Assou-Ekoto, who ended with only 33% of aerials won; the resulting knockdowns won by Stoke’s midfield. In the first 45, 34% of Stoke’s tackles and 21% of passes were made in this area. Overall Spurs defended poorly in the first half, regularly troubled by long throws from Ryan Shotton. In the 13th minute, Spurs failed to deal with a Shotton throw; a partially cleared ball was worked back to the midfielder whose deflected cross was turned by Crouch across the goal for Matthew Etherington to score. In the 43rd minute another throw from Shotton was flicked on for Etherington to grab a second.

At the start of the second half, Redknapp switched to a three man back line, Sebastien Bassong replacing Assou-Ekoto and Jermain Defoe for Aaron Lennon, with Kyle Walker and Gareth Bale used as wing backs. This may have been a surprising tactical switch but soon started to work, with Spurs taking a control of the second half. In the 61st minute Luka Modric was fouled in the penalty area, the spot kick calmly dispatched by Emmanuel Adebayor.

From then Spurs pushed forward continuously with both wing backs causing Stoke problems. Younes Kaboul could have had a penalty when dragged down in the air by Ryan Shawcross, followed in the 74th minute by a similar foul on Defoe going for another cross, the ball falling to Kaboul, whose goal bound shot was blocked by Shawcross’ arm. A frustrated Kaboul was booked for dissent. This was followed immediately by Adebayor having a goal ruled out for offside, when Shotton making his way back from behind the goal line was playing him on by perhaps several yards. In any other match, a team would perhaps expect at least one of these decisions to go their way.

Spurs pushing forward relentlessly were going to be open to a counter attack. In the 82nd minute, Jon Walters broke and appeared to go down very easily under a challenge from Kaboul. A second yellow followed and the Spurs’ defender was dismissed. Spurs continued to press for an equalizer but to no avail.

Poor in the first half, Spurs second half performance should have given them at least a point, and they may well feel let down by some controversial refereeing decisions. How Spurs bounce back will be interesting.

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