With a goal at the start of each half, Tottenham made this look like a
competent victory, but it was only in the second half, when they
controlled play that the game looked a little more comfortable until a
late goal threatened to spoil the Spurs party.
While it was no classic performance from
Spurs, they showed a counter-attacking nous that Villa could not live
with and with almost two thirds of the possession in the first period,
the home side failed to seriously trouble the Tottenham goal until just
before half time.
It was perhaps a little ironic that when
the Villa fans were booing Spurs for time-wasting that in our first
attack, the ball went off for a throw in near the corner flag and as
Robbie Keane went to take it quickly, at Knight kicked the ball away.
In the first couple of minutes of the game the punishment was not even a
talking to. Unfortunately, the Villa crowd (and where were they a
couple of seasons ago when they couldn't sell out their own home section
of the ground ?) are not the best in terms of understanding the game.
They booed Tottenham for time-wasting, but Martin O'Neill has mastered
the art with his sides down the years. A couple of bookings for
Spurs for kicking the ball away and still Villa escaped punishment when
their players did the same. Don't even start me on the ease of
But it was what went on when we had the
ball and did play that hit Villa where it hurt. The ball was
played through Keane and Jenas to Lennon on the right wing. he
moved past Luke Young and without getting to the by-line, he whipped in
a waist high cross that Friedel could only push out and Jermaine Jenas
had continued his run into the box to dive in to head the loose ball
home. Juts five minutes gone and it could have been the last
minute of the League Cup Final at Wembley against Leicester City.
Martin O'Neill was the manager, Kasey Keller the keeper and Allan
Nielsen the scorer, but the construction of the goal was much the same.
After that, it was much like what had
preceded the final minute in the game at Wembley, with Spurs chasing
shadows and the opposition having a lot of the ball. Perversely,
they made few clear openings. Petrov drove one over the top,
Heskey got to Ashley Young's near post cross, but was too close to turn
it in and when that Young did pull one back into the box, Spurs managed
to block it out to Barry, whose first time effort was well turned aside
by Heurelho Gomes.
The home supporters bayed for a penalty
when Lennon made contact with Barry as he went into the box, but it was
another soft fall. The Tottenham defence was closing ranks to deny
Villa a way through and while Zokora had been drafted in to deal with
the pace of Ashley Young, he was finding the winger's trickery a problem
and got a yellow card, which was going to make his task harder.
Spurs did manage to create a shooting
opportunity for Jenas, who drove at goal, but Carlos Cuellar got in the
way, with Jenas returning to the other end to act as blocker when Luke
Young struck a shot on goal. The Spurs midfielder gave a fine
box-to-box display, only spoiled by his nonchalance in giving the ball
away, but on this display he was not the one guilty party of that fault.
Modric, Keane, Palacios and Bent were all too lax in their passing on
some occasions. Jenas had another go from inside the box, but his
shot had the sting taken off it by a block before it got to Friedel.
Harry Redknapp decided that Zokora's
effectiveness against Young was suspect and he replaced him with Charlie
Corluka. It caused a bit of concern, as the Croatian is not the
quickest thing on two legs and Young is. However, the central
defenders - King and Woodgate - were doing really well and a couple of
crosses were picked out of the air by Gomes (one when he was hit by
Heskey, making no effort to go for the ball) and a couple he punched
Ashley Young tried a couple of shots on
goal, but failed to trouble Gomes, while Bent was making some good runs
to provide an out ball and one almost took him away from Cuellar and
nearly set up Keane. A coupe of minutes before the break, Jenas
played Modric in through the right hand channel of the penalty area and
he chose to shoot and bring a save from the Villa keeper, but might
better have pulled it back square to Keane, who was right in front of
goal just four yards out. It was almost a costly piece of poor
decision making, as firstly Petrov was set up by Heskey and his low shot
was prodded straight at Gomes, then the keeper was beaten when Barry
lobbed a ball to the far post and Heskey got to it, looping a header
onto the angle of crossbar and post. Luckily, the ball bounced
Half time saw the team trudge off after a
hard working 45 minutes and with a week's rest behind them, it was going
to be interesting to see how they coped with the second half. But
there was not a lot to worry about, although we didn't realise that when
the team kicked off the second half. Some early pressure from a
couple of dead ball situations were to be expected, as Villa were
determined to use the battering ram Heskey as a target man.
However, without any hint of a problem, Aaron Lennon cut inside from the
right wing and ran across the face of the penalty box. As he was
closed down, he nudged the ball onto Wilson Palacios, who had a couple
of shots blocked in the first half and the Honduran midfielder's effort
was pushed away by Friedel at full stretch. However, he pushed it
wide to where Robbie Keane reacted and as he tried to slip the ball past
the goalie, Darren Bent arrived on the scene to poke the ball across the
line from six inches out and make it 2-0 to Spurs with five minutes on
the clock in the second half.
It was more than could have been expected
and the home crowd sank into silence, except for one exception later.
Lennon was causing mayhem among the Villa defenders and Reo-Coker hauled
him down to get a yellow card, while the little man drove back a cleared
free-kick and Friedel could only stand as the shot ripped past him and
dipped narrowly over to hit the stanchion at the back of the goal.
O'Neill was worried with just an hour
gone and threw on Jon Carew for defender Knight, with the prospect of a
string of high balls being thrown into the Tottenham box, but they
failed to materialise on the whole. Mainly because Spurs were
breaking with pace and numbers and were not giving the ball away as
cheaply as the first half. Corluka's ball from the right across
the box was meant for Lennon, but he missed it, Keane left it and it
fell into the path of Luka Modric, who hit a rising shot that Friedel
managed to keep out.
Five minutes after an hour had passed and
Gomes had his most difficult moment of the second half, with Petrov's
shot being deflected and hitting the Spurs keeper on the chest and
bouncing away. The home fans in the Villa Park crowd got what they
wanted when Keane and Modric were both booked for kicking the ball away
and went on to show their lack of insight into the game when they booed
Gabriel Agbonlahor as he was substituted. Villa have played with
only a limited number of players this season and the tiredness that the
England Under-21 striker might be feeling was of no concern to the Villa
It was Tottenham who were making it hard
for Villa to play in the second half and Friedel was again in action in
the 73rd minute, when Jenas and Corluka linked well to set up a shooting
chance for Robbie Keane this time. The number of chances Spurs
were failing to take was a worry, as a late goal would make it a nervy
finish. And so it proved as another late goal was conceded.
Milner got away down the right and Assou-Ekotto failed to shut a man
down for the first time in the game, allowing a high, hanging cross to
the far post that invited Carew to jump above Woodgate and head
powerfully past Gomes off the underneath of the bar. Gomes had
started to come, but made the right decision to go back, as he would not
have got there.
Surprisingly, there was little excitement
in the crowd and that was the same on the pitch, as the Villa players
showed little urgency to try to go for a late equaliser, which they had
been successful in earlier in the season in other home games. So,
Tottenham played the game out with some possession stuff at the Villa
end and the final whistle brought a welcome, if unexpected three points
to take Spurs into 11th place.
It was an impressive display, albeit
lucky that Villa are in a woeful run of form of late, but it showed that
with the hard work put in, Spurs are capable of dictating play for
spells in a game and now they must learn to put games to bed and not
allow the other side back in.