The times they are a-changing at The Lane. Always on the cusp of something great, there used to be a trend at Tottenham where they got close to revisiting those glory days of the 60’s, be it a late goal here, a thrashing here, a sacking there, as was the norm in previous seasons. Even in the last few years, with all of Harry Redknapp’s great work reshaping the team into competitors the top runs of the league table, there was always that niggling feeling with Spurs that a slip up, be it small or cataclysmic, would peak it’s head out and derail their season. But this Tottenham team, here in 2012, look like a different kettle of fish than before, one that maybe can compete with the big boys. Just maybe.
It was all in their own hands last night, as they faced Everton in their rearranged game from the opening day. Going into the match Spurs knew that a win would see them pull level with champions Manchester United in 2nd place, with just three points separating them and Manchester City at the top of the table. But an easy ride and three points wasn’t going to be as easy as that. Everton always have a way of rewriting the script in games such as this, and had lost only one of their last eight games against Harry Redknapp’s men. Injuries to Phil Jagielka, Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell though had tested David Moyes’ squad to the limit, but with Tim Cahill back in the side there was optimism amongst the Everton faithful that they could repeat the trick again and come away with something from the game.
Tottenham too had found themselves with a injury crisis, with Scott Parker, Sandro and William Gallas picking up hefty injuries during the busy festive period to join Ledley King on the sidelines. But the returns of captain Michael Dawson and Aaron Lennon in the weekend’s FA Cup win over Cheltenham gave Redknapp something to be cheerful for. With those injuries to key midfield men, Redknapp called upon youngster Jake Livermore to fill in alongside Luka Modric in Spurs’ midfield, with Lennon returning to his beloved right-wing spot and Rafael van der Vaart reverting back to his supporting striker role at the expense of Jermain Defoe, who again had to settle for a place on the bench.
Almost inevitably in such a high-pressured match, Spurs started the shakier. Inside the first minute, Everton nearly took the lead. Younes Kaboul, so much improved over the last twelve months, twice failed to clear his lines, and after decent footwork from Donovan, Kaboul sliced a clearance straight to Saha whose shot, despite being slightly scuffed, just missed the far post of Brad Friedel’s goal. Hearts were in mouths for the duration for sure but Spurs began to gain momentum as the half went on, passing the ball with the same pace, precision and confidence they have shown all season long, as van der Vaart, Modric and Bale began to exert their class on the game.
But like so many of their recent home matches, Spurs found it hard to break down a rigid and organised rearguard. Cahill and Fellaini dropped deep to support the back four, deny the wandering Bale any space in behind them and restrict Adebayor’s movements towards his own goal rather than the visitors’. But with every pass and every little burst of pace, you sensed that Spurs were the most likely to break the deadlock.
After a couple of long range attempts from van der Vaart and Bale, it was the home side who took the lead in rather an old-fashioned way. Assou-Ekotto sprayed a beautiful, if somewhat fortunate 60-yard pass to Lennon on the right. But as Leighton Baines, Everton’s lauded left-back, tried to control the dropping ball he only succeeded in allowing Lennon to get in behind him and into the penalty box to finish past Tim Howard. It was a scuffed effort which wrong-footed the Everton goalkeeper, but it was enough to break the deadlock and give Spurs a deserved lead. Cue the White Hart Lane faithful breathing a huge collective sigh-of-relief.
The second half continued in the same vain, again Modric and van der Vaart pulled the strings in midfield with panache and elegance as Everton struggled manfully to cope with Tottenham’s movement and pace as they continued to press for the killer second goal. Adebayor was a constant threat throughout, leading the line as impressively as he has done all season in his new lease of life, and Bale, despite being shackled at every turn, always looked dangerous whenever he found an inch of space.
A few half chances came and went before on 65 minutes, Assou-Ekotto ventured into Everton’s half. A sea of blue and white stood between him and, after a few seconds of trying to pick his pass, decided instead to let fly from almost 35 yards and found Howard’s top corner. It was a thunderous shot from the consistently impressive Spurs full-back and, although it took a little nick off of Cahill, was always heading in.
Redknapp gave the merest of smiles from the touchline and the nagging feeling remained as Spurs have made a made things difficult for themselves a couple of time this year whilst holding 2-0 advantages. But there was no such drama this time. Kaboul and Dawson, first minute mistake aside, were strong and steady at the back giving little if any change to Saha and Anichebe throughout. Supported well by Kyle Walker, Assou-Ekotto and a man-of-the-match performance from Jake Livermore, the score-line was only ever going to get bigger in Tottenham’s favour, rather than a fightback this time round.
David Moyes said after the game how desperate his team are for a striker. He could only look on in envy at the Spurs bench and imagine how the likes of Defoe or Payluchenko would fit into his team. His technically gifted side have always done well in the second half of seasons, and with the likes of Cahill, Fellaini and Rodwell still in the ranks they will always believe they have a chance of pushing for a possible Europa League berth. But with this year being one of the most open Premier Leagues of recent times, his talented bunch of players may need to set themselves up for a battle of a different sort if things don’t improve in front of goal.
Spurs, meanwhile, are in dreamland. Now level with United on 45 points, it is a question of whether they really can maintain their upwards momentum towards City at the top of the tree to have a realistic chance of competing for the title. Their form suggests yes; their history suggests otherwise. But if ever there was a year to rip up the history book and introduce a fresh new hero, full of impetus, cunning and speed, it is this one.
Man of the Match: Jake Livermore (Tottenham) – an accomplished performance in the centre of midfield for the young Tottenham man. After some impressive Europa League performances, this one will make the Premier League stand up and take notice of him. His tidy use of the ball, and breaking up of Everton’s attacks wass uperb, and allowed the likes of Modric and Van Der Vaart to roam free and pick off Everton. More to come from him in the coming weeks for sure.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-1-1) – Friedel; Walker, Dawson, Kaboul, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Pienaar), Livermore, Modric, Bale; Van Der Vaart; Adebayor (Pavlyuchenko). Subs not used: Cudicini, Bassong, Kranjcar, Rose, Defoe
Everton (4-4-2) – Howard; Neville, Hetinga, Distin (Duffy), Baine; Donovan, Cahill, Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Gueye); Anichebe (Drenthe), Saha. Subs not used: Stracqualursi , Vellios , Mucha , Faddy