Monday 29 May 2017

Nervy Tottenham miss out on chance to go top

Steven Fletcher celebrates scoring against Tottenham
Steven Fletcher celebrates scoring against Tottenham

TALK of a first title in more than half a century has only intensified the nervousness of some Tottenham fans, who have been brought up to expect let-downs in the league. This draw may not, then, have come as a surprise.

However, although it did slow the Spurs bandwagon, it does not necessarily herald a crash ahead of next Sunday's showdown with Manchester City. What is certain is that a point was fair reward for Wolves, who staged a well-planned and well-executed ambush.

The visitors arrived here on a six-match winless run that has left them in relegation trouble. Rumblings of discontent from the club chairman, Steve Morgan, did not augur well for the manager, Mick McCarthy, although he insisted that his employer's comments about the campaign so far "not being good enough" did not mean his position was in jeopardy.

Either way, McCarthy had a plan for arresting the slump and it worked, especially in the first half, as the visitors' dynamic five-man midfield prevented Tottenham from finding their attacking verve.

Luka Modric shot just wide from the edge of the area in the third minute but, other than that, was able to exert little influence on the first period as Karl Henry led Wolves' smothering operation. Gareth Bale was similarly stifled and so, although they dominated possession, Spurs seldom looked dangerous.

It was still a shock, however, when Wolves took the lead from their first attack. Roger Johnson outjumped Michael Dawson to head Matt Jarvis' delivery towards danger. Modric managed to block it on the line but Steven Fletcher, reacted quickest to poke into the net from close range.

The best chance to score another first-half goal fell to Wolves, when, from their second meaningful attack, Jarvis found Dave Edwards, but the midfielder sliced wide.

Only a second-half transformation would stop belief in a Tottenham title challenge from haemorrhaging. It did not look like coming when, soon after the break, Bale ballooned another shot way over the bar and then McCarthy's men moved down the other end and carved open the hosts. It took a magnificent save from Brad Friedel to push away a fierce volley from Emmanuel Frimpong, the Arsenal loanee.

Instead of being two down, Tottenham were soon level. After skilful play by Rafael Van der Vaart in the 51st minute, Bale rolled the ball to Modric, whose low shot from 20 yards flew under Wayne Hennessey and into the net.

Suddenly, Spurs rediscovered their swagger. The visiting defence started to be seriously stretched.

However, Tottenham's uncharacteristic lack of precision was summed up by more wild shooting, as Bale, Kyle Walker and Van der Vaart all smashed efforts way off target.

Shortly after the introduction of wantaway striker Jermain Defoe in the 73rd minute, he almost made his mark with a swirling low drive from 18 yards. Hennessey saved awkwardly with his feet.

That was as close as Spurs came. They are still in touch with the top.

Observer

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