Wednesday 21 March 2018

Lennon tour de force gives Hodgson food for thought as Spurs get back in the groove

Tottenham 3 Stoke City 0

Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur is mobbed by team mates
Mousa Dembele of Tottenham Hotspur is mobbed by team mates

Jeremy Wilson

A day that had begun with Roy Hodgson offering a message of hope to England's best young creative talent was to end with one of the older guard delivering his own emphatic reminder.

Aaron Lennon was not mentioned when Hodgson appeared on TV yesterday morning but, having name-checked Ravel Morrison, Wilfried Zaha, Ross Barkley, Nathan Redmond and Raheem Sterling as World Cup hopefuls, Hodgson would be wise to request some footage of this match.

Lennon has not played for England since the 2-1 win over Brazil in February but provided compelling evidence that he is returning to his best with both a sublime goal and a starring performance as Stoke were swept aside at White Hart Lane.

"We created enough chances to win two games," said Tim Sherwood, the Tottenham head coach. "We played well from start to finish. It's a good start to my tenure but there are tougher tests ahead."

It was only Tottenham's fourth home league win of the season and the second time they have scored three or more in the league since the departure of Gareth Bale. Most importantly, it was also further evidence of a team again playing with smiles on their faces.

That was summed up just before Roberto Soldado put them into a 37th-minute lead from the penalty spot when a grinning Sherwood acknowledged a shout from the crowd to "get out of the way" of some season ticket holders' view.

Sherwood's team selection also again underlined his belief that complicated tactics are over-rated and that good management is about organising the team's formation around your best players.

Accordingly, Soldado again started in attack alongside Emmanuel Adebayor in a 4-4-2 formation. It carried the risk of being overrun in the central areas but, with Mousa Dembele and Paulinho both outstanding, Spurs immediately took control.

Lennon was especially sharp out wide and created two good chances. Kyle Naughton's pass found Lennon, whose cross was missed by Adebayor and then scuffed towards Stoke 'keeper Thomas Sorensen by Christian Eriksen.

Lennon then found Paulinho, whose clever flick released Soldado only for the Spain striker to drag an excellent chance wide.

Zeki Fryers, making his full Premier League debut as Sherwood reshuffled the Tottenham defence, could have been dismissed for bundling Jon Walters to the floor when he was the last defender. "We felt he was impeded and there was a case for their lad to be sent off," said Mark Hughes, the Stoke manager.

Hughes had even more cause to feel aggrieved when Oussama Assaidi was upended by Michael Dawson. "He contacted me," said Assaidi. Referee Kevin Friend disagreed and was more decisive in the opposite penalty area when correctly pointing to the spot after Ryan Shawcross had raised his arms and blocked Adebayor's volley. "What can Ryan do? Must he cut his hands off?" asked Assaidi. Soldado duly massaged his Premier League goal tally with a fourth successful penalty of the season.

Hughes noted how the key first-half decisions had gone against Stoke but -- to his credit -- did not seek to excuse the general performance. "The way Spurs played we found it very difficult to get anywhere near them," he said.

Stoke's threat certainly remained almost non-existent in the second half, with Soldado and Eriksen missing further chances before Dembele scored the goal that his performance had merited. The Belgium midfielder had collected the ball on the edge of the penalty area and was given enough time to cut inside and aim a precise shot past Sorensen.

The best was saved to last, however, with Adebayor and Soldado combining before Lennon brought the ball under control with his thigh, then smashed his finish into the top corner.

The only blemish for Sherwood was the sight of Paulinho hobbling off. No matter. Spurs -- and especially Lennon -- look like their swagger is returning ahead of the visit to Old Trafford on New Year's Day. David Moyes will have taken note. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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