Tuesday 12 December 2017

Bent proves point to Redknapp in style

Sunderland 3
Tottenham 1

Louise Taylor at the Stadium of Light

Considering Heurelho Gomes saved two Darren Bent penalties and Anton Ferdinand had a goal controversially disallowed, it could have been even worse for Tottenham Hotspur.

On the sort of afternoon managers tend to, euphemistically, term "bad days at the office" Harry Redknapp saw his side's hopes of Champions League qualification dented by a Sunderland team sprinkled with former Spurs players, all harbouring points to prove.

Transformed beyond recognition in the month since they were reminded relegation would cost them 40 per cent of their salaries next season, Steve Bruce's players are suddenly resurgent. Certainly after forcing a relentless high tempo and never letting Tottenham settle on the ball, they were worthy winners here.

"It was an open game and we were an open-looking team," Redknapp said. "The race for fourth is still wide open but we just need to get a couple of our injured players back. Sunderland were up for it today, they chased and they pressed. They don't play like that every week, though, do they?"

Redknapp once claimed his wife, Sandra, was a better finisher than Bent and revenge proved sweet for the Sunderland striker as he jogged his old manager's memory with a first-minute opener. When Gomes parried a header from Fraizer Campbell -- a struggling Spur last season, albeit on loan -- the rebound fell to Bent. After gleefully lashing home his 21st league goal of the season, he celebrated with the sort of abandon that suggested it had been a meaningful strike. Redknapp, meanwhile, sat perfectly still, his expression deadpan.

The visiting mood soon darkened. When Steed Malbranque, another impressive ex-Spur, unleashed a shot which Gomes could, again, only parry, Kyle Walker handled the rebound. Forward stepped Bent to take the penalty, squeezing his kick low into the bottom corner, despite the 'keeper diving the right way. Cue a triumphalist gesture in Redknapp's direction from the scorer.

"Champions League, you're having a laugh," the Sunderland fans sang, blithely ignoring those first-half Tottenham chances Bruce later termed "hairy moments". Trips to Barcelona, Bayern Munich et al definitely looked increasingly elusive as Luka Modric bodychecked Campbell and a second penalty was awarded. This time, though, Gomes not only guessed correctly but turned Bent's rising kick around the post.

No matter, his hat-trick was back on when Sunderland won yet another penalty after Wilson Palacios felled David Meyler early in the second half. Deputising for Bruce's injured captain Lorik Cana, Meyler was doing well in central midfield, often moving the ball far too quickly for Tottenham's liking and, generally, proving a superior foil for Lee Cattermole.

There are few better penalty takers than Bent but Gomes read his mind once more and, having second-guessed the ball's flight, pushed it on to the post before saving on the line.

Undeterred, Sunderland simply intensified an already ferocious tempo. Ferdinand thought he had scored their third goal but, much to Bruce's chagrin, the right-back's fine finish was disallowed due to Campbell's foul on Gomes.

Redknapp introduced Peter Crouch. Almost immediately, the England striker out-jumped everyone, directing a downward header past Craig Gordon after connecting with Niko Kranjcar's looping cross.

Jordan Henderson's crossing has been a highlight of Sunderland's season and his delivery to substitute Bolo Zenden was expertly, instantaneously controlled by the Dutchman's left foot. All that remained was for Zenden to dash Redknapp's lingering hopes of a point courtesy of a sumptuous volley.

"Darren's disappointed but he has won us the game," Bruce said. "You sometimes question why you're in football management but these are the afternoons that make it worthwhile. We've played very well."


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