Wednesday 17 January 2018

Crouch the hero as Spurs hang on

Tottenham 3 Stoke City 2

Tottenham may be on the point of departure from this season's Champions League following their 4-0 mauling in the Bernabeu but the attacking alacrity Harry Redknapp's side showed against Stoke suggested they are still capable of giving Real Madrid a nervous evening in the return leg of their quarter-final at White Hart Lane on Wednesday.

At the same time, the sluggish defending which Stoke punished twice before half-time boded ill for Spurs' chances of preventing the further Real goals which could quickly turn a forlorn hope into a lost cause.

Stoke, still without a point away from home this year, showed commendable powers of recovery after early goals from Peter Crouch and Luka Modric had threatened to turn the game into a rout.

Crouch's two goals, both headers, double his season's total in the Premier League and added weight to the theory that Tottenham might have taken something from the Bernabeu had he not been sent off early in the match.

"I wasn't quite sure what sort of reaction he was going to get from the fans," said Redknapp. "Crowds get it into their minds that they have been let down by players but today they were great."

Certainly Spurs recovered their scoring touch after going 413 minutes without finding the net and the spirit of this performance made talk of the consequences of failing to qualify for next season's Champions League, such as having to listen to offers for Gareth Bale, seem a mite premature. As Redknapp said: "It's still open, anything can happen."

Redknapp's decision to pair Crouch and Roman Pavlyuchenko up front suggested a desire to challenge Stoke's lofty defence in the air and, to the extent that two of Tottenham's three goals were nodded in by Crouch from a great height, the Tottenham's manager's thinking was justified.

From the outset the combination of Modric's vision and guile and Bale's pace steadily unravelled Stoke's defence and goals were inevitable. The first, after 11 minutes, followed a corner on the left played short by Rafael van der Vaart to Pavlyuchenko, whose cross found Crouch perfectly placed to head past Asmir Begovic. Six minutes later Modric gathered a pass from Pavlyuchenko and proceeded to scoot through the Stoke defence before scoring with a shot under the goalkeeper's body.

But the danger for Tottenham on Wednesday will be the likelihood of Real picking them off on the break. In this sense Stoke almost did Spurs a favour as they twice caught them on the counterattack and scored on each occasion.

Just before the half-hour Matthew Etherington took the ball half the length of the pitch, with Tom Huddlestone in huffing pursuit and nobody on hand to cover the danger.

Etherington beat Heurelho Gomes with a tightly angled shot and although Crouch restored Tottenham's two-goal advantage in the 34th minute, Kenwyne Jones scored Stoke's second four minutes before half-time after Andy Wilkinson had dispossessed Bale and set him up for a free run and shot.

Eight minutes into the second half Gomes intercepted a centre from Jones but pushed the ball on to Jon Walters and was lucky to see the rebound come back off a post. After this escape Tottenham's approach becamemore circumspect.

Even so, Stoke seemed the more likely to score in the closing minutes. The growing anxiety of the home supporters as Tony Pulis's side piled in behind a series of free-kicks and corners was in sharp contrast to their early hubris when Spurs seemed likely to score whenever they crossed the halfway line.

As an indicator for Wednesday the match was largely irrelevant but as an antidote to the Bernabeu it was, for Tottenham, an antidote to anticlimax.


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