Cudicini spares Spurs blushes
West Brom 1
For what seemed like an eternity Tottenham regarded qualification for the Champions League as their holy grail, but already it is threatening to become a millstone around their Premier League necks.
Embarrassing defeat at home to Wigan was put down to their European exertions against Switzerland's Young Boys, and now the failure to see off West Brom's also-rans is blamed in part on the distraction of this Tuesday's visit to Werder Bremen.
Worryingly for Harry Redknapp, they lost not only two points but also yesterday's scorer, Luka Modric, who left the ground on crutches and joins Jermain Defoe, Michael Dawson and Heurelho Gomes among the walking wounded who will be missing in Germany. The Croatian was having a scan on an injured leg last night, Redknapp giving him "no chance" of making the trip to face Bremen.
Rafael van der Vaart and William Gallas, both of whom made their debuts, had no competitive practice behind them. Redknapp did his best to sound sanguine. "Modric and Van der Vaart playing together is going to be clever", he said. "I thought Van der Vaart was different class in the first half, before he tired. I can see Defoe enjoying feeding off the two of them."
It was Roberto di Matteo, however, who had most reasons to be cheerful after Albion's storming finish, in which Cudicini denied Jonas Olsson and Peter Odemwingie, and Gabriel Tamas evaded him, only to shoot wide of the gaping goal. Di Matteo's team have had a testing start to life back among the elite, playing Chelsea, Liverpool and now Spurs in their first four games. "I told the players the season lasts 38 matches, not eight, and they won't be playing bloody Chelsea and Liverpool every week," Di Matteo said.
Spurs began well enough and Aaron Lennon had fired over from near the penalty spot before they scored. Van der Vaart was the provider, his left-footed cross from the right luring both centre-halves into going up with Roman Pavlyuchenko. Consequently, the defence was short-staffed when the ball hit Tamas on the back and fell obligingly for Modric to shoot low past Scott Carson from 12 yards.
Modric limped off five minutes later, suffering alarming discomfort from the leg he broke last season, and while Spurs were still readjusting to the loss of him, Albion wrested the initiative from them. Paul Scharner was instrumental here, along with Chris Brunt. Together they worked up sufficient midfield momentum to keep their team-mates on the front foot.
The equaliser came as anything but a surprise. Marc-Antoine Fortune burst past Gallas on the outside before letting fly with a shot Cudicini could only parry. The ball bounced up into the air, where the keeper, who had recovered quickly, was out-jumped by Odemwingie, leaving Brunt to nod in at negligible range. If there was going to be a winner, it had to be Di Matteo's men, but Spurs held out. Ledley King will be back in Bremen, and can expect a busy night.