Defoe finds target to keep Spurs flying high
Tottenham 1 West Brom 0
There were apocryphal stories that the bronze cockerel on top of one of the White Hart Lane stands had to be taken down for safety reasons because of the high winds lashing England. But there it sat last night overlooking proceedings as Spurs gained the precious, slim victory that reinforced their Champions League -- Premier League title? -- claims. Make no mistake: the Rooster is on the rise.
Not that this was a procession. Spurs were indebted to their blond-bombshell Jermain Defoe -- the striker's hair has taken a dramatic colour rinse of late -- for the goal that finally unlocked a resolute West Brom side who had frustrated them for more than an hour.
There is so much to excite at Spurs at present with the squad marshalled by Harry Redknapp -- a six-point lead now over fourth-placed Chelsea and a seven-point advantage over fifth-placed Arsenal with a game in hand on both -- although Defoe's own future remains in question should the manager lure the 'wow' player he feels he needs in this transfer window. Other Premier League clubs are coveting the England striker -- seven league goals in seven starts -- also.
In this most squad-testing period of the season, West Brom came into this encounter in a more vulnerable state lacking the injured pair of captain Chris Brunt and striker Shane Long. Spurs had their own woes but even the absence of the vital Scott Parker didn't appear too damaging as they took to the pitch, brimming with momentum, against an opponent smarting from their New Year's Day defeat at home to Everton.
West Brom's Roy Hodgson handed a full debut to George Thorne. The 18-year-old was asked to help anchor a blanket midfield designed to stifle Spurs' attacking instincts, although they opened the contest with a blur of pressure, a series of corners and half-chances for Defoe and Luka Modric.
It appeared daunting. It was. Wave after wave of Spurs attack continued with Gareth Bale, twice, shooting wastefully when other options were available.
Moments later and Rafael van der Vaart did far better running onto Bale's low cross and forcing Ben Foster into a fine tip-over with a rising, first-time shot.
For all their dominance, Spurs were simply not incisive enough and the frustration slowly grew.
Soon after the restart and there was more of an edge as Bale's influence grew. Given licence to roam, he switched flanks, drawing a series of fouls while, finally, West Brom created an opportunity of their own with Craig Dawson heading across goal from a corner.
Back came Spurs. Assou-Ekotto was tripped close to the area, and Modric stepped up. The free-kick was whipped over the wall but also over the crossbar. But, then, so did West Brom with, finally, Brad Friedel involved as Simon Cox overlapped. He struck a cross-shot that was beaten out by the 'keeper.
Finally the breakthrough came and the relief flooded the stadium.
Assou-Ekotto centred, the ball falling to Van der Vaart and then back to Bale who crossed for Defoe to deftly control, spin, hold off the challenges and shoot low beyond Foster. It was a superb strike as was that by West Brom substitute Somen Tchoyi which was pushed away by Friedel. There were nerves, and West Brom rallied impressively, but the win was Spurs'. (© Daily Telegraph, London)