Friday 22 November 2019

Defoe's double eases early pressure on Villas-Boas

Reading 1 Tottenham 3

Henry Winter

Spurs sported their sleek black-and-grey third strip yesterday, which seemed slightly early to catch the Christmas rush and is not a gift for the man with the fuller figure, but the players certainly fitted snugly into Andre Villas-Boas' new-look 4-2-3-1 outfit.

Jan Vertonghen, Moussa Dembele, Gylfi Sigurdsson and the goalscoring, frontrunning Jermain Defoe gave Spurs a strong spine that bodes well for Villas-Boas after recent anxious weeks and awkward headlines.

There was even a brief burst of "Andre, Andre, give us a wave" from the Spurs faithful. He acknowledged their salute, but it was at the final whistle, having secured his first win as Spurs manager and first in England since Chelsea defeated Bolton Wanderers on February 25, that he showed most emotion, hugging staff and players.

Villas-Boas had awoken to speculation about his future, claiming he had only three games left to save his job, a suggestion which seemed ludicrously early to judge his latest project. He got his tactics right here. He got his choice of personnel right.

Defending

Due reference must be made to the open nature of Reading's defending.

Brian McDermott's side are in for a long, hard and painful season if they continue with such haphazard attempts to lock the back-door.

Goalkeeper Adam Federici was omitted for "tactical" reasons according to McDermott. Alex McCarthy (22) stepped up, made some good early saves, but soon succumbed to Spurs' relentless pressure.

The visitors were unrecognisable from their early-season sluggishness, playing with fluidity and pacey attacking intent. Brad Friedel was as reliable as ever on his 308th consecutive league appearance, rightly keeping Hugo Lloris on the bench, although few would be surprised if France's captain started in the Europa League against Lazio on Thursday.

Vertonghen won the ball well and distributed it calmly. Sandro anchored nimbly, allowing Dembele to push on, making some sinewy surges towards the busy Sigurdsson. Defoe seems on a mission to prove he can play the lone forward for club and country.

Full of fleet movement, he struck twice and could easily have gone home with the match-ball while Gareth Bale added another. Out wide, Aaron Lennon against Ian Harte was not the most equal of sprint races. Such is the depth of Spurs squad that there will inevitably be a fascination over whether Villas-Boas can keep them all happy. Emmanuel Adebayor's mood will come under closer scrutiny the longer he stays on the bench, a distinct possibility with Defoe in this prolific form and Villas-Boas seemingly wedded to the sole-striker attack. Lloris' patience will also be tested.

How Reading would love such quality in the goalkeeping department and elsewhere. Before the inquisition of McCarthy began, there had been a moving few minutes at the Madejski when both sets of supporters stood and applauded loudly through the pre-match playing of "You'll Never Walk Alone" in honour of the Liverpool fans who died at Hillsborough.

The moment the strains of the famous song faded away, Reading fans launched into an impassioned backing of their team, who unfortunately gave them little to cheer in the first half. Garath McCleary occasionally troubled Kyle Naughton, who was finally making his Premier League debut for Spurs, but otherwise Pavel Pogrebnyak was too isolated until the break.

The ball was mainly down the other end. McCarthy kept out a header from Sigurdsson, who was warmly greeted on his return to the Madejski. Having denied Vertonghen, McCarthy was then relieved to see Bale stab the ball wide.

Controversy briefly threatened to disrupt Spurs' smooth passage to victory. When Danny Guthrie lifted the ball in from the right, Kyle Walker handled the ball clear as Alex Pearce came in. Howard Webb deemed Pearce to have already fouled Walker, much to Reading's ire.

Their frustration deepened moments later when Spurs seized the lead.

Sigurdsson was the creative catalyst, placing a superb pass behind Harte for Lennon to run on to. His cutback was perfectly judged for Defoe, whose finish was not the smoothest but was firm enough to beat McCarthy.

Urgency

McDermott sought to inject more urgency and attacking threat in the second half by removing Jem Karacan and sending on Adam Le Fondre to forage alongside Pogrebnyak. Yet Spurs still threatened on the counter. Defoe shot wide but Bale found the mark after 70 minutes, scoring with a scuffed shot.

Then the pair broke forward at speed, Bale dragging most of Reading's defence away from Defoe. Pearce failed to live with Defoe's pace as he angled his run slightly from centre to left before scoring with an emphatic strike.

Defoe had certainly shown why he deserved to start ahead of Adebayor or Clint Dempsey, who soon arrived, the attacker resplendent in the No 2 shirt. The American had been offered the vacant No 9, but chose No 2 as it was his first shirt as a boy and his nickname is "Deuce", the soubriquet he uses for his forays into the hip-hop world.

Reading pushed for a goal. Le Fondre went down the right and chipped to the far-post where Hal Robson-Kanu struck the scantest of consolations for Reading. Spurs' celebrations soon began. Far, far tougher tests lie ahead but this was undeniably encouraging for Villas-Boas. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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