Friday 17 August 2018

Eriksen's good fortune adds to air of desperation at Stoke

Stoke City 1 Tottenham 2

Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur's Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire

Nick Ames

Every relegated side can tell a story like this. Stoke City hardly deserved to lose against Tottenham, producing a zesty and pragmatic performance that balanced an awareness of their limitations with moments of genuine threat, but it was not enough yesterday afternoon and may not be at the end of the season, either.

They lost to a fortunate goal from Christian Eriksen, who struck his second of the game after Mame Biram Diouf had made the most of his own piece of luck, and were applauded from the field by a crowd that produced the kind of atmosphere this stadium generates like few others. Tottenham, their heads cool, move closer to Champions League football but Paul Lambert's side remain bound for the Championship.

At a time with less at stake, it might have represented an achievement for Stoke to keep the score down. They had lost the sides' previous four encounters with an aggregate of 17-1; since Lambert's arrival they have not received many hidings but respectability is insufficient in their current plight. Lambert, who had proclaimed himself "100pc certain" Stoke will stay up, duly promised before the match that they would attack.

It took 12 minutes, a time spent diligently tracking long periods of Tottenham possession, for them to do so but their first piece of menace should have brought a goal. Erik Pieters' low cutback invited the finish from Diouf, stationed 10 yards out, but his feet appeared to be poorly set and the result was an ungainly, jabbed effort that cleared the bar.

Anything on target would have given Stoke's cause impetus but their wider performance offered hope of its own. Their support was at its most partisan, pulsating with urgency and baying for marginal decisions. The players responded vigorously: Badou Ndiaye dispossessing Mousa Dembélé with two perfectly executed tackles and Xherdan Shaqiri drawing applause for harrying Victor Wanyama.

Ndiaye, a deadline-day signing who has been a bright spot in Stoke's enveloping gloom, looks moulded for occasions with this edge and later made another timely intervention on Son Heung-min.

Tottenham's Mousa Dembele in action with Stoke City's Papa Ndiaye. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters
Tottenham's Mousa Dembele in action with Stoke City's Papa Ndiaye. Photo: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

Stoke's snap and snarl made up for any raggedness at this stage, although there was the sense that Tottenham were only a missed challenge away from posing a direct threat. Lambert's team were on the stretch at times but were only given one moment of first-half alarm.

That came midway through, when Dele Alli sent Son through the middle. Bruno Martins Indi slid in too late and was relieved when Jack Butland, reducing Son's options by refusing to commit, saved with his right leg.

Fortune evaded Martins Indi when Tottenham next broke through. The second period had begun uneventfully but then the defender, perhaps hamstrung by a lack of available team-mates, presented the ball straight to Dembélé just beyond halfway.

Dembélé quickly slid a pass into the space Martins Indi had vacated, allowing Alli time and space in the inside-right channel. Eriksen was the latest of three possible options to arrive in the area but Alli, his preference long since made, waited before spiriting the ball into his path for the kind of opportunity he rarely spurns.

Stoke City's Bruno Martins Indi (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela battle for the ball. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire
Stoke City's Bruno Martins Indi (left) and Tottenham Hotspur's Erik Lamela battle for the ball. Photo: Nigel French/PA Wire

Tottenham might have expected to push on from there but Stoke, still strong in spirit, pegged them back almost immediately. Shaqiri's curled 50-yard pass, taking out Davinson Sánchez and posing Hugo Lloris an awkward decision between staying in his box or racing out to confront Diouf, was a thing of beauty. Lloris chose the latter course of action but the striker, firmly in his eyeline, charged his clearance down. There was more than a suspicion of handball, albeit at close quarters, but Diouf recovered to scuff into the vacant goal despite taking a clattering for his troubles. The equaliser stood, Diouf requiring treatment before play restarted.

How galling for Stoke, then, that their slice of fortune was rendered null within six minutes. Eriksen's set-pieces had been wasteful in the first half but his next delivery, whipped from the left, was an open invitation for Harry Kane to convert. Kane duly rose to meet it but did not appear to make any meaningful touch, the ball bouncing straight in beyond a distracted Butland.

Amid the celebrations Kane appeared to claim the goal from Eriksen nonetheless, but his case looked weak.

The identity of the scorer was hardly Stoke's concern. The infuriating manner of the concession certainly was, but their response was on point and should have earned a draw.

Tyrese Campbell looped a header wide 15 seconds after entering the pitch and Shaqiri struck the bar with a fine 20-yard free-kick. Five minutes from time Diouf, arguably reverting to type, wasted a four-on-one break after exceptional work from Ndiaye and, with that, Stoke's hopes of a repeat meeting next season hang by a thread.

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