Shock defeat proves no surprise for Redknapp
Tottenham Hotspur 0
Wigan Athletic 1
How to explain this result, which may prove, come May, to have been the most surprising of the season? Wigan had shipped 10 goals without reply, last won away in the league in January and had never won at White Hart Lane, losing 9-1 there last season. Tottenham were newly qualified for the Champions League and last lost at home, in any competition, in December.
One man did see it coming. It was not with hindsight that Harry Redknapp said afterwards: "I fear these games," as beforehand he had warned: "These are dangerous games, it's not one I would have chosen on the back of their first two results."
Maybe Wigan's third match was the most significant. The night before Spurs thrashed Young Boys to earn a tilt at Internazionale, Wigan had a more prosaic assignment, a second-round Carling Cup tie at Hartlepool. It looked a banana skin given their start but Roberto Martinez fielded a strong team and was rewarded with a 3-0 win. That delivered an injection of confidence which, allied to the need to restore pride, provided the platform for Saturday's triumph.
The other ingredient was Tottenham's complacency. Both managers insisted it was not a factor but it was hard not to believe Spurs had turned up expecting to win easily and found it impossible to up the tempo when an early goal proved elusive. Two qualities were lacking. One was guile, which as Redknapp pointed out, reflected the absence of the injured Luka Modric. The other, more worryingly for Redknapp, was the hunger that is the difference between a good side and a title-winning one.
Manchester United and Chelsea do not lose matches like this. At Old Trafford the focus is always on winning the next match, not enjoying the fruits of the last. At Stamford Bridge Frank Lampard and John Terry do not permit complacency. That is how these teams have managed combined challenging in Europe with winning domestic titles.
In his programme notes Redknapp stressed "we cannot be sidetracked by Champions League football and let our league position suffer". This performance will cheer Wolves, Villa, Everton and Bolton – Spurs' next opponents after Champions League ties.
One Spurs fan believes they should now treat the Champions League as they would the Europa Cup, and field weakened sides. For him, taking a long-term view, ensuring Spurs qualify next season is more important than progressing this season because only through regular qualification can they build up the finances to challenge Chelsea and the Manchester clubs.
It is not an argument Redknapp or his players will brook but it might find favour in the boardroom. The visiting chairman would understand. For Dave Whelan staying in the Premier League is the aim each season, and he has been prepared to act quickly to protect this status and Martinez admitted that he felt vulnerable before the game.
"I know that in this business you are always three defeats from losing your job," he said, "but the job requires so much energy and intensity you do not have time to worry." Martinez's concerns were eased by a disciplined defensive, but not negative, performance from the whole team and a late goal by Hugo Rodallega which Carlo Cudicini should have saved.
"To come here after what happened last season was a real test of mental strength," concluded Martinez with relief and pride.
Tottenham Hotspur 4-4-2: Cudicini; Kaboul, Dawson, King, Assou-Ekotto (Kranjcar, h-t); Lennon (Giovanni, 72), Huddlestone, Palacios, Bale; Defoe, Crouch (Pavl'chenko, h-t). Substitutes not used Alnwick (gk), Jenas, Bassong, Keane.
Booked Dawson, Huddlestone, Kranjcar
Wigan Athletic 4-2-3-1: Al Habsi; Boyce, Gohouri, Alcaraz, Figueroa; Hendry, Diame; Stam (McArthur, 86), McCarthy, Rodallega; Boselli (Gomez, 67). Substitutes not used Pollitt (gk), Watson, S Caldwell, McManaman, Mustoe.
Booked Figueroa, Thomas
Man of the match Diame
Referee P Dowd (Staffs)
Independent News Service