Saturday 18 January 2020

Spurs fail to find first gear

Tottenham 0
Wigan 1

PAUL DOYLE at White Hart Lane

Tottenham were booed off at half-time, booed throughout the second period and then booed off at full-time.

It is fair to say the White Hart Lane natives are disgruntled; fair also to say they have just cause. This was a pungent Tottenham performance, righteously punished by a Wigan side who showed all the dynamism and creativity that Spurs lacked.

One of the curiosities of Tottenham's campaign so far is that they remain on the brink of the top four despite having played well only in patches. It is all very well winning at Old Trafford for the first time in 23 years, but that victory in September has been offset by dreadful home displays, of which this was the worst so far.

The home side were insipid here for the first hour and the improvement was only marginal after Ben Watson gave Wigan a deserved lead in the 56th minute. Even before that strike, Tottenham had been lucky to reach the break level with Wigan having failed to take advantage of three clear chances.

Spurs had a lot of the ball but few ideas, passing impotently from side to side. Wigan kept their shape and kept their humdrum hosts at bay, then broke with speed and style, with Arouna Kone, Shaun Maloney and Franco Di Santo proving a wonderfully slick trio.

Kone and Maloney conjured the first chance in the 27th minute before the Ivorian let fly from 15 yards. He struck his shot well but it was too close to Brad Friedel, who batted it wide.

Six minutes later Wigan cut through Tottenham in an even better move, Kone and Di Santo swapping passes before feeding Maloney. Again the forward had the whole goal to aim at, but ended up putting it too near Friedel, who parried again.

Just before the break Kone launched another attack before cutting a pass back across the edge of the area. Maloney let it run to Watson, who fired just over.

All Ali Al-Habsi had to do at the other end was clasp a 20-yard volley from Jan Vertonghen following an inadequately-cleared Tottenham corner in the 20th minute.

With Wigan keeping Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale subdued, Spurs might have hoped that inspiration would come from central midfield but Clint Dempsey, Tom Huddlestone and Gylfi Sigurdsson -- a first-half replacement for the injured Sandro -- were all ponderous.

Wigan finally broke through when Friedel flapped at a Maloney corner and the ball fell to the unmarked Watson just eight yards out, who rammed it over the line.

Andre Villas-Boas acted immediately, introducing Emmanuel Adebayor, but at the expense of Jermain Defoe, a decision that was angrily denounced by the home crowd, baffled by the withdrawal of the team's top scorer in a time of great need.

Spurs improved slightly, at last injecting urgency into their play. They now had the will, but still lacked the wit to find a way. A curling 20-yard drive from Bale in the 65th minute brought Al-Habsi's most difficult save of the game.

Meanwhile, at the other end, Wigan continued to threaten, with Maynor Figueroa firing a free-kick just over and the superb Kone going close late on.

"Many people will look at this result and think Wigan came defensive-minded and sneaked a win, but I am very proud that we came here and played well for 90 minutes and created numerous chances and could have won by a bigger scoreline," Roberto Martinez said with reason.

Villas-Boas acknowledged that "Wigan were excellent", but also lamented that it had "probably been our worst performance since I've been at the club".

He added: "We couldn't find ourselves today, we couldn't recognise ourselves. We assume the responsibility for the defeat, particularly the technical staff, and hopefully we can bounce back."

But the Spurs manager rejected the suggestion that withdrawing Defoe reflected a negative approach, saying that he did mirror the crowd's wishes by switching to two up front as Dempsey went to play alongside Adebayor. He added alarmingly: "But when the opponent is so superior, a change to the system is not going to change anything."


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