Saturday 25 November 2017

Stalemate for Spurs in battle for fourth


Simon Burnton at White Hart Lane

The fight for fourth place continues with no side prepared to produce a knockout blow.

Both of these teams aspire to Champions League football, and Tottenham would have returned to the top four with a win here, but after an invigorating first half they produced a comparatively pallid second and though the home side threw themselves forward with mounting desperation towards the end a goalless draw, Villa's third in four league games, was the result.

It was perhaps just as well that Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, had rubbished the recent suggestion of his Arsenal counterpart, Arsene Wenger, that Villa play a long-ball game.

There was no doubt which side employed that tactic with more regularity here, such was the regularity with which the home side launched the ball from their own half towards Peter Crouch.

Spurs can hardly be blamed for relying on such a potent weapon. Crouch played his part to perfection, rarely losing possession and twice in the opening 20 minutes touching long balls neatly into the path of Luka Modric, the Croat shooting weakly in the fourth minute and returning the ball to Crouch in the 18th only for Brad Friedel to save smartly.

The recent defensive record of both sides -- it had been three minutes shy of five matches, and almost two months, since any visiting player scored here in the league, while Villa arrived in search of a fourth successive clean sheet in this competition -- suggested that such chances might prove hard to come by.

Villa's hopes deteriorated further when Emile Heskey was injured early on in a collision with Wilson Palacios, but both sides still enjoyed very decent opportunities to score.

Friedel brilliantly saved from the Spurs captain after a Modric free-kick.

At the other end, Heurelho Gomes pushed away James Milner's low shot in the 28th minute and rose quickly to save Gabriel Agbonlahor's follow-up effort.

The steady flow of chances did not survive half-time. In the first 15 minutes after the interval both Stewart Downing and Ashley Young sent free-kicks from dangerous positions well over, while the impressive Tom Huddlestone produced a low shot from 20 yards that Friedel was just able to push around the goalpost.

Jermain Defoe was largely peripheral. With Villa's defence apparently in control they enjoyed a productive spell, though all they had to show for it was a couple of half-hearted efforts from Heskey's replacement, John Carew.

Spurs threw bodies forward in a final quarter-hour that they totally dominated, but their attacks simply gave the visiting defence further opportunity to prove their excellence.

With 10 minutes remaining Defoe was played in for the first time, only for Richard Dunne to steal the ball off his toes.

The ball fell to Crouch, whose shot from 20 yards deflected narrowly wide. Then in the 90th minute Dawson headed a corner to Crouch, who improvised a backheel that, like so much of what preceded it, was not quite good enough.


Sunday Independent

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