Monday 18 November 2019

Villa victory is sweet revenge for Sherwood


Christian Benteke celebrates scoring
Christian Benteke celebrates scoring

Jacob Steinberg

TIM SHERWOOD had the last laugh. He was back at White Hart Lane for the first time since he was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur at the end of last season and he will surely file this victory as the most enjoyable of his short managerial career.

There was personal and professional pride at stake. He got one over on his former employers, yes; but there was also the deeper satisfaction of seeing Aston Villa take another giant stride towards securing their Premier League status. They have breathing space now.

The identity of their goalscorer was not a surprise. Christian Benteke has been revitalised under Sherwood and his eighth goal in his past six matches was enough for Villa to beat Spurs, whose season is in danger of petering out.

It was like a scene from the red carpet when Sherwood emerged, a mass of photographers huddled around the tunnel before kick-off, waiting for the grand entrance. He was the star attraction and the cameras were trained on him, but he kept it low-key.

Were Tottenham guilty of allowing themselves to become distracted by the Sherwood sideshow? Quite possibly. Their defence was nervy without Jan Vertonghen, who was missing because of illness, and it was immediately obvious that Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor fancied their chances of exposing Tottenham's vulnerabilities.

The warning signs were there for Spurs when Vlad Chiriches, who was deputising at right-back for Kyle Walker, failed to clear his lines three times in the space of a minute. The home fans groaned when the ball went near the Romanian, Benteke often pulled away to the left to unsettle him with his strength and Villa's opener came after he conceded possession cheaply inside his own half.

From Villa's perspective, it was a fine move. Tom Cleverley sprayed a pass out to Leandro Bacuna on the right and his cross was met by Benteke, who took advantage of slack marking to elude Eric Dier and Federico Fazio, before guiding a low header into the far corner.

Villa deserved their lead and they could have extended it just before half-time, Agbonlahor outpacing Fazio and cracking a shot against the left post.

Tottenham were creaking. Sherwood had Villa's midfield assembled in a diamond formation, with Carlos Sanchez in the screening role and Jack Grealish at the tip of it.

Danny Rose had Tottenham's best chance. Christian Eriksen set him up, but Brad Guzan saved well with his feet. Fazio sent a header just over and Eriksen also threatened an equaliser, but Lee Probert's half-time whistle was greeted by loud boos from the Tottenham fans. It must have been music to Sherwood's ears. For Tottenham, it was threatening to turn into a day to forget. They were flat, passes were going astray and there was a worrying lack of invention and imagination.

A second goal for Villa felt a likelier prospect than a Tottenham equaliser and the second half began with Ron Vlaar blazing a presentable opportunity over from 15 yards out.

Sherwood was finding it increasingly difficult to contain his emotions. He had waited until the 15th minute before leaving his seat - out of concern for the stricken Ciaran Clark - and by the 32nd minute he was bellowing at the fourth official after a decision went against Villa.

The danger for Villa was that they would regret failing to make the most of their superiority and the fragility of their lead was highlighted when a shot from Rose was deflected, before a bending effort from Harry Kane grazed the bar in the 60th minute.

Villa were starting to tire, with Tottenham belatedly pushing them back. Kane was joined by Roberto Soldado in attack and the tension grew. Yet Villa were stout. Vlaar was the game's outstanding performer.

Sherwood went a shade of green when the board showed five minutes of stoppage time, and Villa could have imploded when Sanchez was sent off for two yellow cards, but the celebrations were not far away.


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