Sunday 22 April 2018

Spurs in a spot ofbother

Penalty curse continues as Jaaskelainen save denies Huddlestone

Rory Smith

THERE is only so much practice can do, only so far hard work can go. At some point, Harry Redknapp would suggest, it is time to call the witch doctor in.

Tottenham's players, staff and supporters may have found it in themselves to celebrate when Phil Dowd handed them a penalty with this absorbing tie finely poised at 1-1, but it was more in hope than expectation. From 12 yards, Redknapp's team are cursed.

The Tottenham manager has done his best to lift the hex. He removed Jermain Defoe from spot-kick duties after his miss against Leeds in the previous round took his tally to six failures from his last 10 attempts. Here, he replaced him with Tom Huddlestone, a player of power and precision, when Sam Ricketts's hand interfered with Peter Crouch's ball-juggling exhibition.

Whatever sorcery is afflicting Spurs, though, remains. As Joe Jordan, Harry Redknapp's softly spoken lieutenant, acknowledged after the game, they "have had a bad season with penalties".

That may be understating it. Before his miss against Leeds, Defoe had fluffed his lines against Everton at Goodison Park in the Premier League and Robbie Keane failed with his initial strike against David Moyes's team in the Carling Cup.

Any hope their malady would be cured by handing responsibility to Huddlestone proved to be bunk. According to Jordan, "he hits them with power in training". Not here. Jussi Jaaskelainen, ever impressive, guessed right, clawing the ball away without even extending himself fully. It was Spurs' fourth miss from their last five penalties. "We need to do a bit more practising," smiled Jordan.

Bolton, at least, would have had every right to feel aggrieved had Tottenham managed to throw off their jinx here. Owen Coyle's side had overpowered and overrun their guests for much of the first hour.

By the time Kevin Davies opened the scoring, capping a flowing, 17-pass move with a cool finish, Johan Elmander had twice passed up chances. The Swede, for so long a £9m albatross around the departed Gary Megson's neck, may remain a symbol of all that went wrong with Coyle's predecessor's reign, but he is beginning to offer glimpses of the talent which made him one of Europe's most coveted strikers two years ago.

He saw one effort blocked by Vedran Corluka, he ballooned another high into the stands, but only after an excellent first touch had taken Ricardo Gardner's through ball away from Ledley King. And it was Elmander who was crucial in handing the hosts the lead. He powered through a static Spurs defence, exchanging passes with Chung-Yong Lee and picking out Davies at the far post.

Bolton would live to regret not adding to their lead. In Coyle's accurate assessment, the visitors dominated merely the last half-hour, suddenly finding themselves on the front foot after the hosts seemed to run out of steam.

Twice in a minute Spurs hit the bar, first as Crouch beat Jaaskelainen to Defoe's chipped cross, then when Paul Robinson stumbled onto Wilson Palacios's cutback and the ball clipped the bar and spun over. Bolton did not heed the warning signs.

Gareth Bale, impressive on the left, scampered down the touchline, eased past Gretar Steinsson, sauntered into the box and picked out Defoe, inexplicably unmarked on the penalty spot. One touch to set himself and a fearsome, rising drive past Jaaskelainen. If only, Redknapp no doubt mused, just a few minutes later, Huddlestone had done the same.

Coyle felt his side should have put the tie beyond doubt a long time before they allowed their opponents to grab an equaliser.

"It was a fantastic cup tie with numerous opportunities," said Coyle.

"Harry said to me at full-time he thought it was a game of two halves but I think it was a game of an hour for us with the last half-hour going to Tottenham.

"For large periods of the game we were in the ascendancy." (©Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport