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Tottenham return to earth with dull thud after midweek drama

It always felt as though Tottenham Hotspur would be hard pushed to follow the drama and emotion of their Champions League tie against Internazionale at the San Siro on Wednesday night.

Against a renascent Everton, their return to the bread and butter of the Premier League came with a dull thud.

There was a flatness about proceedings here at White Hart Lane, particularly in the second-half, as the home crowd were left to lament the energy-sapping demands on their players. This difficult fixture came a little over 48 hours after Harry Redknapp's men had boarded the return flight from Milan.

Everton offered little as an attacking threat but they managed to subdue Tottenham's principle attacking dangers, namely Rafael van der Vaart and the man-of-the-moment Gareth Bale. Van der Vaart ended up taking his frustrations out on an advertising hoarding, after a decision went against him. The Dutchman, who was booked for dissent, ought now be able to attest to the solidity of the pitch-side boards.

He could do the same with the Everton back-line, who conceded in the Premier League for the first time in five-and-a-half hours only when the goalkeeper Tim Howard dropped an almighty clanger. Phil Neville and his defensive cohorts emerged with honours.

"The ammunition that Tottenham have got coming forward is always going to test you," said the Everton manager David Moyes. "But the defenders stuck to their jobs. Phil Neville is a great leader and the team seems to function much better with him in it. He motivates, cajoles and today, he did some canny defending on Bale as well."

Harry Redknapp, the Tottenham manager, had to admit that Neville had played Bale "as well as anyone has done for a while" and he noted that John Heitinga had "got around" Van der Vaart, serving to fracture his rhythm.

Redknapp could be pleased with the performance of Younes Kaboul in his defence. "Younes has got everything to be a top centre-half," he said.

Tottenham seem intent these days on making things more interesting by giving their opponents a head start and so it surprised nobody when Everton went ahead. It was a goal laced with individual brilliance. Leighton Baines sized up a 20-yard free-kick and, with the sweetest of swishes of his left boot, he bent the ball over the wall and into the top corner. Mikel Arteta's absence with a hamstring injury had a fringe benefit for Everton.

"Someone said that Leighton normally can't get Mikel off those free-kicks," said Moyes, with a smile. "But Leighton does have that ability. I actually thought the Tottenham wall was too big and I hoped that he didn't try to go over it."

If the opening goal was a thing of beauty, then the equaliser was a contender for the end-of-year blooper reels. Alan Hutton's right-wing cross offered a simple opportunity for Howard to claim but, shockingly, he missed his punch. Peter Crouch smuggled the ball back from beyond the far post and Van der Vaart smashed home from about half a yard, the most straightforward, by some distance, of his five goals in the last six games. It was not Howard's first howler of the season. He was badly at fault for Blackburn Rovers' winning goal on the opening day.

"Tim came in at half-time and said it was his fault," Moyes said. "It was a misjudgment or maybe the sun was in his eyes, I don't know. But I said it was important that he kept going, that he kept coming for the ball and he did."

Tottenham created openings but it was not their day or Crouch's. He felt that he should have had a penalty in the first-half when Neville nudged him into Phil Jagielka but there was less doubt that he ought to have put his team ahead in the 45th minute. From Hutton's cross, he rose unchallenged but his header lacked power.

The second-half drifted. Crouch had chances only to lack conviction and Bale glanced wide from the substitute Sandro's cross. Everton had looked happy with the point for some time.


Sunday Independent