Match Of The Week 3: Tottenham Hotspur 2-0 Aston Villa
With seven wins from eight games and twenty-two points from a possible twenty-four, the sun is rising over the white and navy blue corner of North London at the moment. This evening’s match against Aston Villa was one at which Tottenham Hotspur might, in other years, have chosen to fluff their lines, and Spurs supporters are rather over-familiar with their club’s predilection for getting to the point of achievement before contriving to find a way to allow it to slip through their hands. Tonight, though, they ambled through a weak Aston Villa performance with two first half goals from Emmanuel Adebayor, a player who has rapidly becoming an essential on Harry Redknapp’s team-sheet, but the final score-line was one which barely reflected the home side’s dominance.
In some respects, White Hart Lane was built for evenings like this, with its high, gaunt stands almost visibly moving to the noise of the crowd as the players pick each other through a thin sheen of mist below. The home crowd didn’t have to wait very long for something to lift their mood. After just over eleven minutes, Aaron Lennon, an impish presence on the wing, skipped to the byline and crossed from the right for Adebayor, but the striker headed narrowly wide. If Adebayor was still adjusting his sights, he didn’t have to wait very long for a second chance. Three minutes later, Villa failed to clear a corner and the ball was lifted back into the penalty area for Adebayor, free of the attention of anything as inconvenient as a marker, to drop his shoulder and over-head volley the ball wide of Shay Given and into the bottom corner of the goal to give Spurs the lead.
As the half wore on, Tottenham’s confidence continued to grow but it wasn’t until five minutes from half-time that they doubled their lead, and when they did it was at least partly thanks to something of a slice of luck. Gareth Bale’s low cross from the left was troubling but shouldn’t have been life-threatening. James Collins and Shay Given, however, seemed to distract each other from delivering the ball to safety and it squirmed loose for Adebayor, who was surely unable to believe his luck, to prod the ball into the goal from barely a yard out. Villa had managed a couple of half-chances of their own over the course of the opening forty-five minutes, but Spurs were good value for their comfortable half-time lead.
Early in the second half, Adebayor might have completed a hat-trick when he was released for a free run on goal, but this time he took a couple of seconds too long to get the ball fully under control and, with Given appearing in his peripheral vision, could only angle his low shot wide of the post. For all that Aston Villa huffed and puffed, Spurs were utterly in control, with Lennon in particular giving Stephen Warnock a particularly torrid evening on the right-hand side and while Villa managed to at least give the Spurs defence a couple of moments to briefly cross their minds in the last twenty minutes, they did so without ever seriously threatening Brad Friedel’s goal. This evening, it can only be concluded, was a very comfortable late shift at the office for Tottenham Hotspur.
Was was notable about the build-up to this match amongst the supporters of Aston Villa was something of a “Will he, won’t he?” theme over whether Rafael Van Der Vaart would start this evening, having picked up a hamstring injury during the recent round of international matches. That he did play but was only required to take a relatively peripheral role says a lot about Spurs’ success in recent matches. With Adebayor on this sort of form and with Lennon and Bale providing something akin to the full-back’s living nightmare on the wings, Spurs have a plethora of attacking options which are proving difficult for most to deal with at the moment. Spurs didn’t need Van Der Vaart to be any more than a peripheral figure, with the confidence that is now visibly flowing through the team providing a perfect balance between control and assertion.
The importance of this evening’s result for Spurs cannot really be understated. They went into the match level on points with Chelsea, but with two games in hand on their rivals. The win allowed them to leapfrog not only Chelsea – they are now three points ahead of their London rivals with a game in hand, but also Newcastle United and into third place in the table. There is a long way to go of the season, of course, and the gap between Spurs and the two Manchester clubs was demonstrated amply in the sound in which they were beaten by both of them at the beginning of the season. On recent form, however, we can only conclude, that Spurs would be plenty capable of giving either of these sides much more of a game than they could manage in August. As such, the title may well be beyond Tottenham Hotspur for this season, but a return to the Champions League at the end of this season certainly doesn’t seem to be.
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