Tottenham achieved their objective of defeating Sunderland at the Stadium of Light with two goals early in the second half. The winning goal from Aaron Lennon followed quickly after an own goal had brought them level, having conceded just before the interval after dominating play and possession throughout the first half. The win sees Tottenham end 2012 on a positive note and keeps them on track for a top four finish. With the early kick-off, Spurs moved a point ahead of Chelsea into third place but the west London club play Everton on Sunday at Goodison Park.
Sunderland 1 Tottenham Hotspur 2
Scorers: O’Shea Cuellar (o.g.), Lennon
Team: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Caulker, Naughton; Lennon (Parker), Sandro, Dembele, Bale (Sigurdsson); Adebayor, Defoe (Dempsey) Subs: (unused) Friedel, Vertonghen, Huddlestone, Livermore
The Tottenham team showed two changes from the side which defeated Aston Villa on Boxing Day, Michael Dawson and Steven Caulker replaced William Gallas and Jan Vetrtonghen in central defence. Both teams went into the game in confident mood after impressive midweek wins and Sunderland were hoping for a third consecutive home win.
Tottenham once again did it the hard way. They dominated the first half keeping Sunderland penned in their own half and created chances but failed to take them. They then conceded a soft goal, against the run of play from a free-kick with five minutes to play in the half. Two early goals gave them the advantage which they could have added to but having spurned those opportunities, the last fifteen minutes required some concentrated defensive work.
The home team opened quickly and pressed the Tottenham defenders and midfield players as they looked to pass the ball out from the back with James McClean and Adam Johnson working back to support their full-backs when faced with Bale and Lennon. In the opening stages, Kyle Naughton attempted a pass into Emmanuel Adebayor on the edge of the area but a defender managed to cut it out. Gareth Bale found space on the left and crossed along the 18-yard line for Adebayor but stretching the striker could only put in a weak shot. Sunderland were awarded a free-kick in a central area but it struck Jermain Defoe and was collected easily by Hugo Lloris.
The opening ten minutes passed comfortably with both sides testing each other out. There then followed a period of Sunderland possession but Lloris dealt comfortable with the crosses into the area. Kyle Walker played a lovely pass for Lennon to get behind the home defence. He took it on and played the ball back to Mousa Dembele but he fouled the defender as he moved across the area. McClean played in a dangerous cross and when Johnson returned it into the area Dawson was there to clear the danger.
From twenty minutes on, Spurs built up a period of sustained pressure on the Sunderland defence with patient passing and probing to work an opening. Good play on the right by Walker, Defoe, Lennon and Bale worked a shooting opportunity for Sandro which the goalkeeper grabbed at the second attempt. Spurs maintained the pressure collecting the ball as Sunderland tried to clear and Lennon played in Adebayor but his shot was blocked for a corner. Lennon was lively on the right and Walker set him off on a run and cross which Bale headed over at the back post.
While Spurs were dominating the possession, the half sung on two defensive mistakes in the last fifteen minutes – one was punished, the other wasn’t. With almost thirty minutes played, more patient passing found Defoe on the edge of the area. He played the ball towards goal and when the defender, Cuellar, miscued his clearance it fell towards Adebayor who hit the bar from about three yards.
Spurs continued to press but ten minutes on a misplaced pass by Walker gave possession away. In trying to retrieve the situation he committed a foul in a dangerous position and from the free-kick, Sunderland took the lead. When the free-kick was played in, it was flicked on and Fletcher reacted quicker to the loose ball. His shot was blocked by Lloris but fell for O’Shea to score with seven minutes to play to the interval.
Spurs were stunned but got through to half-time without any further alarms.
Sunderland started quickly and won their first corner in the opening seconds of the half. Spurs then counter-attacked through Lennon but he was brought down by Cuellar who was booked. The free-kick was cleared for a corner and from Walker’s corner, retribution was swift, as Cuellar flicked the ball past his own goalkeeper within three minutes of the restart.
Three minutes later, Spurs were ahead as Lennon ran towards the area, the ball flicked off a defender but came back to him to continue towards goal and strike it past Mignolet. Spurs were delighted to have recovered the situation so quickly and going on his past record, when Lennon scores, Spurs don’t lose.
Sunderland increased their efforts to get a goal but Spurs dealt with the threat and always looked capable of adding to their lead. They had two great opportunities – with thirty minutes to play, Bale made a deep run and pulled the ball back to Defoe who took a touch before shooting but the goalkeeper somehow managed make a great save to keep the ball out. Then nine minutes from time Clint Dempsey who had replaced Defoe, played a back-heel into the path of Adebayor to take into the area and shoot but the goalkeeper got his foot to the ball to deny Spurs once again.
At the other end, Lloris coped with the crosses from corners and free-kicks, coming bravely to punch clear. With only a single goal lead, there was always the worry that another mistake or from a free-kick or corner, Sunderland could be presented with a goal but Spurs held on and took the points.
Controversy – Justice for Bale
The only controversial moment in the game was the booking of Gareth Bale for ‘diving’ in the penalty area. It came ten minutes from the end when Adebayor played Bale into the area and as he went past Gardner, the defender’s knee made contact with the back of Bale’s leg. Bale went down expecting a penalty but Mr Atkinson in his wisdom decided to issue a yellow card to Bale for ‘simulation’. It being Bale’s fifth yellow card, he will be suspended for the next match against Reading on New Year’s Day at White Hart Lane.
Both Andre Villas-Boas and Bale spoke on this issue after the match. The manager said,
“It’s a big mistake from the referee. Sometimes reputations are created unfairly in the media and it’s a bit unfair. Gardner does not focus on the ball, he goes to the player and clips him. It looks like persecution.”
Gareth Bale defended himself against claims of diving, saying,
“It’s the same thing every time. It’s the third time I’ve been clipped this season and I’ve been booked for no reason again. It’s one of those things. There’s nothing I can do about it. Referees have to look closer I think.”
The win ends a good December for Spurs who have won 4 and drawn one of their six League games. They are now third, one point ahead of Chelsea. It’s a good position to be in and gives Spurs a good base for going into the New Year. Confidence is high in the team and they showed resilience against a well-organised and hard working Sunderland team. They started 2012 in 3rd position and if Everton were to beat Chelsea by a single goal, Spurs would retain their third place. As I said in the match preview, now perhaps, the doubters will start to believe in what Andre Villas-Boas is doing for the club.