Queen’s Park Rangers 0 Tottenham Hotspur 0
Team: Lloris; Walker, Dawson, Vertonghen, Naughton; Lennon (Sigurdsson), Sandro (Parker), Dembele, Bale; Adebayor (Dempsey), Defoe Subs: (unused) Friedel, Caulker, Assou-Ekotto, Huddlestone
Andre Villas-Boas had almost a full squad to select from, with only William Gallas and Younes Kaboul out through injury. He selected the players who have taken Spurs to four wins in the last five League games as Hugo Lloris returned in goal after the Cup match. Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen were in central defence with Kyle Walker and Kyle Naughton at full-back. The midfield four were Aaron Lennon, Sandro, Mousa Dembele and Gareth Bale with Emmanuel Adebayor in his last game before the Africa Cup of Nations partnering Jermain Defoe.
The match was played in a good atmosphere for a lunch-time kick-off with both sets of supporters vocal in support of their team. The game started quickly with Tottenham making the early pace and they would have been ahead inside five minutes as good work by Defoe brought a great save from Julio Cesar who touched his shot onto the post and when the rebound fell to Adebayor the goalkeeper again got a touch on the ball to deny the Spurs striker.
Tottenham maintained their early dominance but Rangers were competing all around the pitch to deny Spurs. Rangers pressed and harried the Spurs midfield and strikers giving them no time to dwell on the ball. With five across midfield, Adel Taarabt was the lone striker and Rangers looked to him for some creative inspiration. After 11 minutes, Taarabt found Wright-Phillips whose trickery took him into the area. With Walker and Lloris trying to close him down, it was Dawson who managed to get a block on the resulting shot.
Rangers were looking to contain but break quickly from defence and after 20 minutes, it was Tottenham who had had the greater possession with 61%. A few minutes later, Scott Parker replaced Sandro who had to be helped off with a knee injury. Parker was immediately involved in linking play in midfield and was always busy but when Spurs got to the edge of the Rangers area they could never find a way through the packed defence. After the bright start the match lost its impetus as Rangers were quicker to the ball and ready to pick up any loose ball.
Spurs again started brighter after the interval and good interplay between Adebayor and Defoe saw Defoe brought down as he made his way towards the area. Bale took the free-kick which Cesar held at the second attempt. Then Parker picked up the ball inside the Rangers’ half from a defenders’ headed clearance and progressed towards goal. His shot from 25 yards went just over the bar. After five minutes of the half, Lennon was brought down on the edge of the area but Walker’s free-kick, also, went over the bar. Two minutes later, Adebayor played Defoe in but his shot was deflected off the goalkeeper’s legs for another corner.
The second half had started like the first with Spurs getting forward and Rangers working hard in defence. There was a build up of Tottenham pressure and possession but Rangers denied them and by the mid-point of the half they had done well to stifle Spurs’ threat and they were trying to get forward themselves. Adebayor had two opportunities to shoot but delayed and the ball was cleared for a corner. Immediately after this Dempsey replaced, the Africa Cup of Nations bound striker.
Rangers were clearly eager to hold out for a point but when Fabio got forward on the left his cross went across goal with no-one following up for Rangers. Another moment of danger came two minutes later when Taarabt played Wright-Phillips in but Lloris came charging out of his area to clear the danger. The game was getting frenetic with no-one having any time on the ball and Tottenham’s poor first touch was frequently allowing Rangers players to step in and claim possession.
As time went on, while Tottenham had possession, they rarely threatened but there was always the worry of a quick break from Rangers through Taarabt. With six minutes left, he again released Wright-Phillips but the winger mis-kicked as he broke into the area.
Tottenham, as they do when faced with a packed defence, ran out of ideas. Bale and Lennon who was substituted with ten minutes to go could get no space on the wings and Rangers kept the play tight to take the point.
Adebayor who will be away for the next few matches with Togo had a poor match – his first touch let him down so often – giving the ball away as he tried to lay it off to a colleague or dwelling on the ball, allowing the defender to step in and clear.
Harry Redknapp knew exactly how to prevent Spurs from playing their usual game – he had experienced other teams doing it over the previous couple of seasons. He was clearly delighted with the result and his players’ performance. On the BBC web-site, both managers commented,
“We worked our socks off against a real top team today. I can’t ask for more than that. We restricted to them very few opportunities. That was the quietest I’ve seen Gareth Bale for many a year.”
Rangers sat deep, denying Bale and Lennon the opportunity to use their pace to get behind the defence. Every time Spurs had the ball they were closed down and had no time to pick a pass.
Andre Villas-Boas tried to be optimistic after the match,
“They defended very well; we wanted to play with a higher tempo, but they frustrate you. Julio Cesar had a great game. We had some big chances; in a game like this it’s important to score first. It was a difficult game for us, but we got an away point so we are satisfied.”
This result was a disappointment for Tottenham and may define their season as one in which they will be vying for fourth place with a number of clubs rather than aiming for a higher finish.