Tottenham Come Within Spitting Distance of Chelsea in 3rd place as Popov Pops off Early in the Second Half
West Bromwich Albion Tottenham Hotspur
Team: Lloris; Walker (Gallas), Dawson, Vertonghen, Assou-Ekotto; Lennon (Sigurdsson), Parker, Dembele, Bale; Dempsey, Defoe (Holtby) Subs: (unused) Friedel, Naughton, Huddlestone, Livermore
Tottenham retained the team which started at Norwich and had fought back with a second half equaliser. Andre Villas-Boas kept Lewis Holtby on the substitutes’ bench but Bale started in a more central midfield role behind Defoe with Clint Dempsey out wide. Shane Long and Romelu Lukaku started together for WBA for only the second time in the Premier League this season as Albion changed to an attacking 4 – 4 – 2 formation.
An even first ended goalless with neither team able to turn possession into a goal. Tottenham’s central defence again looked suspect under the long, high ball and when Albion counter-attacked quickly. Tottenham’s only first-half attempt on target came in the time added on for Defoe’s injury when Foster saved a great shot from Gareth Bale after a run from midfield.
In an open match, play swung from end to end. Albion were always quick in the challenge wanting to play the ball forward to Shane Long and Romula Lukaku who linked well. Hugo Lloris had to react quickly when Albion broke and made early saves from Long. Albion battled hard and were quick to the ball, threatening on the break. Bale and Lennon provided the threat for Spurs who dominated the early possession but had to be aware of the threat posed by Long and Lukaku. Defoe almost got behind the home defence but Foster was quickly out to hack clear.
There was a great contrast in style with Albion constantly busy around the pitch while Spurs were trying to play patiently, passing back and forward across the pitch as they endeavoured to work an opportunity to create a telling pass. The number of Spurs corners built up but without causing Foster any problems. Defoe twisted his left ankle as he challenged for the ball and after treatment and having it strapped he was unable to continue. Holtby came on for his second appearance and was immediately involved, playing behind Clint Dempsey who took on the striker’s role with Bale going wide on the left.
At the start of the second half, the match was there for either team to win but Popov’s dismissal was to make it very difficult for Albion who have yet to win in 2013. Albion retreated into their own half as Spurs completely dominated the second half and although they only scored once, Foster had already denied Holtby and Bale on a couple of occasions before the latter finally found the back of the net with 23 minutes to play. Later, he was to rescue Albion with further saves from Dempsey and Bale.
Tottenham’s goal came after patient passing between Lennon, Holtby, Bale, Walker and Bale who collected the ball again and went towards the edge of the area and from the middle fired a shot past Foster, giving him no chance.
Spurs saw out the game with little threat from Albion who made only occasional forays into the Spurs half and any threat came from a set-piece but Lloris dealt comfortably with the high ball. Gareth Bale again proved the difference for Spurs after Popov was sent off but Lewis Holtby gave a very gaccomplished all-round performance looking to be involved in every aspect of Tottenham’s play.
Tottenham took advantage of Saturday’s results to move three points ahead of Everton and four above Arsenal. They have brought Chelsea into the battle for the final Champions League places, being only one point behind the Stamford Bridge club. Next up are Newcastle who have strengthened their team during the transfer window and look a completely different side to that which was playing before Christmas. Another difficult match ahead for Spurs who will wait anxiously for news about Defoe’s injury and the availability of Emmanuel Adebayor.