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By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent, at White Hart Lane
Monday, April 9, 2012
Premier League: Tottenham 1 Norwich City 2
Tottenham’s hopes of a top-four finish have been dealt a devastating blow after Norwich inflicted their third Premier League home defeat of the season.
Having been held to a goalless draw at Sunderland on Saturday, Spurs’ clash with the Canaries was the epitome of a ‘must-win game’.
However, Paul Lambert’s visitors took the lead in north London and, although Jermain Defoe equalised to leave the scores at 1-1 at the interval, Elliott Bennett hit a 25-yard winner to rock the Lilywhites.
That left Tottenham with just one win in their last eight league games – and their misery was compounded by Newcastle’s home win over Bolton, leaving the Magpies level with Harry Redknapp’s side on points.
Spurs will also be anxious spectators when Chelsea visit Fulham this evening, giving Roberto Di Matteo’s Blues the chance to leapfrog both of their rivals into fourth place.
With the Lilywhites playing their second game in three days, there were five changes from the side that had been held to a goalless draw at Sunderland on Saturday.
Ledley King replaced William Gallas in the rearguard, while Aaron Lennon, Jake Livermore, Louis Saha and Defoe also came into the team as Redknapp reverted to 4-4-2.
Scott Parker was rested – he was not even among the substitutes – as the England captain missed only his fourth Premier League game of the season.
There was a nervy, subdued atmosphere around the Lane in the opening exchanges, with the home fans being drowned out by their enthusiastic visitors – almost as if both sets of spectators knew what was coming.
It was Tottenham who had the first sight of goal as Defoe teed up Saha, whose shot was spilled by John Ruddy, but Norwich were first to the loose ball.
The Canaries looked just as threatening though and Grant Holt lost his marker Ledley King, who looked rusty to say the least, necessitating a covering tackle from Kyle Walker.
That opening proved to be a warning shot, and 13 minutes in Spurs’ worst nightmares came true as Paul Lambert’s side took the lead.
Younes Kaboul took a heavy touch and was robbed by Anthony Pilkington. Walker stepped in again but his clearance hit the hapless King and fell to Pilkington, who slotted past Brad Friedel from six yards.
Tottenham were worryingly below-par in virtually every position, but Gareth Bale suddenly came to the fore, racing 70 yards and seeing his shot blocked by Russell Martin.
Kaboul and Modric then broke from a Norwich free-kick and worked the ball left to the Welshman, whose deadly first-time ball across the goalmouth somehow evaded the sliding Defoe.
Just after the hour-mark the Canaries were screaming for a penalty – only to concede an equaliser at the other end moments later.
King certainly appeared to foul Holt in the box, but referee Michael Oliver waved away the frantic appeals. Lambert raced across Spurs’ technical area to confront the fourth official – and his anguish was quickly compounded as the hosts levelled.
Norwich lost the ball on the halfway line and Livermore played an inch-perfect through ball to Defoe, who raced through on goal and chipped the ball delicately over Ruddy.
A livid Lambert nearly saw his side hit straight back as Jonny Howson’s free-kick fell to Elliott Ward, whose back-post volley was saved by Friedel.
And, although Spurs began to play with increasing urgency, they suffered another blow just before the interval as Kaboul limped off – replaced by Ryan Nelsen.
Redknapp also swapped Emmanuel Adebayor for the ineffective Saha at the interval, and Tottenham made an encouraging start to the second half, with Bale seeing a powerful shot from the edge of the area bravely charged down by Martin.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto then exchanged passes with Adebayor and went through one on one with Ruddy, who stood tall and made a vital save.
Norwich were hardly on the back foot though and, just before the hour-mark, Holt got to the by-line and chipped across goal for Bradley Johnson, who was all alone at the back post but skied his volley wastefully over the bar.
Norwich were crying for another penalty soon after as Adebayor seemed to push Aaron Wilbraham but, again, referee Oliver declined to award the spot-kick.
Spurs nearly piled on the agony for the second time as Bale ended a superb passing move by cutting in from the right side of the area and curling the ball onto the underside of the bar.
What followed was a thrilling period of end-to-end football – and it was Norwich who regained the lead as Spurs’ midfield struggled to get back from a foray forward, and Elliott Bennett thumped a 25-yard rocket past the unsighted, rooted Friedel.
With 20 minutes to go, Redknapp responded by introducing Rafael van der Vaart in place of Livermore – but it was Norwich who created the final noteworthy chance as Steve Morison headed across goal, narrowly missing the onrushing Simeon Jackson at the back post.
Spurs have an FA Cup semi-final against Chelsea to look forward to next weekend, but their dreams of Champions League football – which looked secure a few weeks ago – now hang in the balance.
Tottenham: Friedel, Walker, Kaboul (Nelsen 44), King, Assou-Ekotto, Lennon, Livermore (Van der Vaart 70), Modric, Bale, Saha (Adebayor 45), Defoe