Inside Lane: A Spurs fan’s view of the victory at Sunderland
Tottenham blogger Daniel Grigg looks back on the 2-1 win over Marton O’Neill’s Black Cats at the Stadium of Light.
Tottenham’s sixth win from their last eight Premier League games continued their fantastic resurgence in form since the gutting 5-2 derby day defeat to Arsenal in mid-November.
Luck played a role, courtesy of Carlos Cuellar’s awfully misdirected header flying emphatically beyond his own goalkeeper, but Sunderland couldn’t have complained about the final result, such was the manner of Spurs’ performance.
Absences in Martin O’Neill’s defence proved much costlier than those in Tottenham’s. O’Neill was forced to field Craig Gardner at right-back despite him being a natural midfielder, and Matthew Kilgallon as a left-back despite him also being a natural centre-back, of the tall but not so fleet-footed variety. Both were hopelessly ill-equipped to deal with the threats posed by Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon respectively down the wings.
Lennon was the source of almost every bright moment Spurs had in the first half, creating chances for Emmanuel Adebayor and Bale with a neat through ball and a floated cross after getting in down the right.
He then put his pace to even better use, punishing Sunderland for their lack of squad depth with the winning goal, beating John O’Shea and utterly outpacing the converging defenders and fast-approaching goalkeeper before showing the poise and composure to neatly curl his finish into the back of the net under pressure.
As with the previous weekend against Stoke City, much of Sunderland’s attacking emphasis was coming down the wings and from crosses into the box, so the two Kyles [Walker and Naughton] were bound to come under particular scrutiny. They made up half of a pretty rare all-English back four, alongside Michael Dawson and Steven Caulker, with Jan Vertonghen left on the bench for the first time in a while.
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Walker made a terrible error in conceding possession cheaply in the build-up to the first goal – which was completely against the run of play and almost as though he was starting to find things all too comfortable - but both he and Naughton coped very well, particularly in the second half once Spurs had a lead to defend.
Tottenham have conceded just three goals in six league matches throughout the high-octane month of December, when all of their rivals at the top of the league – including the top two - seem to have been giving away goals for fun. It seems Spurs are now learning and adapting to Andre Villas-Boas’ pressing style of defence. Even Michael Dawson, with his lack of pace, is showing that it can work.
That pressing game ensures that the opposition have to be pretty precise and confident on the ball just to work it deep in Tottenham’s half, unless they want to simply hurl crosses into the box - and Spurs have the height and physicality to deal with that direct approach most of the time anyway.
Our closing down, harassing and ball stealing in the other team’s half not only breaks up their rhythm, it also becomes a launch-pad for our own counter-attacks from higher up the pitch. Adebayor nearly scored from one such occasion as Sunderland looked to break out and were closed down near the halfway line.
The faith shown by Villas-Boas in certain players who were less favoured by Harry Redknapp has also been vital - three in particular are really grabbing their opportunities and making themselves integral to the way the manager sets out his sides to play.
Saturday’s man-of-the-match Lennon started just 19 Premier League matches in 2011-12, while Sandro started just 17 and Defoe, amazingly, only 11.
Sandro and Lennon have started all 20 of the league games so far in 2012-13, with Defoe just a game behind on 19, having been surprisingly left out of the starting XI for the 2-1 defeat at Manchester City, when Adebayor started up front on his own against his old club. That came just three days after Defoe’s hat-trick against Maribor in the Europa League.
Tottenham’s next fixture pits them against 19th-placed Reading at White Hart Lane tomorrow – the side who gave Villas-Boas his first win at Spurs manager back in September.
But anyone who was unfortunate enough to watch Reading’s 1-0 victory over West Ham on Saturday will know exactly how manager Brian McDermott intends to set his stall out so it will be up to Tottenham’s attackers, who will be missing the suspended Bale, to break down their defensive wall as swiftly as possible.