Palacios loses his Wil power for Tottenham

By Ben Pearce TOTTENHAM S season has largely been defined by players who have come roaring out of the wilderness and produced their top form when it mattered most. Gareth Bale, Roman Pavlyuchenko, David Bentley, Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul. All of them

By Ben Pearce

TOTTENHAM'S season has largely been defined by players who have come roaring out of the wilderness and produced their top form when it mattered most.

Gareth Bale, Roman Pavlyuchenko, David Bentley, Michael Dawson, Younes Kaboul. All of them initially came into the team as understudies, but finished the season with an enhanced reputation at Tottenham.

However, there is another side to the coin - the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermaine Jenas and... Wilson Palacios.

Fans may be appalled to see the tough-tackling Honduran included in that list. After all, the 25-year-old has been a key man in Harry Redknapp's ability to transform soft-centred Spurs into a complete unit.

Palacios started 38 of Tottenham's 50 games in the engine room. Surely it is blindingly obvious that, not only did he play a massive part in the top-four finish, he was one of the first names on the team sheet all through the campaign.

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Well, not all the way. Palacios may have been the first central midfielder onto Redknapp's team sheet on the opening day of the season. But - despite being fit, fresh and available - the manager left him out for the two biggest matches, at home against Bolton and then away at Manchester City four days later.

"It was difficult in the last couple of games, leaving Wilson out of the team," said Redknapp. "That would never have entered my mind at one time, but we played so well when he was suspended against Arsenal and Chelsea that it was difficult. I decided to go with Tom [Huddlestone] and Luka [Modric] at Man City and it worked well for us."

He may not admit it, but the Spurs boss clearly lost some faith in Palacios towards the end of the season - and he was right to.

On his good days Palacios was virtually unplayable, breaking up every attack without anyone in the back line needing to move - the goalless FA Cup clash against Fulham at Craven Cottage springs to mind.

However, on his bad days he was clumsy, brainless and a total liability - in the 3-0 league defeat to Arsenal at the Emirates he managed to lose the ball to Cesc Fabregas from Spurs' own kick-off and then missed the tackle, with memorable consequences.

And, when the Lilywhites reached the defining stage of their season, Palacios started to have a lot of those bad days - and Tottenham started to lose.

Redknapp's side were undefeated in nine games when they travelled to Sunderland. Palacios started as usual and conceded a penalty, bundling David Meyler over from behind in the penalty area. Heurelho Gomes saved it but Spurs lost 3-1.

Palacios started again the following week, facing Portsmouth at Wembley - and he conceded a penalty, bundling Aruna Dindane over from behind. It was converted and Tottenham lost 2-0.

Palacios missed the victories over Arsenal and Chelsea but was restored to the starting line-up for the trip to Old Trafford - where he conceded a penalty, bundling Nani over from behind. Ryan Giggs scored and Spurs lost 3-1.

That was certainly Palacios' costliest error in Manchester, but he also had a day to forget in possession.

Redknapp was particularly incensed when, moments after Aaron Lennon had entered the fray, Palacios declined to play a simple ball out to the dangerous winger, choosing instead to curl the ball behind the United back line and out for a goal kick.

Three nailed-on penalties and three defeats from three starts. Meanwhile, when Palacios was excluded, Tottenham just happened to be brilliant - and tighter at the back.

The manager reverted to the central partnership of Huddlestone and Modric against Bolton and Man City. And, seeing the pair combine for their fourth straight win - as well as playing their part in two clean sheets - Redknapp admits that he has been given food for thought.

"Palacios got booked at Wembley, which looked like a massive loss for us, losing him from the midfield for the Arsenal and Chelsea games," he said. "Suddenly we had a midfield that you would have looked at and thought 'they're not strong enough'.

"But we've kept the ball and I think we've passed it well. It's been a team that's played football and I think if you keep the ball you haven't got to have people in there kicking people."

The manager back-tracked quickly: "Listen I'm not... Palacios is a fantastic player for me. All I'm saying is, we talk about having to have ball-winners, but you need people who can play at the end of the day. There's no point winning the ball if you give it away."

The intended recipient of that message was fairly clear. Redknapp's next team sheet is a long way off but, unlike last summer, it is debatable whether Palacios will be on it.