Spurs Review of 2009 Part XI: Tottenham 9 Wigan 1

SPURS went into November hoping to recover quickly from successive league defeats – against Wolves and Arsenal. Sunderland were the opposition at White Hart Lane...


By Ben Pearce

SPURS went into November hoping to recover quickly from successive league defeats - against Wolves and Arsenal.

Sunderland were the opposition at White Hart Lane. Fraizer Campbell, Andy Reid, Steed Malbranque and Marton Fulop all appeared against their old club, but it was the return of Darren Bent which stole the headlines.

Harry Redknapp opted for an ambitious attacking line-up, omitting Niko Kranjcar from the midfield and playing all three of Robbie Keane, Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe.

The plan initially seemed to be working as Keane gave the hosts a 12th-minute lead, bundling the ball over the line after Crouch's header had been saved by Craig Gordon.

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However, Sunderland provided a stern challenge and had the perfect chance to equalise from the penalty spot in the second half.

Step forward Bent, with a chance to land a heavy blow after two frustrating seasons at Tottenham, but Heurelho Gomes saved, and Tom Huddlestone's 68th-minute strike gave Spurs a flattering victory.

The post-match inquest revealed that Bent had changed his usual penalty routine, because he feared that former team-mate Gomes would know it.

The goalkeeper said: "I was shown his last 10 penalties and normally he goes to my right side, his left. I just waited for him, for his decision. I thought 'he's going to the other side'. In that time you have to be calm and wait for the striker's decision."

Jonathan Woodgate added: "Benty told me that he normally goes the other way, but he thought Gomes would read him, so he changed his mind."

Woodgate was doubly happy at the final whistle, having just completed his first 90 minutes of the season. The centre-back had previously returned against Stoke, but had limped out of the fray after just 14 minutes. Unfortunately his groin problem has returned, and he has made just one appearance since the win over the Black Cats.

Tottenham announced that the name of their new stadium will be sold to a sponsor, also revealing that the ground could then change its name every 15 years or so.

Executive director Paul Barber said: "Our view is that naming right sponsorship deals need to be done for 10, 15 or 20 years. I think Emirates is a good example. It will be very interesting to see what happens when that deal comes up for renewal.

"Our stadium, when its built, is going to be a generation beyond Arsenal's - technologically and environmentally it's going to be more advanced. We think the uniqueness of our stadium, with the fans' home end terrace, gives it that point of difference that will make it more iconic than Arsenal's.

"We've said from the start that our new stadium is going to be as technologically advanced as any other stadium in the world - if not more so.

"Of course there are fans who would much prefer it to retain the White Hart Lane name. But I know from speaking to fans that they just want this new stadium built."

Meanwhile, Spurs' annual financial figures revealed that Spurs had spent �148.7million on 21 new signings inside 18 months, over the course of three transfer windows since June 2008.

The club had, however, also dispensed with the services of 21 players, cashing �93.3m from the sales and bringing the total outlay on recruitment down to a more modest �54.4m.

As the Lilywhites enjoyed a week off due to an international break, Niko Kranjcar announced that the club were benefiting from their failure to qualify for Europe in the previous campaign.

"I think it's definitely a good thing that we're not competing in the Europa League. We're a team that is still learning and growing, getting to know one another, so spending more time in training situations I think is proving invaluable," he said.

"It's obvious too that with fewer first-team matches our players are fitter, and both mentally and physically we appear fresh all of the time.

"Sometimes it's not the games themselves that are tiring but the travelling. While it's a shame we didn't make it into the Europa League, I think in the long-term the players and the fans will see it as a good thing.

"I have had some good experiences of European football and certainly wouldn't have come to Tottenham if I didn't think there would be more around the corner.

"It's a wonderful thing to be involved in, and I certainly think we're well equipped to be playing in Europe every year from now."

Spurs stars Jermaine Jenas, Crouch and Defoe all appeared for England in the Three Lions' 1-0 defeat against Brazil, while Tom Huddlestone made his debut for Fabio Capello's outfit as a second-half substitute.

Meanwhile, Spurs were left reeling by the news that Carlo Cudicini had suffered "potentially life-changing" injuries in a motorcycle accident.

Tottenham's back-up keeper is now expected to make a full recovery, but his season is already over - and his contract runs out in the summer.

Spurs returned to action in style, beating Wigan Athletic 9-1 to record the club's biggest win for 32 years, while Defoe became the third Premier League player to score five goals in a match.

Crouch, Aaron Lennon, David Bentley and Kranjcar were also on target in the stunning victory, which left Tottenham in the top four - level on points with third-placed Arsenal.

A jubilant Defoe said: "I know in this team I'll get chances always. I know in every game I'll get a chance, not a half-chance but a good one. It's important to work hard in training - I always do my finishing after training so when I get in that situation on match day I'm familiar with it and can take the chance.

"And it's not just me. Robbie scored against France and Crouchy will always get goals. Even Pav [Roman Pavlyuchenko], who hasn't played, is a world-class striker who does it an international level. We're getting goals from midfield as well so the whole team is contributing."

Crouch added: "We all believe we've got enough ability to be in there but we don't want to talk too much. We'd rather do our talking on the pitch, and I think we made a bit of a statement against Wigan. I think people will look at that result and say 'oh my God, Spurs are flying!'. I think it's exciting to watch, the people who come along and pay their money to watch Spurs will be excited this season."

Keane was not involved in the victory, having been dropped from the starting line-up, but Redknapp slammed the boo-boy fans who had started to show their frustration at the team captain's performances.

"I hate it when I hear people criticise him," said the boss. "He played a massive part in keeping us up last year, it's no coincidence we went on a great run when he arrived. I felt the atmosphere around the place changed when he came, because of the way he is, the bubbly character he is - it's infectious.

"When he plays he's been great for us. He's scored eight goals, you'd settle for that wouldn't you. He knits the game together for us. He drops short and picks balls up and makes us play football.

"I felt he was vital to us last season, I really did. I thought 'if Robbie comes back we're going to be okay', that's the type of feeling he gave me. I felt he was a key signing, because he was a personality as well.

"It's difficult for people to understand what it takes to make a football team. It isn't always about having a team of superstar players - you need certain characters who make a difference to you, in the dressing room and on the pitch."

Spurs prepared for a vital trip to Villa Park, and Woodgate urged his team-mates to rediscover their form against the league's top sides.

"It's going to be a big game against Villa. It's not going to decide the top four if they beat us or we beat them, but the bigger the better for our side I think," he said. "We perform a lot better against the bigger sides. Maybe this season we haven't done ourselves justice, but hopefully we'll get a result against them."

Gabriel Agbonlahor put the Villans ahead in the 10th minute, finishing from close range after the Lilywhites failed to deal with a corner kick.

However, the visitors fought back and took full control of the game before the break, going on to lay siege to Villa's goal for the majority of the match.

Michael Dawson volleyed a deserved equaliser past Brad Friedel with 13 minutes left, but Redknapp's side were unable to seal the victory that their performance merited.

After the game, Dawson admitted that his biggest problem was just getting a place in the Tottenham team.

"Is this the hardest competition for centre-back places in the league? Possibly yes," he said. "Obviously Ledley and Woody are both England internationals and Seb is an international now, and there's me wanting to be one. It's been hard but you just keep working hard in training and when you get a chance you've got to do well.

"The way we played we're probably a little disappointed, but from 1-0 down at half-time to come back and get a point, it could be good. It was an important game for us, especially going away from home to a place like Villa. To go away probably a little disappointed not to get three points just shows how far we've come, especially as we are striving for that top four with them."

Spurs ended November with one eye on the cup competitions, drawing Peterborough at home in the third round of FA Cup as they prepared to travel to Old Trafford in the quarter-final of the Carling Cup...