Spurs Review of 2009 Part XII: Tottenham find their feet after slippery spell
SPURS suffered their customary defeat at Old Trafford on Tuesday December 1, dropping lamely out of the Carling Cup with a 2-0 defeat in the quarter-final. It was the first time the Lilywhites had failed to reach the semi-final...
TOTTENHAM IN 2009: REVIEW OF DECEMBER
By Ben Pearce
SPURS suffered their customary defeat at Old Trafford on Tuesday December 1, dropping lamely out of the Carling Cup with a 2-0 defeat in the quarter-final.
It was the first time the Lilywhites had failed to reach the semi-final since 2005/06, and the defeat was all the more disappointing because Harry Redknapp had pitted a strong Spurs side against a weakened United outfit.
Darron Gibson scored twice to guide the holders through the tie, but the Lilywhites boss was less than impressed with his side's exertions, admitting that Sir Alex Ferguson's side had had an easy ride.
"I'm very disappointed," he said. "We are never going to get a better opportunity than we did in the first half. I think they had two shots on goal and scored twice. We had a lot of the ball, but never really made it count.
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"We have been playing so well of late, but there was no atmosphere - in the stadium and in the game. It was played at a lethargic pace. It's a cup quarter-final, but there wasn't a tackle in the first half. It was like a friendly."
The Carling Cup clash was the second disappointing trip in succession for Tottenham, who had previously been held to a 1-1 draw at Aston Villa, despite dominating the majority of the match.
But worse was to follow on Merseyside, as Spurs threw away a 2-0 lead in the final 13 minutes to tie 2-2 with Everton at Goodison Park.
Redknapp's side had appeared to be safely on course for three points, with Jermain Defoe giving the visitors the lead two minutes after the break.
Michael Dawson scored his second goal in successive league outings 12 minutes later, and it then seemed to be a case of how many, with Peter Crouch missing a one-on-one with Tim Howard with quarter of an hour left.
However, half-time substitute Gareth Bale then gifted the Toffees a route back into the match, allowing rookie right-back Seamus Coleman to waltz around him and cross for Louis Saha from the by-line.
Suddenly the precious three points were in danger, and with four minutes left Tim Cahill grabbed the equaliser to send Spurs home with their heads hanging.
The capitulation at Everton was an unfortunate reminder of Tottenham's recent history, and the defence came under closer scrutiny.
Without the injured Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate, Redknapp had been forced to rely on Dawson and Sebastien Bassong, who was only playing his second season in the Premier League.
However, the boss maintained that he is basing his future rearguard on King and Woodgate.
"If they're fit we're great in that position," he said. When they played together last year they were a great partnership, but getting them out on the pitch together is getting more and difficult."
The pair have still played just 60 minutes this season, against Sunderland before King limped out of the fray.
Meanwhile, Dawson admitted that he is still struggling to shake the memories of Tottenham's top-four near-miss in 2006.
The Lilywhites fell ill on the pivotal final day of the season, and a 2-1 defeat against West Ham saw them overtaken by Arsenal right at the death.
"There's still quite a few lads here who were involved in that West Ham game, which was gutting and so hard to take," he said. "We were fourth for a long time that season and the way we went out of it on the last day, it was hard. It's maybe made us a bit more hungry for this year."
Luka Modric returned to action in a reserve match against Grays Athletic in midweek, but the friendly was overshadowed by a touchline bust-up between Redknapp and David Bentley.
The boss insisted that the altercation had been exaggerated in the media. And, while he admitted that he had voiced his displeasure with the midfielder's attitude and work ethic during the match, he denied telling the �15million ex-Arsenal flop that he would be on his way in the January transfer window.
Without a win in three games, Spurs shifted their gaze to the upcoming home match against lowly Wolves - surely the perfect opportunity to get back to winning ways.
If only. As the time ticked away at White Hart Lane, Tottenham supporters found themselves praying for a point, as the Lilywhites struggled to find a reply to Kevin Doyle's third-minute goal.
Disastrously the hosts failed to find the equaliser, as Mick McCarthy's side came away from N17 with a shock victory.
Suddenly the wheels seemed to have come off and, having taken just two points from a possible nine against Aston Villa, Everton and Wolves, it seemed like a long time since the 9-1 win over Wigan in November.
"In terms of points it's not enough," said Bassong. "We need to get some more points straight way. All the good teams are still winning when they're playing badly, so if we want to be a really good team in this league, you have to as well."
To make matters worse, Spurs faced Manchester City in midweek, and Redknapp admitted he was in awe of Mark Hughes' strike force.
"I think obviously Man City, for me, would still be favourites," he said. "Me and Kevin Bond were driving in the other day talking about their squad.
"They've got six strikers. You talk about having too many when you've got four, but if you go through them it's amazing. People forget about Benjani, who cost �9million and who I had at Portsmouth. He's probably number six there now."
It turned out that Redknapp was worrying about nothing, as Spurs ran out 3-0 winners at White Hart Lane to reignite their assault on the top four.
Niko Kranjcar scored twice, including a sublime individual effort in injury time, while Jermain Defoe latched onto Peter Crouch's flicked header to rattle in Tottenham's second goal - an emphatic victory which proved to be the end for Hughes, who was sacked days later and replaced by Roberto Mancini.
One man who wasn't joining in the celebrations was Roman Pavlyuchenko and, having repeatedly stated his desire to leave Tottenham, Redknapp admitted he could easily cope without the Russian striker.
"Would I be happy with three strikers? Yes if I didn't have one, Pavlyuchenko, I would. If I had three it wouldn't bother me at all," he said.
Spurs continued their revival with an uncharacteristic win away at Blackburn Rovers, with Peter Crouch scoring twice at Ewood Park, leaving Spurs two points behind third-placed Arsenal and Aston Villa.
The busy Christmas period approached, and Kranjcar admitted he would happily forego the Boxing Day visit to Fulham and the home game with West Ham on December 28.
"I'd rather not play football over Christmas, but I'm used to it now," he said. "I think the players would enjoy a winter break, but it's a tradition and it's hard to break up tradition because I think throughout its history the English league has played through and it's hard to get rid of it."
Redknapp discovered that he would face further action from HM Revenue and Customs over alleged unpaid taxes, and his solicitors announced: "We believe that the decision to commence proceedings will, in due course, be shown to have been totally misconceived."
The Spurs boss may have been somewhat distracted over Christmas, but matters on the field continued to go well. Tottenham picked up a useful 0-0 draw at Craven Cottage on Boxing Day, with Heurelho Gomes putting in a man of the match performance to thwart Bobby Zamora in particular.
And two days later the Lilywhites saw off West Ham at White Hart Lane, with Modric scoring 11 minutes into his first start since August, before Defoe netted for the sixth game in a row against his former clubs to wrap up the win.
The four festive points meant that Spurs went into 2010 in the top four, just one point behind Arsenal - although the Gunners had two games in hand.