Spurs are still lacking a winger but Townsend is better off at QPR
PUBLISHED: 11:59 21 March 2013 | UPDATED: 13:14 21 March 2013
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Tottenham fans are questioning whether Andros Townsend should have been allowed to leave on loan, given Aaron Lennon's recent absence.
When the January transfer window closed, Spurs fans were left bemoaning the failure to sign a striker – and their fears have been justified.
Between them, Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor have netted two goals in 2013, with Defoe failing to score in his last 11 games and Adebayor registering once in nine games for the Lilywhites.
It is interesting to ponder where Spurs might be sitting in the Premier League if at least one of their strikers was firing – or if they had invested in a top-notch forward at the turn of the year – and the sight of the ex-Spurs hitman Dimitar Berbatov scoring the winner at White Hart Lane on Sunday hardly helped.
However, that is not the only area where Spurs failed to strengthen, and Lennon’s absence has highlighted the lack of cover on the flanks – a familiar problem that has produced an all-too recognisable tactical headache.
This time last year Harry Redknapp was faced with the same problem after losing Lennon in the 3-1 FA Cup victory over Stevenage on March 7.
Next up was a trip to Everton, and Redknapp moved Luka Modric out to the left flank, switched Gareth Bale to the right and opted for a solid but uncreative pairing of Sandro and Parker in the middle.
Two of Tottenham’s most dangerous players, Bale and Modric, were out of position and Tottenham lost 1-0.
Twelve months on, Villas-Boas has just made the same mistake, moving the influential Dembele out to the right-hand side against Liverpool and Inter Milan and asking Parker and Jake Livermore to provide the necessary control and spark in the centre – which they have failed to do.
The Portuguese returned Dembele to the centre of the action against Fulham on Sunday, but the lack of width remained an issue – particularly given that Bale has been moved inside into a striker role.
Having spent much of the season with two natural wide men, Villas-Boas was left with none – just a selection of candidates who would all look to come infield – and he responded by fielding Benoit Assou-Ekotto on the left wing.
It all smacks of trial and error and Gylfi Sigurdsson was quick to highlight Lennon’s absence after Sunday’s defeat against Fulham.
Asked to comment on Gareth Bale’s importance, the Iceland international said: “Of course, he’s been outstanding this season and he’s scored loads of goals, but I think we missed Aaron Lennon today. He’s someone who’s very important for the team.”
Naturally, Tottenham fans are now casting a glance towards Loftus Road, where Andros Townsend – who is on loan from the Lilywhites – is flying on the right wing for QPR.
The 21-year-old won Rangers’ player of the month award and has gone on to score in his last two games. Understandably, Spurs supporters are now questioning the wisdom of allowing the young talent to leave in January.
However, it is a big leap to presume that Townsend would have produced the same electric performance for Spurs against Liverpool as he did for QPR against Sunderland that weekend.
The youngster is benefiting from a regular run of games and the boost of confidence that comes with the knowledge that he is now a highly-valued Premier League player for the Rs.
Half of a season in that environment will do him the world of good, following a number of loan spells in the Championship, and it may just be the making of him.
If so, Spurs will reap the rewards in the long-term, and that is surely more valuable than the handful of games that Tottenham might have offered him as cover for Lennon.
Townsend had a run of appearances earlier in the season but Villas-Boas appeared to lose faith in him, substituting him at half-time in the 1-1 draw away at Maribor in October and forcing him to wait almost two months for his next appearance.
Confidence is key and, had Townsend been thrown in at the deep end at Anfield – which would probably have been his first Premier League start of the season – there is no guarantee that the result would have been the same as his recent displays for QPR. In fact it seems unlikely.
The hope will be that his stay with Harry Redknapp in west London will help him to become a viable substitute for Bale and Lennon next season – if the Welshman is still at the club.
If so, Spurs will have succeeded in strengthening their squad through the development of one of their own players, rather than having to splash out in the transfer market.
Townsend could yet be the answer to Spurs’ long-running problem and, if he returns to Tottenham as a new and improved player, the Lilywhites’ decision not to sign a winger in recent transfer windows and thereby block his path to the first team will arguably have paid off.
Good things come to those who wait - but that will not help Villas-Boas over the next two months, and damage has already been done during the last two league games.
For now, all the Portuguese can do is to cross his fingers that Lennon will be fit to face Swansea next weekend.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs