Spurs Review of the Year Part VIII: The Perfect Start

PUBLISHED: 11:10 06 January 2010 | UPDATED: 16:40 07 September 2010

DARREN Bent finally got his move to Sunderland, but only after a posting a message on the social networking website Twitter, attacking Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and the delay in his move to Wearsid


By Ben Pearce

DARREN Bent finally got his move to Sunderland, but only after a posting a message on the social networking website Twitter, attacking Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy and the delay in his move to Wearside.

The striker had been Spurs' top scorer in the 2008/09 campaign and, since moving to the Stadium of Light, he has netted 13 times in 21 appearances for Steve Bruce's side.

Heurelho Gomes denied that he was under pressure after a mixed first season at Tottenham, and revealed that he was frequently tapped up by other clubs.

"When Tottenham don't need me, many clubs want me. They call me all the time but I want to stay here," he said.

Harry Redknapp faced a massive injury crisis in defence, with Jonathan Woodgate and Michael Dawson both certain to miss the first weeks of the season.

Ledley King was yet to feature in pre-season because of his chronic knee injury, which only allows him to play once a week.

It meant that, if the club captain faced Liverpool on the opening day, he would be unable to feature against Hull three days later.

Vedran Corluka was the only centre-back who would be able to play in both matches, and he was needed at right-back.

Facing five competitive fixtures in August, Redknapp acted quickly to ensure that Tottenham's season was not derailed at the very beginning, and hunted around for a centre-back.

Newcastle's Sebastien Bassong looked the most likely candidate, having played 37 times for the Magpies the previous season.

"I like Bassong, he is a young player with a good future and a good central defender," admitted Redknapp.

Bassong's move looked imminent when he was mysteriously absent from the Newcastle team that faced Dundee in a pre-season match.

Assistant manager Chris Hughton insisted: "It was never my intention to play Bassong. He is suspended for the first game of the season, so we were always going to leave him out anyway."

However, Newcastle had to deny reports that they had fined the defender two weeks wages for refusing to travel to Scotland - in an attempt to push through his move to Spurs.

Bassong joined Tottenham the following week in an £8million deal, and made his debut alongside King in Tottenham's last pre-season friendly, a victory over Olympiakos at the Lane.

Bassong's signing initially puzzled fans, since the new recruit was seemingly ineligible to face Liverpool, having been sent off for Newcastle in the penultimate game of the previous campaign - the defender appeared to be halfway through a two-match ban.

However, it emerged that Tottenham had neatly side-stepped the suspension, making the most of a strange loophole in the FA's rules.

Having served the first game of his two-match ban for Newcastle, Bassong's suspension continued to apply to all Newcastle matches - even after he left the club.

His ban was therefore completed when the Magpies kicked off their Championship campaign - the week before the top flight recommenced.

Robbie Keane and Peter Crouch prepared to face their old club Liverpool, having both fallen foul of Rafa Benitez's questionable team selections and rotation policy at Anfield.

Before the match Crouch said: "It was frustrating when I was at Liverpool and I'd be doing well and score a couple - or even a hat-trick I remember - and then not play the next week.

"I think everyone knows that the manager there likes to change the team regardless of form, and that's just one of those things I had to accept. I moved on from there because of that really."

Meanwhile, Jermain Defoe admitted that he was gearing up for the biggest season of his career.

"It's a massive year for me, the club and every English player," he said. "I'm 26 now and I feel really strong and sharp. I know it's a huge year for me with the World Cup at the end of it, and especially because of what happened last time when I didn't go - it was a massive blow.

"I want to make sure I'm on the plane this time, that inspires me even more. I've got fire in my stomach and I want to really push on now and have a great season."

Spurs kicked off their season in style, with a 2-1 home win over Liverpool. Benoit Assou-Ekotto scored his first ever goal from Tottenham, lashing a 30-yard screamer into the top corner.

Steven Gerrard equalised from the penalty spot, but Bassong grabbed the winner, heading home from a corner on his competitive Spurs debut.

"I found out I was eligible just a few hours after I signed my contract," said the centre-back. "Honestly I just wanted to sign, and then it was good news for me that I could play."

Many Tottenham fans saw the victory over Liverpool as proof of their club's top-four credentials, but King pointed out that - so far - the Lilywhites had done nothing to prove they had made any improvement.

"We managed to beat Liverpool at home last season and we came out well against the top sides, so in a way it's not a surprise that we won," he said.

Spurs' players and fans have since stopped crowing about their opening-day victory. The Reds have since lost another six league games - against Aston Villa, Fulham, Chelsea, Sunderland, Arsenal and even basement boys Portsmouth.

Spurs travelled to Hull three days after their victory over Liverpool, and stole the headlines for the second time in a week with a 5-1 at the KC Stadium.

Jermain Defoe netted a hat-trick, while Robbie Keane and Wilson Palacios were also on the scoresheet.

The only drawback for Spurs was an injury to Gomes, who was forced off in the 16th minute and missed the next five games.

After the victory in Hull, Redknapp announced that two of his strikers could break the 20-goal barrier in the Premier League.

"We've got four terrific strikers. It's a nice problem to have, a big problem," he said. "You'd like to think two of them could get 20 goals each. Thirty goals these days is very difficult - Cristiano Ronaldo did it, but Nicolas Anelka won it last year with 19."

Despite leading Spurs to six points from a possible six, Redknapp's team selections were questioned. The manager had left new signing Crouch out of the team for the first two games, opting for the diminutive pairing of Defoe and Keane - a partnership which previous managers suggested could not work.

Redknapp defended his decision, saying: "They can play together, they showed that the other night at Hull. Crouchy's been unlucky really, because he's only had half a game pre-season - that's why he hasn't played really.

"We didn't start with him and the other two got the nod, and they're making it difficult for me to change the team. Robbie pops up in deeper positions. At the start of the game against Hull he must have had 15 touches of the ball, it was always Robbie, Robbie, Robbie and he made us play, sliding the ball in for Defoe."

Crouch was again omitted from the starting line-up as Spurs made the trip to east London to face West Ham, and maintained their perfect start to the season with a 2-1 win.

Carlton Cole gave the Hammers the lead, volleying past a surprised Carlo Cudicini from 25 yards after half-time.

However, Cole immediately handed Spurs the equaliser, perfectly dissecting his own centre-backs with an inexplicable backpass and allowing Defoe to rifle the ball past Robert Green.

Aaron Lennon scored the winner in the 79th minute, coming in off the right flank and firing low across the home side's keeper into the bottom corner.

After three games of the season, Spurs sat top of the Premier League, and Tom Huddlestone suggested that the Lilywhites were now a 'top three' side.

"I think man for man we've proved we've got one of the top three squads," he said. The England Under-21 international admitted he had been considering his future, but had been encouraged after starting the first three games of the season - admittedly because Jermaine Jenas was injured.

"You can only go on for so long when you're not playing, or being given a chance," Huddlestone explained. "I worked hard in pre-season and then waited to see how the first month of the season panned out for me. I'm 23 at the end of December so I'm not young any more. I want to be playing every week in the Premier League so this is a massive season for me.

"The main area I've tried to improve is being more aggressive, getting closer to people and making more tackles. And I feel I've been more vocal and talkative on the pitch, giving more information to other players. It's not a natural thing for me but if it's going to keep me in the starting XI then it's something I'm going to work on."

Redknapp was quick to praise Huddlestone: "Tom's an amazing footballer. He can hit a 60-yard pass with either foot, Tom's got the ability to be a top, top player. We've been saying that for a few years now, but maybe this will be the year he really emerges and takes the game by the scruff of the neck and proves it.

"Tom's got first crack and he's in and playing well, so hopefully he can keep playing well and [Jermaine] Jenas gets fit and we've got real competition for places in midfield."

Huddlestone has played in 24 of Tottenham's 25 games so far this season, and has recently consigned Jermaine Jenas to the bench. He also made his full England debut in the friendly against Brazil in November, coming on as a substitute.

Three days after beating West Ham, a second-string Spurs side cruised past Doncaster in the Carling Cup, winning 5-1 away.

Huddlestone put the visitors ahead after just nine minutes, and Jamie O'Hara, Crouch, David Bentley and Roman Pavlyuchenko completed the rout.

With Gomes still out of action, Cudicini stated that he was ready to relaunch his Tottenham career.

The ex-Chelsea keeper had made just four Spurs appearances in 2008/09, and the Italian hinted that he had endured a miserable campaign - both on and off the pitch.

"It's been a difficult season in many different aspects, not just in the football," he said. "Hopefully this season it will change."

Unfortunately, Cudicini's fortunes have since taken a turn for the worst. The 37-year-old lost his place to Gomes, and then suffered two broken wrists and a fractured pelvis in a motorcycle accident.

The stopper is expected to make a full recovery, but he is unlikely to feature for Spurs again this season - and his contract expires in the summer.

Pascal Chimbonda capped a remarkable year by leaving Tottenham for the second summer in a row, this time to Blackburn Rovers for £2m. He had made just five appearances since Redknapp brought him back to the Lane in January.

Kevin-Price Boateng also left the Lane, going to Portsmouth for £4m, while Jamie O'Hara was also loaned to the Fratton Park outfit.

Spurs won their fourth game in a row and stayed top of the league, beating Birmingham 2-1 at White Hart Lane. Crouch came off the bench to head Spurs into the lead 18 minutes from time, but Lee Bowyer equalised three minutes later.

Aaron Lennon scored a late winner, cutting in off the left wing and firing low into the bottom corner in injury time.

But the result was marred by an injury to Luka Modric, who broke his leg after a challenge from Bowyer.

Having narrowly edged past newly-promoted Birmingham, Crouch admitted that Spurs were likely to get the same treatment as the top four when supposedly inferior sides travelled to White Hart Lane.

"Could teams start playing for a point at White Hart Lane? Yes I believe so," he said. "Birmingham had one up front and they tried to pack the midfield. I've seen it at Anfield, playing for Liverpool, when teams come and try to sit deep, and I think it might be the case that teams come to White Hart Lane and try to do the same thing, because with the amount of quality we've got, teams aren't going to want to expose themselves and be left on the break."

Spurs have since been beaten by both Stoke and Wolves in N17.

Having scored two winning goals in successive Premier League matches, against West Ham and Birmingham, Lennon backed himself to break his scoring record over the course of the season.

"I think five is my best, but I definitely think I'm capable of getting 10, so I'll look to get that this year," he said. "I think I've got goals in me and I've set my goal at 10. That's definitely one of the things I've been trying to improve in my game, getting more goals, and I've got two in two now so I'm happy, but I still want to get plenty of assists as well."

Now, at the halfway point of the season, the England winger has scored three times.

Having lost Modric to injury, Redknapp moved quickly to take another Croatian international midfielder, Niko Kranjcar from Portsmouth for £2.5m - arguably the bargain of the summer.

Having signed in the closing minutes of the transfer window, Kranjcar became the third player to make the move from Fratton Park up to Tottenham, where he was reunited with Redknapp, Defoe and Crouch.

The 25-year-old has been a massive hit in north London, and has already found the net six times.

Redknapp also handed 36-year-old goalkeeper Jimmy Walker a contract at Tottenham. He is yet to make an appearance.

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