Sunday, April 19, 2009

L-undone again

Tottenham Hotspur 1 - 0 Newcastle Utd

Our fifth and final trip of the season to the capital gave yet more cause for concern: another tame defeat, and - more worrying still - on what has in recent years been one of our happiest hunting grounds. No spawny 3-2 win or bolt-from-the-blue four-goal blast this season - and no annual Nicky Butt goal either.

Wor Al decided to retain the three centre-back formation of last weekend, though did choose to make changes to the personnel, replacing David Edgar, Danny Guthrie and the utterly hopeless Big Lad with the fit-again Steven Taylor, Spiderman and Andy Carroll respectively.

We began nervously, looking hurried and harried, in complete contrast to our hosts whose easy and confident swagger was typified by Tom Huddlestone. Unable to create anything in open play, our best opportunity seemed to be set pieces - but, with Ryan Taylor managing only a couple of reasonable free-kicks and Damien Duff reaching new lows in corner-kick awfulness, it never looked like being a cheery afternoon.

And so it proved. If we were fortunate to get away with some unscrupulous shirt-tugging and clumsy bundling of Spurs forwards turfwards in the first half hour, there was nothing remotely lucky (from our perspective) about the critical goal. First Sebastian Bassong's excellent lunging interception to prevent Robbie Keane racing onto Luca Modric's through-ball fell perfectly for Darren Bent, and then, when Steve Harper did well to repel Bent's shot, it went straight back for the striker to knock it over the line. All the more galling that we could have been 1-0 up ourselves seconds beforehand, if Kevin Nolan had pulled the ball back to an exasperated Little Saint Mick rather than scuffing a tame shot for Heurelho Gomes to collect and bowl out.

The fit-again Steven Taylor became the unfit-again Steven Taylor, replaced at the break not by Edgar but (to widespread groans) Alan Smith. With Aaron Lennon and Modric continuing to buzz busily about in the second half, only a combination of dogged defending and a general contentedness and lack of urgency on Spurs' part ensured the deficit remained at one goal.

Concerns over the fitness levels of Obafemi Martins and Captain Pasty had kept them on the bench until the hour mark, but as soon as they were introduced (for Carroll and Nolan) we suddenly looked the likelier side to score, our opponents perhaps recalling fearfully the havoc the pair, together with Little Saint Mick, wreaked last March.

Chance after chance came Oba's way: a drive over the top from a Captain Pasty lay-off barely a minute after entering the action; a weak header; a low shot that went in off the post, but only after Mark Halsey had blown up for handball against the Nigerian.

Old boy Jonathan Woodgate came close to banging a second nail in the coffin with a header, but we survived and, with two minutes left, Oba had our best chance of the afternoon - but, having controlled Ryan Taylor's clever curved ball on his chest, he blasted his volley into the stands from eight yards. That one nail turned out to be enough.

Defeats on Saturday for Blackburn and Hull came at the cost of victories for Stoke and the Mackems, while Portsmouth also won and the Smogs mustered a goalless draw at home to Fulham that dropped us to 19th, four points from safety. But at least the Baggies lost again today, eh?

Of our remaining three home games, Shearer said "We'll be expected to win those and we have to" - but, given that our last home victory came in the reverse fixture against Spurs on 21st December, I'm not getting my hopes up.

Other reports: BBC, Guardian


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