Monday, April 11, 2005

Lightweights take a beating

Sometimes you have to admire our players. They have the uncanny knack of handing newspaper sub-editors their headlines and by-lines on a plate. After last weekend's St James's Park bust-up, they served up a performance at White Hart Lane which lacked anything remotely resembling fight or punch, allowing Spurs to gain revenge for last month's FA Cup defeat.

Butt and Robert, both experienced professionals, were particularly awful and were lucky not to be replaced earlier than the hour mark. Our midfield, without the attacking impetus of Dyer and Bowyer, looked worryingly inept, making a mockery of Souness's recent comments about it being the best he's ever had the fortune to work with.

At the back, Babayaro didn't have the best of returns, and a low-on-confidence O'Brien got himself into numerous scrapes and was thankful to Boumsong for continually clearing up after him. As unlikely as it might have sounded not too long ago, we're desperate for Bramble's return from injury. The only player other than Boumsong to emerge from a miserable afternoon with any credit whatsoever was substitute N'Zogbia, whose trickery and close control caused Spurs right-back Stephen Kelly plenty of problems in the last twenty minutes.

The contest's deciding goal was, appropriately enough, the consequence of a horrible error by another poor performer. Three minutes from the break Harper, in for the injured Given, received a Babayaro backpass under pressure. His attempted left-footed clearance struck Simon Davies and the quick-witted Jermain Defoe nipped in to score easily from close range. Harper, whose only other Premiership appearance this season came in the freakish 4-1 home defeat to Fulham, looked mortified and apologised to fans afterwards - a much more evidently sincere apology than that offered by Bowyer, it must be said, but little consolation nevertheless.

We had been a clear second best throughout the half - Spurs more lively, inventive and sharper in the tackle - but Ameobi had come closest to scoring with a header from a pinpoint JJ cross which he planted into the ground and which then bounced up, just cleared the crossbar and landed on the roof of the net.

Shearer, unusually anonymous, was replaced at half-time having taken a knock, and it was his replacement Milner who had the best opportunity of the second half. A comical mix-up between Paul Robinson and Ledley King allowed Milner to steal in but, with Robinson stranded yards from his goal, the shot sailed well wide. A heated debate between the two Spurs players followed, but no blows were struck.

Spurs made hard work of beating us, squandering numerous chances (Kanoute was particularly culpable) without forcing Harper into serious action. Only in the last twenty minutes did we begin to apply any kind of pressure to their back line, and even then it amounted to nothing more than some jinking N'Zogbia runs and a couple of free-kicks wastefully blasted into the wall by substitute Ambrose. An equaliser would have masked an abject performance.

With two defeats on the bounce our league season seems to be slipping ignominiously away to nothing, a UEFA Cup spot now practically unthinkable, and we approach this week's crucial cup fixtures with considerable trepidation. Play this badly against either Sporting Lisbon or Man Utd and we'll be embarrassed.

Other reports: Talk Of The Tyne, BBC, Guardian


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