Inside Lane: A Spurs fan’s view of the goalless draw with Stoke

13:55 24 December 2012

Tottenham

Tottenham's Kyle Walker (left) takes the ball away from Stoke City's Matthew Etherington. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

PA Wire

Tottenham blogger Daniel Grigg looks back on Saturday’s stalemate against the Potters at White Hart Lane

Tottenham's Gareth Bale (centre) has his shirt pulled by Stoke City's Andy Wilkinson (left) in front of referee Lee Mason. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA WireTottenham's Gareth Bale (centre) has his shirt pulled by Stoke City's Andy Wilkinson (left) in front of referee Lee Mason. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

Tottenham’s inability to score often enough at White Hart Lane against backs-to-the-wall defending from sides they’ve been expected to beat, cost them again.

At one end against Stoke City, Hugo Lloris’ fourth clean sheet in his eight Premier League games helped Spurs to a valuable, if not particularly valued, point against the team with the tightest defence in the division this season.

Stoke City manager Tony Pulis (left) and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas react during the Premier League draw at White Hart Lane. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA WireStoke City manager Tony Pulis (left) and Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas react during the Premier League draw at White Hart Lane. Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

But Spurs have only netted 14 goals in 10 matches at home, compared to the 16 they’ve amassed in eight away fixtures.

It’s perhaps not such a bad thing then that the first two matches after Christmas are away at Aston Villa and Sunderland who are 16th and 15th respectively in the league table.

Andre Villas-Boas’ teams have been known in the past to favour counter-attacking football, and occasionally struggle when teams have set up with 10 or even 11 men back behind the ball at all times.

As this season seems to have borne out, and with so few options either personnel-wise or tactically, beyond Jermain Defoe, Emmanuel Adebayor, Clint Dempsey, Gareth Bale and 4-5-1 or 4-4-2, he is somewhat at the mercy of whatever goal-scoring touch the front men have got themselves in or out of.

Stoke had also kept the likes of Liverpool, West Brom and Aston Villa quiet on their own grounds plus Arsenal and Swansea amongst others at the Brittania, so Spurs weren’t exactly the odd ones out in being thwarted. Only Wigan and Manchester United, of the 18 teams they’ve played in the league, have scored twice or more against them.

But despite that, the starting line-up on Saturday was pretty close to a full strength Tottenham 11, depending on differing views on Dempsey, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. So to be nullified by any side was a bit of confidence killer.

Bale, who spared little time after his return from the hamstring injury he’d suffered just three weeks earlier to the day, at least caused real problems down the wing, whipping in yet more dangerous crosses.

Sandro too, deservedly out from under Moussa Dembele’s considerable shadow after his good form this season, battled well in midfield against the sort of side you need your midfielders to play hard against.

He offered good protection to the defence and critically made a last-ditch clearance when it looked like Matthew Etherington would score against his former club, again. But Glenn Whelan and Steven N’Zonzi - who’s had an impressive start to the season - contested well against Sandro and a below par Dembele.

At the other end Asmir Begovic probably had a slightly easier ride than he was expecting, not so many years after once turning down a move to the Tottenham in favour of regular starts at Stoke. His did however pull off the save of the match from substitute Gylfi Sigurdsson’s header - to prevent the Icelandic international recording his first league goal for Spurs after more than nine hours on the pitch, made up mainly of substitute appearances.

Defensively Spurs held together solidly without ever fully having Stoke in their back pocket, despite surviving an awful moment of Kyle Walker madness in the opening minute. The England international played a needless ball for last week’s goal hero Jan Vertonghen which wildly missed its mark and fell for Kenwyne Jones.

The Trinidadian – who has just two goals in 31 league games - was unable to capitalise on the opportunity which most top division strikers would have expected to profit from.

The difference in quality between Vertonghen and Walker was never so evident as it was on Saturday. The Belgian was calm and solid in defence while precise and creative in attack. Walker was almost none of those things and nowhere near enough for a man recently hailed as one of the world’s best full back talents.

Tottenham are level on points with Arsenal, Everton and West Brom in the race for fourth and just a match short of the half-way stage in the league.

So far it’s a solid B grade for Villas-Boas after the late 2011-12 season collapse, the loss of Harry Redknapp and the turbulent summer losing three of the club’s star players down the spine of the team.

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