Sunderland 1 Tottenham 2
Another day, another Spurs win totalling seven with two draws and one defeat in our last ten (all comps). It's been a solid December. A strong festive period. Plenty to shout about and the usual assortment of reminders that fixes are still required as we look to bid farewell to 2012 and welcome what will hopefully be a fulfilling 2013 with big goofy smiles on our faces.
Andre Villas-Boas rotated. In came Dawson and Caulker with Vertonghen benched (tactically, due to yellow card accumulation which is reset in the New Year). Bale, Defoe and Sandro all started the game at risk of missing the next one (home to Reading). Dempsey also back in the squad. Looking good, feeling confident pre-game.
Once we kicked off, the longer the game went on the better we looked and more likely we would break the deadlock so no shock when Sunderland took the lead. The build up to the goal not too clever. More on that later.
Can't say I was panicking. Bale and Lennon we're lively. Our midfield busy (as expected) but controlling rather than contaminated. Nothing to suggest the hosts would take a firm stranglehold on the match. Although the usual suspects did allow for noticeable tension.
The greatest trick Adebayor ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist. For all the unnoticed running and effort, when it matters most he lacks substance. Should have scored in the first half but somehow managed to guide the ball onto the cross bar. I still believe he's more comfortable being the only forward in the pillage. Or least fighting for that privilege. Although that shouldn't stop him burying easy chances when presented with one. Shouldn't stop him from being more involved and less of a passenger either.
In the latter stages, AVB making the shrewd decision to leave him on and take JD off. Adebayor prominent at defending against Sunderland set pieces.
For all the negativity with our supposedly 'sideways' football (where's the swash-buckle the disgruntled cry), with each passing game awareness and confidence improves. Doesn't happen over night, it happens over time and it's happening before our eyes. Slowly but surely, a more divisive style is beginning to grit it's teeth and bite. Our players are fronting. The next test will be at home rather than on our travels.
The second half exploded and the detonators belonged to us. Carlos Cuellar own goal (which was more of a trip-wire), heading pass his own keeper from a Tottenham corner. Yes, a corner. Our productivity is so low from this type of set piece that we have to wait for the opposition to stick into their own net. Then the sparks followed. Lennon with a delicious touch leaving two defenders behind him as he finished with ample yum. Two very quick goals, the game turned to our favour.
There was a moment where we appeared to sit back a little too deep once ahead. Sunderland with possession but nothing nail-biting and completely dismissed by the world-class Hugo Lloris who was showcasing and showing off with a variety of punches (the ball not players) and pushes and general ownership of his penalty area. See how time heals? All those concerns as he sat on the bench only to claim the number one shirt and make a mockery of the supposed mistake he made signing for 'ungrateful' Tottenham.
Defoe could have scored. Took a second too long to react, but his effort still superbly saved. The Bale run to set it up was a stormer, blistering past players to then set up JD who took a touch then got stuck under the shot. Dempsey was also very decent, on as a sub. Providing that something extra that he's been threatening to provide all season long, keeping the ball moving and playing in the type of through-balls we've lacked on occasions this season. Lacked mainly from him.
Standard five minutes of injury time. No errors, no mistakes. We win. We go 3rd (be it until one or two others play their games). A good fluid performance. Should have been more comfortable, not for the want of effort or tactics - but for the want of better more convincing end product. In and around the box.
Sandro and Dembele powerful and dominant. I'm wondering if Sandro earns himself a rest in the next game or not and Parker gets a full run out.
Walker. Still makes mistakes. Made two in quick succession that led to Sunderland's opener. Gives away too many soft unnecessary free-kicks. Still young. Will learn. Although I love the fact that Walker's double err was brushed aside by Carlor Cuellar and his triple-threat (foul, clearance to corner, own goal). Should probably mark it up as a quartet and add his beard to the hilarity.
Defoe drops in the first half, doesn't get booked for his dramatics. He drops with no contact. A blatant lazy attempt at winning a free-kick. No yellow. Bale is fouled in the penalty area in the second half and is yellow carded for alleged theatrics. A narrative that Sky Sports persist with in the post-game foaming.
For my full mental breakdown rant on this please see my Twitter time-line. We've been here before once or twice this season with Bale and the way he reacts. I'll break this down, my perspective, obviously differs from what what Martin Atkinson witnessed. I do have the advantage (much like anyone watching at home) of the replay.
Bale was running at pace, in the penalty area. An opposition knee and arm made contact with Bale. The knee collision into Bale's leg (remembering Bale was at pace) was more than enough to knock him off balance. Knocking him off balance - at the point of impact - would/could be enough to stop him from scoring or assisting. Bale goes down. The foul isn't given. Booked. He misses Reading at the Lane.
So, apparently if you're fouled you still might not get the decision depending on the manner in which gravity pulls you down and how graceful (or not) you land on the ground. Does it truly matter how he falls down? Do ref's base whether it was a foul or not depending on how the player reacts? You don't need to fall down to be awarded a free-kick or penalty, but if you're tripped or knocked off your stride, you're going to tumble.
Bale was hardly theatrical. Okay, so he has bad habits. He shouldn't look around to the ref or perhaps be so graceful in his fall. But it's hardly impossible not to look at the ref as you fall. You've not been shot, so why is it such a crime to look over to the ref? Not every foul is life-threatening. Next time Gareth, just do that thing people do when they're running for the bus and crack their foot on a dislodged slab of pavement and stumble forwards attempting to retain some ilk of balance (as clumsy as it might look) and run the risk of still falling (and probably landing on your face). It's grass not pavement, so be grateful for small mercies. When ever possible, stay on feet. Because it looks like you're up against all the hype and reputation that's been created as a by product of your ability.
With ref's basing so much on the rhetoric of what constitutes a probable infringement, it's best not to give them any cause to default to stereotype. Had Bale somehow managed to continue running, he'd have probably lost the ball. I'm guessing a foul would not have been given because he would have continued on. Sure, some fall easier than others and still get penalties. We see that all the time. Just not in Lilywhite.
Probably worth adding in a footnote that he (Bale) played brilliantly. Again.
Fight the power.